Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day from Super Jane

© Super Jane Smith • Bear Hug

Super Star Children's Book Review: El Deafo

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Cara Chow, Denise Holmes, Joan Charles, Sharon Calle—and I are so excited to be championing books celebrating everything from gender diversity, people of color, the LGBTQ community to ethnic, cultural and religious minorities, people with disabilities and developmental challenges to controversial topics, unique family situations and anything and everything I did not include. It is to say we take a rightfully board view of diversity! We aim to shine a light on books that bring both familiar experiences to those who do not often see themselves represented in books and new experiences to those looking to expand their worldview. Here at Bird Meets Worm we believe in the power of story to build empathy and thus a better world for you and me and everyone. Look for a new review on the second Wednesday of every month.



EL DEAFO
By Cece Bell
Graphic Novel/Memoir (8-12) • 248 pages
Published by Harry N. Abrams • 2014
ISBN 978-1-41-971217-3


My mother has a pretty sever hearing impairment. Growing up I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard her say “what” or how often she would mix up words like house and mouse. I was young and I didn’t understand why I had to repeat everything I said to her. I couldn’t put myself in her shoes, because I could hear. I learned to speak slower, mouth my words a little more dramatically and talk to her face to face. After reading El Deafo, I now have a better understanding of what she went through and I can sympathize with the frustration of never quite knowing what people are saying.

El Deafo is a witty and heartwarming graphic novel about the life of Cece Bell. It tells the story of Cece growing up in the 1970’s. She has to deal with going to a new school, making new friends (and sometimes frenemies!), awkward misread situations, first crushes—all while being the only deaf kid in her class.

Through Cece’s story we are given a glimpse into how she dealt with her impairment—from learning to be a detective of words, wearing hearing aids (the one she uses is called The Phonic Ear and it is enormous!), and how she handled the way people treated her. One way she coped was by seeing herself as a superhero—El Deafo.

El Deafo
is a very entertaining read with a great message for teaching children about empathy as well promoting awareness for people with disabilities. “Our differences are our superpowers.”

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Denise Holmes

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Kat Uno

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month. 

I’m tickled pink today to be catching up with the lovely Illustrator/Designer, Kat Uno! I just adore her sweet patterns and darling characters! Kat finds joy in creating images that bring happiness to others and her work features cute, fanciful creatures and motifs. Her earliest memories are of doodling away with crayons, poring over comic strips and watching cartoons. Her love for comics, cartoons, anime, and children’s books continues and is now joined with a new passion for modern art and textile designs. You can view more of her artwork here!

These cuties are almost to adorable to eat!!

Q: You are a rockstar at creating super cute, highly designed repeat patterns!!! Dish with us about your approach and process for making them—including your top 3 tips for fellow pattern designers.

A: I'm actually quite new to pattern designing! I started by taking a few Skillshare classes on the subject to learn the correct process of creating a design that repeats and went from there. I almost always start with the icons, or the small designs/pieces that make up the pattern. I then play around with placement until I create a repeat I'm happy with. My 3 tips for new pattern designers would be:

1 - Icons first, then the repeat. I believe that you can always create a decent looking pattern by having really nice icons, even if the repeat isn't the best. You can't really say the same about a great repeat with mediocre icons!

2 - Learn the correct techniques to creating a repeat! I used to muddle through trying to line things up by eye (which is not the best way of doing repeats). Use guides and the Transform panel to move things around precisely. Take classes for more in-depth tutorials! There is a wealth of knowledge online nowadays and I always encourage learning new things!

3 - I usually work in a perfect square. I know there are different types of repeats where you have to work in a different shape (like a rectangle or hexagon), but I like to keep things simple.

An overall recommendation I would give anyone who wants to get into pattern design is just to keep creating! Although I have numerous patterns in my gallery, I've only sold or licensed a handful at most, but I keep developing them because it's fun and I enjoy it! I never let money be my motivating factor to create art, otherwise I probably wouldn't create anything!

Oh, no!! Watch out, Little Red!

Q: You are a Hawaii-based artist—born & raised!! Give us the scoop on how Hawaii as both place & culture has influenced and inspired your artwork.
A: I've often felt that growing up in Hawaii was both a blessing and a curse in some ways when it came to my artistic development. I grew up on the island of Maui, which although beautiful, lacks many opportunities for experiencing art (plus I grew up in the age before the internet was so prevalent). Some of my main cultural and environmental influences are anime (Hawaii has a very big anime fan base) and the bright colors of the islands. My main early influences were comic books, cartoons and illustrated storybooks. I knew from a young age that I wanted to pursue a creative career, but I did not foresee the path I eventually took. I'm mainly self-taught, from drawing all the way to using Photoshop and Illustrator.

