Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I think I may prefer to use thumbnail sketches more often than other artists. I'm old school. Whenever I mention thumbnails to younger artists, they're like, "thumbnail what?"

Today I submitted character studies and thumbnail sketches of Duke to my publisher, and now I'm considering the best use of my time. I could work up tighter sketches for Duke while I wait for feedback. But that might not be a good idea.

I could jump right into research and character studies for Effa. Finding pictorial reference for this book is, I think, gonna be trickier than it has been for Duke. I'd love to make a trip to Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. But a brotha doesn't have that kinda money right now after two summer vacations.

I've waited anywhere from a couple days to eight months for feedback from editors and art directors on thumbnail sketches. Believe it or not, I've had eight month delays at the thumbnail sketch stage on two books in the last four years, so it's not uncommon. Stuff happens.

My preference would be to begin final sketches for Duke next week. It would be best while the research materials are fresh in my mind (and laid out flat on my drawing board). It usually takes about 45 days for me to sketch a book. If I could completely have Duke sketched by mid September, then I could give Effa my full attention in October through December. I'd paint both books, back to back, finishing them by spring of next year.

Course my licensing rep would like for me to squeeze in a project or two also, and I could use the money. And I do need to revise a chapter for a writing project due to my critique group . . . Yikes! . . . tomorrow.

In other news: I'm now on slate to participate in The Hill Country Book Festival and for a full day visit at the grand opening of the Neyland Public Library in Corpus Christi on Saturday, September 6th!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Four agent day, don't judge a book

In the past 24 hours, I've communicated with four agents — my literary agent, my licensing agent, my art agent, and yet another agent who promised a pretty cool writing and illustrating project. But I had to turn it away because . . . well, that agent doesn't represent me in any way. Maybe I need an agent to handle the things my agents don't represent. Oh well.

On another note: Don't judge a book by it's cover. I received a book in the mail, a review copy of The Freedom Business. At first glance, I turned up my nose. The cover and insides feature beautiful artwork. But abstract — splotches and swipes of beige and white paint, and what appears to be coffee stains over blue ink. A headless bird's wing points to the text. Hm, I wasn't sure about that.

I was definitely wrong. The book was published by Word Song, the same publisher of Becoming Billie Holiday (by Carole Boston Weatherford, ages 11–14). I read the first few pages. This book is wonderful! Absolutely wonderful! It's the story of Venture Smith, who was born the prince of Dukandarra, Guinnea, but was captured by slave traders at the age of six. He worked through three decades of slavery before purchasing his own, and his family's freedom. The story is told in verse by three-time National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson. Alongside each verse is Venture Smith's own narrative.

I'm gonna eat this book up!

I still don't understand the art treatment (no offense to the artist, who's numerous awards outweigh my own). I can't wait to read on to find out how and why the art relates to the story.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I'm done with character studies

I'd blocked off two weeks of time to experiment with character studies of Duke. I'd planned to experiment more with color and style. But I'm happy enough with the direction this has taken, I don't think there's a need to continue with experimentation. That and I need to start illustrating this book.

In other news: Vegas made me sick. Sick enough to call-in sick. But in the current newspaper climate (layoffs, layoffs, layoffs) I don't feel comfortable not showing up to work. So I'm going, fever, chills, runny nose and all.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vacationing in Vegas

Well, I've been visiting my wife's family in Vegas for the past 24 hours, and I haven't seen the strip at all. I'm not complaining, I'm fine with that. I don't see what the big deal is anyway, unless throwing money away, one quarter at a time, is fun. And it ain't.

I've been reading an advanced review copy of Becoming Billie Holiday (WordSong) by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Almost read it cover to cover. It's a story written in verse. I'm inspired again. When I first started writing, my friend Cynthia Smith suggested I tell my story -- of being a teenaged father -- in verse. I started but never got very far. So while I'm here, I plan to resume that effort. That is, unless we end up on the strip.

On another note: I'm blogging from my father-in-law's computer. He uses a PC. I use a Mac. I'm shocked at how ugly my blog and artwork looks when viewed from a PC. When I get home, I'll have to make some kind of adjustment. Though I don't know what.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dang. I'm not inspired today

I don't have to be inspired to create commercial art; Drawing and painting come natural to me. I don't have to be inspired to write a blog post; I simply write about whatever is going on in my life at the time. But when it comes to writing children's books, I have to be inspired.

For some writers, writing a first draft is like plowing a field. Whether they are inspired or not, they push through to the end. I can't do that. That feeling, that something, has to be there. Currently, I have many works in progress that I'm excited about, but not inspired enough to actually pull them out and work on. I'm waiting for inspiration.

After sending in my registration for Editor's Day, I felt inspired. An opportunity grow as a writer by spending a day in heavy critique with a very cool editor and an equally cool author. I was so inspired, I whipped out that chapter book I started last fall, but hadn't finished. The ideas were flowing. The words were creating themselves. I was riding a wave. But then I learned the critique slots for Editor's Day were full. "First come, first served" and "early-bird registration" have two entirely different meanings, in a robust children's writing community like Austin. The feeling is gone. I'm not inspired anymore.

Maybe it's a reflection of my immaturity as a writer, but for whatever reason, that feeling of inspiration that fuels the creative side of my writing is fleeting. I must seize the moment when that window of opportunity opens, or else it's gone and I'm back to painting or reading or blogging.

Nothing wrong with painting or reading or blogging, but now I got a lit agent. And if I want to keep her, I gotta write something marketable.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Character studying

I'm cutting lose! Relaxing. Improvising, like the jazz artists do. My approach to this book will be much different others before.

Each painting will not be the final. Well, it could be the final, but it could make the trash cut, too. See, I figure with this approach, I'll loosen up. I won't worry about getting it right. I'll feel free to experiment, take chances, to do some things I otherwise might not.

