Thursday, January 31, 2008

From now on, I'll have to hand-transfer my drawings

Here I am in my studio, using my window as a makeshift light table. Normally, I take my sketches to a blueprint shop downtown and have them transferred to Canson paper. But for Ron, my current picture book, I've been using watercolor paper.

Recently, when I went to the blueprint shop to have my sketches transferred, the young woman who works there informed me that she could no longer transfer my sketches. She said that 140-pound watercolor paper was too thick for their machine. She said I'd have to use a lighter weight paper, like 90-pound. Who, except for maybe a high school student, would use 90-pound watercolor paper? It's like trying to paint on tissue. The paint puddles and the paper warps.

I was furious. They'd already transferred 6 of my images, and 140-pound paper had worked just fine in their machine. At that point, my choices were to illustrate the book with two weights of paper, or to start completely over using that 90-pound crap. I decided to wait a couple weeks and return to the shop. I planned to go at a different time of day and, maybe, there'd be a different person working.

So yesterday, I moseyed myself back into the blue print shop and, thankfully, the young woman wasn't there. Instead, a new kid — gangly, hungry-looking, appearing to be thankful to have a job — was working there. I figured if he gave me any problems, I'd act crazy and make a lot of noise and, you know, the customer's always right. He'd be afraid to lose his new job, so he'd go ahead print my sketches.

Well, that's exactly what happened. But no sooner than I whipped out my crazy-man attitude, the young woman from before stepped into the room. She looked at me giving the new guy a hard time and asked, "Is that 90-pound watercolor paper you're trying to run through our machine?"

Both the young woman and the hungry-looking new kid — and everyone in the shop — was staring at me, waiting for an answer. At first I started to lie and say "yes," just to prove that 140-pound watercolor paper would indeed work in their machine. But I figured if it didn't, and if it crumpled up, they might hold me responsible. So I said, "No, it's not. I can't paint half my book on 140-pound watercolor paper, and the other half toilet paper. You guys already printed part of my book, and the paper worked fine."

The young woman and I continued our exchange. I lost the argument, but only after scaring the hungry-looking new guy enough that he was willing to at least try to print my sketches. But the young woman wasn't having it. I gave her the dirtiest look I could muster up. If looks could kill, the young woman wouldn't have been dead, but she would have been missing a few fingers.

So once again, here I am in my studio, hand-transferring my drawings. Some artists use a carbon paper technique. Others simply redraw their sketches directly onto their canvas or paper. I really dislike transferring artwork. I dislike it so much, I once paid a friend to transfer my sketches for me. My light table is much too small for these double-page drawings, so for the remainder of this book, I'll be standing here in my studio window, transferring images and waving at my neighbors as they walk by.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ron, Duke, Dutton

Today I received word that 90-percent of my sketches for Ron have been approved. The other 10% are still on hold because of text changes that may affect the layout. Geez. I. Hope. Not! Grrrr.

In other news: The way things have shaken out, it now looks like I'll spend a good portion of this year illustrating a book about Duke.

Major correction: Many times here, while I've discussed Ron, I've referred to him as being published by Dial. To my embarrassment, my editor recently corrected me. Dutton is my publisher for Ron.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I've grown to dislike AOL

I've been with America Online for over 14 years now, almost longer than I've been with my wife. I was an AOL customer back when the rest of the world was still using Compuserve and Prodigy. Remember those? I've had the same America Online email address since way before AOL even allowed direct access to the internet.

Couple years ago, AOL began to offer free email accounts in addition to paid accounts. Not wanting to mess with my account, I never switched. I didn't want to take a chance on losing any service, so I remained a paying customer.

Recently I discovered that AOL had been charging me 4-times the amount I should have been paying. Angry, I gave them a call to find out what was going on. Turned out to be a misunderstanding. My daughter who lives in another state recently began to use an account I'd set up for her years ago, when she was still a teenager. For whatever reason, she was using it again, and she has dial-up. I was getting charged by the minute! Not too big a deal. I spoke with my daughter, asked her to start a free account with Google or Yahoo or something.

