24 June 2017

Mary Jane's Watercolor Trick

OMG! I have been running around like a headless chicken since I got here. It has been NUTS! But so fun! Let's see if I can catch you up...
     Classes started Tuesday in my awesome, cozy little classroom, where I've set up my studio for the summer. We've already had two classes and they're going swimmingly well. Meanwhile, our newest faculty addition, Mary Jane Begin has been rocking along with her class too. Friday, she taught her students a great watercolor trick. After seeing what she'd accomplished with it - the transparency and depth and sheer richness of color - I was keen to find out how she'd done it. So, she let me sit in on the demo - YAY!
     I'm not going to tell you what the image is called, because if all goes well, you'll be hearing a lot more about it. She starts with references to come up with the composition.
Then creates a pencil drawing on tracing paper.
She transfers this (via copy machine) to Arches Watercolor Paper. Then she swipes a thick watercolor underlayer of Raw Umber.
It looks like this.
Then she pulls out the highlights with a wet brush - it is watercolor after all. She let the students try it out to see what it feels like.
She uses a wide range of brushes for the different taskes.
Then she blocks in large swaths of color. Her palette is simple - I'll write in the paint colors when I get back to the studio.
Here's MJ with the image, not quite finished yet.
Then she spray fixes the entire image to hold down the watercolor paint. Then mixes gloss varnish medium with the paint to go back in with more opaque color - basically now using a home-made acrylic.
Another seal after it's done and here's the result.
It's not a great photo, but seeing as it's still a little bit under wraps for now, this is all I'm going to share. Just know - it is gorgeous and looks like an oil painting done by the old masters. But it's not! It's watercolors! Can you believe it!? Awesome. Consider my mind blown. I can't wait to try it myself! :)

23 June 2017

Friday Links List - 23 June 2017

From Bookshelf: Starfield Library

From The NY Times: What Not to Tell the Kids When the Goldfish Dies, and Other Lessons From Pet Picture Books

From The Federation of Children's Book Groups: An Interview with Francesca Sanna - creator of THE JOURNEY

From the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Website: The results are announced, and a big thank you! Two Americans win both prizes - WOW!

From Nathan Bransford: Writing children's books from the inside out - "So. You want to write children's books. Do you have to know any current, modern day children? Nope." - This is a great article!

From Brightly: Pride and Less Prejudice: 10 New LGBTQ Books for Teens

From Muddy Colors: AD A/B Testing (with business cards) - Very interesting!!

From The Bookseller: Farley, Lee and Ewens win PRH Student Design Awards

22 June 2017

Mary Jane Begin on MY LITTLE PONY and making art

This is part of my summer series, featuring creators from our Hollins University MFA program. Mary Jane Begin will be teaching media for the first time this summer, and we are so lucky to have her! I wish I could take her class too! Meanwhile, I have the great pleasure of sharing her work with you, dear readers. So, read on!

e: Hi Mary Jane! What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
Mary Jane:
My creative process starts with one of two things—a story or narrative prompt supplied by someone else, or a story idea rolling around in my own head. If it’s a story thread that I’ve come up with, my first step is to either let it tumble out onto the paper/screen or start sketching. The muse is somewhat impatient—so I try not to ignore her :) A great book that talks about this is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. Ideas don’t wait around—they will jump to someone else if you don’t give them attention! Once I start to write and literally draw out the narrative, I try to commit to thinking first about characters and compositions. I ask myself: what is this moment all about? What will be the best point of view for this? What is the emotional content of the scene? What are the characters doing or feeling in this moment that I’m illustrating? My first step is a storyboard or thumbnail layout, then color studies, finished sketches, then color finishes—with approval from the editor at the sketch stages. When I finish all of the paintings, I hand deliver to the publisher for safety…and for a chance to have a celebratory lunch!

e: What is your medium?
Mary Jane:
I play with different mixed media- typically watercolor and pastel/colored pencil or watercolor, acrylic glazing and acrylics. For either method, I start with a ground, blocking in shapes of color all with watercolor. If I’m working with acrylic glazing material using acrylic gloss medium and acrylic paints, I seal the image with fixative to keep the watercolor from moving and then start layering color with transparent, translucent and opaque color.

"Cat in the Red Hat" won a Merit Award and will be included in the International 3x3 Illustration Show—Picture Book category

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Mary Jane:
I think that “Heart Art” comes from reflecting your own deeply held beliefs about the world. When you share that which is most important to you- you share your heart. You have to care about the message you impart to children because it can resonate deeply with who they are and what they believe in as they grow. Words and pictures are powerful, magical super powers…we must use them with wisdom and tenderness!

