Monday, April 30, 2007

You, me...We

I get really excited when I purchase a new picture book. Always have, probably always will. But when they come in the mail, free of charge, I get ecstatic! And today, in the mail, I received a real treat. The folks at Lee & Low Books (thanks JC) sent me a review copy of We, by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Kenneth Addison.

We is a story about evolution. It makes the bold statement (ever so subtly), that we, mankind, was born in Africa. Though the story is so much more than that, I thought it was brave that the author tackled the subject in the first place. I commend her for even going there.

I really enjoyed this book, felt good reading it. The words — written in a quiet rhythmic prose — work perfectly in sync with the art.

Kenneth Addison's artwork — mixed media collage (and digital, too, I think) — is eye-catching and filled with detail. I spent a good deal of time reading this book and studying the illustrations. But when I returned to read the book again, I discovered even more visual treasures that I'd missed the first time. Addison, who passed away shortly after creating the art for this book, uses varying color schemes throughout, and each one works successfully. My favorite is the opening, where cut images of water, land, and trees are layered against black mountains, and a deep cadmium yellow painted sky.

The text on the opening spread reads: "Slowly / layer by layer / the river carved its shallow bed / deep into the soil of Africa / undercurrents moved the brown mud downstream / water wore away stone / slowly the river broadened its bed / into a valley"

No punctuation, it just flows.

We is not a story about the origins of African people, as I had assumed reading the first page (having skipped past the jacket flap in a rush to get to the story). And it's not the story of Europeans, or Native Americans or Asians or Indians or Pacific Islanders, or Latins either. We is the story of mankind. It's our story — all of us! — from our birth in Africa to where we live presently, all over the world.

This book will, no doubt, provide opportunities for many discussions, especially those concerning creation vs evolution (which, admittedly, I struggled with a bit, being a Christian myself). I look forward to sharing this book with my son who's always filled with questions, and who is at that age where "why," "why," and "why," are his favorite words.

The author offers these links as websites of interest:

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I placed, 896

Well, I completed the Texas Roundup! It was a 10k run that began and ended at the entrance of the State Capitol Building. This was my second 10k. Running the Statesman's Capitol 10,000 last month made this one much easier. It wasn't easy, easy though, with having a bad cold. I went to the doctor the day before the race to be sure bronchitis hadn't returned, and to get my doctor's OK to run.

Of 998 timed runners (over 7,000 runners total), I'm embarrassed to say that I placed at 896 (or 821 depending upon which posted number is correct), completing the race at one hour and twelve minutes.

The wife beat me. She placed at 718, one hour and three minutes. Beat me like an ugly stepchild, the woman had no mercy. By the time I crossed the finish line, she had turned in her time chip, stood in a long line to receive after-race treats, and called me on my cell phone to say "hi," and "where are you?"

To my credit, I did beat several large ladies and a walking blind man with a stick, who straggled over the finish line a full hour after me. Sigh. Next time, I'm gonna work on improving my time. I can do it, I was just being too cautious, not wanting to burn out and not finish at all.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Years ago, before my first trade picture book deal, I gave Brian Pinkney a call, asked his advice about how to get published. We discussed many things, but the best advice he gave me was to work all my paintings, an entire book, at the same time. Makes for consistent color matching from page to page. Believe it or not, when I started out (doing a lot of educational work), I’d paint one image at a time, remixing colors from one illustration to the next.

I still don’t work an entire book all at once. I’ve tried. Depresses me. Feels like I’m not getting anything accomplished. At the end of the day, I need to see that I’ve made progress. I need to finish some paintings along the way, so I work 4 to 6 pieces at a time.

In the picture above, I’m finishing up the first painting for the inside of the book, FARMER. I had prepared 6 boards to paint, but once I started blocking color in on the first, I couldn’t stop. Entranced. I enjoyed painting this scene so much — cerulean blue sky, pinkish clouds, green earth — I just kept going. It was a moment of zen that lasted a day-and-a-half. Though I love writing, I think I enjoyed painting this scene much more than I would have writing about it.

I have a school visit tomorrow (middle school, college prep), so I won’t be able to continue on the others until the weekend.

I like how these are turning out, and I’m enjoying the process.

In other news: The wife and I will run another 10k this weekend, The Texas Roundup. Problem is, I think my bronchitis is returning. Hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Phone advice to a friend on how to get published

The sister of a friend of my wife's called me today. She's written a children's book. You know how it goes. She wants to know how to get it published.

