Monday, January 13, 2020

A sweet tooth in France

When I am in France I love discovering beautiful and delicious patisseries! On my trip to La Côte d'Azur to visit my daughter, who is a new member of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, I have been doing a lot of bakery window shopping: always good to have many choices! Happy New Year 2020! Bonne année from France! 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Interview with illustrator YINFAN HUANG

Let’s celebrate Yinfan Huang’s debut as a picture book illustrator: THE COUCH POTATO has just been published! Written by Kerry Lyn Sparrow, this book is laugh-out-loud funny and sure to be a big hit with children. 

The story begins: “It didn’t belong there. No one knew where it came from. But there it was.” How does this family handle the appearance of a potato in their living room?  “Sparrow and debuting Huang cleverly and inventively reaffirm a universal family truth: never underestimate how a little annoyance can quickly escalate into a laughably big deal.” Publishers Weekly

Continuing my series of interviews with illustrators from The School of Visual Arts, I hope you enjoy this "talk" with Yinfan about the creation of her delightful book!

It is exciting to hear about an artist's journey to publication. How did THE COUCH POTATO get started? 
My agent recommended me to the editor of Kids Can Press, who was looking for an illustrator for the manuscript of The Couch Potato. And everyone thought it was a perfect match - the story is funny and quirky with dark-humor, which is exactly my style!

What was your favorite part of working on this book?  
Doing character studies! I love drawing people and their expressions. And it’s a very interesting and unique book - I love the fact that the main character, Mr. Russet, is a stay-home dad, and the mom, Mrs. Russet, is a working mom. This is not mentioned in the text, but you can see that from the visuals and subtext. I love that the book challenges gender stereotypes. 

And the most difficult part?  
Researching/drawing all the “messes” in a creative, not disgusting way!

When the author and illustrator are two different people, people often wonder if you had contact or communication during the making of the book?
I didn’t have any contact with the author during the creation of the book, which is normal. I communicated directly with my editor, who shared my artwork with the author during the late stage, and she was very pleased!

Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials?  
I live in a small studio apartment in Manhattan. Fun fact: I just got a small couch for the first time in my life and now I can’t fit my work desk in my apartment anymore! So I work at a co-working space now. I’ve been working a lot on the computer these days, and working outside of home helps me to concentrate, so the situation is perfect for me.

and after!

For The Couch Potato, I used color pencils to create my art, plus some gouache and watercolor, and then I assembled everything on the computer.  I’m not sure what I will do when I work with color pencils and paint again but my materials are very portable so I’m sure I’ll find a way to do it. 

What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young?
Yes! Ever since I was very young, I liked to draw and paint. In one of my earliest drawings when I was 5 or 6, I created this picture for a class assignment “When I Grow Up", of me painting as an artist! 

Here is another picture, "My Friend".
And I created my first “book dummy” when I was seven years old. It’s called “The Adventure of a Kitty Cat.” It was a hilarious story about a lazy kitty who tries to grow fishes out of a tree. (I think I’ve always had a unique sense of humor.)

When did you decide you wanted to do children's books?
Growing up in China, I didn’t have much access to children’s books, let alone picture books. I first started to think about creating children’s books when I finished college in China. I started to read many foreign picture books which I found at second-hand bookstores, and they opened up a whole new world to me. I wanted to create my own stories but I didn’t know how. I didn't really take a step until later when I decided to move to the US to study illustration.

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs?
Oh yes. I didn’t get to do my first picture book, The Couch Potato, until many years later, after changing my school, my career, and my country. I did have the opportunity to illustrate two middle-grade novels for a Chinese publisher after coming to the US, but I was really determined to get into the American children’s book industry. It was so competitive, and I knew I had to get an agent. I sent out many emails to different agents to get representation, and I got so many rejections. Because I started out as an editorial illustrator, I considered myself more of an illustrator rather than author/illustrator, and I had not yet finished a complete dummy before this first book! It was not a smooth journey, but it's all worth it! 

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?
I think seeing the dummy books and sketches of actual picture books from you and the visiting artists were very helpful. I also enjoyed hearing your own experience working with different publishers and editors throughout the years - all these little tales and details made me feel close to the publishing world.
I also attended the SCBWI winter conference after taking your class. It was actually my second time at the conference. Nothing came out of the first one, but I decided to give it another try and prepared my portfolio with new work I’d developed throughout the year. Luckily, this time my agent (Sean McCarthy Literary Agency) found me at the Portfolio Review - so it all paid off in the end!

