Monday, January 31, 2005

My BLOGGING BLirthday!

I've been doing this blogging thing for about a month now. Came easier for me than I thought and I actually found something to write about most days. I've fallen way behind on all my other work though not entirely my fault. However, I won't rant about that.

In a month I've typed more than 4,000 words here. That's more than I speak in an entire year. I'm very much a quiet-introverted person, so it would shock most people who know me that I'm saying anything here at all. Art is my way of expressing myself since words, spoken or read, can give me such fits.

But I enjoy writing and even at this base level, maybe I'll get something published. Someday.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Inspired or sick?

Author friend Dianna Aston planted the seed. Author friend Cynthia Leitich Smith, in a comment here on my blog, reminded me that I haven't watered it in awhile. It's been my plan to write a picture book biography for some time now. But I keep thinking that someone better, more qualified is probably already writing the story. So I put it off and someone usually does.

The story of Ella Fitzgerald was my first attempt at writing a biography. Before putting pen to paper, I sent an email synopsis of my idea to Andrea Pinkney, my editor on the book Say Hey! She's now a vice president and publisher with Houghton Mifflin. She was already in the midst of writing Ella Fitzgerald : The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa. Soon A Tisket, a Tasket by Ora Eitan showed up in the bookstores.

So I'm feeling a real sense of urgency to write this biography before someone else does. Is that stupid? And I already have a 2006 calendar and another picture book to illustrate first.

Did some research today on the person I will write about. I'm inspired! I have some things in common with this not so well known but immensly talented African American. I'd like to see this story told, and be the first to tell it as a picture book. Got that deep down in my gut, burning with excitement feeling that author's get when they know they're on to something. I'm assuming they get this feeling, but it may be the oncoming of the flu.

I'd better contact my aunt Eleanora.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

A critique: there's room for growth

Was just reading an article on The Children's Book Council (CBC) website written by Mark Teague, one of my favorite children's book author/illustrators. His art not only appeals to kids, but to the kid in us all. Pigsty , How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? and Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters From Obedience School are a few of his works. In his article he discusses criticism as it relates to his writing and illustrating, how much he hates it, but later acknowledges that intelligent criticism has made his skills better. Got me to thinking about my attitude towards criticism . There's room for growth.

I've always thought of myself as thick-skinned when on the receiving end of critique. After all, I've been doing this art thing for 20-plus years, I've been well critiqued. But it wasn't until I discovered my passion, children's book illustration, criticism began to thin my skin.

Reviews of my books have been mostly positive. My art has been complimented as ideal, skillful, exuberant, perspective-rich, fresh and fanciful. It's also been panned as stiff, slick and disconcertingly off the mark. Ouch, that hurt. And I'm ashamed to admit I once shot off a nasty email to the editors of Booklist for a mostly positive review.

"You're so good. Your special. You're so talented. You're gifted. You're the best artist in class. You sure can draw. You're going to be famous someday." This is what I believed because this was the blessing I received from my mom, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, bosses, and co-workers. That's great, that's where my confidence and self esteem came from. But as a fellow illustrator once posted on a Yahoo bulletin board: Good makes you complacent and you won't strive to be great. Isn't that an ancient Chinese proverb or something? Should be.

Anyway, that struck me. Maybe I've been so good all these years, I've not strived to be any greater. If GOOD can get me this far, just imagine where GREAT will get me!

So for this year I've set some new goals. Strive for greatness! Accept the truth in some of those critiques. There's room for growth. I'm going to experiment with some different media. Take some life drawing classes. Visit a few museums. Study more art history. Take a few chances and make some mistakes. Hopefully some happy mistakes.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Recipe for a sweet literary event

One(1) Miss Texas, 2004
One(1) store full of Chocolate truffles
Several dozen free books
Fifty(50)+ kids

Combine the above ingredients and the result is one sweet reading event. Literally!

Next week I have the true honor of appearing in the 2nd Annual Earning by Learning Celebrity Guest Read. Yeah, they think I'm famous! Zel Nealy, owner of Dallas Chocolates, a longtime sponsor of Earning by Learning will host this reading event at their north Dallas chocolate shop. Think yummy!

