Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Super Star Children's Book Review: A Moon for Moe and Mo

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers 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.

Written By Jane Breskin Zalben • Illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
Picture Book (ages 3-7) • 48 pages
Published by Charlesbridge. • 2018
ISBN 978-1-5808-9727-3

A Moon for Moe and Mo is an interfaith friendship story that begins with a literal meeting in the middle, when two neighborhood boys, Moses and Mohammed, from opposite ends of the same block meet in a food shop that just happens to be right between them on their block of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.

Immediately, everything the boys have in common is plain to see: their olive skin, their brown eyes, their curly hair, their loving moms, an upcoming holiday (Rosh Hashanah for Moses and Ramadan for Mohammed), celebratory treats to be made and the rambunctious, playful energy of little boys everywhere. They become friends without a thought to the one difference between them: their religions.

The vibrant, richly patterned collage illustrations will catch the reader up in this lively, delightful, life-affirming friendship story that reminds us that we all have more in common than we have differences. And beginning a friendship really can be as easy as saying, “Hello!”

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Monday, December 10, 2018

Reindeer & Elf

How do you relax during the holidays? Reindeer & Elf read together! XO • © Jane Smith

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Muffin Grayson

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 pleased as cinnamon eggnog punch to be catching up with the fabulous Illustrator/Designer, Pauline Grayson aka Muffin (How totally adorbs is that?!)! I'm a huge fan of her gorgeous hand-lettering and darling pattern designs. Muffin is a 
lover of life, her hunky husband, two gorgeous littles, living in Utah, finding joy in the moments, and making awesome art. She specialize in hand-lettering, illustration and patterns.  You can view more of her artwork here! 

The super fashionable Muffin! Check out those awesome earrings!!

Q: You are a hand-lettering rockstar! And you’ve even recently released your own original font: Roadtripper! How totally cool is that?! Dish with us about your creative & technical approach to hand-lettering as well as everything Roadtripper.

A: I fell in love with hand-lettering about 6 years ago, but couldn't seem to get the hang of it. I first took a local calligraphy class, which taught me the basics, but it wasn't the right tool (a hard pen and nib). Then I discovered brush lettering, which felt so much like me, kind of rustic, modern and free flowing! I just continued to practice and practice until my shapes began to look more like letters. I started following other hand letterers that really inspired me like Shauna Panczyszyn and MaryKate McDevitt. I took some classes on Skillshare.

Once I discovered I loved hand-lettering, I again was frustrated that I couldn't get my letters and shapes to look very good. I would try hand drawing them, tracing them, scanning them in—nothing seemed to be working. It wasn't until I discovered a Wacom Cintiq tablet that my art really took off! I could use my love for hand-lettering with a "medium" that really worked with me! There was a command + Z (undo) option! Working in Photoshop has really allowed me to use my love for hand-lettering and illustration together!

Then I discovered ProCreate and the Apple iPad and Pencil. Another medium that fit well with my style of lettering. I actually created Roadtripper on my iPad Pro. When I make up my mind to do something, I do it. I took a font making class online, where I learned the basics. But I didn't want to invest in the program to develop the font fully until I knew I loved making fonts, so I downloaded the free 30 day trial. That gave me 30 days to program my font and get it released. I know it sounds crazy, but it works for me. I'm happy to report that I loved designing Roadtripper, and I'll probably design more fonts in the future.

Love the energetic swoops & swirls!

Q: You are currently represented by the art licensing agent, Cinnamon Joe. What has your experience being agented been like with: 1) self-promotion 2) trade shows 3) following trends 4) workload.

A: I started working with Cinnamon Joe about 2.5 years ago. I had actually emailed Cinnamon Joe before, but with no response. I continued to develop my style until I felt it was good enough. Then I emailed CJS a year later, and this time we signed contracts. It has been great being my art directed by Andrea & Paul Turk. They really know their industry! My hand-lettering has really taken off and I've been able to see what is selling.

1) As far as self-promotion, we aren't able to show any full pieces of our work we develop for CJS due to copyright issues, but we can always develop other pieces to show. That's why I start passion projects, like my State Postcards, to show off my hand-lettering and illustration skills.

How totally fun!! I need the one from North Carolina!

2) Trade shows have been great because we don't have to pay any of the up front costs. We just pay for prints. I have attended 3 trade shows, 2 of them being Blue Print, which CJS hosts each year. It's great to meet other artists, agents, and buyers. Everyone is so friendly. It really does feel like family.

3) Andrea sends us mood boards almost every week. We can decide if we want to follow the trends she's sending, or stick to our own. But it really is up to us.

