Friday, March 28, 2014

SCBWI Conference, My Trip Part 2: Things I Learned! #NY14SCBWI

Snippets of Wisdom from the NY SCBWI Conference

It's been over a month since the conference, but today in part 2, I'm keeping my promise to share a few of the snippets of wisdom I learned at the SCBWI New York Conference. 

What I learned from Tomie DePaola, children's book illustrator:

The influence of theater in Illustration.

Tomie was involved in theater from a young age. In college he had a teacher who told him that "Joining the theater is best thing you can do for your illustration. If you want to be an illustrator, you must love great theater." Tomie has really taken that to heart over the years! 

Costumes can really help define a character. You have to think both in time period and personality when it comes to costumes. Also it's important to take the color of the costume into account with designing the set.

When designing scenery for your illustration, think of how you can change the mood of the scene with color and weather changes.

Character sketches are your casting call. It's important to contrast your characters with size differences and varying features. Make sure you give different characters in the scene different reactions.

What I learned from Brett Helquist, children's book illustrator:

Casting and Character Development

It is important to really spend time to learn the craft of drawing. When characters are drawn well, they are alive. Often times we see illustrations are very well rendered and beautifully composed but the characters are lifeless. 

It is important to push the faces of your characters to be different and not falling into the habit of always drawing the same face.

Don't fuss with the details early on. Be messy and make mistakes. Just start drawing different characters until you find the right one. Do loose and  fast drawings to develop emotions and moods. Don't be afraid to play around with shapes and sizes. Push yourself to draw things you've never drawn before.

What I learned from Paul O. Zelinski, children's book illustrator:


A Picture book makers could be making a movie. There are characters, lighting and costumes. The edge of the books makes the set. You need to stage every element of the design, including the text in each spread.

The story will tell you what the right shape is for your particular book.

Perspective is fun. Different angles can add to a picture. Horizontal lines represent rules, strictness or stillness. Diagonal lines represent chaos, or moving. Low angle and high angle can tell different stories and add to the psychology of the picture.

What I learned from Holly McGhee art agent, Arthur Levine publisher, and Lily Malcom art director:

This was a panel where these three industry professionals were critiquing work from attendees of the illustrators intensive. Here's a little bit of what they had to say:

It's good to show different expressions and emotional interactions between characters in a picture book. Show the relationships between characters. Use diversity in your characters. Show that two characters relate differently to another character or event in the story.

Show energy in your illustration, don't make your illustrations static. A curve of the neck or a turn of a hand can make a character less wooden.

Vary your values. Remember atmospheric perspective. Recede values. Lights and darks can help to focus and mood a piece. Pay attention to your color palette.

Book covers should convey one clear moment instead of trying to capture the whole book in one image.

What I learned from Laurant Lynn, art director at Simon and Schuster:


Remember You are a business. Consider making a recognizable branding. Make goals for updating your website and sending out postcards. Make a one year plan and a five year plan and keep on task.

Website. Keep it clean, simple and easy to navigate. Separate different styles. Include a bio.

Postcards. Send your best work to art directors on post cards with images on both sides. Send out a new card every 3-4 months.

Expand your horizons. Try doing different kinds of illustration and art work. Don't get pigeon holed into a certain genre.

Go to Conferences. Get out and talk to people. Ask questions.

Challenge yourself and your craft. Continually update your art. You never know who is looking at your art. Know what is essential to have in your portfolio, and what you should take out.

Challenge yourself to get better at drawing. Go to figure drawing classes. Read all the time!

Social Media. Just do it! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Blog!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Painting Drama 2 at the Oatley Academy Part 1

I was privileged to be among the first students of the Oatley Academy when it was started by Chris Oatley in August of 2012. I was among the first to experience the mind-blowing awesomeness of his class Painting Drama 1. Ever since I have been a loyal fan of the academy. It has been life changing to say the least.

Last month I started taking Chris's awe-inspiring course, Painting Drama 2. Unlike Chris's Magic Box digital painting course which is done all online (which is also phenomenal and I highly recommend), this class is done live in real time. It is amazing to interact with Chris and the other students, many of which were in my first Painting Drama class. I learned so much in the first class, and now my mind is being blown again! 

