Tag Archives: society of illustrators

The Original Art Show: Part II

As I mentioned, I already attended the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Show during its opening, but the hustle and bustle of the event kept me from really getting a good look at all the pieces and reading the actual books.  So the Putnam art and editorial crew took a field trip last Friday to spend a few hours there in relative quiet and share our likes/dislikes.

All of the books are obviously winners, and of course, there were plenty that I already knew I loved: Peter Brown’s Children Make Terrible Pets, Jan Jutte’s Sleepover At Grandma’s House, Lane Smith’s It’s A Book!. But I wanted to mention a few new titles that I discovered along the way.  Here are my favorites:

1. Tao Nyeu – Bunny Days (Dial)

I was literally cooing and gasping with laughter aloud when I read this, as I couldn’t believe that a single book could be so adorable and disturbing at once!  In three parts, Mr. and Mrs. Goat find various ways to accidentally muddy/trap/maim a group of baby bunnies, and Bear comes to the rescue… with, um, interesting solutions.  Well-meaning Bear subjects the bunnies to the washing machine (and hangs them to dry!), a high-powered fan, and a sewing machine. AND THE BUNNIES ARE STILL CUTE! AND NOT DEAD!  Hilarious.

2.  Carmen Segovia – Brownie Groundhog and February Fox (Sterling)

This was one of my favorite designed books at the show.  I just love the wintery limited color palette with pops of red… reminds me of a modern version of classics like Mary Wore Her Red Dress. Plus, predator (Fox) and prey (Groundhog) become friends and share toast.  Aw.

3.  Laura Ljungkvist – Pepi Sings A New Song (Beach Lane Books)

The creator of Follow The Line comes out with a new – totally fun – picture book!  Pepi the perpetually wide-eyed parrot puts a crazy spin on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for his stargazing owner, Peter.  I always feel that word books and digital illustrations can go so easily BLAH, but Ljungkvist brings both to a whole new level.

4.  Steven Savage  – The Fathers Are Coming Home (Margaret K. McElderry)

Sniffle alert!  Margaret Wise Brown’s post-humous bedtime story is simple and touching, bringing a tear to my eye as all the animal fathers (and one returning sailor) come home to their babies at night.  I’ve been enamored with Steven Savage’s atmospheric textured prints since he came into one of my illustration classes a few years ago, and as with Polar Bear Night, they’re once again the perfect complement.

5.  It was raining cats and dogs this year!  I’m not normally a fan of “big black eyes” on characters, but Emma Dodd’s I Don’t Want A Cool Cat makes it work (plus, the book rocks). Emily Gravett’s Dogs is just that: all the breeds you can think of, animated with her classy British restraint. And one of my favorite original art pieces on the wall was Jon Klassen’s Cat’s Night Out… it’s a crying shame that the printed book had a polluted, sepia hue not in the art itself.  Klassen’s adorable little cats deserved more!

Despite what you may think, the show had more than picture books.  I haven’t read Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Search For Wondla (I’m woefully behind on my middle-grade and YA novels), but the design was spectacular. Color in the interior!  Gorgeous chapter openers!  I wanna do that!  The other book I must get my hands on is Jon Klassen’s The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book 1: The Mysterious Howling.  Like A Series Of Unfortunate Events, it looks like something I’d love as a kid, but is sophisticated enough for adults.

Now that I’ve checked out all (okay, most…) of the books in the show, I definitely recommend that y’all do the same before it closes next week.  Go to there.


Celebrating Illustration Week with a New Artist Showcase!

Last week, it was announced that Mayor Bloomberg is officially declaring the second week in November as



As you readers know, my blog has not just been about illustration, but about the process of becoming one.  So, to celebrate the first Illustration Week, I’m not talking about my own journey – I’m showing off others!

Starting Monday, look forward to (at least!) daily interviews of young illustrators – those who are in their first year or two in the industry.  I’ll ask a few questions and get a chance to show off their incredible work.

I’m SO excited about this, as I’ve had an amazing response so far from my talented Pratt classmates . . . but if you’re reading this now and are (or know someone who is) a recently-graduated or about-to-graduate illustrator, feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to interview you!

