Tuesday, October 4, 2016

News & Things

I'm happy to share a little news about the book I've been illustrating for Deeds Publishing. Thunder & a Lightning Bug Named Lou by Rosalind Bunn launches December 3. Here's the cover:

And I can't not say anything about the wonderful RMC-SCBWI Conference I attended last month. It was wonderful! Here are some highlights:

  • I got to meet and learn from kind, thoughtful, and inspiring editors (and since my focus is currently picture books, they are the ones I remember - though there were other publishing houses for other genres) from Little, Brown (Andrea Spooner), Schwartz & Wade (Stephanie Pitts), and Paula Wiseman (Sylvie Frank), along with agents (like Minju Chang from Bookstop Literary), and the SCBWI founders (Steven Mooser and Lin Oliver) - who are as genuine and giving as I ever would have hoped for. 
  • The panel of the above (and other) professionals was encouraging, thought-provoking, and most helpful. I felt like they all were glad to be there (I haven't always felt this way) to share their knowledge so we, in turn, can perfect our craft to make books that make a difference in the world.
  • I won the illustration calendar contest! All who chose to participate submitted a piece that was displayed for all conference attendees to vote on. The top twelve are compiled into a calendar sent to all conference faculty, and the top winner gets next year's conference paid for and their artwork displayed on the RMC chapter's webpage. I wasn't expecting to win, but thanks to my wonderful critique group partner, Sadee, for helping choose which illustration I displayed, I won grand prize. 
  • I had amazing critiques by Andrea Spooner and Minju Chang. Minju provided really good insight and direction into a picture book I've written and illustrated. Andrea was thorough, perceptive, and encouraging as she critiqued my portfolio. Of course it helped that she felt it was one of the top portfolios at the conference. She pointed out that I could show more color versatility and humor - which, now that it's been pointed out, kind of sticks out like something sore.
  • For the first time at this conference, we had a juried portfolio review. And from what the RMC Illustrator Coordinator, Karen Windness, said, they all were very thoughtful (that was a theme!) and thorough as they looked through every portfolio. I didn't win, but from things editors and others said after the review, my artwork was looked upon favorably.

My last bit of news is that I've agreed to illustrate a Bible study curriculum for Shine Curriculum this winter. Which means that my career is starting to move along, I guess. Which further means that it's high time for me to roll up my sleeves and get back to the long list of things to do-besides-this-blog-post!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cramming it all in

Wow it's been a while. Summer always adds to the trickiness of routine, with my two boys home from school. But they have since returned to school and I've been hard at work on picture book illustrations due mid-October (see previous post) and preparing for next week's RMC-SCBWI Conference (the long wait is almost over!). This has involved perfecting a book dummy (the illustration you see is a spread from the proposed book), finalizing my portfolio, making postcards, reworking my website, etc. 

On top of that, a couple weeks ago I heard that the Sustainable Arts Foundation was holding a competition. Since I'm a parent with artistic dreams (its two main qualifications), I made ready everything needed to enter last week. Chances are slim that I'll win (they tend to favor more contemporary, abstract art), but it's always worth a try. Since the application requested a mini biography that I spent a little time on, I thought I'd post it here for anyone interested to know my journey (so far) to becoming a children's author/illustrator. So for those of you with a little time on your hands and a wee bit of interest about the road I've traveled, here ya go:

While trying to decide my career path years ago, I found a picture book about a red umbrella. It wove a simple story, yet those words seared a fiery desire within me to create children’s books that likewise inspired others. I shared the epiphany with a friend, and she uprooted the dream with a reminder to “be realistic” about my future. So I dutifully boxed up the idea to delve into other career options.

I still struggled with my career once I graduated from college with a degree in English. Fate or no, after marriage and moving to a new town I stumbled across The Writer’s Digest. The forgotten passion overwhelmed me as I scoured its pages, and my journey as a children’s author began. Within months, my first story was accepted by Spider Magazine, followed by additional stories, articles, and activities in various magazine publications.

