I love getting ready for the annual big night. . . catching a ferry into Seattle. . . the nervous energy. Will they like it? Will I embarrass myself? Each year we have the opportunity to have our work reviewed by a published author/illustrator with insider knowledge of what works and does not work for children’s literature portfolios. Having come out of teaching Digital Painting and Concept Art for the video game industry, my portfolio after retirement was generally not geared towards children. So I joined the SCBWI and started attending the monthly meetings and conferences.
It was an eye opening experience to have my portfolio shredded for not fitting in at all. And the most problematic was my tendency to wander around through different styles. Also the use of photo reference was apparently a big no no. Generally this could be attributed to the fact that my portfolio was largely built from Digital Art and Concept Art class demonstrations, so a variety of styles was more advantageous to the students. So I buckled down and began the process of finding an appropriate style and more importantly a consistency from image to image.
Year One looked like this:
These images were fairly well received in terms of digital painting skills, but the subject matter and variances in style were a major roadblock.
These were fairly well received, but the general consensus was that “team” work was not acceptable. The backgrounds were designed by Jason Nelson and the characters by Rachel Teigrob Willis. I art directed and did the painting. This type of team work is a given in the animation and game arts industries that I had been teaching in, so it had not crossed my mind that it would be discouraged for children’s publishing Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed, but left determined to come up with a style that was all me.
After licking my wounds a bit, I sat down with real pencil and paper and determined to start drawing my own characters. This may seem strange for someone in their 50s, but I only drew animals and landscapes, even as a child. I never imitated cartoon and comic book characters for some reason. The truth was my eyes were fixed on the backgrounds of every cartoon or animation I watched. I had little interest in what the characters were doing. But that excuse was not serving me any longer so I started the painful journey of drawing characters.
After one month, I had enough to head into Seattle for the Great Critique. My crit group leader was Richard Jesse Watson, who I admire greatly! When he looked at the pieces and said, “New Yorker” I was surprised and thrilled even though that was obviously not going to work for children’s art. But it did give me the proverbial wind in the sails to keep drawing. And draw I did! Day after day, week after week and the sketches stacked up going past a full ream of paper.
Next Step. . .
I tried so many different styles, trying to discover something that I enjoyed but was also appropriate for children. At some point my designer son suggested I take a look at dribbble.com to see the retro and graphic style illustrations that were currently popular. I played around with it and at the April 2012 SCBWI-WA annual conference Master’s Class, I received a great review from Scott Magoon and Lucy Cummins, New York publishing house art directors!
Again I was thrilled, but this time the problem was me. I did not love it! I was beginning to realize that I love soft edges and textures, muted colors and gentle images. So, back to the drawing board.
I bounced around within a general direction on my quest during the remainder of 2012. . . from retro country kids and little cowboys. . .
to women in period dress. . .
to men in top hats. . .
to female elves with big hair. . .
and various women, girls. . .
and a princess here and there. . .
But the winner is:
And this was my mother’s bright idea! I mentioned that I needed more animals in the batch, to which she replied that perhaps I could put animals in period clothing, too. And so I did.
I believe that the pages of polar bear sketches were due to the coca-cola napkin handed to me with my ginger ale on a delta flight. It was pure white with just two black eyes and a black nose. And while I think colas in general are not great for the body, the napkin was captivating as a design piece.
As I sketched the group above I laughed that the nanny was being invited to join the family at The Great Exhibition, and that Papa Bear might be just a bit too fond of her. Most likely the result of too many hours of British period dramas on Netflix. I, along with everyone else, have been captivated first by steampunk several years ago, then period dramas covering the victorian era as well as the coinciding war in the states. I will be hanging out in this time period for the year, so let’s hope I will create a passel of pictures of polar bears, and their pleasantly genteel friends.