While on the phone with AOL, I asked about the free account, and it turned out there was absolutely no reason for me to pay. Basically, I had been paying $10.00 per month for my email account so that I could have "free" online technical support if my email ever stopped working (which hasn't happened in 13 years). I canceled my pay service and retained my email address for free.

Two weeks later, I can't access my email. Is this some kind of trick?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I'm very satisfied

It was about 5:45 in the evening when I got out my car, pranced across the parking lot and entered the karate school. I was going to pick up my son. A smile was glued to my face and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't peel it off. At that time of the evening, I'd normally be at work, downloading wire graphics for the next day's paper. That, or chasing down reporters who forgot to sign off on graphics I'd created for their stories.

When I entered the large room, my son was sitting on the floor in a lotus position with about 40 other children. They were listening intently as their instructor barked out instructions. When my son saw me, his face lit up like a halogen lamp. He was just as excited to see me as I was to see him. He bounced over to his instructor, bowed out, and joined me at his locker.

As I helped my son gather his belongings, I noticed the smile again. It had never left my face. I've lived in Austin for almost 8 years, and that smile had never shown up during prime-time news hours. It felt foreign. "Why are you smiling?" my son asked me. I didn't offer an answer. I just went about helping him gather his belongings.

In the parking lot, my son pounced on me with a million questions. "Why are you picking me up and not mom? Why are you not at work? What are we gonna do this evening? At that second I knew I'd made the right choice about going part-time at my job. The time I now get to spend with my son can't be purchased, even with the income that I'd lost from working full-time.

I get to be at home, doing what I really want to be doing — making and selling art for children's publishing, writing, and being creative. I even have ideas for some type of e-commerce business (see this, and this, and this). Most of all, I get to spend more time with my family.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Not a bad review

"...The writing is bright with sensory details, and the
impressive large-scale paintings illustrate the story with clarity, economy, and certainty of purpose. A quiet but rewarding picture book. "

February 15, 2008, Booklist

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A winding curve in the path to publication

A few years ago, I wrote a picture book biography, and last April it was acquired by a publisher. Since then, I've billed myself as an author and illustrator, even though I didn't receive a formal offer or contract. I didn't worry about the offer. My editor said it would come and, with me, her word was as good as gold.

As the year progressed, my editor and I discussed the illustration possibilities. Who would illustrate the story, me or another artist? Several months passed with no discussion at all, so towards the end of last year, I sent my editor an email. When she didn't respond, I got worried. After the new year, I sent two more emails. Still she didn't respond.

I stopped telling people about the book I wrote. When people asked, I'd make an excuse. "Publishing is slow," I'd say. "Getting a children's book published can take years." I wasn't lying, the road to publication is long, winding, slow and bumpy. But in my heart, I accepted that the deal had fallen through. In addition, I wasn't having any luck finding a literary agent, so my hope for getting published as an author began to die. I dropped the author billing and re-embraced the sole title of illustrator.

But yesterday all that changed. The offer came! My book will publish after all, fall of 2009, schedule permitting. I'll share some of the details after the contracts are signed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What a treat!

Be sure to check out an interview I conducted with CSK honor winner, Nancy Devard, at The Brown Bookshelf, today.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Buzzed out!

This wild-eyed guy is my latest creation. He will run in tomorrow's Features section along with a story about energy drinks, high-caffeinated beverages like Inked, Red Bull, Go Fast, Vamp. They're all the rage. I've never tried the stuff, but I tend to abhor heart attacks.

When I began this assignment, I had no idea what to do. The only stipulation: Finish it in a day, possibly two. With my new part-time, three-day work schedule, I didn't have much time to think, I just did it.

Looking at the final illustration, I came to realize that high energy beverages aren't the only way to obtain this look. Try reading the book Fox in Sox, all in one sitting. Watch the Democratic debates. Watch the Republican debates. See what happens when you try to impress your new art agent by accepting a $1,900.00 illustration project that has a budget of $250.00...before commission.

