Wearing Two Hats — writer/illustrator workshop

Last weekend the SCBWI Oregon chapter hosted a terrific 1-day workshop for writer-illustrators with Art Director Lauren Rille of Simon and Schuster. She was a great speaker and critique-er — her talk was highly entertaining (she cusses!), but packed with good information, and she pulled no punches when it came to critiquing our work. Her clear message was that the process of creating illustrations for a book is equal parts fun and difficult. It is a long, demanding process, and revisions and criticisms will probably continue long after everyone is ready to be done with this story and these characters. An illustrator must be prepared to revise and revise and revise, but the end result will raise the bar beyond what the illustrator thought he or she could do. A little daunting, but ultimately an inspiring perspective.

My favorite part of the day was the ‘intensive’ on character development. The key points Lauren emphasized were:

a) anatomy: even our tiniest readers are experts in looking at human bodies and faces, so even if we are creating exaggerated characters, they must be convincingly human (or anthropomorphic in the case of animal characters). Proportion, structure, and physical characteristics must be based in real anatomy even if the artist takes these elements beyond what real anatomy can do.

b) gesture: movement and body language tell so much story, sometimes very subtly. The illustrator’s challenge is to capture the gestures, subtle and extreme, that convey a character’s personality and energy.

c) emotion: characters’ emotions can be conveyed completely visually — the text may not include a word about it, but if the character shows emotion throughout his or her physical stance, facial expression, and attitude, the reader will totally get it. Pro tip: use those eyebrows!

Lauren had us do several exercises to try out these ideas. First we came up with a character:


After talking to us about gesture, she invited us to revisit that character and give him or her some energy through gesture:


In another exercise, she asked us to convey an emotion without showing the character’s face. We drew an emotion out of a hat —can you guess what mine was (answer below)? I found this pretty difficult, not sure how successful I was.



I was much happier with my results in the final exercise. Lauren had us draw 3 prompts from hats — physical attribute, action and emotion or attitude–combine them in one character and create a little narrative in 3 or 4 images. I wonder if you’ll guess what prompts I picked for this one?



I appreciated the nudge to draw something I never would have drawn on my own! The exercise really pushed me out of my own head space and freed me up to show my sense of humor. I cracked myself up while drawing these images, and I think the fun I had with it shows. Now I am hoping I can retain that silliness and energy when I refine these sketches and make a color set of playful nose-pickers for my portfolio.

Thanks to Barb Herkert, SCBWI Oregon, and Lauren Rille for a great day!

prompt 1 : happy

prompt 2: playful; coke-bottle glasses; nose-picking



Kids in Portland know how to dress. Some PDX grown-ups cultivate creative get-ups too (hipster credibility requires fun socks, at a minimum), but usually it’s the kids who take the cake. The look is more hipster-ragbag than NY runway, but it’s a far cry from the fleece and flannels that dominated the landscape of my youth.





Filling the well

I’m in my studio, anxiously awaiting feedback on a current project. Anxiety makes it difficult to focus productively on the various things I could be working on, so I decided  to shift out of anxiety mode by getting lost in some studio play.

I’ve had a yen to try my hand at sculpture for months now. I’ve never done much of anything 3-dimensional, but I guess the time has come to explore a bit. I think I want to try carving small sculptures at some point, but I had some air-dry clay on hand, and started playing with that before the holidays, making ornaments with my son. When I met with my critique group for our January retreat, we made some little figures from clay as a way to loosen up.


Today I made the pleasing abstract shapes below. When they dry I will paint them and string them together into a giant bangle, or maybe wind chimes if they make a pleasant sound. I made a little bowl, too, but I’m not so happy with that. I am still getting to know this material.


After that satisfying little exercise I moved on to painting. This is how I work when I am not making illustrations: big and messy. The painting below is a work in progress, started about 4 hours ago. I’d guess I’m half done. But I’m at that scary moment where I like my start and I am getting attached. Danger, danger! Don’t get attached. It’s bound to get uglier before it is complete and it takes courage to make a pretty start ugly. Courage and faith that I’ll be able to transcend the ugly and find a resolution that is deeper, more layered, more interesting than just pretty.



For the record, this painting is acrylic on 27″x27″heavy, handmade Khadi watercolor paper.