Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Dalai Lama, Meadow Soprano, and The Fonz Walk Into a Bar. . .

Photo credit: kopp0441 on Flickr

I follow the Dalai Lama on Twitter. The other day Twitter kindly suggested I might also enjoy following Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Henry Winkler because of my interest in the Dalai Lama.

Meadow Soprano, The Fonz, and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. They totally belong in the same club, don’t they?

My curiosity was piqued. For all I know, maybe Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Henry Winkler are spiritual, inspirational tweeters. So I did a comparison study:

“From the first day of our life until our last breath, the very foundation of our existence is affection and human wrath.” (Dalai Lama)

“The fog is lifting here in Boston. . . I can my shoes now” [sic] (Henry Winkler)

“Barbara Streisand by Duck Sauce. This song gets me every time.” (Jamie-Lynn Sigler)

Ah, yes Twitter! I can see the similarities here. They all, umm. . . use vowels! And also consonants. So they have that in common.

But while comparing these tweets I thought of a great game idea. Who wants to play. . .

[insert canned applause and flashing lights]

Okay, everybody, who tweeted the following?

1. Working on my video budget. Man, this economy--do you have any idea how much meat dresses are going for these days??

A. Dan Santat
B. Lady Gaga
C. Weird Al Yankovic

2. When life gives you a lemon, say thank you. I mean, you just got a free lemon.

A. Nathan Bransford
B. Jimmy Fallon
C. Tina Fey

3. Dear Person Who Graffitied Inside The Urinal at the University Library: The earth contains so many surfaces. Choose better. Yours, John.

A. John Stamos
B. John Green
C. John Malkovich

4. A simple way to insure that a missing object isn’t always the last place you look for it: keep looking after you’ve found it.

A. Martha Stewart
B. Mo Willem’s Pigeon
C. Judy Blume

5. NINJAS. . . YESSSSS!!!!!!!

A. Charlie Sheen
B. The Dalai Lama
C. Kanye West


Answers: 1. C, 2. A, 3. B, 4. B, 5. C

Share |

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Barbara Dee

Today we are stepping inside the workspace of Barbara Dee, author of the middle grade novels Solving Zoe, This is Me From Now On, and Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life. Her latest novel, Trauma Queen, was published this month by Alladin M!X:

"Every tween girl knows what it's like to have a mom who can be a little embarrasing at times. But for Marigold, it goes way beyond embarrassing. Marigold's single mom is a performance artist, meaning she stages dramatic, wacky performances to express her personal beliefs. Things like wrapping herself in saran wrap for a piece on plastic surgery, or inviting people over in the middle of the night to videotape her sleeping. In fact, Marigold's mom's performances caused such a ruckus in their last town that the two of them, along with Marigold's little sister, have just had
to move. Now Marigold's starting a new school, missing her best friend like crazy, and trying to fit in all over again in the shadow of a mom who's famous for all the wrong reasons. As if that's not bad enough, Marigold's mom takes on a new job--teaching drama at Marigold's school! Now all the kids know instantly just how weird her mom is, and Marigold's worried she'll never be able to have a friendship that can survive her mother."

To learn more about Barbara Dee and her books, visit her website and her blog.

Describe your workspace.

Controlled chaos. I have a small computer desk in my bedroom overflowing with books, folders, writing pads, more books, gum wrappers, post-its, scraps, and assorted pens. Every once in awhile I get it organized, but then I can’t find anything.

Describe a typical workday.

Get kids off to school, go on treadmill, shower, answer emails, write until kids come home, talk to kids, run errands, write a little more (maybe), make supper, answer more emails, make supper for husband, watch TV, crash. I’m not much of a sleeper, so I’m always hoping for a few solid REM cycles.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

On the wall I’m facing as I write there’s a poster titled “Westchester Writes for Kids—2006–07.” A local library had gathered many of the kid lit authors and illustrators who live around here, and had us pose for a group photo. My first book, Just Another Day in my Insanely Real Life, had just been published, and it amazed me to find myself posing with people like Dan Greenburg, Jean Van Leeuwen, Peter Sis, and Jerry Pinckney. Whenever I feel discouraged, I like to look at this poster because it reminds me just how lucky I am.

