Category Archives: Children’s Book Critique Group

Boom Boom Arrives

Boom Boom by Sarvinder Naberhaus

Some of you may remember me working on a book titled BOOM BOOM (by Sarvinder Naberhaus) from some of my earlier posts here and here. I finished the illustrations in June, 2013. The book came out on October 7 of this year. That’s roughly 15 months of waiting. Long enough for me to almost forget about it. But not quite.

I received my artists’ copies last week. Opening a book that I’ve illustrated for the first time is like revisiting an old friend in a new house. I feel excitement, as well as a bit of trepidation. The art can no longer stand alone; it must work as part of a BOOK. Will it all come together? Will readers enjoy the pictures? Did I miss something when I sent it off to press, that now will be painfully obvious?

Most important: Do the images speak the way I intended them to? The biggest challenge of this particular book was that there is no story, no characters, no narrative arc to follow. Naberhaus’s text consists of sixteen words, each repeated twice. The only thread which links them together is how the couplets progress through the seasons:

Boom
Boom

Flash
Flash

Drip
Drip

Splash
Splash

This isn’t the first time I have created a visual story to accompany a non-narrative text. I did the same with Light Up The Night, among others. While having a story to follow can simplify the process of illustrating a book, my aim is always to augment a story through the illustrations, so my approach with BOOM BOOM just meant taking that idea to it’s full extent.

So what story did I want to tell? It needed to be a story that I felt an emotional connection to in order for the images to tell a compelling tale. When I thought about the stories that I have written thus far, I saw a common theme between them: Friendship. Finding, making, losing, keeping friends . . . these were the most valuable lessons I learned growing up. Who doesn’t remember those experiences which teach us about how we may, or may not, fit in?

BoomBoom6-7 Chodos-Irvine WS

So I had sixteen words and thirty-two pages to get my story told. The text opens with the onomatopoeic first few lines suggesting a potentially frightening storm. I saw a shy little boy terrified by the loud thunder and flashing lightening, and a more outgoing, slightly bigger little girl enjoying the excitement, yet feeling concern over her preschool-mate. After the storm passes, she brings him out to share in the fun of splashing in puddles.

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But the best friendships travel on two-way streets, so in the following sequence, the boy is the one to comfort the girl.

Bloom
Bloom

Buzz
Buzz

Blow
Blow

Fuzz
Fuzz

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The seasons progress to Winter, and through their friendship, they enrich their larger community and establish their place within the group.

Crinkle
Crinkle

Crunch
Crunch

Fall
Fall

Bunch
Bunch

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It sounds better in pictures.

Swirl
Swirl

Blow
Blow

Silent
Silent

Snow
Snow

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Boom Boom pg 26-27 Chodos-Irvine

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I enjoyed the freedom that the sparse text gave me to explore my own visuals, and I think it came together well. If you have the time, go check it out at your local bookstore or library and see what you think.

And if I do see anything that I missed before, well, I’m not telling!

In The House of Illustration

blake-arrow sign

I have been living in London almost three weeks now. My jet lag has worn off. My post-flight cold is gone. I am settling in and learning how to get around this amazing city.

For my first post as “foreign correspondent” for Books Around The Table, I chose to visit Sir Quentin Blake‘s “Inside Stories”, the inaugural exhibition at the recently  opened House of Illustration gallery space.

House of Illustration was begun in 2002 by a group of UK illustrators, led by Blake, to establish the world’s first “home for the art of illustration.” Over the next decade, the founders worked to raise awareness and garner funding to find a permanent home. In July of this year, they opened its doors in Granary Square, near King’s Cross, London.

House of Illustration’s gallery and education space is the place to see, learn about, and enjoy illustration in all its forms, from adverts to animation, picture books to political cartoons and scientific drawings to fashion design.”

Blake pledged his massive archive of original drawings and illustrated books to House of Illustration, so it is fitting that the opening show be of his work.

