Friday, April 08, 2016

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Gareth Hinds by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "...you realize what you wrote is awful and you have to fix it — and that can be quite difficult and time-consuming and is something that continues to give me a hard time. Hence my lack of original projects. Adapting a text is easy for me and also exciting, because I can’t wait to illustrate it."

Driving Book Trailers by New Locations -- at Libraries by Linda Johns at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: "...a great place to put a book trailer, whether you’re an author, a teacher, a parent, a young reader (or any age reader). All you need is a library card..."

12 Fundamentals of Writing The Other (and The Self) by Daniel José Older from BuzzFeed. Peek: "...even as adults, we’re barely figuring how to deal with negative imagery. Kids haven’t been given any of the tools we have and they see it more than anyone else."

National Picture Book Writing Week: "...guests who will be discussing the art and craft of writing/illustrating picture books, from debut to veteran authors plus a prominent agent and editor with their industry advice!"

Poetry in the Lives of Children & Young Adults by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez from Latinxs in Kid Lit. Peek: "...at first, youth are very hesitant about reading and writing poetry because it’s
'too hard' to understand or there are 'too many rules' to follow, but they are then surprised and even excited when we read poems by the likes of Francisco X. Alarcón, Pat Mora, or Juan Felipe Herrera."


How to Write a Poem in 10 Easy Steps by Skila Brown from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek: "It’s National Poetry Month! Which is very exciting if you’re a poet or a lover of poetry. And probably doesn’t interest you at all if you consider yourself to be neither. But if you’re a reader…and certainly a writer…you should be celebrating too!"

Change, Compromise, Dig Your Heels In: Dealing with the Editorial Report by Juliet Mariellier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Your editor may make suggestions you’re not sure about. Maybe you agree that there’s a problem, but you don’t like the solution she’s suggested."

Cao Wenxuan: Chinese Author Wins Hans Christian Anderson Award from BBC News. Peek: "...his 2005 work Bronze and Sunflower, set during the Cultural Revolution. It tells the tale of a young city girl, Sunflower, who accompanies her artist father when he is forcibly sent to the countryside to labour among peasants, as millions of Chinese were in the 1960s and 70s." See also Helen Wang (his translator) on Children's Book Translation from Cynsations.

This Week at Cynsations


SCBWI Bologna at Cynsations


More Personally

I love spring in Austin and so look forward to this writing weekend. The third round of VCFA packets will appear next week (go, advisees, go!), so it's a window to focus on my own manuscript. I have two North Texas SCBWI critiques to tackle first, but I'm enjoying them, too.

Have I mentioned how much I love being an author-teacher?

Thanks to everyone who sent in questions for me to answer. They were thoughtful and fierce. (What's going on out there, readers?) I'll pick, say, 10 or 12 to post soon.

Link of the Week: An Open Letter to Our North Carolina Readers from School Library Journal. Peek: "We will spread kindness and inspire compassion and hope, as we believe books, in their best moments, always have and always will." See also 269 Children's Book Authors & Illustrators Oppose North Carolina's Anti-LGBT Law from The Charlotte Observer.

Personal Links

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Guest Post: J. Albert Mann on Writer Resilience

By J. Albert Mann
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Rejection, reviews, competition, disappointment, deadlines, and doubt. There is no shortage of adversity in the writing life, making the ability to bounce back one of the greatest skills a writer can foster. And it can be fostered.

Because resilience is not a genetic or personality trait, but a process which can be learned and practiced. Overcoming the challenges that exist in our writing lives often feels difficult because it is difficult.

Really.

Really.

Difficult.

But not impossible.

And if you don’t believe me—Jennifer Mann—perhaps you’d believe another Jennifer?

Have patience.

“There are those writing days where I feel more alive than I can almost handle. And then there are the days of all out despair where I worry I’ll never have success again. If I have patience with myself, I get that exhilarating feeling all over again, and it keeps me going.”
Jennifer P. Goldfinger, author-illustrator

Care for yourself.

Resilient Jennifers
“A big part of surviving in this business is managing my own negative emotions. That means I protect my mind and my heart fiercely. I do whatever I need to do to stay in a healthy place, because I've realized that I'm no good to anyone when I've let a bad review or my own natural writing insecurities get the better of me.”
Jenny Lundquist,
middle grade & YA author 

Don’t neglect the rest of your life.