Monday, January 21, 2008

My agent anguish is over

It's (almost) official, I have a new art agent: Nicole Tugeau of Team Tugeau 2. And she's already hooked me up with a new assignment, due on Wednesday.

This was a tough decision for me. I was in discussions with three agents (a third contacted me on Friday), but by then, I'd pretty much made my final decision. Nicole is like a fireball — high energy, but not overbearing. She's newer to the business — five-years-old, if I remember — so she's in an aggressive mode, building her business. The question isn't: Will she find work for me? She will, she already has! The better question is: Will I be able to keep up with her?

When I chatted with her last week, she was so enthusiastic — about me and the field of children's publishing in general — that I couldn't even get a word in edgewise. I just listened in delight, and responded to her, "Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, OK."

Team Tugeau will represent me specifically in the area of educational publishing, which will include educational books, children's magazines, textbooks — the bread-and-butter kind of projects that pay the bills. I've reserved the area of trade for myself, leaving open the option to obtain a literary agent. But if a lit agent doesn't come along soon, we'll discuss the possibility of modifying our contract to include trade, too. Nicole says she can get my written works in front of an editor just as well as any lit agent.

Suzanne will remain my licensing agent.

P.S. Nicole Tugeau is the daughter-in-law of art agent Christina Tugeau (who will speak at our SCBWI conference later this year). I'm told the two sometimes team up on projects as one large team.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A cold, possibly the flu

At this very moment, I am so abso-freaking-lutely sick, the mere act of blinking my eyes is a major triumph. The words, I feel like crap, is an understatement. Pain!— You hear me, throbbing, grinding, rotten pain! All over my body. Ug.

And now that I'm working part-time at the newspaper, I cannot call in sick. Doing so would drastically affect my bottom-line because tomorrow's a holiday. Martin Luther King Day. No disrespect intended, but...Double time! Lord knows I need it.

Somehow I have to make it through tomorrow and Tuesday. Then I'm off the remainder of the week.

Why couldn't I have gotten sick on Wednesday?

What I'm reading

Diary of a Whimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney, is the funniest thing I've read in a long time. I've been reading this book and laughing to the point of tears all week. Even though the book is written for the average 5th-grader, I can relate to so many things even as a grown man. For instance the opening paragraph where Greg Heffley says: "First of all, let me get something straight: This is a JOURNAL, not a diary...when mom went out to buy this thing I SPECIFICALLY told her to get one that didn't say 'diary' on it."

Exactly how I felt when I began to blog here three years ago. I hoped people would see it as a journal and not a diary. This book is so funny.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Agent anguish

I almost have a new agent! Two of 'em to be exact. Now I gotta choose one, and that's not gonna be easy.

For now, I've decided to put my search for a literary agent on hold. That process is way too time consuming, and I've found it a drain on my confidence and creativity. I have one submission (three written but not illustrated stories) out to a lit agent, but if that falls through, I'm done for awhile. I'm getting an art agent.

Now which one to choose, that's where I anguish. I need an agent who can keep work on my plate, smaller projects that can pay my bills in between illustrating trade picture books. I need in-and-out, bread-and-butter projects, educational publishing, children's magazines.

In terms of their ability to find work, both agents seem promising. One is very, very sweet, the other is very straight forward, business-like. One is fairly new to the business, while the other has over twenty years experience. One works in Ohio while the other is out of New York. One, because she is newer to the business, I sense will sell me more aggressively. One likes my digital work, the other likes my painted work. Both are very enthusiastic about my portfolio and confident in their ability to sell me. Either one would make a great agent.

For me, it's all going to boil down to who will offer the most flexibility. I need an art agent to sell my work to educational publishers, children's magazines and other juvenile publishing outlets, while leaving me the option to pursue a literary (editorial) agent to handle my written and illustrated endeavors. And so far, they both seem open to that. Ug! Anguish.