I know Sir Quentin Blake’s work best from his illustrations for Roald Dahl’s books, but he has done hundreds of others (not all of them for children) that many of us from the US aren’t as familiar with. It was a wonderful opportunity to see so many of his illustrations at once, but even more valuable to see his thoughts, notes and preliminary sketches included as well.

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The entry to the exhibit immediately immerses you in Blake’s world with a floor-to-ceiling drawing of his studio space. The case beneath presents you with insights into how Blake approaches his art.

Blake-What does

(You must excuse the poor quality of these interior photographs, as I was surreptitiously snapping these shots with my smart phone on the sly. I risked admonishment for you, so please don’t turn me in to the authorities).

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Q Blake-sketches for the Twits

Q Blake-Mr & Mrs Twit

One entire room was devoted to Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. This was the part of the show that impressed me most deeply. Blake managed to balance sadness and joy with delicacy and subtlety. Perfect in its gentleness. I’m still thinking about those images.

Q Blake-Happy Sad face

Blake-Sometimes sad

Blake-one candle

Blake-many candles

Blake defines illustration as “drawing with a purpose.” That is the most accurate, least condescending definition that I have heard to date. It doesn’t try to fit it somewhere along a hierarchy between fine art and craft. It just says what it is.

And this is just the beginning at House of Illustration. There are four more exhibitions scheduled through June 2015, and I plan on being here for all of them. Stay tuned!
To view two BBC interviews with Sir Quentin, visit this page, and this one.

Wings

Birds placemat

“Birds have wings; they’re free; they can fly where they want when they want. They have the kind of mobility many people envy.” – Roger Tory Peterson

I must be one of those people to whom the famed naturalist was alluding. I find that things with wings, especially bird wings, have a special attraction. Real birds fascinate me. How they have evolved, the way they communicate, their behavior. And of course, how they move. This attraction extends to other winged creatures as well – angels, putti, mythological characters. Anything with wings on it seems imbued with magic.

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Have you watched the PortlandiaPut A Bird On It” skit? Now, I enjoy the humor in that show as only a true urban Northwesterner can, but since that episode aired, I can no longer indulge my bird love without a twinge of shame. Damn them. Don’t they understand that we just envy birds’ mobility?

M Chodos-Irvine -Get Out Of Jail Free charm

So bear with me while I bare my feathered soul.

There is something about birds that I find comfort in. I don’t collect birds like a philatelist collects stamps. Rather, such items accumulate around me like pigeons around a cafe. They inspire me. Why shouldn’t I want bird imagery on things I have around me in my nest, so to speak?

Such as outside my window, on a metalwork piece by artist Deborah Mersky.

Deborah Mersky-Crow metal hanging

Or on the walls of my home, as in one of my favorite paintings by Joe Max Emminger, “Bird Moon.”

Joe Max Emminger-Bird Moon

And on jewelry.

MOP bird pin

Blue bird and moon pin

Winged school bus pin

Japanese bird badge mount set

I also have amassed a large number of bird related postcards.

I H Jungnickel-Der Hahn als Festordner

Bill Reid-Haida-Raven and the First Men

Pablo Picasso-The Dove

Claude Coats-Disney production image for Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs

Crows-detail of Japanese screen-c 1650

Ruan Sidi-Jinshan folk art-Ducks Eat Rice

Along with this page from a Mary Poppins “Magic Paintless and Dot-to-Dot” coloring book by J. LaGrotta and E. Eringer for Disney Inc.

J LaGrotta and E Eringer-Disney Mary Poppins Magic Paintless and Dot-to-Dot

Of course, the works some of my favorite children’s book illustrators have wings too.

Julie Paschkis:Julie Paschkis-Word Bird-Flutter and Hum

Leo Lionni:Leo Lionni-Tico and the Go copy

Lizbeth Zwerger:Lizbeth Zwerger-Swan Lake

Wood engraving is a beautiful medium for portraying the delicacy of feathers. These are some of my favorite prints in that medium.