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
Go to conferences and workshops, and connect with fellow illustrators/writers.  Don’t give up!

To see more of Yinfan’s work go to her 
And her shop:

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Interview with author/illustrator YUKO KATAKAWA

Nothing is greater for a children's book author and illustrator than that debut book finally being published! Congratulations to Yuko for her perseverance: her book has arrived! 

One big bear gets bullied by four small animals but he is more clever and imaginative than they realize and all turns out well in the end!

How did LET'S SCARE BEAR get started? What was the inspiration, and some of the stages?

I learned in your class that I could make a dummy book based on an old folk tale or fairytale instead of creating an original story.
So I started to work on a project based on a Japanese Rakugo story (Rakugo is the traditional art of comical storytelling in Japan.)  
My original idea was not to propose it as a book but as proof to editors and art-directors that I could create 32 consecutive pages with consistent art and characters.
In the original Rakugo story all the characters were human adults. I changed them to children. After I showed it to the art director, it was handed to the editor at Holiday House. She suggested changing the children to animals because she thought it would be easier for American children to relate to the story.

This is the original dummy book I created at your class

What was your favorite part of working on this book?  

Using my imagination to illustrate scenes that were not described in the story. (For example, making words with the spider web.)
I also enjoyed depicting their emotions using their movements instead of relying on their facial expressions.

And the most difficult part?  

These animals are very different in size, and it was difficult to put them together in the action scenes. Also difficult was drawing them in human movements when I don’t even know how they really move in nature! I had difficulty illustrating the second scene, where different sized animals gather in small mouse’s room. I worked endlessly trying to use different perspectives, ending up having an enormous amount of discarded drawings!

 I struggled: I drew a lot of different angles for the same scenes.


Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials?  

I live in a one bedroom apartment in Queens. I partitioned the living room and use half of the room as my studio.
Since I mostly do digital works using computer, luckily I don’t need a very big space.
I also have a desk set-up with art materials such as watercolors. For example, I paint various textures which I then install in my computer. 


What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young? 

When I was about 4~5 years old, my parents forced me to take lessons in piano, Japanese calligraphy, dance, abacus, and art.
I was not interested in any of them and quickly quit them all except art lessons. I went to art classes once a week for about 2 years until I was 6. I remember spending days and days just painting with watercolors and reading children’s books. During my teens, my major interest was reading comic books and I lost interest in painting. If my younger self found out that my own picture book was published, she would be really surprised. 

Manju is a delicious steamed bun with a sweet filling, and these treats are very important in the story. Do you have a special memory of manju from when you were a child?

There was a little homemade manju shop near my home. I would grab a few coins and run to buy some. They were so good! Whenever I eat manju now, the taste triggers happy childhood memories.

When did you decide you wanted to do children's books? 

I was away from art completely for a long time. Then one day, I looked back at my life. I remembered how much I used to love painting and I realized that I regretted not giving myself a chance to pursue my passion for art.  So, I started to take drawing classes and gradually started to think of combining art with my passion for reading.

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs? 

I had many rejections. I was not upset about my dummy books but I was depressed when my portfolio was rejected.
Then I realized that a lot of judgement about art works is based on individual taste:  it does not necessarily mean that the work is bad just because some people don’t like it.
So, I felt down when I got bad reviews for a day or two, but then I gathered myself and kept on going.

I created many dummy books and only one book was published = proof of so many rejections!!

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?

This might be something to do with my Japanese mentality, and I understand that each student has different reasons to take classes, but I was really surprised when students did not finish homework. I think it is so helpful to try to finish the assignments and receive feedbacks in the classroom. It did help me a lot.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?

Work hard and be persistent. I think it is important to go to related events and conferences no matter how small they are and try to meet people. It also helps to join a group of people who do the same thing that you do, whether illustration or writing. I have a critique group I have met with for many years, friends that I met in your class! When you encounter hard times, these people can help you get through it with their experience, knowledge and friendship.

At a bookstore story time with Yuko.

Yuko told the story for the children in the traditional Japanese way with a special traveling box.

