Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Helping one of my heroes.

Sometimes things come up where you have to drop everything and work on it. This is one of those times.

Stan Sakai, creator of Usagi Yojimbo is one of my idols. I was introduced to him (as I am sure others were) via the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Since I was from a small town, it was hard to learn about any comic characters. Luckily, my mother took me to the store (Powerhouse Comics) in Green Bay almost every single time we went for groceries. Comics were a sedative to me... She gave them to me, and I was content. There are comics that I would definitely suggest to kids: Usagi Yojimbo is one of them.

Back to Stan. His wife has been ill, and CAPS  (Comic Art Professional Society) had started collecting artist work for an auction to help Stan and his wife. Here is a link to the website concerning the auction. 

I could explain in my own words, but I will just pass on what Stan posted on his Facebook page:

Thank you, everybody. I had been gone from FB since yesterday and did not realize that CAPS had started the solicitation for art auction donations to help with Sharon's care. 

A bit of background with what this is all about: In 2004, Sharon woke up one morning and said, "I can't hear anything out of my left ear." It was traced back to a meningioma brain tumor. It is benign, but large and inoperable. There was no hope of it getting smaller. The most we could hope for was that it would not grow larger. She underwent radiation therapy, and that seemed to control it. She went in for regular MRIs, and no growth was detected.

However, it started growing in 2010, and very aggressively. She has facial paralysis on the left side (everything happens on the left side). The paralysis includes her throat, vocal chords, and it has even deteriorated her neck bones. She had lost almost 40% of her body weight in a year. She is undergoing chemotherapy. Doctors don't see any end in sight for this. There are complications because of the tumor, medications, or just coincidence--diabetes, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, compromised immune system. She has a tracheostomy tube for breathing and a G-tube connected to her stomach for a liquid diet. She can take nothing through her mouth. She is bed-bound, but we try to give her daily physical therapy--walking a couple hundred feet with a walker and/or sitting in a wheelchair.

She had been in the hospital and nurse care from April to September, but we are glad she is home. She requires 24 hour care, so daughter Hannah and her family moved in with us. This includes 18 month old grandson Leo, and another grandchild due in February/early March.

A lot of you do know Sharon, as she had been a fixture at my booth at San Diego and many other conventions. Thank you all for your help, good thoughts, and prayers.
So when I heard of the call for artists to submit an original piece to help Stan out, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to make something. I have been doing some rough sketches on my tablet, and have a rough done. The auction will be in early 2014, so I will have a little time to finish it... but here is the rough, done in Sketchbook Pro:

Rough Usagi Yojimbo
Very rough, yes... It is Usagi, with smoke around him.possibly with some allusions to architecture behind him.  I think I will do it in Sumi with splashes of color. Need to do a little color research first, but I will post here when I have the final piece done. 

If anyone wants to help out or donate, please click the link above for information. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

I am on the big screen (in a short film).

I am excited to finally be able to show something I did a few months ago. My good friends Kathryn Kane and Rob Neilson have made a short film called "Sing Song." It is a film based on the relationship Kathryn's mother and aunt had when they were sisters growing up.

The site for Sing Song can be found here.

… I was asked to provide some kid's art for the film showing the family, and helping drive the message of how the older daughter viewed the family dynamic.

It was very kind of Kathryn to put my little picture in the film, and will be quite a hoot to sit in the audience and see it on the big screen. (playing November 12th at the Sundance theater in Houston).


SING SONG: the short film

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

WIP: "Night Light"

Upcoming rough of an auction piece for the Texas SCBWI conference season. 
Will most likely be in ink, and then colored. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"To Redo Winnie the Pooh..."

Just attended a great workshop sponsored by the Southwest Texas chapter of SCBWI in San Antonio. The guest was Richard Jesse Watson, who was a great speaker.

The fun, art part of this was re-imagining Winnie the Pooh in a different context. I thought of Winnie & Co. as Intergalactic Bee Keepers:

Not super happy with the coloring job, but I did what I could with the time I could spare...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why I haven't blogged (but with GOOD NEWS!)