4) As for workload, CJS likes to have 2 collections from us each week. I don't quite get that many, as I'm a mom to 2 littles, and I work part-time for designing Christmas Cards for So that does take a good chunk of time. But any moment I get, I try to design some new collections for CJS. It has been super rewarding.

Love this hand-lettering & the sophisticated color palette!
Q: Tell us all about your MOST favorite illustration project: one from your past and one from your present.

A: I have really loved designing water bottles for CamelBak. They were one of the first "big" companies that contacted me to do work for them. It was a huge learning experience, as I had to use only a few PMS colors and learn all about a roller printer. That's how the bottles are printed with this rolling printer. Kind of cool!

I'm not working on any illustration projects right now, other than Christmas cards for Petite Lemon for Shutterfly. Christmas Cards keep me busy about 9 months of the year. But I am working on some personal projects that I hope to share soon!

Ooo! There's still time to order your holiday cards on a fabulous design by Muffin!!

Q: Give us the scoop on who/what/where inspires you the most!

A: Honestly, my family inspires me the most. My kids, because they are always so intrigued by new things, and I hope that they see my passion and want to pursue their own interests. And my husband, because he is always so supportive of any crazy ideas I have.

I also love love love books! I'm always on the hunt for any new art or vintage books. Usually about things that I'm interested in, whether it's lettering, interior design, or even a book about animals.

Q: What advice would you give fellow illustrators looking for success in the field of art licensing?
A: I would say get your art out there. Don't be afraid of rejection (something I'm still working on). Reach out to other artists, agents and buyers. And eventually something will work.
Just start creating and showing others your amazing art. 

Bright, modern & totally rock star!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Sundays are all about family. It would start with a hot breakfast. One of my faves being Leige waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. Church. Lunch. Games with my family. A nap. A walk. And perhaps I'd have some friends or family members over for dinner. I've chosen not to work on Sundays, and it has been the greatest blessing in my life.

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

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving from Super Jane

Squirrel Thanksgiving = Leftover Halloween Pumpkins! • © Jane Smith

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Super Star Children's Book Review: Hey, Kiddo

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers 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.

Written & Illustrated By Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Graphic Novel (ages 13-17) • 320 pages
Published by Scholastic, Inc. • 2018
ISBN 978-0-5459-0248-9

Hey, Kiddo is a graphic novel memoir by celebrated children’s book illustrator, Jarrett Krosoczka. It is an empathetic, honest, and ultimately hopeful, snapshot of Krosoczka’s childhood growing up with his grandparents in the absence of both his mother, who struggled with heroin addiction & the law, and his father, who was little more than a mysterious shadow.

In high contrast black and white ink, softened in sepia toned washes, Hey, Kiddo offers both the hard truth of the insecurity, confusion and hurt of being connected to a parent who is an addict, as well as the contrasting, and seemingly contradictory, love and tenderness that can live alongside it. Krosoczka’s sensitive portrayal of the “gray” area where a child can receive both the best and worst of their families, can be both hurt and loved by them, is where the powerful offer of connection lies. Children—and adults alike—who recognize this experience in their own lives will be both validated and comforted in this read.

They will also be offered hope. In layering into the story his passion for art and the numerous ways it connected him to his mother, his grandparents, his community, Krosoczka demonstrates that there are lifelines that can and will see one through to safety, to purpose and to acceptance.

Hey, Kiddo is an important, timely read that is in and of its self a lifeline. And that, is most definitely something worth holding onto.

Buy this book:

Barnes & Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Jane Smith

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Thanksgiving Sticker Card for Design Design

I'm pleased as apple cider punch to share my NEW Thanksgiving Sticker Activity Card for Design Design!! It's the perfect holiday fun for the little ones in your life!  Shop it here now!

How totally cute is this Thanksgiving sticker scene?! I'm so thankful for stickers!! • © Jane Smith 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Olivia Chin Mueller

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 pleased as apple cider punch to be catching up with the fabulous Illustrator Olivia Chin Mueller! I'm a long-time fan girl of Olivia's adorable artwork and love that we are fellow T2 artist, both of us being represented by the lovely Nicole Tugeau. Olivia is a children’s book illustrator from Connecticut who graduated from RISD in 2014. She currently lives in Rhode Island, and loves her cat, moths, and anything cute! You can view more of her artwork here!

Ooo! The cutest trick-or-treaters ever!!!

Q: I absolutely love your sweet, adorable style that is a mix of classic golden book vintage and modern technique. Dish with us a bit about your unique art style—how you approach your artwork & what inspires you?

A: When I first started illustrating, I was much more focused on editorial work. Because it was typically only one image for those types of jobs, I was able to work in a very painterly, fully rendered style. However, when I decided to try out children’s books, I realized that this technique was not practical for multi-image projects! It was too time consuming, and to me, just didn’t seem to fit the child-like tone. I decided to try out a style that was a bit flatter, but still had a slight painterly feel! Thats how I ended up with the style I have now—something kind of flat, yet textured!

