Monday, May 22, 2017

Into The Mind Cave We Go

As illustrators we are often asked the same round of questions over and over again:

“Why are you so amazing?”

“ Would you care to get into my van?” 

And in an obvious progression, “ Can I wear your skin?” ­

(If you’re not very visual please picture a bunch of illustrators reading along, nodding their heads in our shared experience.)

And after we’ve all answered:

“ Because I was lucky and figured out a trolls riddle.”

“No thanks I sit all day drawing so I probably need to walk.” 

And, “I wouldn’t advise it since I’m very pale, from said sitting, and my pallor wont match your eyes.”

Inevitably we will all be asked, “ Where oh where do you get your ideas?” I know…I’m amazing at transitions.

So I thought I’d share with you all the little obsessions that lead the way to one of my finished pieces (fyi I will be abandoning the serial killer humour from here on out, so if that’s why you came you may leave, and if not…well its over now so calm down). 

Into the mind cave we go!

It all starts with the base layer obsession. Mine happens to be any and all things that remind me of home and the book Longing For Darkness: Kamantes Tales from Out of Africa fits the bill here. 

It's filled with wonky giraffes, the sentence:  " Once the machine for washing caught fire and a bag of coffee roasted" and there's even a deranged something chasing a dog. 

Its perfect.  

page from Longing For Darkness

Now it's time to add a level of experimentation to the mix. It is imperative that I use a piece to practice something I'm interested in, otherwise the work comes out stale or worse I am bored to death creating it. At one time it was to figure out how to draw children and another it was composition. These days what really gets my attention is layering. Not the kind with clean, perfect lines. Im obsessed with obvious, almost amateur layering. 

a little practice with layering done in my sketchbook.

 experimental painting 

And finally the random stumbled upon magic. I'll show you what I mean. I don't usually know what colours I'm going to use for a piece, but for a while now I've been obsessed and its all because of these...

Wait what? Do you mean to say that you're obsessed with dead leaves? uuuh YA. They used to be green. I was lazy. I left them in a cup and forgot to water them. One day I looked up and there you have it. A bunch of GORGEOUS, very dead, yellow leaves.  Leaves that I wanted to use somehow but ended up only doodling about.

sketchbook page

Pro tip, never underestimate the doodle. The doodle is where I get many of my ideas. See that yellow blob with the dots on it? It sort of looks like a cheetah's fur right?

Put it all together and what do you get?

Final piece: "Pink Moon" watercolour & Graphite

Monday, May 1, 2017

COLOR, the printing process, and Stack the Cats!

I think a lot about color.

As an illustrator: selecting color is an important consideration in the emotional and graphic effect your work is going to have. But it's also an important consideration from a technical perspective of where your work will appear -- whether you're sharing your artwork on screen on your website or blog, or in print in a book or portfolio.

When setting up your artwork for reproduction, generally CMYK is for printed material (CMYK = Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK... no idea why they didn't just make it CMYB) and RGB is for art that will appear on screens.

On printed material, white appears only as the absence of color. Your page is white when there is no ink on it. C, M, Y, and K layer to produce the effect of many colors on top of a white surface. (additive color)

But on a screen, you need all the colors on to light it up to white. Your screen is black when there is no red, green, or blue illuminating it. (adding color to make it white = subtractive) You can run a damp cloth across your computer screen to see a demonstration of how much color actually goes into making white appear on screen!

While you can create a spectrum of colors with CMYK, it's not the same spectrum as RGB. Many images, especially those created digitally (i.e. with a digital camera or drawing native to the computer as with a Wacom tablet or iPad), render in RGB colors, so the colors or vibrancy of the image will change on the printout because the two color spaces have different ranges.


PRO TIP: there's a function in the color picker in Photoshop that can show you the closest CMYK tone to an RGB color. Using this will help you minimize and plan for the shifts that occur in printing.