This might sound weird, but I've always envied people who live in the vast countrysides near large forests! I've never been in the woods or experienced a great forest and I've always wanted to! We have rainforests here in Hawaii (which I've never been in either) but I'd love to take a stroll in a fairy-tale like forest one day.

Ooo! Someone has her hands full!!

Q: As an illustrator/designer, you are represented by the Astound Agency. What are the challenges and the rewards of having an agent in your experience?

A: I'll be the first to say that having an agent and being represented by an agency really saved my career as an illustrator. I left a job I was very unhappy with without having a solid plan. I must admit submitting to Astound was truly on a whim and I wasn't even expecting to be accepted, but I was!

As for challenges, I really can't think of anything that has been challenging (concerning my agency), but the rewards are numerous. I have been working with big publishers and companies that I wouldn't have even dreamed of coming in contact with on my own. I personally am rather shy and I am thankful I have an agent to handle a lot of the business side of things (like setting up the contracts, negotiating the deals, collecting fees), which I don't feel comfortable with. If someone is interested in approaching an agency for representation here are a few tips:

- Check out the agency's website and see if your work meets the same quality standards as the current represented artists.

- Develop a well-rounded portfolio of at least 20 pieces and make sure they represent what you are able to do and what you want to do. For example, if you are really good at drawing horses, but want to pursue work in children's publishing, perhaps develop an illustration of a horse and person in a scene that is appropriate for children's books. Also, if you want to work mainly digitally, don't include too many traditionally drawn/painted pieces or else publishers/clients may think you are happy to work in those other mediums. I for one, work exclusively digitally, but my whole portfolio from college is all traditional media, so I never really show work from those days.

- Reach out to current artists that are represented by the agency to see if they enjoy their relationship with their agent. Most are really nice and forthcoming about their experiences.

- Don't get discouraged if you are rejected. This doesn't mean your work isn't good, it just may mean you are not a good fit for that particular agency. Also, don't be afraid to ask if they have feedback on your work. Most agencies are pretty open and will let you know how you can improve your portfolio. 

Under-the-Sea party time, anyone?!

Q: Tell us everything little thing about your most favorite projects: one from your past & one from your present.

A: Wow, it's really hard to choose a favorite project! I've been blessed in that most of my projects have been really fun and have turned out lovely. I will say, one project from my past that stands out is a series of educational materials I helped create back in 2005. This was a small start up company and I was the sole illustrator and designer. Over a 2-year period, I created illustrations for over 2000 pages of worksheet type activities for pre-K kids. Although overwhelming at times, this project was such a fun learning experience. I really honed my Illustrator skills during this time (having had little to no experience with the software previously) and I taught myself how to use InDesign as well.

Currently, my favorite projects are usually the board books I've been working on. I love doing board books, because they are targeted towards the youngest set of readers, so everything must be drawn cute! I also get to use very vibrant color palettes and I usually can experiment a little with technique and textures. My favorite part of any job is seeing the final printed/produced piece in my hands!

Q: What do you know now that when you first began your design & illustration career you wish you’d known about: Self-promotion? Work habits? The freelance life?

A: I think that I've learned to be a bit more patient with things in general. Working these projects takes time, whether it's waiting for the brief, getting feedback or more importantly, getting paid. You have to realize nothing comes instantly (no matter how fast you work or respond on your end!). You are constantly at the mercy of others!

Ever wonder what mermaids dream about...

I've also learned to be confident in my work and skills. Before I was signed on with an agency, self-promotion was akin to pulling teeth. I hated showing my work, I hated talking about my work, and I especially hated talking about my level of experience. To me it came off as braggy and it made me uncomfortable. Now I let my agency handle promotion and I just try to be myself with clients. My motto is, "always be polite and professional". I do my best to meet the needs of my clients and try to make the working experience positive for both of us. There is no better proof that you did a good job than when a client hires you a second time around (or third or fourth!).

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My normal Sunday's are mundane, but that is how I like them! I usually gather my two kids and we all go out as a family to do our shopping for the week. It doesn't sound like much, but I like the normalcy and just being together. Our weeks are usually a hectic mess of school, recreational activities, work and the like that having one day a week to stay home and relax is rather nice! Work does sneak in there from time to time (one of the drawbacks working for oneself), but overall we try to concentrate on spending the day together.