My oldest son was born in the middle of this. Despite our rough first year of much crying (his), sleeplessness (mine), and (his) acid reflux issues, I found small pockets of time to write. I also felt a tug to pull out pencils and paper, and to acquire watercolors and paintbrushes to give a go at illustrating – certainly a Mount Everest hurdle in both climb and vistas.

Two moves and a second baby later, I was still improving my craft and enjoying small successes until overuse led to debilitating tendonitis in my elbows. I despaired I’d never again be able to do what I loved. Over what felt like forever, my elbows fortunately healed enough for me to write and illustrate in small time slots.

But my younger son – then a delightful, but needy toddler – and a handful of moves around the country added to the trickiness of finding time to craft. I created what I could with two kids and myriad moving boxes in tow, then ultimately decided these years were mostly meant to enjoy my children (with the side-benefit of stockpiling my brain’s hard drive with unforgettable memories).

The day came three-ish years ago when both kids entered school full-time. I eagerly lassoed the inspiration gleaned from my children and dusted off old supplies to start afresh and full-time. I joined SCBWI, connected with a wonderful critique group, and have continued to hone my writing and illustration skills through online classes.

And I’ve seen success. Within the last two years, several articles and illustrations have been published in The Bulletin (SCBWI), and this summer I signed a contract to illustrate a picture book.

I am committed to parenting and my career. Luckily, my husband supports both. Although there were moments as a stay-at-home-parent that I wished for more career time, I have never regretted the decision to put my children first. My kids have endowed me with a beautiful life, and I hope the pages I can now freely create will reflect this in a way that inspires and uplifts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Book Project

I'm thick in the middle of a picture book for Deeds Publishing. The rough sketches/dummy came surprisingly quickly to me and I'm about halfway done with the final sketches. Here's one of my favorites so far. By the end of this project, I should be really good at drawing trees since there are a ton of them!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Fun at the Library

This is Albert. He's a boy who walks to his own tune. I have big plans for him.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Random sketchiness

Just some doodles from last week - perhaps for an upcoming project. Bugs + big eyes = fun!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Getting Dummier

SCBWI members have the opportunity to query Zonderkidz all May. This is nice since Zonderkidz is usually closed to unsolicited manuscripts. At first I hadn't planned on submitting anything, but after noticing that they have a number of leveled readers, I thought about The Missing Smile. It was fresh in mind since I'd already been turning three pages into black and white samples for my portfolio (you can visit my website to see them if you want). I thought it would be a good project to give myself the month to redo the dummy and sample images (yes, this meant painting the same spreads I'd just done into color; it helped that all my values had been worked out). 

If any of these look familiar, about three years ago I worked on this dummy and created finished pieces for my then portfolio (you can see how they differ from today's here and here.) The Missing Smile was actually published in Clubhouse Jr magazine in 2007 when my youngest was a baby. Once he was in school and I had a lot more time to work on my career, I thought that this story was a good start for a leveled reader. So I did some tweaking of words and worked on the dummy (which was hard and satisfying work). It was my 3rd dummy, but I still felt very much like a beginner. 

This time around, I felt very confident in putting everything together. SVS has been integral in teaching me better ways of doing this, as has learning about Marla Frazee's process. It's kind of amazing what good instruction and a lot of practice can do!

And now, I'm on to my next dummy!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

3rd Thursday and Website

Whew! I've been busy refining my website and refinishing a personal book dummy (which I hope to submit by the end of the month). But earlier this week I realized that 3rd Thursday was fast approaching and, since I really enjoy participating, I carved out a day to put together the submission above. The prompt to was to illustrate a saying from a fortune cookie. My "fortune" (if you can call it that) was: Look to the future but don't forget to enjoy today. This is something I have to tell myself all the time, so the scenario I chose came rather quickly to mind! I opted to do it in black and white since I'm looking to add to the bw section on my website.

And speaking of my website, you might enjoy taking a fresh look here since it's new and (hopefully) improved. Thanks to a suggestion from my wonderful critique group friend, Sadee Schilling (check out her amazing work here), I added a section to showcase some of my sketches. I love sketching kids, so here's one I chose to include of my youngest jumping into the pool (thanks to my husband for snapping the shot).

