Monday, July 17, 2017

Reflections on the Illustrator Intensive- SCBWI LA 2017

One week ago I had the opportunity to attend the SCBWI Illustrator Intensive 
Constructing and Deconstructing Narrative Illustration. 
For an entire day, we were able to watch each of the talented artists/illustrators work as they
talked through their processes. I came away inspired. 

Ramón Hurtado started the day with a session on Narrative Figure Drawing. 
He demonstrated how he interacts with his model to create story in his illustrations. 
It was mesmerizing to watch him draw so effortlessly—a skill he developed over years and years of practice.

Ramón Hurtado

Vanessa Brantley Newton stressed the importance of children being able to see themselves
in the books we create. Her presentation on Character Design focused on how she designs children 
of different ethnicities using both digital and traditional painting and collage. She demonstrated
how she paints hairstyles, skin color and clothing patterns for her memorable, lovable, diverse characters. 
Her presentation was chock-full of humor, heart, inspiration and song. 

© Vanessa Brantley Newton

Leuyen Pham presented a session on Bringing Joy into Your Characters. She emphasized the 
importance of gesture and good design by first creating interesting shapes for your characters—adding details last. For the assignment part of the session, she analyzed and redrew characters drawn by the participants.
She talked through how they could be modified to make stronger characters. It was such a treat to see how
fast and confidently she drew while sharing concrete tips to remember.

© Leuyen Pham

Marla Frazee deconstructed the narrative Composition of picture books. She gave us insight into her thought process by analyzing one of her favorite picture books. It can, at times, take months for her to work out the pictures and emotional arc in her thumbnail sketches and dummy books. Marla emphasized the importance of working out the composition first and then getting to know the character. The ideas she presented gave us a better understanding on how to work out thumbnails and dummies—tips I am excited to try out for my own stories.
Marla Frazee

John Rocco, master of Dramatic Light, stepped us through his process of how he chooses his lighting and color to evoke specific emotions. He likened the creator of a picture book as being similar to a director of a film. The tools used such as shadow and silhouette,  high and low contrast, shallow or deep perspective set the emotional journey for each of his books. He not only reviewed the basics of light and shadow on form, but added some new tips on how to plan a scene using dramatic lighting. 
© John Rocco

Raúl Colón focused his presentation on Color. He shared his journey of exploration on how he experimented with different media to discover his distinct style of illustration. Along with informative demonstrations, he also shared his sketchbooks with all of his color studies. He encouraged participants to look at other artists work for inspiration but not be derivative. He stressed the importance of playing with color and trying out new techniques to keep things fresh. 
© Raúl Colón 

Javaka Steptoe demonstrated his Mixed Media process of how he created the images for the Caldecott winning book, Radiant Child. As he spoke, it was apparent that his choices for tools, materials and style were based on his intuition, passion, understanding of the the subject and his own experiences. At the end of the day, we were all guided to create a collage that had personal meaning on where we are in our own artistic journey.

© Javaka Steptoe

It was an incredible day. I want to thank all of the Illustration Committee at SCBWI: Peter Brown, Priscilla Burris, Pat Cummings, David Diaz, Laurent Linn, Cecilia Yung, and Paul O. Zelinsky. A special thanks too to Sarah Baker for permission to blog about the special day. If you have never been to an Illustrator Intensive, I would highly suggest attending next year. You too will be inspired.


~Dorothia Rohner illustrates and writes stories for children about nature,  magic of imagination and humor.
Represented by: Alice Tasman-
Twitter: @dorothiarFacebook: @dorothiar
Author of  "I Am Goose!" To be illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva (Clairon 2019)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

News!! SCBWI Portfolio Awards!!

This weekend was the 26th annual SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles!! It is always an amazing and exhausting time, filled with inspiring speeches, interesting workshops, and spending time with new and old friends. It's also when the bi-annual portfolio awards are given, and this year all THREE honor awards went to KidLitArtists!!!


© Andy Musser

And brand new mentees Shannon McNeill
© Shannon McNeill

You'll be hearing more from Shannon and Irena, along with the other new mentees Heidi Woodward SheffieldAlexandra ThompsonDiandra Mae, and Amber Alvarez in interviews later this year.

