Looming by Shanda McCloskey

Looming by Shanda McCloskey, final from mentorship with Loraine Joyner, art director of Peachtree Press

So there I was on the Thursday before the looming conference that started on Friday… I’m super-tired, super-pregnant, out-of-breath, feeling huge, and not myself. Everything was set and paid for. My critique group had a hotel room to share for a fun filled weekend. But I almost backed out of going for being tired and overwhelmed. I had some freelance work going on, and honestly I was a little “conferenced out” as well since I had just attended the NYC SCBWI National conference just a month ago. I was also a participant in the illustrator mentorship with Loraine Joyner of Peachtree Press. I was not thrilled with my finished piece (above), so my motivation for going and showing it off was very low. But for some reason, my gut told me to push through and go. I had done so much preparation to go, so I just had to. My friends were counting on me to be there. (Critique groups are good for accountability too :)

Characters by Shanda McCloskey, from mentorship with Loraine Joyner, art director of Peachtree Press.

Characters by Shanda McCloskey, from mentorship with Loraine Joyner, art director of Peachtree Press.

I’m so thankful I went. This was my best and favorite conference yet! Great learning along with some exciting happenings gave me some serious fuel to get me through my next several months of hard life… (third trimester, birth, having a newborn again, and putting my life and body back together again.) I left this conference feeling like God was letting me know I’m on the right track, and to keep trusting Him on the good days and the tough days.

 

Kim, Colleen, Shanda, and Christi representing Trail Mix, the greatest critique group north of the ATL!

Kim, Colleen, Shanda, and Christi representing Trail Mix, the greatest critique group north of the ATL!

I sure did have some extra good days at this conference though, because I got my very first AND second requests for my manuscript and book dummy! (Which means somebody asked me to send them my work so they could look at it more closely and possibly consider representing it or publishing it.)  Two requests! It was a pretty surreal experience, and it felt so good. Only my critique group (and my husband and mom) knows how much I’ve labored over my story. It has gone through many stages, and finally me and my critique group felt it was ready for the next step… to show it to some professionals for feedback. I was pleasantly surprised with the reactions and feedback, so we’ll see where it goes from here. Even if nothing comes of these requests, it’s really nice to hear a little “you’re not crazy and you may have something here” validation.

Here’s a quick line up of the amazing people/staff who came from all over to share their knowledge with us:

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Cheryl from Just Us Books – She reminded us of the importance of making authentic characters of all races. There are so many white kid books. Kids of other colors deserve to “see” themselves in stories too.

Ruth Sanderson – an incredible illustrator who let us see intimately into her life and journey as an artist.

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Lucy Ruth Cummins - art director, designer extraordinaire for Simon & Shuster. Lucy Ruth was hilarious, cool, knowledgable, a good teacher, and emotional about how much she loves books and her job of creating books. She’s one of those people I’ll never be as cool as, let’s face it. And if she ever wanted to work with me as an illustrator, I’d feel pretty awesome :)

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Cheryl Klein – executive editor with Arthur Levine Books which is an imprint of Scholastic. Cheryl was full of knowledge! There was so much information, I had to let it sink in to fully realize just how much I learned! She’s a great teacher, and you can tell she’s a seasoned professional (although she’s young) and  knows what she’s talking about.

Ammi-Joan Paquette – is an author and an agent. She shared with us a peek into her daily life and how many “hats” she has to wear from a mom, wife, author, to business agent. It was nice to hear how she manages it all. I ALWAYS need to hear motivational talks on things like this, because it is my biggest struggle. I want to be a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter (who helps with her business), AND a wildly successful author/illustrator! How to fit it all in is different for everybody.

So, there it is! A few weeks later, but a conference definitely worth blogging about!

 

Filed under: Illustration, On My Mind, Sketchbook • March 6, 2014

color_image by Shanda McCloskey

 

Something has been missing for me lately. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I think it might be real paint. Not that I was ever a master painter, but it bothers me that I’ve gotten so far from painting since I’ve tried working digitally. I’m feeling like I should bring some paint back into my work somehow, at least in the backgrounds.  The Ladybug Girl series is a beautiful example of watercolor backgrounds with flatter characters on top. So is Winnie the Pooh, and some Calvin and Hobbs. I’m not sure to what extent I can do this, but I’m willing to start experimenting. I’d like illustrating to feel good. Lately it has been a real struggle in my heart. Most of what I create, I hate. Is that normal? I hear it’s normal to make more mistakes that triumphs, but it’s getting ridiculous!

I understand why someone would quit now. It’s a roller-coaster ride for your mind, heart, eyes, and brain for what seems like it should be so simple. Ha! Not simple for me!

I couldn’t sleep last night so I put some watercolor down on paper, scanned it, and put it behind a character I drew. Something about it is sort of nice. Next I’d like to try a real scene with characters interacting and details of the setting. Hopefully, I’m on the right track.

