Friday, August 29, 2014

Getting together at the SCBWI Summer BBQ

by Marcy Pusey

It was the morning of our SCBWI Germany / Austria annual grill out. I had a three hour drive ahead of me. I imagined myself trying to convince my children that this was going to be fun. Driving nearly seven hours to hang out with people you don’t know so your mom can “connect with her writer-self.” Sounds exciting, right?

“What in the world was I thinking?” I thought to myself. But then I remembered my last post. And my promise to be there. I gave you all of these really wonderful and true reasons to be there. Could I miss it?

My introverted self said, “Yes. You can just stay home, hiding in your room, pretending to write while really scouting Facebook to see if they are posting a live action feed on how much fun they are having without you.” *sigh*

Surprisingly enough, everyone was excited to get in the car and go hang with Mommy’s writing world. We arrived and were heartily welcomed.

My introversion-inspired nerves melted away at the beaming smiles of Jenny and Linda. At the familiar hugs of Maria and Catherine. At the encouragement to keep writing my story from Twyla. At the laughter and conversation with Pia and Laura and Sanne. Watching our families connect over food and art and cross-cultural living was the cherry on the top of a grand sundae.

I felt the word “home” whispered to my soul. Sharing a room with others impassioned by literature and art blows on the burning embers of excitement in my own heart. I feel it creep up my insides and begin to ooze out of my skin. It first shows up as a small smile… then wiggles up to a gleam in my eye… I’m sure it’s there because I saw it in all of you. That tell-tale sign that something in you is coming alive as well… I know that look. And it was all over our annual grill-out.

I missed some of the faces I’m used to seeing at these events. You. Yes, you. We missed you.

But don’t worry. There are other chances to join in the magic of artists and creative souls coming together.

September 19 - British Aisles Agent Party 

Okay, not all of those are in our region but one of my favorite consequences of the Europolitan Conference was the coming together of our European regions. I love how welcoming each region has been to members in other areas. This is especially helpful for folks like me who live closer to another region’s meeting place than our own. Take advantage of these open doors! I promise the other regional members are super nice. :)

Speaking of the Europolitan conference… keep your eyes peeled for our next one in March of 2015. You won’t want to miss it!

And maybe you’ll have to talk your introversion into signing up for an event with people you may not know well… but push through! Or maybe you’ll need to talk your extroversion down from the mountain and convince it that September is not that far away. Either way, we’re actually a lot of fun and really nice. And we usually have treats. Yummy treats.

You’ll be glad you came.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

StarSpun - a Graphic Web Novel by Laura Diehl

After a long break we are back with our member interviews. This time I am very happy and excited to introduce your to Laura Diehl's work and her latest comic project StarSpun

Laura, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get started in illustration or what made you want to become an illustrator in the first place?

I’m a freelance illustrator who specializes in children’s fantasy illustration. I’m American, but I currently live in Southern Germany with my husband and our sock-stealing Cocker Spaniel (who is also my studio mate).

I decided I wanted to be an illustrator quite early on –in the third grade- when I was introduced to Chris Van Allsburg’s beautiful picture book: The Polar Express. I was completely mesmerized by the way he conjured up a whole story world through art and words. Throughout my early school years, I was always creating art, from crayon drawings, to colored pencil fanart, to computer painting. In college I majored in Painting only because my school did not offer an Illustration major. After graduation, I began to take on freelance art gigs via my website, until I was eventually doing art for clients full time.

You recently launched your own webcomic “StarSpun”, which is such an exciting project! How did you get started? What inspired you to make your own webcomic?

StarSpun had its beginnings as a single personal illustration piece, which grew into a picture book dummy (which it outgrew many times over in length), then a chapter book (which didn’t really work either), and then finally found its home in the form of an online comic. The inspiration to make it a webcomic specifically comes from digital art being my native medium and my excitement about the possibilities of creating with the unlimited “canvas” of a computer screen.

You publish a chapter each month, do you work way in advance on your comic to keep the set schedule up even if you might not be able to work as much on your comic as you would like to?

I’d love to work up a backlog, but, unfortunately, it’s all I can do to get out one chapter per month, let alone double-time it so that I am building up backlog. It’s a fact of being a freelancer that some months are more booked with client work than others so I do try to push ahead when I have time but generally on the chapter at hand. I knew this going in and I choose to start putting the comic out there anyway. Currently to me it is more important to be making headway with the comic and getting it out there to an audience. I knew that if I took too long stockpiling art/chapters ahead of time I’d never actually publish anything.

Speaking of time to work on your comic, how do you organize the illustration process of a whole comic? It seems to be a lot of work and your illustrations are also quite realistic and very detailed!

The “infinite canvas” format allows for an interesting workflow as it gives me the ability to lay out an entire chapter as a unit. I use this to my advantage as it allows me to have one huge file per chapter instead of having to keep track of 20+ pages separately. It’s only at the very end that I slice and save out the separate web-ready images.

Could you share with us how an illustration or page of “StarSpun” gets created from idea to finished artwork?

I create each chapter first as a series of rough sketches, where I can move the individual rough drawings around as needed to tweak the chapter flow and allow room for word balloons. 

I then move on to tighter sketches, which I think of more as “volume sketches” that are just for me, these let me work out form and expression with a bit more detail.

Then I devise a color palette for the whole chapter and use this to lay down a basic color layer under each sketch layer.

After the basic color is down I go through each panel, shading and lighting the forms until I can drop away the lines layer and just the shaded forms remain.

