Monthly Archives: October 2010

From The Slush Pile: Hand-Lettered Type

While going through the slush mail today, I came across a pair of standout illustrators in a pile of recent UArts grads. Jim Tierney and Sara Wood, a young Brooklyn couple, have a fantastic approach to book cover design.  Their masterful combination of type, hand-lettering and drawing makes both of their portfolios equally impressive.

Check out Sara’s D. H. Lawrence book cover series, and Jim’s interactive Jules Verne thesis (there’s a video too!).  I put the cards up on the “Wall Of Stuff I Like” in my cube, right next to our other favorite hand-drawn type designer, Kristine Lombardi.  Lombardi’s cards have been up on our wall for ages.  While her cards have more of a feminine, fashion style (although I do like her Kids page!), they are the first thing that designers walking by are ALWAYS drawn to.  Check out a great interview (including the below image of her promo card) here.These designers got me to thinking: where’s the place for hand-lettered type in children’s books?  Before the age of thousands of freebie fonts on the internet (hey, it wasn’t that long ago!), hand-lettered display type was commissioned for book covers all the time. I recently worked on the anniversary edition for Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side, and I was so impressed to discover that the handsome title was calligraphed by the original in-house designer.And while I’m sure it took a lot more effort than downloading a font, there’s something careful, purposeful and yet whimsical to hand-drawn type.  So it’s no surprise that it is experiencing a rebirth of magnificently hip proportions. Now, type everywhere looks like this:Want 5,000,000 examples?  Just head to Flickr.  The New York Times.  Or anywhere.  I used to make fun of the fact that you could tell all the films addressing the teen “Napoleon Dynamite” audience (or that have Michael Cera in them) by their hand-drawn titles.In art school, we used to hear constantly, “if you want it to look hand-drawn, do it yourself.”  Designers, as a whole, have embraced this ideal. Children’s books, on the other hand, don’t have the same prejudice when it comes to handwriting typefaces.  Hand-lettering might work for display type, or a few very special people (ahem, Maira Kalman and Oliver Jeffers). But on the whole, handwriting fonts keep kids’ books looking consistent, read-able and changeable over 32 pages. 9 times out of 10, a handwriting font will actually look better than what you could do yourself. That being said, when it comes to display type and interesting details, I’m all for hand-drawn type in children’s books.  It’s fresh, playful and unique.  And with the rapid changes in technology, we may not need to draw type anymore, but I have a feeling that more lettering opportunities will open up for type designers anyway – just because we’re craving that physical, hand-created feel!

The Original Art Show Opening Reception Recap

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending the 30th Annual Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Show opening reception!  It was a crowded, swinging party full of the best children’s book illustrators of the year, plus the editors, art directors/designers, friends and family who support them.

I’m not gonna lie – I was a little nervous about being there with so many people I admire, but don’t actually know.  But I wasn’t nervous enough NOT to go, and I’m so glad I did!  There were quite a few Penguin people there, so I wasn’t without my fellow assistant-types.  But the cool part was getting to briefly meet some awesome Putnam illustrators, and put faces to names for industry folks who were wandering around the event.  From the moment I ran into Eric Carle on the stairs (within 2 minutes of being there), my mantra of the evening was turning around, only to look at someone’s name-tag and go, “Whoa, I’m two feet away from ___________!”

The awards ceremony filled me with pride for being in the children’s book community. All of the winners were excited to be recognized by their peers, and there wasn’t one speaker who didn’t seem like a lovely, humble person.  Silver medalist Dan Santat, especially, seemed touched by the award and reminded us that this is one of the few occasions where illustrators, usually holed up alone in their studios, get the chance to be validated for the great work that they do. Aw.

The Gold medalist, Renata Liwska, is a huge illustrator-crush of mine, and I’m so glad that she won the top award of the year for The Quiet Book!  Her adorable animals are just up my alley, and I can’t wait until her book with Philomel, Red Wagon, comes out this winter.  The cutest!  Check out some of her sketches (believe it or not, her finishes are digital) on Amazon as well.

The highlight of the evening, hands down, was getting to hear Eric Carle accept his Lifetime Achievement Award. At 81, Carle is a champ for coming all the way down to NYC. Though his “senior moments” came out just a bit when he mixed up a few of his own life details (he has had quite a lot of experience!), his wisdom was more than clear. The laughs came when he mentioned that he “never really thought of himself as an illustrator” – says the creator of the most famous picture book ever. But I thought it was so interesting how he described the relationship between his graphic design/advertising background and the way that he composes his illustrations.  Carle said that every picture book spread he makes, he designs as a poster. Bold color, clear compositions, graphic shapes. Isn’t that incredible?