Like you mentioned above, I am very inspired by vintage Golden Book illustration! The colors and textures on those books are so beautiful to me, and is something I want to capture in my own work!

Oh, no! Mirabel, you've lost your valentine!!

Q: You had two super CUTE picture books release this year: Mirabel’s Missing Valentine and Princess Puffybottom—and Darryl. Give us the full scoop on these two titles: beginning, middle and end of each project.

A: I feel like Mirabel was a very important book for me! Not only because I relate so much to the shy mouse main character, but also because I experimented with a new style while working on this book! There were a lot of landscapes in this story, and I wasn’t quite used to drawing them. (I normally like to draw very close up scenes). However, the style I found to make those scenes work for me is now something I want to use in all my future work! I had to be a lot looser in those images, and it turns out I really liked working that way!

The beginning of working on Mirabel was difficult for me, because I was still trying to figure out how to approach it, But once I figured it out, it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had illustrating a children’s book!!

The very definition of cuteness overload!!! I love it!

Princess Puffybottom actually gave me a similar problem. Tundra asked if I could draw the cat in the story in a way I had only done once before (an image they found on my Instagram from years prior). I had basically forgotten how I had done it, and what brush I had used back then! It took a lot of back and forth until I finally was able to replicate the style! I'm thankful they stuck by me while I figured it out! I think it turned out great though, and I’m so happy they asked me to work that way again!

This story was also unique for me in that the tone of the book was much different than what I was used to illustrating. The books I had worked on in the past all had a much more serious tone to them—people tend to hire me for slightly ‘darker’ books because of the work in my portfolio. However, Princess Puffybottom is a very happy and funny story, with lots of things that would make people laugh! I was asked to draw both cat poop and dog puke in this book, both of which were definitely firsts for me!! It was great to experience something new, and I’m so glad I was able broaden my illustrating horizons with such a great story!

Q: You have two very unique hobbies: creating felted wool animals and raising silk worms! Tell us ALL about these hobbies and how they inform/inspire/support your professional illustration work.

A: I started needle felting in high school after I took a class on wet felting with my mom! It turns out I didn’t really like wet felting at all, but it introduced me to needle felting! I bought a book about it soon after, and then I started making and selling little animals as a way to make money while in school, instead of getting a summer job! Although my needle felting shop has been closed for years, I still needle felt occasionally for fun or for gifts!

I think that learning how to needle felt has definitely helped my illustration work! It helped me to understand things in a 3D way. I remember when I first started illustrating, I would create my character first in felt, which would then help me draw it from different angles!

How gorgeous is he?! We are big fans of bugs in my house!

Moths have always been one of my favorite creatures! I find them to be so fuzzy and cute, and even more beautiful than butterflies! I'm actually afraid of most insects, but not moths for some reason!

In college, I took a class on insects, where we often took field trips to the woods or fields to collect insects and study them. We also learned how to pin and preserve them for display! I became fascinated after this, and when the class was over, I found a website where you can purchase moth cocoons to hatch and raise. I made a little inclosure, and bought a bunch of cocoons from different silk moth species. (I think I started out with Luna moths, Cecropia Moths, and Polyphemus moths). Almost all of them hatched, and I had so much fun observing and drawing them! When they died a week or two later (these species of silk moths only live about one week or so as adults, because they actually don’t have mouths to eat with—their only purpose is to reproduce at this stage!) I preserved them all and still have most of them in a shadow box on my wall!

Q: Chat with us a bit about your MOST favorite illustration projects: one from the past and one from the present.

A: I think my favorite recent project I worked on was Princess Puffybottom, for all the reasons I mention above!

Although its not from that long ago, my favorite project from the past was definitely the two books I got to illustrate for Golden Books: I am a Kitten! and I am a Puppy! It has always been a dream of mine to do work for them, so illustrating those was so surreal!! Plus, I got to draw cute kittens and puppies for a couple months straight which is never bad!

Gorgeous Golden Books! Hello, Kitten!

Q: It seems like everyone these days wants to illustrate children’s picture books! What advice would you give to illustrators looking to break into the children’s publishing industry? And what advice would you give to fellow professional illustrators looking to continue working in the industry?

A: I think having an agent is important! Especially if you are like me, and aren’t very good at negotiating or reading and understanding contracts! I also think that having an online presence, like an Instagram and Twitter account, is very helpful for not only gaining exposure on your work, but making friends and connections in the industry!

