Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Size matters! Women like little eyes.

I was trying to come up with a cute baby character to use for a new scrap booking kit (trying to squeeze in a small project before beginning my next two books). The face on the left, with the small eyes, was my first sketch. But it wasn't working for me, so I decided to blow up the eyes real big. Big eyes equals cute, right? But four women proved me wrong — my wife, a critique buddy, a coworker and my licensing agent. All four women preferred the version with small simple eyes. Go figure.

In my opinion, the big eyed character has more personality. And when the two faces are laid out side-by-side, I don't even notice the smaller eyed character on the left — I'm drawn to the big, brown, sparkling eyes. But I'm a dude and since not too many dudes will be purchasing my online scrap booking kits, I've decided to take the advice of the ladies, and go with the face on the left.

What do you think?

Well, this is my last post for awhile. I'll check back in soon.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Crazy coupon clipper

This is an illustration that ran in the paper this weekend. The story was about a coupon clippers. I did it in Adobe Illustrator, very quickly.

(I don't think the RSS feed has been successfully delivering my images to Facebook, so if you're reading from that network, may want to skip over and check out my main blog:

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm excited to (almost) make an announcement

Six months after my publisher and I began our search for an artist to illustrate my first authored picture book biography, we finally have our artist! But I can't reveal the person's name yet. Bummer, bummer, bummer! I think I'm gonna burst. And I must admit, for those who are wondering, the idea of another artist illustrating my manuscript is a bit, um, awkward. More so than I originally thought it would be. But am extremely, extremely happy and honored to have a person of his/her stature sign on to this project. Again, I can't say who the artist is, but I will say this:

The artist who will illustrate Bill . . .

. . . was one of my top three choices to illustrate this book. I'm a big fan of the artist's work, and I have at least four of his/her books in my personal collection.

. . . is a Coretta Scott King award recipient.

. . . has one of the most distinctive (coolest) styles of illustration in children's publishing today.

. . . is the perfect choice to illustrate this book, given the subject matter. This story was made for this artist, and you'll understand why I say this when you read the book.

I look forward to what (fill in the blank) will bring to this book. It will publish in the spring of 2010.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Found in my archives

Today I found this old video on my hard drive. Originally, it was a promotional piece for the book I illustrated, The Legend of the Valentine. It was about 7 years ago when Zondervan flew a multimedia person to Austin from Grand Rapids Michigan, to film me working in my studio. The disc was then mailed to thousands of bookstores around the country. Funny, it never did work for me. But now with YouTube, I can actually see it. Ug, I hate seeing myself on film. I was so nervous, I don't know how they managed to edit together a complete sentence without me stopping to yell, "Cut! Start over!"

I am a better speaker now, more relaxed. I think.

I should make one of these videos for Ron when it publishes. With technology today, I can do it myself.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Finding normalcy after a big project

I just returned from my doctor, who generously gave me a valuable take-home gift. No, not a gasoline card, something better: He gave me a free three month supply of Crestor samples. Better than gold for us high-cholesterol, gotta-take-an-expensive-pill-everyday kind of folk. So starting today, I'm reclaiming my health!

I stopped working out months ago, so heavily focused on completing paintings for Ron on a Big Mission. And I'm one of those guys who never . . . okay . . . NEVER misses a day without a hard workout. Having been away from my weights and Taebo and running and bootcamp workout videos for so long, I feel like mush.

So there's no time for blogging here. I'm off to the gym . . . er, I mean, my garage. Who can afford a gym membership on an illustrators salary?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Brown Bookshelf's Summer Chat Series

Tomorrow (Wed.), we at The Brown Bookshelf will host the first of three summer chats, which will examine various aspects of children’s literature. Is the children’s market in a boom period or declining? What are agents and editors looking for when it comes to books for young readers? We will examine the state of children’s literature with literary agent Jennifer Carlson.

You can find the series on our MySpace forum.

Jen will answer questions posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2008 from 10AM - 11AM. See you there!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Illustrating Ron's Big Mission book cover

Steve and Sara, my editor and art director at Dutton, asked me to create the cover image last, after the interior illustrations were finished. After I submitted the interior art, Jason, the book designer, worked up a cover composition using two scanned interior paintings. He combined them into one image using Photoshop. That image couldn't be used as final art because the background wasn't completely accurate, so I worked up a new sketch based upon his comp.
Jason then laid out my sketch with text to give me an idea how the final book would look.

Once approved, I transferred my sketch to watercolor paper. Then I painted the entire image in grey tones using Paynes Grey watercolor. Then I fixed the surface with two coats of acrylic matte medium. If I use this technique again on a future project, I'll use warmer colors for the base painting. Paynes Grey is too blue.

For Ron, I used my son and a friend of his as reference. But mostly, I used myself, a large mirror and my digital camera.

Here, I began by painting the sky with opaque paint, though I did layer on darker transparent blues later.

I painted the buildings and Ron's face one transparent layer at a time, with oil paint thinned down generously with Liquin — taking about 24-hours for each layer to dry before I could continue. It was a very slow, tedious process, one I'm not sure I'll repeat in the future.

