2 | Getting started

melanie_tile2[The following appeared in Facebook  8/21 to 8/24]

What drew you to illustrating children’s books? And how did you get started?

Melanie Hope Greenberg: I am a self taught artist. When I was young there was no idea I was schooling myself. Art is fun and practice was play. In my 20’s, I started doing graphic art for a living. At the same time, I also sold my art to be published as greeting cards, stationery and gift ware. Even sold my art at street fairs.

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MHG:  So many people asked if I had illustrated picture books, that I took the hint. Through an agent directory, I met Dilys Evans. She instilled confidence that I had a good chance in this business. But Evans was no longer taking new artists. She suggested another rep who became my agent for over 20 years.

MHG:  I learned how to craft a dummy with text and landed my first book contract with Dutton Children’s Books. I jumped right in, and truly learned on the job.


Melanie Hope Greenberg's first children's picture book, published in 1989.

My first book with Dutton Children's Books was published in 1989.—MHG


Catherine Lazure: So great to hear that you don’t necessarily need a lot of formal training to enter this field.

MHG: It’s best to get some training as far as knowing how to sell the art and words and get it published. I highly recommend  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They hold many great classes, conferences, etc. to learn how to properly navigate the juvenile publishing business

Richard Jesse Watson: Good point Melanie. I got involved in children’s book publishing by attending the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. The recent LA conference was fabulous. For those who didn’t attend, check out their blog.

Joy Chu: @ Richard: Like Melanie, you previously did greeting cards too, yes?

Catherine Lazure: Thanks Melanie for the link to the SCBWI link. Aside from the Master Classes that I see you can buy (on CD I guess?), do they have live classes?

Richard Jesse Watson: Yes, Joy, I did greeting cards as well. I was an artist for Hallmark cards, then did freelance for Sunrise. When I was at Hallmark I often heard about my art, “Oh, that looks too ‘storybook’ “. Finally it dawned on me, “That’s because I want to be doing storybook illustrations”. One day I put on a red cape, grabbed my Viking helmet, quit, and went into the jungle.

Joy Chu: @ Richard: Love it!
@ Catherine:  Live master classes happen at the SCBWI Conference sites themselves, I believe. There are local chapters, and two national conferences, at NYC (Winter) and L.A. (Summer).

JC: Melanie participated at a recent SCBWI-NYC event. Ask her about that! 🙂

MHG: Good idea Joy, here’s a link to an article about my presentation called Marketing to the Max.

Denise Hilton Campbell: Thank you for this article, Melanie, this was going to be one of my questions. I have a Facebook* account and a “page” but I’m not sure how separate they are.

MHG: They are separate, as Joy and I found out trying to launch the Countdown. I suggest a personal account and a professional account. Yes, I am boring, I only post professional blurbs on my Wall. I hardly ever go to Pages. Who are you trying to attract? That is the message to give out. And stay on message. Your meals and notes to Aunt Tillie are going to confuse people

Denise Hilton Campbell: Thank you Melanie! My original intention with Facebook was to attract potential clients and be able to get feedback from colleges. Of course Aunt Tillie seemed to come with the package. It also gets confusing when I link it to my blog. I’ll set it up right away! I may still keep my Page for the benefit of the Aunt Tillies that want to follow my art… or maybe not. We’ll see…

MHG: Facebook is user friendly to all needs. Find what works for you. For the most part professionals are not really “Friends”. We are colleagues on FB. That will keep you on message. All the best, Denise.

[*SPECIAL NOTE. After the above exchange took place, the following was discovered about Facebook:  You can set up either a business account or a social account. But you cannot have both. It becomes your primary account. You can create other pages — ie, fan pages, associations, clubs, — but they must be connected to one primary page account. And you must apply the same   email address to each of them. —JC]

Marie Elena Good:  There is some great information out here. I’m not an illustrator (couldn’t draw a decent pic if my life was at stake). I’m in awe of you folks!

JC: With picture books, it’s a mutual admiration / collaboration between artist and writer.
🙂 😉

Marie Elena Good: Melanie, perhaps you already addressed these questions somewhere else. If so, please forgive the redundancy: Do you WRITE the books as well? Or illustrate books written by others? Or both?

MHG: Yes I write them too. Illustrators can do both, lucky us!

Christina A. Tugeau: An inside sense of HOW and WHY an artist and/or writer gets into and going in this industry is good for ALL to hear. it’s just fun hard work, practice and persistence often… talent is helpful! 🙂 enjoying this!

JC: Thanks for the props, Christina! So happy seeing you here.
@ everyone: Christina is an artist rep AND an illustrator extraordinaire!

MHG: Thanks! 🙂 Why aren’t we FB Friends yet? Off to invite you 🙂 mhg

Paul Brewer: My wife, Kathleen Krull (author of many children’s books) got me interested in art again after a long hiatus. I studied art at college right after high school but lost my mojo and quit. Nearly 25 years ago Kathy coaxed me into going back to school to study art. One of the many classes I took was Illustrating Books for Children, given by Kathi McCord at UCSD Extension. I worked on my technique, created “my” style and submitted samples in pursuit of a book project. In 1995 I got my 1st book deal! My 1st book was written by a 13 yr old boy on the subject of how to be annoying. It was called French Fries Up Your Nose: 208 Ways to Annoy People. It did not sell well at all because for some strange reason parents do not want to buy their children books on “how to be annoying.” I know, I know, it surprised the hell out of me too!

Lori Mitchell: I always knew I wanted to be an artist but didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. I went to Art Center College of Design and graduated with an illustration degree. My favorites were Maurice Sendak, Leo and Diane Dillon and Carl Larson. I …got to meet Leo and Diane at my first International Readers conference and it was such a treat!! Here I was with my first book out and they had inspired me with their work for so many years. I wrote and illustrated my first book in 1999. It was inspired by my daughter and her skin condition. It’s called Different Just Like Me and is about how we may look very different but we are all alike. I have illustrated 9 books total and I’m working on a couple more of my own.