"Great for reading aloud" (from Kirkus Reviews) and "the delectable subject may have children demanding a manju cake before the end." (from Booklist)

For more about Yuko and her art, go to her website here

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Visiting with DEAR BALLERINA

My newest book DEAR BALLERINA is here! Coming up is this event at BOOKS OF WONDER on July 21, together with Michelle Meadows and her new book BRAVE BALLERINA.

Join us for a demonstration of basics featured in the books, with my daughter Lydia, dancer with New York City Ballet (and she will bring lots of pointe shoes to share!) There will be discussion, book signing...and you will learn some ballet moves!

it has been so much fun visiting bookstores and schools with DEAR BALLERINA:

Friday, April 05, 2019

Interview with author/illustrator JESSICA BOEHMAN

I am very excited to introduce Jessica Boehman and her beautiful debut picture book, THE LIONS AT NIGHT.  A wordless book, this homage to New York City starts at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street with the famous two lions that "live" by the front entrance. Growing up, Jessica lived in many places in the US and abroad. With fresh eyes, she has found the perfect way to show off her adopted city. When she moved to New York, she took classes at the School of Visual Arts, setting her on her path to become a published author and illustrator.  I hope you will be inspired by her journey!

How did THE LIONS AT NIGHT get started? What were some the stages? 
I came up with this idea as a non-New Yorker living in the city.  I’ve been told that I do not have the characteristic cool in the face of the strange that comes from being born and raised in the cacophony of the city. Perhaps I notice too much. One thing that always struck me was that it didn’t matter what weird thing happened on the train: New Yorkers would often keep their eyes ahead, or close them and pretend to sleep, or bury themselves in their book, and pretend not to look. I started to wonder: what would they miss? So I got started with a short two-page wordless comic called “The Lions’ Night Out”. I drew it while convalescing from surgery, when I couldn’t do much more than sit for hours at a time.  I don’t know how successful the two-pager was, but the publisher really prodded me to work on this one for my first publication. So I had to change it to a 32-page story. In the end, we added 8 more pages to make it an even 40. I think it needed those extra 38 pages.

So at that point I wrote the script and drew the storyboard. I worked directly from storyboard to full illustrations without a dummy in between, because the publisher had a good sense of the story. I knew I wanted to add a human character, and Mr. Potter, a librarian and caretaker of the lions, came quickly to mind.  It changed the tenor of the book from that of the short comic. The comic was just about a sneaky adventure, but the addition of Mr. Potter adds a real element of caring, imagination, and friendship to the mix. I really like him and hope to feature him again in a future book, The Lions in Winter

Why did you decide to make it a wordless book?
The first two-pager was wordless, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how words were going to add to the story. So I decided to give myself the challenge of telling the story all in pictures. I wanted every kid who came to New York to be able to read it. 

What was your favorite part of working on this book? 
Even though it felt really difficult, I liked storyboarding the book because I was hashing out lots of ideas and brainstorming. It felt like putting together a puzzle. 

And the most difficult part? 
The most difficult part was working on the book during the school year. I am a college professor full time at LaGuardia Community College, where I teach primarily Art History, but also the Illustration courses. I would have to start drawing by about 6 am until it was time for breakfast and the shower, and then draw again when I came home. It was exhausting.  Moreover, my choice of materials and my particular style made this more time consuming.

Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials?
I live in Queens, a borough of New York City, in a top-floor apartment with my dog, Ludo.  My studio is actually in the foyer of my apartment. I have a desk and a flat file, and lots of art on the walls that inspires me, and clear jars where I divide my pencils by color family to make them easier to find. 

All of the drawings, even the greyscale pages, were made with colored pencils, graphite pencils, and gouache. I used digital effects to composite some images, add text and some lighting effects, and clean up smudges. Colored pencil can get quite smeary, so a bit of this digital finagling is sometimes necessary (for me).

What were you like as a child?  Have you drawn since you were very young? 
I was noisy as a child, but even so, I loved the solitary pursuit of drawing. I spent a lot of time drawing from the time I was little. I remember asking for a sketchbook for a birthday or Christmas present when I was maybe six or seven. My mom bought me a small, grey-covered ringed sketchbook. I still have it. It's filled with marker drawings of superheroes of my own design and pencil sketches of my dog. Though it was the first of many, I will always keep the first evidence of my love of art close to my heart.