Use the Color Picker in Photoshop to find the closest CMYK tone

Mastery of RGB might be great if you're creating an e-book or a digital teacher's guide to accompany your book, or optimizing your images to share on your website. So, just because your work may be created to print in CMYK, don't think you can't forget about adjusting your images for RGB as well! 

Your website and your books will have a polish to them if you can think about how color space and printing can help your artwork.

When digital artists are creating a printed portfolio of their work, it may be worth the investment to have your images printed as giclée prints -- a type of professionally produced, high quality inkjet print that uses LOTS of ink colors, not just CMYK, to more accurately reproduce what you see on screen:

For accuracy of printed color, you can also create artwork reliant on the Pantone Color Matching System (PMS). The Pantone books are expensive, usually a couple hundred dollars, but are essential for any kind of printed design that uses distinct color separations (i.e. silkscreening as is done with t-shirts, or letterpress) 

Pantone is not used for screen based artwork because screens are not a consistent medium, and screens are RGB by default. Usually for on screen color matching, people use the bin hex system at a coding level (it usually looks something like "#6de52a" -- you'll see a section for this in Color Picker in Photoshop as well) 

Many corporations have a signature Pantone color for their logo, which is why Tiffany Blue appears as the exact same color wherever you see it. 

The Pantone guide is a series of color swatches similar to paint store samples, and each is assigned a number and a corresponding formula that any printer can use to replicate that exact color without noticeable variation. 

This is what a Pantone color book looks like
Susie Ghahremani at her computer
Here's a photo my friend Suzanne Strong took of me assigning Pantone swatches to some art to be silkscreened.
One way Pantone colors might come up in your Kid Lit artwork:  On several of my picture books, my publisher asked me to assign a coordinating Pantone color for the text and printed it as a fifth color over the CMYK artwork

My artwork was painted on wood, so those files were created for CMYK printing. But by assigning a 5th color on top of the CMYK -- a Pantone color -- we could print the text in a complementary way to the artwork (it's printed here in a brown tone, harmonizing with the warmth of the artwork rather than a heavy black!) All of my digital files of my hand lettered text were purely black and white, but they appear brown in the books due to the printing process.

This is also a practical choice: the books can be altered for foreign translations without making changes to the CMYK artwork. Same CMYK art, new 5th Pantone layer for the text.

What Will Hatch? picture book in English and Korean

This brings me to an exciting moment in this already-too-long post:

Tomorrow I'll be celebrating the release of my author debut, Stack the Cats

And I created this book entirely using Pantone color separations!

My wonderful publisher Abrams Appleseed was very supportive of this frankly insane decision. 

I wanted the artwork to have a high energy, graphic appearance to it similar to silkscreened artwork but with the softness of painted lines, so I made a choice about the printing process to complete the effect, and created all the artwork specifically for this production process.

Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani comes out on May 2nd!

Aside from the normal challenges of developing my manuscript and book dummy (dummies, let's be honest. There were a LOT of versions!), creating the final artwork for Stack the Cats meant:

  1. Painting every spread in gouache on paper
  2. Scanning and importing the paintings to my computer
  3. Setting them up in Photoshop as 4 color files with corresponding Pantone channels (not CMYK or RGB!)
  4. Separating and coloring my artwork so each color is its own piece of artwork! It took four separate images layered to create a single final image -- see below!
  5. Creating overlap on every tiny line where colors meet so if the printing alignment was off, the artwork would still print faithfully (also known as trapping. This was an incredibly technical and particularly annoying aspect of the art making)
  6. Doing a million test prints with my publisher to ensure this ambitious experiment was going to come out the way we hoped
  7. Refining, refining, refining.
Color separated artwork for Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani
Color separated artwork for Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani

This digital file looks pretty different from the colors of my final art because I worked with Pantone colors, not those pesky RGB colors that appear on screen. So even through many stages of printed proofs, it was never really known exactly how the final artwork would look because the Pantone colors layer in ways our computers can't accurately depict.