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned in the few years I've been working, is to only fill your portfolio with work you want to get hired for! I remember in the beginning, I drew a bunch of children and babies for my portfolio, because I thought thats what I needed to do. However, I really prefer drawing animals, so when I would be hired to draw babies I wouldn’t enjoy it! After I took down those images from my website, I got hired for things I loved! I guess that seems kind of obvious, but it didn’t occur to me!

Q: Describe your most perfect day.

A: It's exactly 62 degrees, and I’m inside watching movies with my cat, Minnow, while sipping on some hot chocolate!

Thank you so much, Olivia, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We think you're amazing!!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Puck Selders

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 Autumn leaf pink to be chatting it up with the darling Illustrator/Designer, Puck Selders! I’m a fan girl for all her adorable designs and can't wait to share them with you! Puck 
lives in Leiderdorp, the Netherlands, with her partner and two wonderful children. She is represented by Brenda Manley Designs and is passionate about drawing, painting, fabrics and beautiful colours. Puck studied Fashion and Textile design at The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. After graduating, she started working in-house as a babywear designer for several companies for about 13 years. After that, she became freelance, so she could focus on surface pattern design and illustration. Puck loves all things cute, stationary, fabric, children’s books, going to the theatre, the beach, being outside, rollerskating, dancing mambo and everything food related. You can view more of her artwork here!

Busy, busy construction site! What do you want to build?

Q: You’re superstar power is creating adorable characters and patterns for a variety of art licensing markets! Dish with us about your creative process: inspiration to sketches to final art—all the fabulous details.

A: Sometimes I make little doodles and sketches with pencil and paper first, without looking for reference, just using my imagination. Scan it into Illustrator and work from there. But mostly, I start gathering some reference first (not too much!) and then just start drawing in Illustrator, with my tablet and pen. I do have a lot of fantasy, so ideas just appear while drawing—yay! I also love to make textures with paint, scan it into illustrator and have a play with it. I recently started making lino prints, too—so much fun! Love to try new things!

As far as inspiration, I love Instagram and Pinterest! So many wonderful artists! I also use trendboards provided by Brenda Manley, my lovely agent. And just by looking around, nature, playing kids—inspiration is everywhere!

Santa is totally already in the holiday spirit!

Q: You worked for more than a decade as an in-house babywear designer before becoming a freelancer. How has that experience shaped and influenced you as a freelance Illustrator/Designer—both from an artist and a businesswoman perspective?

A: I learned so much while working in-house—everything from setting up themes, colourcards, moodboards, building collections, drawing styles and artworks to preparing photoshoots and making salesbooks. But also, technical stuff about fabric qualities, printing, embroidery and applique techniques and how to send your work to manufacturers, so they understand what to do. Super valuable information I still benefit from.

When I started as a freelancer, the first commissions were babywear design gigs. That was great to start with, because I knew exactly what I had to do. But I also wanted to focus more on surface pattern design and illustration and had to build my portfolio, so I spent hours and hours drawing and doing some online classes. I loved making cute baby and little kids art while working in-house and that’s still my favorite thing to do.

Fall foxies are ready to play! Are you?!

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: Everyday starts with a big mug of coffee! Then, when the kids are off to school, I’m off to my workspace, which is at our attic. I always work with some music on the radio and if it’s not too cold, an open window—I love fresh air. I work on a PC using Illustrator, Photoshop and a Wacom pen and tablet. Since I’m represented by Brenda, I mainly work on new art—my favorite thing!! Before she was my agent, I used to spend a lot of time contacting possible new clients, sending emails, looking around which companies could be a good fit with my art, etc. I work until it’s time to pick up the kids from school. I regularly work nights, too, sometimes because there’s a deadline and sometimes because I just want to draw.

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

A: I once designed a series of artworks for Zeeman and they made a variety of products with it, like stickers, toys, colouring books—really cool to see those products in the shops. Recently, I sold quite some designs to Stoffonkel, a fabric company. It’s so cool to see my designs become fabric and the things customers make with it! For the future, I’d love to see my art on Paperchase products or design some kids tablewear for Rice or design baby toys. But actually, as long as I can just draw cute stuff, I’m super happy!

Time to blast off & have an adventure!

Q: What advice would you give fellow freelance illustrators on the following topics:
1) self promotion 2) trade shows 3) following trends?

A: 1. Get your work out there! On social media, your website—You never know which company/ agent/ art director will come across your work and might contact you! Also, send emails with some samples of your work to companies that you think are a good fit for your style. Don’t give up too fast if you don’t get a response! I know it can be super frustrating not getting responses, but just try again after a few months with new work.

2. I’ve never been to a trade show myself, so I can’t tell you a lot about it, but my agent does attend a few each year like Blueprint and Surtex. Super exciting! Busy times preparing art, postcards, blurbbook, flyers, but I love it all. I really want to go to Surtex someday!