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
Mary Jane:
When I was asked to illustrate the first My Litle Pony trade book—I had only a set of toys and a handful of manuscripts from the animated TV series to get a sense of what kind of world and adventure I should create for the pony characters. Hasbro had such faith in me, they went to contract for the books without a manuscript! I then had to wrack my brain to think of a good story. Weeks and weeks passed and I had nothing. I took a nap while on a family vacation—it was raining and we were camping—what else can you do?! This little cat nap let my brain put together 1) the sound of the rain on the tent, 2) the lapping of the lake against the rocks, 3) PONIES! My brain added it all up and I woke up with the idea of sending the ponies on an underwater adventure…hence, My Little Pony, Under the Sparkling Sea was born. Note to self: napping = creative brainstorming.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Mary Jane:
I think the best part about being a creator is that I get to explore so many aspects of inventiveness, and that keeps my brain percolating on the front burner constantly. Creating new courses as a professor at RISD, for an online course in illustration for Lynda.com or CreativeLive, writing and illustrating books and working directly with young children in the classroom (I do workshops with elementary school kids on character creation)—all keep me thinking and making. The most challenging moments are when I second guess myself and have self-doubt. We all have it and it stands with hands on hips—right in the way of the creative flow. Walking with that fear, knowing it’s the most common pitfall for creative people helps to move it along the path and allow me to keep going.

e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Mary Jane:
For my latest title, My Little Pony, the Dragons on Dazzle Island, I was responding to the tragic circumstances of the refugee children around the world needing acceptance, no matter what part of the world they’re from. The story involves island ponies upset with a group of dragons who’ve decided to take residence in the fields of gems that the ponies need to harvest. The ponies don’t seem to realize or care that the dragons are using the gem energy to help warm their dragon eggs, to help hatch their babies. The ponies must get past their own needs to recognize they can help the dragons to hatch their babies, instead of fighting about the gems. Moving past tribal connections to help someone else in need is critical to our humanity, and an important metaphor expressed through a very popular entity: My Little Pony!

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Mary Jane:
I’m working on several different stories right now, all with really different sensibilities. One has political undertones, the other is nostalgic and the third is potentially for a new market—China! I will have spent several weeks in China lecturing and providing workshops for universities as well as touring different cities. I think it’s amazing to be able to travel, teach and share my stories with littles around the world. Pinch me! I think I’m living my dream :))

Bio: Mary Jane Begin
      As an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and professor in the Illustration Department at RISD…Mary Jane feels INCREDIBLY lucky; she gets to do all the things that she loves to do. But in truth: luck + hard work + passion were and are the main ingredients for where she’s at now. It’s one of the reasons that she became the Internship + Professional Development Advisor for her department; she sees it as a way to help students get a running start into the professional realm, to open a doorway and give guidance into an unknown world. As an illustrator, she’s been able to explore painting and color with clients like Hasbro. Her latest books, My Little Pony, Under the Sparkling Sea and My Little Pony, The Dragons on Dazzle Island were a collaboration between Hasbro and Little Brown and Company. She’s worked with Celestial Seasonings, Mead Johnson and Disney, and has received awards from the Society of Illustrators, multiple Awards of Excellence from Communications Arts, the Irma Simonton Black Award, and the Critici Erba Prize at the Bologna Book Fair. Her artwork has been exhibited throughout the country with one-woman shows at Books of Wonder Gallery in New York and Beverly Hills, at the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, the RISD Museum, Society of Illustrators (NY), The DeCordova Museum, and Storyopolis in LA.
website: www.maryjanebegin.com
Instagram: mjbegin1
Twitter: @mjbegin1
FB: https://www.facebook.com/MaryJaneBegin.Art/

20 June 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Pig On A Blanket

     This is what I wish I could be doing right now! Ahhhhh, sun! CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

19 June 2017

Back to Hollins!

After a long day of flying from Edinburgh to London to Philadelphia to Roanoke, I'm finally back at Hollins University in Virginia where I teach in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating program. Of course, this time, I actually have an MFA myself!
     Each summer a rotating group of scholars, writers, and illustrators gather to share our passions and talk shop. No pun intended, but here, everybody is on the same page - it's a complete treat to be surrounded by peers and colleagues who all share the same language and lexicon.
     Sunday was all about setting up shop - classrooms, flats, paperwork, etc. So Monday was the first 'real' day. As such, we had to begin with an inaugural walk around campus.
     There's a pack of us who go walking each morning at 6:30 to enjoy the day before it gets hot. Here are Karen Coats (scholar and author), Claudia Mills (scholar and author), and Candice Ransom (author of over 100 books).
We do two laps around campus - 3 miles in total. But who notices when we chat the entire way and enjoy views like this?
It's good to be back!
Click on that 2nd image to see it bigger - it's lovely!