But I'm so pleased with the vibrant, tactile result! It's exactly what I was going for. And that black cat with his tongue out? Since it's the result of layered Pantones, he's a richer tone than I'd ever be able to achieve with CMYK!

Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani

Making color separations out of my painted art was a serious technical challenge, but it's one our illustration predecessors were bound to! In a time before computers, materials such as meticulously trimmed rubylith film were used to assign bold colors under hand-drawn lines. Artists like Dr. Seuss were known for their signature, limited use of color, but it may have been a limitation of the printing process itself that he used to his advantage!

Take a look at your kid's book collection. How do you see artists using the printing process to make their books have greater emotional impact?

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator and obviously also a major design nerd.
Her author-illustrator debut titled STACK THE CATS releases TOMORROW!

Come celebrate with her at an upcoming book event! Visit her site at or follow Susie at @boygirlparty on instagram or Facebook for the latest updates.

She'll be at the SCBWI summer conference! Will you?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Connecting With Young Readers Via School Skypevisits: A Basic Intro For Children's Book Illustrators - by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

When my first children's book came out was published, I was torn. Part of me was excited about talking to young readers about it but the other part was terrified about talking to young readers about it. Why the latter? Because having no children of my own and little experience talking to crowds of young people, I didn't know where to begin. Other factors: I don't drive, which limited the number of schools I could reach locally. My work schedule is pretty busy these days, so using a local transit to visit a school on the other side of Toronto could mean spending 3 hours on subway and buses for a half hour visit.

And this is where virtual visits using Skype or Google Hangouts are so great in my situation. I can work in the morning, take a break during my lunch hour to do a Skypevisit with a school that is thousands of miles away, then go back to work.

As a nervous newbie, I found that speaking to kids from the comfort of my home office was easier than jumping into in-person appearances right away. I've since grown to love talking to kids in person and actually do prefer in-person appearances now. In fact, I leave on my Sea Monkey & Bob Book Tour tomorrow, woohoo!

Though I prefer in-person visits now, I find that time and geography still make Skypevisits my go-to when it comes to connecting with schools.

I am SO grateful to my children's book author friend, Lee Wardlaw, who generously offered me advice when I first started using Skype to connect with schools. Lee was actually my very first professional mentor as well! I strongly recommend you check out her Presentations page, where you'll find her tips for having a successful Skype visit. Her advice is geared toward educators, but children's book illustrators can learn a lot from this info as well.

Here is what I use for my own Skypevisits:

- A Logitech HD Pro webcam hooked up to my Mac. I am VERY happy with this webcam. Good quality video and sound, and I can tilt the camera.

- A Parrott headset microphone. Sorry for not including a link or model number, but I bought it many years ago, and I don't think it's available anymore. You can do Skypevisits with just your webcam microphone too, of course! I like the headset, though, because I figure it improves audio when I'm talking.

- A portable easel. I keep this folded up in the corner of my office and just take it out for Skypevisits. For the paper, I bought a couple of these easel pads in the beginning but since they're expensive, have just kept one for the backing and use other/cheaper paper for presentations instead -- I use painter's tape to tape up sheets in advance. My husband also found a giant roll of blank newsprint paper for me to use, and I've been ripping off sheets from that.

- Sharpie flipchart markers. I like these because the ink doesn't soak through to the next sheet of paper.

You also need to make sure you have a reliable Internet connection. I always try to do a brief test Skypecall with the educator or librarian ahead of time (also a fun way to connect with educators and librarians!).

Also double-check timezones when scheduling a visit! When a librarian and I were scheduling my talk with her students in Hong Kong (see above photo), we had to account for not only the time change but also the date difference!

