Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Thank you Miss Ginger!"

I'm a lucky person!I get to witness both the inner workings of making literature for children and seeing what that literature can do in the hands of a child! And I don't know which I like best- for the past five years I have had the fun of teaching ART to rural ranch kids and Native American kid,mostly Navajo, at Battle Rock Charter School in historical McElmo Canyon.
I'm also a freelance writer and aspiring freelance illustrator who is getting to know some very kind and cool illustrators-and one of the coolest and kindest is Ginger Nielson- who just donated a whole box full of her new book- "The Adventures of Cali" to my kindergarten through second graders.Written by Michele Lallouz Fisher, with wonderful "Ginger-esque" illustrations- she has such a distinct look- the story tracks the travel of a little caterpillar that is hiding in a delious tomato patch and found by a curious boy.
What makes these books really cool is they come with a little recorder- so the kids can have someone record the story and than they can read along listening to the device.
Anything, again I say anything, that gets these kids interested in reading is a good thing. As is true across the rural West,reading is a skill that is sometimes overlooked- and if a "gimmick" of a recorder- is used to get a kid in a lap of an adult reading- I'll do the happy dance.
The recorder, itself will be great for these kids as well- allowing them to listen to their own voices- Navajos, by their culture, can be very soft spoken- so sometimes it is hard to get these kids to talk much, but who doesn't like to hear the sound of their own voice!
So thank you, Miss Ginger, for your generosity- the kids loved the story and loved the illustration and thought it was pretty cool that I knew you! Some fuzzy caterpillars are coming your way- so watch your mailbox!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The space I carved out for myself in our small office suits me fine. I have a neat drawing table that fits nicely next to my desk and computer and it is on wheels so that I can easily move it away from the printer or extra bookshelves. It was on sale at almost half price and I like that it is lightweight, has an adjustable drawing board and cupholders. The cupholders are for a glue gun, but I keep a water bottle there.
The window is wonderful to have. But, when the sun is too bright there is a little folding Japanese screen that I can use to block out the light. If you look closely out that window you will see that the snow is up over the sill outside. There are three full bookshelves in here but I have another two in the hallway outside this room and walls of books in our family room. The ones that I keep close to me are reference and picture books. Some are signed by the artists, and several are those have been illustrated by very good friends.

I hope in the next few weeks more of the gang can share the space where they work. I know at least one of the Picture Bookies uses the entire planet as a studio! It is always fun to see where and how an artist works.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Thinking Spring

©Kathleen Rietz
While I dare not show anyone my studio right now, here is somethng I sketched the other night IN my studio! How are you all doing? I know that Ginger and I have both suffered through monstrous winters! I am SO ready f0r spring! I hope this makes everyone feel a little warmer. Spring is just around the corner (even if that corner is 3 months from now!).

Sunday, February 17, 2008


For the next few weeks in the Picture Bookies Blog...let's all give a little show!

Show us your studio.   Use photos, drawings, writing to show us where and how you work.  I know that some of the Picture Bookies may have links to where and how they work,  and it would be fine to post a link to an already existing page on your website.   

Some of us are busy on projects, some have other limitations right now, but any post would be a wonderful insight to our readers and each other.

For me, the pictures will have to wait until I do some cleaning up!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine Hugs to ALL!

©Kathleen Rietz

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


As suggested in Ginger's recent email to the group, I will describe the process that I follow to create a painting in Photoshop, in this case the current Trowbridge episode. My art school training may put me at odds with some, due to my non-purist "commercial" methodology.

Because of my art school training, I'm not hesitant about using tracing methods, when it's time-saving and advantageous. That's what we were taught in art school when doing representational art. Why take three times longer to be a purist and copy a photo freehand? To me it's not practical. In one of my art books on realistic watercolor painting, the author traced all of his images for watercolor paintings from photographs. It was obvious, but he never came out and stated it in his book. To me, there's no shame in tracing.

It's a totally different story when I do my humorous illustration projects. Everything is pure freehand drawing and imagination. The Trowbridge episodes are also obviously freehand, with the exception of this flower series. I'm doing these flower paintings for my new realistic watercolor painting workshop web site that I'll mention a bit later. I'm getting extra mileage out of the the paintings by using them for Trowbridge episodes. I've also blown them up into a large format and had them printed on canvas. The yellow tree hibiscus posted at the Trowbridge blog now hangs over our fireplace mantel. I will also blow up and print this red hibiscus on canvas.

Below is the photo that I used, taken on our Rarotonga trip. When you examine the painting below you can see how many modifications I made. The yellow anthers are much brighter in the painting than in the photo, and I modified the light and modeling quite a bit, and of course darkened the background to add contrast and drama.