Sarah van Niekerk:Sarah van Niekerk-Jacobins in a Bay Tree

Eileen Mayo:Eileen Mayo-Two Doves-1958

John Buckland-Wright:John Buckland-Wright -Endymion-1943

This is a wood engraving of the sculpture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace by an uncredited illustrator, used as an advertisement for air power. It came from the now defunct scrap file at the Central branch of the Seattle Public Library.

Winged Victory of Samothrace-Airlines determine the destiny of nations-artist unknown

There are wings of inspiration in all sorts of places. I took this photo of some old airline signage from the Boeing Museum of Flight.

Boeing logo bird arrow

I went to Paris recently. Paris has wings everywhere you look.

Winged monument Paris

Winged Victory statue Paris

Wall decor painting - Louvre

So by now it shouldn’t surprise anyone that bird imagery shows up often in my work.

M Chodos-Irvine -Dreamer

M Chodos-Irvine -Cycnus

It helps to have some good reference materials. I have accumulated a number of  bird books, but there are a few that I use often. Birds In Flight, by Carrol L. Henderson, has excellent photos of birds on the wing. Any bird book by Roger Tory Peterson will be good. The World of Birds, by Peterson and James Fisher has good structural information, such as this page on the anatomy of the wing.

R T Peterson-wing anatomy

The “How To Draw” series from the 40s includes a handy instruction book on drawing and painting birds.

How To Draw and Paint Birds cover

Hunt makes it look so easy.

Lynn Bogue Hunt-How to Draw and Paint Birds-pg 14

Audubon’s illustrations are fun to peruse. His birds are placed in the most awkward positions, yet they are graceful in their own torqued way. I guess this is what you get when you are drawing from death, rather than life.

Audubon-White-tailed Kite

Birds and wings and feathered things. They tell a story of flight, of soaring, and of freedom. May they inspire you to make great art. Or at least put a bird on something.

Jean Honore Fragonard-The Cage

Another Alice

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 1

A few weeks ago, Maria Popova published a post in her wonderful Brain Pickings blog featuring the illustrations by Ralph Steadman from a 1972 edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.

Before you go any further, read her post. Then come back here. Then go read more of her posts if you haven’t already.

I didn’t know Steadman illustrated Alice In Wonderland, but I should have,  because I own a copy of his Through The Looking Glass, also published in 1972, that I bought on a trip to England in 1975 (Steadman’s Alice In Wonderland is mentioned on the book jacket flap, but what 15-year old reads  jacket copy?). It is one of my Most Valued And Beloved Books. Here are more of my favorite images:

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 2The Jaberwock, with eyes of flame. Steadman is also a political satirist.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 3

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 4

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 5Notice how he uses the gutter split to advantage. Perfect for a story set in a world of reflection.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 6

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 7

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 8 Steadman takes the commonly accepted view that the White Knight is Lewis himself.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 9

When I was first starting out as an illustrator, nearly thirty years ago, I tried out pen and ink as a medium, a la Steadman. The image below was for The Clinton Street Quarterly, a small publication from the 80s out of Portland, OR. It is humbling to look back that far in my professional history, but take it as a tribute to my love of Steadman’s work.

Chodos-Irvine Marcos

Studio Housekeeping

BB 26-27 final 150

Since I last posted here, I have sent off the art for BOOM BOOM, a 32-word picture book (each word is repeated once so it’s really 16 words, twice) by Sarvinder Naberhaus. It was a mad rush towards the end (it always is) and after I shipped it out, I felt joy, relief, and just a touch of fear (what if they don’t like it?…). Then the next day I came back to this:

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What a mess!

Because the techniques I use involve many different tools and materials, things tend to spread out a bit.

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My workspace gets kind of cluttered.

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Pretty much every surface gets covered with something.

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When I run out of horizontal space, I go vertical.

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Since I usually am printing more than one image at a time, I need to have a lot of colors available on my inking table.

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I try to keep them from drying out with saran wrap, and in order to keep track of what detail is which color, I started labeling the saved colors with a marker (and to keep track of the nine children I feature in the images, I gave them all names). All this needs to get scraped off and wiped clean.

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And then I have to clean all my tools.