“Not only do real-life experiences and relationships inform and inspire your art, these will be there for you on days when the writing world is difficult or frustrating or just plain hurts your feelings.”
Jenny Manzer, debut YA author

Grow from it.

“We can’t get better or grow if there is no reason to. Obstacles, like critique, rejection, time constraints, tech failures, family obligations, power outages, chocolate shortages, give us a reason to change how we do things, and every time we do something differently, we grow.”
Jennifer K. Mann, picture book author

Stay connected.

“It is crucial to have people around you who understand the process and the industry.”
Jenn Bailey, picture books & middle grade writer,
VCFA Candlewick Scholarship winner

Keep perspective.

Resilient Jennifers
“I remind myself that it is just a book. Sure, authors can impact, and maybe even save, lives when their stories reach the right person at the right time, but possibly not as many lives as, say, heart surgeons or the inventors of airbags... and I sometimes need the reminder to just get over myself and put things in perspective!”
Jen Malone, YA author 

 Shut it out.
“I sit at my computer and imagine myself with those blinders you see on horses.
"This helps me shut out the world and disconnect from negative distractions. It refocuses me on what matters most, the writing, and reminds me this is what deserves my time and energy.”
Jenny Torres Sanchez, YA author

Always…

“Write the next thing. And the next thing after that.”
Jenn Bishop, debut middle grade author

“Have two or three projects going at once.”
Jennifer Vogel Bass, children's nonfiction author

“Believe in yourself and your work, no matter what.”
Jennifer Niven, bestselling author

And…

“Remember that you love the process.”
Jenn Baker, acclaimed short story writer
& creator-host, Minorities in Publishing podcast

“You will get through this,” says a card pinned over Jennifer Whistler’s desk from a writing buddy.
Jennifer Whistler, technical writer, college
writing instructor, VCFA student

You will get through this. Allow yourself to really take that sentence in and know it…and you will, get through this.

Although if all else fails, follow Jen Doktorski’s lead.

“I call a Jen. I’ve never met one I didn’t like and my best Jens have pulled me through everything from self-doubt to full-out funk.”

So, we’re here for you, guys.

Because aren’t we all just a Jennifer or two away from bouncing back?

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Laura Stitzel

Laura with her cat, Milk
By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Laura Stitzel is an independent artist in Melbourne, Australia. She has been working as an illustrator, designer and animator in Australia and Canada since 2007.

Working mainly for children’s television, Laura was recently part of the creative team at one of North America’s largest animation studios in Toronto, Canada.

 There she worked on the Emmy Award™ winning "Peg + Cat," and led the painting department on "Arthur,'" the world’s longest running children’s television series.

In her home of Melbourne, Australia, Laura has also illustrated and animated on a wide range of media including educational interactive projects, video games, advertisements, and television.

In her own illustrations, Laura’s work shines a light on animals and their place in our world. Creating artworks with a uniquely vintage style, Laura’s illustrations feature detailed pen and ink ornamentation and hand-lettering, paired with cheeky characters and cute creatures.

Congratulations on being awarded a SCBWI Bologna Illustrators' Gallery Honorable Mention for your illustration "A Little Nonsense"!

Thank you, I’m just delighted!

You have a varied background as an illustrator - can you tell us about the different types of projects you’ve worked on?

My training is in animation. I’ve been working in the animation industry in both Melbourne and Toronto since 2007. I’m primarily a background artist, and I also animate and design characters and props. I’ve worked on children’s television programs as well as interactive projects and print media.

When I’m not working on these big projects I like to keep creating my own illustrations that have my own style.

What mediums do you work in? Does this vary depending on the type of project (print vs. website vs. television/animation)?

It does vary project to project. For my own illustrations, I always use pen and ink along with watercolour or digital painting. Sometimes there is no digital input at all, sometimes just for touch-ups.

When I’m working for an animation studio, the process is almost entirely digital. I’m an avid Photoshop enthusiast. I love figuring out ways to imitate real painting and drawing techniques in Photoshop. This was a big part of my role on the children’s show Arthur, during its transition from cell animation to digital. I developed a new process for the painting team and created digital brushes to best recreate the original look of the beloved show. It was a great experience.



Of course there are exceptions, I was lucky enough to create some artwork for "Peg + Cat," which is made using gouache and pencil and then scanned in for animation. Sitting in a modern animation studio and painting was quite surreal - and a real delight.

Do you have a favorite medium or illustration tool?

Absolutely - fine liners. I love using ink and I get the best results using a handful of fine liners with variations in thickness. I use black, brown and sepia. I just love that I can do both fine details and bold outlines.