If you're in the business, you know there ain't no simple answer to this question. Requires more than a 20-minute phone call. Since I love talking trade, and since she asked, I gave her an earful in one-long-drawn-out-run-on-sentence-not-stopping-long-enough-even- to-breathe. She got more than she bargained for.

I answered the usual questions: "Do I need to get an illustrator? How — or should — I get my story copyrighted? How can I get an agent, or find a particular editor?" And so on.

Hope I didn't discourage her, but I didn't candy-coat my answers either. I explained the importance of writing a great story, and then tossing it aside only to write it over and over again. I talked to her about researching the children's book market to determine which publishing houses, editors, or agents best fit her submission. I explained how slow the process works, how thousands of other writers, just like her, would be following the same process, so to expect rejection or no replies at all. Then I advised her to set her story aside and write another. And another. And, still, another.

With my advice, I sprinkled in some children's writer/publishing lingo, words like "trade picture books," "imprints," "SCBWI," "YA" and "vanity publishing" (to which I suggested might not be the best avenue for her to take). She listened intently. Asked questions. Took notes.

When I finished, I felt like I'd painted an impossible picture for her. Made it seem like getting struck by lightening, twice, on the left toenail, in a dust storm, would be easier than getting a children's book published. Considering the competition, maybe it is. But I didn't want her to know that. So I ended on a more promising note by sharing with her how much I enjoy doing what I do, that I've been doing it along time — more than 20 years.

I haven't been struck by lightening, twice, on the left toenail, in a dust storm, yet. But in the 20-plus years in this business, I have illustrated more than 25 books, written several (one likely to be acquired soon). So, it is possible. Very possible. I hope she realized that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My mom's braggin' again

My mom works at an elementary school and made this bulletin board for her students during Black History Month. It includes photos with biographies of famous and accomplished African Americans. So can someone tell me why she's included my younger brother and I (bottom, center), along with Dr. George Washington Carver, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Mae Jemison, Denzel Washington, Tiger Woods, Prince, and Clarence Thomas? Well, because she's a sweetie and truly believes in her boys (grown men) are just as accomplished as these others.

Explains why my three brother's and I grew up to believe in ourselves and our abilities. My brother, pictured, is Des Moines' first black high school head football coach. My other brother is an accomplished musician, teacher, actor (be sure to see his theater photo gallery). My youngest brother is an all around great guy and computer wiz.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Busy, busy, busy, busy weekend

This weekend, I finished a painting for one book cover, began and finished a painting for another cover, and did some character studies for RON, a book I'll work on later this summer. Then I sketched from my anatomy book.

Believe it or not, I still found plenty of time for family.

The first painting I finished was for the cover of FARMER (I Am My Grandpa's Enkelin, partially pictured above). I like the way it turned out; picturing the main character from behind grew on me.

This will be my first painted picture book with Caucasian characters (I've done a few electronically). I must admit, at first, I struggled with skin tones and hair. So, before I started painting, I studied a few other picture books, seeing how other artist handle Caucasian skin and hair. Before I'm finished with this book, I think I'm going to rework the hair on the above painting. I'm not sure that all the lines work.

The second painting I finished was for a manuscript I plan to submit to an editor I met at TLA. She told me that she likes picture books that are art driven. She even showed me examples of wordless picture books that she'd recently published. Stories have to be written well, of course, but seemed to me her interest, first, was in how art tells a story. So this morning, I painted a cover to go along with a story I've written.

I kinda feel like I should completely sketch out the entire story, and submit as a dummy book. But, who's got time to sketch out an entire book on spec? I'm a working professional; I ain't in college. What I've done, I think, gives a taste of how I'd illustrate the story, style and color pallet. And get this, she even invited me to email my manuscript (with art attachments!). Wow, most times people shy away from email and attachments out of fear of viruses.

Lastly, I practiced life drawing from an anatomy book. The wife refuses to pose nekkid for me out of fear that I'd post the drawings on my blog. Again, I'm a professional; I'd never do such a thing (hehehehe).

Friday, April 20, 2007

On to acquisitions!

My manuscript survived this week's editorial meeting. "...everyone likes it very much," says my editor. Now, it must survive an acquisitions meeting, mid May. "I'm very hopeful," she says.

I am too.

