Monday, September 25, 2017

Interview with Shannon McNeill, 2017 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2017 Summer Conference. Please welcome Shannon McNeill to the KidLitArtists Blog! 

About Shannon McNeill:

Shannon is an illustrator from San Diego. Her fate as a young artist was sealed when she took on The Drawing Book of Animals by Ed Emberley and made it all the way to the dragon. The creative momentum that followed led to a degree at Art Center, a stint at Disney Interactive, and lots of freelance work including several picture books. Two countries and two children later, she is back in San Diego doing what she loves best: working with shapes, line, nature, and books.

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?

The feedback confirmed much of what I had suspected, which was that my work needed to show a stronger representation and range of narrative situations. What I really appreciated were the very specific notes on ways to approach solving this problem, boiled down in a way that may have taken me a long time to get to on my own. For instance, even the simple concept of "action, reaction, interaction" is something that I can easily keep in mind from now on. There were many many other useful tips, this is just a small example.

What kind of projects are you working on now?

This portfolio is a first stab at showing new work after a long hiatus raising family. At this point in time, I am focused on technique refinement, narrative and storytelling practice, and exploration of personal points of view. Now I have a chance to take that even further with the mentorship feedback I've been given, so this opportunity could not have happened at a better time for me.

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

In the past I loved working with the stories by other authors, which I want to continue. But lately I also have a growing interest in non-fiction, especially related to the natural sciences or historical biography. I would also like to write my own book one day, although that will take more time and practice to successfully sort out. Illustrating poetry could be really great. The musical and rhythmic qualities of language gives me goosebumps, ever since I was a kid.

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

  • Some good advice, that I find repeated and validated over and over again: To accept as artists that we already have innate style, not worry about it, and just get on with making things that resonate.
  • Some bad advice, from college days: That no one is interested in sketches or personal work. I find this to be consistently untrue!

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

When Vanessa Brantley Newton said that kids do look for themselves in books. Everyone wants to feel seen.

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

I have ONE MILLION favorites but two that go straight to my child heart are: The Drawing Book of Animals by Ed Emberley because of how long I stared and studied those elegant and delightful shapes, and In a People House by Dr. Seuss and Roy McKie, because I hear my mother's voice every time I read it.

Thanks, Shannon! Welcome to KidLitArtists!

Find Shannon's work on her website at, or on Instagram and Twitter.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Interview with Alexandra Thompson, 2017 SCBWI LA Mentorship Award winner

This interview series introduces the talented recipients of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2017 Summer Conference. Please welcome Alexandra to the KidLitArtists Blog! Read on to learn more about her artwork, what she learned from her SCBWI mentorship, and what she has planned for her next steps as an illustrator.

About Alexandra Thompson:

Alexandra is an illustrator and maker based just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. She's been making pictures since she could wield a crayon. As a child she was always inventing imaginary worlds and dreamed of illustrating picture books one day. After graduating with a BFA in Fashion from MassArt she spent several years in the apparel industry as a print designer. She decided to go freelance and happily discovered SCBWI along the way. She currently spends her time creating prints and graphics for children's apparel and illustrating her own cute and whimsical characters just waiting for their stories to be told.

Did the feedback you received during the mentorship critiques either change or confirm the direction of your illustration?

Yes.  My most current piece was the most well received, which made me feel like I have grown as an artist and I'm headed in the right direction.  

What kind of projects are you working on now?

I'm working on revisions as well as new work based on the feedback from the portfolio critiques.  They also encouraged me to develop dummies based off of a couple of my illustrations.  It's been fun exploring these characters and imagining what stories they have to tell.

Is there any type of illustration (or other work) that you’re hoping for in the near future?

I would really love to illustrate any kind of magical enchanted story.  Those were always my favorite as a kid.

Is there one really helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten since pursuing illustration?  Any one piece of bad advice?

Make lots of art! Good art, bad art.. doesn't matter.  You're not going to learn and get better by just sitting around THINKING about the art that you should make.  Even if a piece of art is garbage, you probably still learned something from it.  Make art for yourself.. no one has to see it! Always good to remember in the days where we feel constant pressure to share on social media.

