Introducing Modern Art to Preschoolers: “Mousterpiece”

Jane Breskin Zalben. Author/Artist

1. How can your books be used to teach a love of art (Mousterpiece) and performing (Four Seasons)?

I have been told that both are perfect venues to teach the love of art and music. All I can say is that if you do something that it meaningful, write about it, and it comes through to the reader, then in essence, it teaches a lesson and shows without telling in a heavy-handed way what it means to be an artist, to do what has meaning in life, to make a life of art. Art was always my life since I was little. I think that comes through in Mousterpiece. It is who I am. It is who the little mouse, Janson, is. She discovers what it is to be a true artist. I also played the piano as a child. In the same vein, Ally, the main character in Four Seasons: A novel in four movements based on the seasons of Vivaldi’s sonata, is a child piano prodigy at Julliard in New York City and learns to discover, like Janson, (I just realized this link!) what it means to be a true artist for herself. I was not a child prodigy, but my younger son went to Juilliard as a violinist and composer for nine years as a child so I knew my “material” to say the least.

2. What do you see as connecting threads in your work?

The common thread is emotion. I do not avoid inner feelings and how people interact or relate to each other, whether it is for young children or young adults. We are complex human beings whether we are three or eighty-three. Some of us just choose to forget or deny the inner workings of who we are. I like to tap into and remember those feelings of separation anxiety or fear or heartbreak, and of course, empathy and love.

3. How does your work as an artist inform your book publishing?

Well, I am an artist – a painter – who happens to do books and am passionate about the form and structure of a book as an art object. I loved slip-cased books, books tied with silk ribbons, ragged thick paper on the trim, marbleized endpapers, embossed cloth bindings, vellum over a title page – that is why I originally fell in love with bookmaking. Of course books look different now, and that challenge I appreciate as well. Every detail down to the spacing of the typography on the page. Now, I like experimenting more in a book. With both the ideas and the materials used. I have done work on the computer, overlays like an animation, mixed media, collage, but in the end for me there is nothing like the water color on a gorgeous piece of paper painting with a triple zero brush taking my time with my nose to the surface for hours hunched over a drafting table! I consider it “serious business” and don’t take lightly the years spent on creating a book. I have done around 50 books – all kinds – and I like to push myself as an artist and a person to experiment and challenge myself to do something I haven’t done before. To grow.

4. Do you cross-promote the two?

I try, but it is almost like two different fields with different editors with their own passions. Some are better at novels, while others at a shorter form. I love music. Many people have mentioned it enters a lot of my work, in timing, space and intensity. I have used it in both age groups – novels and picture books. Sometimes people know me as a young adult / middle-grade author, and most know me as a picture book author/artist. I began my life as an artist, but felt I needed to say more so I began to write novels when my children were little and napped. I had stopped doing picture books for a few years to get away from all that! They no longer are small; I feel even more intense now about writing novels. The link between the two is that in a novel you are there visually with the characters, and in a way, it is like doing art. I disappear into another place that feels real in that fictional world. I love being in it and feel consumed by writing the story when I am working on a novel, like Four Seasons (Knopf 2011) which took about 3 or so years, and Leap (Knopf) before that, which I developed into a screenplay – another visual form with dialogue. I have had eight published between doing the picture books.

5. Is there an art technique you’ve learned recently that you’d be willing to share tips on?

I have experimented so much in these last ten years with so many different techniques that I find it actually interesting. I get bored when I look at some illustration work and the style is the same again and again. For me, it personally shows no growth. I know people often want the same old thing from an artist, but for an artist, that is not always exciting.

What is exciting is the journey, the process of working, revising, and knowing there is never an end because even when the book is done, it could always be redone in another way. There is a time though, you have to say, move on to the next one.

As a former art director, teacher at the School of Visual Arts, chair of the Society of Illustrators, I can say I have seen a lot of techniques, and in the final analysis the tip is what works for the individual. There are no rules. The key is to wake up and do what you love and keep trying to make it better. I think that is the plight of the artist. The process. The work. The time alone in a room to create.