Whereas the first Painting Drama class was all about the structure and composition of an illustration, this class is all about color. I thought I knew and understood color. I even read Color and Light by James Gurney, which is amazing by the way, and every artist should read it. But there is so much I never thought about or learned in this particular way, especially from a digital painter's point of view.

 Below are a few of the assignments I have been working on for the class. I have been using a lot of my sketches from my book Brunhilda's Backwards Day to play with the different color assignments. 

Color swatches to portray mood of a scene

Split complimentary palettes.

High key and low key monochromatic/analogous. 

High Key Magenta

Low Key Magenta

Experimenting with different times of day and weather conditions.




Morning light

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Teacher Can Make a World of Difference

Me at age 6 with the mural I made for my 1st grade class Christmas program.

Today I am getting ready for an elementary school presentation. I am going to talk to the kids about how I became an illustrator. I wanted to connect what they are doing now to what they may do in the future. I found this picture and the story behind it is so inspiring, I wanted to share with the rest of you.

When I was little I loved to draw. Big surprise. I had a difficult time in school. Later, as an adult, I discovered that I had undiagnosed ADHD. I had a hard time concentrating on most of my school work, and school was a struggle for me.

I had a wonderful first grade teacher, Mrs. Clark. She could see that I struggled in school, but she could also see that I loved art. Art was therapy for me. So instead of discouraging me from drawing, she encouraged me.

She had me draw a special nativity scene mural for the class Christmas program. She had me make special scenery for the class puppet show. She saw my potential and encouraged my artistic growth. If it weren't for her, I might have become discouraged and never have become the artist I am today. I wish I could find Mrs. Clark now and thank her.

To contrast with that, in third grade, I had a teacher that never did art projects. Ever. My drawing was discouraged. I was literally sick for three weeks and wasn't able to go to school.

Teachers, you are important. Encourage your students where you see their potential. Don't forget art. The arts should always be part of the school curriculum. Don't forget that many people grow up to have jobs in the arts. Not only that, but art, music, and dance feed parts of the brain that help kids in all other areas of their academics and social well being.

Hear my plea. Don't forget the art.

Friday, February 28, 2014

SCBWI Conference and Beyond, My Trip Part 1: People and Places #NY14SCBWI

Greetings friends out in Internet Land! You may have wondered why it has been a month since I have posted anything. Well, I've been hard at work preparing for the New York SCBWI Winter Conference!

 Here is a brief recap of some of the people and places I saw on my trip! There will be a part 2 where I share a few things I learned on my trip! There's lots of great hyperlinks in this post, so click on the link and discover some great illustrators and great places to visit!

I met some awesome illustrators that I have always admired! Some illustrators from the conference to follow: Paul O. Zelinski, Peter Brown, Brett Helquist (fellow BYU graduate), Tomie dePaola, Oliver Jeffers, Marla Frazee, Raul Colon, and Shadra Strickland.

I had the opportunity to see some beautiful artwork, both in New York and in Massachusettes. In New York, I had the opportunity to go to an exhibit at the New York Public Library called The ABC of It: Why Children's books matter. There was some great picture book art there, including some artwork by one of my favorite classic illustrators, Arthur Rackham

In Massachusettes, I had the privilege of going to the Norman Rockwell Museum. There I was able to see many beautiful works of art by Norman Rockwell. I also got to see some beautiful artwork by Ruth Sanderson, one of my favorite children's fairy tale illustrators!

I got to visit some great exhibits and museums that had to do with illustration and literature! As I mentioned above, I visited the exhibit called The ABC of It: Why Children's books matter in New York. 

In Connecticut I got to visit Harriet Beecher Stowe's house, and Mark Twain's House- both great figures in the world of literature!

If you live nearby any of these places, go take advantage of these great opportunities and visit them!

The best part was being with great friends and family! 