The award that hits closest to home is the Founder’s Award, which is given to an up-and-coming talent in the field (this year, it was Hyewon Yum).  Now, here’s how I feel about awards: they’re nice to get, but they don’t really matter. With so many equally talented people out there, awards like these are full of out-of-your-control factors like the tastes and predisposition of the judges. So don’t bother thinking about it, because there’s really not a lot you can, or should, do to “try to win” an award.

That being said. I WANTSSS IT. The Founder’s Award, I mean. I have too much competitiveness in my bones not to want that award someday (at least a little). And with the board books already published, that means I have one chance to win it.  In short, my picture book debut better be smashing.

But enough about awards.

It was way too crowded to check out all of the books and art displayed at the Original Art Show, so I’m going again with the rest of the Putnam crew in a couple weeks.  I’ll report back on my findings later!

Happy Birthday, Ed!

It was Ed Emberley‘s birthday yesterday, so I think it’s time for a little celebration of my favorite step-by-step drawing master!  Emberley is famous for his simple shape-drawing method, and I myself used to spend hours and hours copying every bit of his video, Squiggles Dots and Lines. His techniques are elementary, but now I have a whole new appreciation for his fascinatingly clear design sense.  Plus, how much fun is it to make those little thumb-print people?

Thinking about ol’ Ed made me doodle some of my own characters in “Emberley” form:

And then doodle some more… (that’s my brain melting from the training session I was in, by the way. Oops!)

Happy Birthday, Ed Emberley!  You’re my hero.

Fall Favorites

This weekend, I made a long-overdue homecoming to Concord (I hadn’t been back since January!), since it’s an undeniable fact that fall is the most beautiful in New Hampshire, no contest.  The brilliant leaves and crisp (read: cold) air got me in the mood for some of these past and present fall favorites:


1. A Gingerbread Haunted House

The main reason for my visit was an Ericsson family tradition: gingerbread houses.  In the past, we were usually were consumed with Good Housekeeping-style festivals and workshops around Thanksgiving, but this year called for spooky haunted houses instead.

If you’re not up for building them from scratch (even with my mom’s trusty book of instructions!), this cookie cutter makes some pretty funky facades.

2. Leaf Coloring

I love the textural quality that comes from the old crayon “leaf rubbing” craft, so who says it has to be just for kids anymore?  Cloth Paper String has some beautiful solutions for prints on bookplates, cards and more, and trying them in ink looks like it’s worth a shot, too.

3.  Autumn Leaf Bowls

I don’t have access to a kiln anymore, but if I did, these leaf bowls would be the perfect craft project for me – it’s so easy, even a 4th grader can do it!  Apparently you can make them with self-drying clay and paint… so I may have experiment soon…


4. The Little Old Lady That Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd

To me, this is the ultimate classic Halloween picture book.  Even today. I immediately think of the CLOMP CLOMP, WIGGLE WIGGLE, SHAKE SHAKE, CLAP CLAP theme that was so much fun as a child. It’s the perfect pick for scarecrow story-times and readings.

5. Only A Witch Can Fly by Allison McGhee, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

Last year’s award-winner Only A Witch Can Fly is definitely the new classic. I have been completely enamored with rising superstar Taeeyun Yoo since The Little Red Fish, and it’s no surprise that her linoleum block prints earned her one of the NYT Best Illustrated books of last year.

6. Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett

When I was a wee one, those green eyes and prowling creatures used to give me the chills – in a good way.  Not your typical Jan Brett illustrations, either (that’s the ’80s for you!).


7. The Fort Greene Halloween Festival

I volunteered for this event back when I was a proud Clinton Hill student, and it was so much fun to see the park transformed into a FREE Halloween festival!  Even if you’re not young enough for hay rides, face painters and sack races, grabbing a free pumpkin, live music and a pumpkin smoothie from Habana Outpost is totally adult-friendly.  Plus, the costume contest for dogs, “The Great Pupkin” (sponsored by Fort Greene PUPS) is deadly cute – check out photos of past events!