18 June 2017

VIDEO: Julia Donaldson in song!

This is the sweetest video of Julia Donaldson (of Gruffalow fame) and her husband singing her board book, It's a Little Baby. I dare you not to go "Awwww!" Click the image to watch the video and read an interview with Julia about the book at The Scottish Book Trust's Bookbug.

17 June 2017

Borders Book Festival

I had heard of the Borders Book Festival, but nothing could have prepared me for its pure awesomeness!!
     My dear friend and mentor, Vivian French invited me to accompany her to this year's Borders Book Festival in Melrose.
The weather was looking dicey, but no matter, we were on our way. The train from Waverly in Edinburgh took us to Tweedbank in just under an hour.
The train only opened back up to Tweedbank about a year ago, after 50 years of no service to the area. In other words, the area is about 50 years behind modernity, which I suppose could be a bad thing, but as you'll see, I experienced only the good parts of that. Melrose is lovely, and it is a gorgeous setting for a book festival.
Apparently, the festival's banner monster was actually thought up at the festival by Viv's illustrator for Knight in Training, David Melling.
A lovely driver quickly claimed us to take us to the festival. He and his wife are bird lovers and actually ring (band) owls, so you can imagine we had fun talking until we got to the festival just a short distance away.
Oh! This was going to be something special! Even the entranceway was adorned with flowers.
The first few days of the festival were just for the kids. Busloads of them were brought in from nearby schools. Viv introduced the very first speaker, Chai Strathie. Wow, did he earn his keep. He is GOOD, and kept that huge tent-full of younguns laughing and stomping and cheering for an hour.
Then it was Vivian's and my turn. She shared her new book, The Covers of My Book Are Too Far Apart, which is all about learning to love to read.
While Vivian talked about coming up with characters and writing, I drew what she and the kids decided on. I did lots of drawings, but caught a photo of only this one. Sort of like speed-drawing rather than speed-dating. It was a blast!
Afterwards, we relaxed in the Festival's equivalent of a Green Room - the gorgeous Harmony House.
Alistair Moffat is the Director of the Festival. As a well-published author himself, he's been through the ringer at lack-luster affairs. So, for his festival, he makes a point of treating authors like royalty. And Wow, did they! There was a team of people (many prominent in their own rights) cooking and tidying and driving and generally smiling and hugging everybody as they came in. Of course, they all knew Vivian, but I felt loved too! And I even ran into friends like Astrid Jaekel, Louise Kelly, and new friends like Suzie Wilde. I'd forgotten how nice it is to go to a festival and know everybody there, and they all know you. I must work on that!
     I have to admit though, one of the things that entranced me about the festival was the gardens. Did you know I'm a certified Master Gardener? Yup - I love getting my fingers in the dirt. Overlooking the estate's garden is the breathtaking ruin of Melrose Abbey.
I so enjoyed wandering the immaculate gardens surrounding Harmony House.
Everything was in perfect, full bloom, from the Foxgloves...
to the Paeonies...
Even the nearby gardens were pristine.
Oh, how I wanted to get in there and get to work! Not that there were any weeds to be pulled - the place was immaculate!
      Back at the festival, there were craft and food stands scattered amongst the massive and impressive tents. I liked this one, just for horses.
It was hard to leave this slice of Eden, especially as the event was really just firing up. Big names were coming through all weekend (for kids and adults), but I was just there for the day. But what a day! I am in love with this festival and hope I can return again and again! My thanks to Vivian for adding such a lovely event to my life!

Closing Chapters...

This week saw the end of a chapter - my final days as an MFA student at the University of Edinburgh College of Art. Students have been slowly scattering to the wind - off to Taiwan, Poland, Quatar, Italy, the US, and far reaches of the UK. Hugs have been plenty. And a deer in headlights expression has become the norm as everybody wonders, What next?
     We'll just have to see. Because as sure as one chapter closes, another opens. It's bittersweet - sad and exciting at the same time. I'll miss the friends I've made here and the growth we all experienced together. But I'm also excited about the future and how all this fits in with my life.
     For now, I'm on a plane to Virginia to teach in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating MFA at Hollins University for the next six weeks. After that? Stay tuned and find out along with me!

