This is the blog home of #kidlitart, a live Twitter chat Thursdays at 9:00 pm Eastern, for children's book illustrators, picture book authors, author/illustrators and friends. Check back weekly to read transcripts, comment on previous chats and suggest topics for upcoming chats.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Transcript: 2/24/11

TOPIC: How does your story flow? A 32 page map.

The first of two chats on storyboarding your picture book--enjoy!#kidlitart 2-24-11

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Whoosh--it's #PBdummy, Step Four!

Step Four already? Wow--chats fly when you're having fun! :-)

So, now that we've got our picture book text in acceptable shape and we've developed a unique look for our characters, it's time for thumbnail storyboards.

The purpose of the storyboard is to view the entire sequence of pages at once in order to judge the flow: you will see at a glance how the scenes are distributed, the balance of spreads vs. single pages, the movement of the action (always forward), how the focus shifts from one scene to the next.

Start very simply--maybe with notes on what you expect to happen on each spread--and gradually refine your thumbnails as you work out the composition of each illustration. Final storyboards don't need to be finished masterpieces, but should be clear enough that someone unfamiliar with the text can read the action--and you should have some idea of where the text will fall when you're done.

Since this is (we're assuming) the first time you've considered how the text and illustrations will interact, now is a good time to brush up on the basics of how a (printed) picture book is put together. One of the best breakdowns is provided by our friend Tara Lazar in this popular post from her blog, Writing for Children While Raising Them. And here is a storyboard tutorial from an acknowledged master, Uri Shulevitz.

Once you understand the space you have to work with, you can create your own template, scaled down proportionately from whatever page size you choose, oriented horizontally, vertically or . . .um ... squarely.

You may run through several generations of storyboards as each set reveals strengths and weaknesses in your layout.

Join us Thursday, February 23, at 9 pm EST, to begin the process by discussing how to make the traditional 32-page format work for you.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Transcript 2/17/11: Special Guest Ward Jenkins

Here is an excerpted Q&A version of the chat. Comments and questions from chat participants are in bold; Ward's responses are in italics. Enjoy!

Welcome to #kidlitart. Thank you so much for being our guest for evening!
Good to be here! Now what do I do? ;)

Tell us everything you know!

Tell us about the character set here. Is this typical of the way you approach character design?
Ah, yes. This was for an animated project. Typical? I would say yes, with reservations. Meaning, first and foremost, you need to know who your audience is. And if you go through the series, you can see that I originally had the girl much too older. Dunno what I was thinking...

Good point--I'm assuming animation is more "all ages" than pbs?
Actually, I don't think so. Both have specific groups they want to address.

Who was your audience?
My intended audience was for ages 4-8.

So who defines your audience for animation? The client?
Yes, pretty much. It's also known to aim older. ALWAYS.

You mean animation clients skew older?
Yes, but I think the same can be said for pb's as well.

I think there's a need to skew a tad older than your actual audience - kids always want to read up (slightly).
Yes, I agree. I think that's what clients would like to see. Esp in animation.

So, skewing older with illustrations means more complex in color, detail, etc?
No, mostly with subject matter, more sophistication. No necessarily more complex.

Do you find that certain markets let you get more adventurous with character design than with others? Asking because my experience has been that educational markets tend to stay safer/more conservative, for example....
Yes. Some come to me BECAUSE of my different way of looking at things.Most want a different take on some characters. Like the Michael Phelps book, for instance. They liked my b-boy series.

So how do you plan differently for a picture book?
I tend to go more flatter in my look-flattened perspective, etc.

What process do you go through with your characters to get their personalities to come to life?
I go through lots of research. My research phase is extensive. As for personalities, that's just something that I love to do. I've been drawing char stuff since I was a kid. I feel that with character traits, etc. the best advice I can give is to be observant. All the time.

Where do you do your research?
Since I'm majorly influenced by midcentury art/design and kid's books, I have a big library of that stuff Based on what I'm feeling, I'll grab a big stack of books, mags, etc. & just start sifting. I'm also a big fan of Google Images..

Because of my nod to midcentury stuff, I've often been labeled as "retro." Curse? Sometimes.

Why is that a curse?
I've had some people that my stuff looked "too retro." For those who're interested, check out The Retro Kid: Flickr group I started of midcentury artwork & books.

Do you design your characters with shape in mind? There can be some fascinating mental cues w/r/t shapes/features...
Sometimes, but I try not to let a particular shape become THAT THING I MUST incorporate, you know?

How long have you been doing PB's. And what was the biggest adjustment from animation?
My first picture book was done in late '08 and released the following year. I've been animating since '96. Biggest adjustment has been layout of the pages and spreads. Animation & pb's are actually a lot diff than I thought.

How are they a lot different?
There's a tendency to go very stylized in anim: char's backgrounds, layout (comps, etc.) PB's, I've learned to pull back a bit.

When I first started illustrating there was a huge bias against "cartoony" looking characters.
Yes, in fact, I had to cut back on the "cartoony" eyes I had for the Mama Hen in Chicks Run Wild! Originally, I had eyes with pupils, but editor wanted something a bit more subtle. I was fine with that change.

So you find there is still some bias. To me the art today looks much more cartoony than it used to.
I wouldn't want those artists to pull TOO much back on what they're working on, but it's just something I've noticed. Interesting thing, I do see more and more animation artists doing picture books these days.