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Plus there is the added detritus left from mounting the art and packing it up.

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It feels good to be done with a large project like this at last, but also a little sad. I’ve enjoyed working on this book. I’ve lived with it for many months now. I will miss these characters and their world that I’ve made up, but I look forward to seeing them again, in a year or so, in their new home – the book itself.

BB 32 final 150

Having Fun

Clark One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish - Theodore Geisel

Clark
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish – Theodore Geisel

As I have been working on the illustrations for BOOM BOOM, I have been thinking about humor in children’s book illustrations – what amused me when I was a child and what I find funny now. I’m sure there is a common thread from one to the other, but I’m not going to delve too deeply. As E. B. White said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

Sometimes the images act as punch lines to the text, while in others the joke is delivered on a separate plate from the words. Many are visual puns. What I see as a constant is the amount of fun the illustrator appears to be having. In the best comedy for children, I believe joy, humor and art are a trio act, with joy having the leading role. Have you ever tried to illustrate a children’s book when you are not in a good mood? Unless you are drawing trolls or  gargoyles, cheer up or take a break.

To demonstrate, I’ve put together a small collection of some of my favorites, old and new. I have no idea if the artists were grumbling or grinning when they worked on these books, but they must have been giggling at least a little by the time they were done.

Scrambled Eggs Super detail-Dr Seuss-Random 1953

The Ziffs on the cliffs and the Zuffs on the Bluffs
Scrambled Eggs Super – Theodore Geisel

Dr. Seuss tops the list. In my early reading years, the library my parents and I went to shelved their Seuss books on two conveniently low shelves. Scrambled Eggs Super was one that I picked up whenever it was available, regardless of how many times I’d checked it out already, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish made learning to read worth the effort.

Eloise

Here is what I have to do every French morning…
Eloise in Paris – Hilary knight

Eloise In Paris 2-Hilary Knight Kay Thompson-1957

I am all over the Etoile…
Eloise in Paris – Hilary Knight

When I was about eight I discovered Eloise on a family road trip visiting friends of my mother’s in Vancouver, Canada. I slept in their daughter’s room. She was at least fifteen years older than I and long out of the house, but her collection of Eloise books by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight, were still there. I poured over Knight’s exuberant illustrations for hours. Eloise is truly all over the Etoile and all over the page. Her gestures and body language are as much choreographed as drawn.

The Story of Ferdinand bull butt-Robert Lawson Munro Leaf-1936

He didn’t look where he was sitting…
The Story of Ferdinand – Robert Lawson

The Story of Ferdinand, the sensitive bull. While beautifully composed and exquisitely drafted, Robert Lawson‘s illustrations for Munro Leaf’s text are also wonderfully fun to look at.

The Bedside MAD-William M Gaines-52-59

The Outer Sanctum
The Bedside MAD – William M Gaines

The Bedside MAD 2-William M Gaines-52-59

The Outer Sanctum second spread
The Bedside MAD – William M Gaines

At about age nine, my taste in humor took a sidestep when I purchased some old MAD Magazine paperbacks. These books compiled early issues that featured artists like William M Gaines (also the magazine’s founder). He specialized in spoofing popular radio dramas from my father’s era such as “Inner Sanctum” with goofy yet surgical expertise. I think their intended audience probably wasn’t me, but take a close look at the details and you will see why I liked them so much as a nine-year-old.

I Know an Old Lady-Abner Graboff Rose Bonne-Rand McNally 1961

I know an old lady who swallowed a bird
I Know an Old Lady-Abner Graboff

I didn’t discover the work of Abner Graboff until I found a copy of I Know An Old Lady by Rose Bonne at a school library sale a few years ago, but I wish I had found him sooner. Thank you, Abner, for breaking all the rules.

And lest you have the impression that I only look at children’s books published before 1960, here are a few more contemporary works that make me laugh.