Get ready for a blog-stravaganza on Monday . . .

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!

Must See Shows, Part 1 – EARTH: Fragile Planet

image: Bill Carman‘s painting for EARTH: Fragile Planet.  Buy a print.

Like every other scarf-loving New York resident, the oppressive heat wave this summer has sent me fleeing for the most air-conditioned corners of the city.  And what better place to spend a few hours avoiding the burning sidewalk than art galleries?

Recently, I’ve hit up three very different exhibitions that I’m more than happy to recommend!  Here’s number one… it has been up for months (while I’ve apparently been living in a cave), act quickly and go before the end of the week!

EARTH: Fragile Planet

June 3 – July 31, The Society of Illustrators

This group exhibit of 120 illustrators showcases editorial and artistic commentary on the state of the environment today, using a variety of media including digital and traditional painting, video and sculpture.  To make the wide range of work more cohesive, the show is divided into five categories: water, wildlife, earth, air and energy.

Overall, it was poignant for me to see more illustrators getting involved with the environment, in light of all my thinking about the recent Gulf oil spill catastrophe.  Here were some of my highlights:


Peter de Seve, Thar She Blows (sketch)

De Seve’s character work (he’s known for the creatures of the Ice Age franchise and the Philomel book Duchess of Whimsy) is so fantastic that even a sketch stands out.  His New Yorker cover idea reminds me of the Ripple sketch blog that’s raising money to save wildlife affected by the oil spill.  Check out Peter’s own post on the show here.


Betsy Lewin, Blue-Footed Boobies (watercolor)

Ted Lewin, Impenetrable Forest (watercolor)

I’m always excited to see the work of my alma mater’s favorite couple… as a watercolor artist, I’ve been looking up to them for years!  Ted’s densely forested piece was right on track with his other work, but I was surprised at the realism of Betsy’s beautiful watercolor piece.  The book from which it’s excerpted, Booby Hatch, shows an early side to her art, pre-Click, Clack, Moo, that I wasn’t familiar with.

Tim O’Brien, Giraffe In The Alley (oil and gouache)

Even though I never took a class with Tim O’Brien, I was already on the lookout for Pratt professors.  But my mouth literally dropped open at the sight of his contribution to the show!  His imagery, of a giraffe in a dark alley, was right out of the sketches of a children’s book dummy I created years ago – High Hopes.  For artists, seeing someone else’s art with the same concept makes one’s skin crawl (I used to fear it before critiques).  In this case, though, I just had to marvel at the hilarity of such a strange image being thought up twice.  See his post on the evolution of the piece here.

Tim O’Brien vs. Annie – so weird!


Britt Spencer, Footprints Through Appalachia (gouache)

Like Peter de Seve, I’m a big fan of Britt Spencer’s animated characters and his true-story Philomel book (again!) about the giraffe (again!) who became famous.  More importantly, though, his personification of the “giant” mining industry, tromping through the delicate green Appalachians, brought up an issue I don’t often hear about.  Since Footprints Through Appalachia is a smaller piece, I loved its pairing with Justin Gerard’s Strange Friend, (mixed media) below.  Understated but meaningful.


Rudy Gutierrez, U Kill Me, U Kill U (acrylic on canvas)

Rudy was one of my all-time favorite professors (I signed up for his class year after year!).  To me, he is the master of storytelling through a unique visual language.  Whenever I’m reflecting on my style and questioning whether I’m being true to myself, I always go back to the advice I’ve received from him. This large piece is no exception to his way with words!  The violent energy of his painting only further brings out the poetry written throughout, and it is impossible not to really feel something on viewing it.  Truly inspiring.


Materials for the Arts, with Liz Lomax, 3-D illustrator, and Eric Lewis, sculptor

As I was checking out the downstairs gallery, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the short video on loop, and I’m so glad I finally sat down and paid attention!  The video documents two of the exhibition’s 3-D artists, Lomax and Lewis, visiting Materials For The Arts, a warehouse that collects donated items to recycle and supply to schools and cultural arts programs and organizations.  Tons of materials and found objects of every kind, otherwise trashed, are brought to their warehouse, where artists and educators can pick through for only the cost of a “thank you”.

