In celebration of National Peanut Day, I’m giving away three copies of TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH! to teachers and librarians (US only). The first three comments on this blog will get a copy and extra classroom goodies!
To say it’s been a busy month is an understatement. The same week that TOO MUCH! was released my family and I moved from our home of 16 years. We didn’t go far, we really love our town, but we still had to pack up all that stuff. AND host a launch party at Water Street Bookstore. THEN unpack (in theory, that part is going REALLY slow) and adjust to a new home, a new school year starting and lots of fun Peanut & Moe book parties.
If you’ve missed the fun, don’t worry. Join me (and Jannie Ho and Jennifer E. Morris) on September 23rd at 2pm at Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH. OR! Come to the Strawbery Banke Children’s Book festival during their Fall Festival on October 6th from 11am-3pm. Admission is free for the book festival and there will be a room full of authors and illustrators.
*I’m celebrating National Peanut Day by making muffins. It’s on the rainy day fun fortune teller, make one for yourself, here, on page 3.
Please enjoy this time-lapse process video of me, drawing Peanut & Moe. I created all the final art for this book on a Wacom Cintiq monitor using photoshop. The drawing part is sped up, but I believe it took me about 4 hours to paint from a fairly tight sketch to finish. Look for TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH! in stores in just two weeks!!!
As a side note - many (many many) years ago, I worked as a compositor at several different animation studios. I worked with 2D, 3D, and stop motion animation - taking all the elements and blending them into final frames for TV, motion ride films, and video games. I loved my work. I was pretty good at it, too. But I knew I wasn't in the right field. I wanted to make MY ideas and stories come to life - and being a compositor is just about following direction. I've been too chicken to jump into making videos (or...book trailers!) because I thought I wouldn't remember how to do any of this. And isn't it a terrible feeling to no longer be good at something? But I surprised myself by picking it up quickly and having fun. Something old became new again, and it's lovely!
These are just some of my original character design sketches for Peanut & Moe. I landed on Moe's design fairly quickly, but Peanut took a bit more tinkering. Once I had them fairly sorted, I made final art. For several years, all my Peanut & Moe art was a mix of gouache paint, colored pencil, a bit of multimedia (pink fur paper!) all cut and assembled to create a dimensional piece.
I'm still proud of the dry-brushing on that pancake stack!
This phase involved photographing the finished art. It was a technical challenge to get the shadows just right - soft, but pronounced.
At some point I relinquished my layered/photographed technique. The above is a combination of gouache and pencil, combined digitally.
And here they are, in the final spread from the book. 100% digital. I switched over to working on a Wacom Cintiq a few years ago and I am still over-the-moon-in-love with working this way. I hope it's as apparent to you also, how each iteration made the final idea and characters stronger. IMHO, every little edit to an eyebrow, finger shape, or color palette made an improvement. The power of persistence!
I like a catchy jingle. I like to either make them up or co-opt them from pop-culture and make them my own. I guess you could say it's my 'thing', though not many people know this about me.
Many years ago I took a depressing indie tune with the lyrics 'too much, not too much' and turned it into the more upbeat and amusing, 'Too much mayo, not enough mayo'. (I will gladly sing it for you if you see me in real life and ask nicely) Naturally, I sang it to make turkey sandwiches.
On a quiet drive home from an illustrator meeting, I somehow realized 'too much! not enough!" was a fantastic refrain for a picture book. This may have been my first original idea for a book of my own. And if it wasn't, it was certainly the first one that seemed good enough to remember.
It seems like a bit of a miracle, but this little note from nine years ago fits the book coming out in August. Originally I named the monsters Little & Big. Names would go through major revisions, but the characters never wavered.
I struck gold (sort of!) with premise #2. The first part is essentially what happens, and they do get to camp under the stars but you have to wait until book #2 comes out next year.
So, you might be thinking, "What the heck took nine years if you figured all this out from the start?". I'm showing you snippets from a notebook that I started on August 20th, 2009. My son was 8 months old and I was on the verge of a breakdown because I just needed time to myself to make art. That Sunday morning I left with a mission, putting my husband on baby duty, while I grabbed a new notebook and headed for the nearest coffee shop. I got there and it wasn't open yet. Wasn't going to be open anytime soon, in fact. I may have cried. But then I got to work. I sat in my car and wrote page after page. I doodled ideas for what these monster friends looked like. I thought of all the ways they could irritate each other, and how the little guy would make things better. And then I went home. Back to my overwhelmed new stay-at-home-mom life. But the glimmer of this book was a life line.
I worked on this story all those years. Bird by bird, as Anne Lamott would say. I made art. I made dummies. I shared them with critique partners and started from scratch again. I got an agent and we submitted my dummy. It made it to sales and acquisitions and to revision with two lovely publishers at the same time. And because publishing is often perplexing and unpredictable, it ended up back on my desk again. There was a small army of wonderful friends who listened when I grouched about how long it was all taking. I got busy with other projects and sold my first book, SMALL. Around the same time, I illustrated a book with a fantastic editor at Tundra books. When it was time to think about my monsters again, my agent and I wondered. Perhaps Samantha Swenson would be a good match? The first news was good! But then time went by (again, publishing) and I worried. But the real news was spectacular. Not only did Tundra want to publish TOO MUCH, they offered me a two book deal. And as fate would have it, that second book is another Peanut & Moe story. I had known these characters for so long, that they almost wrote their own second story. Oh, pish. I wrote it. With the wonderful and smart guidance of my editor, Sam. And this one didn't take nine years from start to finish. It took under a year.
I will share a lot about Peanut & Moe in the weeks leading up to their book debut, but I wanted to start here. Whether you are a reader, a teacher, or a pre-published author, I hope you walk away learning a bit about what inspires me as a writer (jingles!) and what helped me publish this book (tenacity! passion! good friends! never quitting! a great agent, editor, and publisher!)