I’m a big fan of old fashioned rendering techniques like stippling and cross hatching. I also use a nib pen sometimes, but it’s a lot less predictable - which is sometimes a good thing.

When I’m doing my roughs in pencil, my other cant-live-without tool is an eraser stick. With a ‘sharpened’ eraser, I can erase in a very fine line, which I use to carve gaps in or clean up my messy pencil line work. So it’s like I have two drawing tools - a pencil for grey and an eraser for white - genius!

Can you tell us about your typical creative process?

Sure. Once I have an idea for an illustration that I’m happy with, I draw a quick rough sketch to work out the story, the poses and the composition. Then I dive into references. I have loads of books of vintage advertisements and posters from the early 1900s, and I can’t do without them. I’ll use them to get ideas for a border, or a rendering technique, a font, a little ornamental decoration or even a character’s clothing.

If I’m doing hand lettering I’ll often go online to find the perfect font, and I also use Google Images for references for animals. How anybody ever drew without Google Images, I’ll never know. Then I rough out my line work in pencil. I use tracing paper a lot to mirror decorative elements or shift parts around. Then, when I’m ready - I go over all my line work in pen, and do some passes of watercolour. I often draw in layers, then scan them in and assemble them in Photoshop.

Lastly, I digitally apply any finishing touches. I’ll usually leave it and come back to it the next day with fresh eyes and find a few little things I want to change.

Does it vary depending on what kind of project you are working on?

Of course when I’m working for an animation studio, the creative process is dictated by the established style of the show, and by tight deadlines! That means there is less individual freedom, but I’m creating part of a larger vision which is immensely satisfying.

However, there are parts of my own creative process that I bring to a studio environment. I’m always a believer in taking time to rough out a plan and to look at references before diving in.

Taking a step back and reassessing an image’s readability is also very important.

Of course with studio work I can’t always leave something overnight, but I have little tricks - such as always having the Navigator in Photoshop visible, so I can keep seeing my image at a glance and making sure it works.

We’d love to hear more about your winning illustration "A Little Nonsense." Was it part of a larger project, or is it a stand-alone piece?

This piece is a stand-alone work - but it is one of a few illustrations I’ve created using quotes from the 1971 film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Mr. Wonka’s dialogue is smattered with literary references, and I’ve used a handful of them over the years. So I guess I have borrowed quotes from a character who borrows quotes from everyone else!

I intended for the characters in the illustration to be familiar from old stories and nursery rhymes, but not specific to one film or book. For example there is a little piggie eating roast beef, there’s an owl and a pussycat, and there’s a fox in a bandit mask. They’re all on some kind of adventure together that we don’t really know about, but we might imagine it.

By pairing these characters with the quote - ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men’ - I’m saying that imagined characters and stories mean something to all of us, they have a place in our world and they’re important.

What was the medium and the creative process for this illustration?

I illustrated the characters, the border and the lettering using my beloved fine liners, and painted the colour in Photoshop. The colour palette I borrowed from a 1917 advertisement for McCallum Silk Hosiery.


I love colour theory and finding out why some colours work together and others don’t, and I wanted to see if I could appropriate an established colour palette. I don’t usually reference something quite so directly - I also borrowed the sun and fish! - but it was an experiment and I’m happy with how it turned out.

What is a typical creative session like for you?

Just so much fun. I give myself a few dedicated hours to cut off from the world. I always put on loud music and sing terribly.

I find the pencil stage makes me a bit anxious - what if I can’t get on the page what I can see in my head? But the inking stage is pure bliss - I’m in my own world, what they call ‘flow’. I usually draw way longer into the night than I ever intended and regret it the next day.

Do you have a dedicated place that you like to create?

No, actually I don’t! I like to move around a lot, and it’s very important to me that I can create no matter where I am and no matter my surroundings. I have a fairly portable drawing board and a laptop.

In the past few years, I have traveled a lot and get my best ideas when I’m out discovering the world, so it’s important to me that I can draw and create in a variety of spaces.

Some of my favourite illustrations I’ve done in a sketchbook propped on my lap on a bumpy train ride, waiting in an airport, lying in a park, or wearing earbuds in one of the world’s many coffee shops.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today! I look forward to seeing more of your illustrations in the future.

Thanks for having me!

Cynsational Notes

Find Laura on Facebook at facebook.com/lauradrawsart.

