Monday, October 27, 2008

When do you STOP?

These illustrations are for the children's yoga book I am illustrating. The book is meant to be instructional, so the focus needs to be on the poses in each case. But...since the book is for little children (ages 4 - 8 mainly), I want to make it cute and appealing. I felt this illustration needed a little something more, but I did not want to compromise the main focus, which is the child imitating the frog's stance. So I brought a few elements into the scene that would add interest and color without taking the focus off of the characters.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I was just planning on making time to post this illustration on Picture Bookies when your letter came, Ginger. Good timing.

I just finished this back cover illustration, titled Lost in London, for Focus on the Family's Clubhouse Magazine the other day, and I thought I would make a little step-by-step out of it for Picture Bookies. Not that creating one of these illustrations is that tricky of a process to justify a step-by-step. What's so complicated about pencil, ink, and color? The hardest part was finding the scrap (Google Image) for the background and making it work. I spent a lot of hours noodling on the background. I wanted it to be relatively monochromatic so that it wouldn't compete with the crowd. The art director wanted the setting to be in front of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in London. A Japanese family (front center) has lost some items, which are hidden in the picture. That, too, was a challenge, because how can you hide a bunch on items on a big slab of pavement. I had to get a little creative, but I managed to pull it off.

When I create a "Waldo" page, I start by doing a rough layout, so I know where I'm going and roughly where things will be placed. I don't draw in any people. I just draw the "stage". The actors come later. Once I have the general layout nailed down I start with the front row of the crowd and overlap my way to the back of the crowd. It wouldn't work, of course, to start with the back and work your way to the front. I usually establish a standard size for the characters, like one inch for the front row characters, then I reduce their standard size as they recede into the distance. If I just eyeballed the sizes of the characters, the size relationships could be totally out of whack.

As I penciled the crowd I was thinking about where I would hide everything. I didn't have everything hidden by the time I finished the sketch. I figured I would wing it as I went along. I didn't hide some of the stuff until I was well into the final art. I tend to make things up as I go along a lot. I do that with Trowbridge all the time because I can't afford to put much time into it.

My father-in-law gave me a big box of "tractor" computer paper a few years ago. I still use that for almost all of my work. It's cheap bond paper, but it seems to work okay for most everything I do. I've always drawn my Health Capsules comic on the tractor paper. In this case, I had to tape two pieces of tractor paper together. If I recall, I drew this 25% up. I do all of my inking with the same pen that most illustrators use: Micron Pigma Pens. This job required a size 1.

FYI: One of the things that the kids love when I go to the schools is when I give away one of my Pigma pens. I leave just enough ink in the pen so that the child can draw with it. I sometimes throw them into the audience. That always creates a memorable response. Sometimes after the show a child will come up to me and try to give me the pen back. They can't believe that I would actually give away my pens.

The final result is not much more than Photoshop 101. Of course I have to start with the gradated sky. Next I painted in the buildings, then the pavement, then the crowd. I used the Photoshop pencil for the base color, then various brushes for the shading of the characters. As I went along I was careful to make sure everything was cleverly hidden. It took a lot of extra time, to tone, shade and detail every character in the crowd. People look at these scenes, but they usually don't realize the hours that goes into an illustration like this. My cartoon maps are similar in complexity...that's why I have to work nights and weekends to avoid getting behind.

The title and text are not in yet, of course. This is just the art. Can you find: 10 pigeons. a wallet, an iPod, a camera, a map, a key, and a backpack? There's more hidden stuff, but that's all I can remember now.

That's it for now. Next time: I'll give you concrete proof of how much you can make doing school programs. And, for those, like Paige, Sherry (and myself) with hand problems from overuse, I'll show you how I avoid this problem with a rather unique solution that has worked well for me.

The Sighting

I have been reworking an older version of this tree. But it needed something more, perhaps an investigative reporter.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Portfolio Critiques at SCBWI conferences

A new part of the Midsouth SCBWI conference this year was a poster contest for children's book art. The conference faculty (including an art director from Greenwillow, an editor from Abrams, and Harold Underdown) chose the one that they felt looked most like the cover of a children's book and mine won. How exciting is that!