Thank you so much, Kat, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm!! We think you’re fabulous!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hello 2018

Hello 2018 • © Super Jane Smith

Super Star Children's Book Review: Undefeated

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Cara Chow, Denise Holmes, Joan Charles, Sharon Calle—and I are so excited to be championing books celebrating everything from gender diversity, people of color, the LGBTQ community to ethnic, cultural and religious minorities, people with disabilities and developmental challenges to controversial topics, unique family situations and anything and everything I did not include. It is to say we take a rightfully board view of diversity! We aim to shine a light on books that bring both familiar experiences to those who do not often see themselves represented in books and new experiences to those looking to expand their worldview. Here at Bird Meets Worm we believe in the power of story to build empathy and thus a better world for you and me and everyone. Look for a new review on the second Wednesday of every month.

                        

UNDEFEATED: JIM THORPE AND THE CARLISLE INDIAN SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM
By Steve Sheinkin
Nonfiction (ages 10-14) • 288 pages
Published by Roaring Brook Press • 2017
ISBN 1-596-43954-8


I’m about as far from being a football fan as you can get (full disclosure: I was in marching band in high school and even after attending every football game for four years, I still don’t know the rules or how the game is scored), but even I couldn’t put down this fast-paced, compelling book.

Undefeated tells the intertwined stories of Jim Thorpe, star of the Carlisle Indian School football team and legendary coach Pop Warner. These two larger-than-life figures, along with the other members of the school’s incredibly talented squad, forged the era’s “winningest” team, and along the way invented the modern game of football.

Threaded throughout the narrative is the sad history of our nation’s mistreatment of Native Americans. Thousands of young people were sent to so-called Indian boarding schools where they were forced to shed their languages, traditions, and even their Indian names in order to erase all links to their families and culture.

Far more than just a tale of underdogs, this book is exciting, sad, infuriating, and inspirational all at the same time. It stands as a true testament to the athletic prowess of Jim Thorpe and all the young men of the Carlisle Indian School football team who, against all odds, refused to accept defeat and fought their way to the top.

Buy this book:

Barnes and Noble

Independent Book Stores

Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Hilli Kushnir

Happy New Year & welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month. 

I’m thrilled to pieces to be kicking off the new year by chatting it up with the fabulous Illustrator/Designer, Hilli Kushnir! I’m a huge fan of her sweet style and friendly, lively characters! Hilli is a caffeine-addicted artist living in NYC, who specializes in children’s books and greeting cards. You can view more of her artwork here! 

Ooo! Can I pet you, little lamb?! So sweet!

Q: You have illustrated several fabulously adorable children’s board book series, including the Clap Hands Baby Books & the Baby’s Big World Series. Dish with us about the unique challenges of creating a series (verses a one-off title!) as well as how you approach developing characters and consistent design elements to tie it all together.

A: Aww, thanks for your kind words there! I think that as with everything, it takes a few pages to get the vibe going, and the longer you work on a project, the better you are familiar with it. The books that you mentioned are baby books, so pages did not have a very intricate scene and most of them had very few characters, so it’s generally simpler. What I like about a series of books is that exact familiarity—so even if you're working on 8 books and the process takes over a year, it's easy to dive into every book, because you already know what you're doing and have a style set up. Of course, that's also the disadvantage, that you are working in the same exact style for a long period of time, and if you change your mind about something or think "oh, I should have done this differently" it's usually too late. Also, sometimes you need a break from that and you want to do something completely different!

Right now I am working on a series for early readers called "This makes me Feel..." which teaches kids about dealing with their feelings, and unlike cute baby books, which is my comfort zone, these were more complex, longer (32 pages), and needed varied compositions, different view points and mood related color pallets. As always, the first book was the hardest, because it set the tone for the rest of the series, and I was not used to drawing kids in big groups or drawing adults altogether. Actually, the way we worked is that we did the covers and two color spreads, then had them approved, and then moved to doing the rest of the books in a more organized page by page fashion, which has a more natural flow. So now looking at the book, I could tell right away which pages were done first, because when you work on pages from start to finish, your characters kind of grows with the book, and I can see the difference between those initial pages, and the pages that were added on later. In terms of personal growth as I progress with this series (6 books, 4 completed) I become better, things flow better, and I feel braver about exploring new territories. That's definitely a great thing when you feel like you "own" your work and have a trusting collaborative relationship with your art director.

Uh, oh!! Don't cry over spilled milk, little guy! It's ok!!!

Q: You create a lot of super duper cute artwork for both children’s book publishing as well as for art licensing markets like greeting cards, puzzles and games. Give us the scoop on how publishing and art licensing are both similar and different.

