Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Super Star Children's Book Review: The Poet X

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Joan Charles, Laurie Young, Sarah Orgill—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 broad 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.

By Elizabeth Acevedo • Jacket art by Gabriel Moreno
Young Adult (ages 13 & up) • 365 pages
Harper Teen, HarperCollins Publishers • 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-266280-4

Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Pura Belpré Award

At 15, Xiomara knows what it’s like to be “unhideable.” She is tall, womanly, and suffers the comments, stares and occasional grab by the men and boys in her neighborhood. Xiomara means “one who is ready for war,” but she is struggling to find her place between her Dominican Republic Mami’s religious expectations and the desires she doesn’t dare give voice to. Instead, she pours her words into a notebook where they are safe, waiting to be heard.

A new teacher sees what is hidden in X and invites her to join the Spoken Word Poetry Club. But the timing conflicts with her confirmation classes at the church, and regardless, X’s mother would never understand. A random assignment in Bio class brings a boy into her life who pulls X out of her silence and listens. But this boy also makes her mother’s worst fears real, and X has to risk letting her warrior voice out in order to survive.

This breath-taking, exhilarating novel in verse is filled with emotion and finds the bottomless heart of every girl caught in the space between her parent’s wishes and her truest self. Every award it has won is deeply deserved.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Laurie L. Young

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Super Star Interviews: Christophe Jacques

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. 

This month I’m so excited to be chatting it up with the fantastic Illustrator, Christophe Jacques! I absolutely love his graphic, modern-vintage style! Christophe studied at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels, specializing in illustration. Christophe graduated in 2008 and since then, has been gradually making a living as an artist. He focuses on illustrations for children, and loves to create colorful, bright worlds. His first book as an illustrator will be published later this year. (Congratulations, Christophe!! Hooray!) Christophe lives and works in Flanders, Belgium. You can enjoy more of his artwork here!

Everyone loves to be drawn, even pups!

Q: I absolutely love your graphic, modern-vintage style and your delightful earth-toned palettes! Dish with us a bit about your creative process—from inspiration to sketches to final artworks.

A: I always think about how to create "fun". It's hard to explain what "fun" is exactly. Fun, to me, is a sensation, that attracts the eye of the reader. Illustrating is a gut feeling, and I can't explain it rationally. I do try to put variety in my compositions, from filled-with-life to very minimalistic spreads. Rhythm is so important. But again, I draw it like I see it in my head. My main mission is making it clear and readable. Same can be said about my choice of color. I pick them intuitively. The only color that I try to avoid is purple because I feel purple doesn't work so well with my textures.

I use Pinterest to look for inspiration, and most of the time it's art from the fifties and the sixties that really inspires me. I work almost exclusively in Adobe Illustrator, even for texturing. I only use Photoshop for finishing touches. Illustrator is vector-based and it feels like if I'm sculpting.

My sketches are the worst, and they look very different from my final artwork. Nowadays, I'm trying to sketch in Illustrator, so that I can fine-tune them later and win a bit of time. I believe it's not commonly done this way, but it feels right to me.

Textures are a big part of my work. I developed 2 textures when I was in art college and I still use them today. One is a monochrome, pixelated grey color spread, that give little nuances to the clean vector drawing. The other is a monochrome spread with red tones. I just put them on top of my vector artwork. The main idea is to make my drawings look like if they were painted with gouache, because vector drawings look too artificial most of the time. 

An escape from the zoo or just an afternoon on the town? You decide!

Q: Give us the scoop on your MOST favorite illustration project, one from your past and one from your present.

A: I'm still a beginner and I'm in the process of publishing my first book, a book about castles for the French publisher Milan Presse.

The biggest honor I had so far, was making a drawing for Bravery magazine. I really admire their mission, and their magazine is so beautiful printed. Their artists are top-notch, so I was humbled to be in there, along them. 

Recently, my agent got me a new deal, something I'm very excited about. I can't tell much about it yet, but the setting is New York City. I always wanted to draw New York, with its old buildings. When I was reading the script, I could picture it immediately. 

