I do sketch from time to time. (actually, a lot) Sometimes I think my sketches have a little something that makes them worth sharing. Sometimes my sketches are so bad. I probably won't share the bad stuff here. But I will try to share some of what interests me, because I hope it will interest you.
I rarely commit to public writing or drawing events, because I don't like to announce to the world that I am going to do something when I know very well that I probably won't. I feel the same way about book groups--I just am never sure I can truly commit to reading that book that we are all going to talk about next month.
But, for some reason, this year I have decided to actually commit, yes, to this terrific picture book endeavor called PiBoIdMo. I, Jennifer K. Mann, will try my hardest to come up with THIRTY (maybe more) new picture book ideas before the end of November!
And I am off to a good start, because just by deciding to commit (personally and publicly) the ideas have been flowing in. I'm collecting the extras up front, because there will be more than a few days this month when I may be distracted with other responsibilities.
Now, you should know, there is no one checking to see that my ideas are good ones--I guess I will need to be the judge of that. I sure am hoping that there is at least one great idea among the many I hope to come up with. And even if all I have is a ton of not-so good ideas, at least I will have tried. Right?
You can find lots of information about PiBoIdMoand, and inspiration from guest bloggers at Tara Lazar's blog, here. Tara has created an amazing, supportive and inspiring community of writers and illustrators all in pursuit of the elusive perfect picture book idea. You don't have to be published to jump in--you just have to want to jot down thirty ideas for possible picture books before the end of November. If I can do it, you can do it.
Blogging is not dead! Not even close. In fact, I think it is on an upswing, and it is re-emerging smarter and more relevant than ever. Kind of like the picture book industry, after the last horrible recession.
Take for example this new blog, The Whatsits (to which I am a contributor). It is going to be a smart blog to follow, with lots of great posts about how these terrific children's book makers do their thing: Wendy Wahman, Ben Clanton, Kevan Attebury, Elizabeth Rose Stanton and me.
I posted on The Whatsits today about my virtual mentors: those masters of the picture book form, upon whom I have relied to teach me much of what I know simply by having books out in the world. Take a look! And check back there often.
I wish I could sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee with each one of you who pops in here now and then to see what I am up to. But that would be impractical, so instead I'll just catch you up right now with some of my current goings-on.
First, it is now public information that my picture book Two Speckled Eggs is a finalist in the Washington State Book Awards! Other finalists include my wonderful friends George Shannon, and Jennifer Longo. The thing is, there is no shortage of wonderful books being created in the State of Washington, so this feels like an amazing and exciting honor! You can read the list of finalists in every category here.
(Update! Update! Two Speckled Eggs won! Two Speckled Eggs was awarded the Washington State Book Award in the picture book category! You can read the press release here. I couldn't be more thrilled, and I am so grateful to the Washington State librarians and booksellers who read it and appreciated it, nominated it, and ultimately selected it. It just makes me want to work harder and create more worthy books. Thank you all!)
Not too long ago I turned in the final art for my next picture book to be published by Candlewick Press, due out in May of 2016. It's called Sam and Jump, and I am very excited about this book! I I can't wait to share some more of the art with you, but I'm not allowed to quite yet. I will tantalize you with the cover and one little morsel, however:
I'm currently working on illustrations for a picture book written by Allison McGhee, to be published by Boyd's Mill Press, titled Percy: Dog of Destiny. It features four high-action hounds and a sassy squirrel. I love dogs, and thankfully I have a couple of nutty ones myself to inspire me. You'll just have to wait a bit to see what's in the works for Percy and his pals. It's possible (but not definite, mind you) that someone in that story might look something like this:
Next weekend I will be a presenter at the SCBWI Inland Northwest Annual Conference. I think there might still be a spot or two remaining if you are interested in hearing me talk about how to analyze a picture book, or if you'd like to participate in a workshop on character design. Pressure's on though--I've heard they've had a record number of illustrators register for the conference this year. This is the first time I've presented at a conference, and I am pretty dang excited about it. I do really like talking to people about kids' books!