I also like to look at a photo of my kids when they were little. And I’m very attached to my Yankee Stadium mouse pad, because I’m very attached to the New York Yankees.

What do you listen to while you work?

The sound of my two cats purring.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I chew a lot of sugarless spearmint gum, occasionally getting something fruity into the rotation. I also drink a lot of herbal tea—green tea with mint, peach passionfruit, mango chamomile. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, I eat cookies. They have to be chocolate, or they don’t work.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I try to ignore the phone. It’s so hard, because friends know I’m usually at home during the day, and sometimes they want to chat. But once I start chatting on the phone, I lose focus, so I try to be strict about my work hours.  

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I can only write on a computer, because I’m a big fan of the “delete” button! If I wrote longhand, all the erasures and insertions would make the manuscript unreadable. 

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I wish I was one of those authors who use an outline, but I’m not. I’ve tried it, and it just doesn’t work for me—I end up fleshing out the outline so much that it stops being an outline. What feels best is just letting the story take me where it wants to go. There’s something very liberating about that approach—when it works. When it doesn’t, it’s so incredibly inefficient.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

My wonderful editor, Liesa Abrams. She has a great sense of humor, so I’d be able to ask her if things work. Also, she has an amazing collection of Batman paraphernalia, which I wouldn’t mind adding to all the stuff on my desk. 

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Don’t write what you KNOW. Write what you FEEL.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Ken Min

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is illustrator Ken Min (pictured at left in his last officially sanctioned photo). Ken's debut picture book, Hot Hot Roti for Dada-Ji (written by F. Zia) was recently published by Lee and Low Books. From the publisher, 
"Aneel’s grandparents have come to stay, all the way from India. Aneel loves the sweet smell of his grandmother’s incense, and his grandfather, Dada-ji, tells the world’s best stories.

When he was a boy, adventurous, energetic Dada-ji had the power of a tiger. Hunh-ji! Yes, sir! He could shake mangoes off trees and wrangle wild cobras. And what gave him his power? Fluffy-puffy hot, hot roti, with a bit of tongue-burning mango pickle. Does Dada-ji still have the power? Aneel wants to find out—but first he has to figure out how to whip up a batch of hot, hot roti.

Overflowing with family, food, and a tall stack of fun, Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji is sure to warm the heart and tickle the tummy. Hunh-ji! Yes, sir!"

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji earned a starred review from Kirkus who wrote, "Min echoes the narrative’s exuberance with bright, blocky acrylic scenes of an Indian family in Western surroundings. . . . A natural for reading aloud, laced with great tastes, infectious sound effects and happy feelings."

You can learn more about Ken by visiting his website and blog at

And now let's step into Ken's studio! 

(The Ken Min disclaimer: "Some aspects of this photo-documentary may have been reconfigured or cropped so as not to portray the inhabitant as a possible candidate for the show Hoarders.")

A friend gave me a large light box that can be propped at different angles. As I draw and refine my sketches, the box has become an invaluable tool. But, since it's so big, I also tend to just do all my drawings on it because there is nowhere I can set it aside.

Describe your workspace.

I work primarily out of my bedroom in an apartment, which I share. So, "cozy" would be a good word to describe it. But I like the fact that I don't have to commute to work like I used to back when. Don't have to brave that LA traffic.

Because space is rather limited in my room, the box also doubles as the place I paint. I drop my painting board on it but to keep the board from sliding off, I use a couple of erasers to hold it in place. It's an odd arrangement, but it works for me.

Describe a typical workday.

