This past weekend, I attended the Reading Reptile’s 17th Annual DNA LitFest featuring (in order of appearance) Hervé Tullet, Peter Brown, Jack Gantos, Laura Amy Schlitz, Jon Klassen, and Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket).
There is nothing quite like listening to six creative minds share their upbringings and doubts and quirks and processes in an auditorium filled with teachers, librarians, booksellers, writers, and illustrators who love children’s books just as much as you do.
I had a ridiculously good time and took a ridiculous amount of notes. To share all would result in a ridiculously long blog post. So here are six DNA LitFest quotes—one from each presenter—that resonated with me.
Hervé Tullet’s presentation was very visual and audience-oriented. He used a spread from one of his books (I can’t recall which one—please share in the comments if you know!) to explain his creative process. I did my best to recreate it below.
There are days when I stare at an empty page or a line of text or a half-finished illustration and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out where to go next. It’s so easy to get swept away in doubts and feelings of ineptitude when you’re thinking in terms of an entire project. But it really comes down to finding an idea.
“You cannot get the eyes wrong in a picture book. If you get the eyes wrong, you will have a problem.”
This advice sounds so simple but it is SO true. When Peter worked on CREEPY CARROTS, he drew the faces separate from the bodies so that he could re-do them until they were right. The next time I work on a collage, I’ll feel a bit better about spending an hour and a half cutting out eyeballs.
“You need a physical and emotional ending to your story.”
To have one or the other is not enough. Jack used CORDUROY by Don Freeman as a successful example as the bear finds both a button and a home. On the other hand, he considered A POCKET FOR CORDUROY less successful because it lacks that emotional ending.
Laura Amy Schlitz
“A page of badly written prose looks the same as a page of beautifully written prose. [ . . . ] Somewhere in our mind there must be some kind of meter that determines if it’s good or not. Writers exist within their own mind; their torture chamber.”
Laura spoke in depth about how the six and a half years spent writing SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS “almost killed her.” But she had a feeling that there was “something good” in her manuscript, so she chose to “carry on” until she finished. That book went on to win a 2013 Newbery honor.
Jon Klassen had a “tortuous” time writing I WANT MY HAT BACK. Then he had the idea of doing the text all in dialogue—with the dialogue in different colors—so he wouldn’t need to say anything else. After that, he was able to write the whole book in about fifteen minutes. His reasoning (and perhaps my favorite quote from the day): “If it’s a bad book, it’s not my fault; these guys are idiots.”
I love that Jon made his characters responsible for the outcome of their book. But more importantly, he found a way to make his art style and his storytelling work for his unique book.
“You never love a book the way you loved a book when you were ten. And you never hate a book the way you hated a book when you were ten.”
A valuable reminder of why we must put everything we are and everything we have into the books we make for kids. When Daniel was ten, he threw bad books at his walls. He craved books where a lesson was not presented to him; where he could figure out what the events meant for himself. He also wanted to read books where “the tumble of life is acknowledged rather than denied and overcome or overlooked.”
I am indebted to these authors and illustrators for an incredible day (and for signing all those books!), and to Pete, Debbie, and the rest of the Reading Reptile family for orchestrating this event. THANK YOU!
For this week’s Illustration Friday challenge, I asked my husband which animal he would like to see in the snow. He chose an elephant. So here she is! He named her “Etta” after a character from the Fringe television show.
This illustration features a chalkboard pattern layered on slate colored paper. The snowflakes and scarf were cut from Paper Source’s Yuzen Pale Aqua Gold Waves Fine Paper and Yuzen Red White Pink Blossom Fine Paper, respectively. (They were a gift from my mother-in-law. Thanks again, Momma Mizell!)
Would you like to see something neat?
That’s my illustration on the Kansas SCBWI Fall 2012 Conference name tag! It was a wonderful surprise to find my art featured this way.
In related news, I posted some notes from the conference sessions on the Illustrators for Kids blog. Come on by!
Here are my take-aways from the weekend:
Here is a look at my promotional materials for the Kansas SCBWI Fall Conference!
The Business Card
Like Laura Zarrin, I chose to round the corners with a scrapbooking tool.
Pro Tip: You will get a hand cramp if you try to round more than 100 corners in one sitting. (Ouch.)
For consistency, I featured the same character and paper patterns in both designs. The image from the front of the postcard (minus the web address) will also serve as the title page for my physical portfolio.
These materials were printed by Educational Publishers, a division of the company I work for in Manhattan, Kansas.
Four Awesomesauce Resources for Creating Business Cards and Postcards
A chef’s hat tip to Laura Zarrin, Molly Idle, and Alicia Padrón for generously sharing their recommendations and designs in the following blog posts:
I have been incognito on the blog because I’ve been hard at work on my latest picture book proposal. I’m happy to write that I recently completed the final piece of our submission package.
Here is what my workspace looked like after I finished.
Whew! I tend to get swept up in a project, so I don’t realize how crazy everything looks until it’s over. Thankfully, I’m married to a super swell guy who understands me and my process.
We live in a one bedroom apartment, so I store my paper and other supplies in the bedroom closet.
Whenever I want to make a collage, I lug everything out and set up in that little corner of our living room. Then I sit on the carpet and trace, cut, assemble, and paste until the illustration looks the way I want it to.
Despite its appearance, my “studio” meets my needs. There are three sources of light (the patio window, a lamp, and our fireplace fixture) which allow me to see what I’m doing. I have an outlet for my lightbox. My picture books are just a shelf away. And the television is within earshot, so I can listen to a movie or show while I work.
Some time ago, Joda (the cat peering out the window) learned how to navigate the mess without stepping on anything. Jack, our other cat, prefers to play Godzilla, chew up paper scraps, and steal my smaller tools. So he usually gets banished to the other side of the apartment.
The only downside to this space is the required post-project clean-up. Since I work in our common area, I have to return everything to the closet as soon as I’m done. (This latest paper explosion took forty-five minutes to sort out!)
Where do you write and/or illustrate?
Mr. Zelinsky has illustrated over 30 books for children, including his Caldecott Medal-winning Rapunzel and this year’s very funny Z is for Moose (written by Kelly Bingham). In other words, he’s a picture book rock star.
For the critique, I chose to submit a sample illustration from a picture book work in progress (below). As the piece is part of a narrative, I was also able to include some rough images from the dummy.
I was impressed by the detail of Mr. Zelinsky’s notes. His feedback was thoughtful, thorough, and kind. He commented on what I did well but focused more on the areas where I should improve. Most important, he provided very specific recommendations on how to create a better book.
I shared some excerpts from his critique over on Illustrators for Kids. You can find the post here.
Thanks to Mr. Zelinsky, Katie Wools, and Missouri SCBWI for the opportunity!