I've been noodling around with a stack of picture book ideas for my next project, and one of those ideas smacked me upside the head yesterday with a completely new twist that I actually think just might work, and that feels really exciting! (There is no feeling like it, as some of you may agree!) I pounded out the first draft yesterday afternoon, and then It disturbed my sleep--which is a very good sign. So hopefully more on that soon.
My picture book critique group, The Whatsits, is about to launch an exciting new blog! We are going to have a lot of fun catching you up and filling you in on all kinds of things relating to picture books. Keep your eyes peeled for the The Whatsits, which will be launching sometime next week.
Then lets see... My picture book I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard has garnered some very nice praise, plus mentions on kidlit podcasts and back-to-school round-ups and the like.
It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, a very sweet review from the Boston Globe, and the Wall Street Journal, a featured moment on John Schumaker's Watch Connect Read aka Mr Schu Reads, and a loving shout-out from Carter Higgins on Matthew Winner's terrific podcast, Lets Get Busy, and was part of an Amazon Editor's Picks for Back to School books. All of these, among other really nice mentions and reviews.
This book means a lot to me, as you've heard me say before, so it makes me feel great that it means something to lots of other people too.
That's a lot of news! It's been a fun and busy summer, and the fall is off to a really great start! I hope that's true for you too.
So, today I taught a really fun workshop to a bunch of really creative kids at the Bainbridge Island branch of the Kitsap Regional Library. It was a full house, with twelve bums in chairs doing the hard work of CHARACTER DESIGN!
I brought a stack of favorite books with wonderfully designed characters.
I loaded up a couple of tables with a lot of collage materials and markers and glue and scissors and hole punchers and string and stuff.
I talked for a minute or two about character design (clothes, hair, eyes, accessories, setting, backstory, size, shape, species, etc etc).
I asked them to think of themselves as characters--human, animal, whatever they thought was right. What could they express about themselves with a drawing or a collage or both?
I taught them how to use tracing paper to make patterns for cutting out collage materials to give their characters (or their settings) some, well, character!
And then I let the kids get making.
And make they did.
Their infectious creativity inspired me.
And two hours was not nearly enough for all the fun we had.
Blueberries taste like my childhood.
My mother and stepfather lived for most of my childhood in a magical house on a hilltop covered in wild blueberries. Fresh blueberry muffins were a summertime staple in our family.
I had a hankering yesterday for blueberry muffins, so I went looking in the one place that probably had just the right recipe.
My mom always saved her favorite recipes by writing them in the blank pages of her favorite cookbook, or stuffing them in its pages. First it was her Joy of Cooking. Then, when it disintegrated with use, The New York Times Cookbook. I am now the keeper of that particular treasure trove, and for the first time since she died, I dug it out to look for her favorite blueberry muffin recipe.
It was there as I hoped, along with a whole lot of other memories and feelings and treasured tastes.
I’ve got some cooking to do this summer.
People sometimes want to know: Just how long does it take to make a picture book?
And the answer, of course, is “it depends.”
How long it will take to create and publish a picture book depends, of course, on what you consider the start and the finish. If you start with that moment when you first had a little flash of recognition that you might have an idea that could be a picture book, and end with the day you see your idea as a glorious hard-cover, full-color picture book in your neighborhood bookstore—that might take as long as ten years. It did for me. It might take longer!
If you are both the author and the illustrator, it also depends on all of this: how long it takes to go from idea to story; how many times you are willing to write the same idea in different ways; how many times you are willing to share it with your critique group, at conferences, with teachers, with wise people, with your family, with friends, with publishing professionals; how many bad sketches you are willing to make; how many dummies you put together; how courageous you are; who you know; how the economy is doing; how patient you are; if you have an agent; how hard you work; how willing you are to scrap it all and start over; how many unpredictable bombs life throws your way; how determined you are to have your idea published!