What I include in my Skypevisits:

It depends on whether I'm giving a free 15-minute Skypevisit Q&A or a regular paid visit. Sometimes I do a reading (and if the school's connection is good enough, I sometimes have the students help me), talk about how I write and illustrate books, show sketches and materials and things in my office (another advantage of virtual visits), do a drawing demo or fun interactive drawing exercise, answer questions. I've also done art workshops, where students are prepped with their own clipboards, paper and drawing materials.

I lack the time and post space to include the details of how to do a Skypevisit, but there is a ton info online. Also see my post about what I learned after doing my first Skypevisit. If people are interested enough (please comment below if you are), I'm happy to do follow-up tips in future blog posts with more info including how to let schools know you're available for a virtual visit, etc.

If you're curious, you can find out more about how I do Skypevisits, what I talk about, what I charge etc.  on my virtual visits page. And if you have anything to share about your own experiences, please post below! Also feel free to comment below if you'd like me to post more about Skypevisits.

While nothing can replace in-person visits, I do believe that virtual visits can have an impact on young readers. Plus they're FUN. :-)

Some related resources:

Presentations by Lee Wardlaw (includes great Skype visit tips)

(Note: these are 15-20 minute free Skypevisit Q&A sessions. Most authors charge a regular fee for longer visits. Be aware that there are many authors and illustrators out there who make part of their living with paid school visits.)


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.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fresh Eyes

Sometimes it's hard to see the problems in your own work. We get too close to it, look at it for so long that mistakes can look normal. Here are several tricks to get a fresh look at your work: We'll use a couple of N.C. Wyeth's paintings as examples. 
1. Look at it upside down or in a mirror:
Flipping it around may help you see your piece differently, especially when it comes to noticing big compositional shapes. A mirrored version often will show if you've tilted the composition or if you have some asymmetry problems with figures.
2. Look at it across the room:
"Get back from your work" was a constant refrain in my figure drawing classes. A little distance helps you see the piece as a whole, and look at in terms of composition or proportion, rather than getting caught up in the details. If you are working on the computer, you can also try zooming way out.
3. Squint:
If you look at your piece out of focus, it melds the details into the larger shapes, once again helping you focus on the larger elements of your piece. This is very helpful for checking your values.
4. Change it to black and white:
This one focuses on your value structure. If the values aren't strong your composition is probably suffering, or it may even be hard to "read" the image.
I hope these tips are helpful! I was reminded of the upside down trick by Art Director Cecilia Yung, who likes to check artist's designs that way.
Jen Betton writes and illustrates for children. Her debut author-illustrator book, HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG will be published by Putnam in 2018. She is also currently illustrating TWILIGHT CHANT for Clarion Books. You can find her work at
@jenbetton on Twitter on Facebook

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Adobe Capture CC Mobile App as Pattern Generator

From the Adobe Website:
"The Adobe Capture CC mobile app lets you turn color themes, vector-based shapes, unique Looks, and custom brushes into a production-ready asset, all from a single photo. By combining all of the features and tools of Adobe Color CC, Shape CC, Hue CC, and Brush CC into a single app for iPhone, iPad, iPad Pro, and Android phones, you get our most powerful capture app to date."

How can I get Adobe Capture CC?
Adobe Capture CC for iOS and Android phones is available as a free download through the iTunes App Store and Google Play.

Do I need Creative Cloud account to use Adobe Capture CC?
You need either a free or paid Creative Cloud membership. If you’re not already a member, you can sign up for a free Creative Cloud membership.

How do I create a pattern (see images below)?

A Open the Adobe Capture app. Tap Patterns.
B Tap the + icon at the bottom of the screen.
C Tap the camera icon to take a picture using the camera, OR
D choose an existing image from your
E Camera Roll,
F Gallery, or Creative Cloud.
G Use the options to refine and edit your captured pattern. Tap Next to preview your pattern.
H Tap Next again to Name and Save your pattern to a CC Library.

Is there a practical application of this Kaleidoscope for big kids?