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Lisa Anchin

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Lisa Anchin has been drawing since she could hold a pencil and making up stories since she could speak. 

She grew up just outside of New York City, passing briefly through Massachusetts where she picked up a B.A. from Smith College, and then she returned to New York to work and to later pursue additional graduate degrees—an MA at Columbia and an MFA at the School of Visual Arts. 

Lisa now freelances full time as an illustrator and designer. She is the illustrator of A Penguin Named Patience by Suzanne Lewis (Sleeping Bear, 2015). Her second illustrated book, I Will Love You, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli will be released in spring 2017 (Scholastic). 

When not in her studio, she can be found haunting one of the many cafes of the five boroughs, sitting with a bucket of tea and scribbling in her sketchbook. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner in crime and a not-so-little black cat.

Congratulations on your work "Happy Birthday Fox," being selected as a finalist for SCBWI’s Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery. It's on display at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. What was the inspiration behind Happy Birthday Fox?

I’ve been trying to expand my palette, so as an exercise, I’ve started picking colors that I don’t generally use then planning an illustration based on those colors.

"Happy Birthday Fox" was one of these painting exercises.

The mustard, aqua, orange, bright magenta, and lime green felt like party colors.

But rather than the moment of the party itself, I wanted to illustrate that contented, happy sigh moment that comes after the party has ended.

You are the illustrator of A Penguin Named Patience (Sleeping Bear, 2015). What was it like illustrating your first children’s book? Were there any unexpected developments?

A Penguin Named Patience was my first illustrated book and an interesting challenge.

Serendipitously, I actually received the offer only a few days before I left for a trip to New Orleans for an illustrator’s weekend. While I was there, my fellow illustrators generously agreed to accompany me on a visit the Audubon Aquarium, so I could take reference photos.

I was able to photograph the penguin enclosure and the South African penguins featured in in the book. That was a really luck coincidence, and then the publisher also sent additional images of Tom, the penguins’ keeper, and videos of the penguins’ triumphant return to New Orleans.

I had never made such a large body of work on a single subject before. That in and of itself was an experience. Before I began work on the final pieces, I did quite a few character studies and color tests. I wanted to make sure that everything would be consistent throughout the book.

Overall it was a really wonderful experience. Not to mention, drawing penguins is a pretty great way to spend your workday.

Tell us about your school visits? I imagine students are excited to learn about Patience and the other penguins who were rescued after hurricane Katrina.

My school visits have been really rewarding. The first one I did was actually at my old elementary school. The kids I’ve spoken with are always excited that the book is based on a true story, and that Patience was a real penguin living at the aquarium at the time of the storm.

After reading the story together and answering their questions about the reality of what happened and the making of the book, I like to draw with the kids. I usually start by talking about South African penguins before taking them through the basic steps to draw Patience.

With older kids, I can also talk about storytelling, character development, and how to visually emphasize your protagonist, especially when all of your characters are a single type of animal and all look very similar. I love watching the kids draw and seeing the characters they imagine and create.

What is a typical work day like for you?

On studio days—I also freelance at a publisher doing book design during the week—I’m usually at my desk by nine. I set aside some time in the morning to take care of business related things—emails, invoices, etc.—and then I begin with warm-up sketches.

Sometimes these are drawings of the characters for the project I’m currently working on, but usually I use it as free drawing time. Often these open, sketch-anything moments lead to nuggets of ideas for future stories.

After my warm-ups, I dive into work, which ranges from writing, thumbnailing images for a new dummy, sketching, working on color studies, or painting a final piece.

The actual work of the day depends on where I am in a project. I try to take small breaks as I work—for a new cup of tea, to play with my cat, or just to stand up and stretch—and I always take a long walk in the middle of the day, which inevitably includes a stop at the library three blocks from my apartment on my way home.

What are you working on now?

As of this week, I just finished the art for a new book called I Will Love You, written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and being published by Scholastic in the spring of 2017. It’s a lovely story, told from a parent/care-giver to a child. The text uses beautiful, lyrical language, and is a non-linear narrative, which allowed me to stretch my imagination. It was a joy to illustrate.

I’m also working on a number of my own stories, and I often have a few in progress.

If I get stuck on one project, I can put it aside and work on another until I’m ready to return to the first.

Right now I’m juggling work on an entirely new manuscript with revisions on two book dummies—one is a story about a precocious little plant and her garden and the second features a character that I’ve been calling Little Viking.

Do you have advice for artists who are just getting started in the field of children’s illustration?

