Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tueday's highs and lows

High: Be sure to check out, Illustrator Update: Don Tate, an updated interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, and an earlier interview from 2000. Though, I am mostly an illustrator, I've been warmly embraced by the children's writing community as well, and I am thankful for that. Already, I've received a couple emails from writers who've read the interview!

Low: I'm really sick today. I was literally up all night with an awful, burning stomach ache, so I'm operating on an empty sleep tank. All my Google symptom searches point to stomach ulcer, but that may be the hypochondriac living inside my head. It may simply be the chicken I had for dinner last night.

High: I received a rave review from School Library Journal for my artwork in The Hidden Feast. "...Tate's beautifully laid-out illustrations are a delight..."

Low: I'm really sick today. Did I already mention that?

High: I'm too sick to end on a high note. : (

Monday, March 27, 2006


I found this little application while cruising the net. Enter a keyword, and the program does an image search on Google, then creates a montage from the images found. Of course, vainglorious brotha I am, I had to enter my own name. This is the montage created.

Man, I my dreadlocks, makes me want to grow them back. But they ain't so cool on a head with a balding dome, so, maybe not.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Defining comics

Ok, don't tell my wife, but yesterday I bought three books — shhh! I only intended to buy one, anything by Scott McCloud, but ended up getting three books instead.

My purchases: Reinventing comics — How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an art form, and Understanding Comics, both by McCloud. I also picked up a signed copy of Seadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta, written by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Mark Siegel. I know what your thinking: "Devas T., I thought you had no interest in graphic novels." Well, I didn't. But suddenly I do.

In just the first few pages of Understanding Comics, McCloud addressed one of the main problems I've experienced with comics and graphic novels. I felt that comic books were simply cheap and crude, and surly not an artform I'd want to identify with. And in my mind, graphic novels were just an extension of that belief. The problem: my definition of comics was too narrow. According to McCloud, I wasn't alone in my limited thinking.

Using a comic book style of storytelling, McCloud opened my mind up to cartooning, or comics and offered an intelligent definition, as well as a history of comics, and more.

Comics: Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce and aesthetic response in the viewer.

I like that! I can do that! Yes, I am a cartoonist, too!

But I won't lose my children's book illustrator hat anytime soon.

Friday, March 24, 2006

T.G.I. Friday!

I’m still reeling from a not so pleasant book review. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t nice. I’ve decided not to react to it until I’ve had a chance to sleep on it a few nights ‘cause right now I’d just end up calling the reviewer some nasty names.

Looks like I may have to miss the Dallas Children’s Book and Literary Festival in May. I don’t want to, this is one of my favorite festivals. This festival involves doing school visits — usually at public schools in poorer black areas of town. I like presenting a positive, alternative image to kids who may think the way out of the ‘hood is through basketball or rap music. Thing is, I just realized that my son’s school holds their end of year field event on the same day. It’s a real big deal, the school administrators have been talking about it all year long. My son would be terribly disappointed if I weren’t there. I still remember sitting in the audience at his Christmas program, watching him as he marched into the sanctuary, dressed like a shepherd, eyes scanning the room till he found me. I wouldn’t miss that for anything.


Ok, I’m giving the idea of self publishing my cartoon series a second thought. I’m just not in the mood for the uphill battle of getting rejected by agents, and editors and publishers when I can publish it myself, like many other cartoonist do. Cartoon publishing works a bit differently than tradebook publishing, I’m gathering, so self publishing my well be the way to go. I think I’ve created a ‘toon that would fill a niche. I’m gonna think on that a little further.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Good things...

...are sure to follow, whenever my licensing rep calls asking me to check my email box for an email she sent 5 minutes ago.

My knowledge of the fabric and textile industry is null, and so the email didn't make much sense to me. But it ended with, "YAAAAY!"

Just like math, and music, I think "YAAAY! is probably universal.

More to come.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Hot off the press!

Just received 20 complimentary copies of The Hidden Feast, a book I illustrated for August House. Most publishers will offer 3 to 5 contractural copies, and I usually counter with 20 to 25, and, so far, have had no problem getting that.