It’s an absolutely amazing program, and I encourage everyone to take advantage and help MFTA keep being so successful!  If you have extra materials lying around your studio, please consider donating here.  And don’t forget to see the video and Liz’s work here, and with Eric’s work here!

Can’t get to the show in the next few days?  Get more on Earth: Fragile Planet at their Tumblr page!

The 10 Best Things You Can Do For Your Illustrations

an old promo of mine . . . I’m siiiinging in the rain! © 2009

Last week, one of my most entertaining publishing blog reads, the INTERN, posted a piece called “The Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Manuscript“.  There are some similarities between the teeming slush piles of art and word, but a lot of the process is actually very different.  So, artists, let’s hear it for your list:

The Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Illustrations

1.  Find your style

Not to get all “follow your bliss” from the beginning, but there is nothing more important than being amazing at your own personal style – the way that characters and actions come to you naturally. Trying to show an art director that you can do every style just leaves them unsure of how you would approach a project. Instead, let them come to you for what you do best!

2.  Hang out with other artists

You’ll be motivated by association, gain more constructive critiques than your grandma telling you how “darling” your illustrations are, and share insights on the industry as you get rich and famous – together.

3.  Be in three places at once

Don’t just focus on one opportunity.  Share your art everywhere – your local coffee shop, an illustration annual, your friend’s neighbor’s band’s show’s posters… everywhere you can.  You never know when the right person might see your work!

4.  Draw in stories

In children’s books, it’s not enough to create one epic piece.  You have to be able to keep the characters animated and flowing, with the same level of quality, for 6 months and 32 pages of your life. Whenever you begin a new character, draw them in at least 3-5 complete scenes, with different expressions, so an art director has everything they need to know to sign you.  A dummy book of sketches (with at least 2 finished pieces!) is even better.

5.  Bring your portfolio to the local bookstore

No, don’t show it to the clerk eyeing you behind their Buddy Holly glasses!  Put your portfolio under your arm and, literally, put it side by side with art that is actually being published.  Are your stylized cartoons as naturally clever as Mo Willems‘?  Or do you think your colored-pencil portraits of your dogs just aren’t as action-packed and engaging as the rest of the picture books about puppies?  Be honest with yourself!

6.  Target your audience

There is no point soliciting 100 different imprints if the imprint wouldn’t publish the kind of work that you do. Do research on what kind of books are already out there, and be specific to whom you submit. Tell them why, briefly, in your cover letter why your book would be perfect for them.

7.   Read submission guidelines carefully

For instance, at our imprint (but not for others, mind), if a submission does not include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, it is almost guaranteed to get thrown away. Give them the opportunity to send the dummy back to you, and at least you could get helpful feedback from the rejection letter.

8.  Present your work like a graphic designer

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to submit a dummy that is clean and neatly printed and presented (just order a paperback from Lulu or even make your own). A designer is more likely to pass along a book that has a great design than one that was garish, messy, or worst of all, had typos!  Are you amazing at acrylics but can’t typeset to save your life?  Coerce a designer-friend to help you out!

9.  Drop off your portfolio

Postcards are a great start to reach a lot of contacts, and you’re not even a real person these days without an online presence.  On the flip side, repeatedly cold-calling designers and insisting you won’t hang up until you’re published is the fastest way to get on their imaginary blacklist.  But with the flood of emails and cards, what will get you that extra 3 minutes of their time to actually have someone look at your work?  I hesitate to say this for fear of finding 15 portfolios on my desk next week, but setting up a time for a portfolio drop-off, if the publisher still does that kind of thing, might be the trick to get a timely and informed response from someone in publishing.

10.   Never stop learning to draw

Even the most accomplished illustrators still spend their free time practicing their craft, learning the latest technique and lounging around the Society’s Sketch Nights.  Don’t get discouraged because your art isn’t yet the awe of every art director in town, and don’t get complacent when it is!  Just keep drawing, okay?

photo credit – this artist/Pratt alum’s  postcard (not shown, too lazy to scan) is my favorite ever, and has sat in my cube since before my time.  But check out Evah Fan’s awesome 3-D work!