Hey everyone! ...It's been quite a while since I wrote anything newsworthy.... so let's start at the beginning:

Last April, I attended a SCBWI conference, sponsored by the Houston Chapter. It had some really notable attendants, including editor Lucy Cummins (Simon and Schuster) and Caldecott Honor winner Peter Brown (Creepy Carrots)... it was a normally hectic day, as I had a critique with Lucy, and got to take part in the birdhouse auction and silent auction, in which I donated this piece for auction:

"Wonce Ug Ton a Tim"
The work on display

Amongst other work up for auction.
I had a great time there as usual. There is a great energy whenever I am at the children's book events. Just being around that many people dedicated to the craft is invigorating! I need to take more pictures next time I attend these events. I am notoriously bad at taking photos. Have been my whole life, actually.

my portfolio display

There was an assignment for the illustrators, and a special breakout session, where Lucy looked at a piece we did. There was the choice of a picture book spread, or a MG cover. I liked the haunting subject matter of the latter, so I chose that one. Here are some preliminary sketches:

and the finished work:

Honestly, I wasn't happy with it, but I figured I could just eat some humble pie and take whatever feedback was given. I like my idea, but I didn't like the execution.

Lucy giving her thoughts on the piece
. I considered my work a very rough piece but almost everyone there had very refined work, and I was a little disappointed in my submission. If I do this again, I would do a million things different... including not showing the piece if I am not happy with it. I don't consider myself a proud person, but if my work is not up to my standards, I probably won't show it.

Anyhoo, Great news....  I watched the bidding all day (I did bid, myself... only because I really liked the piece), and saw the bid go above $100.00! Which is awesome, because our SCBWI chapter got the proceeds from the auction items. The winning bid was submitted by the amazing (and obviously, very smart) Shannon Morgan! Shannon just also happens to be the Regional Advisor for the Southwest Texas chapter of SCBWI....

Thanks for helping support the SCBWI Houston chapter, Shannon!

Shannon and her prize

The sold piece

Shannon was kind enough to post some pix on her Twitter (@nomadshan), and showed where the work ended up. I am honored to have my work on the same wall as C.S. Jenning's art (For more of his work: Click here)

Well, You may ask, "What does this have to do with myself not blogging in MONTHS?!" 
Well, as a result of myself having monsters on my postcard (cuz seriously, I love monsters!)... I was contacted by Stephanie Hedlund, an Editor at Abdo Publishing ...who was also a speaker at the conference. I completely missed her talk as I was in a critique with Lucy at that time.

The bottom line.... I spent the rest of the summer (almost 4 months) illustrating 4 picture books!
I will post more later on the process and what not... but let's just say I would have been happy with just one interested person, let alone an offer for many books. Here is a sneak peek from them:

The Littlest Vampire's Story

The Littlest Werewolf's  Story
The Littlest Zombie's Story

The Littlest Witch's Story

I learned that doing one book in 4-5 months is one thing, doing 4 in 4 months is a completely different matter. It meant working for days on end, having good communication, and making sure every decision was swiftly acted on. It meant being efficient and was quite the exercise in teamwork. Stephanie was great... and when she left for another opportunity, Renee LaViolette stepped in without skipping a beat. I can't thank those 2 enough for being so great in this whole process.

So keep your eyes open for these for books in January 2014 from Abdo Publishing (Magic Wagon).... (click here for their site).

Okay, now that I am back, I have a lot of new art to work on, a lot of new books to review, and a renewed energy to kick out some new artwork!

Special thanks to:

Abdo Publishing
P. Abdo
Stephanie Hedlund
Renee Laviolette

SCBWI Houston Illustrators, especially:
Kirk Reedstrom
and all the others, who gave me incredible support!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sorry for my tardiness...

Sorry for anyone who has stopped by and noticed I haven't posted in awhile. I have some great news, and will post a lot more info when it is all said and done... I look forward to sharing more art and have a lot of catching up to do here.

In the meantime, here is a current pic of my desk:

See you guys soon :)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Work to be auctioned off at SCBWI Houston conference:

Hey everyone!

I have a drawing that will be auctioned off at the SCBWI-Houston Conference on April 13th... It is great doing something to support an organization as awesome as this one!


"Wonce Ug Tun a Time"
Pencil / Watercolor Pencil
7" x 17"

I tried to do a piece that involved reading --something that an author/illustrator would want on the wall of the their working studio, yet also be appropriate if somebody wanted the artwork for the room of a child: Like a child who reads to their siblings or stuffed animals would understand that the caveman had an audience. Besides,  I love dinosaurs, and I know kids dig them too.