Excuse me if I'm repeating myself, I can't remember exactly what I've blogged in the past, but I was very happy with the reproduction of the art, they did an outstanding print job. I tried a new technique. I didn't have much time to create the final art, two months, maybe three. The publisher's initially wanted the same style I used in Sure As Sunrise, but there was no way with the time allotted. So I went with more of a flat, bold-lined coloring book style. Problem with that style is that it can go flat, so I layered the paints very thick, mixing in large amounts of medium. I went over each block of color with a lighter, even thicker glaze of the same color. On roosters feathers, I included some details using a fine-point metallic marker, though I knew metallic would never reproduce unless it were printed as a fifth color. It didn't reproduce.

Although the images are very flat, the thick transparent paint, layered over bold colors, allows for the brush strokes to stand out. This created a rhythm and texture that I hadn't anticipated. Happy accident 'cause I honestly had no idea what I was doing at the time, I was just trying to make deadline.

My only regret...well, besides the type thing surreptitiously mentioned before, there wasn't time to correct some incorrect information on the cover flap. No — although I wish — Andrea Pinkney is not the author of any book that I have illustrated. She did edit one of my books, which explains the mixup. We'll fix that on a second printing.


Why does my day keep getting interrupted by sales people wanting to clean my carpet for free, but sell me a $3,000 Kirby vacuum? Oh, excuse me, I forgot. Kirby is not a vaccuum cleaner, it's a complete in-home cleaning system. Go away!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

An email from David Kirk!

This morning, I received an email from David Kirk! "Greetings," he said in the subject line. Seeing this utmost famous children's book illustrator's name in my email box almost gave me a heart attack. I mean, David Kirk!— as in the creator of the colorful, and immensely successful Miss Spider franchise. One of the few illustrators — if any — to make the pages of the Wall Street Journal for his big successes of the early 90s.

What did David Kirk want with me? Curiosity began to spin my brain in circles, I grew dizzy with anticipation. Maybe he belongs to some invitation-only, exclusive group of illustrators, and was going to extend me an invitation. I started to formulate the acceptance letter in my mind. Maybe he's co-chairing a literary festival, along with some other big name author, in some faraway city, and I am requested to be on the guest roll. Maybe his editors had envisioned a collaborative effort between David Kirk and myself — Miss Spider Marries a Roach from The Hood. Oh my gosh! I need an agent if I'm going to work with David Kirk!

My computer — just as star struck as I — froze as I opened his email. I rebooted, logged onto the internet, found that email. I was disappointed.

This particular David Kirk was a spammer. He wanted to deposit $48.550 million dollars into my savings account if I gave him my banking account information.

Sigh. I feel so nobody-ish.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mailbox: Portfolio preparation

I just want to take a second to thank so many of you who have sent email messages. I really do feel honored when folks visit my website, or blog, and take the time to send me a personal message. And, especially since my website is much overdue for a redesign.

On the same note, sorry if I haven't returned an email, it wasn't intentional. I often check my mail from work — nosey, I know — but, rarely respond to emails from work. If I forget to save mail, I sometime lose them. I did want to address a question which has come up a few times lately. What should go into a portfolio, how much and so on.

First of all, art is subjective. What you like, someone else might not. But, still, there's a big difference between polished, marketable illustration, and illustration that needs a bit more developing. Have you ever been through an illustration source book, such as Picture Book, and seen an illustrator's work who is obviously not up to par? I mean, you know the person has invested much money on the ad, and probably won't recoup the investment. Don't go there.

Be honest with yourself. Visit a bookstore or library and spend many hours poring over artwork in children's books. Notice what styles of art seem to be trendy. I'm not saying that your art needs to fit a trend, in fact, your art must be distinct in, and of itself. But it helps to see what art directors and editors are buying. There, for awhile, art directors and editors were mostly looking at realistic portraiture styles for multi-cultural books. I was trying to present very exaggerated, highly stylized illustration. I wasn't getting anywhere. When the trend started to change, I found work.

Have a professional, preferably in the field of children's books, critique your work. And be ready for negative feedback. You'll need less than complimentary comments in order to grow. Don't ask your children, or your child's classmates. My son loves everything I do, especially if I put his name on it, which I quite often do. For the most part, just about any young child will love your art, and the fact that you are sharing it with them. Join an SCBWI critique group. One that might have a few published illustrators, and let everyone know your desire for hard honest feedback, not frosted over and glazed.

