Eric Rohmann: The Pre-#LA15SCBWI Conference Interview

220px-Eric_rohmann_2012For my next and final #LA15SCBWI pre-conference interview, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caldecott-winning author and illustrator, Eric Rohmann. I first met Eric and his marvelously talented wife, author Candace Fleming, at a Texas Library Association conference. Since then, I’ve come to know Eric and Candace as two of the nicest and most generous people in our business—two of the biggest names in children’s publishing, yet they greet everyone graciously and with humility. Later on, I heard Eric speak about page design and page turns at a Highlights Foundation workshop, and I walked away a better bookmaker having heard him speak.

For today’s interview, I changed things up a bit. Rather than my asking the questions, I put questions out to Eric’s fans on social networks. Here’s what Eric said about social networking, and what his fans  wanted to know about him:

Eric: No matter how many times I log into my MySpace page (after the dial-up modem has finally connected) I read about this “Facebook”.
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Harold Underdown: Do people still make “Half-a-bee” jokes or have you been able to move on?

Eric: (Smiles) If this is what I think it is, I’d forgotten… But now that you bring it up my facial tick has returned.

Henry L. Herz: Any tricks for creating really voicey characters?

Eric: I always read aloud.  Then, I get someone else to read it aloud.  Also, write characters you know.  I could not write Huck Finn’s words, or the words of a geisha in 19th Century Japan, but I can write a suburban kid in the midwest (or a Rabbit or a boy with a pumpkin for a head…)

cvr_oh-no_200Larry Dane Brimmer: What is life like with Candy Fleming?

Eric: Glorious…  It’s been wonderful  to  make pictures for some of her stories.  She appears to have a future in the business.  Selfishly,  it’s great to have a clever, creative brain consider my work.  She is always my first eyes and ears.  You know her, Larry, and I think you know she knows her books.

Nick Bruel:  Without exaggeration, Eric Rohmann is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.  He’s incredibly politically astute and can probably speak with authority on nearly anything. Ask him about his process- what materials he uses, etc.

Eric: (Blushing crimson…I’m  particularly  conversant about 14th century gender-fluid poetry,  the role of giant pandas in the discovery of the atom, and  Icelandic-Cuban cuisine (Ice Cube?). Readers, of course, see the finished book— that’s the point– and so they don’t often think about the process.  The writer/artist thinks mostly about making the book. When I ask other illustrators to buy or trade their work they will typically part with finished pictures but not the preparatory art that lead to the book.  The important part of the artistic life is making something.

Matthew Winner: What’s Eric’s artistic weapon of choice at the moment? cvr_bone-dog_300_ds

Eric: I use any good 2B drawing pencil and sepia drawing ink. I use Gamblin oil-based relief printmaking ink (intense pigment load!).  My oil paint and watercolors are made by Windsor and Newton.  The watercolor brushes I use are sable (costly, but last forever).  I write in my journal/sketchbook with a TWSBI fountain pen filled with diluted blue-black Noodler’s ink. My wood cut tools of choice are made in Japan by the same workshop that makes  samurai swords.  WMD, indeed.

Matthew Cordell: Ask him about his pet tarantula. I mean, what’s up with that?

Eric: Gosh Matt, last time we were at your house we kinda lost Betty somewhere in your living room.  Good news, the venom only paralyzes.  Death is really, really rare.

John L. Bell: He’s notable for having worked in such different styles for different books. He’s no doubt spoken about that, but it’s still fascinating.

Eric: The choice of technique must always arise from the story.  When I write or read a story I want to illustrate I try lots of things until I find some way that best and most clearly tells that story.  Story is all and everything.

Rohmann--RabbitCathy Bonnell: After so many beautifully successful books, is there one by another children’s book author/illustrator you wish you had done?

Eric: The list is long.  I look in wonder at any book  that I could not have made but wish I had.  The Carrot Seed is perfect; so are Milo’s Hat Trick, Officer Buckle and Gloria, Clever Jack takes the Cake, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.  Mo Willems and Kevin Henkes appear to have some connection with the childlike mind that I only dream about. I know why the books work. I can take them apart and intellectually explain their wonders.  But I cannot make those books and so they appear to be wrought by magic.

Kelly Milner Halls: Will he ever do another dinosaur book?