I can say, after a year of searching for a literary agent, and being treated like spit on a street curb, it's nice to feel wanted.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The poster ordeal

When I woke yesterday morning, my task was simple: Make one small change to the computer file of our 28 Days Later poster, upload the file to my webserver. Shouldn't take more than 10 minutes, tops.

It took all afternoon.

After I uploaded the file to the server, I shot off an email to the other members of the Brown Bookshelf, asking them to download the poster, too. I'm a Mac guy, and I wanted to be double-sure the file would work OK for PC users. It wouldn't. Some people were receiving error messages, while others, worse yet, were freezing up halfway through the download.

I was frantic and much too busy working my underpaintings for Ron. I didn't have time for technical glitches, but the poster was out there live and, I'll be doggone, but it wasn't working! The press releases had been sent. Review journals, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, bloggers were watching. A few people had even commented. For a perfectionist like myself, this is a nightmare. So for the next 6 hours, I was obsessed with getting it right.

Later that afternoon, I called my wife at work. She has a very cool computer that runs both Mac and PC. I asked her to download the poster from her PC, and tell me if it worked. "It downloaded OK," she said. "But there's no text or photographs. And it's blinking like a like a Saturday-night disco strobe."

I'll spare you the technical mumbo-jumbo of my ordeal. But the problem culminated even later in the afternoon, with me standing over my computer, butt naked and dripping wet in a puddle of water and English Leather soap suds. The answer to my problem came to me halfway through my shower: Downsize the embedded jpg, convert the fonts to outlines, and it finally worked. Not immediately, however. But after a few more desperate tries later that evening, I finally got it working.

And with my hair three shades grayer than it was yesterday morning, the poster is finally ready for download. I hope. Sigh.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Feedback from an earlier post

I'm so very astonished at how much feedback I receive from a blog post I made a few months ago about a skit performed at my son's Cub Scout meeting. Other than congratulations received for publishing successes, that post has to be my most popular. I get an email each time someone comments on it. Once I received an email from someone who didn't want to post a comment on my blog, but took the time to find my email address and send a nasty note.

I was simply recalling what I'd witnessed at a Cub Scout meeting, and how it made me feel. I wasn't asking anyone to agree or disagree with me. But boy, I riled some folk!

I enjoy participating with my son in Cub Scouts. I have no intention of trying to change the organization. My son is a scout, and will remain as long as he's interested. I will, however, silently cringe to myself each and every time they stick a feather someplace and call themselves Indians. Just me, sorry.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Early returns on the King awards

I got an early look at the Coretta Scott King award winners, thanks to Kelly Lyons who saw the web cast:

John Steptoe Award for New Talent
Sundee T. Frazier - author of Brendan Buckley's Universe & Everything In It (Delacorte)

King Author Honor
November Blues - Sharon Draper (Atheneum)
12 Rounds to Glory - Charles R. Smith, Jr. (Candlewick Press)

Winner of King Author Award
Christopher Paul Curtis - Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic)

King Illustrator Honor Books
The Secret Olivia Told Me by N. Joy, illustratred by Nancy Devard (Just Us Books)
Jazz on a Saturday Night by Leo & Diane Dillon (The Blue Sky Press)

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
Ashley Bryan - Let It Shine

Printz Honor Books
One Whole & Perfect Day
Your Own Sylvia

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I selected the illustrators — woo, Whooo!

As the sole illustrator on the Brown Bookshelf team, I was charged with the task of choosing the four artists we'd highlight during our 28 Days Later campaign. Speaking of the kid in the candy store.

At first I went for the well-known illustrators — Coretta Scott King medalists, Caldecott honorees, African American icons of children's book illustration — you know who they are. But then I rationalized, these people already have the highest of honors. What will they care about our 28 Days Later campaign? Instead, I opted to highlight newer artists to the field of children's illustration, those with fewer books under their belt. I chose to highlight future King and Caldecott medalists! And that way, I can say, I told you so, I chose them first!