Jane Breskin Zalben the author/artist of more than 50 children’s books. She’s just published “Mousterpiece: a mouse-sized guide to modern art,” which is receiving starred reviews. Her young adult novel, “Four Seasons” had jacket blurbs from Judy Blume and Gordan Korman and fan e-mails from Bunnicula author, James Howe. She travels around the U.S. and abroad to talk about her children’s books.

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If you draw well, you’ll work: Phyllis Pollema-Cahill

Phyllis Pollema-Cahill, children’s book illustrator

What’s made the most difference in your career success?
A mentor told me years ago that if I could learn to draw the figure well, then I’d always have work. Drawing the figure well takes a lifetime, but I think he was right. Other things are: just plain hard work, marketing myself, always trying to do my best, meeting deadlines and being easy to work with.

What organizations do you find useful and would be accessible to newcomers?

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) without a doubt. The information they offer in their newsletters and at conferences is invaluable, plus you can make wonderful new friends and contacts.

What are common pitfalls in managing your time and career?
It took me a while to get over this one, but fear which causes procrastination was a big pitfall. I could find a million things to do before doing creative work. “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron was a big help to me. Another pitfall is being too focused on day-to-day business instead of planning for the future. I’m still working on that one.

Where do you see growth potential in the field now?
It seems publishing apps is creating a lot of interest now. I’m doing more digital art and learning about apps. There’s a lot of growth potential in new technology.

Phyllis Pollema-Cahill has been illustrating for children full-time since 1995, after working for many years as a graphic designer. Her degree is in illustration from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver. She’s illustrated over fifty books for children and regularly illustrates for children’s magazines. She loves to draw people and research different cultures and historical periods. A step-by-step demonstration of how she works can be seen at www.phylliscahill.com. Also see her Great Sites for Art Directors and Editors and Great Sites for Children’s Authors and Illustrators. Some of her clients include: Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, Scott Foresman, Scholastic, Zaner-Bloser, Highlights for Children and Spider. She lives in the Colorado mountains with her husband and two cats.

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How Do You Draw a Maze? Ask Roxie Munro!

Roxie Munro, Illustrator (publications, books and apps) and amazing Maze Artist

Learn the art of maze drawing from artist and amazing maze maker, Roxie Munro. Inspired by art, nature, architecture and design, Roxie’s mazes are found in paintings, murals, books, and now apps. She shares her design process and arts business tips here.

How to make a Geometric Maze

How to make a Random Roxie Reversing Maze

What’s made the most difference in your career success?

Tenaciousness.

What do you advise newcomers?

Don’t feel entitled. It’s not easy, so you have to work very hard and not give up.

Dos & Don’ts about the arts business?

Be on time. Don’t burn your bridges. Don’t be high maintenance. Be generous to others. Don’t dwell on rejection.

Roxie Munro is the author/illustrator of more than 35 children’s books, including Mazescapes; Inside-Outside Books: New York City (New YorkTimes Best Illustrated Award), Washington DC, Texas, London, Paris, Libraries and Dinosaurs; EcoMazes (School Library Journal Star; Smithsonian’s Best Science Book for Children); and Hatch! (Outstanding Science Trade Book, NSTA/CBC; Bank Street College Best Books of 2012/Outstanding Merit).  Her books have been translated into French, Italian, Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese. Apps: “Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure” and “Roxie’s DOORS.” Out Oct 2012: K.I.W.i.StoryBooks (Kids Interactive Walk-in Story Books). Out 2013: Slithery Snakes.

She has been a working artist all her life, including freelancing in Washington DC as a television courtroom artist. Clients included CBS, Washington Post, and Associated Press. The New Yorker published fourteen covers. She also creates oils, watercolors, prints, and drawings, exhibited widely in museums and galleries.