Here are a few more pix of the WIP:

Friday, March 1, 2013

SCBWI Austin Conference: Back in the saddle again!!

Sorry for the long break. In mid February, I attended my first SCBWI conference in about 10 years or so: SCBWI-Austin's Kick It Up a Notch 2013.

First off, I forgot how much I love going to these events. Being in the company of aspiring and very talented creative people is something that I never tire of.  I absolutely love is seeing everyone's different style and approach to how they do their work. One thing that has really changed in 10 years is that I see a much larger influence of computer and graphic design on people's portfolios.

It is always daunting to go someplace where everyone knows everyone, and you don't know anyone. It's kinda like being the new kid at school: No one knows who you are, you don't know where to start.... so it's always a little scary/strange. This feeling never goes away.

Luckily, I did know another illustrator (Felicia Lilley - Her blog is here), and ran into some familiar SCBWI - Houston faces (including my old roommate from the Los Angeles conference in 2001: Charles Trevino!) it was like a homecoming of sorts. I think it was really good of me to take away back, and now that I am back... I have a little better perspective on, well, pretty much everything:

Ok: so I go to put out my portfolio, which is kind of like bringing your prized rutabagas to the county fair: nobody knows how hard you worked at them, and you really hope the dedication shows through... actually it's probably more like bringing your rabbits to the fair... I dunno... Guess I am just rambling. Anyhoo:

Portfolio Display: Austin 2013
This is the portfolio display room. Every conference is different: some have them right next to all the action, and some have them away in a different place. This was the case in Austin: I actually like having them hidden away, because it's quiet and gives a almost museum-like air to the viewing experience:

My spread
I placed my portfolio (after looking at some of the others' layout), and business cards, postcards and feedback form. First of all, my portfolio blows my one from 10 years ago away... probably because I didn't do the research that I should have. This is also the first time I have postcards out:

Postcard for 2013
I made this art specifically for the postcard: the mummy kid has a sleepover with other movie monsters' kids at the museum... and they stumble into the dinosaur exhibit. I was a little skeptical about making a piece specifically for the postcard, but its a story I had been working on... more on this piece later...

There is always a feedback form out, so we can get comments. I absolutely love this part: anonymously  sent comments. I actually enjoy negative ones more because you grow from them. That is one idea I  try to push through to my students: positive comments make you feel good, but constructive criticism points you where you may need to go and explore.

Austin 2013 Auction items
There was also a silent auction, with everything from gift baskets to signed copies to original art. I had tried to get something into the auction, but with time constraints, wasn't able to. I also wanted to bid on some of the awesome art and books, but I was a very good boy, and restrained myself. My house is pretty much out of display room :/

There were some very nice pieces of art for auction, and they have inspired me to do a piece for the Houston conference:

original watercolor
 There was a beautiful watercolor of a mermaid there, which eventually sold for over $100.

Original drawing

There was also a drawing by CS Jennings, who has a great style!

I am notoriously bad at taking pictures, so the rest of the day, I have barely any... attendants got to hear illustrator E.B. Lewis speak.. the man is very inspirational, and the illustrators even got to hear him privately speak about his work. I also had a 10 minute (which goes by wayyyy too fast) critique of my portfolio with agent Rubin Pfeffer, who told me which pieces were successful, and which ones needed work (or just plain needed to get out!)...

Another great (because I always have a hard time seeing enough artist-related stuff) talk was when writer Shutta Crum and Patrice Barton spoke about their road to making the picture book MINE!.. which has no text, and written as such. Very very interesting! It's like going to the art museum and having the artist there talking about how they made it, and showing sketches.

The final event of the conference was the First Impressions panel, where 5 or 6 of the guest agents, editors, artists looked at art/read 1st page of the story, and gave their thoughts in front of over a hundred people. For some reason, I never got an email about this and sent in my art late... I sent in the artwork from my postcard... which I told my students was a risk, because if they say it wasn't good, then EVERYONE knows it is on my postcards, and I have hundreds of postcards with sub-par art on them... sigh, I think I am a glutton for punishment. anyway, it didn't seem like my work was going to be talked about...Even Felicia got her piece critiqued:

Felicia Lilley's critique

 I just assumed too many people would have submitted their work: it does take some guts to have your story/art dissected in front of everyone.... but what better place to see it?

 and then...


holy crap.