If I had used a piece of artwork that I had in my portfolio last year at this time, I don't think I would've won. This past year I've grown a lot in my art, and I contribute the starting point of that growth to portfolio critiques from a number of art directors at SCBWI conferences this past year. Each critique pointed out small changes I should make to bring my art to a new level.

There were a lot of beautiful illustrations at the conference this year. Those of us who had attended last year's conference and had met with the Art Director, Laurent Linn, have greatly improved our portfolios based on his articulate suggestions. I think it's so important to get your portfolio critiqued by Art Directors as often as you can.

It's easy for illustrators to stay so stuck in the same way of drawing and painting and composing scenes just because they've sold some artwork. I want to grow as an artist. I want my newest work to always be my best work - but that takes being open to suggestions from others, especially Art Directors, and not getting defensive about my work. Then putting in a lot of hard work to implement those changes. When you look over your portfolio, do you have old pieces in there because they're better or the same quality as your newest work? Are you always striving to bring your artwork up to a new level?

Good to be Back

It's great to be posting again. I love the new banner! Sherry did an amazing job on it.
Ginger...thanks for your motivating energy and vigor in your illustrations and promotion. What would we do without you.
I'm nearly done with a large project with the USDA that I've been working on for over a year. I'll post images after it is published. In the meantime, I'm catching up on the blog here, reading what the fabulous Picture Bookies are up to.


I received my copies of Jack and Jill magazine this past week! In addition to getting to illustrate a story, I ended up on the same page as a feature for a book by fellow Picture-Bookie,  Phyllis Harris and her hubby, Bradley Harris: "My Brother and I"! Phyllis also designed the characters of Jack and Jill who make appearances throughout the magazine. Very, very adorable kids!

In other news I was very excited to receive the "I Love Your Blog" award from Erik Brooks!
I've been a fan of Erik's work for quite some time now so this was a very nice surprise. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Article: How to Survive a Professional Dry Spell

This was an article I originally wrote for the "Prairie Wind", the SCBWI-IL e-newsletter. I thought maybe it would be helpful to some visitors to our blog.

By Kathleen Rietz

As freelance illustrators, we’ve all been there before - those times when assignments stop trickling in and we find ourselves lying awake in our beds at night and wondering how we will pay next month’s bills. Sometimes these professional dry spells cause us to question what we may have done wrong. And if enough time passes, we may even begin to doubt our own talents as illustrators. Usually though, dry spells last a short amount of time and new assignments bring us a new sense of security - and coincidentally - restore our sleep.

I know first-hand how difficult it can be to coast through a professional dry spell and survive, because I went through a dry spell that lasted nearly two years. I won’t lie - relying on an income solely through freelance work is not for the faint of heart. But if you use your time wisely, you can come out of a professional dry spell with a redefined sense of purpose and a clearer identity as an illustrator. I would even argue that dry spells are important and necessary if we choose to use our time wisely. For me, those 2 dry years turned out to be a time of immense growth as a children’s book illustrator.

I have compiled a list of suggestions for surviving a professional dry spell. Many of these I tried myself. Others are things I still plan to do the next time work slows for me.