Filed under: Events, Lessons of an Artist, Shanda's Journey • February 26, 2014

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The New York SCBWI conference was wonderful! My weekend was magical! Not only did I learn more about my craft and industry, but I got to meet new people, got to know some Southern Breezers (that I already knew) on a deeper level, saw and met writer and illustrator celebrities, witnessed my friend, Lori Nichols, WINNING the portfolio showcase, participated in the showcase myself (who knows if someone important might have made a mental note to watch me grow), spent some real quality time with my sister, and my husband, saw some old friends in Brooklyn, saw the “Why Children’s Books Matter” exhibit at the New York Public library, and experienced a fancy hotel stay in Manhattan! I’m exhausted… in a good way! There’s just something special about New York, and I’d like to continue to attend that conference as much as I possibly can. I feel like it will be important for “going faster”, if you will, on my journey.

Tomie DePaola

Tomie DePaola speaking at the 2014 SCBWI NYC Conference

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My room at the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central

Here’s a list of some of the most important things I took with me from this conference…

For illustrating-

1. Go see as many live plays and ballets as possible. Here are valuable lessons in staging, storytelling, body language, and costuming. Funny thing, Ben actually got to see the New York City Ballet with our friend, author/illustrator, Monica Wellington! I’m so jealous!!!

New York City Ballet

The New York City Ballet

Art at the New York City Ballet

Art at the New York City Ballet

2. DRAW EVERYDAY. I can’t tell you how many speakers said these words. I think I finally heard it :) But if we draw enough, our personal style WILL emerge… it’s in our DNA!

3. The creative process is a mystery and unique to each creator. You can’t rush it. You can only feed it by making art over and over and over again. (The process of becoming an author and illustrator sounds similar.)

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Panel: Arthur Levine, Shadra Strickland, Oliver Jeffers, Marla Frazee, Raul Colon, and Peter Brown!

4. Everything you need to know you learned in your first art class. But it takes time for your brain and hands to trust it. Every time you start to draw a face, you start with an oval and divide it up, every single time. Over and over again.

5. When creating a character, draw it so much that the “generic” gets pushed out of it.

Me with Oliver Jeffers

Me with Oliver Jeffers (illustrator of The Day the Crayons Quit)

6. You may need to imitate art you like in practice to help you find your way. It’s okay.

7. You will know your art is working if you feel something when you look at it. Your goal is to create an emotional response.

8. Will they fall in love with your character? If so, they will probably love the rest of your book too.

9. Viewers of your illustrations should be able to “get it” right away.

10. Most important things to see in illustrations: relationships and emotions.

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11. Magnify what you do well. Don’t force what you don’t.

12. Put enough discovery in an illustration for interest a second time around.

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Portfolio Viewing

13. Go as fast as you can. Get in the express lane if you are able. (For me, I think that means going to the NYC conference often.)

14. Self publishing does not have the negative stigma it used to.

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For writing-

1. Jack Santos said: the perfect ending is when action and emotion meet. A physical and emotional ending wins the prize! For ex. Not everyone will be able to relate to the physical experience of a teacher smashing your watch because you can’t not play with it, but EVERYONE will be able to relate to the emotional experience of not feeling mature enough for something.

2. Your characters HAVE TO change, otherwise its not worth reading or writing.

Me with Lori Nichols after she won the showcase!

Me with Lori Nichols after she won the portfolio showcase!

3. Find a work habit that works for you.

4. Good stories always have an emotional core and deep emotional human experience.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

Children's room at the New York Public Library

Children’s room at the New York Public Library

5. Kate Messner said: If you aren’t nervous about this journey, it wouldn’t be worth doing.

Why Children's Books Matter Exhibit

Why Children’s Books Matter Exhibit

Why Children's Books Matter

Why Children’s Books Matter Exhibit

The Great Green Room

Why Children’s Books Matter Exhibit

6. Remember to celebrate the small accomplishments along the way!

Sisters

Me and my sister, India!

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Bryant Park

Well there you go :) Every conference I attend confirms my desire to be a part of these people that make books for kids!

When Ben and I finally landed in Atlanta again on Monday night, we cranked up our rap music for our last kid-free drive home. What can I say? It gets me ready to fight… for my dream :)

-Shanda

Filed under: Illustration, On My Mind, Shanda's Journey, Sketchbook, Uncategorized • February 20, 2014

Right now, I am sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting on my flight to New York City to attend my first SCBWI national conference.  I have my love, Ben, beside me, which is nice. He works in New York often, so it was awesome that we could travel together!