Don't worry, Piggie! You'll feel happy & clean when it's over!

Q: What are your top 3 most loved children’s books? And how have they influenced you & your artwork?

A: I don't really have a favorite. I always loved the Roald Dahl-Quentin Blake combo. As a kid, Quentin Blake was the first illustrator whose style I recognized and he will always be an all-time favorite. All the giants from the fifties and the sixties have influenced me: Šašek, Sempé, J.P. Miller, The Provensen, Roger Duvoisin, Graboff, Alain Grée, Fiep Westendorp, Jim Flora, Ronald Searle,...My list of inspiration is endless.

Modern illustrators influence me too, of course. There's so much choice, and I really love the diversity of styles. I think I have a varied taste. For example, I love artsy books, but I do enjoy comic book art as well. The most visual influence in my work is Miroslav Šašek. Even though the text is very minimal, I can spend hours with his This Is... book series.

Q: What would be your absolute biggest DREAM project to be hired for?

A: I would love to draw a book with only animals. I just love to draw animals. And strangely enough, I'd love to draw something in a World War 2 setting. It's a bit of a passion. I do read a lot about that subject. 

Party time! Hip, hip, hooray!

Q: What advice would you give fellow illustrators about self-promotion, working with an agent and developing an art style?

A: 1) Self-promotion—

The best tool for me has been Instagram so far. My agent found my profile there and signed me. That was a pivotal moment in my career, because I was able to quit my regular job and make a living as a full-time illustrator. 

I still have to invest more time in self-promotion, like building a personal website. I'm currently in the privileged position of having work until the end of this year. But I don't know what the future brings, so if I don't have any commissions next year, I'd immediately invest my free time in self-promotion, like sending postcards to publishers. My agent often emphasizes the importance of that, and she does postcard mailings on a regular basis.
Editors love to receive them, and they put them on their desks. They often share them with other editors who are looking for artists. I really think it's a very effective way of making your work visible.

2) Working with an agent —

That's the best thing that has ever happened to me. Some of my illustrator friends work for bigger agencies, and they often feel like a number. My agency is a boutique agency, so the communication is very personal. My agent, Christy, knows my schedule, what projects I would like and she really knows how to make good deals. She's involved in every phase of the process, so it's good to have someone who has your back. I know some people prefer to work without an agent, but I think that having one is the best way of getting in touch with publishers.

3) Developing an art style—

Let it come natural, and draw how you feel. Copying other artists is good for practicing your skills, but don't copy just because you want to draw in the same style. Try to incorporate some things that you like of other artists, in your way of drawing. 

Could it be Christophe, out for a walk?! Maybe!

Q: Describe your most perfect day.

A: A lazy day and I don't draw at all. I have been working a lot lately, so just a day off sounds great now (haha). I do love to walk a lot, in nature preferable. Luckily, I live in the midst of nature, with a nearby forest. Being in the woods always helps me to clear my mind and getting rid of stress.

Thank you so much, Christophe, for chatting with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We love your artwork!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Super Star Children's Book Reviews: The Day You Begin

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Joan Charles, Laurie Young, Sarah Orgill—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 broad 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.

(Please note that it is actually the third Wednesday of this month this time around! I'm afraid spring fever chaos got the better of us here at Bird Meets Worm this month, but nonetheless, we are so pleased to share this latest book review by the fabulous Joan Charles!)


Written By Jacqueline Woodson • Illustrated by Rafael López
Picture Book (ages 5-8) • 32 Pages
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books • 2018
ISBN 978-0-3992-4653-1

The first day of any new adventure is scary. When you’re a child, that first day can seem overwhelming—especially when your one desire is to fit in, to not to be different or stand out in any way.

Author Jacqueline Woodson pulls those old feelings from deep within her memory well. Through beautifully crafted and poetic prose, she touches upon some of those moments when a child feels alone and afraid, when "different" feels like a bad thing to be.