Arnie the Doughnut-Laurie Keller-Holt 2003

Arnie looked around and saw all sorts of doughnuts…
Arnie the Doughnut – Laurie Keller

Laurie Keller is funny, in both text and imagery (And in person too. I was lucky enough to meet her). She could make a stand-up comic out of a golf ball.

Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks Ed-Calef Brown-HM1998

Ed
Polka Bats and Octopus Slacks – Calef Brown

This image by Calef Brown is wonderful even without the poem that accompanies it (sorry, you will have to go get the book yourself and read it). Which came first, the image or the words? Who cares. I’m glad for both.

Insectlopedia The Walking Stick-Douglas Florian-1998

The Walking Stick
Insectlopedia – Douglas Florian

Douglas Florian is a poet who is also an artist. Or maybe he is an artist who is also a poet. Either way, he creates books with a graceful blend of sophistication and whimsy (sorry, you are going to have to go get this book too). His humor is subtle and precise and beautifully rendered.

Glasses Who needs em-Lane Smith-Viking 1991

…potatoes however…
Glasses, Who Needs ‘Em? – Lane Smith

And Lane Smith. Smith has made numerous hilarious books, but I think I like this image from Glasses, Who Needs ‘Em? best of all. Do you see what I mean?…

I hope this small sampling has made you laugh, tickled your funny bone, or at least improved your mood. If you are going to be illustrating children’s books, you might as well be smiling, right?

Handwritten

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The article I read recently that got me thinking about handwriting: The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting and Why It Still Matters

Script and Scribble, by Kitty Burns Florey, a book that Julie Paschkis gave me because I talked with her about the above article (and yes, I know Julie’s handwriting quite well).

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Drawing in Blue

sketch by M Chodos-Irvine

Yesterday I sent off a revised, “tight” dummy to my editor at Beach Lane Books for Boom Boom. Today is a day of reprieve – I can take a bit of a break before I hear back from her, but it’s too soon for me to start worrying because I haven’t heard from her yet.

So here I am, rearranging the furniture in my brain to focus on writing today’s post.

Since I am fully immersed in illustrating Boom Boom, it’s hard for me to think about much else, so you are going to get another how-to from me today.

When working on final drawings for a picture book, I use a technique I picked up from watching Sylvain Chomet talk about animating The Triplets of Belleville in the video extra that came with the DVD. If you have not yet seen this French animated film, you have missed a witty masterpiece. It’s rated PG-13, (there are some naked ta-tas spinning briefly in the opening sequence, and a bit of implied mob violence), but the film’s rating is deserved most in that its sophisticated, satiric humor isn’t built for young children. If Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is a Three-Musketeers bar, then The Triplets of Belleville is Cuisses de Grenouille. (Really, see the movie).

Anyway, in this “making of…” video, Chomet demonstrates how he first draws his sketches in non-photo blue, and then hones in on the refined outline in black, which is the only color the camera will read. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a copy of that video on line, but I did find something similar in this clip about his animating The Illusionist.

Chomet says finding the right lines is “discovering something” that was already there, like Michelangelo freeing figures in marble. I am in no way trying to imply that I am on the same level as either of these artists, but I always feel like I’m trying to carve out an image when I draw, so this approach struck a chord with me.

This is my humble, homey version of what Chomet and Michelangelo do.

A photocopy of my rough:

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A blue line drawing on tracing paper over the photocopy:

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The blue line drawing alone:

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I haven’t gone to black pencil on the above sketch quite yet. I will do that once I have the editors go-ahead on the full dummy. In the drawing below, I’ve gone halfway using a darker blue pencil, inching my way towards black.

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Then I scan my blue line drawings into Photoshop, adjust the gray-scale levels to eliminate some of the lighter blue, and place the images in the dummy lay-out with InDesign. It’s not exactly what the animators do, but it works for me.

BB 6-7 kids

Well, during the time it took me to write this post, I heard back from the editor and have full approval to proceed with the final art. That was a short, but welcome reprieve! Back to work!

A Movable Wall

I shipped off a book dummy today. It’s a good feeling.