I'm generally up by 7am. From there I like to read the newspaper. Yes, "paper". I like the feel of printer's ink on my fingers. I'm rather old-fashioned that way. Need to keep up with my sports teams, the entertainment page, and comics. (Oh, Cul de Sac, you kill me.) I'll stretch and exercise after that. (If I don't work out then, it's a lost cause, as the day gets long.) Afterwards, I'll have breakfast while surfing the net for a bit; catching up with emails, favorite blogs, Facebook, etc. I try and get the art part going by 10am. If I'm painting, I can really focus in and keep at it till around 6pm. (Minus lunch around noon) After dinner, if there is something I didn't complete for the day, I'll come back to it then. The next day--lather, rinse, repeat.

The tools of the trade. My painting pan, brushes, water cup, color pencils, pens (if I need them), sharpener and my favorite cup that reads, "My 2 favorite teams are USC and whoever is playing UCLA".

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

I like working in traditional medias. Acrylics and color pencils being my favorite and my primary tool right now. I've dabbled in watercolors and some gouache but I keep coming back to acrylics.

Lately, I've been doing color work on a graphic novel for a friend, which is going to be published by Chronicle Books. Here, I've had an opportunity to "paint" using Photoshop, which has been an interesting experience. Just getting a feel for what I can do on it (and of course, loving to delete mistakes without ruining the whole piece). It's been fun and I can see why a lot of people gravitate towards it, but I still like getting my hands dirty and having an actual, original "hardcopy" at the end of the day.

The computer station (when I need it)
1. The laptop and monitor
2. One will rarely ever find a picture of me. If there is a camera about, I go the other way. Recently a friend made a birthday card of me as a sort of paper doll with different moustaches to affix to it. This is the "Capt. Hook".
3. Post-its. Lots of post-its. I write lots of notes to myself and being a visual person, I need to 'see' my notes around me. None of this having to reach for some electronic organizer to look up memos. I would just forget to read my organizer.
4. My trusty wacom tablet. Going strong for 10 years now.
5. A lampshade I need to paint for a charity event. If anyone has any suggestions on subject matter, I'm open to it.
6. A check! Now I can pay the rent. Woohoo.
7. Mom
8. My scanner. Which also doubles as a nightstand for my nightly reading material.
9. Invariably, I have a lot of reference material around me. Here is a stack of comics for color ideas on the graphic novel I'm coloring.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

Hmm, this is kind of a hard question for me. I don't know if I really have 3 favorite things per se. My biggest pleasure comes from my collection of books. They are a great source of inspiration and reference for me. If I'm having a hard time coming up with a composition, I'll look at some books to spark an idea. Or if I'm having a hard time thinking of a color combination, I like to flip through a book. It's also nice to be able to scan the shelves and then light up on a title that I might not have looked at in awhile, but remembering that there might be something in it that will inspire me.

What I could do is name 3 of my favorite books. One would be George Shrinks by William Joyce. It is because of this title that I really started looking at what was happening in children's literature today and it made me think that I would like to work here. The next would be my treasury of Ezra Jack Keats’s stories because I came across this book and it really gave me ideas on how I would like to approach my art--the clean lines and textures playing within the color fields. The last would be any copy of a "Calvin & Hobbes" book for its humor, sentimentality, interesting compositions, and characters.

Book addiction?!? What book addiction?
A close up on my children's book collection. This area probably constitutes 80% of what I have.
Another angle on them. If anyone recognizes a favorite title, sound off.
This set of books represents the ones I keep near my table. When I'm writing, I like to read a book to get my head in the right mind space. Some just have pretty pictures of a mood I like to achieve.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

When faced with a particularly daunting piece or just something I haven't totally figured out but know the first few steps, I like to say a little prayer to myself. It calms my nerves and collects my thoughts.

One of the artists that inspired my style is Charley Harper and I found these game pieces with his images on them. It's like that match game where the tiles are upside down and you have to guess and match the same two images. Anyways, I like having them nearby to look at for color ideas.

What do you listen to while you work?