Her words dance and soar from page to page, borne on the colorful and hopeful illustrations of Rafael López. The pages are filled with movement, bright hues and subtle, recurring motifs that deepen and enrich the story.

The Day You Begin is both a celebration and an anthem. The book reminds us that we can approach each new day as the day we begin: the day we begin to see all the ways we are unique, and yet the same; the day we begin to have understanding and acceptance of one another. And that is a very good thing, indeed.

BONUS: for a special glimpse into Illustrator Rafael López’s process, visit his blog post here about the making of The Day You Begin.

Buy this book:

Barnes and Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Super Star Interviews: Daniel Wiseman

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.

This month I’m pleased as punch to be catching up with super star Children's Book Illustrator Daniel Wiseman! I'm a big fan of his bold & cheery graphic illustrations! Daniel is the illustrator of more than 10 picture books, including PLAY THIS BOOK, WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH and GOODBYE SPRING HELLO. He lives in St. Louis, MO (but soon to be Knoxville, TN!). He's a husband to a wonderful wife and a dad to two beautiful sons. Daniel spends his time drawing, hiking, running, cooking and listening to painfully sad music by the dark. You can see more of his artwork here!

Oops! Don't lose your juice, baby!

Q: You have TWO new baby books releasing this Spring! (That’s SO super star! Congratulations!) Give us the full scoop on these titles: how you came to be illustrating them, your working relationship with your publisher & your process for creating them.

A: I do! Thanks! The Baby Scientist series is the brainchild of author Laura Gehl (who happens to also have a PhD in neuroscience!). The series is focused on showing little ones that a career in science is fun and approachable by introducing them to a few different baby scientists, and telling stories about what they do.

The first two books to be released are BABY OCEANOGRAPHER and BABY ASTRONAUT (a botanist and paleontologist are on the way soon after). The editor, Jill Davis of HarperCollins, reached out to my fantastic agent, Teresa Kietlinski, asking if I’d be interested in illustrating the series and if I’d submit a sample. Being a fan of nature, biology, and Netflix documentaries, I jumped at the chance and put together a mock cover and character sample for BABY OCEANOGRAPHER. The samples ended up landing me the project, and I’ve been working on it over the past year.

I actually just finished the last round of revisions for BABY PALEONTOLOGIST yesterday, and the whole project is wrapped up now. I absolutely love working with Jill, and art director Chelsea Donaldson! They’ve really given me the freedom to explore and find places to add some humor and silliness to the books. They’re incredibly supportive of my goofy ideas, and also really good at keeping me in check when it comes to having to be scientifically accurate in certain areas. My inclination with any project is to inject humor and silliness into everything. These books are no different, but there’s a certain level of accuracy that needs to be met since they’re dealing with scientific careers. Finding that balance can, at times, be a little tricky. I did a fair amount of research while crafting the illustrations to make sure I wasn’t way off base with the design of things like submarines and the International Space Station.

Although, when you look at the books your probably can’t tell, because my art style isn’t exactly what you’d call realistic! I mean, at the end of the day I’ve made pictures of babies traveling through space, SCUBA, diving, and digging for fossils, so the opportunity for absurdity was always pretty much there! 

Hang on, crab! Let's go exploring!

Q: I absolutely love your bright, graphic art style and fabulously expressive characters! Dish with us a bit about your creative influences & inspirations: the who/what/where.

A: Thank you! As a kid I loved the comics in the Sunday paper. The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, and Bloom County were my favorites. Though I admit, I didn’t really understand Bloom County most of the time. I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. That didn’t exactly pan out, but I got pretty close! When my art career began, I was a graphic designer. I made album covers, T-shirts, and MySpace pages for musicians. That’s where a bit of my graphic sensibility came from. With album covers you had this small amount of space to really grab someone’s attention. I really loved the challenge of creating something dynamic that would make a person want to pick up a CD of a band they’d never heard of, and give them a shot just because the art looked cool. That isn’t really a thing anymore, because CDs aren’t a thing anymore, so I feel lucky to have been able to do that. It really paved the way for everything I’ve done since. In many ways picture books are similar. You have a bit more space to work with, but you still have the challenge of grabbing someone’s attention with a cover on a shelf. Fortunately, the buyer of the book won’t be disappointed with bad, early 2000s emo metal when they open it, like many of the buyers of albums I did cover art for!