As part of the program, I will read poems, tell stories and share some of the original artwork from several of my picture books. I will discuss the process of illustrating children's picture books, and draw cartoons for some of the kids.

In addition, fifty children from Shared-Housing, a domestic violence shelter, Circle of Support and the Salvation Army have been invited and will receive a free book, THE LEGEND OF THE VALENTINE which I will be on hand to sign. And Jamie Story, Miss Texas, 2004 will read an excerpt of from the book. Didn't I say this would be a sweet event?

Dallas Chocolates is, of course, a chocolate store owned by certified chocolatier Zel Nealy. Launched in 2001, the store supports 14 Dallas charities in honor of it's clients, some of Dallas' most well-known philanthropic leaders. It's "Hall of Fame Celebrity Chocolates," have been named for a different Dallas philanthropist and a percentage of every box sold goes to the philanthropist's designated charity.

Earning by learning of Dallas is a community service project which provides cash incentives for children to read through its “Read and Save” program. Children earn cash rewards by reading books and proving through test that they comprehended what they read. Children are also taught how to manage the money they've earned.

So, as Ms. Thelma Morris-Lindsey, founder of Earning by Learning would say, Discover the joy. Read!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Pets Get Horny, Too!

Not just an attention-grabbing headline, but one of several designs I licensed to Austin Cotton, a t-shirt company specializing in themes for pet lovers and animal humane/rescue societies. Pets Get Horny is an illustration featuring dogs and cats playing french horns. Ok, my sense of humor is a bit slimy, but if sex sells as good as they say, this'll be a hit. See the other designs, Love is a four-legged word, Crazy Catz/Dogz, Cat Conundrum and Dog DeBarkle at the Austin Cotton website.

I know what you're thinking if you read an earlier post of mine. I thought you don't like dogs. I don't, but this is business. Besides that, I'm a pro-lifer. I support life. All life (except spiders). It's not fair for so many animals to be put to sleep because of irresponsible pet owners. So, prevent a dog deBARKle. Spay/Neuter your pet!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Diversifying my portfolio

I love doing this children's book thing. Knowing that my artwork is helping a child to read is a huge payoff for me and more importantly, for the child. But the financial dividends are small. So I'm diversifying.

I took a few days off from illustrating my book, THE HIDDEN FEAST to pursue an African American tweener property I've been developing. A tween being a child usually between 8 and 12 years old. Tweener properties are very hot now, just take a look at the Bratz, So Girly or Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi. Not a black one in the bunch. My daughter says the Bratz's Sasha is supposed to be African American, but I couldn't tell. My tweener design will be unmistakably African American, fo shizzle! I've been having conversations with Shades of Color, a company which focuses on products featuring African American artist and artwork. This first product will be a 2006 calendar. Currently I am in the beginning stages, that frustrating part where I wait on my people to play phone tag with their people in order to finalize the paperwork. In the meantime, I pull my hair out. I’m losing time and the deadlines won't change.Such is the life on an illustrator.

Meantime, back to sketching my book, currently in a similar situation.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Copy NO!

Discovered a pretty cool thing on the web. This might already be common knowledge, but it's the first I've come across it. I'm just as guilty as anyone of finding a nice piece of artwork or an image on the web and copying it to my hard drive. I only use it for reference purposes, of course. I've created sort of an idea file of images and illustration styles that I like and refer to when I need inspiration. Well, I went to cartoonist Bob Staake's site. Found an image I thought I'd like to tuck away for safe keeping. But when I tried coping it, I got a big red warning symbol which read COPY I could not get the image and when I clicked I got a pretty scary warning that using this image without the creators approval could get a brotha in serious legal trouble. You don't have to tell me twice! BRILLIANT!

I only use artwork and images from the internet for research and reference purposes. As an artist with an online portfolio it makes my skin crawl knowing that there are people out there who actually download art from websites and use it for their own personal or commercial gain.