Yes! But I freely admit to spending hours upon hours playing with patterns after I first stumbled onto Adobe Capture CC. To start I was aiming the phone camera at my monitor and grabbing color schemes from videos, such as A Dr Who or C Song of the Sea. The best part of watching the app select 5 main colors from an image was also knowing I could override each color with my own selection if I did not agree.

Then I ran around my studio creating patterns and color schemes from my "pretties" and even pulled out my phone at the dentist office because I liked the interior colors in the waiting room (above D Row 7). I had to explain to a curious onlooker why I was photographing the walls, chairs, furniture and carpet.

After a few hundred of these E (above lower left) "found" color schemes and patterns I started uploading my illustrations into the phone, and spent hours moving the triangle around to discover hundreds, if not thousands, of complementary patterns to match the illustrations.

Perhaps these could be used in conjunction with logos for motifs on postcards, spot patterns on websites, business cards, or as I am planning, character's clothing and/or wallpaper in the illustrations themselves. 
Or matching t-shirts. Or totes. Or tattoos. Ok, maybe not, but you get the idea. 
The possibilities are endless!

One thing I noticed immediately when capturing patterns from my illustrations, was the similarity to 19th century Eastlake design, The Arts and Crafts Movement and Aesthetic Movement, mainly because my home and head is full of it to begin with. I also collect red and white transferware china from the 1860s to the 1890s and have an affection for that time period

Wall tapestries, rugs, pillows, china. . . seriously, William Morris would have gone crazy with this app! 

With that in mind, I wanted to be able to create a repeating pattern but be able to alter it with a complementary but divergent series so the designs did not feel so predictable, similar to the asymmetry of the Aesthetic Movement. And while I was not able to use the app to create the level of asymmetry I was searching for, by taking the pattern pieces into Photoshop I will be able to paste the best bits together and create repeating patterns.

Another thing I love about this app is the absolute ease at which I created a large library of patterns. I can imagine someone loading a couple of target illustrations into their phone or tablet in the morning and generating a load of patterns on their subway or ferry commute. Don't forget to disembark! I think I hypnotized myself a couple of times.

While I have not pushed these patterns to the "finished illustration" level, I have spent a bit of time working with particularly plain patterns to create more interest with contrast of shape, size, or texture by pasting several images together. It is incredibly easy to scroll through the CC libraries in Photoshop, select a couple of patterns, then using layers and masks combine to create the optimum pattern for a project.

And by far my favorite part is knowing all these designs originate from my own sketches and illustrations. It is admittedly all too easy to go online and search for quick copyright free patterns instead of coming up with my own. Back in the day we all had Dover books in our studio libraries for making a quick stat and adding to our designs. But without straining my brain to create patterns, I have generated new material that is original and matches my existing body of work because it is actually cloned from it. How cool is that?

After the "new" wore off, eventually my brain started asking how; how does the app create the pattern and how can I set up a file that will predictably create desirable patterns?

How would I lay out a series of motifs in a planned manner instead of merely loading it up, making popcorn, streaming a scifi movie and playing around until I found something useful? 

First off, A I noticed the app took a square out of the middle of any image I loaded in the phone gallery, not the whole thing. So to utilize the app effectively, I needed to pre-crop the image into squares for uploading into the phone. B Rotate and Scale the Image for more variety. Leave the tip free for a white pattern center. Overlapping the tip into the surrounding black leaves transparent areas.

The next step was going from just discovering the patterns within an existing color illustration, to actually creating a black and white square with the parts laid out in a manner I could have more control over.  

This required checking the positions of the triangle within the app, it's minimum and maximum rotation, and understanding what area of the triangle corresponded to the created pattern.

It was not hard to figure out the base of the triangle created the outer portions and the tip created the center. So if I wanted an empty center, I needed to leave white space in the triangle tip.

So I quickly scribbled in a couple of squares with divergent motifs, mainly so I could easily see where each one ended up. The "evergreen" wreaths were a fun surprise and filled my head with holiday possibilities.