Eric: Odd… I have recently been reading books about dinosaurs again.  It’s that thing old guys do—go back to what you loved as a kid… (#Rosebud).  I won’t make another dino book unless I can find an idea as good or better than Time Flies.  Candy and I have a non-fiction book about giant squid next year.  Not dinosaurs, but mysterious monsters, big and scary.

Kathy Doherty: Does he and Candace have more books in the making?

Eric: The aforementioned Giant Squid (Roaring Brook, 2016), Bulldozer Helps Out        (Simon and Schuster, 2017), and a few other projects I need to talk her into letting me work on. Yes, they are that good.

Gregg T Golson: Can he write a sequel to My Friend Rabbit?maxresdefault

Eric: Every time I read Rabbit to school groups I am confused by just how I made that book. It’s a freaking mystery to the guy who made it!  In truth, I’m just as curious about what happened those characters.  In my notebooks I have sketches and storyboards of possible stories, but so far they all are lame shadows of the first book.  Alas…

Marjie Podzielinski: Favorite media to work in?

Eric: The one I’m not working with at the time. You always try to challenge yourself because hardship makes a better book— but it also makes trouble.  When I am making prints I long for the simple, direct process of oil painting and when I’m making watercolors I wonder how much better life would be making prints.  The anxiety is killing me. I hope it lasts forever.

Don Tate: Can you give us an idea about what you’ll talk about at #LA15SCBWI?

Eric: I’m going to talk about the language of pictures— how a good picture book uses words and pictures in concert, one feeding and enhancing the other.  Pictures in a book are not just decorations but full partners in the storytelling.  I’ll also yell at people and complain about stuff, lamenting youth culture and the flavorlessness of supermarket tomatoes.

 

Joe Cepeda: The Pre-#LA15SCBWI Conference Interview

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This summer my teenager has been away in Las Vegas visiting grandparents. Needless to say, it’s made for a productive book-making summer for me. But alas, today I awoke in a panic. It’s July 6th, two days following the Fourth of July holiday. The #LA15SCBWI Summer Conference is less than a month away, and I haven’t posted my second faculty interview yet. Well, here it is; I’m on it now.

I’m excited that illustrator, Joe Cepeda, will be on faculty this year. His session, Style 61A+Bj1V5CL._SY410_BO1,204,203,200_Versus Voice: An Illustrator’s View, will be on Saturday from 3:15 to 4:15. Cepeda is the illustrator of award-winning picture books such as What a Truly Cool World (Scholastic), Nappy Hair (Knopf), Mice and Beans (Scholastic), and The Swing (Arthur A. Levine Books), which he wrote as well as illustrated. 

I’m honored to host Joe Cepeda on my blog today:

Don: What brought you to illustrate children’s books?

Joe: I studied engineering, though I decided do something else and found myself pursuing Illustration.  I thought I’d be working as an editorial illustrator, illustrating magazines more than anything, yet found myself illustrating books almost right out of the gate. I showed my portfolio to publishers early on and was fortunate enough to meet with some talented editors who felt I might be able to illustrate a children’s book. How I work, from a content standpoint, to a production one, is certainly affected by experiences studying math and science.  The truth, however, is a bit more basic than that.  What I’ve come to learn over time is, at root, I’m a maker of things.  Engineering, science, drawing, composition, math, are all contributors to the process.  I’ve built a good amount of the furniture in my studio. I mix paint a certain way. The process of carving out space in a picture follows both logical and organic paths. I try and call on whatever’s needed to make something work.

51w-bVVGX+L._SX386_BO1,204,203,200_Don: Can you talk a bit about your work, your style philosophy?

Joe: I’ve never had much use for the term, style.  An art director once told me that she could pretty much categorize all children’s book art into about seven different styles.  I think she’s probably right.  I’ve always remembered that.  It’s a very liberating thought.  Why bother trying to make an eighth style?  I’ve never felt a strong need to individualize my mark-making, It’s more about making marks that work.  Chasing down style is a dubious pursuit. For me, the question of work is more philosophy than anything, or ethics, or gamesmanship, or integrity or authenticity or poetry or industriousness or ritual.  I don’t mean to be too abstract, but I’m constantly trying to find my work. I actually have a note in my studio that says, “Find your work.”  For me, as an illustrator, it mostly means trying to make as honest a picture as one can.  It’s a constant, career-long pursuit.  It doesn’t end… and it shouldn’t. The question of what is true will always be there.  As for medium, mostly I’m an oil painter painting over acrylic on board.  I’ve recently delivered work completed digitally.  I’m working on large charcoal drawings right now.  I stumble through writing.  If I couldn’t paint or draw tomorrow, I’d work in wood.  I’d be fine with it.