Portfolios, and how they are presented these days are ever changing. Many artist in New York have the advantage of walking in off the street and dropping off their work with publishers on designated days. I've never had that convenience, and I don't know that it's completely necessary these days. Post cards, and mailers displaying your best work will do just fine, though a one on one sit-down is alway nice, too. Once you have an editor's attention, often times, they'll ask for jpegs or pdfs of your work. Whether sending electronically, or sending an actual portfolio (reproductons, tearsheets, color copies), send only your best work even if its just a few pieces. Your not gonna trick them by sending 50 pieces of art you yourself know is mediocre, or just plain bad. Those couple of bad pieces may speak louder than the good ones. If you have printed tearsheets, or printed books, it's always good to send those (include a self addressed stamp envelope for return). Actual printed work speaks volumes (good printed work, not bad).

Last, be sure to show the kind/style of work you want to do. Your realistic paintings may be awesome, but if your desire it to illustrate whimsical, cartoony books, you don't want to get stuck illustrating, building your career on a style you don't particularly enjoy. Also, it's important, if your goal is to illustrate children's books, that you can carry the characters in a story completely through the book, and that they are consistent throughout. Have samples that display your ability to show a character in various scenes, interacting with others, or the environment around. Bruh Bully Frog on page six, needs to look like Bruh Bully Frog on page 32.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Congrats go out...

...to a few author/illustrator folks that I actually know!

Dianna Aston, whose book, An Egg Is Quiet (Chronicle Books, April 2006), received a starred review from Kirkus.

Varian Johnson's Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid is #6 on the Essence Best Seller List(March 2006) for Paperback Fiction.

Janee Trasler received a two-book deal with Little Brown and Company. Ghost Eats it All, is due out in time for Halloween 2006. Ghost Gets Dressed will publish the following year.

Brian Yansky, author of My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket, 2003), has sold a second novel, though, for the life of me, I can't find where I read that recently. Excuse me if I'm wrong, I'm a grandpa, you know.

Friday, March 17, 2006

A typical page from my sketchbook

How come my sketchbook isn’t so sketchy? While surfing a few other illustrator blogs, I noticed how many artist scan and display pages from their sketchbooks. Cool idea! Figured I'd do the same. But after flipping through my non-anatomy related sketchbooks, I came to realize that most of my sketchbooks contain no sketching at all. I usually end up writing.

The above image is a typical page from one of my sketchbooks. On this day, I had visited the opening of a new skateboard park here in Austin. I had taken my son, and planned to sketch the skaters as my son played on the playscape. My plan was to capture the skater’s movements, the excitement in their animated body language. It was meant to be an exercise in expressing myself through line and motion. I ended up writing.

There was so much action, it seemed to be a scene right out of a YA novel, so I took copious notes about the noises I heard. I noted the conversations of the teenagers, their language, their clothing, even the hairstyles and makeup the girls wore. I tried to figure out the protocol the skaters were using to determine who would skate when as a group of about 15 kids (and several grey haired old men) stood around what appeared to be a huge cement bowl dug deep into the ground. The grey haired old men — mid-40-ish in age, I’d assumed — were just as skilled as the 15-year old boys. Ouch!— I thought; some of those moves hurt just looking. The skaters watched each other closely, and it was rare that two skaters would end up in the bowl at the same time. They somehow knew when it was their turn to release their upturned boards, and let themselves drop into the hole.

I’d planned to use some of this research in the novel I'm so-called writing. So-called, I say, ‘cause I ain’t written more than a loose outline, and a few pages.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

See ya at TLA

I really, REALLY wish my full-time gig had not been referenced in this ad. *grinding teeth* But, anyway, regardless, I look forward to meeting ya. See ya there!


Blogger! I lost a post! Sad thing is, I don't even remember what it was about, but I know it's gone!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Squeezin' another (blog) in

I'm even more excited about the possibility of illustrating a book by American Book Award recipeint, Walter Wangerin. I just got off the phone with the publisher, and learned how I was chosen as the artist. Walter discoved Summer Sun Risin,' a book I illustrated for Lee and Low, while shopping at Barnes and Noble. He liked the farm scenes and made his request based simply on that alone, not because he needed/wanted/preferred a black artist. In fact, the characters in this book are midwestern, German caucasions. I don't mind getting work based upon race, it's the niche I've created for myself, it brings work my way. But it's a special compliment when I'm selected solely on the merits of my work.

Squeezin' it in

I have so many things going on presently, that I've decided to make a big list and post it on my studio door with production schedules, deadlines, work orders and such. Normally, I keep this stuff in my head, but I've never had demands in the past quite like I have now. I apologize to those whose emails have gone answered, and to a couple people who have requested interviews (I’m really sorry). I've been swamped with work, then after finishing Justin, I literally took a few days off and simply did nothing.