As far as influences and inspirations, I’m endlessly in awe of many of my peers in the kid lit community. There are so many fabulous illustrators and authors that inspire me, and that list seems to grow by the day. Some of my very favorites are Christian Robinson, Bob Shea, Zachariah Ohora, Jarvis, Ame Dyckman, Benji Davies, and Ed Vere. I also really love Richard Scarry and Quentin Blake. I’m pulled in by absurdity, bright colors, humor and composition.

I tend to also pull inspiration from life. I was born in 1980, and came of age in the 90s, so I also love that bold, graphic, “dawn of a new millennium” thing. Lastly, I love nature and the outdoors. More specifically being in the mountains. To spend the day wandering around in the forest is one of my favorite things to do. It grounds me, and resets my mind. Sometimes it’s the best cure for the inevitable creative block that happens with every project.

These cats are too cool! Let's skate!
Q: Chat with us a bit about your MOST favorite illustration project: one from the past and one from the present

A: Each project I’ve worked on has been great and challenging in different ways. Currently, one that I REALLY loved working on is a picture book I just now finished called RAD!, by Anne Bustard. It’s about a group of skateboarding cats. One of them is a little timid about skating and needing some prodding from his cat friends to give it a shot. There are several things I loved about it. The text is pretty sparse, leaving a lot of room for artistic interpretation. I felt I was really able to bring it to life in a way that is uniquely me. I mentioned earlier that I like the 90s aesthetic…well, I was really able to let it shine in this book. It’s filled with patterns, bright colors, graffiti, and skate tricks. I was completely immersed in the project, and felt really “in the zone” the whole time I was creating it. I’m very proud of it, and can’t wait for people to see it…in 2020, haha. 

Another project that will forever be unforgettable is the first book I ever worked on, WHEN YOUR LION NEEDS A BATH. I remember sitting down to do the cover, and having this feeling of a decade of dreams coming to fruition. I’d known I wanted to be a picture book illustrator for a while at that point, but until then it felt like this unattainable goal. When I told people that’s what I wanted to do, they’d say, “Yeah, that’s nice, but really who gets to do that for a job?”. I worked really hard building a portfolio, submitting to agents, and honing my craft. It felt like I finally had an answer for everyone: “I get to do that for a job!”. Things have only gotten better since then, but that moment, when it was time to really get down and do the work was fantastic. I was excited, nervous, confident, and scared all at the same time. Fast forward to now, and I can finally say I’m a full-time, children’s book illustrator! It’s truly the best job in the world :)

You got that right! Let's boogie!
Q: You’ve illustrated several book series from the Play/Pet picture books to the When (insert silly animal) Has to (insert self-care action) books to the Baby (insert profession) titles. What unique considerations are necessary when developing artwork for a series? Tell us a bit about your approach—initial concepts to sketches to final artwork.

A: One of the things I love about creating the book series that I’ve worked on, is that I get to draw a new main character for each book. Not all series are like that, obviously, but the ones I’ve drawn have been. I love creating characters, so any chance I have to make more of them is great! Plus, I have the opportunity to add multiple genders and ethnicities into a single series. I think children being able to see themselves in the books they read is important, so varying the main characters helps with that. Even with PLAY THIS BOOK and PET THIS BOOK, which initially didn’t have any characters, I worked to add a human element by including a host of kids playing the instruments and taking care of the pets. I like to think that it added a touch that made an already approachable series even more relatable.