Don: I consider you a mentor, in that I have many of your books lying around in my studio for inspiration. I love your playful, almost electric, color pallet. Where does that come from, who are your mentors?

61SQM1hSh5L._SX409_BO1,204,203,200_-1Joe: Thank you for the nice comments.  It’s hard to think of particular mentors because I really never anticipated a professional life as an image-maker, much less illustrating children’s books. I sort of fell into books simply because I was somewhat desperate to get work after a fifteen-year scenic journey through college. Certainly, there have been people along the way that gave me good advice about how to live and how to work.  Like most, I wasn’t always a good listener.  The first artists that I can remember paying a little attention to as a young person were Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Robert McCloskey, Diego Rivera and the Chicano muralists painting in East Los Angeles where I grew up.  Later on, once I was headed in this direction I was inspired by cartoonists like Jeff MacNelly and Pat Oliphant, the Ashcan school artists, John Singer Sargent, Franz Kline, Alexander Calder, George Tooker and illustrators like Brad Holland, Arthur Rackman, Bernie Fuchs and a whole bunch of others. The more you work at something, the more you recognize how difficult great mastery can be.  That’s what inspires me, when I’m witness to true virtuosity. It’s not any particular style of work that will speak to me more than another.  When great skill meets honesty and theater, that’s an inspiring picture.

Don: Many of your books feature people of color. That makes you a diverse illustrator, and that is one of the things that initially attracted me to your work. Can you talk a bit about the importance of diverse books?

51ulFrHNC2L._SY427_BO1,204,203,200_Joe: I’ve been fortunate enough to illustrate books about different ethnic groups.  As a Chicano illustrator, I’ve tried to nurture a career that wasn’t solely focused on making books about my culture (though, I love doing books that reflect the Latino experience). The reality is I don’t recall reading anything that’d I’d consider a mirror book.  It just wasn’t around.  The kids I knew were Dick and Jane, Charlie Brown and Lucy, Dennis the Menace, Opie, Curious George, the Brady Kids and my favorite, Homer Price.   There is a powerful thing that happens, when a young reader sees someone who appears to be like them in literature. Navigating the world and it’s adventures it affords will not seem so foreign. The experiences offered in life will not solely be for someone else to endure or relish.  You can step forward when the heroes in your books have shown you a way… a path that you are invited to take, because you feel included.  Many of us have stepped forward without invitations, and good for us.  It’s just a more honest place to be when the party door is open.

Don: If you could have a conversation, offer career advice to a younger Joe Cepedia, aspiring children’s book illustrator, what would you say?

Joe: Great question.  I suppose I would tell young Joe (who wasn’t that young when he started illustrating) to be a bit more relentless, a bit more focused when it comes to industriousness.  It’s probably a simplistic thing to say, but I’d advise him to work harder… certainly, work smarter.  When it comes to finding one’s best means of production, style, medium of choice, one’s artistic voice, one’s editorial compass, etc., there’s really only one way to get there… through working.  Over time, we can start to recognize good authentic work in ourselves more often than not.  Most of the time, we’re just trying to get the odds in our favor.

Don: I love the emotion you capture when illustrating people, the expressions, body language, appropriate clothing–hair. Your characters are not generic, they are real people with individual personalities. Where do these characters come from?

Joe: I am not a big researcher. I look to defer to invention as much as possible.  Some books 51Y4KapGrZL._SX393_BO1,204,203,200_require plenty of research, simply to be accurate and true to the content of the manuscript.  Other books, less so.  Characters are certainly something that I try not to research.  People are funny, you don’t always have to research funny. There has to be something cultural specific, or historically specific for me to do the research (Swing Sisters is a good example).  I enjoy when characters introduce themselves to me as i build the environment of the story around them.  Many times the world they inhabit will inform me of what they should look like, maybe even act like.  However, there’s something very entertaining when the unexpected occurs, when a character has inappropriate assets (is that an oxymoron?). If it’s done with just the right amount subtlety, it can be good comedy.  My concern is that sometimes research sometimes neuters the magic of a good portrayal.  Within all groups there are individuals who stand out, who are different and, many times, that’s what stories are about.  My sense is that, for the sake of cultural accuracy, illustrations can become predictable or a little stale. 