MHG: Hi Paul and Lori. Thanks for writing in, nice to see you.

Joan Hansen:  Good morning Melanie. Do you create your illustrations in Photoshop or Illustrator, or do you paint them? If you paint them, what medium and substrate do you use?

MHG: Hi Joan, Currently, my ten fingers are my digital age ;0) I use the computer for marketing and archiving of original artwork. Never say never. I might use a computer to generate art in the future.  Medium: gouache, color pens, inks, pencils. I love experimenting with many color mixtures with real paints and cold press 140 lb watercolor paper or lanaquarelle paper. I like a bit of texture in the paper to absorb the honey like quality of the gouache.

Joan Hansen: That’s good to hear. I wondered if the watercolor paper would have too much texture for reproduction. Thanks for the info.

Tavner Delcamp: What percentage is computer-drawn versus hand-drawn?

MHG: Computer: 0%
Hand-drawn: 100%

Denise Hilton Campbell: I do love what the computer can do to make the process simpler and faster and I enjoy the work of many of the artists who use the computer but it’s nice to know there are others out there who still like to work with their hands.

Paul Brewer: It’s funny how when computer art first came about some people were saying it would eventually replace all the other art media. I doubt that. It’s just one other way to produce artwork, like with watercolor or oils or gouache. The worst part about computer art is that you are not left with a wonderful piece of “original” art that you can frame, hang up, give away or sell. I guess you could always frame the disc or thumb-drive and stick that on the wall. There…that looks nice!

MHG: I’ve seen some very beautiful digital art that is printed and further manipulated. It always good to follow the path that feels right for one’s art. ps The Superfine Dinettes used out dated computer disks and CDs as the wheels on their ‘Roller Coaster of Love’ roller coaster car costumes at last year’s Mermaid Parade.

Michael McKeown: Any advice about the PANIC OF THE BLANK PAGE? Do you keep a file of ideas to develop, or have some creative process or protocols for coming up with great ideas? Or do you just sit down and start doodling or writing and warm up until the ideas start taking on a life of their own?

MHG: Thanks for your question. I keep a library of images to get ideas. I save my sketches in a library as well. Usually several book ideas are in development at various stages. Some ideas just born with only an outline. Some in the writing phase or storyboard phase or dummy phase or being submitted phase. For me writing is the hard part. Art is second nature. That is why I also love to illustrate for wonderful authors.

Michael McKeown: Thank you for your wisdom!

Judy Salinsky: Thanks for giving me the spirit to create once again. I was fortunate to be able to take Joy’s class at UCSD. I started a “dummy” and drawings; but I was told my drawings looked like I was “raised in the 50′” HELLO! I was. Is it wrong to have a style-influenced by the cartoons we watched?

MHG: Hi Judy, We are probably around the same age 🙂 Do you like your style? Then other’s opinions need not matter unless it is so not kid friendly. Can’t please everyone. If we follow trends we are not artistic, we are trendy. I’ve seen 50’s style used in picture books before.

Joy Chu: Hi Judy! Have you tried telling a wordless picture story? This is where the accordion dummy works well. It’ll feel as though you are doing a continuous mural, and help keep within one style for the same story. I’d try this with 20-pages (10… double-page spreads) first, to get your feet wet. Just a thought.

Denise Hilton Campbell: @ Melanie. Just had this same discussion with my husband this evening. I guess I’m just not a trend follower. Still trying to figure out what it is that I am…

Joy Chu: @ Judy: Who said that to you? Sounds like THEY are not with it! What a lame comment. . . . probably indicative of the commentator him/herself and not you.

MHG: My interns would tell me stories about teachers who would say cruel things and make them cry. My interns loved me

Judy Salinsky: Hello to All: We are only at the second question and I am already feeling my creative juices saying” finally you have meant the right support group that are saying “GO FOR YOUR PASSION”.  NO I am NOT a trendy 55 years young artist, I am my own creative spirit and I will fellow my heart, and my art directors wishes 🙂 THANKS keep those questions coming I like this!

MHG: If art isn’t fun, then what’s the point? Thanks Judy, glad my interview is working out so well! 🙂

Denise Hilton Campbell: Thank you, Melanie! I agree on both counts!

Judy Salinsky: I have a strong background in life drawing.. how do I “loosen-up”?

MHG: Maybe go to a park and draw children, they’ll be moving I’m sure. It might be fun to capture their energy

Erin Taylor:  There are a couple of books that really helped me with this- the first is Drawn to Life by Walt Stanchfield. He taught animators how to put life and emotion into their figures- after he died someone collected all of his lecture notes and made a two volume set. The second book is Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists by Carla Sonheim. She teaches art workshops for adults on how to loosen up their drawing. The exercises are really fun.

Joy Chu: I don’t recall seeing any children in your portfolio. Judy. Give ’em a try!!! Think Olivia. . . .

Denise Hilton Campbell: In life drawing, we were given exercises to do an entire drawing in just five minutes. It really works to loosen you up.

Judy Salinsky: Thanks…I will look into the books. Presently, I am taking a class in drawing “quick-sketch” of the children on the beach and playground. Oh my, do they move!  What I should have written was this:  How do I convert a human figure into  an illustrated animal doing human things?  “Olivia“— she’s a piggy doing wonderful human dancing movements as well as reaching. I would assume it takes a long time to convert animals into human action and once the book is published, we don’t realize the homework it took to get to the final “Olivia”. She just looks so alive. Thanks for all your support!

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