Let's see where this takes me. If anything, I could end up with a few pieces to sell.

Friday, July 18, 2008

1st color proofs

Over the past year, I've mistakenly referred to Corrine Naden's and my book, Ron's Big Mission, as Ron's Mission, Little Ron's Big Mission, and Little Ron on a Big Mission. It's not entirely my fault because the title did change several times.

But to make matters worse, until recently, I'd also posted that the book would publish with Dial. And to make matters worse than that, I addressed emails to my editor as Ron. His name is Steve. He was patient with me.

I've got it straight now. The book that I illustrated is called Ron's Big Mission. It's edited by Steve. And it will publish with Dutton later this year . . . um, I think. Possibly early next.

Anyway, I received 1st color proofs and they look great! Dutton did a fantastic job. I'd used a rougher than normal watercolor paper, so I was worried about the reproduction. My 140-pound watercolor paper turned out to be 300-pound extra rough, but I didn't realize it until half way through the project. I continued to paint, and I just hoped everything would turn out OK.

I have no idea what kind of scanning process Dutton used, but the rough paper texture is gone. I couldn't be happier.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm doing it and I didn't even know

I do it in my studio each morning. I did it again today at Home Depot. And I did it tonight, on the second floor of the newspaper . . . from my cellphone! There's a name for all my doing, and it's called microblogging!

It takes place at Facebook (and Twitter, too, though I've resisted using my account). Call it what you want — socializing, navel-gazing, wasting time — but it's a lot of fun.

Thanks, Charles, for the tip.

New Yorker cartoon

As an Obama fan, I am offended by this cartoon. And I understand why his campaign would be, too. However as an artist myself, dabbling in cartoons, I think this cartoon is successful. It works because it contains an element of truth — what many (ignorant) people think about Obama. That's what political cartoonists do, they use cartoons to ridicule. This one is brilliant because it's touched a nerve.

Now the New Yorker might follow-up this cover with a cartoon portraying the average American who really believes the things pictured in this cover. Now that would be funny, too, particularly since the ridicule was intended for them, and not Obama.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A picture book has expanded my musical tastes

On my Facebook profile, I confessed my distaste for classical music. And because my next picture book deals with two jazz music icons, I didn't confess my distaste for jazz, too. But after today, I may need to revise my profile.

For preparation and research on Ellington/Strayhorn, a picture book I'm illustrating for Charlesbridge, I went to to the library and checked out Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. I also downloaded Ellington's Three Suites. I was reluctant to listen to either. But I ended up enjoying both. A lot! I was actually familiar with most of the Tchaikovsky tunes. Can you believe, I went jogging to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, when normally, I'm more of a Bootzilla kind of brotha.

I also checked out several copies of E.T.A Hoffman's Nutcracker, retold and illustrated by various authors and illustrators. I was surprised to discover so many versions — from frightfully dark to playfully lighthearted. I liked the lighthearted versions better.

I'm gonna have so much fun illustrating this book. It'll be almost like creating a Black, Cotton Club-ish version of the Nutcracker.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I've become a writing visualizer, I think

Normally, I begin illustrating a book by reading the manuscript and doodling in the margins. Later, I create sketches inspired by the doodles.

But this morning, I found myself approaching Duke/Strayhorn, a picture book to publish with Charlebridge, a bit differently. As I read the manuscript, instead of doodling, I wrote notes in the margins. I wrote down what I was visualizing. Later, I'll doodle based upon my notes. And then after some more extensive research, I'll create final sketches based upon my notes and the doodles.

I have no idea if this is a better way to work, and I really didn't plan it this way. I think as I've grown as a writer, my approach to visuals has changed, too. I'm more of a writing visualizer, if that makes sense. For the better or worse, I have yet to see.

Funny, mixed-up, thing is, when I sit down to write, I often begin with visuals.

Edit to original post: I've just come to realize that I'm not going to be able to proceed with this book until I've seen Tchaikovsky's original Nutcracker Suite. And maybe a few adaptations.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Vacation pics

This past week, my family and I vacationed at the Walt Disney World Resort. Originally it was planned as a family reunion kind of thing, my mom and her four boys and their wives and kids. But, well, you know how those things go. Two of the four were able to attend. Here are a few pics.

Pictured above from left to right: My son (sporting his "cooler than Daddy's" mohawk), me, my wife, my mom (who retires next week, bummer I can't be there), my brother and his wife. Not pictured, but sitting directly across from us in his high chair, is my 15-month-old nephew whom I got to hold for the first time on this trip.

My younger brother, my mom, me, somewhere in Epcot.

The view from the window of our resort. Beautiful!

My camera has one helluva zoom. I was very far away from the castle when I took the above pic. My mom was too thrilled, not only with this production, but all of the shows.

And of course, the castle at Magic Kingdom at night.

Here's a few seconds of the grand finale of the 4th of July fireworks show over Magic Kingdom.

I'm sad I had to miss AAWW, which began on the day we left for Disney. Double-bummer!

Back from vacation

I just returned from vacation, and I've set a new record for myself: For the first time since I joined the computer revolution, 15 years ago, I've gone a full week without checking email. Heck, going 5 hours without checking would break a record for me, so an entire week really says something. In that week, I received:

- More than 100 emails, 90% are spam.

-A "hello" email from an amazing silhouette artist I met in Downtown Disney.

-Three JacketFlap friends requests

-Seven FaceBook friends request

-One inquiry from a trade publisher about illustrating a book

-And an email warning from my art agent, concerning the downturn in work from the educational market. Sigh.

Welp, that does it for a quickie, back-from-vacation post. I'll add some vacation pics soon.