Don: As an illustrator myself, I often struggle with self doubt. I think all creative people do. Can you talk about any struggles with self doubt pertaining to your own work, and how you combat that?

Joe: Well, there’s no getting around that. As illustrators, just about everybody deals with some degree of self-doubt.  Careers have ups and downs.  I’ve had periods of great productivity, and too-long stretches of inactivity or missing the mark. Most of us often wonder if we’ve hit ruts.  Since a good portion of our success mostly means the ability to work at this profession more hours than hours spent as a substitute teacher (I did that while I built my Illustration business) and is directly related to book sales, it can feel like we don’t have much control.  So, there is business, and there is craft.  I’m not smart enough to know what will sell.  I made terrible business decisions, especially early on.  Fortunately, you can teach yourself to be better at that.  You can be better at building a circle of resources that will help you make good decisions about your career.  You must, however, be best at maximizing your authenticity when it comes to making good work.  It’s the greater challenge, ideal results are ever evasive.  You need to make things of beauty as often as you can.  It comes back to honesty and being an authentic creator. If you work with integrity and persistence, the hope is you can ride out and get beyond the lulls and ruts. Heck, something might even sell, or, win an award.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t read reviews, but, they rarely have much to offer me.  They may be useful to a potential reader, which is who they’re meant for, but they have nothing to do with getting to work.  It’s not like they’ll help me break down the next manuscript.  As a matter of fact, I’d be very disappointed in myself 51kMA7DszGL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_if I let that make it’s way into the process.  I’m guessing they help sell books and there is no denying the benefit of a lovely royalty check, but, a good review, or an award never made me do better work.  Frankly, some of my best work, the work that brought me a higher level of contentment and accomplishment, has been largely unnoticed.  In comparison, I’m not sure why other work has garnered awards.  Positive accolades may serve in getting you work, which is helpful from a business standpoint, yet do very little to facilitate a sound path to work of integrity.  It seems to me negative reviews would be virtually negligible in helping an illustrator get on with her craft.  After all, an editor, an art director, and publisher have a hand in that negative review, too.  In my mind, they also have as much to celebrate with you when your work in a book is heralded. 

Don: Any advice to illustrators preparing a portfolio?

Joe: Well, when it comes to a portfolio, I guess I’d have to ask, “What’s the goal?”  If you’re trying to win a competition, make sure your pieces are sound and memorable.  Make sure the craft is as good as you can make it.  Make sure that your storytelling acumen is fully on display.  Show that you have an understanding of sequential art.  Character, perspective and a sense of drama and emotion are essential components to include.  The standard suggestions are always valid.  That is, don’t include anything you don’t feel good about or any work that you don’t want to get hired to do.  If you are having your portfolio reviewed, the aforementioned advice is also applicable, however, know what questions to ask.  Handing someone your portfolio and just waiting, well, you run the risk of getting a “review.”  However, don’t be rude and overrun the time spent with someone.  Listen, listen carefully, then ask.  What do your really want to know?  There is a true art to asking real questions that serve.  This is an opportunity for good advice.

Don: Whet our appetites. What can we expect to look for from you at the conference?

Joe: Well, I’m looking to talk about that illusive thing, the illustrator’s voice (I’m not necessarily in love with that term either).  I believe the title of my workshop is, “Style Versus Voice: an Illustrator’s View.”  It’s true authenticity we should be looking for in our work.  I’m hoping to share some of successes and struggles with that.

Don: Thank you, Joe! I look forward to chatting with you in person!

Seeing stars for 2015!

