Thursday, March 13, 2014

Teaching at SVA’s Illustration Summer Residency

Since graduating from the masters program at the School of Visual Arts in 2009, I haven’t given 
much thought to teaching. Primarily, I’ve focused on my own illustration career in the children’s book market, with a bit of editorial work. So far so good, I’d say, as this year has me working on more books than ever. But when my favorite (and toughest) instructor in the Illustration MFA, Viktor Koen, asked me to join the faculty of SVA’s Summer Residency, I jumped at the chance.

The Summer Residency brings together students from around the world to spend a month studying in the discipline of their choice with professionals working in New York City. Here’s a quote from the website on the illustration program:

“With guidance from award-winning illustrators, participants will complete a body of work comprised of images created for assignments, as well as personal projects, aiming to showcase their individual style and aesthetic direction. The goals are to advance to the next level of artistic practice and to attain an enhanced position in the illustration marketplace.” 

For my class, students will create a series of images to accompany a narrative text, to be encompassed in a book or visual essay. If you’d like to read more about the Summer Residencies and for information about applying, visit the School of Visual Arts website here.

It will be a high-intensity month of June. I look forward to meeting this group of international professionals, guiding, and watching their work evolve. The Residency culminates with an open studio exhibition, a few images from which I hope to share here in a future post.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

BIG NEWS: I have an agent

There are certain milestones in every career that serve as a kind of validation for the course you’ve chosen. I reached one of those this week, and am proud to announce that I now have a literary agent: Marcia Wernick of Wernick & Pratt.

Just shy of five years ago, I finished graduate school, switching careers from design to illustration. It has been a whirlwind getting it all going, but despite my twenty-plus years in children’s publishing, I’ve learned a lot managing it all on my own. This year promises to be my busiest year thus far as an illustrator, and also marks the moment when I realized I needed some help. 

Wernick & Pratt has a great reputation in the industry, and represents some of my favorite artists of the moment, including the brilliant Mo Willems, and recent Caldecott Honor winner Aaron Becker, among others. I could go on and on, but if you want to learn more about them, visit their website here. Meanwhile, for all book inquiries, please contact Marcia. Now, back to the drawing board!

Monday, February 10, 2014

MICA and Charm City

At this stage of my career, I don’t get the opportunity to take many business trips. The occasional subway ride to an art supply store in an outer borough of NYC is as close as I get, and the majority of 2014 will see me chained to my drawing board. So when Shadra Strickland invited me to speak to one of her classes at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art), I jumped at the chance. 

Shadra is the illustrator of several picture books, including Bird, for which she won the Ezra Jack Keats Award. She’s also an amazing and generous teacher, as I observed in her Advanced Book Illustration class last week. We began with my hour-long talk about my journey into an illustration career with some (hopefully) helpful tidbits about how to help students establish trust in themselves and with art directors, and continued with a critique of the students’ character studies for their book projects. It was such an impressive and talented group; I hope I will be able to see more of their work as it develops.

Just a quick note about Baltimore—also know as “Charm City”—with its excellent museums, deliciously inventive restaurants, and gorgeous architectural gems. Sure, there are some enormous economic and social problems, but it’s a place whose history and potential has really charmed me. With that in mind, I leave you with a photo of one of my favorite spaces in Baltimore, the Peabody Library. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

the story of a groundhog

When my friend, editor Tracey Keevan, asked if I’d like to help her with a belated holiday card to send to her authors and colleagues, I really wasn’t sure if my schedule would allow. 

Then she described what she wanted, and I was hooked. It had been a few months since I’d sent out any promos of my own, and with a small window in between a few large projects, I knew it would be even more months before I’d get my act together for a mailing. I decided if I could figure out a way for the piece to serve me as well, I’d do it.

On the surface, Tracey’s idea was simple: a groundhog in winter, at work on his home typewriter, composing letters. But she wanted a way to personalize the cards with a note of her own. This would be in the form of a separate piece of paper emerging from the typewriter that she could compose, cut out, and affix to the card for mailing. 

I also knew in the interest of time management, I’d have to collage some of the more complicated elements—namely the typewriter and wallpaper. I haven’t done that much in my work, and but it seemed like a really good solution in this case. For Tracey’s version, I added a little holiday card on top of the bookcase which reads “Keevan’s Greetings.” Get it? Here’s the sketch...

I love a puzzle, and this one seemed to satisfy my designer and illustrator brains. But I knew I wouldn’t have time to compose and assemble letters for my entire mailing list of 100 plus children’s book editors and art directors. The card also had to function as a simple two-sided postcard to suit my time-crunched needs.

Lately when I’ve been sending out mailings that aren’t associated with one of my books, I like to tell somewhat of a story with the images. I remembered a painting I did around the holidays of a little village where I could imagine this groundhog fellow vacationing or something. Here it is...

And below is the final product, dummied up with a letter. This was such a fun project, I wrote a really long process blog entry for it. And I think there’s potential for a complete story for this little guy too—I do seem to like painting rodents.

If you’ve read this far, thanks and here’s hoping the little guy doesn’t see his shadow—this winter has been brutal. Happy Groundhog Day!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A look at the year to come

Happy New Year! I hope yours it getting off to a great start. For me, 2014 is already shaping up into a busy year. 

As I mentioned on this page a few months ago, I’m in the process of sketching 2 new picture books that will be released in 2015: The Wrong Side of the Bed, by Lisa Bakos, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons; and Simple Machines, another non-fiction picture book by David A. Adler, published by Holiday House. I look forward to sharing a few teaser images as I get further into the painting process.