Childhood Painter
First and foremost, join SCBWI. Between the conferences, the technical and professional information, and the community, the organization provides an unparalleled wealth of resources for someone new to the field. I owe much of my career to SCBWI, and I specifically want to emphasize the importance of the community generated by SCBWI.

As illustrators and writers, our work is largely solitary, and it’s so important to find a group of like-minded folks. They can both provide moral support on those hard-to-work-through days of doubt, and also honest feedback on your work.

If you don’t yet have an agent, editor, or art director to turn to for creative feedback, it’s helpful to have critiques from peers. I still look to my illustration critique group for a first round of editing and feedback well before I pitch a new story or dummy to my agent.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People.

Angela coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrators' Gallery Winner Interview: Rongyuan (Roya) Ma

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Providence-based illustrator Rongyuan Ma is originally from China. She is a graduate of the Children's Book Illustration Certificate Program at Rhode Island School of Design, an elected member of Art League of Rhode Island, and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

She has won a series of awards that include 3x3 Contemporary Magazine (Bronze Medal), Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles (Gold Award), China Animation & Comic Competition Golden Dragon Award (Gold Medal), winner of Ann Barrow Scholarship, and finalist of Art Idol Figure Design Competition. 

Her works also have received accolades from institutions/organizations such as the "The Artist's Magazine," Danforth Museum of Art, and SCBWI.

Congratulations on your illustration "Daughter of the Dragon" being selected as the winner of SCBWI’s Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery! How long have you been illustrating?

Honestly I cannot remember exactly how long. I grew up in China when most parents felt slightly ashamed and deeply concerned to have an emerging artist in the family.

My mother used to take drastic measures to stop me from becoming one. Of course that did not work. In fact, it made me more determined to pursue my dream of art. Looking back, I am quite content with what I have become through these years.

Do you have a favorite illustration medium and/or tools?

Recently I have a newfound interest in watercolor, besides my long-time favorite of brush and ink. I am planning on using only charcoal pencil for my next project. Not to mention that I like computer graphics, too, and am pretty familiar with it.

In fact, I am really fascinated by all media, tools, and techniques. I don’t want to limit myself by drawing a line between what I can and cannot use. If possible, I would like to have opportunities to try all sorts of new medium, as I love the feeling realizing “Oh that’s how it works.” It’s just like gaining a new friendship.


What is your typical process for creating an illustration?

Brainstorming the overall composition, posture of the characters, sources of lighting and the vision angles. This is my “Step One”, and then there it is, the long creation process. To me, this initial part is the most challenging.

As an illustrator, I am creating something out of thin air: from an abstract concept to a depicted visual image. I really value the instantaneous inspiration that strikes me, showing me the composition and the perspective of the picture, what visual angle applies, where the light comes from, and so forth. That instant blueprint flashes in my head usually determines what my final work looks like. And, with such a scheme, the following part of the process, such as outlining and coloring, will flow naturally, which makes the whole creative process quite enjoyable.

However, as much as I try, that transient Eureka! moment does not guarantee to honor me every time I brainstorm.


Does this process or the tools you use vary between projects?

Yes, and no to this question. “Yes”, with my great curiosity in diverse methods and approaches, the creative process itself or the media/tools involved in it may vary significantly. Every artwork has its “voice” to be heard, and it demands distinctive interpretation.

I personally don’t think there is a panacea for all tasks: solution α might be the least effective for problem β. As I said, I am keen on finding the particular expression that makes the voice stronger.

Yet, “No” is that no matter how different the projects are, there is something unchanged in all processes: the brainstorm at the very beginning, which I called “the enlightening phase”.

Is this how you created your winning illustration, "Daughter of the Dragon"?

Yes, "Daughter of the Dragon" went through such a process. It is the first spread of the whole storyboard, so I figure it has more responsibility than other pages in terms of fulfilling purposes such as introducing the character, setting the background and atmosphere of the story, and appealing to the reader in a visual way.

Technically, the illustration was done mainly with traditional media of brush, ink and gouache on 22" x 11" board paper for the drawing part.

I even used a tooth brush to create a certain richness of texture before scanning into my computer for finishing up.

"Daughter of the Dragon" is beautiful! Can you tell us about your inspiration for this particular illustration?

"Daughter of the Dragon" is a retelling of a Chinese folktale about a young dragon girl leaving the sea to join the much loved Lantern Festival but having underestimated how different and complicated the human world could be.