Woohoo KidLitArtists!!! Other mentees have won portfolio awards in the past, too (the judging is completely separate from the mentorship program, just so you know!), and you can see some of the winning portfolios here:

Eliza Wheeler - Grand Prize SCBWI LA 2011
Juana Martinez-Neal - Grand Prize SCBWI LA 2012
Andrea Offermann - Grand Prize SCBWI NY 2013

Jen Betton wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG (Penguin-Putnam) coming in summer 2018, and illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT by Holly Thompson (Clarion-HMH) coming spring 2018.
You can find her here:

Monday, July 3, 2017

SCBWI Conference Tips!

Your bags are packed, your portfolio perfect (you might just fiddle with the order one more time), your business cards in hand.... all that's left to do is go, right? After attending both the LA and NYC conferences several times, here are a few things I've found helpful!

Be brave! Talk to people around you, be friendly! You never know who you might meet! At my first conference, when I didn't know a soul, I met dynamite illustrator Richard Jesse Watson this way. The folks who attend SCBWI tend to be almost universally friendly and welcoming. I've met some of my very best buddies at these conferences.
Awesome illustration buddies and fellow mentees Maple Lam and Lisa Anchin (and me).
Always have a backup portfolio and dummy: even if it is just on your phone. You never know who might be interested in seeing it and you don't want to have to say "well, if you go to the portfolio showcase..." (and you should definitely put your work in the portfolio showcase!)

Have your business card stashed in the front of your conference badge: it fits right under your name, and if you have an image on it, then not only can people can pick you out as an illustrator, but they will connect your name with your work (it is really exciting when someone looks at your card and says, 'hey, I know your stuff!').
Bring LOTS of business cards and postcards – especially if you are in the portfolio showcase. It really stinks when you run out and then someone you really want to connect with asks for your card!

Be on time! The portfolio showcase is only open to general conference-goers for about an hour, so be on time if you want to see all the books (plus they announce the awards at the beginning). The keynotes often run overtime, but the workshops will still start as scheduled! It is also easier to say hello to the speaker before the talk – afterwards they will be mobbed!

Do it all!!! Sign up for a critique, put your book in the portfolio show, and go to the social events. Often the optional elements of the conference are my favorite parts.

Get some rest. The conference is exhausting! While you want to take advantage of everything you can, it's ok to take a break and recharge a bit. Also, you can meet some pretty amazing illustration folks out on the pool deck (just sayin'). Also, bring a sweater – sometimes those rooms are coooooold!

Do homework prior to networking: look at the faculty bios and decide who you want to meet. Look them up on twitter so you know what they look like and you can walk up to them in the hall. Read their tweets and books so you have something to talk about. Go to their workshops! Look up the twitter hashtag for the conference (#la17scbwi this year) and join in the conversation.

Be receptive to feedback: whenever someone spends the time to review your work, take notes, listen, and don't be defensive. Send thank you notes to anyone who critiqued you: As well as just being a nice way to show your appreciation, most people don't do this, so it helps you stand out. It is also a chance to show another image to them. One year I got a personal letter back from an art director (decorated with cute stickers!) responding to my thank you note.

After the conference, follow up: look up folks you connected with on facebook or twitter, or send a postcard. I find it helpful to write a tidbit of info on a person's business card or postcard when I get it, which makes it easier for me to relate the name to the conversation we had (which can be important if you pick up 50+ business cards over the weekend).

For more info on:

Portfolio Prep:
Portfolio Tips from SCBWI Mentorship Winners - SCBWI Insight
Editing Your Portfolio - by Andrea Offermann (winner of the 2013 SCBWI portfolio showcase)
Mentee vs Grand Prize Winner Portfolio - by Juana Martinez-Neal (winner of the 2012 SCBWI portfolio showcase)
Portfolio Comparison - by Eliza Wheeler (winner of the 2011 SCBWI portfolio showcase)
Creating a Children's Book Portfolio - by Jen Betton

More Conference Tips:
For First Time Attendees - by Debbie Ohi 
The Portfolio Showcase - by Debbie Ohi 

After the Conference: 
What next? - by Jen Betton

I encourage everyone to go to both their regional and national SCBWI conferences! I'm so sad I won't make it to the LA conference this year, but hope to see you there next year!
Jen Betton wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG (Penguin-Putnam) coming in summer 2018, and illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT by Holly Thompson (Clarion-HMH) coming spring 2018.
You can find her here:

Friday, June 30, 2017

On experimenting: happy accidents

One of the things that I enjoy the most about creating an illustration is when something unexpected happens that helps the image look more fresh.
In this post you can find several experiments that I've found very fun and refreshing:

Washes are some of the most fun experiments! You will need to have a watercolor paper mounted so that it won’t buckle. The fun thing about washes is that there are many things out of your control and it is more of an intuitive technique. One thing that I’ve found makes things more interesting is to mix different kinds of paints, even the ones that don’t mix well. For example: watercolor with inks, airbrush and inks, acrylic and indian ink, old inks, all kinds of paints!

