Saturday, April 23, 2016

Interview with author/illustrator HYEWON YUM

Hyewon Yum was in my class at SVA many years ago. She had just moved to NY from Korea and did not speak very much English. She was quiet but very hard working and very talented. She went on to earn her MFA at SVA, and soon after graduating, published her first book, LAST NIGHT, in 2008 to great acclaim. She has been very busy writing and illustrating ever since: her newest book, PUDDLE, has just been published. This week she returned to SVA, to talk to my current students. Everyone was awe-struck by her beautiful work and inspired by her experimentation and creativity. Thank you Hyewon for sharing your story with us!

Where did the idea for PUDDLE come from?
It came from my little boy. Just like in the book, I don't really like going out when it rains, but with little kids, being stuck in a little city apartment isn't very interesting. So I tried to have fun with my little boy who asked me draw. First I started to draw him, he was pretty interested. And when I drew mad mom, he laughed so hard. (people do enjoy other people's pain!) But the thing that struck me most is whenever I drew different face expressions, his facial expression changed. It was such a precious moment to see emotions and sympathy on your child's face.

Where do you live and what is your studio like?
I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It's a really great place. So many artists live here, and there are the best bookstores and coffee places. But my place is small, my work tables are in the basement, so when it's spring I usually do sketches on the kitchen table which has a window.

Can you tell us about your art materials? You have used many different art materials and techniques in your various books - printmaking, collage, painting, computer - but every book looks like it is clearly made by you! Experimenting with materials and techniques is part of your style.
I love to try new materials. It's like a new box of crayons that never fails to inspire you to draw when you were a kid.

Going back to your first book - because it is so exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us about LAST NIGHT?  How did it get started? What were some the stages?
LAST NIGHT was my MFA thesis book. In 2006, I started working on this book. Originally it was story about a house wife having an affair with a black bear. It was done by etching. But I needed to make it into a children's book for my portfolio since I wanted to make picture books. So I started with different medium (Linocut) and different color palette.

First I made thumbnail sketches to see how the story would be (because I didn't have much of an idea what the story was just yet.)

When I was done with thumbnails, I made bigger sketches and planned what color goes where, where I should cut on the linocut. Then print! I started with lighter colors, then made more cuts on the plate, then printed darker colors. After I made prints for all the images, I scanned them and printed them out  on watercolor paper and bound them together. There were no words.

How did you meet your editor?
I met my first editor, Frances Foster, while I was in my first year in SVA. I emailed her. Of course I didn't expect she would actually meet me. But she did. And then I invited her to my thesis show and she liked the book I made and published it as it was, without any changes! There: LAST NIGHT!

What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young?  Yes, I always drew. I used to bite my fingers all the time and as a therapy my mom sent me to art class. Then no more biting fingers, believe it or not.

How did you decide you wanted to be an author and illustrator of children's books?
After art school in Korea, I had a chance to do illustrations for children's books. I had no idea about picture books, and the publisher taught me alot and introduced me to amazing books from Europe, Japan and America. Then I knew that's what I wanted to do.

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?
I still remember you read us WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak and COME AWAY FROM WATER SHIRLEY by John Burningham. (unfortunately I didn't grow up with those books!) It made me think about books from a totally different point of view. We open the book and walk through this world: when Max's room becomes the forest, it is magic that happens every time you turn the page. I am still thinking about those books whenever I start a new book and I am still learning from them.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
I did it, so can you!

To find out more about Hyewon and her books, visit her website here

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

April is School Library Month

School librarian extraordinaire, Ms Rattner, ( invited me to her school near Albany, NY. Librarians put so much work into making sure author visits go smoothly: Thank you!!!  School visits are so much fun. I love sharing my books and how I make them with children. 

I showed a bit of home life - They got a kick out of this picture of my cat: 

 And Zoe likes to hang out with me when I paint.

I explain how I first do research when I start a book. Here is a reference picture that helped me when I worked on Mr Cookie Baker

Here is my first sketch:

And after numerous revisions and versions, here is the picture in the book.

Later there was the chance for some of the children to do their own sketches based on famous French paintings. They were so creative. 

The theme of the evening activities was France (for the Readover Sleepover - in the library and classrooms!) Here I am together with Ms Rattner and Crepes by Suzette! It was a jam-packed visit: à bientôt and Merci!