To be more believable, the main character was modeled after my daughter, who was born not too long before the making of this illustration.

I was trying to blend in metaphors and symbolism to this piece in order to best interpret the manuscript: I use lotus, a Buddhist symbol which grows up from mud, through water, into air, still remaining stunningly beautiful with faith, to signify the characteristic of transcendence of our protagonist.

So daughter of the dragon must triumph over all challenges and follow her heart to go somewhere she had yearned for. In particular, the red scarf hints at her passion and determination.

Is it part of a larger work such as a picture book or was it created as a stand-alone piece?

The illustration is from the same titled children’s picture book that I cooperated with my husband. He writes and I illustrate. "Daughter of the Dragon" is the first full spread among other illustrations in the picture book. 

Where do you like to create?

It depends on what phase I am in during the process. Though the “enlightening phase” requires full alert and deep contemplation, I strangely prefer to do it somewhere outside home, likely with crowd and noise, for instance, a small cafe or even a busy restaurant. I feel more engaged and motivated with such populous effects, thus I am more efficient in finding the idea that sparkles.

After succeeding in getting the satisfactory design of the project, my choice for creative space is the least flexible: home and home only. I think many may agree with me that the creating process itself can get very lonely and stressful. So an environment that is familiar and also comforting and supportive will help tremendously.

I do have my work space at home, with all my equipment, tools, supplies, and references handy. Every so often more stuff crams in and I constantly feel that I am running out of space. Lighting is super important to me when comes to work, as I need to have sufficient yet comfortable lighting to do my job well. Maybe because my space is pretty cozy, it becomes a hub where everyone in the family, my husband, my daughter, and our cat, like to hang out.

What is the typical illustration process like for you?

My work habit is to make plans and to stick with them. I believe participation is quintessential for an artist, for it broadens one’s horizon by practices such as professional critiquing and/or peer networking. Therefore, I try to be active in my field signing up many art activities during each year.

I make both general plans and detailed schedules, usually prior the year to come. According to the different artistic missions I sign up, my illustration session can stretch to a full-year-long, with multiple sub-sessions, each with a precisely timed beginning and due-date.

In order to prevent procrastination, I make day-to-day schedule for the sub-session to proportion my project and to specify my daily task. Whether ahead or behind, it shows clearly where I am in the process. Also, it feels great to check off things from my to-do list every day.

Even during each illustration session, I am not always switched on to the “work mode”. Instead, I try to allow life intervene occasionally: running errands with my husband, playing with my daughter, feeding my cat or the squirrels and birds in the backyard, making dinner plans or simply mopping the floor…these small but peaceful moments help refresh my mind so that I can stay sharp and sensitive in art.


Thank you, Roya.

Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity of being interviewed! I am truly happy and flattered that my artwork is appreciated by many.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Guest Post: Maya Christina Gonzalez on The Heart of It & Write Now! Make Books

By Maya Christina Gonzalez
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Heart of It: Creating Children’s Books that Matter is an online course for aspiring and emerging children’s book writers and illustrators who want to create powerful books for kids while simultaneously coming more fully into their own power as storyteller and artist.

I combine my passion as an educator and activist along with 20 years of experience in creating award-winning multicultural children’s books to craft a course that is a journey of self as much as a practical guide to creating children’s books.

The six-week course offers writing exercises, hands-on art projects, in-depth book reviews, community interviews, Q&A webinars with special guests, and more all designed to offer a holistic approach to creating children’s books and provide opportunities for students to hone their craft, strengthen the power of their own voice and unique way of expressing through art and word, and be in community with other like-minded children’s book makers.

At the end of the program, students are invited to put what they’ve learned to practical use through creating one full spread of text and art to be included in The Heart of It Anthology, a picture book that incorporates student’s work into the story; written and illustrated by me and published by the independent press I co-founded. The first edition is Whaleheart, the second is By The Light Of The Rabbit Moon. and the third anthology will be drawn from this Spring 2016 class.


The Heart of It eCourse is a class I long dreamed of offering out of a desire to support communities to change the still dismal statistics in relation to diversity in children’s books.

As a queer Chicana children’s book author and artist, I know the effects of living in an unequal society and how it can leave many of us feeling as if we don’t get to have a voice especially a voice in children’s books.

This class is not just about learning technical skills. It’s also about how to transform limiting beliefs and ideas that we have inside of ourselves and in the world that hold us back from getting these kinds of stories out.