Looks a bit tricky to set up and protect your whole site, but I think its worth the $20 bucks. I'll have to give this a try.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Mailbag on fire

I get some interesting feedback from this blogging thing. Mostly it comes from other children's authors, illustrators and such. Heres a recent letter and my responses:

Writer: ...for friendly argument's sake wanted to respond to your ispot entry...I want to comment about the fact that art buyers wanted your African American focused art and you were wondering about why not a response on your fish art.

Devas T: Cool!

Writer: With all due respect -- and you'll probably really blast me for
writing this -- I think you are too critical about the work you do
that is African American inspired.

Devas T: Blast you? Are you kidding, I love talking about this stuff! Critical, sometimes I might be. So, I'm a cynic, difficult to live with. Ask my wife, but I'm having fun!

Hope you don't think I dislike illustrating for the African market. Thats not true. I love my peeps! And I love illustrating for our children. When I'm critical, it's only out of some frustrations and experiences I've had as the result of being an illustrator who's primary market is African Amerian. My experiences are a bit different than the artist who is illustrates for the majority market. Sometimes different can be frustrating. But sometimes different works in my favor. I can only speak from the path I've walked in.

Writer: Well, my brother, perhaps the art buyers are buying your work for WHAT YOU CREATE more than WHO YOU ARE. Perhaps the art buyers want the best quality of your work, and the fish art ain't it.

Devas T: That's mostly true. People do request the kinds of images they see in my portfolio. My portfolio is made up of mostly African American images. And if I want to paint fish — or something else, I'd probably better spend more time creating fish — or something else.

But I have to respectfully disagree about one point. Most editors who contact me are contacting me because of who I am, African American, MORE so than what I create. Sometimes overtly. I have been told on a few occasions, for example, "...the state has adopted our reading program. As part of the adoption program, they require that we hire and work with a certain percentage of minorities..."

I've also heard this: "...when publishing an African American manuscript written by a white author, we like to pair it up with an African American illustrator...more sensitivity...authenticity..."

I'm not saying theres anything wrong with all this. It works for my benefit. So I hope I'm not scaring away any potential art buyers. This attitude creates a niche for me to fill and keeps work coming my way in a very competitive market. The thing is that often when art buyers learn that you are black, they categorize you. They immediately file your work away in the "NEED A BLACK" file. Not because they are racist or anything, but because there aren't as many blacks pursuing children's book illustration. Even if I painted the most dazzling, say, fish — or something else, the thought process is, "I don't NEED you for fish, my NEED is for African American."

Writer: Perhaps, for argument's sake, when your fish art equals the quality and intensity of your purchased art, art buyers will buy it, too.

Devas T: True, I am finding that so. I have been adding more animals to my portfolio, and I have been getting many animal request as of late. But still, the black-thing sort of lurks behind my animal books, too. The animal stories I have been illustrating are animal stories traditionally told by or originated in black culture. Again, nothing wrong with that, keep the manuscripts coming. But once I had the opportunity to illustrate a book on European Mythology. I did a good job. I can do other stuff. That's my point.

Writer: If your African American focused art wasn't selling, but the fish art was, would you be concerned that art buyers didn't want your "Black" art?

Devas T:Yes, you're probably right. Guess you just can't make a cynical brotha happy.

Thursday, January 20, 2005 pays off

It's been a year since I signed on with, a creative source for art buyers looking for illustration talent. My online portfolio cost about about a third of what the source books charge, and my investment has multiplied more than 27 times.

Until I took out the ad, business had slowed. I was doing no marketing or phone calls. I did no art sample mailings. Business died.

Early in my career, I mastered marketing. Business rarely slowed. But I took it for granted that business would stay good and lived off the momentum created early on. I figured that once I had a book published, editors would beat my door down for more. Ha!

Someone in one of my yahoo groups suggested I was skeptical, but after uploading my art, I got new business within the first 8 weeks. That call more than paid for the ad. Better than most agents, and collects no commissions.