3. I definitely think it’s important to keep your eyes open and be aware of what’s popular and trending. I think it’s a good idea to follow some trends. I did quite a lot of unicorn and mermaid designs—lol. Customers kept coming back for more. But I don’t follow trends that are just not my cup of tea—like the trend with bugs, no thanks! Sometimes it’s ok to say no, right?

Mermaid really do have more fun!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Hmmm, well. First, sleep in, then a lovely breakfast with coffee, croissants, fresh fruit & juice… After that I think we’d go to the beach, have a great time there, and of course, more food—haha! After that we’d go home, have home-made pizza for dinner and when the kids are asleep, we’d watch a movie. 

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Super Star Children's Book Review: A Lady Has the Floor

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 CharlesSharon 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. (And yes, this month's review is a day early in deference to Hurricane Florence!)

By Kate Hannigan • Illustrated by Alison Jay
Picture Book (ages 7+)  • 32 Pages
Published by Calkins Creek • 2018
ISBN: 978-1-6297-9453-2

A Lady Has the Floor is the rollicking account of the extraordinary life of Belva Lockwood, the most interesting, dynamic, and influential woman you’ve never heard of.

From earliest childhood, Belva refused to let the fact that she was a girl get in her way. Over the objections of her father, she enrolled in college, graduating from Genesee College with honors in 1857 (but not without a fight)!

After teaching in New York schools for several years, Belva was eager for new challenges. She moved to Washington DC after the Civil War, where she entered law school. She was one of the first women in America to earn a law degree (but not without a fight)! As an attorney, she championed the rights of the poor, the weak, and those without a voice, eventually becoming the first female to argue before the Supreme Court (but not without a fight)!

Perhaps her greatest fight was the struggle for women’s suffrage. Not only did she campaign vigorously for a woman’s right to vote, she actually ran for President twice – in 1884 and 1888. And although she lost, Belva’s candidacy was another important battle in her lifelong war to secure equal rights and opportunities for women.

Especially timely in an election year when a record number of women are running for public office, Belva’s story is a testament to the power of saying yes to your own dreams and aspirations – even when everyone around you is saying no.

Alison Jay’s illustrations are the perfect complement to Kate Hannigan’s lively text. Painted in soft, glowing colors in her signature na├»ve style, Alison shows us a strong, secure Belva striding across the pages just as she strode through life, checking items off her cosmic “to do” list, while leaving a better world in her wake.

“Fight, fight, fight everlastingly – not with your claws and fists, but with your wits.” – Belva Lockwood

Buy this book:

Barnes and Noble

Independent Bookstores

Reviewed by: Joan Charles

Monday, September 10, 2018

Night School

Welcome to Night School, Owlets!! • © Jane Smith

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Jennifer Gray Olson

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. (And yes, I know it's Wednesday—my apologizes! Back-to-school got the better of me!!)

I’m thrilled to be chatting it up with the rock star Author/Illustrator, Jennifer Gray Olson! I'm a fan of her awesome artwork and am so glad to have had the pleasure of joining Jennifer for book events at our local SoCal bookstores back in my LA days!! She i
s the author/illustrator of Ninja Bunny, Ninja Bunny: Bunny vs. Bunny and Me and Mr. Fluffernutter. She grew up in sunny Southern California, where she spent most of her time indoors, drawing imaginary worlds and the characters who inhabited them. Not much has changed. She still lives in Southern California and still draws everyday. But she tries to go outside more...You can view more of her artwork here!

Rock star cuteness!!

Q: You are a super star author/illustrator, masterfully offering your audience humor and fabulous characters! Give us the scoop on your process—from ideas & manuscripts to thumbnails/sketches & color art. What comes first the art or the writing? 

A: For me, my process typically starts off with doing warm-up drawings just for fun or a way to work out something I’m going through at the time. Characters usually show up for me at this stage. If I like the character, I will then come up with a general concept or story to go with her/him. Normally, I don’t really do any actual writing by this point, just a collection of sketches and notes. If the concept and character still feels strong, I will present it to my critique group and get feedback and direction on how to round it out. I’ll then thumbnail it out—many many times in some cases—before laying out a loose dummy or rough draft of the book. I generally leave the writing for last. I like the illustrations to do most of the heavy lifting and try to use the words only when necessary to propel the story forward or to emphasize certain elements of the story. 

Meow! Meow! Meeeeeooow!!!

Q: Dish with us about your most recent picture book, Me and Mr. Fluffernutter—give us all the wonderful details: how the book began, how it sold, what you’re working relationship with your publisher was like—you know, all the good stuff!