"I want to take vacations in your mind", personal piece. Ink, watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper.

Experiment with blue W&N Ink, green watercolor and Indian ink on watercolor paper.

Experiment created with watercolor inks on watercolor paper.

Washes for "The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra", written by Marc Tyler Nobleman. The background was created with inks, watercolor and indian ink for the edges. The characters were created with inks and gouache.

This technique is great for backgrounds or for images that have a lot of suspense in them. I would recommend to use toothbrushes or old brushes. You can also combine different kinds of inks to do washes in the areas that have more ink. Also, if you have a lot of liquid paint, you can do blow painting.

"Flower Bug" personal piece, Indian ink, watercolor, white ink and gel pen

Experiment with watercolor inks and gel pen on watercolor paper. Blow painting on the left of the wash and splattering on the right side.

Using food and organic elements
Adding salt is a fun way to create textures with watercolor. You can experiment with different kinds of salt to see different results: sea salt, table salt, Himalayan pink salt, etc.
One of my favorite materials to experiment with is adding spices when creating watercolor washes. One of my favorite is the Mexican spice ‘Tajin’ which has a lot of salt and is acid because of the lime flavor. It acts similar as the salt, except that it leaves a red tone in the texture.
Another element that I have used recently is cochineal, and mixing it with orange juice squeezed right from the fruit.
*Note that some pieces created with food may not be archival.

Experiment with acrylic (turquoise and magenta in the background), inks (purple) and spices.

Textures with monoprints and using external tools
There are many ways of creating monoprints -including using a press - the technique that I like to experiment with is using very liquid acrylic/inks or watercolor and applying it to a glossy paper, and later pressing this paper against your illustration in the place where you would like this texture to appear.

Experiment created with acrylic.

You can also use mostly flat elements such as leaves, flowers, etc.

"Garden Butterfly" created with pigments and acrylic on wood panel.

White on dark

A very fun experiment to do is to create your own scratchboard using your own rules of which color should go below and where you will scratch or add lines to create interesting negative spaces. You can read more about it in this post.

Illustration for Mandalah Mexico. Watercolor, gouache and scratchboard on watercolor paper.

Which are your favorite experiments?

Thanks for stopping by!

Ana Aranda writes/illustrates for children and creates murals. She recently illustrated "The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra", written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books
You can find her work at 
these different locations:
Twitter: @anaranda2
Instagram: @Anarandaillustration

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Portfolio Showcase Advice from Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary

As any reader of KidLitArtists knows, one of the most thrilling parts of attending SCBWI conferences as an illustrator is an opportunity to show your work alongside your peers at the Portfolio Showcase. Find the guidelines for submission here.

In addition to the satisfaction of putting your hard work together and sharing it with the world, the showcase also presents opportunities to win awards and scholarships — for all levels of experience, from student to seasoned professional.

FYI, all the artists and authors blogging at KidLitArtists are former mentorship winners from the SCBWI portfolio show. I really can’t speak highly enough about this opportunity and community!

A portfolio mentorship entails the opportunity to get detailed, focused feedback from the conference Illustration Faculty during the conference. Consider more than just the technical specifications when you enter your portfolio in this show; each judge and visitor comes to the portfolio show with her own sense of what she is looking for.

To find out a bit more, I interviewed Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary about what an agent attending the conference might be looking for, and for her feedback and advice for illustrators entering this show:

Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary

Susie: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jennifer: I'm a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I rep authors and author-illustrators for books from PB through YA. 

Susie: How much of your roster is made up of illustrators (as opposed to authors, and author-illustrators)? If you’re primarily interested in author-illustrators, do you want to see a book dummy?

Jennifer: My own list is primarily authors - I do rep about 15 author-illustrators. I'd be open to somebody who was "just" an illustrator, but might have goals to be an author as well. As an agency we rep about 100 illustrators - you can see our roster here

If you are querying an author-illustrator piece, I'd want to see the text, a sketch dummy, and a couple of finishes. 