Something I’ve found difficult about working on a series…especially the ones with more titles…is keeping a consistency in the artwork over a long period of time. I’m not one of those artists that sticks to a particular visual style. I like to vary things from book to book, and my aesthetics just seem to change over time. When I work on a book or two in series, and then I don’t get to the next books until much later I find it hard to retain the original charm and look of the initial illustrations. Sometimes that makes my process feel mechanical, like I’m trying to copy my former self. It breaks me out of feeling like an artist, and it can be hard to get back in the zone. This happens, too, when I’m juggling multiple projects. I’ve been blessed to illustrate quite a few books over my short career, so I won’t complain too much about it, but making that mind leap between projects can be a task!

When it comes to my technical process for creating the books, it varies a bit for each project. A lot of that is because I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me as an artist. They usually start pretty typically with really rough sketches. I’ve tried many methods from post-it note thumbnails to diving straight into color. What I’ve found I like the best is sketching digitally on a Wacom tablet. I like it because it’s fast and efficient. It’s easy to undo and iterate quickly. Lately I’ve been working through character designs before I even begin sketching thumbnails of spreads. I think I like doing that because I can figure out what their personalities are, and how they’d act in certain situations. That helps me when it comes to the compositions of the spreads. Then I’ll do some rough, dirty sketches to try and get the whole flow down. I’ll keep going over those, making changes here and there, until I end up with pretty detailed sketches. I spend the most time in this phase so that when it comes to final art, it’s pretty much just copying my sketches and adding color. So far all of my books have been done digitally, using Photoshop and a few brushes I’ve downloaded and tweaked to my liking. I love working digitally because it’s versatile and efficient, but someday I’d like to experiment with other traditional media. I really enjoy paper collage and colored pencils, but so far deadlines have kept me glued to my computer due to the process being so much faster. 

Trick-or-treat bunny squad! 
Q: What do you know now that when you first began your illustration career you wish you’d known about: illustration? self-promotion? working with an agent? the book publishing business?

A: Gosh…so much! One thing that I’m happy to have learned is that, even though, I’m the only one illustrating each book, it’s still a very collaborative process. In other jobs I’ve always been surrounded by creative people. One of my favorite things to do is bounce ideas back and forth with someone who is just as excited about a project as I am. I was nervous about illustrating because I thought it would just be me, sitting in the dark, alone with my thoughts…which could be good or bad. This is true to an extent, but I was pleased to find out just how helpful art directors and editors can be! Plus, they are super excited about books and are super supportive of my creative process. They’re always quick to jump on a call or look over a sketch and brainstorm ideas about anything. Maybe it’s my own lack of confidence, but I love having a safety net of people to either validate a good idea I have, or shoot down a really stupid one!

Another thing is that I was sort of aware that it would be helpful to be agency represented, but I didn’t know the extent of HOW helpful it would be. Teresa, my agent, is one of the best people I know. I basically owe my entire career to her. She’s supportive of my decisions, and will listen to my complaining at any hour of the day. I’m convinced she would do anything in her power to help me, and any of her other clients. Being part of the agency feels like a little kid lit family, and I’m so fortunate for that. Plus, I didn’t realize how much contract and legal work goes into each project before I even start on the drawing. She handles all of that, so I can focus on what I love to do. I’d be so lost without her.

Lastly, the book making process is loooooooong. I mean, I knew it would be a lot of work, but I didn’t know that it can take months (or even years) from start to finish. At first it was a bit frustrating. I was used to working on apps and software, where you make something fast and get it out there in front of people quickly. With books there’s so much to the process. There’s a lot of back and forth to get things just right. Plus, what you work on one year may not actually be released until 2 years later. It’s a lot of working, waiting for feedback, and working some more. Sometimes that’s hard on the creative process, but I’ve learned to embrace it and enjoy it. Having multiple projects going at once is good for that, too. It keeps me drawing and thinking, which I like. If I’m stagnant for too long I get antsy.