Okay, two things:

1. I wish I had sat closer

2. I wish I had recorded what was said.

- I sat there and just waited for the punch to the gut: 

"wow, really?"

"this is awful"

"This artist should go back to stick-figure school"

"I can't believe this person thought people would enjoy this"

"I'm gonna be sick... who in their right mind would draw such a thing??"

But nothing like that was said. 

Instead things were said, like:

"I love when children's characters are scared... makes me laugh:

"It makes me want to know more: like what are these characters doing together?"

...and E.B. White said something about  "the arrows pointing to the dinosaur not being needed" 

...but overall, a great way to end the conference! I felt so relieved! It was like being on a roller coaster for the first time: It is a success if you just don't pee your pants.

I rode the high the comments gave me until I went to bed that night. And as if the gods were smiling upon yours truly, I found a place in Austin that had FRIED CHEESE CURDS!!!!!   (and nearby was a candy shoppe that had at least 30 kinds of salt water taffy!)

Val was merely a spectator: I ate most of them.

I can't help it: being from Wisconsin, there is a good chance my mom was 1/2 gouda, and my dad was most likely 1/3 aged cheddar.

Can't wait for the Houston conference in April!!! 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

FAN BOY ALERT: Jon Sciezka

I just got to see one half of my favorite author/illustrator team: I got to see Jon Sciezka speak at a local middle school! (his partner, artist Lane Smith is one of my favs).

...Didn't know i needed a number to wait in line, so ended up waiting for 2 hours to get my books signed:

Im such a dork.

I was actually asked when entering if I was him... Kids pretty much think all of us bald guys look the same :)

(I am starting to think a "thumbs up" theme is occurring)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Art sighting!!!

Josh gives his approval of the Casey Jones piece!

My friends Becky and Dan sent me a picture of where one of the works I did for my Halloween Draw-a-Thon ended up: On their son's wall :)

This makes me happy: and it looks like it is near another piece of art, which means it is in good company!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tom Sawyer process:

Okay, the following is the process for the Tomie dePaola contest... I will try and explain my thoughts as I go along:

Step 1: VERY rough sketch

Step 1: I actually had thought of doing some of the more iconic scenes for the book, including the fence painting, or the funeral scene... but after going through the book, I tried to select a scene where Tom uses his imagination (hence, it would give me the ability to use mine)... so I picked the scene where he imagines himself coming home in a variety of guises: Soldier, Indian and Pirate.

I imagined Tom's pirate idea as being much more elaborate, and thus having much more face time on the page. I though of the idea of using his soldier and indian idea in the sails on the pirate ship.

Step 2: Kinda Rough Sketch
Step 2: After taking my initial rough, I refined it, by making the character more round (so he would look less adult pirate, and more like a boy playing a pirate... I enjoyed the way he looked proportions and all, so instead of redrawing him like I would have done in the past, I used my new tracing table (which I don't know why I didn't buy it sooner... talk about a time saver!) I transferred the image.

Steps 1-3
Step 3: the image was transferred via tracing table: you can see the penciled version in the lower part.

Step 4: Inks begin
Step 4: I started to ink the work using India Ink, and planned on doing the values in Sumi ink. I really have fallen in love with using the brush. In the past, I used pen/ink only, and while I still enjoy that, I think brush gives it more or an organic and less of a mechanical feel (I have been accused of having a photocopy in my hands when I show a pen/ink work, because I keep my lines so tight).

Step 5: Inks continue
Step 5: I continue adding the ink, and dark areas. You can see the upper left that the soldier is not developed, because I didn't really know how to show him... I also laid down some frisket/masking agent to keep some whites from the ropes on the ship, highlights and some clouds... I also noticed the prow was viewed from the side, while the rest of the ship was viewed from the top. Damn you, perspective!!! 

Step 6: Sumi ink is laid down
Step 6: I laid down the sumi ink, trying to show a range of value, and embellishing forms.

Step 7: Add text
Step 7: I added the text. There were no limits on the layout of the book, so I laid it out with a horizontal idea in mind. There were numerous problems with this last step. My Photoshop program wouldn't save it, and the photo-merge feature wouldn't work.... Dumb technology. Overall, I am content with it on a scale of 7 out of 10. Most of the problems came in the last step here. That's it! Now to work on art for the upcoming Austin and Houston conferences!