Susie: When browsing the portfolio show, what are some of the key things you look for (as an agent, or as a judge)?

Jennifer: I like a strong sense of MOVEMENT in illustration - dynamic pictures, rather than static. I like a picture that really tells a story, rather than just being a beautiful image or decoration. The thing is - lots of people are good at design and good at drawing, and might make swell editorial artists, or be great at surface design, textiles, cards, etc... but that DOESN'T automatically mean that they will be awesome at children's book illustration. 

Photo by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from this phenomenal, must-read post!

Susie: What’s something you recommend for the portfolio that illustrators might not think of doing?

Jennifer: It can be very helpful to see a couple of page turns. If you aren't an author, consider doing a couple of spreads from a well-known fairy or folk tale in your own way. 

Don't forget - illustration isn't JUST for picture books! It can be fun to see how an artist might approach book jackets and/or b+w interior spot art. If these are things that appeal to you, you might find your own way to interpret a "classic" book jacket or iconic literary scene. 

Susie: What are common portfolio or book dummy missteps you recommend illustrators avoid?

Jennifer: I think sometimes illustrators put in everything and the kitchen sink just so the portfolio is "big" but some pieces are obviously of lesser quality, or in a more amateur style, etc. I'd rather have fewer pieces of higher quality, than a portfolio bursting with filler. 

Susie: What subjects would you like to see appear more in portfolio pieces?

Jennifer: For illustrators doing humans, I'd like to see diversity. 

Susie: As an agent, what do you look for in a takeaway promo piece?

Jennifer: I look for pretty art and contact information. And if you are already agented PLEASE put your agent info on there, too. 

Susie: Any other general SCBWI conference advice?

Jennifer: Have fun. Stay sober. Drink lots of water. 

Susie: Thank you, Jennifer! Good luck to all the illustrators working hard to be part of this amazing show!

Grand Prize winner at #LA16SCBWI, Oge Mora, a student of the Rhode Island School of Design

For more about #LA17SCBWI, check out the official SCBWI blog. For more portfolio advice, read: Portfolio Tips From SCBWI Mentorship Winners.

Registration is still open - get all the details on the 2017 SCBWI Summer Conference, July 7-10, here.

This post was cross-posted to the official SCBWI Team Blog.

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator and obviously also a major design nerd.
Her author-illustrator debut titled STACK THE CATS was just named one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year (so far) for 2017!

For more about Susie and her books and art, visit her site at or follow at @boygirlparty on instagram, twitter, or Facebook for the latest updates.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Literary Lifelines

I went through a series of traumatic events when I was a child that unfortunately still affect me as an adult. When I was young I didn't know that my experiences were not at all normal. Thanks to many years of therapy, I've been able to deal with the trauma, but I've often wondered what was it that got me through as a kid. I felt I had no one to talk to, or identify with. I didn't know that adults could or would help me. I didn't have the common sense or maturity to put everything into context. So what was my saving grace? Books. Books were my lifeline.

As soon as I could walk my mother took me, my siblings, and our red Radio Flyer Wagon to the library. Every week we would fill out the entire wagon with books. It was already a habit for me to read.  So when things got unbearable for me, I turned to my books. If I ever needed to escape from the day-to-day I could always be carried off by a tornado to the Land of Oz, or fall through Alice's looking glass. I knew that if I needed strength, that Matilda Wormwood would take a stand with me and invent a delightfully wicked punishment for the baddies. It felt as though the characters from some of my favorite books were reaching out to me. I gained strength and comfort through them and their stories. I am so grateful for all the kidlit creators, whose books I grew up reading. They have helped me through some very dark moments in my childhood.

 I feel like it is important to share my wounds with you because I know my experience isn't singular. Unfortunately there are so many other children out there that are suffering; children that need relief, children that need to know they are not alone,  children that need your empathy, children that need your stories.

As kidlit creators, we will likely be a lifeline for some other child. Let us keep that in mind as we are creating the stories and crafting our illustrations. What we do is important. What we do does makes a difference.


Meridth McKean Gimbel is a freelance writer and illustrator who loves anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered. When not working on her illustrations or writing stories, she is busy building a time machine so she can hang out with her pirate buddies and find buried treasure. 

Meridth is happily represented by Linda Pratt at Wernick & Pratt. You can follow her work at:
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