What was one of your favorite quotes or lessons from the SCBWI Summer Conference? 

Just one?! There are two from Lucy Ruth Cummins that were so applicable to my daily struggles as an artist:
  1. Don't leave fixes until later..fix the sketch!! (I've done this many times, and find I almost always struggle in the final art stage and end up having to go back and fix the sketch anyway)
  2. Don't hold onto a mistake just because it took a long time to make. (So much yes!!)

What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

  • A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce was my absolute favorite.  My dad knew it by heart and I can still hear his voice reciting it every time I read it.  Still cracks me up! 
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N Munsch - another funny one.
  • We had a beautiful pop-up book of Cinderella with gorgeous illustrations that I loved to look at.
  • Dinotopia by James Gurney - dinosaurs were my favorite and for a short while I wanted to be a paleontologist until I decided all the bones would be gone by the time I was a grown-up.

Where can we see more of your artwork?

You can find me on the interwebs at
I'm most active on Instagram- @alexandraco_illustration
Facebook - /alexandracoillustration
and new to Twittersphere @AlexandracoArt

Thanks, Alexandra! Welcome to KidLitArtists!

Monday, August 28, 2017

My Friend's Books

Featuring Zoey Abbott

by Alison Farrell

Early this spring, my critique group held a tiny retreat at a beach house.  We had one assignment: to bring our favorite books to share.  Throughout the three days, we intermittently mulled through stacks and stacks of books.  The stack that each person brought offered a key to their history and interests, and about what made them tick as artists. This experience was so delightful and rich that it made me think of offering the sharing here.

So I asked my friend Zoey Abbott to pick three of her current favorite illustrators and to break down what it is that she loves about them.  

Zoey is the illustrator of Twindergarten (Harper Collins, July 2017), written by Nikki Ehrlich, and Finn's Feather (Enchanted Lion, April 2018) written by Rachel Noble.  

Here are Zoey's picks:

Yann Kebbi

How do you get the final art to retain the magic of the first sketch?  It’s something many of us struggle with.  I think this is what I like most about Yann Kebbi’s work.  His line retains all the energy and emotion of that first touch.  You can tell that he has sophisticated technical skills in drawing, color, and composition but he employs those in a loose and dynamic way to tell his stories.  His illustrations always feel as if they are in motion.

I like how she uses color/value to serve the story and the metaphor.  There is something both playful and funny yet very serious about her stories and the way she illustrates them. My favorite books of hers are La Visite de Petite Mort (A Visit From LIttle Death) and Le Petit Homme et Dieu (The Little Man and God).  Crowther explores big questions of life in such a humorous way.  Like a good poem, her stories leave you with a feeling you have cracked open another view on reality.  I love her combination of bright and soft colored pencil with distinct areas of dark blacks and grays.  Sometimes she layers these darks over lighter colors so there is a vibrant glow.  The swaths of dark serve to anchor her characters, environments and compositions.  Her work feels both magical and familiar.

P.S. Dear God (or Enchanted Lion Books), please translate these stunning books into English! Sincerely, Zoey

I love how she is able to combine sketchy lines and mark making with what I think is photoshop color.  She makes the color feel very natural and integrated.  Her limited palettes unify complex worlds which are chock-a-block with odd and charming characters and objects.  Personally, I have never had any luck making satisfying digital color.  How does she do it?  Perhaps it's the way she overlays pencil texture over the color?  Again, I wish her work were translated into English.

Who are your favorite illustrators and why?  I'd love to hear from you!  

Many thanks to Zoey Abbott at for contributing!!!  


Find Alison Farrell's portfolio at
Keep an eye out for Alison Farrell's debut picture book Cycle City (Chronicle, 3/20/18)!
Look for Drawn to Color at Sasquatch Books!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Master Studies of Picture Books

I learned about  Master Studies of Picture Books from awesome Arree Chung's Storyteller Academy class, and It was helpful to understand my favorite picture books.
I would like to share my studies of Good Night, Gorilla , Little Blue Truck and Where the Wild Things Are.  Hope you enjoy and try for your favorite books too!