Librarians are GREAT! Thank you for the tremendous write-up at LibrarianLeaps

Friday, February 19, 2016

Interview with author/illustrator SUSIE LEE JIN

Susie Lee Jin was in my children's book illustration class at SVA some years ago. She went on to earn her MFA there and has worked as a free-lance illustrator doing a broad range of projects for an impressive list of clients. MINE! is her debut book as an author and illustrator. Congratulations!

Susie's story is told with only three different words: "mine" (repeated numerous times!), "ours", and "yours". This is energetic and hilarious storytelling pared down to the essentials! You will fall in love with these two adorable bunnies. 

It is exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us about yours? 
Sure, I’d love to! Thanks for inviting me to share my story.  It all started with your class— you were my first children's book teacher, and I'm still using what you taught me about story boarding… Thank you, Monica!

How did MINE get started? What were some the stages?
I usually start a project by doodling.  I find a quiet place to sit with a stack of copy paper, pencils, and kneaded eraser, and I just sketch and daydream.  I draw characters and give them quirks, then try to picture how they might act and feel in different social situations.  They are partly imagined as well as loosely based on memories and people I know.  The whole exercise is pure self-entertainment. I know I’m on to a good idea if I’m having a good time.   

For MINE!, I began by sketching two bunny friends playing in the snow, chasing one another with snowballs and making snow bunny-angels.   I remembered sliding down an icy hill on an old coat with my big sister Virginia and exploring our neighborhood together, and these childhood memories jump-started my imagination.  

I drafted the dummy for MINE! half a dozen times before it started to come together. After sharing it with my writing critique partner and at a couple of children’s book events, I reworked it a few more times.  At this point (after about a year and a half!), I felt pretty good about the story.  I put it in a drawer to marinate for a month, intending to look at it with fresh eyes and tweak it just one more time before submitting it to a publisher.   

That fall, I brought MINE! to a portfolio review event at the Children’s Book Illustrator’s Group, where I met with art director Lucy Ruth Cummins of Simon & Schuster.  I was sitting on the edge of my chair as she looked through my book draft.  I recall her turning the pages and chuckling until she reached the end.  Her reaction alone really made my day. Then she offered to pass MINE! on to her editorial team, making no promises.  A wonderful surprise appeared in my email box that following New Year’s in the form of a book contract offer, from my thereafter awesome editor Justin Chanda.  It was an amazing journey to publication from there. Justin and Lucy had some great ideas for revising, and their input helped me make MINE! even better.  I’m so pleased and proud of my first picture book!

What was your favorite part of working on this book?
My favorite part was visualizing the relationships of the rabbits. I know their personalities well.  In particular, I really liked drawing and painting the tiny bunnies high-fiving after they make their getaway with the carrot.  

And the most difficult part? 
Mixing enough gouache paint for forty pages’ worth of picture book art!  MINE! is my biggest illustration project so far—since all the pieces were hand-painted, I wanted to make sure my color palette was consistent throughout the book.  Before starting on the final art, I sat hunched at my desk for a couple of days just squeezing out tubes of paint, mixing and remixing, and storing my paints in little labeled containers.  I was so paranoid I would not be able to exactly remix a rabbit fur color or something, hence all the prepping! And then, of course, actually making the forty pages of book art was quite a painting marathon. 

Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials? 
I live in Fort Lee, NJ, right across from George Washington Bridge and New York City.  My home studio is upstairs, and I think of it as three parts— one side is my messy artist “kitchen” with sink and faucet, cabinets, and a big closet for all my art supplies; the other side is my office with computer, scanner, printers, and a library of favorite children’s books; and nestled in the middle is my art table facing a tall window with great natural light. Within reach are lots of pencils and pens, pencil sharpener, eraser, loose copy paper, scissors and tape.  These are the materials I use the most.  My walls are dotted with sticky notes of sketches and ideas and art reference photos for various projects. I also have some framed pieces that inspire me— the amazing interior fold-out spread from Valeri Gorbachev’s ONE RAINY DAY; a few postcards  of drawings by Bill Traylor; and several carefree drawings created by my family members. 