In painting realism from photo references, the photograph is almost as important as the quality of the painting. The photograph must be well composed and cropped, it should be an ideal example of the flower, and it MUST have a strong light source. Without strong light and shadow contrast, the flower painting falls flat on its petals. The flower below is not a good example of strong light, but it's all I had to work with. That's why I enhanced the light on the petals as much as I could. I got only a handful of "paintable" photos from the trip. Unfortunately, I couldn't spend the whole time on the island shooting flowers.

My painting process is not complicated; it's quite straight forward. I choose a photo, decide where to crop it, then I trace the image onto the paper within the prescribed dimensions, in this case 7.5 inches square (Lulu book dimensions). I'm careful in the tracing stage to include all of the details that will be necessary for the painting. Next, I scan my pencil drawing as a foundation for the painting. I paint in Photoshop on a layer on top of the pencil layer in the "multiply" mode.
Much of the success of the outcome depends on the photograph(s) that I'm using for reference. If it's a dramatically lit photo, it's up to me to bring that light into the painting.

The trick to painting realism is in being familiar with rendering techniques. We did a lot of rendering in art school. It takes considerable patience to stay with it and keep the rendering tight throughout the painting. To enhance the realistic effect, the background may be rendered in an "out of focus" manner. It doesn't have to be the same background as in your photo. You can use a background from parts of other photos, or you can invent a background as I did in the red hibiscus. FYI: This photo was shot in the botanical gardens at the resort where we stayed.

If anyone would like to take a dream art vacation, I'm planning a return trip to the South Pacific next winter to teach a realistic watercolor floral painting workshop. I will soon be launching a new web site, called Painting in Paradise, that will spell out all the details. It would be wonderful if some of my blogging friends were part of the group. I'll let you know when I launch the web site. It will be in a month or so. I hope you find this explanation helpful.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Loving What I Do....

The process for Gunther the Underwater Elephant is now in its third year.  This won't come as a surprise to anyone else who writes and illustrates their own picture book. The process is twofold. The manuscript must be perfected and the illustrations must hit the mark with consistency and impact.
 It began as watercolor and ink ideas.

I decided to refine the sketch and move the action away from us a bit, to show more of each character.

The first job was for me to define the areas so I could concentrate on who was where in this entanglement.

Then some color and shading on about 5 layers in Painter IX and X. I also made a change in the leg positions.

Finally I added some seaweed and darkened the sea a bit.  The final will have text at the bottom and maybe a few more bubbles with more clarity.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Loving What I Do!

Since the mermaid illustration was created as a promotional piece that I would send out to trade publishers (as well as scholastic publishers), I decided to add a little spot illustration. This not only adds to the story line, but carries the tropical elements over to the back of my postcard....a visual treat for the eyes. Here we have a budding romance between a dapper lobster and shy starfish.

In the finished illustration, I added a sea horse to the right of the mermaid in order to add balance to the overall composition and introduce another cute sea creature into the story. I also slightly changed the angle of the starfish on the left so that the line would not be so vertical. I decided not to use such literal "scales" in the mermaid's dress, but instead gave it a smoother texture. I am such a "girly" girl myself, and had a lot of fun fashioning a sophisticated little princess dress for my that little girls would love, but not too cluttered. In the planning stages of my illustrations, I try to constantly keep in mind the overall balance of the finished work. This applies to composition as well as color. In this piece, I my focus was on the lush secondary color palette we associate with the tropics. I challenged myself to use saturated color and lots of fun details, yet l pull it all together in the end. This turned out to be one of my strongest illustrations to date. I already placed an order for the promo postcards I will send out in my next mailing to publishers. I am proud to say that I created the entire piece traditionally with gouache, without having to go in digitally and make corrections or "fix" anything. My illustrations are usually acombination of both traditional and digital media, but in this case I was able to acheive the look I desired using only traditional materials.

Here you can see that I have established the skin tones and the hair...and have begun to create the background. I decided to work on the mermaid's hair and skin first, since that would help me determine how to lay down a background of ocean that she would not get "lost" in. I did go back and work on the hair and skin more later on until I was happy with the overall illustration.

The original sketch inspired by the Illustration Friday theme "Tales & Legends". I often use Illustration Friday as an opportunity to create new sample pieces for my portfolio and promote my art blog and website.

Friday, February 8, 2008

February ~ Loving What you Do

I am trying desperately not type because of my hurt thumb. . .but how do you stop what you love to do? It's not easy. I am reading blogs and posts . . .but not posting comments. I am a talkative person. . .so this is killing me not to communicate! Anyway here is my contribution to this months topic. . .it's an old one. . .but appropriate.

February ~ Loving What you Do

Do you Love what you do? Are you creating a Valentine for someone special?
This month the Picture Bookies would like to share their Valentines, or the process in making one, or just the process in a particular piece of work.