I don't imagine you get this answer very often, but I like to listen to sports talk radio during the day. I'm a big sports guy and like to keep up with how my home teams are doing and what the scuttlebutt is going around. (Does this kill any "art cred" I might [or might not] have had? :) ) Tho, on weekends when I'm working, I will play music from iTunes. My favorites lately have been Pete Yorn, Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis, Shawn Colvin, Liz Phair, and because she sparked a good painting groove some time back--Belinda Carlisle. (Yeah, I'm that old.)

A lot of files of story ideas, postcards I've collected of friends & art I like and yes, that is a VCR. (I'm really that old.)

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I'm not a huge snack person while I'm working, but I will say I prefer salty snacks compared to sweets. So chips, pretzels, etc. are good. And water . . . why do I feel as if I just described myself like an inmate?

Little known fact, it actually does get cold in LA. Enough so that I will break out the space heater to keep my toes warm. (And yes, those are more books. Really, I don't have a problem . . .)

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Once I get going on a painting, I can find myself in a zone. It's a great place to be in. There's no sense of "time" and the rhythm is smooth especially if the art is going well.

One of my favorite children's book illustrators is William Joyce. This is a print from the dinner scene in A Day with Wilbur Robinson. I'm also a big comic book guy and this is an ink drawing done by Darwyn Cooke.

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

I guess, finding an interesting composition. It's got to tell the story--simply--first, but if it can have an interesting angle or perspective to it or a creative solution, so much the better. In fact, I would say, the composition needs to be the most thought out and the tightest aspect of your piece. If not, than it's a lost cause before it's even begun and the end result will generally reflect that. I probably spend the most amount of time with the sketch (or rather, numerous sketches) finding it and refining it cause that, to me, is the whole battle. Once you have a really good line drawing in hand, the rest is easy as pie.

Some fun knick-knacks from around the room. And no, these items are not microscopic in size if compared to that paper clip. That paper clip is 13" long.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

When I started out learning about the children's book market, I met some people who were also new to the field. We formed a critique group where we would share our projects and story ideas. I've known them a long time now and we all have an easy (and rather silly) rapport and I think it would be a pleasure to share more time with them. (Tho, I don't know if we would get any work done. :)

What is the best piece of illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

This thought probably was directed more towards the children’s book field as a whole, but would also apply to a career in illustration. While attending one of the SCBWI Summer Conferences, I sat in on one of Steve Malk’s workshops and he said a lot of great things but the two that I remember best are, “Be patient, don’t get discouraged” and “Enjoy the ride. Your passion will carry you through. Good things will happen.”

Share |

Monday, April 11, 2011

Celebrating Birthdays, Awesome Indie Support, and Getting Loud

One of America's most treasured children's book authors is celebrating her 95th birthday tomorrow: Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary! In addition to being her birthday, April 12 is also National Drop Everything and Read Day (D.E.A.R). D.E.A.R Day is about encouraging families to make a commitment to reading together on a regular basis. Ramona Quimby became the spokesperson for the program after it was featured in Ramona Quimby, Age 8, which is why it is celebrated on Beverly Cleary's birthday. All you have to do to participate is drop everything and read for 30 minutes of your day. (Well okay, if you twist my arm. . . )

The New Your Times has a great profile on Beverly Cleary. I love this bit from the article:
What ultimately drove her to write for children, she recalled, was a book she noticed when she had a job in a children’s bookstore in the 1940s. In it, a puppy said: “Bow-wow. I like the green grass.”

“No dog I had ever known could talk like that,” Cleary said. She wondered once again, as she frequently had while working as a children’s librarian, “What was the matter with authors?”