This week, I received three book offers. Should any of those folks be reading, I'm honored and I thank you. However, it's looking like I will only be able to force-squeeze in one more manuscript in this year. This story, to be published by a Christian house, is written by author Walter Wangerin. I love the manuscript. Their production schedule may not be able to wait for me, but I'm hoping so. The author personally selected my work, so that really speaks to me. Besides that, my portfolio is in bad need of diversity. I’m squeezin’ this in, if possible.

I also received a request to illustrate one spread for Harcourt through Kirchoff/Wohlberg, Inc (whose website may crash your computer, so be careful), a literary agency who I'd like to establish a relationship with. The deadline isn't so bad, so I'm squeezin’ this one in.

Spoke with the folks at Dutton to see about starting my sketches for Ron one month later. This will allow for squeezin’ in 12 images for the 2007 My Peepz calendar. Final art due early May. Keep in mind that Zoom is still on the horizon; It's still in the hands of the paper engineers.

My licensing rep called with two requests for designs. I will do a few preliminary designs for a company who produces birthday party favors. My theme will be cowboys! Now, I'm not feeling so bad about purchasing that expensive coffee table reference book about cowboys, though, now after Justin, it's covered in paint. Squeezin’ it in.

Other interesting contacts this week:

-Urban Ministries, Inc., an African American Christian publishing and Communications company, requested art samples. I'll squeeze that in.

-Dallas Children’s Book Fair (fun, fun, fun) Squeezin’ it in

-oh, and my mom wants me to draw a picture of her for her blog. Guess I should find a way to squeeze it in, I mean she’s kinda got me over a barrel with the nine-months of carrying and birthing me thing.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Saying goodbye to Justin

Justin will be leaving me today. I've enjoyed his visit, but he worked me silly in just the short amount of time he was here.

This story will be republished in basal form for the school market. It required 10 full-spread paintings, and one spot. I finished it in a record-setting pace, in just little over a month. When I accepted this project, I didn't really think I could do what they needed in only a month, but I did much better than anticipated. I still finished within deadline (give or take a day or two), and I still ran three times a week. I also worked out twice a week, blogged and cartooned almost daily, finished a sketch for Scott Foresman, adjusted and approved 8 designs for DT (my collection not added, yet), and even spent a little time with the family. Not bad.

Now, today, I'm sending Justin off to Harcourt. And in his pocket, I'm stuffing a great big ole' fat invoice. Thanks to Justin, the wife will soon be getting a brand spankin' new iPod, and an iMac in my attempt to restock up on brownie points.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Hidden Feast is about to debut

The Hidden Feast (August House, 2006), a picture book which I illustrated, debuts on the publishers website as well as on Amazon, and elsewhere. Notice that a brotha was left off of the Amazon credits, however, that'll soon be fixed. The Hidden Feast: A Folktale from the Southern United States releases in April.

I will be signing The Hidden Feast at TLA coming up in April!

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Carnival is in town!

Riverview was a good old fashioned neighborhood amusement park which sat in the north central city along the Des Moines river. There were plenty of clowns, and pinball machines and games of chance. There were teacups, and wooden roller coasters and houses of mirrors. My favorite ride was the airplanes which spun in circles just above my dads head. As he looked on, I imagined myself flying high over the clouds to a world far away. My least favorite ride was the Wild Mouse. I never did like rollercoasters, especially after hearing all the stories (urban legends) of kids tipping over and plunging to their death in the river below. And then, there was the Tunnel of Love; There was more screaming and hair pulling, than kissing and hugging as the boat veered through the dark tunnel. Riverview closed when I was still just a small child, and I haven't experienced anything of late that compares to the old fashioned good times.

But the Carnival of Children's Literature, No. 2: A Coney Island Adventure, hosted over at Chicken Spaghetti, has gotta come close. Check it out.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A comic kind of literary day

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious, spoiled-brat children's book illustrator, I write the following comments with great hesitation. This morning I attended STAPLE!, The Independent Media Expo for comics, mini-comics, zines, and self-published literature. I've been experimenting with cartooning, and wanted to further explore this field, so this function presented itself at an opportune time. However, I've reached a conclusion: I don't want to be an independent cartoonist. I enjoy expressing myself through cartoon, but I don't want to write, ink, color copy, cut, bind, glue, market and sell — in essence, publish my own comic books for $2 to $5-bucks a pop.