Now, I have less than 24 hours to finish the cover illustration for FARMER before FedEx closes at 5:00 p.m., Saturday. It's gonna be a long night.


Dear Donny,

Thank you for your kind words regarding my latest book Celeste's Harlem Renaissance. It truly means a lot to me to know that you read my latest book and enjoyed it. Having this kind of support from friends, relatives, and fellow artists and writers helps to keep us old warriors writing. Over one hundred readers, writers, parents, teachers, media specialists, church folks, and children showed up at my birthday/book launch party at Richard B. Harrison Library in Raleigh, and it was truly wonderful. I knew you and Tammy were there in spirit, too! The flowers and birthday balloons are gorgeous! I received more birthday gifts than I ever have before in my life!
Since I've been writing most of my life, I know that not all words written will be deemed excellent (my goodness, is that possible?), but that's how literature works. All words still convey messages to share with the world, and I am doubly pleased that Celeste is able to share some messages with you.
Aunt Eleanora E. Tate"

Auntie, you and your work are an inspiration to me. -- Donny

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Interesting debate

Remember that scene from the movie, King Kong, where the giant gorilla and dinosaur wrestled with each other, and the little man watched the whole scene from behind a rock, hoping not to get stepped on? Well that's kinda how I felt reading the debates going on over at Fuse # 8, Read Roger, and other places.

Now, excuse me while I crawl back and hide behind my rock, and continue reading the debates out of harms way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Color study

Normally for my books, I don't do color studies. I just sit down and paint. Whatever feels right at the time, that's what I go with. I've heard about some illustrators who create elaborate color and value studies, and I'm thinking, huh? Must be nice. Not in Don Tate's world, on Don Tate's tight deadlines. To paint an entire book, comfortably, it takes me about 4 to 8 months. Uncomfortably, about two or three. Most times, I'm signed on to the uncomfortable plan.

But, with FARMER, I've decided to to experiment with color studies. Maybe it will save time by not having to repaint a color combination that doesn't work.

Sometimes when I'm working, I'll take a digital photo of a painting and experiment with its color in Photoshop, then I'll make the preferred adjustments to my painting.

I'm hoping — and praying — this image works for the cover. It wasn't my choice for the cover. I think it works great for the inside spread it serves, but on the cover, I was concerned about not showing the character's face. I love faces. But in this case, I'm hoping readers will connect with the back of the girl's head. I'm putting my trust in my publisher's and the author's judgment.

Excuse the sloppiness of the color studies. They're not supposed to be tightly rendered. Just gives me an idea of how I could lay down the paint without spending a lot of time with details.

Oh, and I'm taking Janee's advice and not doing any tedious underpaintings. Yikes! I feel nekkid without my burnt sienna underwash.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Missing my aunt's launch party

Tonight, my aunt Eleanora celebrates her birthday, and the launch of her new YA historical novel, CELESTE'S HARLEM RENAISSANCE at the Richard B. Harrison Library in North Carolina. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend. I told my aunt that I'd be there in spirit but, to be honest, both me and my spirit are sitting right here at my computer working on location maps. Ug. Wish I was there.

And speaking of, I finished reading CELESTE'S HARLEM RENAISSANCE yesterday evening, and what a fine piece of literature it is.

When her father gets sick with Tuberculosis, Celeste must move from her home in North Carolina to live with her "famous" Aunt in Harlem New York. But life with her aunt wasn't quite as glamorous as Celeste had imagined. Soon, she found herself — and her aunt — down on her hands and knees scrubbing floors.

Kirkus described the story as "absorbing," and it truly is. CELESTE'S HARLEM RENAISSANCE, like many of my aunt's books, is filled with historical details from African American history.

Read, here, what the News & Observer has to say about Eleanora and her stories.

On the art side: tomorrow I begin final paintings for FARMER! I'm going to begin with the cover (I usually don't like to begin with the cover), so that they can have an image to work with for the catalog. I'll post a few images as they progress.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

San Antonio Saturday

Last night, following my signings at the Texas Library Association conference, the wife and I and K spent the two separate hotel rooms. Me in San Antonio. She and K in New Braunfels, thanks to a line of severe thunderstorms that ran along the I-35 corridor from Dallas to San Antonio.

After getting up early to make the drive, and then walking the exhibit hall for one-too-many hours, I was bushed. Following my second signing, I left and went back to my hotel. I needed a nap before T and K arrived. I figured we'd have a late night dinner on the Riverwalk. The weather was beautiful.