What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young? 
I was an avid reader.  I loved (and still love) reading and getting lost in stories, in the worlds of other people’s imaginations.  My favorite go-to books as a child were my illustrated GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES, RAGGEDY ANN AND ANDY stories by Johnny Gruelle, and my TREASURY OF PETER RABBIT AND OTHER STORIES by Beatrix Potter. Later I remember being especially enraptured by my beautiful copies of SWAN LAKE by Mark Helprin, illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, and PUSS IN BOOTS illustrated by Fred Marcellino. All of these books enchanted me.  And, yes, when I was not reading or riding my bike or exploring my neighborhood, I was probably making something out of crayons, cut paper, paint, mud, or you name it.  My mother encouraged me by gifting me a variety of art supplies, and I was often experimenting with combining materials.  I was so engrossed at times that everything else disappeared.

How did you decide you wanted to be an author and illustrator of children's books?
In addition to reading a lot as a kid, I also watched a LOT of television.  One of my favorite shows was READING RAINBOW with LeVar Burton.  I enjoyed listening to the stories as the camera panned over the book art, and I still remember how strongly they made me feel.  The shock of the fire and consoling community in A CHAIR FOR MY MOTHER; the desperation caused by drought and valiant Kipat shooting the storm cloud in BRINGING THE RAIN TO KAPITI PLAIN; and the empathy I felt for GREGORY, THE TERRIBLE EATER who like myself was a gastronomically picky child. The narrated books made me want to read and see more books.  One inspiring episode had a catchy song “Making a Book” that showed how to cut, glue, and sew together your own book with cardboard, paper, and yarn.  Another episode explained the four-color process printing of a picture book, and yet another featured a visit to an illustrator’s studio.  I was totally floored.  Later when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, these precious memories came back to me.  I loved creative writing and storytelling.  I loved children’s books.  I loved making art.  I decided to put these passions together and go for it.  

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs?
I have been in the illustration business for over thirteen years now, and art as a career is unpredictable.  The “ups” are times of plenty— contracts-in-hand and lots of illustrations due, often at the same time!— and the “downs” are times of nothing-in-hand and trying to secure that next project.  Sometimes the whole business feels like a crapshoot!

During these lulls, one big challenge for me is maintaining self-momentum.  I’m constantly chiding myself while cheering myself on, “You can do it, Susie!”  I have one-woman art business meetings to outline a game plan for the day, week, month, and year.  I remind myself that my art can be whimsical, but not my work ethic.  When I’m not working on art for others, I keep myself busy developing my own dummy ideas and marketing plans. Running an art business, I wear a lot of hats and need to stay disciplined and manage my time well.  Good thing I love being my own boss!

Another “up” is getting to know and work with other artists and professionals who also love children’s books.   I’m not at all lonely in my work, because I love what I do; but working in my art space, I often am alone.  A regular challenge is to leave the vacuum of my art studio once in a while and see the world!  I go to book events and expos, schools full of budding readers, libraries and book stores and meet up with my artist-friends for professional advice, critiques of work-in-progress, and moral support.  These people affirm that I am not the only one in the world in the visual storytelling business.  Art is being made on a global scale, by unique people with talents to discover and admire and compete with.  

With all this global competition, rejections are a natural byproduct.  I have been rejected PLENTY. In general, though, the children’s publishing world has been a kind community to me.  I have found children’s art people to be gracious folk, and rejections often were/are accompanied by to encouraging notes and constructive criticism.  Whether via a form letter, handwritten note, or that silent non-reply that is in itself a rejection, rejection to me is proof positive that I am actively striving to find that editor or art director who “gets” me creatively.   I think of it as a search for a kindred spirit (nod to ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, ya’ll!).  You may get a hundred NO’s, but you just need one YES! to get published.

Being an author-illustrator is rewarding work and what I want to do each day.  When I see or hear kids reading my books, my heart feels very full.  I would not want to do anything else.

What are some of your other projects that you are currently working on? 
I’m currently working on picture book illustrations for a story about a little dog who gets adopted, as well as developing a few dummies of my own picture book and board book ideas.
Can you tell us about your experiences with children's books in the years building up to your debut with MINE?  
After your class, I went on to SVA's MFA Illustration program, which further expanded the publishing world for me.  My primary undergraduate studies at Duke University were English and elementary school education, so coming from a non-arts liberal educational background, this was indeed a new world for me to explore. I was able to focus on children's books writing and illustration for a FULL TWO YEARS.  And the people; oh, the amazing people!  The other students in the program were/are inspirational and diversely talented.  I also loved that my teachers had themselves made a lifetime commitment to the arts, and they created an engaging atmosphere to hone our illustration skills.  More importantly, they encouraged us to draw from our personal stories, to find our unique visual-storytelling voices. 