It is exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication. Can you tell us about yours?  
I have to admit the way this happened was really unusual. I was taking some time off from pursuing publishers in the wake of a major surgery, and I needed some downtime to heal emotionally and physically, and I was in a major art block. One day, an author wrote to me asking if she could suggest my name to her publisher as a possible pair for her stories, and I said yes. While we have not yet been paired (hopefully someday), the publisher loved my work on my website and wanted to have me get started on my own project first.

What have been some of the ups and downs? Did you have some rejections along the way? 
Yes, of course! Well, more than rejections, I got silence. I spent months and months developing my first dummy, and I spent a fortune printing it and mailing it out, only to hear absolutely nothing...from anyone. The worst “down” was when an editor I met in person at a conference told me that she thought my art had no joy in it and I needed to find another creative pursuit. As a professor who works with budding artists, I really disagree with that sort of subjective, destructive feedback. It stopped me in my tracks for a while. 

The “ups” have been having a successful online shop where I sell my illustrations and getting regular feedback from customers, meeting my group of supportive and wonderful illustrator friends, and feeling like I’ve found my full self again after many years away from art due to grad school. This was a gradual process, but starting the class with Monica at SVA got me on the right track, and I am really thankful for that. It’s so fun being with like-minded people who are working toward the same goal. When I moved to New York City, I never imagined that I would be here. It’s all been happening one slow step at a time, and I still can’t really believe it.

Is there anything you learned back in class at SVA that has particularly stayed with you?
I learned enough at SVA to be able to teach two illustration classes—a beginning class and a Graphic Narrative class, where we focus on sequential narrative illustration. Some staying lessons: don’t get too attached to a story or a first draft (it might be terrible), learn to accept feedback gracefully (this can be hard), try to draw regularly, and don’t spend all your energy at the storyboard phase. Loose sketches are fine.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
Keep a blog and learn to write about your process—every time, with every drawing. This will let people start to find you and will help you to hone your own artistic voice. Start a professional-looking website. You are your own agent at this point, and you need to present yourself professionally, so take the time to do it right.  

I would also say to trust that your own artistic voice is important. Don’t try to be someone else—they do themselves better than you ever will. But help your voice along with practice in your chosen medium(s) and skill building so you can meet the artistic challenges that will arise.  

Lastly, a great piece of advice given to me years ago by the fantastic and generous faery artist Wendy Froud was, “Don’t turn down an opportunity just because you don’t know how to solve the problem. Say yes, and then figure it out!”

Congratulations and thanks to Jessica! Check out Jessica's website HERE and her Etsy shop HERE

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Voilà! CREPES BY SUZETTE is a paperback!

I'm very happy to announce that Crêpes by Suzette is now available as a paperback book from the Book Shop on my website and from online booksellers. 

Thank you to Coquette Maman for featuring it on her website and giving a peek inside.
Wish you were in Paris? Take a trip with Suzette!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Pirouette to you dreams with DEAR BALLERINA!

I'm very excited to announce my newest book is Dear Ballerina,  published by Holiday House in March 2019.

In this book a dream comes true for a little girl who loves tutus, pointe shoes, and dancing on tiptoe. This little dancer loves to swirl and twirl and leap. She practices new steps every day. All her efforts are rewarded when one special day, she gets to dance in a performance with her favorite ballerina. 

I have been bringing "little dancer" with me on some museum trips and to ballet performances. Very soon she is going to go to the Nutcracker with New York City Ballet! We can't wait!

"Little dancer" was amazed to meet Marie, The Little Dancer, by Edgar Degas

She was thrilled to see the Balanchine Celebration at City Center in NYC!
We went to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen to see New York City Ballet perform on tour: Magical!
My daughter practicing her ballet positions with Degas's The Little Dancer.

Here we are together for a moment backstage: she is ready to perform a Balanchine ballet in her tutu and pointe shoes. 

I have wanted to do a book about ballet for a very long time.  I have loved going to the ballet since my mother first brought me as a little girl. I brought my daughter, Lydia, when she was also very young. Then she wanted to start taking ballet classes when she was seven. Now she is quite grown up and dances with The New York City Ballet. Her journey from little dancer to professional ballerina inspired this book!