Then, if after all of that, you are lucky enough to get your foot in the door, and actually sell your idea to a publisher, it depends on who your editor is, who your art director is, how long it takes to get the story details right, how long it takes to create the art, how long it takes to fix the art, how long it takes to get the cover right. And then it takes at least another year, because your book has to be proofed, and approved, transmitted overseas to be printed, and then it has to make its slow, leisurely way back to your favorite bookstore on the slow boat from China—literally.
Is it worth it? Totally. Take it from me, it's worth every short minute.
This particular book is really my first born, the one I learned on, even though it is the second to be published. It’s been a long journey to this day. Thanks go out to a million people who had anything to do with this book being published. But the following people played a direct role in making my dream come true, whether they know it or not: Patti Lee Gauch, SCBWI Western Washington, Margaret Nevinski, Dawn Simon, SCBWI Don Freeman Committee, Michael Stearns, Elizabeth Parisi, SCBWI International, Grace Maccarone, Holly McGhee, Elena Giaovinazzo, Kate Fletcher, Heather McGee, Kevan Attebury, Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Wendy Wahman, Ben Clanton, and my patient and supportive family.
Today is the release day for I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard. It takes a village, a team, a family, and a lot of good friends to make a picture book! Thank you all so much!
I can't tell you too much about this book yet because it's still a ways off from publication (June 2015 from Candlewick), but I am excited to share the cover of I WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS. BENSON'S BLACKBOARD.
This book has been a long time coming, so it really makes my heart beat to see it looking like the real deal. I actually have a paper proof of the jacket--flaps and all, plus the rest of the book--that I get to hold and fold and cherish. There is nothing like the feeling of those crisp, heavy, cool pages in my hot little hands--my book!
I'll have more to tell as I get closer to the actual publication date, but suffice it to say that if you went to Blueberry Hill Elementary with me, and we had the same second grade teacher, then this book is secretly for you. I would probably not be doing this neat thing I am doing now, if it were not for that memorable year. Great real stuff for a writer of fiction.
It's crazy but true!
From October 11-February 22, my picture book art will be featured in an exhibit of children’s book creators at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, including the amazing art of Julie Paschkis, Woodleigh Marx Hubbard, and Nikki McClure. Visitors will be treated to an unusual peak behind-the-scenes of picture book making, seeing up-close the stops and starts that each artist experiences on their way to creating beautiful books for children.
You'll will see some things of mine that have never before been seen in public---woo woo! Like this early study for Two Speckled Eggs:
There will some parties, and some gallery talks and some workshops, and you'll just have to check back here in the near future for all of the juicy details about those sorts of things.
I hope you'll make it to our lovely museum to see this unusual exhibit. It never costs a thing to visit the Bainbridge Island Art Museum.
Take a minute to read this wonderful post about the exhibit by Julie Paschkis, on the blog Books Around the Table, by clicking here.
Oh hello. Welcome to the Writing Process Author/Illustrator Tour!
I’ve tried to tidy up a little around the house and studio, but you may as well know--I put more effort into my children’s books than I do into housekeeping, so…just ignore the dog-hair dust bunnies, and those spiders over there are just part of the fabric of the place, literally.
You are here because I was tagged to join the The Writing Process Blog Tour by my good friend and critique partner Elizabeth Rose Stanton, who you will know as the creator of the amazing Henny. A big thanks to her for passing the baton to me. It's always good to have a reason to tidy up!
Beth and I have a crazy amount of stuff in common, including these three things: we both have degrees in architecture, we are both married to architects, and we both assign human-qualities to our favorite white chickens!
On to the tour!
What am I currently working on?
I just launched my first book as an author and an illustrator, which is really over-the-moon exciting!! It's published by Candlewick, a fact which causes me to pinch myself on a daily basis.