Last night I had the pleasure of finalizing the poster for our 28 Days Later campaign. We've made our selections and are in the process of interviewing the authors. We will make the poster available for download in about two weeks, possibly sooner. Luckily, I was able to find a photograph of each author and illustrator via Google, even those who don't have a website (some people are shy, I guess). This is gonna be a blast! Now, all I have to do is put my money where my mouth is and plan a library visit for The Nineteenth National African American Read-In. Mr. V and I are planning to team up and do a visit together, schedules allowing.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My new schedule

This week began my new working schedule. I now work three days at the newspaper and four days at home. It's strange, but for whatever reason, I can't seem to find time to blog like I used to, and I haven't been able to do any real writing. Whenever I sat down to write this week — blog or otherwise —I felt like I was cheating myself, that I needed to be doing something productive to make up for the income normally earned at the newspaper.

I took a couple days off of working on Ron, my picture book for Dial, to do some t-shirt art for AC. Every year about this time, I create a couple new spay/neuter and animal humane designs. This year, I also created some designs for the staff and volunteers at animal humane societies. The artwork is licensed to societies all over the country, and earns extra income throughout the year. The art at the left was created using ink-covered clay board and a scratch tool (intentionally photographed for distortion).

That's my blog for this week! Short and sweet, about all the time I can spare.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

An interview with Charles Apple

If you have a minute today, be sure to check out Charles Apple's Blog. He gives a very thorough and detailed interview of me about my children's book career. Please excuse use of punctuation, I was so busy over the holidays, so I didn't take the time to proof my answers to his interview questions.

Charles is an amazingly talented visual journalist. And he is the graphics director of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. About eight years ago, I had the fortune and pleasure of working for Charles at the Des Moines Register. He was my graphics editor, and my only regret is that didn't get an opportunity to work for him for longer. I left Des Moines and moved to Austin two months after Charles was hired.

A few weeks ago, Charles visited Austin and gave a powerful presentation at the Austin American-Statesman, the newspaper where I work. When he finished speaking, I was so jazzed I just wanted to get up and...make a locater map. No, just kidding. But the guy is inspirational and I'm a better journalist having worked for him, even for such a short time.

I'm thankful to Charles for putting together such a thorough interview. Most of the links and photos he researched and found on his own.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Lookybook: Bad idea or good?

I might be wrong, but I'm very uncomfortable with Lookybook. I know what some people will say: "Nothing will ever replace a tangible picture book." But that's what the newspaper industry said, too.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Value in a value study

I spent some time today creating some smallish pencil value studies, one step I normally bypass in favor of jumping into the final paintings. Most times, I'm working on an already tight deadline, so I've felt value studies a waste of time. I mean, I establish the light and dark areas in my under-painting. But I was wrong, I'm finding value studies quite, valuable (no pun).

For one, by blocking in shapes on a smaller size layout, I've been able to discover some proportion issues. Normally I wouldn't discover these problems until I was well into a painting. Another thing, with a value study, I can experiment with light and shade at a rough stage and not feel completely committed. I must admit, I've discovered value in value studies.

In other news: In a few minutes, I'm off to a Twelfth Night party at GLS and CLS. Children's book people, I love them. I should have already left, but the wife is still getting dressed, so I'm blogging to keep myself from getting overly irritated excited. I don't like being late, particularly for church, parties or other occasions where it's necessary to make an entrance to a large crowd. Now, excuse me, I'm off to have some fun!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Friday Haiku

A new book for me?

Not yet, but it looks to be.

The email felt so.

Sorry for the awful haiku, I've never written one before. Mums the word, for now.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Christmas wishes

For Christmas
I bought my wife a Sak
With an apology
And a promise
to buy her a Coach
In the future.

She was thankful for her Sak.

For Christmas
My wife bought me
A leather iPhone case.
With an apology
And a promise that read:
"iPhone to come, honey."

I was thankful for my wife.

But with my new
part-time schedule
And my new part-time
I won't hold her to it.