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Archive for May, 2008

Great song, and an animated video for it that has a lot of style and a good retro vibe. It uses simple animation very effectively.

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I started with drawings on this general topic for a picture book manuscript I am working on. Then I turned this one image into a design for a t-shirt. I just kept working on it and now it works pretty well as a one off illustration which I turned into a promo-postcard for myself. Done in Photoshop, from a pencil rough. I actually painted 3 versions to play with colors and style a bit.

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Wow. Great real-place animation.

Click Here to Watch the embedded Vimeo video on their site.

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Work in progress. I am working on paintings for a series of children’s t-shirts and I am casting a wide net to start. Painting things that interest me or at least make me laugh from very rough quick sketches. From these I will pick out the ones people like the most to go the t-shirt route.

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An interesting short from Russian animator Ivan Maximov. It’s surreal in that Eastern European surreal way.

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This is nearly finished, but not quite. This is part of a two page spread from a kids book story I wrote. But, I don’t like the story anymore, it just doesn’t work. So the manuscript is taking a long overdue holiday in the bottom on a cabinet. But I wanted to finish off at least one of the spreads, just for my portfolio, if for nothing else. So here is part of it. A few monster kids. I like the zombie in the back best.

Done on Photoshop from a pencil sketch.

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I just attended the Washington State SCBWI conference. It was interesting and helpful and overwhelming in equal parts. See I didn’t say depressing! Overwhelming is a better description.

One topic that came up often was the focus on picture books having limited word counts and what part words play in a picture book. Mo Willems, he of the pigeon books, is quite demanding in his opinion that the script of a picture book should not make sense unless it has pictures with it. That the two elements have to work together for a ‘picture’ book to work.

I certainly understand this. And I agree, to some extent. What it comes down to is developing a really stringent definition of Picture Book vs. Story Book. Because many of my favorite ‘picture books’ are more script heavy. The words do carry a potent amount of the story. This does not detract from the illustrations. The illustrations still add additional narrative opportunity and create a greater whole. Just as a film is greater than just the script.

I am not a big fan of definitions and rules in artistic endeavors. In fact, I will almost always search for exceptions to artistic and literary rules. A contrarian by nature I guess.

A few years ago someone at a lecture said an ideal picture book should have no more than 800 words. They also said 10 years ago the number of words considered acceptable in a picture book was much higher.

Here’s a good posting by Margot Finke at Underdown on the topic.

She breaks it down to age, the older the target the more words. This makes sense. But it seems like the current market is looking towards cutting down on words even more. My question is, why?

I imagine it is because kids are reading at a younger age today. Younger readers, with less vocabulary skills. The picture book market growth may very well have come from this new audience. They are not ready to sit still for The Lorax much less Zen Shorts.

And, I have a feeling (am I wrong?) that kids are migrating to TV and Video Games at younger ages and perhaps, losing interest in books sooner. Sure they have them in school and mom and dad buy them from time to time, but will they play as large a role in their entertainment universe? Probably not.

This means you have an audience of younger kids for whom a book is a great source of entertainment and learning. And older kids who are stepping into different media at a younger age.

younger readers = less words

market growth = younger readers

published picture books = books with less words

I have no academic research to back this up, it’s just a theory. Of course there is a long history of comics, and even novels with no words (I have an original printing of Vertigo by Lynd Ward, published by Random House in 1937 – a novel with no words. Now days it would be called a graphic novel. But it isn’t exactly a new genre in American publishing). BTW, Vertigo is most decidedly not a children’s book

I see two genres relevant today. An illustrated story book and picture books. Story books appeal, mainly to older readers. They are slightly more complicated and merge, at some point, with things like graphic novels. The term ‘picture book’ seems to me to appeal to the 500 words or less audience. I don’t think most Dr. Seuss titles are in this group anymore. Certainly nothing by Bill Joyce. A book like Chowder is right in the middle as is Adam Rex’s PSSST! (Yeah! Rule breakers!)

Of course there are no rules. But I think it is wise to observe the marketplace and understand how these terms are being defined today.

A lot of heavily illustrated books are not appropriate or appealing to kids under the age of 8. Obviously most comics these days appeal to even older readers. And as in films, it is very difficult to find a book that can work with younger readers and still appeal upwards in age (Finding Nemo did it, and oh yeah, that Harry Potter guy).

Since the conference I have reexamined all my manuscripts in progress. I have found problems with all of them. Some are complicated stories that would have no young reader appeal. Some are simple narratives, but are overwrought in language. The simple concept is needlessly complicated and intricate. I am in the middle of cutting all my stories word count in half.

Arthur Levine used this quote in his Keynote at the SCBWI conference. It is from Uri Shulevitz‘s book, Writing With Pictures. It concerns what he feels he had been doing wrong with his manuscripts for picture books, and this quote now hangs over my desk.

“I was overlooking what was of primary importance – WHAT I had to say. And I was overwhelmed by what was of secondary importance – HOW to say it.”

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