A: Mr. Fluffernutter, like most of my characters, started out as a warm up sketch I did one day. Mr. Fluffernutter is a somewhat stubborn cat who finds himself in some pretty unpleasant situations as a result of his human best friend. She makes him play dress up, have tea parties, go swimming with floaties on...needless to say, he’s not entertained. Me and Mr. Fluffernutter was my second book in a two book deal with Knopf; my first was Ninja Bunny. My publisher at Knopf was Alison Wortche. We had a great working relationship. Me and Mr. Fluffernutter was the third book we had worked on together, so we had developed a good rhythm at that point.

Karate carrot chop!!

Q: An author/illustrator’s job doesn’t end with publication—this is when promotion kicks in! What advice would you give fellow author/illustrators on book promotion?

A: I actually have a lot of thoughts on this topic. As authors/illustrators, I think so much more of this aspect of publishing is in our hands than we realize. We need to be our books promoters, cheerleaders and biggest advocates. Some people are fortunate and they have a huge backing by their publisher and its publicity department. And some people aren’t even sure if their book has been assigned a publicist at all. The biggest thing I would encourage authors/illustrators to do is to simply ask your publisher what resources are available. There’s no harm in it. And more often then not, if you’re enthusiastic about a promotional idea, your enthusiasm will be contagious. I know personally that I saw the difference in the amount of feedback I got from my first book, which I highly promoted, and the third one that I did not promote nearly as much. 

Illustrator mama getting it done like a boss!

Q: As the working illustrator mom of three, in what ways do you balance your home life and your work life?

A: Most days I feel about as balanced as a three-legged donkey on ice skates. To say I struggle with this, is an understatement. Luckily, my youngest just started first grade, so for the first time all three of my kids are in school all day. The one thing, when I can manage to stick to it, that seems to make a huge difference is focusing completely on one role at a time. When it’s my designated work time, I need to focus only on work. My studio is in the center of the house and has no doors, so this can be challenging. When the kids are home from school, I try to focus completely on them and my household responsibilities. Constantly splitting my focus and jumping from work to kids to house to errands over and over again leaves me feeling overwhelmed and unsuccessful at all of it. 

Ghostly nightmare dream.

Q: Like many of us who work in the children’s book publishing world of fluffy bunnies and adorable kittens, you also have a fabulously rich dark side to your artistic inclinations. Dish with us a bit about this and what role it plays in balancing your picture book work.

A: Like I had mentioned before, most of my book concepts come from my warm-ups, so for me it’s essential to my book making process. When I draw for myself, it’s almost like writing in a diary. It helps me unclutter my mind and problem solve issues I may be struggling with. It’s almost like taking out my emotional garbage, so that I can focus on work. Once I have an issue on paper, I’m much more likely to be able to move on from it.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Between work, kids and household duties, life can be pretty hectic, so my idea of a perfect Sunday would be one free of plans or obligations. I’m not particularly good at being idle, but sometimes sitting on the couch watching movies for a few hours can be pretty awesome.

Thank you so much, Jen, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We think you rock!!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Jaime Zollars

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. (Please note that I do know today is actually Wednesday! I'm afraid I'm a day late this month! But what can I say?—it's summer!!!)

I’m pleased as pink lemonade punch to be chatting it up with the rockstar Illustrator, Jaime Zollars! I've been a total fan girl for Jaime's artwork going back many, many years to when we were both living in Los Angeles, unpublished and doing lots of volunteer work with the SCBWI! Jaime holds a BA in photography from UMBC and a BFA in illustration from the Art Center College of Design. She has illustrated children's books, magazines, newspapers and ad campaigns. Her clients include Random House, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic and many more. She is inspired by fairy tales, Flemish painters, forgotten paper and flea market photographs. Jaime currents resides in Charleston, South Carolina with her dashing husband, sarcastic 10-year old son & sunny 5-year old daughter. You can view more of her artwork here!

Jaime with photo bomber cuteness!!

Q: You are the master of mysterious & wonderous middle grade novel book covers and interiors! Give us the scoop on your process—from ideas & sketches to typography & color/BW final art—for approaching the unique needs of this genre as an illustrator.

A: Middle grade covers are my favorite assignments. My process ends up being slightly different every time because every book is different. I see book covers as puzzles to solve, where content, mood, and typography need to be be carefully considered and then seamlessly blended. This is almost always a fun challenge.

From a technical standpoint, I try to read the book first (if the deadline allows for it and I get a full manuscript) and I take a lots of notes. I write down setting information, mood, favorite quotes, favorite moments, important symbols, and anything else I can imagine making its way to the cover. This ends up saving me a ton of time in the long run. Even though these details are my favorite aspects of creating imagery, I understand that a quick and captivating first read is truly what makes a cover stand out. I start making very loose and tiny (1”) thumbnail compositions. I try to vary these as much as possible, and often barely pencil in anything but the major shapes, curves, and proportions of my ideas. I leave space for type and sometimes rough out the type myself. When I get them to an interesting place, I start filling in details. I usually pick 3-5 or so that I like the best, scan them, and print them out a bit larger (3-4”). I then use vellum paper or a light box to refine and add details and submit those to the Art Director.

