Monday, April 23, 2012

Mother Goose, Again?

©2012 Russ Cox | Smiling Otis Studio

There is a reason why I am posting the Mother Goose piece again. I have just returned from the NESCBWI conference and really do not where to begin so I will start by saying how incredible the conference was this time around, and it is not from the news I will be telling you about. Okay, lets get to that right away. My Mother Goose poster won 3 first place awards! They were for the "Published", "People's Choice", and "The Richard Michelson Emerging Artist" categories. My print will be hanging in the DZain Gallery and the R. Michelson Galleries plus I received gift certificates to Viovio. I was not expecting anything so winning one was enough but to win three is just numbing. It took some time to sink in, if it even has done so. To have my piece hanging in the same room as a Sendak, Seuss, and many other well known illustrators and artist from both galleries is a bit mind blowing. The congratulations from everyone at the conference just makes you feel happy and that you are on the right track. We shall see where this all goes but for now, I am going to enjoy the moment. Some of my friends were recognized for their posters as well so a BIG congrats to them. Maybe many doors will open for all of us.

The other part that was so wonderful was the feedback I got on my artwork. I had a one-on-one critique with Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges. She is such a fun and lively person with so much insight into the children's market. She loved most of my work and some pieces more than others. She thinks I should stop forcing the cartoony look and let the characters develop naturally. She loved the Mother Goose piece as well as my Pinocchio sans a few of the kids faces, and my version of Mike Mullighan. She also thought my sketches were lovely and I should let them shine through in my final pieces. After the critique, she actually gave me a homework assignment and wants to see sketches in a few weeks.

Those of us in the illustrators academy had to do homework which consisted of choosing one of three stories that were provided, do character sketches, a dummy or storyboard, and a final spread. We were divided into groups of 8 and were assigned a faculty member. I was lucky enough to have Martha Rago who is creative director at HarperCollins. Each of had to talk about why we picked that story and spread to illustrate. Martha then would talk about what is working and not working with the illustration, and the review your sketches. I heard from her the same thing about forcing myself into a style instead of just being me which is very true. She wants me to pull back on the cartoony/commercial look of my characters. She loved the composition and how it painted. She also loved my character sketches and picked out a few that she really liked more than the ones I used. She wants me to follow my heart instead of what I think they are looking for. That really helped me quite a bit. I wished we could have had more time with her to really dive deep into critiques. I think I know what I should be doing more of and am ready to start traveling that road.

The rest of the conference was filled with workshops on writing, peer-to-peer critiques, character development, and illustration techniques. I also volunteered so I got to hang with Brian Lies and Harry Bliss on Friday. They are such inspiring and really nice people. Both are extremely funny and had me laughing quite a bit. Harry's keynote speech was a must see! Playing Pictionary with a group of writers and illustrators which included Sally Mavor was a riot and a bit risque! What happens at the conference, stays at the conference.

There was such much to report but I am a bit worn out at the moment so I will leave you with this:
"You have to make thousands and thousands of drawings before an illustration is perfected." ~ Richard MacDonald

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Prepping for NESCBWI

All images ©Russ Cox | Smiling Otis Studio

I realized, again, that I have neglected my blog for the past few weeks. It has been extremely busy here and looks like it will only get busier. I actually like it when it is borderline crazy. It helps keep focused on the task at hand. Friday, I leave for Massachusetts for the NESCBWI conference. My free time the past week or so has spent working on my homework assignment for Sunday's illustrator's workshop. We have to use one of the assigned stories for character sketches, rough storyboard, and a color layout of one of the spreads. I focused on the characters and spread first so I would have something substantial to show. Hopefully I will find time to rough out the storyboard before leaving. The images above are the character studies and my final spread. Due to copyright restrictions on the copy, I cannot delve too much info on the story that I chose for the assignment. The characters range from very stylized to a more traditional look. I wanted something in between. The too stylized sketches seem a bit more commercial looking. Settling on a softer image worked well with the story. Having the characters to my liking, I quickly sketched out a layout that I felt crucial to the story arc. Another reason that I chose this spread was that I wanted to try my hand at painting a forest scene. It was a big challenge to get all of the greens working well together and having the characters still stand out. Doing a tonal study and a color rough really helped me focus on the final art. There was less guessing and stumbling along the way.

The Mother Goose poster I posted last time was also done for the conference. The poster theme was "A Whole New World". I ended up with two new pieces for my portfolio which also will be in the showcase. Saturday, I have a portfolio review with an agent so I will get to hear some direct feedback on whether this style is working for the market. At this conference, I am also volunteering so I will fill you in on what I did and if there are any funny stories to share which I am sure there will be many. The main thing I am looking forward to is seeing old friends and being able to hangout with them for a bit.

Oh, speaking of the poster, I am having a contest. I am trying to get my Facebook Fan Page to the 1,000 "Likes" mark so when I reach that landmark, I will be giving away a signed print of the Mother Goose illustration. I will use a random number generator and then could down and whoever matches that number, WINS! All you have to do is go to and "Like" the page.

After mailing 500 postcards the first half of the year, I finally got a project from Humpty Dumpty Magazine today. It is for 3 spreads. I am excited because a) the mailing has started showing signs of working and b) the project is for a publisher. The art director is so nice and we should have a good time working together.

Well, I need to finish getting some things together so I will leave you with this quote:
“If there's anything I'm proud of in my work--it's not that I draw better; there's so many better graphic artists than me--or that I write better, no. It's--and I'm not saying I know the truth, because what the hell is that? But what I got from Ruth and Dave, a kind of fierce honesty, to not let the kid down, to not let the kid get punished, to not suffer the child to be dealt with in a boring, simpering, crushing-of-the-spirit kind of way.” ~ Maurice Sendak

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