I have two books out this year. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans), written by Chris Barton; and Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. So far, both books have garnered two starred reviews. I couldn’t be happier! Here’s what reviewers are saying:

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, (Peachtree, 09/01/2015)

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The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

Kirkus

“[Tate’s] decision to illuminate this remarkable man’s life offers a new perspective with remarkable clarity.”
**STARRED REVIEW**

School Library Journal

“A lovely introduction to an inspirational American poet.”
**STARRED REVIEW**

 

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, written by Chris Barton, (Eerdmans, 04/01/2015)

FrJohn-Roy-Lynch-final-coverom Booklist

[F]ascinating story . . . Tate’s often expansive illustrations emphasize important incidents in the text. . . . faces, full of emotion add to the power of the telling and the rich soft tones of Tate’s palette welcome the eye to linger.”
***Starred Review***

Publisher’s Weekly

“Barton offers an immersive, engaging, and unflinching portrait of the difficulties of the Reconstruction era, while Tate’s cartoonlike artwork softens moments of cruelty and prejudice without diminishing them.”
***Starred Review***

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Don Tate on Kidlit Superhero Dan Santat #LA15SCBWI

unnamed-11Children’s book creators are my superheroes. They create stories for children that inspire and change lives. That’s important work in my book.

I’ve had the fortune to meet (and in some cases become friends with) many authors and illustrators, it’s one of the coolest fringe benefits of my career. Later this summer, at the #LA15SCBWI Summer Conference, I’ll get the pleasure of meeting Dan Santat and hearing him speak—and I can’t wait!

I first became aware of Dan Santat through his presence on social networks. I found the artwork he posted to be brilliant and exciting and clever and funny and, well . . . all of the above and a bag of chips. That’s not my opinion only, though, the Caldecott folks thought so too. Dan’s THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND is the 2015 Caldecott winner, in case you didn’t know!

As a member of Team Blog, I get the pleasure of interviewing him here before I meet him in person later this summer. So here goes:Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 7.36.34 AM

Tate: First of all,  seems like you produce a gazillion books or more per year—best-selling, award-winning books. Do you sleep?

Santat: I’ll admit that for the last ten years I got very little sleep. I averaged about 5 hours per night to be precise. When I would go to bed I would think about stories in my head right before I fell asleep. Life was possible by streamlining my art process and drinking copious amounts of coffee.

Tate: What drew you to the field of children’s books, as opposed to, say, advertising, visual journalism, or other areas of the commercial arts?

Santat: When I went to art school I originally had plans of going into animation. After I took my first 3D Animation class I realized that I loathed the process of animating (especially on a computer) and I started looking for a more efficient means of storytelling. There was a children’s book illustration class which I thought was a great segway from animation and so I enrolled in the course and I immediately fell in love with it. By the time I graduated I realized it would probably take a while to get myself established in book publishing  and so I got the first job I could find which was as an Environment Artist at a video game company while doing editorial illustration after work and working on my art portfolio. I was also doing gallery art, some freelance animation, and other things to just get any kind of experience and get a taste of the whole art world. Two years out of school I got my first two book deal.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 7.53.20 AMTate: As you developed yourself (your style) as a young illustrator, who were your inspirations?

Santat: In art school I loved the work of folks like Chris Van Allsberg, NC Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, David Shannon, and William Joyce. As a kid growing up I loved many comic artists like Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuhiro Otomo, Masamune Shirow, and Bill Watterson. Honestly though, as a storyteller and artist the biggest influence in my life was my advertising teacher Roland Yung. He made me view illustration less about simply making something look beautiful and more about seeing things as problems that have to be solved and there are effective ways to enhance the communication of those ideas. It was less about how I drew things and more about why I drew things they way I did. Form follows function is more of a product designers philosophy but I swear by it a an illustrator.

Tate: I love your illustration work. It’s computer generated but totally passes for natural media. Has the computer always been your tool of choice?

Santat: I used to be an ink and acrylic kind of guy. I was always stronger with my line work than painting because I had never painted anything until I got to art school. Acrylic was great because it dries so quickly that I could draw on top of it, sand it down, glue things down over it, etc. At art school it was required that all students were proficient in Adobe Photoshop but as an illustration tool people were still trying to figure out how to get that “digital” feel out of things. I loved the computer because it was quick and clean. You could scan in paper and images and things and incorporate it into your work. I fell in love with the Wacom tablet and I still use one today (an 8 X 12 Intuos 5) I’m not a Cintiq guy mainly because I like using my monitor to watch TV shows and sports while I work. I can also easily throw my Wacom into my backpack for travel so I can work on the road. Digital art was still quite taboo in many illustration fields and so when I entered the freelance world I began mainly working in acrylic. Eventually, I ended up getting so much work (especially in editorial illustration) that I would start doing the jobs digitally trying to hide the fact that they were digital by integrating textures (which I did horribly) and then at a certain point I realized that no one really cared if it looked digital and so I did the transition to full digital. The computer actually gave me the courage to experiment more with my work. It improved my sense of color, too. Now, I actually have a 50/50 method where I make art textures by painting swatches on paper and then scan them into the computer and I integrate them into my artwork. I also don’t use custom brushes because I don’t want to be in a spot where if I had to work on a computer and didn’t have access to them then I couldn’t work.