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I have always dreamed of attending the NYC SCBWI conference, although now that I’m headed there today, things aren’t exactly as I imagined them being. Not a bad thing, just different, because (if you didn’t know already) I am 5 months pregnant with another precious girl! And I feel really great these days, so I knew I had to seize this opportunity before I have a newborn in my life again :)  I also got to experience a full body pat down for the first time at the airport! I didn’t want to walk through the x-ray scanner being pregnant and all. The lady really explored my maternity pants. I guess you could really hide some stuff in all that extra stretchy fabric!

February has been a busy, packed month preparing for this adventure. My to-do list looked almost impossible for the month of February (March will be the same way), but I did everything! It’s amazing what a little planning can do. Here’s a little bit of what I was working on for this trip:

 

Illustrating a mandatory assignment for the illustrator’s intensive…

Research:

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Thumbnails:
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Character sketches:
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Layout Sketches:
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Value Study:
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Color:Snow White by Shanda McCloskey

Preparing my portfolio for the Portfolio Showcase… (I am really looking forward to seeing other’s portfolios and how they crafted and organized them.)

portfolio

It also helped that my 3-year-old started a little preschool program this month. So, for 2 mornings each week I had work time to myself, and it was really fun to see HJ discover school, have a Valentine party, overcome some shyness and anxiety, learn about frogs, learn to write her name, choose a packed lunch or what the other kids were having, and be picked for a table cleaning job. This was all stuff she told me about when I pick her up after lunch.  I also can’t forget about the help and support I have from my mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law when it comes to HJ. She is one loved little girl, and I know she’ll be happy and safe all weekend (having 3 different slumber parties with them) while I’m gone.

supermanI miss her though! 5 days is the longest I have ever been apart from her. I know she’ll be just fine, but it feels really strange still. We found PINKY, the owl, in our bed this morning :)  So, I brought her with me!

pinky
Okay, here we go!

Filed under: Illustration, Sketchbook • February 12, 2014

"Honk!" poster by Shanda McCloskey
Every now and then, an artist will get an opportunity that they just can’t pass up. That’s what happened when my friend, Anna in Brooklyn, emailed me about this job/project about a month ago. She is directing “Honk!”, a musical based on The Ugly Duckling story, and she needed a promo illustration, and 4 background illustrations (that felt like a vintage children’s story book) within 2 months. I didn’t really have time for it, but I felt in my heart it was worth squeezing into my schedule somehow. At this point, I’ve only completed 1 of 5 illustrations, but it’s a great start I think. The poster above is the completed promo piece.

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Honk Sketch by Shanda McCloskey

I colored this sketch digitally with my Wacom tablet. A weakness I believe I have is color. So, I found a vintage book cover online (which happens to be an Ugly Ducking book) and selected its colors in Photoshop and used them to follow a color scheme on my own piece. I learned so much by doing that. Colors can be VERY deceiving. You may think you are seeing blue, but that’s only because of the colors around it. If you select it, it may actually be green or something.

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This was also a nice challenge for me as I need more illustrations with backgrounds in my portfolio. Backgrounds don’t come all that natural to me. I’m more of a character person, and find that I avoid backgrounds… too much. I’m definitely still a work-in-progress as an illustrator, but I’m very happy with the way this turned out.

Stay tuned for the other illustrations in this project. I hope I like them as much as this one :)

 

 

"Little Red Writing" by Joan Holub, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

“Little Red Writing” by Joan Holub, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Isn’t this a cute gift idea for a kid?! I wish we had a birthday party to go so I could give this :) Valentine’s Day is coming up, too. Not bad for a $22 surprise. I found the pencil toppers and pencils in the dollar section at Target, the composition book at the grocery store, and the book at the bookstore.

Okay, back to the picture book and project!

One day, Little Red and her classmates get to write their own stories. As Little Red begins to write, she finds that there are many challenges she has to overcome to make an exciting story. She even has to face a scary pencil sharpener with quite big teeth!

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Photo Feb 08, 10 11 29 AM

Shanda: This book had me at Melissa Sweet- one of my favorite illustrators! And she does not disappoint! Of course I also can relate to the perils of writing a story. There are many layers to this book, so that kids of ALL ages can enjoy it. HJ is 3 years old, and she loved the excitement of the story. Older kids can really see nouns, adjectives, adverbs, EXCLAMATIONS!, and run-on sentences come to life. This would be fantastic to use in a classroom before a writing challenge.

HJ: It’s really awesome when the mean wolf came! (She likes to say the “GRRRRR!” parts.)

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The project for older kids: Write you own story (with illustrations) in your very own composition book, just like Little Red!

The project for younger kids: Attempt to write your own story in your own composition book, just like Little Red! I think HJ enjoyed just playing with the pencil people best :)

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She started off saying she was writing a SCARY story!