I center on people of color, American Indians, the LGBTQI+ community and communities still misrepresented and underrepresented in the current children’s publishing industry.

I also highlight the work of authors and illustrators pioneering alternative routes into publishing, including self-publishing, creating their own presses, crowdsourcing funds as well as reclaiming traditional routes.

The Spring 2016 community interviews and book reviews will focus on Native American children’s literature and will be in addition to the African American and LGBTQI+ materials from past courses as well as the core class materials.

I believe that something very powerful happens when we see others in our community tell stories and create images that reflect who we are and our experience in the world.

This course is about finding our voice, allowing our hearts to speak, and knowing that our books belong in the hands of children.


Cynsational Notes

The Heart of It: Creating Children’s Books that Matterwith Maya Christina Gonzalez is a six-week eCourse scheduled from April 18 to May 29 (with additional three months access through Aug. 31). Scholarships and payment plans available. See more info and/or register.

For kids out wanting to learn how to create picture books, Maya also offers a free online video series called Write Now! Make Books, inspired by The Heart of It Anthologies.

Through direct learning, the Write Now! Make Books materials teach how to make books from story through art all the way to book creation in many of the same ways a professional artist/author does.

It includes two hours of instructional videos, a field guide, a complete sample story with art to color and make into a practice book. It also uses a social justice frame to support kids and teens in understanding and reclaiming the power of story and how we can use it to strengthen ourselves today and change our world.

See more info and to download the Bookmakers Field Guide.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Author-Illustrator Interview: Elizabeth O. Dulemba

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children's author-illustrator with more than two dozen titles to her credit, including her debut historical fiction, A Bird on Water Street (Little Pickle, 2014), which has been awarded thirteen prestigious literary honors, including Georgia Author of the Year and a Green Earth Book Award Honor.

Elizabeth splits her time between Roanoke, Virginia, where she teaches Picture Book Design as visiting associate professor at Hollins University in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating program, and Scotland, where she is currently pursuing an MFA in Illustration at the University of Edinburgh.

Elizabeth maintains and active blog where she hosts author/illustrator guest posts each week and gives away free coloring pages. Her weekly newsletter has more than 3,600 subscribers.

Elizabeth, welcome to Cynsations! Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today.

Thanks so much for having me!

Can you tell us a bit more about your background? How long have you been an illustrator? What led you to pursuing a career in children’s books, and specifically in illustration?

Hoo boy. I’ve wanted to illustrate picture books since I was a little kid. I used to stare at Garth Williams’ illustrations in The Golden Book of Elves and Fairies (1951) and wish I could create that same magic with my art.

As a kid, I always had a drawing pad and pencil with me. Of course, back then, I didn’t know real people actually made books. And even though the adults in my life knew I was an artist and supported me with lessons my entire life, they steered me towards a more stable lifestyle.

I became a graphic designer for many years. I was always in-house illustrator, though, and I never stopped dreaming about creating books.

When I married my husband, I got the chance. We moved to be together, and I went freelance while I pursued my dream to illustrate books. Three years in, I got my first contract to illustrate The Prince’s Diary (Lee & Low, 2005).

You have illustrated both your own stories, and those of others. Is there a creative difference for you as an illustrator when you are illustrating your own work, versus illustrating someone else’s work?

It took me seven years to get my first contract as both author and illustrator, Soap, Soap, Soap (Raven Tree, 2009). Until that time, I had a lot of fun coming up with images for other people’s writing - I still do. But yeah, it’s a blast to come up with my own text and images.

Heck, I imagine it will be fun to have another illustrator use my words at some point. It’s all about telling stories and creating! I love all of it!

What mediums do you work in?

I’m currently pursuing an MFA in Illustration at the University of Edinburgh College of Art. It’s an introspective and experimental time for me. I feel like I’m in the thick of a creative chrysalis at the moment.

So while I was digital for my first 15 years, I’ve been working with more traditional media of late, getting messy with paint up to my elbows.

We’ll see what style steps forward as my fave. I don’t know yet!

Does this vary depending on the type of project?

Yes! I tend to follow the vision of the story rather than stick to one particular personal style (so far). Although, I’ve been told that when you look at my works on the whole, they all look like mine. Ha!

Do you have a favorite medium or illustration tool?

Elizabeth's studio
Not at the moment! I’ve been leaning towards dip pen and ink with watercolors. But I just discovered dyes, and I don’t want to throw out the computer altogether, so we’ll see!

Can you tell us about your typical creative process?