2. Up in the Loft I finally made it to an event at The Writers Loft in Sherborn, Massachusetts. I attended an excellent panel presentation titled "Behind the Bookshelves: A Panel on Building Relationships with Bookstores. It was a packed room, and the content was so helpful and relevant. Book promotion has been overwhelming, and I learned some new and valuable gems. Thanks to everyone on the panel and the moderator: Sarah Berman (of Concord Bookshop), Carter Hasegawa, Josh Funk, Peter Sherman (Wellesley Books), and Alison Pottern Hoch. If you live near the Writers Loft it is absolutely worth checking out. Jannie Ho will be presenting on Tuesday: The Illustrator Who Writes
3. Double-Dad Giveaway! I really enjoyed interviewing Chana Stiefel about Daddy Depot. It's a sweet and funny picture book about exchanging your not-so-perfect Dad at a very unique store. Chana and I are each giving away a copy of our Dad-themed books to one lucky winner. There are 6 days left in the giveaway!
4. I'll Meet You at the Library I will be reading SMALL at the Weymouth Public Library on October 7th at 2pm. This is my childhood hometown library and I'm really looking forward to stepping into that magical place after so many years. I hope any friends and family nearby can make it - we'll make it a fun time for all the kids - reading, drawing, talking about being an author/illustrator.
5. Working on the Go I've been talking about getting an iPad Pro and pencil all year. I have an awesome work setup at home between my Mac and my Cintiq. But I have long hoped for a way to write and draw while I'm away from home - whether it's during kid activities, or on vacation, or just escaping to the coffee shop to work. I've also known that I need a device to start doing school presentations. I can be a real slow-poke to make big purchases, but my husband thought this was the perfect birthday gift and I think he was right. He's always been very supportive (and knows how cheap, erm, practical I can be with equipment). I've only had it a few days, but I loved bringing it to the Writer's Loft event and TYPING my notes on my lap. I'm playing with Procreate and trying to find the brushes and settings that feel just right. If anyone has recommendations, I'd love to hear them!
P.S. I'm so thankful for all the kidlit friends, new and old, who have supported me this year.
P.P.S Check out this cool SMALL review on Missy's Product Reviews - thanks, Missy!
The next two weeks is super busy - school is ending and I'll be zipping around, promoting IT'S GREAT BEING A DAD. Here is what's happening this weekend:
This Saturday, from 1-3pm I will be reading and signing books at Barnes & Noble in Newington, NH. If you are looking for something outside the madness of Market Square Day, come on by! I will have goodies and crafts on hand. I also have these cool Father's Day cards - get all your gift giving done while having fun. Speaking of hands. Check out this brilliant idea from Michelle at The Book Report for personalizing a book for a Dad. Kids handprints on the endpapers. SO amazing!
On Sunday, from 10am-4pm, I will be at KidsCon New England at the Radisson in Nashua, NH. This is the second year for KidsCon and photos from last year (see above) look amazing. Cosplay, Jedi Academy, pirates, Ghostbusters, tons of artists and awesome vendors. From 10:30-11:15am I will be teaching a workshop for kids, "How to Draw Imaginary Creatures" - then hanging out at table B-9 (you sunk my battleship!). My friends Jennifer Marsh Morris, Jannie Ho, Dani Jones, Dan Moynihan, and Smile Create Repeat will be there, too! Stop by to say hello if you come.
With Father's Day around the corner, I thought it was a great time to have a book giveaway. I'm giving away one copy of IT'S GREAT BEING A DAD by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by me. The giveaway ends May 30th and I will notify the winner promptly. Open to anyone 18+ years of age in US or Canada.
I promised a little NESCBWI Conference recap, so here are my top five takeaways:
1. Oh, hello! Taking a few years off of this conference was exactly what I needed in order to reboot my perspective. I really enjoyed meeting lots of new people and listening to where they are on their journey. We all know we are part of a tribe, but this tribe comes from a million unique and interesting places - and it was a blast getting to soak it all up. And I had the special privilege of meeting (IRL!) some of my newest tribe - Picture The Books 2017 We are a group of debut children's book authors and illustrators. Their collective talent is only surpassed by their kindness.
2. Always take Sudipta's workshops. I've said this before on my blog. If you want to walk away from a writing workshop with tools to improve, look no further than Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Also, you will NEVER fall asleep in her presence. Even after you stayed up way too late both nights before...
3. Mr Schu is in the house. Pass the tissues. I was literally tearing up within 2 minutes of Mr. Schu's presentation. In a good way, of course. I am SO thankful to NESCBWI for snagging him for a moment of his busy year to remind us WHY we write for kids. I am so thrilled for all the kids around the country that will be infected with his sheer joy and love for books. His presentation wasn't all inspiration - I walked away with some really good tips about presenting my work online (BIG, clean book cover jpegs, ready for sharing!) and finding a larger tribe of librarian and teacher advocates.
4. And the award goes to... Christina Rodriguez! Honestly, that was the most polished, entertaining presentation... not including all the illustrator antics on stage. Or the fabulous prizes! I hope Sketch Battle returns at every possible opportunity. Or you trademark it and make it a prime time show. Thanks for bringing the fun (and the chocolates), Christina!
5. Vita Lane: ready for takeoff! Is there nothing better than seeing a good friend succeed? Keep an eye on my very dear friend, Vita Lane. She has always inspired me in all her creative accomplishments. But her latest work is just blowing me away. It's so good I have to share... Go read her post about her latest project and drool over her beautiful watercolors.
Be sure to enter the giveaway, it ends on May 30th (Psst. Starting on May 22nd, I'm also hosting a separate giveaway over on GoodReads)