Tate: I’d like to talk diversity. As a child, what was the first book that you encountered that featured a character that looked like you? How did that book make an impact on the Dan Santat we know today?

Santat: Gene Luen Yang‘s “American Born Chinese” was the first book I read where I thought I was looking thin a mirror of myself. Although I’m Thai, I still related heavily on the issue of being an Asian kid in a predominantly white community and somewhat feeling uneasy with my own cultural traditions. I mean, I’m sure I had previously read books with Asian characters but I wasn’t so mindful of the fact until I read his book. Gene’s book was like personal threrapy in a way. There was a part of me that felt like I wasn’t being a good Asian because I didn’t fully embrace my Asian-ness and it was nice to know that there were others who felt the same struggles.

Tate: Have there been challenges along the way related to being a creator of color?

Santat: I’ve never had any struggles whatsoever in terms of getting work, or getting my foot in the door of any business. I did notice in some industries, like TV animation at the time, where folks were still a little weird about having main characters of a different ethnicity, but I’ve seen that change over the years. I do notice how much more mindful folks are in certain fields like textbook illustration where it’s so aware that it gets a little annoying. They want to represent everyone equally, which I appreciate, but to a point where it’s trying too hard. For example, if I had to draw a classroom of kids I would get art notes back like, “OK, make that boy Hispanic, make that one an African American girl, and make that Asian boy look MORE Asian, oh and put the African American girl in a wheelchair and the Asian boy in crutches.” Suddenly, I have an illustration that represents a diverse cultural leper colony.

Tate: I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a hundred times, but where did Beekle come from? Was he your childhood imaginary friend?

BEEKLE_2Santat: I actually didn’t have an imaginary friend when I was a kid but I always loved the concept. I also found it interesting that imaginary friends never have a say in the matter. They are the ones who are destined to be friends with some kid whether they like it or not. It’s much like kids with their parents. There is an unconditional love that is present although you as a child don’t get to choose who your parents are (though many of us wish we could.) Beekle originally existed as a story about an imaginary friend who was so odd that no one could imagine him and so he went out of his way to look and act like the other imaginary friends so he could find a friend. My editor and I discussed that this was more of a behavior that an older teen would perhaps embrace and so we shifted the thinking to the thoughts I had about my first son and the thoughts that ran through my mind about the anticipation of becoming a first time parent. You don’t know who this person is going to be but you’re curious, and you fill your mind with ideas of what they could be like. It isn’t until you finally hold your kid in your arms when it all becomes a reality and you give your child his/her name much like Beekle did in the book. From a child’s point of view it’s the anticipation of your first day at school and making your first friend. Beekle was my son’s first word. It was his word for bicycle, and my wife and I thought it would be a great name for a character in a book and so, I wrote this book for him as a love letter. I wanted to make a clear message to my son that even though I may be strict, or that maybe we don’t see eye to eye on things, even years down the road, this will be a thing that he can read when he is older, and maybe share with his kids (or grandkids) and it can be read for generations down the line as how I would love my family to be defined.

Tate: Dude, you won a Caldecott! That’s beyond cool. How has life changed—if at all—since winning the highest award? Are you able to get any new work done, or are you constantly under interview pursuit from th-1folks like me?

Santat: I’m much more relaxed. In fact, now that I reflect on the last ten years of my life, I wonder how I even got through it all. I don’t think I realized how intense I was at my craft until now. I think, it quite possibly even saved my life, because I struggled my whole life to feel like I did something significant. Something that felt worthy of my peers. This is the one time I get to embrace that. It’s less about showing others my worth but, in fact, proving to myself that I belonged in this business. I sleep more (which still isn’t saying much) but work isn’t constantly on my mind anymore. I don’t worry about things as much as I used to, for now. I do have other concerns that come from winning, but that’s a different matter. I’ve been asked to many more events and I’ve had to travel much more. This is even with the fact that I’ve turned down half the things I’m offered. I’ve done more interviews, been asked to participate in more panels, and contribute art to auctions, etc. Getting back into the groove of work has been a struggle, but publishers keep reminding me of my contractual obligations. It’s clear to me that publishers want to get in on this train, as well, but my agent has been very good about regulating all of that. She’s been my best friend in all of this. She wants me to take the time to enjoy this moment and soak it all in.