Entering the SVA MFA program was my first big commitment toward my dream of being a professional artist. At that time I decided to knock on as many doors as I could.  Being a student at SVA helped make those doors open.  Some of the highlights were two internships at Penguin's imprints G.P. Putnam's Sons and Phyllis Fogelman Books. I especially grew under the mentorship of amazing Art Director Cecilia Yung and her art/editorial team.  They graciously invited me into their offices to ask as many questions as I had in me, and I had a million-plus questions that they graciously answered!

I also spent a lot of time reading children’s books, at book stores and in Penguin’s resource library.  CAR WASH was a picture book they were working on at the time, and I remember poring over ATLANTIC, which had just come out.  Both titles were illustrated by fabulous children's book author-illustrator G. Brian Karas.  I’m telling you this because during a student's second year, the SVA MFA program facilitates a mentorship with a working visual artist.  I remember nervously emailing G. Brian Karas to inquire if he would consider being that person for me.  When he replied “Yes,” I was beyond excited.  Someone I looked up to was going to be by side for a whole year.  That it could even happen was fantastic.

I am a big believer in continuing education for a lifetime.  When I think about the start of my professional journey, I consider the School of Visual Arts as a launching point for me in many ways.  I consider myself lucky and blessed to have been a part of that magic.  Those opportunities and fellow artists helped me become the artist I am today.

And finally, do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
Focus on creating your best work and personal voice— read a lot, write a lot, and draw a lot.  Then get your work out there.

To see more about Susie's artwork visit her website here
For more interviews in my series with my SVA Alums:  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Make Way for .... ALA Midwinter 2016 in Boston

Loved the T-shirts worn by the librarians on the Caldecott committee! 
So many books, so many librarians = three very busy days!  

Super exciting to spot on display at the publishers' booths numerous picture books coming out this year by my alums of SVA class. I am so proud of them!!!

I got advanced copies of:
Where's the Party, by Ruth Chan (debut!) 
Lorenzo the Pizza-Loving Lobster, by Claire Lordon (debut!)
Let's Go to the Hardware Store, illustrated by Melissa Iwai
Two Friends, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Puddle, illustrated by Hyewon Yum
and saw The Grumpy Pets, by Kristine Lombardi

At the very end, as things were closing down, many of the publishers gave away the books at their booths.  I loved when two librarian friends had a friendly "fight" over who was going to get the last copy of My Three Best Friends and Me,  Zulay by Vanessa Brantley Newton, also from SVA class. 

Of course a highlight on Monday morning was the announcements of the Caldecott and the Newbery and more, with all the details here. It was all SO exciting!

Now back to NYC. My suitcase is very heavy and full of books, and I can't wait to get reading!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Celebrating Books by "my SVA alums" in 2015

End of the year = time for book lists. I'm going to add mine: books published this year by illustrators who have been, at one time or another, in my class at The School of Visual Arts. A fantastic bunch indeed! So proud of everyone: Congratulations!

Selina Alko and Sean Qualls wrote and illustrated: The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage.  Selina and Sean have each done numerous books and this is their debut together.

Debuts are especially exciting and Kristine Lombardi's first picture book was Lovey Bunny.  I did a Q&A with her here

Vanessa Brantley-Newton's new books this year included: My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay and Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers' Journey from Slave to Artist I did a Q&A with her here

Jannie Ho had several books out from Nosy Crow including Pookie Pop Plays Hide-and-Seek  I did a Q&A with her here

Hyewon Yum illustrated The Fun Book of Scary Stuff written by Emily Jenkins

Lisa Anchin's debut picture book was A Penguin named Patience: A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story

Melissa Iwai's Good Night Engines from 2003 came out in a new Spanish/English edition. Great to see books staying in print and going strong!

Some people expand in new directions. For teens, Linas Alsenas has written Beyond Clueless. 

For adults, Jennifer Hayden's graphic novel is The Story of My Tits and has just been highlighted by the New York Times here   

Amazing books all! And I'm looking forward to many new books in 2016 by these illustrators and more. Record number of debuts coming up!