I’m right in the thick of a new project, so I can share exactly!

Right now, I’m in the research stage. I’m looking at images, costumes, architecture, landscapes, color palettes, trying to soak in the looks of the story I’ll be working on - get it set in my head. I broke out the text into the key moments I think I’ll need to illustrate. And I’ve done some very rough thumbnails to get an idea of how the story will visually break out.

Next, I’ll start doing sketches - tons and tons and tons of sketches! Slowly, I’ll start working out my compositions and get bigger and tighter with those. Then I’ll start playing with whatever media I choose. I love the rendering stage the best, so I can’t wait to get to that!

Does it vary depending on what kind of project you are working on?

Y’know, not really. I was sitting here doing online research, and for a minute I thought, “I’m not drawing, why am I wasting time?” And then I realized that I always do it this way and I’m not wasting time at all!



What is a typical creative session like for you?

There’s no such thing as a typical creative session! It’s always different.

Even though my processes remain similar, I might be researching, sketching, painting, digitally rendering - all while listening to music, an audiobook, or requiring absolute quiet so that I can concentrate. It all depends on what stage I’m in.

Do you have a dedicated place that you like to create? Has that changed for you over the years?

Right now, my dedicated space is my desk at the university. It’s a big change from my dedicated studio/office bedroom in the states! But I love the energy of being surrounded by creative students.

I also love that I have to walk through beautiful Edinburgh every day to get here (1.6 miles from my flat). My view is of 17th and 18th century buildings, and lunch often involves meandering into one of the loveliest and oldest areas of the city (Grassmarket). Yeah - it rocks.

You are also the author of a middle grade novel, A Bird on Water Street (Little Pickle, 2014). What was that creative process like for you, in contrast to the very visual medium of picture books?

Completely different. I didn’t realize I was writing a novel when I started it, but dozens of interviews, rewrites, and ten years on, I’m a novelist!

A Bird on Water Street has gotten fantastic reviews and even won 13 literary awards and honors! I’m so proud of the novel, it’s done some wonderfully positive things for the community in which it took place, and for me personally. It has its own web page at http://ABirdOnWaterStreet.com.

As far as the creative process when writing - it has to be dead quiet outside my head because it is so loud inside my head! Now that the writing muse has been set loose, there’s no stopping her.

Sadly, she doesn’t get along very well with my illustration muse. They are constantly battling for my time.

Do you have plans for more middle grade works?

I do! I have about three or four other novels that are at various stages. It’s hard to concentrate on novels right now, though. School is keeping me unbelievably busy, and I don’t get unified chunks of mental space where I can focus on one project.

Instead, I’m working on dozens of projects all the time right now (including personal projects - mostly picture books - and school projects). But spring break is coming, then two months of summer before I head to Hollins University where I teach in the MFA in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating program, then over a month free before school starts back.

I’m planning to do some concentrated creating in those windows!

I loved your recent TED talk. Like you, my husband and I sold our house and most of our possessions to make a move from the U.S. to Europe. For those who haven’t seen your TED talk yet, can you tell us what led you to make that move?

Thanks! I’ve received the nicest emails from folks who feel the same way or have experienced something similar. It’s been a tangent from my children’s books and school studies, but equally as gratifying. I think a lot of folks are experience-based people trapped in stuff-based lifestyles and could do what I did… I sold almost everything I own to move overseas and go back to school.

Truly, the best way to understand my journey is to actually watch my TED talk.

While it’s not specifically about children’s books, it describes the motivation behind how I live my life, which is all about children’s books!


So you’re currently studying children’s illustration in the masters of fine arts program at Edinburgh University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Can you tell us more about your plans once you complete that program?

I’m going to pursue a PhD in Picture Books! Several reasons have come together in my life to make an advanced degree make sense for me. And who knows, I might actually become an expert!

Through it all, I’ll continue to teach at Hollins University in the summers (it’s a summer MFA program).

After that, I really don’t know. That’s one of the nice things about being mobile. I don’t feel trapped by anything anymore. The future is exciting and shiny!

What is the one piece of advice you would give an aspiring illustrator or author?

Follow your heart, not the trends. The only thing you can control is yourself. Heck, you can’t even always control your own creativity.

Be willing to jump down rabbit holes and see where creativity leads you. More often than not, your instincts will take you someplace good - especially if you get your pesky brain out of the way.


Thank you so much for spending time with us today! It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.

Thank you! I’m honored!

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

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