TWO SPECKLED EGGS has been quietly promoting itself while I finish up the final art for the next book of mine that Candlewick is willing to publish, which I will tell you about in a minute. TWO SPECKLED EGGS is above all a friendship book, but it is also a birthday book, and it’s a teeny bit autobiographical. It is about a girl named Ginger, whose long anticipated birthday party goes awry, as they often do. The day is saved by Lyla Browning, the one girl Ginger didn’t even want to invite in the first place.
I hope to hit the road this summer and do some real promoting of this book! A few story-times here and there, and some school visits in the fall, reading TWO SPECKLED EGGS to willing listeners.
If you happen to see this book out in the world, send me a photo! Or better yet, buy it, and send me a photo!
The book I am finishing up for Candlewick right now is called I DEFINITELY WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS BENSON’S BLACKBOARD, (or STAR as we call it when we are in a hurry). It is about a day-dreamy child called Rose, who just can’t get on the same page with her rather teacherly teacher.
They do eventually find common ground, but not until Rose has a day or two that would send most of us back to bed. If you happened to be in my second grade class at Blueberry Hill Elementary School, you might know which teacher inspired this tale.
Here are some of Rose's (tidier, more focused) classmates:
I wish I could show you more from I DEFINITELY WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS BENSON'S BLACKBOARD, but it is all super top-secret, guarded by three-headed dogs. Unless you come to my house--then I could show it to you, and we could have cake and tea, while the three-headed dogs loll around in the sun. STAR is due out just about a year from now, so keep an eye out for it during the spring or summer of 2015.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is such a hard question. I see that Mike Curato also thinks it is a hard question. Hmm, well… I think my work is somewhat different because I am utterly untrained in the area of writing for children, and illustrating for children. Sometimes I feel I am just swinging my pencil with my eyes closed, hoping the ideas hit the paper and not the wall. Not really-- I mean I went to college. And I got a masters degree in architecture. So I have practiced writing and drawing from time to time. But creating books for children is not writing papers on the French Revolution, nor is it drawing window framing details. So when I am really banging my head against the wall because I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-doing, I remind myself that my lack of training means that my work is fresh, and unique, and all mine.
Why do I write what I write?
My favorite stories to write are the ones that spring pretty directly from an emotional memory from my childhood. I’ll remember a time when I felt that I was the victim or the perpetrator of an injustice, and just how that felt at age four or five or six or seven--and then I have a story. The more I access memories of my childhood, the more I have access to them—just last week I woke up with a vivid memory from a challenging time in my family when I was very, very young. It’s now at the top of my list of future book ideas.
How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?
I can’t really say how my writing process works, because it is still a mystery to me. I just write whenever I can, and especially when a not-ignorable idea pops into my head.
And I am growing as an illustrator, so each project is just a little different from the last.
But, once I am really excited about a story, and I have fleshed out the text for a bit, then I start doodling and pretty quickly hash out images for various scenes on rolls of architectural tracing paper (cheap, plentiful, and not at all intimidating). I tear it off and mound it up, and before you know it I am on my way with a sketch dummy!
My final art process for these first books has been a somewhat complicated and labor-intensive combination of traditional drawing and painting, and digital collage. And I do it this way out of fear. Yep. Here it is—I am fearful of committing to a final composition that is not 100% changeable. And glue dries hard and fast and is not at all flexible. So I do all of my collage-ing in Photoshop, which allows me to change everything (almost) right up until the minute I have to commit to making it a PDF that I can send to my book designer. (Ha! There, I named my fear publicly, now maybe it will go away.) Sometimes I do have to go back to the very beginning, and redraw and rescan and repaint and rescan and recollage, but mostly I have total flexibility in this process, and I like it that way. (But, I think my current, secret, work-in-progress may be different, which I guess makes sense, but different in a different way, if you know what I mean) Sometimes I add in photographs or collaged textures that I have created or found on the internet (only the ones that are available for download without copyright!).
which is about the funniest, most optimistic chicken you will ever meet. Sarah and I know one another from an author/illustrator retreat that we like to go to in the middle of the winter in Vermont. She's got a sense of humor a lot like Warren's.