• Conduct a class or demo. Art stores, such as Blick Art Materials, are often open to artists who are interested in teaching anything from a 6-week course to a 1-day workshop. This can be a quick way to earn some cash while promoting yourself as an artist. It’s also a great way to meet and network with other artists in your community. Store managers like it because it draws customers who are inclined to purchase art supplies.
• Get current. Take a computer arts class. Even for traditional illustrators, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator skills are almost a must-have. Even if you pride yourself on being “old-school”, many clients now expect artists to submit illustration jobs in digital format. You may also want to take a class to learn how to build your own website. If you can’t afford a class at your local community college, offers $25 monthly subscriptions to online tutorials you can complete at your own pace.
• Experiment. Always wanted to try acrylics, gouache or collage art? Now’s your time to shine. Something you try might end up redefining your entire purpose as an illustrator. You can even find online demos and artist groups devoted to a specific medium. In my case, I wanted to get back to using acrylic paints, which I had in storage for years. Before taking them out for a try, I contacted an illustrator whose acrylic work I admired and asked her about her technique. She was more than happy to share her technique with me. I am now using acrylic paint to illustrate a new children’s picture book assignment.
• Update your database. Social sites for illustrators and writers, such as, can offer a wealth of information to aid you in compiling a database of publishers whom you may want to contact for future illustration work. The site contains information such as a publisher’s most recent books, news, imprints, what type of books they publish each year and how many. Other sources for compiling your database are the SCBWI Bulletin, and an annual publication titled “Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market”. New copies sell for about $25, but you may be able to cut costs by checking one out at your local library.
• Revamp your portfolio. Now’s the time to be honest with yourself. Easier said than done. Sometimes we as illustrators want to include every fabulous illustration we have ever done. We lose focus of our portfolio as a whole. In that case, attending a group critique such as a local SCBWI chapter meeting can be helpful. Personally, I also found it very helpful to contact some artist agents and request feedback from them about my work and my portfolio. While each agent’s advice differed to some extent, there were a few comments made to me by each agent that remained consistent. It was these key comments that really helped me to cull my body of illustration work and focus on creating some new illustrations that gave my portfolio a much stronger sense of unity.
• Create a new promo mailing. Now that you have updated your database and created some new pieces for your portfolio, it’s time to design a new mailing to send to editors and art directors at publishing houses. Be sure that whatever illustration you decide to showcase on your mailing represents your portfolio and your purpose as an artist. Remember, you are trying to convince very busy editors and art directors to stop what they are doing and look at your website or online portfolio, so choose your illustration wisely. I find postcard mailings are best. Both and run lots of sales, and I have been very satisfied with the quality, color, and sharpness of the postcards I have ordered. Plus, you can actually see what the postcard you design will look like before you place your order.

Although no one enjoys not having a constant influx of assignments, an occasional dry spell can a time of renewal for any illustrator willing to learn to be resourceful and honor the ebb and flow common to the freelance lifestyle.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My New book!

You know how it is when you have a secret you are just bursting to tell someone?? Well I wanted to give you a 'sneak peek' at one of the new books I have been illustrating titled "The ABC's of Yoga for Kids" by author Teresa Anne Power. Teresa is a yoga instructor as well as the author. Teresa's yoga expertise combined with my ballet background has been the perfect formula in bringing this fun and instructional book to life through the illustrations of children demonstrating the poses. Teresa and the book shepherd - Brookes Nohlgren - have been so wonderful to work with. It really makes the project so much more fun when you work with people who are positive and understand each other's vision and have respect for the kind of time and work that goes into children's book illustrations. There will be close to 60 illustrations in all!

Teresa has allowed me to give you a little peek at the book. I was going to post only one illustration, but I feel these 3 are a pretty good representation of the book so far. As the holidays approach, I will add to my blog a link for pre-ordering the book. Remember this illustration that was selected by Teresa for the "book cover"?

So here are a few of the poses:

The "X"

The "Frog"

The "Dolphin"

I am so excited!! Okay...back to work!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My African Bedtime Rhymes

My African Bedtime Rhymes, by Brettell Hone is now in print!
Very soon this book will be available in the US. Right now it is in the pre order stage, but I just read a really nice review and wanted to share it. The author of this book was raised in South Africa in the closest proximity to the animals he writes so effortlessly about. A rhyming story this book invites young and old(er) to enjoy the habits of some of Africa's well known and lesser known wildlife. You can read the review HERE.

Soon to follow this book is another, also by Brettell Hone, THE BIG FIVE COME ALIVE, and I am just as excited about that one as it features some of the wildest creatures and is a challenge to illustrate but a joy as well.
I feel extremely fortunate to have been chosen for these exciting assignments. I am sure that all illustrators understand the wonderful journey we take when we begin a new illustration project. The research always leads to new learning just as process that we use to create the illustrations always leads to new growth.