The dummy is for the book Boom Boom by Sarvinder Naberhaus that I am illustrating for Beach Lane Books. It’s a pretty minimal text, so there is lots of room for me to develop my own story line for the images.

I like to see the whole storyboard as I’m working on initial sketches. It’s easier for me to keep track of my ideas if I can see them all, but my drawing table is not that big. My story line was getting buried in mountains of sketches, which caused me frequent frustration and occasional cursing.

I decided that I needed a wall to pin everything on, but as you can see, I’m a bit short on wall space in my cozy little studio (I’m a bit short of anything space, but that’s another issue).

So I bought the biggest cork bulletin board I could find and perched it on my inking table.

I used colored tape to divide the board into “spreads” and added stickers with page numbers and post-its with the text. Ta-da! Instead of piles of sketches I have a portable storyboard wall where I can layer my sketches as I develop each spread. All there right in front of me. Much better!

Now I just have to wait for feedback from the editor. If she approves of the direction I’ve chosen I can move forward to the next step: refining the images. If not, then it’s back to the drawing/bulletin board!

Pay Attention, Report Back

It seems my monthly turn at this blog comes around too quickly. Then I think of my Dad. For 25 years, he wrote a three-times-a-week column that ran on the front page of his newspaper, the Sonora Union Democrat. Three times a week.

A precursor to blogging, Dad’s Sierra Lookout column was a forum for his take on the life and times of his beloved “poison-oakers” in California’s Mother Lode. Dad wrote about his childhood, family, local issues, world news, and rural life, all from the perspective of a self-described “country editor.”

Harvey McGee, 1990

The following column seemed to raise its hand to be included on our Books Around the Table blog because it was written on July 19, 1977. That’s 35 years ago, almost to the day. I think of it as an ode to the Sierra.

     WHEN THE insides of your knees are chafed all the way up to the end of your spine.
When anything you sit in seems to lurch and shake.
When the backs of your hands and ears are chapped and sunburned.

     WHEN YOU can’t get the smell of fish out from under your fingernails and the smell of smoke out of your clothes.
When the porch railing is draped with an open sleeping bag.
When the air mattress that stayed puffed up only long enough to lure you onto it is on the way to the dump.

     WHEN YOU’VE said thanks to Mr. Cutter and his magic mosquito repellant and drained the pollywogs from a glass of Tang for the last time.
When you can smile again without your lips cracking.
When old “Mac” is again munching hay in Willy Ritts’ Kennedy Meadows corral.

     WHEN ALL these things are done you lie on that bed that never deflates and remember –
The gentle plunk of the lure on the long cast.
The dart of a shadow from a deep pool, the splash and flash of silver – then nothing.
Or maybe a solid tug – too soft for a snag, too firm for anything but a lunker.

     OR VAST ranges of granite pocked by blue jewels with revered names – Black Bear, Bigelow, Emigrant, Dorothy, Maxwell.
And in the folds of rock: lush meadows, green groves, clear streams. Far beyond and below, the grey-brown air trapped in the simmering valley.

     SOON forgotten are the lurching chafing and burning of the sometimes rider. Even the memory of Pear Ripple, wet clothes and gin rummy defeats begins to fade.
What remains as clear as the night sky over Bigelow Peak are the steaks, shishkebob and basted eggs by an expert volunteer cook, the sweet meat of camp-smoked trout and the fellowship of others who share an unspoken appreciation of the remote magnificence.

     VISITORS to the wilderness are apt to feel some guilt about the privilege, but that’s the paradox of the place. If it were easily available to more, it would soon be enjoyed by none.         –Harvey C. McGee

Emigrant Basin. Photo courtesy of Susan McGee Britton.

As writers and artists it’s our calling to pay attention and report back. No one sees the world quite the same way. I’m lucky to have my Dad’s columns – his keen observations and amused take on the human condition, his personal stories and opinions – to guide me. Not to mention the gold mine of over 2,500 columns that will come in handy when I’m looking down the trail for a blogpost idea.

Riding into the high country, 1968. L to r: Marny Gorgas, Kate McGee, Laura McGee.