Tate: Now, concerning the summer conference, I understand that you will co-lead the Illustrator Intensive. I wanted to sign up for that, too, but I decided to polish my word chops. I signed up for the writer’s intensive. Without making me regret my decision, can you give me a hint as to what I will miss?

Santat: The illustrators intensive, I feel, has always been the best thing for illustrators at SCBWI. I feel it’s the whole conference for them. I do admire you venturing into the writers side of things, however, because I feel that having that knowledge just makes you a better craftsman as a whole. I think your illustrations will improve by the way you communicate as a result. I’m doing an intensive about how your work needs to address the problem at hand and not marketing yourself as just a style. I’ll also be doing two break out sessions during the regular conference. The first is about how to write books from the point of view of an illustrator, the other is about how to improve your illustrations simply by being a better graphic designer and composing your images more thoughtfully. Then there’s also the keynote. You have no idea. Keynoting at the Summer conference has always been a dream of mine.

Tate: Thanks Dan!

Click here for more information about the SCBWI Summer Conference and to register for the full day Illustrator’s Intensive.

Fun in Nac!

I spent four days presenting to students in Nacogdoches, Texas (here’s a writeup). It’s north east of Austin, a five hour drive, but well worth the road trip. I truly loved my time in the city, where I could get everywhere in less than five minutes. And the students, teachers, and librarians were blast! One librarian even tweeted pictures, and the newspaper there covered it. Here are a few photo highlights from my trip:

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Due to technical difficulties, I developed a new hipster fad: the beard microphone.

Due to technical difficulties, I developed a new hipster fad: the beard microphone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blogging for SCBWI

SCBWI Team Blog, lead by Lee Wind

SCBWI Team Blog, lead by Lee Wind

Throughout my career, I’ve worn many hats: graphic artist, illustrator, designer, author, cartoonist, and speaker. I now have a new hat: blogger! This past weekend, I served as a blogger for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Winter Conference in New York. The experience was exhilarating and fast paced. I had to be alert and on my toes at every second, or chance missing a quotable moment, photo opportunity, or funny comment. I also had the pleasure of attending the pre-conference portfolio showcase and wine and cheese party—which was a who’s-who of children’s literaure authors, illusrators, editors, agents, everyone! Here are a few photos from the event.

There were 375 illustrators in attendance!

There were 375 illustrators in attendance!

Pre-conference writers' intensive workshop

Pre-conference writers’ intensive workshop

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Day of Diversity, Pop Top Stage, Winter Storm: My ALA Midwinter Recap!

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Me along with author/publisher Wade Hudson of Just Us Books

The past two weeks have been busier than normal in terms of travel. The previous weekend, I traveled home to Des Moines, Iowa to say goodbye to my grandfather. This past weekend, I went to ALA in Chicago. Next weekend I head to NYC to blog for SCBWINY! Here’s a recap of my time at ALA:

On Friday I participated in the Day of Diversity: Dialog and Action in Children’s Literature and Library Programming. It was held at the American Library Association Midwinter conference in Chicago, hosted by Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), in partnership with the Children’s Book Council (CBC). It was an invitation-only event, a who’s-who of influential industry giants bought together to discuss strategies to ensure that all children have access to diverse literature.

Initially I’d been invited as a facilitator to a discussion group, but I passed. This being my first time to participate in an event like this, I wanted to sit back, take it all in and learn. There will be other opportunities, and now that I know how things work, I’m confident that I could lead discussions at events like this in the future.

Debbie Reese and Cynthia Leitich Smith

Debbie Reese and Cynthia Leitich Smith

The day involved listening to lively panel discussions, speeches, presentations, and breakout sessions where conversations continued. The day ended with a call for action where attendees were asked to set goals in order to move diversity forward. Little did we know that the ALA Youth Media Awards in the following days would move the needle forward a bit.

On Saturday I spoke about my upcoming book, POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON OF CHAPEL HILL on the Pop Top Stage. The stage was on the side of the exhibit hall, but was large enough to be a centerpiece and clearly visible from everywhere on the exhibit floor. My audience began relatively small but grew to a full house as attendees were drawn to my words and images. One guy came over to say that he was drawn to my voice! Thank you, Dara Allen, my voice coach.