16 June 2017

Friday Links List - 16 June 2017

From Brightly: Four Truths About Reading I Learned from My Children

From Nathan Bransford: How to Personalize a Query

From One Stop for Writers, their Checklists and Tip Sheets - I was turned onto this from a link to their "When to Tell" list

From The Federation of Children's Book Groups: The results are in for the Children's Book Award! The winner is Michael Morpurgo OBE and Michael Freman's An Eagle in the Snow!

From Kidlit Artists: Your greatest (free) untapped resource: a practical guide to using public libraries (and librarians)

From the BBC: Can you be taught to be more charismatic?

From Joe Jacobi: The Problem With Buckets - this is a great follow-up to my TEDx Talk "Is Your Stuff Stopping You?"

From The Bookseller: Lauren Child unveiled as new children's Laureate (UK)

Also from The Bookseller: J K Rowling blasts Niven over misogynist language towards May

From Bookshelf: Subway library train - cool!

From Writers Write on Twitter: Words We Like - Bibliophagist

15 June 2017

MFA with Distinction!

It's official! Not only have I achieved an MFA, I got it with Distinction!! All that hard work paid off! Wahooooo!!!!

FUNNY GIRL, collected by Betsy Bird

Laughing Matters Are No Laughing Matters
(wait . . . what?)
by Betsy Bird

If you were to ask me what best prepared me for the path to publication I would have to say being a children’s librarian. Not because I know the material (I do, and it’s nice, but it’s not necessarily required) but because it taught me how to talk to large groups. You have to do that a lot when you’re an author or illustrator of books for kids. When I wrote my picture book GIANT DANCE PARTY I had to know how to do a dancey, jumpy, bumpy storytime. When I co-wrote WILD THINGS: ACTS OF MISCHIEF IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta I had to know how to talk on a more academic level to a variety of different adults. FUNNY GIRL, my latest anthology of stories, comics, quizzes, poems, etc. written by some of the most hilarious women writing for kids today, is different. The readership for the book is 9-12 year-olds but my audiences, when I present it in bookstores and libraries, can contain anyone from 6 to 60. The other day I was doing my schtick and it went very well. Yet afterwards something occurred to me. I talk a lot about how I made the book. I don’t talk quite as much about why I made the book. And the why is very interesting indeed.

When I was a children’s librarian the one thing boys AND girls asked for repeatedly was “funny books”. The gender didn’t matter. I got sort of sick and tired trying (and failing) to seek out an easy go-to way of handing these kids (boys AND girls, remember) a bunch of funny women all at once. But it wasn’t just about wanting some equal representation. It was important to me to show kids that hilarious writing doesn’t all begin and end with DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. I sort of became a one-woman promoter of Amy Ignatow’s THE POPULARITY PAPERS. Of Shannon Hale’s RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE. Even of the DORK DIARIES series (doesn’t do it for me, but some kids swear by it). And it became clear to me that I wanted these kids to really understand that women can be funny beyond belief. The world might not make it easy for you to find them (to my mind no one ever praises Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume enough for their hilarity) but they’re out there, by gum. They’re out there. And FUNNY GIRL will make them easier to find.

So in my future presentations you can bet that I’ll be drilling home the importance of celebrating funny women and growing funny girls from scratch. I’ve been pretty pleased with the book’s results as well. Since I’ve been presenting FUNNY GIRL I’ve started talking to girls who’ve read the book and loved it. Funny, hilarious girls. Sometimes they’ll tell me jokes, like the girl who specialized entirely in ones involving Batman which she made up herself (you’d be surprised how many puns you can make from the name “Bruce Wayne”). Or the six-year-old that told me a killer “Why Did the Interrupting Pig Cross the Road” knee-slapper (admittedly you can sort of figure out the answer from the title). But more than anything else they like to talk to me about their favorite stories. And one even mentioned how inspired she was by the opening instructional part of the book written by former Daily Show writer Delaney Yaeger and her sister (who wrote for Girl Meets World) on how to tell a joke.

This is book is put together with pre and early adolescents in mind. They’re living in crazy times in a crazy world and they’re facing middle school and high school in their future. If teaching them how to laugh at themselves and not take it too much to heart helps them even a little, then this book will have done its job.


Betsy's fave writing spot is on her couch, where she can often be caught multi-tasking.


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