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8 Networking Tips for Artists: Scott Daros

Scott Daros, Animator/Illustrator

What networking tips would you give to someone just starting out?

  • Ask for introductions from professionals in your field.
  • Get into art shows.
  • Meet people face-to-face. I’ve also had tons of luck networking online.
  • Make a website! You MUST have your work online.
  • Don’t be ashamed to show off.
  • Create a blog and update it regularly.
  • Join and be an active member of sites that discuss your area of expertise.
  • YouTube, Vimeo, Behance, LinkedIn are great sites for networking, getting feedback, and sharing your work.

How did you set prices for your projects early on?

I asked other illustrators and animators who were more experienced. There’s also a great book called Pricing & Ethical Guidelines that will give an artist an excellent idea of how much his or her time is worth.

What was the best advice you got when starting out?

Make time to keep up with the artistic projects you truly enjoy. Getting paid to be an artist is great but it can be exhausting and frustrating. It’s important to still do the creative things you did for fun before you decided to make it a career. After a long day of animating I like to sit down and draw some silly comics.

Any resources you’d recommend to others to learn about animation?

I’d recommend both StopMotionAnimation and AnimateClay.

Scott Daros is a stop-motion animator for the Adult Swim television series Robot Chicken and the CollegeHumor web series Dinosaur Office. Before moving to Los Angeles, he earned his BFA in Illustration from the University of Connecticut where he dabbled in animation prior to graduation. His subsequent job in a local advertising department got him interest in stop-motion animation, and he went on to work Michael Bannon who founded his own stop-motion studio, “Wreckless Abandon”. While helping Bannon create animated advertisements, Daros was taught “everything he needed to know” about stop-motion animation to go out on his own. 

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Art success do’s and don’ts: Steve Light

Steve Light, Illustrator/Author Storyteller

Don’t give up and certainly don’t give up too early. I’ve seen better artists than me give up on their art within a year of graduating. That’s too early! Be very tenacious and be very determined and you will succeed. This has paid off for me. I have some real momentum now. I enjoy telling stories and there’s a lot of opportunity out there. My career and work just keeps getting better. I feel really blessed. –Steve Light

What made the most difference in your career and what do you advise newcomers?

When I just started doing the work for me. Doing the work that I love, knowing someone else will love it also. I stopped chasing work and started producing work I love and then showing it to people.

Never, ever, ever, ever give up. Do what you love and do not listen to the naysayers.

 Do it because it is your passion.
 Don’t do it because you want to get rich over night.

 Do be kind to everyone you meet.
 Don’t underestimate anyone.

Do surround yourself with people that can help you.
Don’t stay around anyone that is negative or brings you down or does not share your passion or vision.

Do work hard—draw EVERY DAY!
Don’t get lazy or think it will be handed to you.

Do the art, if you are good at the business then do the business part—if you are not good at the business part, then let someone else do it for you.
Don’t spend all your time promoting or running the business part—your time should be spent doing the art!

I think Facebook, Twitter, a blog and a website are invaluable tools. A hand written note is also very powerful. Special interest forums can really help spread the word.

Steve Light grew up in an enchanted place known as New Jersey. He went on to study Illustration at Pratt Institute, he also studied with Dave Passalacqua. Upon graduating he did some corporate illustrations for companies such as: AT&T, Sony Films, and the New York Times Book Review. Steve Light then went on to design buttons that were acquired by the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.

He has published 12 children’s books by Abrams, Candlewick Press and Chronicle Books. Steve’s books include: I am Happy, Puss in Boots, The Shoemaker Extraordinaire, Uncle Sam, Trucks Go, Trains Go and The Christmas Giant. As well as 2 Hello Kitty books that he engineered. “Zephyr Takes Flight” will be out in October as well as Diggers Go soon after. Steve Light has also had his Steve Light Storyboxes produced by Guidecraft. Teachers, Parents and Children can use the props in a storybox to tell a story. Steve loves to draw and sharing his art and stories with children.