A: I just love drawing cute stuff! I love creating characters that I would want to hug, so my work tends to fall into the kids territory, because my characters are young and cuddly. But the more I work and the more I'm exposed to work of other talents, past or present, the more I want to grow and try new things. Surface design is better for that, specifically greeting cards, because you get to experiment with whatever you want and see if that sells. It also allows you to express your humor and generate your own content. Clearly in a book, if you didn't also write it, you need to adhere to an existing manuscript and usually art directors would pick you based on books you have previously done, so there's less room for craziness there. In both industries, the more you work with people the more they trust your visual vision, and generally, that gives you more creative freedom. I find that for me, being primarily a book illustrator, the best is to work on a book and some cards (or prints) at the same time. With a book you need a break, and surface design gives you that break.

Q: What is a typical workday like for you? Set the scene (workspace, materials, accessories) and describe your responsibilities (art making, business stuff) and creative juju (rituals, inspiration, process).

A: I work from home and I work only digitally, so in terms of studio, my studio is a desk in my living room with some colorful books around me, a calendar I write deadlines and daily stuff I need to do (if I have a book, I break it down to pages per days but it never ends up being what I planned). After I send the kids to school I tend to procrastinate. I move slowly even after they're gone, with my coffee and would either go over to Instagram with my coffee in bed, or respond to messages that accumulated over night from different time zones. I get to actual work around 9 and start by replying to emails and figure out what I need to do that day and prioritize as needed. All the work that requires communication, planning, sketching and clear thinking needs to be done when I'm home alone. My kids are young teens and don't require constant attending, but even so I think best when no one is around. Writing these words for instance had to be done before they come back from school, because as a mom, there's always something you need to keep track of at the back of your head, and when they are away that's my time to dedicate my mind to something entirely. This is also the time of day, unfortunately, when I'd start thinking about all the stuff I need to buy online, so I don't get actually productive in terms of execution until the afternoon. Once I've already established my pencils, kids and other people are no longer an issue, so most of my coloring work is done in the afternoon and early evening. When I have tight deadlines I work at night, but it's not something that I like doing everyday. I also try to get to the gym during the week and that's done in the afternoon as well and is calculated into the work week so that I have long days and some shorter days. 

Adorable!! I wonder whose birthday it is?

In terms of inspiration, I use Pinterest a lot, mostly for vintage mid-century references and color palette ideas. Once in a while, when I feel I need some change, I would have a talk with myself and see if I would like to try some new style or topic, and set goals for the upcoming period. It gives me a better of sense of who I am and who I want to be. I'm not big on motivational slogans, so I try to come up with my own that will work specifically for me.

Q: Tell us all about your MOST favorite illustration project: one from your past and one from your present.

A: PAST—This is a sample I did for my agency, Astound. Before you get any books you need to generate a lot of work that looks like the book you wish you did. This is one of those sample. It's raw in texture and very minimal in color with a lot of use of lines and transparencies. There is something fresh and singular to me in that sample and I never managed to find the opportunity to recreate it. I'd love to do a book in that style.

PRESENT—I like the feelings series I mentioned before. I never before had to work on groups of kids interacting, and I really liked doing that, so here are a few examples because I can't chose.

It's so hot today, I kinda want the elephants to spray me!! Ha!

Q: What do you know now that when you first began your illustration career you wish you’d known about: art licensing? book publishing? business? self-promotion?

A: Here are a few thoughts:

     • As a woman: make your own money as soon as you can.

     • Sadly, unless you're a superstar or a self-marketing pro, art in itself is not as profitable as tech or corporate F/T jobs, so if you want to deal with art you need to know this.

     • I was a designer before and it took me a while to figure out what sort of illustration I want and am most equipped in doing. There are a ton of online classes available today that will give you a lot of information on your options as an illustrator, so try to take those right away.

     • Get an agent. Yes, they take 25-30% of your profit, which is always a hard pill to swallow, but they will, especially in publishing, get you clients of caliber that is nearly impossible to get by yourself. Then when you build a name for yourself you can think about what to do next.

     • Work hard at building yourself. Send everything you think is good to everyone and don't overthink it and don't take rejection personally. Most will say no, but someone will say yes. Eventually.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Sitting in my fire escape in a sunny 80 degree weather, my mind at ease with all project, reading a book.

Thank you so much, Hilli, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm!! We love your artwork!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Happy Holidays from Super Jane

© Jane Smith • Christmas Kitty