Adventure awaits, dino-hero-boy!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: I’d bounce out of bed at 8am after a refreshing night of sleep that didn’t include a child or two waking me up multiple times. I’d brush my teeth and take a magical pill that let me eat anything I want without absorbing the calories. Henry (my 5-year old) and I would make pancakes, French toast, fried bananas, and ice cream for Elizabeth (my wife), and Hugo (my 1-year old). Henry and I would eat some, too, of course. No one would cry, the kids would get along, and someone else would come and do the dishes. After that we’d load up the car and go to the mountains, because the weather is perfect. We’d wander around trails looking at the abundance of wildlife. Somehow Henry is not afraid of bugs on this Sunday. We’d marvel at nature’s majesty until noon. We’d hop in creeks, dance under waterfalls, and lay in the grass. Then we’d find a quaint, mountain lodge that serves the best food in the world. Henry and Hugo would be excited about sitting down for lunch. Henry wouldn’t even want his iPad. We’d eat tacos, burgers, fries, milkshakes, and maybe a piece of cake…and a Diet Coke. While we were having lunch, the weather would take a turn. All of the sudden it’s snowing. Luckily someone brought us our snowboards and skis…Oh, and there’s a ski slope right next to the lunch lodge. We’d strap on our gear and hit the slopes. On this particular Sunday Henry knows how to snowboard, and Hugo is a skiing wonder-baby. We’d spend the afternoon doing a few runs, until we stopped at the top of the mountain to watch the sunset. Then, a helicopter would come pick us up and take us back to our cabin. Did I mention we live in a cabin? We do. We’d walk in tired and hungry from our afternoon of winter sports. Is that a chef in the kitchen?! It’s not a chef, it’s the chef…Guy Fieri has prepared us a 5-course dinner that somehow both the kids just love! We polish it off, and sit down together to watch a Christmas movie. Probably Scrooged, or Elf. Everyone’s snuggled up on the couch, when I notice the kids have fallen asleep. I carry them to their room while Elizabeth pours a couple of glasses of wine. We’d then sit by the roaring fire and talk about something really intellectual like art or politics. We’d reflect on the day, and how I managed to pull off a double back flip on my snowboard. Then we’d retire to the most comfortable bed in the world for some dream-filled sleep.

*note: I realize that my day starts in what some would assume is Spring, and ends in possibly…Christmas? Don’t overthink it. It’s my Sunday, okay!

Thank you so much, Daniel, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congrats on your awesome new books! (And PS—your most perfect Sunday sounds like a new children's book all on its own!!)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Beach Day

Beach days! • © Super Jane Smith

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Super Star Children's Book Review: Mia Mayhem Is A Superhero

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Joan Charles, Laurie Young, Sarah Orgill—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 broad 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.

Written By Kara West • Illustrated by Leeza Hernandez
Middle Grade Chapter Book (ages 5-9) • 121 pages
Published by Little Simon. • 2018
ISBN 978-1-5344-3269-7

Mia Mayhem Is A Superhero is a delightfully illustrated, young middle grade chapter book, starring the chaos-magnet, ball of energy: Mia Mayhem! Wherever Mia goes, disaster hilariously follows—CRASH! BANG! BOOM!—until Mia’s luck takes an exciting turn. When Mia receives a letter announcing her acceptance into the Program for In Training Superheroes (the PITS), she discovers that she is, in fact, part of a whole family of superheroes! The only question is: how will she fit into the PITS, if she doesn’t even know what her super power is?

Readers will laugh and giggle as Mia makes her way through the story in expressive, action-filled illustrations. All the details—stars, lightning bolts, screen dots textures & comic book panels—will transport the reader into Mia’s super world. No doubt, you’ll be inspired to get out your own cape & mask and save the day, too!

(Extra bonus: Mia Mayhem Is A Superhero is the debut title in a whole series! So there's more adventure—and chaos!—ahead!)

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Super Star Interviews: Alyssa Nassner

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. 

This month I’m so excited to be chatting it up with rock star Illustrator & Hand Letterer, Alyssa Nassner! I'm a total fan girl for Alyssa's typography & bright, graphic illustrations! Alyssa is from Baltimore, based out of Brooklyn, NY. She earned her BFA in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art. By day she is the Lead Visual Designer for (previously for ABRAMS Kids, Callisto Media and Target), and in her spare time she dabbles in hand lettering and food illustration. Alyssa is also quite fond of dogs, donuts, her family, and traveling. Her biggest inspirations include vintage botanical prints, mid-century illustration and good bottles of Beaujolais. You can enjoy more of her artwork here!