A few hours later, my phone rang, and I awoke to a thunderstorm – hail, 70-miles-per-hour winds, lightening. It was T calling from a truckstop along I-35. The weather had gotten so scary, she had to pull off the road. She was scared, I could hear it in her voice. She and K hadn't eaten having saved their appetites for the Riverwalk. Dinner together was obviously out, so they ate at the truckstop.

With the worst of the storms hovering over San Antonio, getting back on the highway was out. She and K waited at the truckstop for about an hour or so, hoping the storm would pass, but things just went from bad to worse. I checked, and we decided the safest option was for her to get a hotel nearby.

It took awhile to find a hotel — me searching on the internet, she driving from place to place — but she eventually found a Motel 6 with one vacancy remaining. Shortly after they checked in, the sky calmed, and the storm passed. Ain't that how things always work? T and K stayed up and played board games brought along for us to play. I had myself an adult beverage, or two, and went to sleep.

On Saturday, we got together early and had a great time in San Antonio. I'd received payment from ZOOM (a pop-up novelty book I'd illustrated for HC), so I treated them to a day of whatever they wanted to do. We had breakfast at the Rainforest Cafe which features a very real-looking tropical rain forest, growling animated animals and a simulated thunderstorm every half an hour. K was thoroughly freaked out and didn't have a good time there at all.

Afterward, we visited the Children's Museum and then went over to the Alamo where we rode the (cheesy, overpriced) Davy Crockett's Tall Tales Ride, Guinness World Records Museums (K hated both), and the mirror maze. In the dark mirrored walls of the maze, we got lost for about a half hour and never found our way out, exiting where we entered. Again, K was freaked out and just wanted to go home. T and I decided the zoo would be out, K had enough.

T shopped for jewelry, sandals and clothes. K got a life-sized baby alligator, and various other knickknack toys. Me, graphic Ts.

Overall it was another fantabulous day. And for K, whose idea of fun is to stay at home and play board games and math quizzes, the best part of our day-trip was when we came home.

And next time, that's where we're gonna leave him.

Friday, April 13, 2007

TLA, today

I had a fantabulous time walking the exhibit halls at the Texas Library Association conference, today. I also had two very fun and successful book signings with Lee & Low Books. We sold out of all hardcover copies of SUMMER SUN RISIN', and all but two copies of BLACK ALL AROUND. My line of fans -- well, there wasn't really a line -- varied from more people than I could address at one time, to no one at all (mostly the latter).

Since moving to Texas 8 years ago, I've met so many people in this business and made so many friends that, at events like this, I feel at home. Fifteen minutes didn't pass that someone didn't "Hey Don!" me. Too many people to list in a blog, but the first group of people I ran into were my friends from Dallas -- Diane Roberts, Sue Ward, Jan Peck and S.P. Lily .

Not too many publishers were selling books, though I did get a few good buys: Grace Lin's Year of the Dog, Diane Robert's Puppet Pandemonium, a signed copy of Loren Long's and Phil Bildner's Barnstormers, and Tomie DePaola's 26 Fairmount Avenue (a recommended read by an editor at Dial). I also picked up a handful of F&Gs -- or ARCs, or whatever you call them. I call them color copies.

I hadn't planned to talk (sell myself) to any editors, but because I was wearing an "authors badge," they kept talking to me. I left with several invitations to submit my work. I gladly will. One thing I found particularly curious was the number of wordless picture books, and the number of editors who shared examples of them with me. Maybe because I'm an artist, but I'm really not interested in doing a wordless picture book. I've been trying too hard to develop my written word. I didn't know wordless picture books were so popular. I thought they were rare novelties.

The highlight of the day had to be when S.P. Lily says to me: "Congrats, I heard your book is going to get published." When I asked her if she'd read the clues I dropped on my blog, she said, "No, I mentioned your name to your publisher, telling him that I was a friend of yours, and he said that they were soon, likely, to publish a book you'd written."

I was shocked. And she quickly backed off not wanting to disappoint me, since I hadn't received any definite news from the publishers myself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I'm still here

Ok, I haven't blogged much in the last week, or so. I've kinda had the blahs. Following a bad cold, I got an upper respiratory infection. The cold, no big deal. The infection, no big deal either. The medication to treat the infection makes me sick. It zaps my energy level and sours my stomach. And all I feel like doing is the mens room.