Process—aka artist brain scan.

From a creative standpoint, I pay specific attention to the mood of the piece. The overall feel of a cover comes first for me and has to match the story so that the illustration not only attracts readers - it hopefully attracts the right readers. As I’m refining my ideas, I keep this in mind and make sure that I’m not simply focusing on my own favorite images. If I get stuck, I sometimes go to the book store and note covers that I like. I then ask myself why I like each one. My aim is not to copy those covers, but to acknowledge what draws me to them. I look at all kinds of covers, not just those in the children’s section. It might be that an image uses silhouettes for a dramatic effect, is monochromatic, employs the use of pattern, or involves a very close up view of something. These observations may drive me to try my hand at similar conventions within the world I’m drawing, resulting in a larger pool of possibilities from which to begin. We often get wrapped up in our own habits, and breaking them can be especially useful when trying to give each author something uniquely theirs.

Once an art director gets my sketches, she will show them to the editor and may come back with a favorite or two to refine, along with notes or suggestions. I’ll then make tighter compositions of the favorites (often with value or color) and those will be shown at a larger meeting until we are happy. Sometimes I will draw the type, and sometimes the publisher will hire a lettering artist or typeset it themselves. Then it is on to final art!
Ooo! Doesn't this look fabulously mysterious?! Lettering by Alyssa Nassner!

Q: What is your most favorite middle novel project that you’ve worked on and why?

A: This is an impossible question at the moment, mostly because it is the variety of these novels that I cherish the most. The overall challenge of bringing something new every time is the real joy in this process for me. While I’ve enjoyed each cover experience for different reasons, I will say that The Greenglass House books by Kate Milford opened my mind to using a flatter, more graphic style, and this opened many possibilities (and jobs!) for me. And I love being a part of the rich world she has created. I am working on book three in the series right now.

Enter a Glossy Web
by McKenna Ruebush will always be near and dear to me. The book has so many surprising and thoughtful details that I was encouraged to include in my tiny pencil renderings for the chapter headings. They are still some of my favorite drawings. 

Carter and Grit by Sarah Jean Horwitz was one of the most fun covers to brainstorm, with its animatronic cats and gritty city details alongside beautiful fairy gardens. The story’s competing worlds allowed me to experiment in mixing graphic elements alongside delicate renderings in the same image.

I suppose my long answer is an attempt to explain that I’m still embracing (and learning from) each cover that comes my way, so it is difficult to pick favorites!

Trio of book cover awesomeness!!!

Q: Your debut picture book as an author-illustrator, The Truth About Dragons, releases in Spring/Summer 2020. Chat with us a bit about transitioning into writing as well as illustrating. How does your process as an author-illustrator differ from that of illustrator-only work?

A: Oh boy, I resisted writing my own stories for years. I resisted because I felt unqualified next to those who have trained in writing and put in the work to make it a career. I resisted because I knew it would be hard and I was afraid that I couldn’t do it. I also preferred the idea of collaborating with a great author. Alas, for years I found that even though I was getting jobs illustrating the books of others, I failed to connect with a majority of the titles. After waiting around (too long) for a perfect storm, I decided it was time to give writing a try. Even though it seems like everyone I’ve ever met is writing a picture book, actually sitting down and making one is difficult. The process is also much longer (at least in my case) as an author-illustrator. I’m lucky to have an amazing agent, Stephen Barr, who was able to look at all of my ideas, pick out the most promising, help in its development, and encourage me along the way. I’m sure I would have quit without his regular prodding and insistence that making my own book was a worthwhile endeavor. Stephen was also able to sell it 18 months later, when I finally had something tangible in hand. I was thrilled to sell my first book at age 40! I only wish I would have had the courage to trust my own ideas much sooner. Even though I felt like I’d already made this book when it sold, the process only begins upon selling a book. I was then introduced to my editor (the amazing Deirdre Jones) who shares (or at least humors) my love for details. We spent several months ironing out all of the kinks and fine-tuning the story. I used to think that having complete control over my book would make things simpler, when in fact it makes the process much more daunting and difficult for me. I have jumped from text to image and back again thousands of times making adjustments. I am responsible for the entire project, which is simultaneously exciting and stressful, but uniquely rewarding! I have also found much more joy in the process of working with my agent and editor through the process than I thought I would. I used to fear revisions and change (the messiness of a book’s moving parts) but I now see these things as a necessary process that will result in a better book. After years of hemming, hawing, and doubting, I’m excited to finally be producing final art for my own title.