In the shadow areas of Ron's face, I used transparent browns and blues. Then I began to introduce opaque colors, especially in the highlights. Once the shadow areas had dried, I added a touch of cool purples and blues, for no reason at all, I just like purples.

This style is somewhat realistic, yet stylized enough to offer some grace where my realism is off. The thing I do like about this technique is how translucent, or as I've heard it described elsewhere, almost "jewel-like." It has a three dimensional quality because, to some degree, it is three dimensional.

The last thing I did, which is not pictured here, was to subdue the highlights. I felt they were a bit too strong, especially on Ron's nose. If I had time, and I wish I'd thought of this before, I'd have added some people in the background walking along the sidewalk.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


I just finished the cover/jacket art for Ron on a Big Mission, to publish with Dutton! Thank goodness 'cause a brotha is broke; book illustration pays at the beginning and end, and this end has been a long time coming. The art goes out tomorrow, and unless there are any revisions — which I don't anticipate — I'm finished with this book! And ready to promote. My editor mentioned that he'd like for me to participate in some book store promotions.

Now I'm ready for vacation (we're taking two this summer, Orlando and then Vegas).

My admission here the other day, about downloading Barry Mannilow music, has apparently cost me some cool points. On more than one occasion this weekend, someone dropped the bomb, "So, Barry Manilow, huh?" One guy even threatened to revoke my Black Man card.

So to make things right, I downloaded some Puff Daddy. Ain't nobody cooler than Diddy. Right? 'Cept for maybe Snoop, but I already have all his music.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

If I had a dime for every social network I belonged to . . .

Yesterday, I added Facebook to my portfolio of social networks. Why? Well, because Cynthia recently did so, and if anyone knows how to social network, she certainly does.

So what social networks and blogs do I now belong to? Well, I'm here on Blogger. I'm at MySpace, LiveJournal (which I think is simply a feed), JacketFlap, Wordpress (which I don't use), Twitter and Flickr. In addition, I have a blog presence with my art agent, Nicole, and will soon join in with authors represented by my literary agent, Sara, who plans to launch a group blog. And then there's my super secret semi-anonymous blog, which was a runner-up two years ago for the Black Weblog Award, the Brown Bookshelf, and Devas T's Bookmarks.

Confused? So am I. I have no idea what to do with all these social networks and blogs. MySpace is too cryptic and crashes my computer. I rarely ever use it. I have no idea how to use Twitter or Facebook. Wordpress — eh! I do love JacketFlap, though. Still, I don't use it very often either.

Ironic though, how these social networks really don't make me any more social. I just shooed the wife away — 6 times — so I could participate in my social networks. Guess if she wants my attention, she'll have to join MySpace. :)

One lament: I recently deleted the blog I maintained at the newspaper where I work, and I am so sad that I did so. It catered more so to the readers at that site — newsy people — and I received as many as 3000 hits per day, people looking for my cartoons. But the blog was controversial, and contained political cartoons, which I feared might cause problems for me. It was unique, and I miss it.

Unrelated thought for the day: Sunday mornings will never be the same.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Music nostalgia

I'm about to admit something very embarrassing here. Embarrassing because my daughter reads this blog, and after she reads what I have to share, she'll never let me here the end of it. Grrrr! Recently, I've been feeling nostalgic. Maybe because I'm in my mid-40s, and I haven't been home in awhile, but I've been thinking a lot about my childhood. So I downloaded a bunch of music last night, stuff that was popular when I was a kid.

I grew up in the 70s and 80, and mostly listened to funk, soul and R&B music. But in Des Moines, during that time period, that kind of music wasn't played on the radio stations. We had a record player at home (and an 8-track and later a cassette player), but for the most part, we were stuck with mainstream popular music, music that I really didn't care for. Or so I thought. Here's what I downloaded last night, and what I listened to all day, misty-eyed and homesick:

Barry Manilow
Pains me to admit, but I loved this music. Reminds me of when I used to go camping with my grandparents in their RV trailer. Those were the days. I miss my grandma.

The Bee Gees
This music brings back the days when I used to go to the Metro Disco, a teenage disco club. Must have been about 7th grade, such an awkward time. Even though I didn't like to dance, I loved going to The Metro. Mostly to hang out on the sidelines with my friends and make fun of the serious disco dancers, John Travolta wannabe types.

Barry and Andy Gibb
Again, this music reminds me of the times I spent with my grandparents. My mom raised my brothers and I, but she was my grandma's baby girl. So, we spent a lot of time with my grandparents.

Elton John
Painful music, painful time. Takes me back to my little league baseball days. I hated little league baseball. It was one of those things that, as a boy, I was supposed to do, that I didn't want to do, but I did it because . . . well, I don't know if there was any getting out of it. Many a day, my three brothers and I, and my mom, crammed into her old, beat up, VW bug and headed to the ballpark. Elton John on the radio.

Barbra Streisand
This music takes me back to the time when my parents split up. My mom didn't work, she stayed at home and took care of us kids and our home. So when she and my dad split up, she had to learn a skill and get a job. She went to school and learned basic clerical work — short-hand, filing, how to take dictation. I was so proud of her.