Before the conference, I connected with some friends from The Oatley Academy: Kevin Scarborough and Brendan Reglunski

During the conference I met up with lots of friends I have met on the internet which was really fun! I hung out with my good illustrator friends from Utah: Manelle Oliphant, Sherry Meidell, and Bethanne Anderson

After the conference, I met up with my sister Bethany, and she took me around Connecticut and Massachusettes! Ah, what a great trip!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dummy Books Part 1- Making the Dummy Book

Making a Dummy Book- My Process

©2014 Shawna JC Tenney

In today's post, I will share how I make a children's book dummy by sharing how I am making my current book project, Brunhilda's Backwards Day.

In the next post (coming soon), I will talk about my process of getting the dummy book into printed and digital forms and sending them out to literary agents and/or editors. 

I have had many people ask for me to share more about my process. This post series was inspired by an email from Claire, a student studying art at Plymouth College of Art. Claire was interested in finding out more about my process from getting a book from initial roughs to a publishable project.

First before I start, if you have never learned very much about writing and illustrating a picture book, I would recommend reading Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz. It is a complete comprehensive guide to writing and illustrating a picture book from writing the story to the roughs, to the finished illustrations. The book is a bit out-dated, but still a great resource. 

What is a dummy book? 

A dummy book is a model of your children's book. It is the entire book laid out with pictures in sketch form with the type. It is made in the size that you want the final printed book to be. There is no real standard size for children's books, but 8 1/2 x 11 is probably the most common. Most artists like to include a couple finished illustrations in their dummy book. This book is used to show to literary agents, editors and art directors.

1. Perfect Your Story First

In the past, I have had failed dummy books because I did not take the time to perfect the craft of writing and revising a children's book. It is an important skill to learn if you are wanting to write and illustrate your own books. 

Know Picture Books:

•Know the language of picture books. Picture books have a much different type of language than children's chapter books. Read 100 picture books.

•Know the format of a picture book. Know that picture books are typically 32 pages long. Know that 500 words or less is a good average word count for picture books.

Learn the craft of writing children's books: 

•Read books about it. Two books that changed my writing were Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald and Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

•Find online children's book writing classes or communities. 

•Join the SCBWI and go to a local writing critique group. 

Also, check out my post on the Plot Line of a Picture Book.

2. Gather Reference

This is a step that you will be doing during the whole process of making your book.

 I set up a secret pin board on Pinterest to gather all my reference. As of right now there are 393 pins in the board for my current project, and I will add more!

3. Character Design and Visual Development

As the illustrator of a picture book, you are also the visual developer. It is important to design your character and your settings before you start the sketches for your book. 

Design your Characters and Setting

Draw and redraw your characters. Find the perfect combination of shapes that fits your character's personality. 

In the process of illustrating my book, I didn't take the time to design some of my characters up front, which made for boring characters in my sketches. They were not the main characters so I didn't want to waste my time worrying about making them interesting character. I was sure things would come together in illustration sketches. I went into autopilot. 

When my husband pointed out that they looked the same as all the kid character I have drawn in the past, and that this was my opportunity to make my new characters shine, I knew he was right. I had to go back to this step and perfect the characters. 

After doing that, the sketches and the story dynamics turned out a so much more interesting. 

Here are a bunch of cat studies I did. It took drawing lots of different shape combinations to find the perfect combination for my character! 

Here is some of my final character design for both Brunhilda and her cat. 
I also took time to design their environment.

4. The Story Board

Take 1: Pacing booklet

After I have written my story and have designed my characters, the next thing I do is make a "pacing booklet." 

I take 8 sheets of blank copy paper, fold them in half and staple them down the middle (you can also use a rubber band or string). This makes a 32 page booklet. Then I take my printed story and cut up the text. Then I tape the text into the book where I think things should go pacing-wise. Then I read through the book and see if the page turns come at good times. If not, I readjust until it feels right to me.

Take 2: Rough Thumbnails

Next, I make very rough and small thumbnails. I make a story board based on the size I want to make my book. I make boxes the actual size of the book in Adobe Illustrator (mine were 11 x 9) and then scale them down to the size small enough to fit all the spreads onto a regular 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper. I print that out and draw my first very sloppy thumbnails on this page.