It's a great source for illustrators not wanting to invest thousands in illustration source books. There's a few others out there. and I think even Picturebook also offers an online portfolio without having to advertise in the book. If you want to focus on christian-themed illustration, theres sites for that as well. They all may return the same results, I don't know. What I do know is that many of these others visited theispot and solicited me to advertise on their sites.

Interesting observation though. All the request were from art buyers in need of African American subject matter. Nothing wrong with that. I’m African American and my portfolio reflects that. But sometime, I’d just like for someone to request my skills at painting — maybe fish.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Yikes! I'm getting old

A.M. posting

The grey in my fro gives me a look of distinction and aged, sex-appeal, so I'm told. But as far as I'm concerned, it just means I'm getting old. And forgetful.

My boss gave me an assignment on Friday. The assignment was pretty simple. Copy text from one file to another. I worked the weekend, and it wasn't busy at all. So there's no excuse. No one to point the finger at. I just plain forgot.

People have been fired in newsrooms for lesser offenses. Newsroom deadlines offer no room for missing a deadline. If a page goes to press at 6, and the graphic isn't done, that ain't good. What'd my boss have to say? "We'll talk." Thing is, I have a pretty nice boss. He's cool-headed and laid back. Not just saying that hoping he'll discover my post here and offer some grace, either. And not to take advantage. So we'll see what happens.

I'm not so much scared of losing my job as I am of getting fired. My children's publishing business has been exploding. I could easily make it on my own. But I'm not trying to add fired to my resume either.

P.M. posting

Still employed. More grey hair. Sexier, so I'm told.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Childrens book awards!

Today's the day! Who cares about the superbowl or the NBA finals? For me its the children's book awards (illustration awards particularly); the Caldecott, The Coretta Scott King award, and so on. Congratz to all!

Coretta Scott King Award

My prediction: Ellington Was Not a Street, Kadir Nelson
The winner: Ellington Was Not a Street

My thoughts: Excellent! What a talented brother. I first fell in love with his work at Mitchies, a local African American art gallery. I soon discovered his children's picture book work, and have been collecting his books every since. His artwork is breathtaking. I can't think of any other word to use in describing his art.

Honor Books:

God Bless the Child, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

The People Could Fly:
The Picture Book,
illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

My thoughts: A Pinkney! The Dillions! The grand-daddies(and momma) of books for children of color. These are the people who first inspired me in my path to children's books and who I aim to follow. So much talent! But, we know that. COULD WE CHOOSE SOME NEW PEOPLE!?

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award:

Frank Morrison, illustrator of “Jazzy Miz Mozetta

My thoughts:
Almost got this one right. I thought either he or Kadir would get the top award. Kudos to the both of them.

The Caldecott:
My prediction: I didn't make any, however I thought they might give it to Jerry Pinkney who's overdue for the top award. He's won the honor several times, I think.

The winner: Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

My thoughts: Simple quiet black and white illustrations. I love them! However, with this selection, there's still hope for me.

For more information about the awards see the American Library Associations press release, or a complete listing at the Purple Crayon.

Congratz to all!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Lunch with Ms. Bond

Just returned from lunch with children's author Katherine Grace Bond. I learned about a week ago that she would be passing through Austin. I tried to arrange for the two of us to sign and promote our book, THE LEGEND OF THE VALENTINE but with the late notice was unsuccessful, so we just decided to do lunch. Katherine lives in Seattle and was passing through while visiting author/artist friend Susan Sandler in Dallas.

Had a tremendously good time visiting with them and we discussed the possibility of our teaming up to do some sort of writing/illustration workshops in the future. As a children's book illustrator, I never get an opportunity to actually meet the authors I have illustrated for, so this was cool.

Had lunch at the newly-built Texas Roadhouse, a steakhouse owned by singer Willie Nelson. Austin is known as the live music capital. It's people encourage the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign, which sometimes includes panty-wearing crossdressers, the Lizardman and Spam-a-Rama.

How we ended up eating at this hick, cowboy depot I'm not sure. Guess they got a taste of Austin weirdness afterall.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Like father, like son?

Who says the apple doesn't fall far from the tree? I'm an artist. My wife is an artist. My son ain't.