Title: Good Night, Gorilla
Words by: Peggy Rathmann
Pictures by: Peggy Rathmann
Year: 1994
Publisher: Putnam's Sons, Board Books

1. Characters : Gorilla, Zoo Keeper, His Wife, and Zoo animals
2. Location : Zoo and Zoo keeper's house
3.Time : Evening to Night
4. Problems : Gorilla opens doors of zoo gates.
5. ll/Esc* : All animals escape from their cages and go to Zoo Keeper's bedroom.
6. Resolution : Zoo keeper's wife walks back with the animals to their cages.
7. Concept : It satisfies children desire to sleep with their parents even though their parents want their children to sleep in their own room.

8. Successful : My son laughs when the wife finds out the animals sleep with her in the dark and he calls the wife, "Mommy'. and Zoo keeper, "Daddy." the pictures in the room shows relationship between the couple and animals which is like parents and children.

Beautiful lighting and color remind me impressionism. It scarifies one page with solid black.  Background sets in the picture also tells stories without words. - example, photos of baby animals on the wall. Female character takes care of the mess.  Little banana and mouse interaction is fun to watch. The book shows all animals in every pages even if they only show a part of their bodies.  My son loves finding a balloon, and he never gets bored. Gorilla is funny and he talks to readers with his gesture.
9. Unsuccessful : First, I thought Zoo keeper character is weak, but, I think the author mean to do that to make female character stronger character.

Title: Little Blue Truck
Words by: Alice Schertle
Pictures by:Jill McElmurry
Year: 2008
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books

1. Characters : Blue Truck, Yellow Truck, Frog and Farm animals ( Cow, Chicken and etc)
2. Location : Farm
3. Time : Day time
4. Problems: Mean Yellow truck gets stuck in the mud.
5. ll/Esc : No one wants to help mean Yellow truck but Blue truck. Since Blue truck helps yellow truck, everyone helps Blue truck to rescue Yellow truck.
6. Resolution :Tiny frog pushes everyone and Yellow truck is rescued. ( I like the joke.)
7. Concept : Be good to everyone , then they will help you when you are in trouble.
8. Successful : Beautiful art brush strokes, character designs and funny frog's gestures. It shows how to help friends. Blue color of the truck is unique. ( It is not typical red.)
9. Unsuccessful : Typical story line and expected ending. It is little preachy.

Title:Where the Wild Things Are
Words by: Maurice Sendak
Pictures by: Maurice Sendak
Year: 2012
Publisher: HarperTrophy

1. Characters: Max, Mom and Monsters
2. Location: Max's room, Imaginary Monsters World
3. Time : Late afternoon to late evening.
4. Problems : Max misbehaves and he is angry with his mom.
5. ll/Esc : Max leaves home and went to imaginary world. Then he becomes a king.
6. Resolution : Max misses home and comes back. And dinner is waiting for him.
7. Concept : Max runs away from home and makes new cool monster friends who accept and admire Max's misbehaving. But he learns that he misses his  mom and comes home.
8. Successful : The story satisfies children's ego. They want to be free. The soup replaces Mom character in the picture. I am glad that there is not a single picture of mom. It is not too preachy and tells the story from children's point of view. Strong beautiful wild monsters designs,and unique layout are successful. Why max is wearing a costume? I think this is the most successful element because it created iconic character in the picture book history.
9. Unsuccessful : I can't find any.

II* = Inciting Incident (The event that starts the story.)
Esc = Escalation (How one event causes a bigger event that causes another bigger event.)

See more of Sansu ( Sungyeon)'s work on her website, Facebook, Instagram, Etsy, Pinterest, Twitter, or Amazon author page.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What can you do if your artwork is copied?

Several friends have asked me to blog about copyright issues I experience, so here goes. Copyright is a subject I write / talk a lot about, because protecting my artwork has become a big part of my life.