And great news! It looks like I’ll be illustrating another book for Candlewick, my World Rat Day publisher. I’ll share more details at a later date. 

My work for Kiwi Magazine continues. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to eat more leafy greens, then the current issue’s “Cooking with Kids” section is just what you’ll need to learn how to clean and prepare kale, minus the army of industrious green peas, of course. 

If you were unable to see the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators over the last few months, you might be able to catch the traveling show. For more information, click here. I was very pleased that my image from World Rat Day was included.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014!

Friday, December 6, 2013

An Ode to the Art Director (et. al.)

I usually fill this space with news about my illustration career. In this post, I’d like to change focus to take a moment to celebrate some of the unsung heroes of children’s books. I have newfound appreciation for these brilliant, indispensable folk who can can so often be overlooked in the complex maze of the publishing process. 

For the past five weeks, I’ve been filling in at a New York City publisher for an art director on leave. It marks the first time since I left my job at The Metropolitan Museum for grad school that I’d spent any extended time in an office. That’s the first thing—it’s amazing how soon you forget as a freelancer what it's like to go to an office every day of the week (full disclosure—I only came in four). My commute is usually about ten seconds to the drawing board within my one bedroom apartment. Sure many of my illustrator colleagues have separate studios, but my point is, you’re going to a place where for the most part you get to control your day. In an office, not so much. The books in the pipeline guide you through, and by that, I mean a fast-moving trajectory of projects some with countless complications and many, many hands in them. Slow down, and you’ll get slammed by the unstoppable force of them piling up. That’s your day—along with a bunch of meetings, too much air-conditioning, and the need for a steady supply of snacks.

It took me a while to get up to speed, and by that I mean about half speed of the person I was replacing. Just keeping all the titles straight across six seasons plus was a major challenge. There are so many checks and balances, it would make your head spin if you weren’t just trying to keep up with the flurry of activity. This is both a blessing and a curse, especially if you are not familiar with established systems. It’s easy to forget when you’re not witnessing it firsthand, how vital systems are to the process, and how difficult the job is for the art director, designer, editor, editorial assistant, copy editor, production associates, sales, marketing… to keep it all organized and moving along with aplomb, professionalism, and damn good typography. 

Next time you get revisions from an AD telling you that you didn’t leave enough room for the type or the gutter, or your main character’s left eye had 16 eyelashes on page 5, but just 15 on pages 8, 17, and 29, know that they’re not trying to make your life difficult. They’ve got to answer to a lot of people, and everyone just wants to make the books better. This might be my most important point to my fellow illustrators, especially those just starting out: art directors, designers—pretty much everyone who has contact with you as an author and/or illustrator, bends over backwards to make you feel confident in their shepherding your work into book form. They choose their words very, very carefully so as to not upset or over influence, yet often they need to seriously coax and motivate. It is an art form in and of itself. I was so impressed by the extent of understanding the art directors have of each individual illustrator’s process—whether they worked fast or slow, don’t draw that realistically thus can’t be required to do certain things—the how, when, why to gracefully push illustrators toward their best work. 

One of the biggest misconceptions among those new to publishing is that a book arrives at a house complete with author already paired to illustrator. This is pretty far from the norm in traditional publishing. I’ve always thought of this as the “secret sauce” of children’s books—that inspired pairing of words to art—and it’s the publishing house, usually the art director who deserves credit. That was really fascinating for me to observe firsthand over the last month—who they consider for a certain story and why, which sometimes is completely counterintuitive. When you’re just starting out as an illustrator, you might have a very clear concept of what you do in your own mind, but it might not come across to the people hiring. It takes a while for trust to be established, meaning art directors need to see a broad enough scope of your work to see how you’d fit to a particular project. And they think about it long and hard. There’s so much stuff (and junk) that comes across their desks, we illustrators need to remember to have patience. It’s a long process—I’ve done three books so far, and each took nearly two years from contract to finished product.

So that’s my shoutout—to all the art directors, and designers, and copy editors, production, et. al. I could go on and on. A big thanks to them for answering all my dumb questions, and especially for their patience.

Now with these five weeks behind me, I have the luxury of returning my complete focus to my own books. If you’ve been keeping up with this page, you know I’m in the middle of illustrating two new picture books that will be released in 2015, and—great news—potentially a third. This past month was a great reminder to me of the importance of children’s book publishing as a collaborative process, one in which I’m honored to play a small part.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

accolades that float

Although I’m a few weeks late announcing it here, I recently received some terrific news about Things That Float and Things That Don’t. To be honest, the book is up for an award that up until now, I never knew existed... 

Each year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) teams up with Subaru in awarding the SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, and Things That Float... (written by David A. Adler) is among three nominees in the Picture Book Category for 2014. I doubt this means I’ll be driving away in an Outback any time soon, but it’s great news nonetheless. To learn more about the award and the other nominees, click here.

Add this to the many great reviews over the past few months from The Horn Book, Booklist, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly who said... 
“It’s rare to find a picture book that uses simple, hands-on activities so successfully, leading young children to a fuller understanding of a scientific concept.”
This is great inspiration as I sketch out another picture book by David to be published by Holiday House. This one features simple machines and is full of all kinds of visual problem-solving, which I love. I look forward to sharing some teasers here in the coming months. To tide you over, there are two small details at the end of this post.

In the meantime, my work continues on The Wrong Side of the Bed written by Lisa M. Bakos and to be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 2015. It’s going to be a fun 2014 as I dive into the finished drawings.