Artsy glasses, check! Cute jean jacket, check! Super star status, check!

Q: You are a total rock star at creating and designing original typography, both as an illustrator and as an art director/designer! Dish with us a bit about your process from initial ideas to sketches to finished products and what unique considerations are necessary when creating original typography.

A: First of all, thank you so much, I’m flattered! My process has evolved over the years and definitely depends on the type of project I’m working on. When I was first starting out, I relied heavily on using typefaces or existing alphabets to start. I would set the type and manipulate it in Photoshop or by tracing it and then customizing it based on placement / composition / stylistic needs. It required a lot of trial and error to get things right. Through doing that, I was able to understand different typographic styles and develop a lettering vocabulary.

These days, on most projects, I don’t need to rely on reference as much and I’ve learned to loosen up and rely on my instincts more. I will say that the internet is an abundant source of archival type specimen and inspiration, so if I’m looking to do something new, I do still tend to start by researching and always recommend that to folks who need a jumping off point. The most important aspect to me is making sure the lettering is complimentary to the illustration it’s accompanying and its style furthers the tone of the design.

If Magic 8 Ball says it, it must be true!

Q: You have a strong graphic sensibility in your work that is absolutely delightful as well as a keen sense of what is trendy-cool-fabulous right now! Give us the scoop on your own unique influences and inspirations: the who/the where/the what.

A: Again, thank you so much! I think this is something I’m constantly cultivating. It’s really easy to get caught up in my Instagram feed or on my closed-loop Pinterest recommendations, so I’ve been working hard to find inspiration outside of the illustration world. Going to galleries and museums, visiting the zoo and botanical garden, reading more and learning about subjects outside of art. For the first time since college, I have hobbies outside of art.

Over the past two years I’ve really poured myself into learning about wine and enjoying cooking and baking and hosting more. These things have really, and not surprisingly, impacted the course of my creative work. My passion for food and wine outside of art making has resurfaced into my personal work, which has in turn, inspired clients to hire me for that type of work. One of my most consistent clients last year was Wine Enthusiast—all because I started reading books about wine and drawing based on that interest. I also have a great group of friends who are also living multi-faceted lives and killing it in their careers—knowing and supporting them also inspires me to look at my work differently and push myself creatively.

Ooo! Pass me the pretzels, please!

Q: Tell us every little thing about 1) your MOST favorite illustration project and 2) your MOST favorite design project.

A: This is a hard one! I have a lot of favorite projects and clients, and almost every new thing that comes up is the most exciting thing. I love everything I’ve ever done for Target as a freelance illustrator—their in-house marketing team is the best in the biz and working with them is a dream.

In terms of artwork, many years ago I worked with American Greetings to design a Christmas card that was a little poo in a snow globe that said “Warm Wishes”. I always thought that was such a funny job to be commissioned for.

Design-wise, I love all of the Appleseed books I had the opportunity to art direct and design at Abrams. All Aboard: Let’s Ride a Train is an entire novelty concept I developed in-house and I designed it with Andrew Kolb in mind as the illustrator. We were able to hire him for the project and it was so amazing to collaborate with him to bring my vision to life! I’m really proud of that one and the series that’s come from it at Abrams.

How fun! Let's go for a ride! Where to?

Q: You work as an art director/designer by day and as a freelance illustrator by night. In what ways do you balance these two professional creative pursuits? And how do they influence each other, both creatively as well as from a business perspective?

A: It’s a constant give/take to be able to balance a full-time creative job and freelance/personal work and life itself. I think a large obstacle I’ve had to overcome is the idea that my identity and worth are defined by my productivity, output, and title as a creative. I get really burnt out trying to “do it all” and it’s taken me a very stressful year to step back and reassess how I achieve said balance. Luckily, I’m now established in my career, both in-house and freelance, and I can choose to be more intentional about dedicating my time to things I care about. This means feeling more comfortable saying no to freelance jobs, setting boundaries at my day job, and not tying my worth to how often I post on Instagram (which can be very difficult).