I'm a commercial artist. For me, art is a means for making a living. If it don't make money, I don't want none, honey. Ok, bad rhyming scheme, but you get the idea. This independent, self-published subculture of cartoonists weren't pursuing their craft to make a living. Because a living, they can't, in the majority of instances.

I approached each exhibitor with the same questions: Who is your publisher? Their answer: I am. At first, I thought I had struck it rich. Me, a book artist in a room full of publishers. Not exactly. My next question: How do you make money? Their answer, following a nervous chortle: We don't.

Sure, there are a few avenues for which these self-published cartoonist can earn a few bucks here and there. But for the most part, independent cartooning is a labor of love. Thing is, love won't pay my house and car notes.

After less than an hour of mingling, I left disappointed.

Later, I returned to hear cartoonist, Keith Knight's, presentation and was so glad I did. Knight makes a living cartooning and playing in a band, as well as various other creative endeavors. His comics are syndicated throughout the country in newspapers, magazines and books for the trade. His presentation started right off speaking directly to me. He offered a listing of many African American cartoonist which included Aaron McGruder, Maurie Turner, Robb Armstrong, et al. I was inspired.

Keith Knight gave us a funny and intelligent look into his world of creating cartoons. Cartooning — good cartooning — is not an endeavor for the simple minded among us, as one might think. His sharp knowledge of current events, politics, and world news was evident in his conversation. I enjoyed his quick-witted humor as he shared experiences working with newspaper editors. His walk with newspaper and magazine editors is not too different than my walk with children's book editors. Some of his stories cracked me up, particularly those where his over-the-edge humor got him into trouble with so-called "family" publications. Trouble for him means losing a newspaper or two to a joke that slipped through the cracks.

Knight discussed the idiosyncrasies of the comics biz, and how unpredictable newspapers can be when it comes to censoring cartoons. His strip, the politically liberal slanting, and sometimes edgy K-chronicles, has run consistently, without question, in conservative markets like Salt Lake City, but have been censored and/or heavily edited in more liberal markets like the San Francisco Bay area. But he takes it all in stride advising artist to freely express themselves, leaving the editing and censoring conversations with editors for a later time — usually right up to publication.

I spoke with Keith a bit before he gave his presentation. I purchased some of his books, and I showed him some of mine. His eyes practically popped out of his head when I answered his question about what I earn in advances for my children's books. Figuring an artist of his caliber probably made the big bucks (at least, bigger than mine), I was embarrassed to disclose what I make in advances. But, his advice to me: Don't pursue cartooning over children's books. "Comics will never earn what you're currently earning in children's books." he said. "You are the only person in this room to purchase one of my books with a $50-dollar bill," he said, laughing as he took my payment. We had a little mix up when exchanging money. I gave him a $50-dollar bill, plus two $1-dollar bills for a $28-dollar purchase. I'm not good with math, but I figured I had more coming back than $5-bucks. I wasn't going to say anything at first, and just walked away rationalizing that I was supporting a brotha at whatever cost. But on second thought, I wasn't paying $47 dollars for two paperback comic books unless they were antique, so we got the money part straightened out.

As much as I can, I plan to keep in touch with him.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cartooning in Austin

I deleted my last entry. Nothing wrong with it, intrinsically. But with the Carnival of Children's Literature coming up, and the possibility of a new reader, or two, I didn't want to take a chance. I'll share my most embarrassing book buying experience at another time.

Looking forward to the weekend. I'm planning to attend STAPLE!, The Independent Media Expo. In laymen terms, it a convention for cartoonist, zines, and self-published literature. I've been feeling my way around this new cartoon platform, so I'm looking forward to meeting, and networking with others who are doing exactly what I want to do. Except, ultimately, I don't want to be self published. I wanna make some money.

Ah, and another cool thing. Remember, I joked about presenting myself as a caucasion cartoonist. I was joking. Sorta. Anyway, Keith Knight, a very successful African American cartoonist, will be speaking at the convention. Not that I want to be a cartoonist, per se. Well, yes I do. How come I have a problem identifying with that word? Anyway, regardless, I'm inspired.

By the way, I learned of the convention through Paige Braddock, who I blogged about a few weeks ago (but can't find the post in order to link to).

Now, back to my paintings.