I regularly post news from my former students over at twitter: @monicabooks with hashtag: #mySVAalums

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Art projects with leaves at this time of year are fabulous!

I've been hearing about amazing art with fall leaves! Bloggers have been posting about MY LEAF BOOK and about the leaf projects they have been doing with children. I am thrilled! I bet you will get inspired too - take a look:

Sturdy for Common Things

No Time for Flash Cards

Off the Shelf Blog

And here at Colby Sharp's Blog I answered a few questions, starting with:

Can you tell us a little bit about MY LEAF BOOK?
I still have my first leaf book, which I made about 50 years ago.
The leaves are brittle and brown but still very beautiful. I
remember how excited I was to collect as many different kinds of
leaves as I could find on that walk in the woods. I found 21. I
hope My Leaf Book inspires children to make their own leaf
collections and that they keep them for many years, too.

original leaf book 4
original leaf book 2
original leaf book 3
original leaf book

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Crêpes by Suzette for Teachers

Tips and Suggestions for parents and educators for using Crepes by Suzette book app with children.
Curriculum Tie-ins for preK-2nd Grade.
Foreign Languages: Studies all show that the earlier children start learning new languages the better. Crêpes by Suzette is a great tool for learning some first words in French, with a perfect accent of course! Encourage your children to repeat and imitate the voices they hear when they touch the people and animals in the pictures. Open the “Vocabulary” page from the “Map” and practice the featured word in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Japanese. Listen to the narrations in these foreign languages to get a flavor of each language as spoken by native speakers. Especially for young children in bilingual schools, Crêpes by Suzette is a great classroom tool.
Setting/Foreign Cities: In addition to the story and illustrations themselves, you learn more about Paris from the photos and videos (accessed from the “Map”). These all expand your understanding of the setting of this story and can lead to many questions and discussions. Imagine you are living in P aris like Suzette. What kind of building might you live in? Where might you go to play with your friends? What might be a special outing with your parents?
Maps and Map Making: Discuss directions (north, south, east, west, left, right), key concepts of streets, landmarks, rivers, bridges, islands, etc. Use the map to better understand the city of Paris and to follow Suzette's route through the course of the day. Supplement with Google map and “street view” to compare and contrast. Create your own map and story about another city, real or imaginary.
Art/Artists/Museums: Introduce your children to some iconic works of art. Each of Suzette’s customers are based on people in famous paintings and sculptures. Open the “Art” page from the “Map”, and follow the links to the museums where children, together with the adult, can learn more about some great works of art, such as da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Degas's Little Dancer. There is a “parental gate” so that children can not leave the app to go on the internet on their own. However, if you follow the instructions (hold down the link for several seconds), you will be able to leave the app and go to the websites of numerous museums.
Cooking: Practice sequencing through the process of cooking. Follow the steps of how to make crêpes with Suzette, through the 14 pages of the story. Talk about: first, then, next, after last, finally. In addition to the story, in the app there is a recipe and two crêpe making videos.  Discuss the steps of cooking crêpes and make your own following the recipe. This can be “real” or through pretend play. Children can make their own cooking videos.
Running a Business: Suzette is a street vendor with her own small business of making and selling crêpes. Discuss concepts of business, commerce, customers, menus, taking their orders, money, counting and math. Use Suzette as a role model and imagine other kinds of small businesses. Children can create their own business in pretend play.
The Five Senses: Suzette travels all around Paris, all while making crêpes from her cart. Focus on the the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Describe the various ways the senses are experienced over the course of the day with Suzette. There is much to see in the beautiful city of Paris: important landmarks such as the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Seine River, the Eiffel Tower...and many small things when you look close up: a lion statue, gold statues on the top of a building, flowers in the gardens... Listen to the sounds and music on each page: what do they add to the story and atmosphere? Do they help you feel like you are in Paris? Imagine the smell of fresh fruits at the market. Imagine the smell of the crêpes cooking, and imagine finally holding a warm crêpe in your hands. Naturally you will want to taste crêpes yourself! Try the recipe: Bon appétit!

The app purposely does not have games, puzzles, coloring pages, or other kinds of non-book distractions. It is meant to stay close to the heart of the original book and to remain essentially a “book” experience. Enjoy and Bon Voyage!

For more info about the app, with links for purchase, click here