Dan Santat, illustrator extraordinaire (who allowed us into his studio for Creative Spaces last summer), has come up with a really cool idea that simultaneously helps promote his new book AND supports his local independent bookstore. For his graphic novel Sidekicks, publishing this summer by Arthur A. Levine Books, he is offering a Limited Edition set if you purchase through his website by June 1. Included in the set is a signed hardcover copy of the book, a mystery unpublished art print, and The Domesticated Four, a downloadable PDF that features 60 pages detailing the evolution of this graphic novel. Sounds pretty cool right? And the way all this will support an independent bookstore is that Dan will be buying the books himself from his local indie bookstore. Really, it sounds like a win/win/win scenario to me: the bookstore gets business from customers outside their normal circle (for example me, who lives in Colorado and would not normally be shopping in a Los Angeles independent bookstore), Dan gets a strengthened relationship with his local indie, and you and I get to support both artist and indie while receiving cool extra features we couldn't otherwise get. If you'd like to learn more, go here to read more about Dan's rationale in coming up with this idea or if you're already on board go here to buy the Limited Edition Sidekicks set.

And a very LOUD happy book release to Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska (two more brave individuals who shared their workspaces for Creative Spaces here and here)! You might know the duo from their bestselling 2010 picture book The Quiet Book. The follow up companion The Loud Book is now available for sale and to celebrate, Houghton Mufflin Harcourt is running a contest with the grand prize being a piece of original art by Renata Liwska. (Plus 25 runner-up prizes of signed copies of the book). You can go here to enter in the drawing. Deborah and Renata are not only celebrating their latest book release but also the news that The Quiet Book was recently named an E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor Book winner. It looks like they have another read-aloud crowd pleaser in The Loud Book, as evidenced by this baby (video and baby belong to "Everyday Reading" blogger Janssen): 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Need Your Creative Spaces Fix?

No Creative Spaces interview today, but if you're needing a fix I have three book recommendations for you:

This book gives a wonderful insight into the working lives of some of the most lauded and beloved illustrators of children's literature. Eric Carle, Tomie dePaola, Steven Kellogg, Rosemary Wells and others each share a letter about how they became an artist, a self-portrait, photos of their workspace, and artwork both past and present. If you enjoy the Creative Spaces interviews, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal by Leonard Marcus

This book was published to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal and profiles Robert McCloskey, Marcia Brown, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Chris Van Allsburg, and David Weisner. The text covers a bit of each artist's background and then a detailed account of the creation of one of their Caldecott winning works (most of these artists have won multiple Caldecott medals, and all of them have also received Caldecott Honors throughout their careers). The accompanying art shows the progression of the art from sketches and dummies to finished art.

The Writer's Desk by Jill Krementz

I think this book may now be out of print, but I was able to find a used copy online. (And, of course, there's always the library.) Jill Krementz is a photojournalist well known for her author portraits and this book offers portraits of close to 60 well-known writers in their workspace, accompanied by a short excerpt from each writer about their creative process. The introduction is written by John Updike.

The excerpts are brief, some straight-forward, some conversational, a few bizarre. The photos offer varied experiences. Sometimes you feel as if you are walking down a hallway past the writer's room, catching them in a true moment of their day. Like Willie Morris who is caught mid-reach, boxes of clutter in the foreground, a cast-off magazine and papers at his feet, and a white cat huddled on the carpet. Some writers are obviously posed, a smile or stare directed at the camera. And others look deliberately staged, like Veronica Chambers sitting cross-legged on her kitchen counter typing on her laptop, which underscores a point she makes in her written excerpt. (Of course every photo is staged, really, as every writer must be aware of Jill Krementz there with her camera.)

The book is a wonderful tease because the photos and commentaries invite questions you won't get answered. Did Eudora Welty always sit that far away from her typewriter? What are those papers Lewis Mumford has clipped to his wall? Was John Cheever really a two-pack a day smoker or had one of those packs been there for a while? (Or were they intentional props?) Is it coincidence that John Irving has on his desk a copy of Closing Time by Joseph Heller, another of the authors profiled?

But that's the fun for me, the wondering more so than the answers, and my curiosity is raised with every turn of the page.