Kolby is 3-years old, potty-trained and old enough that we can get him involved in something. Time to discover his talents. Maybe karate. I've always thought that kinda cool. Maybe soccer. We have a house in the burbs. We have a mini-van. Doesn't a soccer kid naturally follow? Maybe gymnastics. That would offer an alternative place for him to jump besides our bed. Instead, we settled on art.

In our first session, we made mask. We cut, colored and glued. Kolb was terribly excited — about the freight train passing by the window.

In our second session, we created a space-aged collage complete with planets and a rocket. Kolb was terribly excited - to end the project, remove his smock, wash his hands so we could go to the park.

So he's not the budding artist that I was at 3, but we only have four weeks of art classes to go. Then it's on to soccer.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Now available in paperback!

Wasn't very excited at first. Summer Sun Risin', my first book to publish with Lee and Low Books recently re-released as a paperback. My beautiful, hard-bound, dust-covered book featuring my photo and bio is now sold as a paperback. Without my photograph! Ok, it's an ego thing. But, isn't that like when a major motion picture is re-released on video, from the big screen, to your TV screen? Do we get excited?

I shot off a letter to my editor. Why? I mean when a book goes to paperback, doesn't that mean something went very wrong?

To the contrary, she wrote back. Summer Sun Risin' was listed as a Best Children's Book of the Year for 2002 by the Bank Street College of Education as well as making the Children's Crown Award 2003, National Christian School Association Master List. That recognition along with having received excellent reviews in trade journals and The New York Times Book Review has made for a strong sales record.

At the same time paperbacks are printed, more hardcover will be printed also. We're just reaching for new markets.

Also, offering the book as a less expensive paperback will help get it into the hands of children whose families may not be able to afford a $16.00 hard-bound book. And most children's books go out of print after a couple of years, so this is good.

I received my copies in the mail, hot off the press, today. They look fantastic! Thanks Lee and Low for your great work at publishing quality multicultural children's literature!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


This name has now come up twice in three days during email conversations with my agent. Ebony is the number one magazine for African Americans which features stories of progress and achievement in areas of health, careers, sports and entertainment.

So what's all this all got to do with me? I don't know, possibly nothing. Possibly something. Could be very cool though.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Bruh Rabbit is honored

The American Folklore Society has honored SURE AS SUNRISE: STORIES OF BRUH RABBIT AND HIS WALKIN' TALKIN' FRIENDS with a 2004 Aesop Accolade (an honorable mention), for outstanding work in children’s folklore. Holla! SURE AS SUNRISE is the fifth picture book I've had the opportunity to illustrate.

Congratz to author Alice McGill whose visually-rich words gave me plenty to work with!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Enough blogging, more sketching

Blogging takes more time than I thought. Did lots of blogging this week but not much sketching, which is why there’s no entries about my work. I need to catch up, so I'm taking a few days off.

In the meantime, the burning question. Who's Devas T?

I was no athlete in high school, so I flipped burgers. Always been a workaholic, I guess. I worked for Hardees and they were known for their so-called healthier grilled burgers. I had to run this machine that toasted the buns and char-broiled the burgers. The burgers went through the machine on a grill, but the buns had to be put on a tray which sat on the grill.

One day I put the tray into the machine lopsided. When I discovered this, I tried snatching it out. When snatching failed, I tried pulling with force. All seven-foot tall, three-feet wide, 900-pounds of grill falls crash on its side. The sound must have lit up the whole mall. Being the nervous personality that I was (Ok still am), I tended to do clumsy things often. Once we realize that were all still alive, and nobody's burnt up, a coworker yells out, "DevasTATEing!, you're such a Devas!" The name stuck.

Years later my younger brother is also coined Devas by his high school friends (shh, he copied). And my youngest brother has decided that his first born son, if he has one, will be named, you guessed it. Devas! It's a family thing.