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Busy, busy! But in the end, things got epic when some of the pencil people took something from the other pencil people…

Thanks for stopping by! This post is dedicated to the new life and new story of Ellie Pearl Jones! Born yesterday! (She’s the daughter of my cousin, who is really like a sister to me :)

Also, sorry I haven’t posted in quite a while. I’ll tell you why soon…

Love,
Shanda & HJ

Filed under: Events, Illustration, On My Mind, Shanda's Journey • October 30, 2013

Man, the past few weeks have spun me around! Here’s the list in order of the craziness…

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1. First of all, I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t attend another writing/illustrating conference without a book dummy! So, for 2 months I tweaked my best story, Dollie 1.0, and prepared a sample dummy for the WIK Southern Breeze SCBWI conference in Birmingham, AL. I learned SO VERY much during the dummying process! So much, that once I finished the dummy for the conference, I knew it was just a place holder for much work still needed on it. A little disheartening, but I’m growing tougher. I am still a work-in-progress and so is my book. But it was great to lay even a work-in-progress dummy beside my portfolio display. Definitely a step up in the right direction.

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2. The Birmingham conference was nice and familiar territory. But this time I went with a few of my writing group homies! 2-night stay in a hotel and all :)

group

 

3. After the conference, I got some wonderful feedback on my story/dummy from this writing group as well as from Author/Illustrator, Sarah Francis Hardy. Now, I’m about to rework the entire story to focus my message more. I love pulling together the framework of a story. It’s the stringing together of words that intimidates me.

4. We had a Friends Family Pumpkin Carving Shin Dig!

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spider cookie

5. Ball Ground Public Library asked me to fill their display cases with my artwork to share it with the community! I sure do love my local library and the people there. It is a cool opportunity, so I took it!

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6. I helped my mom (NuMe Natural Soap) prepare for the Country Living Fair in Atlanta, GA. She makes natural soap. I helped build displays, wrap soaps in fabric, paint signs, and think strategically, etc. It was a great weekend, and a beautiful distraction!

fairpass photo 4 setup

7. Then I had a scissor accident! I cut a tiny tip of my finger off while cutting string for soap wrapping. You know, I try to do do something nice…

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8. I sent out a new set of postcards to art directors. Who the heck knows if they ever catch anyone’s eye?! But my options are limited until I have a killer book dummy/dummies to send out.

9. I’m trying to sketch more each day. I joined DOODLE DAY on Facebook for some inspiration and prompts.

Spooky
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10. I’m registered to participate in Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo)! Where I vowed to come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days… should be interesting.

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11. And now I’m getting back to my blog! I hope to have a new “A Picture Book & A Project” post soon!

12. Last but not least… I signed up to attend my first National SCBWI conference in New York City in February 2014! This is a huge step for me. I know I will leave with a sense of where to go from here. Benny is going with me! He works with a company located across the street from the conference venue. Cool, right?!

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So, that’s what I’ve been up to, but I’m eager to get back to a steady work routine to pump out work… great work I hope.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN with HJ’s pumpkin! I think it’s pretty cute.
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-Shanda

 

 

Cover from "The Day the Crayons Quit" by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by oliver Jeffers

Cover from “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
PHILOMEL, 2013

I’ve never given much thought to how I treated my crayons when I was a kid…. but now I know… crayons are people too! I’m glad they finally spoke up :)

SHANDA: I love this book SO much! It really brought me back to when I was a kid! I felt like the Critic on Ratatouille when he tastes the food at the end, and it takes him all the way back to his childhood :) There’s plenty to laugh about in this book too! HJ and I could be kids together for a few minutes! Great job Mr. Daywalt and Mr. Jeffers!

HJ: She cracked up when Peach Crayon wouldn’t leave the box because he was naked :)

naked_crayon

 

So we made a whole bunch of old naked crayons for our project…

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Then we broke them into small pieces and divided them into the spaces of an oven safe mold. *Note- SCRATCH the paper cups you see in the photo. It works better without them. Also, they would turn out much cuter than ours did if you used a silicone candy mold that had cute shapes like flowers or something. Melt them in the oven at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes.

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Then allow them to cool completely, and use a knife to “pop” them out!

We bagged some up for church (for HJ and her cousin, Laney :)

Happy considerate coloring!

Filed under: Illustration, Shanda's Journey, Sketchbook • September 16, 2013

Should Charlie be blonde or black?

charlie_hugging_doll2charlie_gazing_atdoll2oops2

 

Filed under: Illustration, Shanda's Journey, Sketchbook • September 6, 2013

oops by Shanda McCloskey

 

scientist by Shanda McCloskey

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Shanda

I'm on a quest to become a children's book illustrator and author! This blog is a documentary of my progress, experiences, and reflections for myself and possibly other budding artists.

My daughter and I love reading together, so we offer up suggestions of our favorite books and projects to go with them here A Picture Book & A Project.

Thanks for being here!
-Shanda

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