Laurie is the creator of the very soon to be released (September, 2014) BE A CHANGE MAKER-HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS
and two exciting non-fiction picture books: Emmanuel’s Dream , and My Dog Is the Best, both launching in 2015 (January and May, respectively). Laurie and I are a part of the cohort that calls itself The Advisory Committee of the Western Washington SCBWI, and we’ve known one another for quite some time.
Enjoy the rest of the tour, and come back to visit any time!
Um. Yes, it's me!
This very short video is a from a series, called Five Questions (Plus One), that Candlewick is doing with some of their authors and illustrators. They asked me five surprise questions (plus one), and I answered them!
I think I like public speaking better than video speaking. But I also think the good people at Candlewick did their best to make me look at least presentable.
The problem with speaking in public without notes, and trying to say something factual, is that you might just get the facts wrong. That is just what I did at both of my book launch parties, when I tried to tell people about a very round-about source of inspiration for my just released picture book, Two Speckled Eggs! I was trying to tell them about the movie Shortcuts, directed by Robert Altman, an adaptation of nine short stories by Raymond Carver. Instead, I said the movie was directed by Jim Jarmusch (a fantastic director by the way), and was an adaptation of short stories written by Robert Altman. Wow, so wrong. I think my brain scrambled itself under the bright lights. That must be it.
But hey, anyway, if you ever want to know just how round-about this inspiration was, let me know and I’ll tell you over a cup of coffee. The explanation is too long and boring to put here. But the excellent story in question is here, in case you want to read it.
It's a long journey from dream to publication, but the day has almost arrived! Two Speckled Eggs, the first book that I have both written and Illustrated, goes on sale on April 22, 2014!
If you are in the Seattle area, come have some cake with me at Secret Garden Books in Ballard on April 22, at 7 pm, or Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island, on April 27 at 3 pm.
I'll be very happy to see you!
This fella, along with several other of my elephant monotypes, is hanging at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts gallery this month.
People ask me, "So, do you have a thing for elephants?" And I think they want me to say, "Why yes, the elephant is my totem animal, and I see it as symbolic of the threshold between...." well, you know what I mean. But really...
I just have a thing for this guy, who is the model for all of my elephant monotypes, which are really just about making marks with printing ink on a plate and sending it through the press. Really. This little elephant must have been carved by someone who loves elephants the same way I do. I picked him up in a shop filled with well-curated junk--my favorite!
Here are a couple more of my elephants:
I think they all look like they are on the move. Aren't we all?
This is just a little color study for my current picture book project. I do this at the very beginning of the painting phase, so I don't get in trouble farther down the road. I'll pin this up for reference, and do the same thing for all the other characters!
I really love her work, and so I was tickled to come across this very sweet little video about the making of her book What is a Child. Worth a peek, especially if you are an illustrator and love to see how others do it! True inspiration.
Every now and then I find my way to the printmaking studio of my friend Wendy Orville, and I spend my time making stuff like this. Cathartic messy wonderful monotype printmaking! A small collection of my moody pachyderms will be on display at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery during the month of March, along with the work of several other talented printmakers, including my talented friends Karen Cornell and Tracy Lang. Opening festivities are this coming Friday March 7, 6-8. Stop by and have a look!
Okay, this will be quick. But it's good lesson.
A few minutes ago, I was working on a drawing that features a lot of laughing people, including a teacher. I was really unhappy with the way the teacher's body language looked. (I find adult body language somewhat harder to capture than kids'.) So, on a whim, I grabbed my copy of William Steig's Shrek, flipped through the many pages of expressive body language that Shrek uses, and voila! I found a laughing Shrek. Just what I needed to improve my own sketch of a laughing teacher. Better, yes?
Keep your mentors at your side at all times, people!