Take 3: Tighter Thumbnails

Next, I print out a larger story board with larger thumbnail boxes on 11 x 17 paper using my large format Epson Artisan 1430 printer(Before I had my large format printer, I printed out my thumbnail boxes on regular-sized paper and taped them to a poster board or large piece of drawing paper.) I place the text under each spread where it will appear in the book, so I know what is happening in each scene. 

Then I draw out tighter thumbnails, leaving space for where the text will go. 

When I do this, I am really thinking about the compositions. I want to make sure there is a good variety in my compositions- close ups, far away, different angles etc. 

If a thumbnail isn't working. I draw more thumbnails on an extra piece of paper. I cut out the new thumbnail and tape it over the thumbnail that wasn't working. Sometimes I will draw and draw and draw many thumbnails for one scene until I get it right. Sometimes I will think it feels right until I start sketching it, and realize that I need to go back to the thumbnail stage.

As you can see here on my storyboard, I have taped multiple thumbnails on top of each other.

5. The Sketches

Even when I feel like my thumbnail is great, I still need to do a lot of editing when I get to the sketching phase. Don't be afraid to draw and redraw, and get critiques from your friends and then redraw again. I like to draw my sketches traditionally with a pencil and paper and then scan them in and finish them digitally. I use the lasso tool a lot to resize things and move things around. Drawing digitally is much easier now with the help of my Yiynova MSP19U tablet monitor

Here is an example of an sketch that needed lots of revisions.

Take one: Here's is my beginning sketch. It was okay, but there was a lot of issues with the perspective. I was going for sort of the wonky-look, but it wasn't working out very well.

Take two: Here I got the perspective right, but there was a lot lacking in the story. 
Also the objects around the room were somewhat the same size. 

Take three: I am finally getting to where I want to be story- wise here. The perspective is working out, and I have payed attention to the overlap, and size and rhythm of the objects in the room.

6. Gray Scale and Color Studies

After I perfect my sketches, it's important to get my gray scale and color studies right before moving on to your final illustrations, or things might get messy.

These were my first gray scale and color study attempts. As you can see, the values weren't working out too well. Things were a bit confusing.

With the help of some friends (yes, can you tell I really think it's important to have a great circle of trust), I realized that it would work a lot better to have light values in the back and darker values in the characters to make strong silhouettes and really make things really pop.

7. Final Illustrations

You can fudge some of the steps. You can skip steps. But you aren't going to do your best work for your picture book dummy if you don't give your best effort to each step. 

The sooner in the process you get things figured out the better. For example, it's better to get your story written and revised the right way before you do the final sketch and painting, because then it's a lot harder time-wise and emotionally-wise to change things after that. It's a lot easier to get the design right in the storyboard/thumbnail stage than to trying to perfect the large sketch and having to redraw the whole thing if its not working. 

The key is don't just go with your first draft or your first thumbnail. Revise and revise, ask for critiques, be humble and revise some more. Don't be afraid to rewrite and redraw.

Good luck to you in your dummy book pursuits!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More Visual Development for Brunhilda's story: Today strange plants!

I'm excited to get back to working on Brunhilda's story! I am working hard on all the sketches and completing the dummy book! Today I have been researching and imagining up some strange and unusual plants! It has been so fun to really take the time and do the research, and come up with the best solutions possible for this project!

Monday, December 09, 2013

PiBoIdMo: I did it!!

Hi friends! I am back! My arm is out of the splint- thank goodness! Bone is healed! Now I am doing physical therapy to help get back my rang of motion and making improvements every day.

The month of November was a bit crazy for me! Besides breaking my arm at the beginning of the month, I was also working on Rosie the Reindeer Kickstarter backer prizes and three freelance jobs. I survived! I also was participating in PiBoIdMo- Picture Book Idea Month, hosted by Tara Lazar. I never posted anything about participating in the challenge, because I was afraid like many of the other challenges I have taken on that I would not be able to finish the challenge.