Part of my "learning process" was also taking a pattern I liked, looking back at the illustration it came from and trying to figure out exactly where the triangle had been positioned to create the pattern. 

I reverse engineered it by copying and pasting the portion of the illustration inside the triangle. Eventually my pattern became all wibbly wobbly because the triangle was not perfect, but in the end I was able to create a useable pattern. So now I know, a cap sleeve and arm made an interesting shape passing under/through another.

And finally I took one of the icons to use as a guide to resketch with a digital pencil, giving it the hand-drawn look I enjoy. By sketching only a portion (indicated in yellow below) Photoshop makes flipping and rotating the cloned parts a simple process. 

The resolution of these files is not at a level I would use straight up on a project without redrawing, but as a resource I am thrilled. If nothing else I have generated over 500 patterns in my Adobe CC library that can be used as inspiration for future projects. I have never considered myself a surface designer, but the simplicity of this app is certainly going to make the patterns I create from this point forward feel more authentic.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Peerless Transparent Watercolors...Wow!  

In 1885 Chas. F. Nicholson developed a revolutionary way to offer transparent watercolors in sheet form. The saturated watercolors are infused onto a sheet of paper. Just a small drop of water releases bright transparent colors. 

I'm sharing what I discovered about these surprising old paints. I've also included instructions on how to make your own Travel Peerless Watercolor Palette Book- perfect for sketching on the go. 

They will not replace tube or pan watercolors, but for transportability and ease of use, they might prove to be a fun addition to any artist's toolbox.

I was so excited about these paints for several reasons:

1. Bright transparent colors.
2. Inexpensive (40) colors for ~23$.
3. Lightfastness is good. (Review) 
4. Compact and lightweight for everyday sketching small - medium sketches. 

Travel Peerless Watercolor Palette Book
(*I made four books at one time. They make great gifts for artist friends. Your book can be adapted any way you like. Below is how I assembled mine.) 

2- 5" x 7" Mat Board (Cover)
3- 5" x 7" Card Stock (To adhere paint squares)
4- 5" x 7" Acetate sheets (Dividers-Front -Back)
Mounting Putty
Exacto Knife
Double Sided Roll on Tape
Scotch Tape
Duck Tape (Any Color) Phew... Lots of tape
1- 5" x 7" WC Paper (WC swatches) 
Elastic String ( Hobby shop- I think it is used for funky jewelry) 
40- 1.5" Watercolor Paper Squares 


Open Peerless Watercolor Bonus Package- Print name of color on each sheet.
Cut it in half twice to get 4 squares.

 ( If you are only making one book, store other 3 for future when colors need replaced.)

Use Mounting Putty to attach color swatch to watercolor paper.  With Water brush, wash color on WC paper, print name of color and tear or cut to size.  

Do this with all of the color squares and attach them to the card stock pages.  

When all of the color squares are attached to card stock. Using Scotch Tape, attach acetate between each color page. Do this for all pages so that the color pages flip like a book. This will help to keep colors separate so they will not bleed into each other when the book is closed.  

Tape the edges of the cover with Duck Tape and attach it to the color pages. I photocopied the history of the paints and attached it to the inside cover.   

I also added a color wheel  for  reference and taped an acetate sheet to the back cover to use as a mixing palette.  

Loop the elastic string and tape it to the edge. (This will hold your water brush)   
I added an elastic closure on the right. Use Duck tape to attach.
At this point the book is complete. 

But to personalize them, I painted the covers with Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground. 
You can remove each color square from the book and use the acetate back cover to mix paints. Replace when you are done. To keep the colors pure, wipe water brush on paper towel each time you change colors. 

The colors are transparent, bright and fun to use. I hope you enjoy. 

~Dorothia Rohner illustrates and writes stories for children about nature,  magic of imagination and humor.
Represented by: Laura Biagi-
Twitter: @dorothiar
Instagram: @dorothiar