Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Children's Authors and Illustrators Interview - Wende Essrow



It's time again for another interview with an author/illustrator as part of my Children's Authors and Illustrators Interview feature.  This month I'd like to introduce you to my good friend Wende Essrow!  She is author and illustrator of Paintbrush Dreamer and her latest children's book, If You Listen to The Trees.

I met Wende at a very serendipitous point in my life and it was my introduction to her that lead to me publishing my first book.  Wende visited the East Aurora Art Society meeting one cold February night to share her latest picture book with us.  I was immediately smitten with Wende and wanted to learn more about how she got published.  She readily shared everything she knew with me and we became fast friends over the last three years.  I can't wait for you to meet her!   Below is my interview with Wende that took place over coffee and e-mail.


You have been an inspiration to me ever since I met you at the East Aurora Art Society meeting three years ago when you published your firstpicture book Paintbrush Dreamer.  Who are some people who inspire you?

I have been inspired by many authors and artists over the years. One author that I love is Sigurd Olsen. He has written beautiful books about his solo travels in North Country areas. I also love to solo hike and explore. Olsen's capacity to bring his reader along for his adventures at hand is exceptional. I also refer back to my childhood fairytale collection, The Fairytale Book (by Golden) illustrated by Adrienne Segur, a true master of beautiful fantasy illustrations. There are so many beautiful picture books I could go on forever. One book, The Whales' Song by Dyan Sheldon and illustrated by Gary Blythe is another favorite. I actually had the distinct pleasure of corresponding with the author who kindly volunteered to review my first manuscript.  I also received a beautiful letter from France from the illustrator. I was so overwhelmed by the art I wrote to the publisher who forwarded my letter directly to the artist. The artist wrote back a beautiful letter which I cherish and have kept in the book for over 25 years as a reminder to always try to connect with my reading audience in a personal way.

 The Whale's Song, an inspiration

 Wende's childhood fairytale book

What made you decide to become and author/illustrator of picture books?

I have always painted and written poetry and kept a journal. When my children were younger I would read bedtime stories and make up stories as well. My youngest son is a graphic artist and for my birthday decided to give me the gift of his time. He called and said Mom, "It is time you share your stories with a greater audience. I always loved them and I want you to learn how to design a book so you can share them." He basically encouraged me to put together a story and helped me work it into a manuscript. I loved the first project, showed to an indie bookstore owner and he said, "you have something very special here." From that point on, with a project in hand I met with a publisher and the journey began.

And that book was the Paintbrush Dreamer, right?    Yes!

You have both authored and illustrated picture books, which do you enjoy more, the writing of the stories for picture books or the creation of the illustrations?

I love to write. I always have and always will, as it is a part of my spirit, it grounds me and allows me to celebrate all that moves me. There is so much beauty, so much happiness in being alive, and of course sometime there are obstacles that need to be overcome. It is with a pen and ink that I have survived many challenges and celebrated my gratitude for all the beauty that surrounds us. I have to say both my writing and my art are tools for me to express the inner joy, the sense of wonder, the sheer amazement in this thing called, life. I admit I love writing as well as painting and it depends on my mood. Writing flows, illustrating a thought takes some planning and execution skill, thus I need to be very focused to paint. I love both forms of expression and my state of mind dictates what I can best accomplish in the studio on any given morning.

You have told me you have been writing and journaling a long time, do you have  special place that you like to go to when you write? 


I have done most of my writing on a ratty old green couch in my art studio with my muse, Charlie a beloved old dog by my side. We have what I call our coffee dates in the early morning and that is when I write. The studio is surrounded by woods and there is a creek that I can hear when the windows are open. It is really cold in the studio so I try to get a fire burning in the woodstove. I am a morning person. I usually do some painting later in the afternoon after a long walk in the woods. I need to be outside for awhile under any weather conditions to get ready to settle down and paint. There is something about hiking or xcountry skiing and listening to the wind that allows me to concentrate and sit still long enough to work on an illustration.

Can you share a picture of your art space with us?

Can you share with us where you get inspiration for your stories?