So what about clothing animal characters? good/bad? when do you NOT do that?
Ha! Well, I was drawing an animal that walks on all fours, and when I put clothes on him, he looked hunched over.

Do you prefer kids or animal characters--which has greater range?
My stronghold is people. Honestly, if you can create & develop BOTH humans & animals very well, you're in it to win it. I'm finding that I don't have much animal designs in my portfolio, & I'm having to do more animals for the (potential) next book.

Are you developing any of your own original pb ideas?
I have two pb dummies, and a few other ideas, but in conceptual stage now.

Noticing any differences with yourself as client?
I'm my own worst editor. ;)

Who are your character design idols? The ones that get you excited every time?
Oh! So many. Where to start... JP Miller, The Provensens, Tom Oreb, James Flora, Aurelius Battaglia, Ben Shahn, Secret of Kells folks..

Nico Marlet is just about the best- imo.
YES. He's amazing.

Some anim artists have that Little Golden Book look down so well, they'll do fun stuff like this.

I've still yet to see Secret of Kells. I really need to get around to checking that out..
It's truly amazing. Be sure to check out The Blog of Kells.

How does color come to you? Do you do a rough color study on ps?
Color is big for me. Sometimes I can just sense what colors I want to see put together.

Thanks @wardomatic (and everyone else too), very interesting.
You bet! Thanks for your questions. Good stuff.

Full transcript below:

#kidlitart 2-17-11

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Special guest: Ward Jenkins

We're very excited to welcome animator, director and children's book illustrator Ward Jenkins (@wardomatic) to #kidlitart tonight.

Ward's most recent book, Chicks Run Wild, by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, hit the shelves just last month. His credits also include illustrations for How to Train with a T.Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals (co-written by Michael Phelps), extensive editorial illustration for magazines, as well as character design and film direction for national advertising accounts.

Ward's blog The Ward-O-Matic is an excellent resource for all things art and animation-related. He also contributes to the mega-popular, often-bookmarked blog, Drawn!

Check out some of Ward's recent work in character development HERE--and get your questions ready!

We'll see you tonight (Thursday, February 17) at 9 pm Eastern.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Transcript: 2/10/11

TOPIC: How do you get to know your characters? How do you bring them to life?

Full transcript below:

#kidlitart 2-10-11

Step 3: Character development

Now that you have a good solid draft to work from, there are several ways to go. We've chosen to focus on character sketches as the next step in creating your picture book dummy.

Character is at the heart of all good picture books. The child reading or being read to must always be able to identify with the main character: groundhog, starfish, brave little toaster, ditzy housemaid or "real" child, the main character is the focus of the action and of the reader's concern. In other words, it's important to get it right.

Sketch, sketch, sketch, until you know each character thoroughly. Your goal is to be able to place him/her/it in any conceivable situation, expressing any conceivable emotion. (Remember, there will be changes once you've sold your story!)

Cartoonists are masters of character design and development--here are a few books/links with great tips, no matter what your style:

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels, by Scott McCloud

The Art of Animal Character Design, by David Colman

Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures, Volumes i & II, ed. by Don Hahn

The blog of illustrator Aaron Zenz

Character Design: a blog devoted to interviews with character designers

Join us for #kidlitart at 9 pm EST, Thursday, February 10, to share tips and tricks for getting to know your characters visually.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Transcript: 2/3/11

TOPIC: Who needs a plot? From "One,Two,Three" to "Goodnight Moon"

Full transcript below:

#kidlitart 2-3-11

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writing wrap-up

We've talked about some of the "rules" for creating a picture book, heard from a debut picture book author on her path to publication, and shared examples of favorite picture books. So far, we’ve concentrated on story text, but there are other categories of picture books which accommodate text in a different way--or not at all:

1) Nonfiction
Biography, how-to, clever investigations of topical or offbeat subjects—parents, teachers and librarians are always looking for fresh ways to deliver information. These books often expand the traditional picture-book age range and may be used in classrooms well into the middle grades.

Examples: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein; Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum, by Meghan McCarthy.

2) Concept books
Actually a subset of nonfiction, these books introduce children to the alphabet, numbers, colors, seasons, daily routines, etc.

Examples: Mouse Paint, by Ellen Stoll Walsh; The Racecar Alphabet, by Brian Floca.

3) Minimalist word-pictures
These books contain spare, lyrical text describing a scene or action.

Examples: Rain Rain Rivers, by Uri Shulevitz; Freight Train, by Donald Crews.

4) Wordless picture books
These contain true stories, told without text.

Examples: Chalk, by Bill Thomson; Flotsam, by David Wiesner

Here’s a fun exercise: take the story you’ve been working on and imagine how you might expand your idea into a different picture book treatment: did you do research about vintage tractors to get the details right about your barnyard setting? That could be the basis for a nonfiction book about farm equipment, or the invention of the tractor. Maybe you could use some of your secondary characters for a counting book—how many chicks hatched today? Or you could focus on the cozy sounds of the animals settling in for the night. If you had no words at all, how would you structure each scene to clearly show your original plot?

Join us on Thursday, February 3, to discuss how exploring different picture book treatments may help you discover that unique perspective only you can deliver to your dummy project.

Time: 9 pm Eastern

Topic: Who needs a plot? From “One, Two, Three” to “Goodnight, Moon”