In terms of how my day-job and freelance impact one another—I think the influence is pretty great. Maybe not from a stylistic or subject standpoint, but as I move from industry to industry, I start to understand more about the behind the scenes needs of an art team. Working for Curbed, which is digital media, is completely different than working in publishing, or working in apparel/product design. The art and design will ALWAYS need to be strong, but what makes the work successful and how a user interacts with it is really different. I’ve also been pushed out of my comfort zone with every new position; Target was incredibly trend-driven and required that I widen my illustration style and mark-making range, Abrams pushed me to develop more confident typography skills and collaborate in a new way, and I’ve spent a great deal of time learning CSS, working on branding, and creating animations for Curbed. All of this impacts the way I work, the work I look at, and my goals as an artist in general. I also think my illustration background and my place in the community allows me to communicate with artists better and give more helpful and specific feedback as an art director. It also helps that I have a wonderful community that I can hire from and I’m genuinely invested in maintaining relationships with artists and following trends in the industry.

Everything is better with a twist of orange! Don't cha agree?!

Q: As an art director/designer you work with numerous creative freelancers on a regular basis. What are your top 3 hot super star tips for how to have a successful relationship with you and other creative clients?

A: My first tip is to be aware of the market you want to work in. If you want to work in children’s books, for example, it helps to know your competitive landscape—who’s successful in that field, who’s hiring artists similar to your work (or who’s not). A trip to the bookstore or taking a peak at another artist’s client list might help point you in the right direction. If you find that there’s not many artists successfully making art in the field with art that looks like yours, it might be helpful to assess your portfolio with a critical eye to make sure it aligns with the needs of the market. To return to our children’s book example, if you’re drawing super gorey fight scenes, you might find that you’re targeting the wrong industry or that your work needs to adjust to optimize your potential. That being said, ultimately find a way to both be marketable AND be true to your voice and style(s). Keep the work original!

Secondly, shamelessly promote yourself! Flaunt your favorite work and be involved in high-visibility projects or platforms. Instagram is my current favorite discovery tool and I often find people's work who submit to popular accounts like @BallpitMag @brwnpaperbag or use tags like #WomenofIllustration or #goodtype (to name a few). I also bookmark relevant portfolios emailed to me as an art director and save promo mailers for hiring inspiration. You are essentially providing a service to those who need to hire artists and make their job easier by making your work visible to them. You might not always hear back or see an immediate return on investment but it’s important to put yourself out there without fear of failure. Create and confidently share the type of work you want to be hired for!

Quick! Take me to Olive Garden for endless breadsticks!

Finally, if you do land that freelance job, communication is key. I always appreciate working with artists who are timely in their communication, ask questions to get clarity on projects, and keep me up to date on their progress. Going AWOL in the middle of a project or not having the right deliverables at the agreed upon time is the number one way to cause a tear in a creative relationship. As an AD a lot of people rely on me to share the progress of a project and if my creative talent isn’t communicating often and honestly, then I can’t keep my team up to date either. That’s stressful for everyone involved! I’m 100% more likely to hire someone who was easy and delightful to work with over someone who made my job more difficult. It seems simple, but if you’re a reliable artist you’ll build lifelong freelance relationships.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My perfect Sunday is sleeping in until 10am and waking up to have freshly brewed coffee with my boyfriend. My best Sundays include taking a long walk in Brooklyn, running errands, cleaning up the house and cooking something delicious for dinner (with the perfect wine pairing) and relaxing by reading or watching a movie. I love using Sunday as a reset day. Weekends are my sacred time to get my life back in order before the chaos of the week begins again. I tend to do most of my freelance work on weeknights, too, so I can have the weekend to relax as much as possible.

Thanks so much for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm, Alyssa! You rock!