At the very end I add the effects, final word balloons, and final text.

Do you plan to also publish your comic traditionally or will it remain a free webcomic?

I’ve created the pages so that they one day could be published traditionally as a landscape format book. But plans for such a thing would likely wait until book one is compete. Either way, I fully intend to have it remain a free webcomic, as I feel that this is the original and my most preferred reading format.

As “StarSpun” is a free comic right now and a lot of your time goes into that beautiful project, how do you finance such a work intense comic as “StarSpun”? 

I am currently financing StarSpun with the other illustration work I do for clients. I do, however, have a Patreon page for it and would love to eventually transition into StarSpun being supported directly by fans who’ve become patrons. It would be great to be able to devote myself to the comic full-time.

I think “StarSpun” is your first comic project. What makes this project special to you, apart from this being your very own and original story?

I love that the comic format allows me to fully tell a story from beginning to end by myself. Most of my other illustration pieces are just single images, which, by their nature, can only tell one fragment of a larger story. I also enjoy that comics as a medium allow for an ‘older’ and more complex story than might fit within a picture book. For someone who communicates primarily in the visual medium, comics are the perfect and most immediate way to tell a great story.

Most of your work seems to be created digitally. What are the advantages for you to work digitally and do you also work traditionally at times?

I’m 99% digital and have been for over a decade. I honestly haven’t used real paint since college and only occasionally break out the physical sketch book. I love digital because it affords me the ability to paint with light on an unlimited canvas. And I don’t have to clean the brushes afterward! Super-great for someone like me who hates getting their hands messy.

You have a very strong and distinct style. Could you share with us how you discovered and developed this very style?

I discovered it by doing. I started playing with digital art in 1998, when my family first bought a computer, and I’ve been creating art with a monitor and Wacom tablet ever since. Over time I’ve picked up methods I like better than others, discarded those that didn’t work for me, and discovered what I really enjoy most. I don’t think about style so much, I just have a way I like to do things that tends to yield similar results every time.

Are there any other projects apart from “StarSpun” in the making at the moment?

I currently have more than enough on my visual easel with StarSpun and the occasional client commission. There are other more story worlds and ideas simmering slowing on the back burner, but full throttle ahead on StarSpun is enough for me for now!

I am always intrigued to find out what inspires people and nourishes the creative soul. What is your well of inspiration or is it a variety of things that keeps your creative juices flowing?

I am quite a fan of all things fantasy, so my creative well is filled with fantastical books, movies and games. I particularly resonate with Studio Ghibli films like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, with whimsical middle grade fantasy books such as Bliss Bakery and When You Reach Me, and with beautiful artsy games such as Child of Light or Journey. I am also currently very inspired by living abroad in Germany –as it allows me to travel and see all the beautiful sights of Europe!

This is the final question I like to ask everyone, so here it goes. Now that you have been in the business of illustration for a while what advice would you give your younger self at the point when you were just starting out as an illustrator?

Figure out early on what you love to draw and how you love to draw it. Fill your portfolio with this. I’ve found that clients, big and small, tend to contact me because of specific portfolio pieces that are similar to what they have in mind. If your portfolio is also a demonstration of things you truly enjoy making, you are more likely to get assignments you love! Also, always do personal work. You never know where a self-inspired single image might lead you. Perhaps it will unlock a whole story world as my first StarSpun piece did.

Thank you so much, Laura, for this great interview! I cannot wait for the next chapter of StarSpun!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Meanderings at 2 am

It's 2:00 in the morning.

Jet lag is kicking my behind.

I thought I had it all figured out and taken care of... that I'd beaten this beast. Then came midnight, my thirsty daughter, and jet lag cued my brain to process life.

All of it.

Not a very convenient time to process the whole of life.

But the perfect time to write this post.

It made me wonder how many others of us are awake right now with jet lag. Or a move. Or any change. Actually... I know for a fact some of you are. And I know how easy it is to lose touch with your writer-self or illustrator-self.

That life can easily swoop in with all its noise and hoopla and make you forget that there's a core piece of yourself that needs attention.

Lots of attention.

But it sort of sits there quietly until everything around you settles down and you can see it again.

And then you realize why you're such an emotional mess.

I mean, other than the big move or the change in jobs or the change in your child's development or (fill in the blank).

You might handle everything much better if you kept writing. And sketching. Because even though we are truly passionate about children and literature and our careers... we also just really need to work out our art. If all the rest didn't exist, we'd still be drawing and painting and writing and editing. Because it's been built into us.

And maybe the swirls and whirls of summer just threw everything out the window and you have to make the dive back in. I do.

Well guess what? There’s one really great way to re-connect with your artist-self.

On August 23, we are having our annual SCBWI Germany/Austria grill-out. This won’t get your next manuscript written or your next illustration sketched out… but it WILL give you the motivation and inspiration to get back to it. Rubbing shoulders with your other creative friends has a way of doing that. And knowing you’ll have to answer questions about what you’re working on might even give you an inspirational boost before you get there!

And if you’re not dealing with jet lag or any other significant change… and summer is your most prolific season of artistic work… then just come so you can giggle at our blood-shot eyes and blank stares. And eat some yummy food. And feel really good about your accomplishments. We’ll celebrate with you.

All right, it’s 3:30am now and I should probably attempt to sleep. Otherwise I’ll be a total mess when I see you in Stuttgart in a couple weeks. Because I will see you in a couple weeks… right?