I even downloaded some Celine Dion, which has noting to do with my childhood, but shhh, I've already given my daughter(J) enough fodder to last a lifetime of jokes.

Edit to original post: The wife just caught me listening to my newly downloaded music, Barry Manilow's Mandy. She had a good laugh. Apparently when she was growing up, her family actually had records for their record player, so they didn't have to listen to the radio. She won't admit to listening to Barry Manilow, but I'm sure she did. Curious she knows all the lyrics.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dad, what's a Tar Boy?

This morning, I took my son fishing at an event put on by a local church. It was at a private pond, in a small town, south from where I live.

My son and I fished for about an hour with no luck. Even though the pond had been filled with fish for the event, neither of us received even a bite. We grew restless as people around us hooked catfish and bluegill. And I grew impatient as everyone's fishing lines got tangled, one in another. After awhile, I decided we should change spots, away from the crowd. We packed up our gear and trudged through the grass toward a quieter spot on the other side of the pond.

In a hurry to get my pole back in the water, I walked ahead of my son a few feet. A group of young white boys, about my son's age, sat playing in the grass, but I was so focused, they didn't register on my radar. Memories from my childhood, when my younger brother and I used to go fishing, filled my head, and I was looking forward to making new memories with my son. A few seconds later, I felt a tug on my shirt. I turned to look at my son, and he was looking back at the group of boys. "Dad," he whispered, "What is tar?"

I thought the question was odd, given the context. But my son is at that age where he asks a lot of questions, most times, out of context. "Tar? Why do you ask," I tossed the question back at him.

"That kid back there," he said. "He called me a Tar Boy, and his friends laughed at me. What does tar mean?"

It was well over 90-degrees outside, so I was already hot. But my son's words set me on fire. I stopped and reeled in my fishing line, which had come loose and was dragging in the grass. Then I searched for an answer, but I didn't have one. Given my own childhood experiences, my visceral response was violent. I wanted my son to take his $300.00-a-month karate lessons, and get back there and jack that kid up. I also considered finding this kid's parents and asking them where he learned such trash . . . and dare 'em to look at me wrong. But I did none of that. In fact, I didn't even look at that kid. I was filled with so much anger, resentment, and sorrow for my son, that I didn't think it a good idea to direct that much negative energy at this kid or his parents.

I searched my son's face. He was more curious than angry. He understood the kids meant him harm, but he didn't understand their words. He didn't understand that tar referred to his skin color, or that the kids were laughing at him because he is Black.

My son is very smart, but he's still very innocent, thankfully. So I wasn't ready to introduce to him the concept of racial hatred. I decided to let the issue pass. I didn't explain the word. And I told him I didn't know what the kids were laughing about.

For my son, the issue was dead. He was ready to make nice, but I was still on the defensive. We went over to the refreshment area to get some drinks. He popped open a can of Pepsi, and then headed back toward the pond. "Come back, man," I said. "I think we should drink our pop here, before we do anymore fishing."

A white man wearing dark sunglasses approached me. "You must not be from around here?" he said. "Where are you from, the north?" I paused. Was this that kid's dad? Did he witness his son's remarks? Had he laughed at my son? Was he then challenging me, too? I was ready to pounce.

"Why," I asked, with my best Malcolm-X attitude.

"We'll I haven't heard anyone use the word pop to describe soda since I moved here from Portland." Pop vs. soda?

I let down my guard. "I'm originally from Iowa," I said. "Old habits die hard." We both laughed and went our separate ways. But my day wasn't quite the same.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Change is for real

Had it not been for the candidacy of Barack Obama, this book cover might have offended me. "Cute," I'd have thought. "But don't play head-games with African American children." But images like this are no longer far fetched. How far have we come?

For a second, let's pretend we don't know he's an African American. Let's pretend we don't know about his incredible oratory and organizational skills. For a second, let's pretend we only know his name: Barack Hussein Obama.

Do you know what that says to little Black kids with ghetto-french names you can't pronounce, like Jaekwon, LeMarcus, Quanaisha, Ri'Sharrd, Treveone, TyJon, and Yaneisha?

Means you can be Black, have a funny name, and still run for President of the greatest country in the world. Change might've began as a clever political slogan. But change has certainly come.

In other news: If anyone knows how to contact this illustrator, have him contact me. Or better yet, have him contact his family. It's very important he do so.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I have a new favorite illustrator

Today I bought the coolest book: Deep Sea Doctor Dean by Leo Timmers. I have no idea what this book is about. The story may be the greatest ever written. Or it may suck (I doubt). Regardless, the illustrations are what children's picture books are all about — or should be. They're eye-catching and fun, fun, fun!

Leo now joins my ever-growing list of favorite illustrators, which include Brian Selznick, Mark Buehner (my all-time fav), Kadir Nelson, Brian Pinkney and Mark Teague. I like children's book illustration that is fun; all that high design, coffee table, gallery, collage stuff doesn't much appeal to the child in me.

In other news:
My editor, Steve, and my art director, Sara, both liked my final art for Ron on a Big Mission (the name changed).

Quotes: "...I really think that this is a breakthrough in your career..."

"...The art arrived, and looks fantastic!!! Bravo! !!!..."