The Great Turtle Makeover

Revisions, revisions, revisions!  It has been a year since I worked on Ollie And Logger In The Deep Blue Sea, the early reader book that I illustrated (and my mother wrote) for my first semester senior project.  I love the story and feel good about the pacing of the sketches as a whole. But as I look back, I was deeply dissatisfied with a couple of things. The characters seemed awkward, stiff and bloated, their faces falling short of the natural cuteness I was going for. And on top of that, all the color work I did wasn’t working either. Try as I might last fall, I was not getting the lightness and fluidity of underwater scenes, and all the pieces look overworked.  That’s the hardest part about watercolor – knowing when to stop, because once you go too far there is no going back, just starting over.

Despite my self-criticisms, I am confident that we have something marketable with Ollie And Logger – it’s just a matter of revising.  So I spent my three-day weekend reworking the characters and the first color piece . . . and here are the results of the makeover!

Stand Tall! Growth Charts

Anyone that knows me is aware that height is, um, sort of an issue for me.    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not generally insecure about my looks, but I think everyone has that one “sensitive subject” they’re not comfortable about themselves, and at 5’10”, being tall is mine.  And no annoying “But being tall is so great!” comments are going to change that.

So I could appreciate the levity and message of the latest book I’ve come across at work: Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, and illustrated by David Catrow.  Molly Lou, the shortest, buck-toothiest, bullfrog-iest new girl in class, shines because she follows her grandmother’s advice to always, “Walk as proudly as you can and the world will look up to you.” She’s got confidence that (literally) bowls over the school bully, and it’s fantastic. This is the kind of both entertaining and meaningful read that makes me want to shove it in the New York Times’ snotty face and say, “THIS IS WHY PICTURE BOOKS ARE SO GREAT!”  Phew!  Anywho… moving on…

Designing “extras” for Molly Lou’s 10th anniversary got me to thinking about those handmade growth charts scrawled up the doorframes of classic American households.  Remember those?  Well, I wanted to see if there were some pre-made growth charts with a bit of design flair.  Turns out, you can pretty much find a colorful growth chart for kids on any theme – no matter how tall or small!

Here were some of my favorites:

Heirloom Boxed Set Growth Chartvia Design Mom

Grow-With-Me Scroll Chart – via Family Style

Chalkboard Paint DIY Growth Chart – via OhDeeOh

Basic Shapes Growth Chart – via Kids Crave

Up, Up I Go – A Fold-Out Book by Eric Carle (Chronicle Books)

Giraffe Wall Decal Growth Chart – via CoolLil

Who Tall Are You? – For Big Kids, aka. Adults


Designers Of The Day

Today, I’m obsessing over…

1. Geoff McFetridge

My first “find”, which I snagged from a take shelf (read: free books) on my way in to work, made up for everything that was hideous about the slush pile this morning.  I have no idea why this profile on McFetridge (published as part of a series of designers by Gas As Interface) was in the office, but we are absolutely lovin’ it.  While this L.A.-based designer with Champion Graphics creates everything from graphic posters to motion graphics/titles for films, I’m particularly loving his original wallpaper prints.

McFetridge’s book might be a bit overboard on the Helvetica, but his projects were so intriguing that I had to find out more.  Pick it up here!

2. Marian Bantjes

Ooooooh la la… if someone took every fancy trapping and visual treat and put it all in one book, it would be Bantjes’ I Wonder, which came out in gilded hardcover this month!  The exquisite integration of text and art brings to mind that this is probably the single modern book that 15th-centrury monks would still be proud of.  The price may be steep for a starving artist ($40), but all those elaborately designed pages look priceless.

Check out the rest of her projects as well… I can’t get enough of her seamless mix of materials and both old and new world design.

Thanks to Book By Its Cover for the link!

3. Rebecca Kutys

I’m not the kind of girl who has been planning her wedding since the age of 6. In fact, I’d be much happier with a lower-key ceremony than some of the events I’ve already planned in my life!  But there’s one thing that I know for sure – letterpress? It makes my heart swoon.  Don’t ask me why I’m drawn to typography in relief… I just think it makes everything elegant and personal. And if I have to spend money on anything when I get married, it’ll be on invitations like those made by Moontree Letterpress in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

It was so great to hear Kutys’ Biz Ladies post about the perfect business card on Design*Sponge today, so don’t miss going to her separate project as well, Brooklyn Social Cards.