Well, guess what?! I finished the challenge! I came up with 32 picture book ideas in 30 days. Not all of them are good, but some of them are great, and I can't wait to start parlaying them into picture book manuscripts and dummy books!

Some great things I learned from PiBoIdMo:

First thing that I learned:

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." - Jack London

I have realized this is really true. I took time every day to think about ideas. I took a notebook with me everywhere. I went on long walks and wrote down little ideas when they came. I wrote lists and lists of people, articles of clothing, and settings and came up with great combinations by simply taking the time. This has become a great pattern that I want to keep going. You have to work for your ideas!

Another thing that was reinforced to me is that I can make personal goals and go through with them! No matter what other projects I have going on or what broken bones I may have, if I make my own projects a priority, I can get them done!

A big thank you to Tara for running this great program! Now on to writing some great stories!!

Rosie The Reindeer on Presale and a Coloring Page!

Greetings friends! I am back! Great news! My book, Rosie the Reindeer is now available to preorder! Thank you, thank you again to all of you wonderful people who helped back the project on Kickstarter to make publishing this book possible! Check out Rosie the Reindeer's website! You can pre-order the book there! The books are almost ready, from what I understand!

In the meantime, here is a coloring page of Rosie the Reindeer for you (or the kids in your life) to enjoy! There is a jpeg image below, but also a link to a higher resolution pdf which you can download for better printing! I will be posting some coloring pages of Rosie and her friends throughout this month to promote the book! Enjoy!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Taking a blogging break for a broken arm

Hi art friends! As you can see, I have a broken elbow. Got it from skating with the kids! Luckily, not my drawing arm. And as you can see, I've made myself a rest for my arm, cause I've gotta reach those hot keys! The hard thing for me right now is typing. So unfortunately there will not be any epic blog posts here in the next few weeks. Perhaps I will still post a couple image oriented posts. We'll see.

In the mean time, keep drawing, and keep reaching for your dreams! Find things to be grateful for. I am really grateful I can still draw!

Stay in touch! I'll still do some tweeting (short and sweet) and facebooking. I hope to be back in the full swing of blogging in December!

Twitter: @shawnajctenney
Print shop:

Friday, November 01, 2013

Rosie The Reindeer Funded on Kickstarter!

This is a screen shot of the Rosie The Reindeer Kickstarter from this morning! Rosie the Reindeer is a book I illustrated about 3 years ago for self publishing author Chantell Taylor. The book was never published because of lack of funds. Earlier in October, Chantell started a Kickstarter.  I helped promote the project. Much to my amazement the project has funded! The project only has a few hours to go, so if you still want a chance to get your guaranteed copy of Rosie the Reindeer, jump in and back the project. I want to thank everyone who has helped back this project. It will be wonderful to finally see the book published since I worked so hard on it! Feeling grateful!

Here is the link to the project:

Monday, October 14, 2013

This Day Was Really Not Going Well for Poor Brunhilda! Another Illustration for My Book!

This day was really not going well for poor Brunhilda.

Here is another illustration from my personal book project!

Stay tuned, I am going to make a little Youtube video explaining my process on this. When I asked for some questions a little while ago, a couple people said they want to know a little bit more about my process, so I will try and get that done soon.

Fun fact! A couple weeks ago, I got a Yiynova MSP19U tablet monitor. I LOVE it!!! It's so much easier to get accurate lines with this than my old Wacom Bamboo stylus. I would highly recommend this to anyone especially if you are wanting to use something very close to a cintiq, but don't want to have to pay the money. (Link below).

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Another Sneak Peek into My Book!

Oh the horror! Bruhilda's favorite ugly dress is no where to be found. The only thing she can find to wear is a hideously fluffy pink ballgown! This day is really not going well for poor Brunhilda!

Another sneak peek into my personal book project!

Friday, September 20, 2013

"Then one night, the cat made plenty of trouble." Process to final!


Black and White thumbnail

Tight Pencil Drawing

Black and White Study

Color Studies

Final Painting!

"Then one night, the cat made plenty of trouble."

Here's a piece I did for a book I wrote and am illustrating, process to finish! More to come soon!