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Visits to the library

Our family visits the library at least once a week, and this illustration is an accurate depiction of the affair. I always leave heaving a stack of picture books (perhaps not with quite as many as above) while my oldest grabs the latest mythological novels and my youngest seeks every computer programming guide available. My husband utilizes the library as well, but takes more advantage of their audio books than anything physical. Indeed, we are a book-loving family!

Since January, I've been focused on reworking my portfolio and website. It's now in a shape I'm happy with. Take a peek if you like (www.angelachawkins.com); you'll certainly recognize many pieces, and there are several others I haven't posted anywhere else. Now that that's done, it's time to dust off my personal projects and keep moving forward!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

SCBWI DrawThis: Arrival

May's submission for SCBWI's DrawThis:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

April 3rd Thursday: A Big Problem for Lucy

Here's the illustration I was talking about yesterday. I think it's done, but I might tweak some more another day. Since the text might be a little small for you, it says:

This was a pretty BIG problem, but Lucy was confident. She popped open her magic toolbox and immediately found the perfect tool for the fix.

As much as I'd like to win the contest, I'd love even more to be chosen for a critique to know how to take this to the next level 'cause I don't know.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Design 100 Kindergarteners #2

Here's #2. I have to say I don't like it as much as my first, partly because her anatomy looks too off. My preliminary sketch looks better, but since I'm choosing not to lightbox things and since I try out new ideas on the fly, it didn't work out as well. But isn't that what this project is about?

If you're interested in what else I'm working on, I'll be done with my SVS illustration very soon.  (I'm very excited about it!) I've also worked on other illustrations I'm not ready to post, and I wrote and sent out two articles (one of which was rejected). Still, between last week's spring break for my kids and other distractions this week, it's taken too long to be as productive as I want!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Project: Design 100 Kindergarteners

Last year, Jake Parker issued a challenge to Design 100 Somethings (here's his youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xxa01j9Ns7o). I am intrigued. My illustrator friend, Jill Bergman, designed 100 trees in 100 days (find them here: http://www.jillbergman.com/100-trees/). She may or may not have heard about Jake's challenge, but regardless, her collection is impressive.

Since I've thought about experimenting stylistically anyway, here goes. Jake encourages specificity to push creativity, and suggested we use a medium we're less comfortable with. My subject is 100 Kindergarteners. (It might not be as specific as Jake asks, but I love the idea and I'm gonna do it since kids are my favorite thing to draw.) I'll be using a quill pen and watercolor. Long ago before one of our many moves, I purchased a quill pen set and ink for experimentation. Now it's high time to actually use the stuff. And once upon a time, I only painted with watercolor - but that was once upon a time and the disuse is highly evident! But I'm in love with how watercolor mingles and pools, so here we go with #1. Also, I don't plan on one a day; just when I have some time.

My goal is to be messy and less precise. Today I achieved this in some ways more than I hoped for. But I plan to showcase this project without altering it in Painter to show my progression.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Sweet Love

Here's an illustration I started back in February and finished today. (Maybe.) It was intended for the 3rd Thursday competition, but a few complications deterred me and I opted for the blue lovesick pig I posted earlier. Now that I've fixed most of the complications, I unveil the illustration for your notice.

This color palette feels luxurious to work with and all that candy was a treat to paint. It was tricky  making sure it didn't overwhelm the pig, since he is the focal point. The tree was similar - making sure it looked like a tree at night without stealing attention away from her. I'm mostly happy with how it turned out. The only concern I have is about the perspective. Technically it works in my thumbnails, but I still feel like something isn't quite right. If you have any ideas, my ears are open!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mischief at Show & Tell

Will there be an end to the mischief this naughty bear can make? And how long can his little friend work with it?