Though I haven't blogged, I've still been busy. Finished re-sketching FARMER. The editor, author and publisher all have given me the thumbs up to begin final art, beginning with the cover. The author sent his best wishes, letting me know how much he liked the new direction. Cool thing is, the publishers have offered a generous amount to make up for the re-sketch. I plan to begin soon after returning from TLA.

On Friday, at TLA, I will sign my books with Lee & Low (11 a.m. to 12 and 2 p.m. to 3, booth #2725). Afterwards, I'll meet up with the wife and son. We'll spend the night at a hotel, and do San Antonio — The Riverwalk, Seaworld, The Children's Museum — on Saturday.

In the meantime, I've continued to add designs to my collection with DAISIE (rocket ships, astronauts and safari themes). Through their online forums, I've introduced myself to the DAISIE team and customers. What a lively and enthusiastic group of people. Now, help an artist put his son through private school and...go buy some stuff.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Scrapping good time!

Yesterday was a lot of fun. Throughout the day, Suzanne, my licensing agent, sent samples of my work being used by a new licencee.

Daisie Company (D.A.I.S.I.E., Digital Art Images, Scrapbooking, Inspirations, Etcetera) offers online, digital scrapbooking kits, clip art and more. Their website offers art from more than 20 designers and illustrators (now, me included). Customers simply shop through Daisie's online catalog, download and print their materials. Then they're ready to create, without having to leave their homes!

I don't know much about this company, yet, but I was most impressed by the founders. From what I can gather, two mothers, who love to scrap book, turned their part-time passion into a full-time successful business. They're able to be at home with the kids, and run a business, too. Wow! What moms can do! I love stories like this.

As of today, some of my designs are now up on the Daisie website. This is incredibly fast turnaround. Most times, it takes about a year or two before a licensed design is available as a product. I sent my art to Daisie about a week ago. Over the next week, I will focus on Christmas and Kwanzaa designs, and then move on to other themes, like birthday, family reunion, and more boy stuff. As new designs become available, I'll make an announcement here.

In other news: In the mail yesterday, I also received printed samples from Chartwell Studios. They've also licensed some of my art to be used as scrapbooking paper and stickers (my son's gonna love this, he loves stickers), available at Dollar Tree stores through the Miss Elizabeth's product line.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Reviewing my manuscript

I'm sitting here, literally, with goosebumps. And it's not because of the 101-degree temperature I've maintained over the past three days due to a cold and upper respiratory infection. It's because I just finished reading the most recent edits for a book I've been working on for the last three years.

My editor recently sent me the final version, the version she'll take to her editorial meeting. The version that will either make or break this deal (goosebumps, again).

It's been over nine months since I've even looked at this manuscript, so I didn't remember my words exactly. As I read, I kept thinking, "wow, I love what she's done. What an amazing addition she's made." But then after checking what I had actually submitted to her, I would realize the words weren't hers. They were mine.

Good editors don't write for the author. With this manuscript, and the essay, I've learned that good editors are those who raise questions, make suggestions, and point the author in directions that he/she may not have considered. They help make a good story great.

This is all so cool. But it ain't a done deal, yet. So, mums still the word.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Road to publication, inching it's way

At this point, the happy dance would be a bit premature. Still, I feel like boogying.

One of my manuscripts have inched a step closer to publication (I think). Mums the word until I have something more concrete to report. But I expect to have more information in a few weeks (Possibly).

"This is a great project ...hang in there—we're moving along," said my editor, who I'm not ready to reveal yet.

She even thanked me for my patience. I'd assumed that after sending her five emails in nine months, she'd consider me a pest.

With the most recent edits in my hot little hands, I think maybe I'll do the happy dance part-ways.

In other news: Here's me and the wife as we finish (or maybe begin, I can't tell) our 10K race.
I'm the guy wearing black. Now, we have three weeks to gear up for our second race.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The funeral scene

Maybe it's not so bad after all. Showing the body. My editor and the author were both insistent that the body be shown. I fought it for a minute, but gave in because...well, I don't have time to fight. I need to start painting this book if it's gonna make it's publishing date.

On second look, maybe it works. As I said before, the editor and author are much smarter than I.

There's a reason why the mourners are smiling. But you'll have to read the book to find out.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Letter to the editor


I removed my last post; better suited for one of my other blogs.