What can you do if your artwork is stolen, copied, or misused?

Answer: Dust yourself off, educate yourself, and get ready to fight for your art.

Like it or not, get ready to defend your art if you have to.

As an independent artist, I also develop a collection of products -- and between both that and my publishing projects and books, I've seen my artwork reproduced and misused. A lot. Sometimes I see it for sale as an unauthorized copy online. Sometimes I see it in a store in the mall. Being copied sucks, but I fight it and stand up for myself, and hope if you're in this situation, you will do the same.

At this point, every day of the year, I fight copies of my work at the hands of corporations and companies that use my artwork without permission and profit off it. I file hundreds of takedown notices, I register my copyrights, and I do it all myself -- and you can, too.

If you've been ripped off -- by a company or even another artist who plagiarized your work -- I am so sorry. It's a horrible feeling. Here's what you can do:

1. Be vigilant. Keep an eye out for copies of your work. Do reverse image searches of your art. Let artists know if you see copies of theirs. Ask your community to keep an eye out for you. Let them know you're ready to fight if you see a copy! Don't be complacent! And as a consumer, don't assume you're buying from the original artist just because it's on Amazon, Instagram, or Etsy (Look for the artist's copyright info!)

Seek authenticity! Look for the copyright info! And, make sure you copyright credit your own images and products.

2. If you've been copied, fight for your art. Lawyer up or file a DMCA takedown notice if you see exact copies of your artwork online or in stores. There is more information about how to do this in my links below, but it's something anyone can do (lots is possible without a lawyer's help!) I do not recommend communicating with a person or company that copied you without a lawyer's assistance.

This is basically what a DMCA notice looks like. You can find templates online.
But do not misuse this program! This form is for exact copies only, not for copies of general ideas.
3. Be an example for other artists, and a steward for your work. Register your copyrights with the US gov when possible. At $35 per registration, the costs can add up (I spent over $1000 on copyright registrations this week alone!), but your work is protected by different terms in federal courts when formally registered. Make sure your publishers register your copyrights. Do not do Work for Hire if you plan to retain ownership of your work.

All of my publishers copyright register my projects. They got ripped.
Having a formal copyright registration for each gave me a better position in a major lawsuit. Photo by Renée Chartier.

4. Help educate others. Educate the public, educate your peers. Be a positive example for your peers on how to stand up for yourself. Read about orphan works legislation that could negatively affect illustrators and advocate for artists. Support original art. Copying doesn't just hurt the artists who are stolen from -- and it does really traumatize and make an artist fearful of creating and sharing -- it also hurts the creative community by robbing it of distinctive voices and the ability to control quality and monetize one's creative work.

5. Support the artists you love who create original work. I've been a full time artist for 15 years now, and I don't know where I would be without the support of friends and fans through this harrowing aspect of being a professional artist. Sometimes fighting relentless copying kills my spirit and makes everything feel pointless. Support is important.

Support the artists you love, and encourage them. Help them afford their copyright registrations, help them fight against copies. Debbie's post about creative ways to support a kid lit illustrator / author is great!

Getting these gorgeous flowers in sympathy from my friends after I experienced a major infringement was an incredibly kind and supportive gesture that helped during a difficult time.

I've written extensively about the issue of art and copyright before, so here are a couple links to those posts for further reading:

I hope this helps, and I hope you never find out what this feels like.

But if you have a question, please feel free to leave a comment on this post and I'll respond when I can.

I am not a lawyer, but I know a lot about copyright because of my unfortunate experiences being copied. I will never stop fighting for my art! Please join me.

familiarize yourself with the work of artists you love so you can tell them if you see copies. 
A post shared by susie ghahremani/ boygirlparty (@boygirlparty) on

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator and an advocate for artists.
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 and her never-ending fight against copies, visit her site at or follow at @boygirlparty on instagramtwitter, or Facebook for the latest updates.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Gratitude, behind the scenes at KidLitArtists, and exciting Instagram news - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

KidLitArtists is now on Instagram! Thanks so much to Meridth McKean Gimbel for making that happen.