Immediately following my presentation, I signed unbound ARCs and posters that my publisher printed up especially for the event. A brisk signing continued later at the Peachtree Publishing booth.

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On Monday I had the honor of attending the ALA Youth Media Awards in Chicago. It all happened by accident though. I was supposed to leave Chicago on Sunday afternoon, but due to the snowy weather, my flight was canceled. I couldn’t get out of Chicago until Tuesday! No worries though, my publisher extended my hotel room for two days, which allowed me to attend the awards ceremony.

After listening to an invigorating speech by Dr. Cornell West at an early morning program, I got in line for the awards. The line stretched the distance of the convention center, wrapped around again and again. I estimated that I was about at the 500 mark, but that still put me at the head of the line. Inside I sat near the front with Gayle Brown and Anita Eerdmans of Eerdman’s Publishing (who won several awards including a Caldecott honor!).

I must admit, as I looked around at a sea of mostly white attendees, I felt a sense of doom concerning diversity among award winners. But something strange happened as the awards began to get called off. One by one, winners were announced, and I recognized the names of diverse authors and illustrators. I felt confused when the mostly white awards committee members stood following each award announcement.image2

I’ve been a founding member of the Brown Bookshelf for almost eight years. I’ve been involved with We Need Diverse Books for the past few months. I felt like our call for more diversity in children’s literature (and awards) had been heard. What a great day for children, children’s literature, and authors of all backgrounds, cultures, races, sexual identities, and disabilities.

There were many highlights throughout the weekend, but I think one of the most exciting things was getting to meet Ellen Oh and other team members of We Need Diverse Books. Oh!–and meeting Debbie Reese!

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Signing my new book, Poet!

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Me with my ‘pure joy’ editor, Kathy Landwehr of Peachtree

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Me with one of my art directors, Gayle Brown, and publisher, Anita Eerdman of Eerdman’s Publishing, watching the ALA awards live!

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Ellen Oh and I. W. Gregorio are super people. Glad to know them.

 

Firing up the ol’ blog, headed to NYC

unnamed-1Okay, so I haven’t blogged here in awhile. It’s difficult to keep up with so many social networking options. But it’s time to fire up this blog again, as it will soon be linked to the national SCBWI blog. What? Yes.  So here’s some very cool news: Lee Wind, “Captain” of the National SCBWI Team Blog, has invited me to join his team. My assignment will be to cover the upcoming New York conference. And if that goes well, I’ll return later in the summer to cover the LA conference. It’s my understanding that for awhile, the posts will link up from here, and then move to the national blog on the days of the conference. So tune in!

I am the lucky recipient of an SCBWI 2014 Launch Grant

blogpost_scbwiI am pleased to announce that I am the recipient of an SCBWI Launch Grant Award. The award provides two grants of $2,000 each to an author or illustrator, to be used to promote an upcoming book. As a recipient, the award will make it possible to launch my forthcoming book, POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON OF CHAPEL HILL (Peachtree, fall 2015), in North Carolina, right in the community where George Moses Horton once lived. The award will also allow me to take the book on tour with author Kelly Starling Lyons. The tour, tentatively entitled “Freedom Tour: Celebrating 150 Years of Emancipation and Reconstruction,” could include stops in places such as the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (OH), the National Civil War Museums (PA), the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (NYC), others. Plans are under way.

POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON OF CHAPEL HILL, tells the inspiring story of George Moses Horton, a young cow-boy who was enslaved on a N.C. farm, who taught himself how to read and later became the first African American to publish a book in the south.

In addition, two other books that I illustrated will be included in the tour: THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH (Eerdmans, spring 2015), written by Chris Barton, and HOPE’S GIFT (Penguin), written by Kelly Starling Lyons. ELLEN’S BROOM, by Kelly Starling Lyons, will also join the tour.

Thank you to the SCBWI for helping to make these plans possible. And, thank you, SCBWI, for supporting diversity! POET can also be classified as a diverse title. Industry-wide, there has been a lot of talk lately about the need for more diverse books. But talk is cheap. Money is what encourages change. The SCBWI Launch Award will allow me to launch my book on a national level, especially within communities of color.