Tips for newcomers

Anne actually posted the comments below yesterday, at the end of the More Collaborations page. I’m re-posting it here, as it deserves its own page —JC
Anne Rockwell and Lizzy Rockwell (left, center) on location near the Florida Everglades, for their book, “Who Lives in an Alligator Hole?”

9. Any advice for illustrators just starting out?

Anne Rockwell: Hmmm. There’s no easy answer, for everyone has a unique work style. I would say, study the masters.

For example, right now I’m doing a book for toddlers on the moon. In the process, I’m looking at the moonlight masters, Albrecht Altdorfer, Peter Paul Rubens (only one painting comes to mind but it’s perhaps the greatest moonlit landscape ever painted), Albert Pinkham Ryder, Charles Burchfield and Graham Sutherland are good starters.

Landscape by Moonlight by Rubens
[Landscape by Moonlight by Peter Paul Rubens]

Then of course, I look at the moon itself, night by night.

At this point I’m doing what Matisse called “painting without a paintbrush” — looking, thinking, looking, thinking.

But any illustrator, beginner or experienced, needs to always remember that the pictures tell half of a story. Words do the rest.

I’m convinced that children develop their visual intelligence sooner than their verbal, and they aren’t just looking at a picture in a book and thinking “Nice color and composition.”

Uh-uh! They are thinking “Where has that mouse, that was under the sofa, just peeking out, gone?” And the illustrator must know the answer to that question.

When I first started out, I illustrated manuscripts written by other people. I learned the hard way that what reads well on the page may be a short story – not a picture book.

I made the mistake of accepting manuscripts — I suppose because I was flattered to be wanted. That often had spread after spread of conversation, with nothing visual except perhaps characters turning heads, changing expressions, or perhaps raindrops suddenly falling outside.

And no matter how bright and festive the colors are, or how pretty the words, such books don’t become the ones children return to, again and again.

There’s much more I could add, but you have to find it out for yourself. So check your ego at the door of the studio and remember that you are having a conversation with a child — probably the child you were.

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24 responses to “Tips for newcomers

  1. I hope to see that turkey in a story one day, too. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
    Anne

  2. Right now I scrambling to fix Thanksgiving for 16….but yes I am working diligently on my stories and drawings. I am having the best time developing the characters .Maybe one day ( I hope!) I’ll have something to show!!!!!

  3. Thanks for visiting Katherine! Joy’s comment makes me very curious about your stories and pictures. Hope to see them some day.

    Feel better Joy.

  4. Thanks Anne for taking the time to share your work with us. Your insight and advise has been helpful and inspiring. I took Joy’s wonderful class and Diane D’Andrade’s wonderful class and learned how difficult this field is. I love the world of picture books. I am always amazed at the incredible artwork out there. Thanks again and thanks Joy!

  5. Thanks so much for your visits and comments, Lizzy,Terry, Writingonthewall, Melanie, and of course, Joy.

    Feedback is better than chocolate!

  6. What a good question to ask a seasoned professional. So many people approach me about being their illustrator. Of course, they are not published nor have any knowledge of the *craft* of the picture book. You are not alone Anne, this is common. I learned from the authors I’ve painted for how to be a better writer. To paint their words I had to really listen and imbibe their voices and styles to synthesize. Writing picture books is about being visual and shaping the words to be lyrical as well. Not easy. My neighbors must think I am nuts and talking to myself after reading out loud a draft many several times to get it right. And I totally agree about leaving the ego at the door, wise words. Certain people are building a networking platform before they’ve even done any real craft work. Work hard, be organized and be persistent is what I’d suggest to any newcomer along with Anne’s comment. I just told my intern that to be competitive to get a job does not mean standing on another’s shoulders to be taller.

  7. I love the concept of painting without a paint brush. I do most of my writing before I even put words to paper. Thanks for the insights.

  8. Great insights and advice — now to apply them . . . I’ve already found that it is possible to reduce text, reduce and reduce! Hope that was a good move! Thanks for access to this.

  9. Hello Joy, Anne (mom), and Friends.

    Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to talk about art, words, books, children, history and technology…. It’s been a great discussion, and I was so happy to be a small part of it.

    Joy, I am really impressed with your ability to pull all this together. One of your many accomplishments this past week was turning me into a blogger! I was not convinced till now that this was a viable and powerful way to exchange ideas. And it is! But I agree with Gregory, it would be even more fun in person! Let’s hope we get the chance someday.

    Keep me posted on your upcoming topics. Happy Reading everybody!

    Peace and love from Bridgeport, CT.

  10. Forgot to say–I always keep my agent’s name a secret! He’s invisible, too.

  11. Welcome Chris and Uma. Wow, I’m relieved that you’ve both come across the same wannabes as I have. I find what you say about requiring your students to write a picture book great news, because you’re so right about how this modest, small and lapidary art form is such a challenge!

    And Joy, I hope you can keep Chris off the road and in one place long enough to do a GOT STORY. His work shows that picture books can be for and about big guys, brave and rugged, yet still fit into the genre beautifully. We’d all learn from him.

    • @ Uma: I know exactly what you mean. I took a picture book writing class this summer with Diane D’Andrade. Writing picture book text was much more difficult than I could possibly imagine. Wrote five stories. So much weeding and re-writing yet to do. Looking forward to it, though!

      @ Anne: Chris and I are a-talkin’ about the possibilities. Yep, I reckon it’s time for some manly man stories for young’uns at the Got Story Countdown! :D

  12. Pingback: Tweets that mention Tips for newcomers | got story countdown -- Topsy.com

  13. Anne, I teach a picture book concentration at Vermont College of Fine Arts and our students often comment on how working intensively with the form of the picture book sharpens and clarifies their writing when they return to longer forms. It’s such a brilliant form, the picture book, and your work shows us so many ways of using its small and perfect container for story. I think all writers should work at a picture book at least once in their writing lives, if only to see how difficult it is to achieve that apparent simplicity.

  14. Such insight and wisdom. I’ve taught wannabe writers and illustrators who think it is a piece of cake and want to go directly to the top. “Do you mind if I contact your agent?” (!!!!) Drop your defenses and listen to those who’ve been there.

    • Hi Chris, and welcome! :D
      BTW, that’s one cool website you have, my friend!

      I’ll bet you have lots of war stories — enough to fill a future Countdown, yes?

  15. The best advice I can give for newcomers starting out is the old “practice, practice, practice!”I’ve taught picture book writing and illustrating off an on over the years, and have come across some pretty unreal answers to the question “Why do you want to do picture books?” And all too often, especially from writers who aren’t illustrators is that they’re shorter, therefore easier.

    My response is “No! And three times no!” Because a good picture book text is hard to write. And hard to illustrate. The best way to learn this is to visit your local children’s room at the library, and try and sit in on a story hour. Go to bookstores where you can see the books too new to have found a place in the library. Be a critic. Figure out what makes one book strike a spark for you, while another, perhaps even an award-winning
    or best-selling title, leaves you cold.

    Seek out publisher’s web sites to see their current offerings. That gives you an idea of what that particular house is looking for.

    None of this advice is foolproof. You have to keep working, being a good critic of your own work, revising and even rethinking your goals. If you feel this is what you are meant to do, and that you truly can communicate with children in a form both of you enjoy, keep going. Don’t be discouraged. Only remember that this is not an easy field to get into. Some of the best children’s book look to be a piece of cake.

    Except they’re not!

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