I can't believe it's been over SEVEN YEARS since the blog launched. Whoa. It began when a group of us (John Deninger, Kimberly Gee, Ashley Mims, Andrea Offermann and Eliza Wheeler and me) were chosen for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program in 2010.

The six of us met after our mentor sessions and compared notes, talked about how we could make the most of the opportunity generously given to us by the SCBWI Illustration Board.

I started a private a email list to help us keep in touch and exchange info as well as registering domain. After coordinating with the other Class of 2010 Mentees, I launched our blog and Twitter account. This was what the original name and banner looked like (designed by Eliza Wheeler):

In addition to posting updates about our illustration projects, we also shared info about what we learned during our mentorship sessions as well as other tips resources and industry news of interest to children's book illustrators.

The SCBWI Illustration Board was so impressed by the blog that they asked if we could open it up to other Mentees, past and future. Of course we said YES! Eliza Wheeler came up with the banner above, using part of one of my bunny drawings. The mailing list was replaced by a private Facebook group, and we also started a public FB Page. Eliza organized the blog posting schedule, and each new class of Mentees picked a point person for group-wide orientation and communication.

Although I don't have as much time to be as involved behind-the-scenes at KidLitArtists as I used to, I still commit to posting to the blog a few times a year, no matter how crazy things get because I remain incredibly grateful to the SCBWI for helping to jumpstart my career back in 2010, and I want to give back in what way I can.

Meanwhile, I am also thankful to those SCBWI Illustration Mentees who have volunteered to keep things going behind-the-scenes despite their own busy schedules!

Nowadays, Jen Betton (Mentee Class of 2012) organizes the blog posting schedule (THANK YOU, JEN). To the left: A photo of Jen with her award certificate when she won the SCBWI New England Conference Portfolio Showcase in 2014.

Jen's debut solo picture book, HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, launches from Penguin Putnam in Summer 2018....congrats, Jen! You can read her news in this blog post.

Jen's illustrations will also be appearing in TWILIGHT CHANT written by Holly Thompson, launching from Clarion in 2018. You can find out more about Jen and her work at Jen is represented by Jen Rofé at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Our feed on Twitter, @KidLitArtists, is maintained by Ana Aranda (Mentee Class of 2014), Meridth McKean Gimbel (Mentee Class of 2015) and me. I love this photo of Ana Aranda:

Ana's illustrations can be found in picture books published in France and Italy, and her debut picture book in the U.S., THE CHUPACABRA ATE THE CANDELABRA (written by Marc Tyler Nobleman) was published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin earlier this year. Get a peek at her book  here in this fun Let's Read Stories reading:

You can find out more about Ana and her work at

Meridth McKean Gimbel, who helps posts to our Twitter account, also recently launched our Instagram account (THANK YOU, MERIDTH!!!). Here's Meridth when she won a SCBWI-LA Illustration Mentorship award in 2015:

Meridth also shares all kinds of great info and insights on her own blog, like her "Putting Together A Dummy The Smart Way" post. You can find out more about Meridth and her work at  Meridth is represented by Linda Pratt of Wernick Pratt.

Others helping behind-the-scenes, including a gradual revamp of our blog and some of our social media include K-Fai Steele and Susie Ghahremani.

You can find out more about K-Fai and her work at

Susie has several books out already, including her debut solo picture book, STACK THE CATS (Abrams Appleseed).

K-Fai, Susie and some of other Mentees are gradually revamping the KidLitArtists website and social media, so do keep an eye on this blog, Twitter, Facebook Page and Instagram!


Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? She has four new books coming out in 2017: Sea Monkey & Bob (Simon & Schuster),  Mitzi Tulane in The Secret Ingredient (Random House) Ruby Rose, Big Bravos(HarperCollins), and her second solo picture book Sam & Eva(Simon & Schuster). You can find Debbie on Twitter: @inkyelbows and Instagram at @inkygirl