Every fantastical middle grade novel needs a wonderous map! Am I right?!

Q: The children’s publishing market is vast and often it can be a challenge for creatives to find where their work is best suited. Dish with us about your journey to find your niche within the children’s publishing world. And what advice would you give fellow illustrators about finding their own niches?

A: I would say that trusting your gut is important. It is very easy to say this now, but I remember not being able to do so years ago. I’ve always had work that felt sophisticated for the younger set, but I still wanted to work in books for young readers. When I graduated from art school, I went to New York and showed my portfolio. Everyone seemed to love it! The only hiccup was that all of the children’s publishers felt I’d do great in the editorial world, and all of the editorial art directors felt I’d be championed in the world of children’s publishing. I subsequently spent years splitting my work between “personal” gallery work, and “commercial” picture book work. Neither was exactly what I had wanted to be doing, but it worked for years at paying the bills. There came a point where my gallery work was being recognized in annual competitions, and at the same time I felt burned out producing what I thought everyone wanted from me in the publishing world. I started teaching and continued raising my kids (now 5 and 10) while regrouping and setting new goals. I noticed that the artists I admired were able to be themselves across multiple illustration markets. I started to pay close attention to what it was that I wanted for myself. My students at MICA were amazing and talented. Their exponential growth and joy in creating reminded me that I still had much to accomplish myself, and gave me the energy and courage to jump back into the freelance world full-time. Four years ago, I spent a year researching agents and channeling what I love about illustration back into my work. I then submitted to and signed with my current literary agent at a time when I felt confident in my work and goals for the first time in years. My work finally represented what I wanted to spend my time doing. I didn’t even fear being rejected (for the first time in forever) because I wasn’t willing to go back to making work with which I felt no connection. Being older and understanding that time is our most important resource helped greatly with that realization. A clear and focused vision alongside an agent who is on the same page has been everything for my career the past few years. Every assignment has been an appropriate and exciting challenge and I now look forward to my work every day!

Q: Throughout your career you’ve worked with both art agents and literary agents. What would you say are the advantages of each? As well as the challenges of each?

A: I have worked with both types of agents and there are pros and cons to each scenario. I won’t speak for everyone here because every agent is different, but can speak to my experience and those of my illustrator pals. Generally, an art agent can find you work in many different markets and categories under the umbrella of illustration. With these agents, you may be able to get jobs illustrating for books, magazines, advertising campaigns, merchandise and whatever else you can imagine. These agents usually take higher fees (25-35%) in exchange for advertising to and keeping up with multiple markets. There are also art agents specific to the children’s market. These agents can find you all types of work under the category of children’s art, which may include children’s products, books and magazines. These agents may also find you educational work. This is artwork for textbooks, reading books, and classroom posters. Educational projects really helped me out when I was beginning my career, allowing me paint and draw for a living in the years before my first trade book deal was signed.

Luminous, lovely and intriguing!

A literary agent will typically charge a lower fee (about 15%) but generally limits his scope to securing book deals alone. While there exist literary agents who will work with illustrators-only, most are interested in helping to develop and debut author-illustrators. Literary agents are often people with excellent editing and writing skills who can be a wonderful help to illustrators beginning to write. Literary agents run the gamut from being relatively hands-off to very editorial with their clients, guiding every step in the process to publication. Their limited scope allows them to focus on one market, which often means they are tuned into the nuances of their territory and adept at helping find an author-illustrator’s niche. Alas, they won’t be calling you for cool wine label illustration jobs or other art opportunities unrelated to publishing.

Which type of agent you should choose really depends on your work and where you fit, whether or not you want to focus on your own stories, and most importantly - where you find your match. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of finding an agent who understands and is excited about YOUR goals. You can have the world’s best agent, but if you are not on the same page about the desired results, you will never achieve them! You must first be honest with yourself about these goals, because your agent cannot help you if she don’t know what you want. Ultimately you must feel like your agent believes in your work and knows how to sell it. If you can find that match, their designation (whether an art agent or literary agent) is not most important. There are many art agents who are also excellent editors, and literary agents who have brokered jobs outside of their wheelhouse. This is another scenario where trusting your gut is sound advice!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My most perfect Sunday varies in its activity, but not in its company. I love spending the limited time I have outside of work (and driving to and from kid-activities) with my family. We are at that point in life where our son is more than halfway to college. This realization has led to some deliberate and dramatic scheming to spend more time together. We are entertaining buying a camper and hitting National and State Parks with our limited free weekends. This may turn out to be an absurd idea, but I think it would be even more absurd not to follow through!

Thank you so much, Jaime, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We love your awesome art, and we can't wait for the release of The Truth About Dragons! Congrats!