Friday, January 07, 2005

GritsKIdz Book Club

Was contacted by Marlive Harris aka Ms. GRITS, the librarian at the very cool website called G.R.I.T.S Kidz Book Club. The site displays a very nice interface with bright colors and fun cartoon characters to represent club members. But that's only the beginning. GRITS Kidz is an online book club for kids and parents who desire to discuss and learn more about African American literature (and other multicultural literature) written for young people. The site features book reviews and interviews from some of my favorite children's authors like Tony Medina and Dwayne J. Ferguson (author of the Kid Caramel Private Investigator series that I had the pleasure of illustrating). It also features interviews from many talented illustrators such as Brian Selznick and Kadir Nelson. Be sure to check out their message board and the many fun offerings at this site.

GRITS Kidz will feature my book, THE LEGEND OF THE VALENTINE in February. I received interview questions from a few of their club members, grades 3 through 5, and all in the Gifted and Talented programs on their campuses. I'm told they all have IQ's of 120 and higher. Not sure what that means, but based upon their studious questions, these are some smart kiddos! Look for my interview, books and more on the GRITS Kidz website in February.

Happy TGIF!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Cleaning the closet

I have a junk-filled closet in my studio. You know the one, you have one too. Everything you don’t have time to deal with now, but someday, gets thrown there. I needed to clean it out. Needed room for more junk. 20
years of stuff crammed into a 5-year old closet.

Here's what I re-discovered:

- A file full of rejection letters. "We reviewed your samples...your talent and fine work...good sense of color...HOWEVER." I hate the however.

- A 3-year old picture book manuscript that I wrote in which author friend
Cynthia Leitich Smith was gracious enough to critique for me. I'll
someday get this published.

- $350.00 in bills from an ex-agent. Did I say EX!

- A letter from an art buyer warning me about yet another agent.

- A letter from a lawyer threatening me on behalf of the above mentioned agent.

- 5-years and a couple trees worth of SCBWI newsletters and rosters.

- Every birthday, valentine, thinking of you card given to me from my wife during our first year of marriage.

- Half-empty bottle of posing oil from my long-gone-by-and-skinny bodybuilding days.

- A one-of-these-days-were-going-to-collaborate-on-another-book manuscript written by my Aunt Elenora E. Tate

- Autographed books by Brian Pinkney, Walter Dean Myers and Joan Lowery Nixon that I received at publishers author party while attending an IRA conference.

- About $200 in misplaced over-the- years tax receipts that I could have
deducted but obviously didn't.

- $$$ in outdated computer equipment, software, manuals and floppy discs. (Remember those?)

- A picture I drew of mommy at 3-years old. Told ya I started young.

- 3 years worth of old featured-author name tags from the Texas Book Festival.

- Photos and conference notes from a Black Storytellers convention, Mertle Beach - years ago.

- A Victoria's Secret catalog (I won't discuss that here)

- An unsigned, unreturned contract  for a book cover published with Just Us Books.

...And a partridge in a pear treeee...

No, not really.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Coretta Scott King Illustration Award Predictions

First day back to work after the holidays. My full-time job is at the newspaper. Guess I should be more concerned about my present assignment; creating a map of north Austin, locating the newest extended stay condos....BLECH!

My mind goes to all the talented African American children's book illustrators. How will I ever get a Coretta Scott King Illustration award with competition like Frank Morrison, Kadir Nelson and Bryan Collier? Not to lament, but to celebrate! Here's my predictions for the 2005 Coretta Scott King Award to be announced at the American Library Association's 2005 Midwinter Meeting, January 14-19.

My preference:
Sure as Sunrise: Stories of Bruh Rabbit, illustrated by me, of course

Predicted winner:
Ellington Was Not a Street,
illustrated by Kadir Nelson


Sweet Music in Harlem,
illustrated by Frank Morrison

Very cool:
John's Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Other nice ones:
Jump! From the Life of Michael Jordan,
illustrated by Floyd Cooper
A very Coretta Scott King-ish type of book

Coretta Scott King award recipients are authors and illustrators of African descent whose distinguished books promote an understanding and appreciation of the "American Dream." I'm more into the illustration side of things, so I won't make any author predictions