This was created for March's SVS challenge: Haven brought it to Show & Tell . . . even though she never got permission. I hope you like it!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Trip to the Movies

I've added a trip to the movies to my girl and bear collection. It still has a few things that need work, but I'm going to let the illustration germinate to help me better isolate what really needs doing. My biggest problem was that I'd made it really dark (almost twice as dark as what you see). Since Will Terry warns that a lot of editors get scared by anything too dark, I lightened the whole thing. Now it might be too washed out. Do you have an opinion?

And here's an earlier version of the same idea. I liked where it was headed but wasn't satisfied with certain aspects - especially that the girl didn't look enough like the original girl playing hangman. After working it to what you see below, I took my SVSLearn.com crash course and began trying a lot of new ideas. Which led me to create the illustration where they read together (see a few blog posts down). I liked its more subdued feeling, and it led me to rework the movies (and hangman) to fit.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Little Flamingarina

SCBWI's monthly art challenge for March is Dance. I considered various ideas, but what came out were dancing flamingos. Here's the final product:

But it didn't start out that way. Here are both sides of the (small) sheet of paper I used to brainstorm ideas and then scratch out flamingos in various poses. It got my mind and fingers tingling with excitement:

I liked the idea of showcasing what goes on before dance class begins, so I honed in on the flamingos stretching casually (see bottom of the longer sheet). I realized, however, that a lot of the illustrations I've created looking at a group from a distance rarely turns out as well as I hope, probably because the focal point isn't as clear as it needs to be. So I remembered what it felt like for me when I would look in on more advanced dancers and tried telling the story through those eyes. This is how far I got with this idea:

I didn't finish it, although there were (and still are) elements that I like about it. But when my husband looked over my shoulder, he felt like the perspective was lacking something and suggested an alternate idea. Even though it meant essentially starting over (and it took half a day for me to find a perspective and composition that produced the feeling I was going for), I'm so glad he pushed me to do better because I am so much happier with the final outcome. I feel like the composition, focal point, and characterization are so much stronger. And once I figured all those things out, my first painting was a good starting point for the lighting, color, and textures I used and it didn't take long for me to crank it out.

Which is good, since the deadline to turn it in to SCBWI was fast approaching . .

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Hopefully Valentine's Day didn't make you too lovesick this year like this poor pig. Perhaps he needs to reevaluate what he loves most?

This is my submission for SVSLearn's monthly contest, the prompt being "Love."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reading surprise!

Here's my latest girl and bear illustration (I'm working on a series of them). It might need a few days of simmer to see what could improve it, but here's the first completion. Since I love a little bit of messy, I'm working toward that here with my choice of textures. Some day I hope to heighten that messy feel in my work, but I think I'm getting closer.

This illustration started out with a small thumbnail where I worked out composition and value. Next, I enlarged it so I could trace over it on my lightbox before scanning it into Painter to do the rest.

For this illustration, I utilized an off-white/yellow underpainting. I really like the mood it created. And, like in my previous illustration (see last blog post), I pushed to create a focal point using value, shadow, and light. I think it's working. Perhaps it still needs a little more contrast? What do you think?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Emerging from My Chrysalis

I've been a social hermit for more than a month. But lest you tut your tongue and warn that my life's been a-fritterin', I've actually been incubating and metamorphing inside an art school chrysalis. I feel like I'm at the point in a movie where the heroin emerges after a training, soul-searching hiatus with superhuman powers. I hope.

Now don't roll your eyeballs when I mention SVSLearn.com yet again. No doubt my husband is ready to move on from my constant info-dump about 30/3 rules, inclusion shadows, spotting bean shapes and all sorts of other high-fallutins. But that team knows its stuff and generously shares it with the masses for a very small cost. (And no, they aren't paying me to say this.) I finally understand why I've felt dissatisfied about some of my work and what I need to do to improve it. Now it's time to apply what I've learned. Future posts will likely refer to much of this new knowledge in my constant quest to achieve better results.

Starting with the illustration above. Here, I've worked to create a focal point using light and shadow more effectively. I know that this boy would stand out more with a colder, darker background. But since I wanted to keep it light since the (unfortunately-true-for-my-family) subject matter is rather lighthearted, I tried not to overdo it. What do you think? Does it work?