My inspiration comes from nature. I have always loved to be outside exploring. Whether I am hiking, skiing, canoeing, I am hypersensitive to the light and colors of the natural world as well as extremely observant of wildlife. This has always been the case. I feel more at home in the middle of nowhere surrounded by woods and listening to the sound of wind in the treetops than I do whenI am inside even my own house. Winter is my favorite season. When I study the geometry of an individual snowflake or look at the muted pastel colors of a winter sky I feel an abundance of joy. It is this sense of awe that inspires me to write and paint.

You are also a very accomplished photographer, what role does photography play in your book creation process?

I sometimes take a small pocket camera to record a particular scene or detail along my outdoor trails. I began to share a few of these shots that are useful in developing paintings from multiple references. Over the years with the advent of social media I have gathered an audience for my photography as a separate art form. I am currently working on a coffee table nature photography and poetry book for adults at the same time I am working on a new children's book.

(You can follow Wende's photography on Instagram at @Wendesworld.  Here is a sample of the work you will find there.)

Do you have any sage advice to offer someone who is thinking about getting into picture books?

Regarding advice to anyone aspiring to write a children's book, do it for love of your subject. There is a likely chance you will not make a fortune, but if you have the opportunity to share a piece of your soul, that will make you "richer." I suggest starting with a small local publisher and keep trying. If no one is interested in publishing your work, self publish it and share it with family and friends.

Thank you for sharing your art journey with us Wende:)  You can find Wende's books at her website

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sunrise study in oil

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Here is a little oil study I did this weekend with my friend Sherida.  She came over on Saturday and brought this beautiful sunrise picture.  We decided to each do four little studies in oil.  I played with changing the colors and changing the size of the sun to see what it would do to the mood.  

What I think is fun about this little study is that all four paintings are on one canvas, so you get four sunrises in one picture!  I don't know if anyone would ever want to hang this painting up, but it just looks really cool all together on one canvas. 


Which one do you like?  #1 top left #2 top right #3 bottom left #4 bottom right.   Let me know in the comments below:)

Monday, March 20, 2017

SCBWI Spring Fever Conference

Ever have those days in the middle of winter where you are just feeling blah and can't get motivated? That's how I was feeling, and then the SCBWI Spring Fever Conference came around this past weekend.  It was the perfect prescription for the winter blah's!  I have been a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for three years now, and I have known about the national and regional conferences, but my schedule has never allowed me to attend one.  Until this year! 

What a wonderful day I had with so many serendipitous moments.  Meeting a professional illustrator, connecting with friends from on-line, and learning new things.  But the best part was being in the company of so many people who are passionate about storytelling for kids.  There was a palpable feeling of creativity in the air with so many authors and illustrators all coming together for the purpose of being inspired and pushed on in their craft.  Plus they set up a little book store with everyone's books for sale so of course I had to go shopping.

The day started with a discussion of query letters and loglines (two new terms for me!).   As I was sitting listening, I decided to post to Instagram what I was doing.  I quickly received a comment from a follower that she was there at the conference too!   Wow!  Technology is so cool!  I looked around me, where was she?  Nicolette was right behind me and at the break we got to meet each other face to face versus over Instagram.  She is an emerging author with kids and a day job just like me.  We had so much in common and it was fun to talk and encourage each other. 

After lunch Nicolette went to the author feedback session and I went to the illustrator feedback session.  It was run by our guest illustrator Elizabeth Zunon!  She presented her work and creative process to us in the morning session and now she was giving portfolio reviews!  What a thrill it was for me to have my work reviewed by such a successful illustrator.   

And I also got to purchase one of Elizabeth's books for my collection!  It's a true story of a boy who lives in Malawi and figures out how to make a windmill from old junk, to pump water to his village during a terrible drought.  The story is heart-warming and the illustrations are lovely!

I also got to meet a several great illustrators who live in the area.  We got to share our artwork, talk creative process and exchange websites.  One illustrator who I met is Jacob Souva who has amazing digital collage artwork.   It's sort of like a cross between Eric Carle and Miroslav Sasek.  Check out some of his work below: 


Isn't it great!  You have to check out more of his work via the link I included above. All in all the SCBWI Spring Fever Conference was just what I needed to get me through March.  I hope my story helped inspire you! 


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Children's Authors and Illustrators Interview - Renee Galvin

This week I am starting a new feature called:  "Children's Authors and Illustrators Interview", where once a month I will interview a children's author and/or illustrator to introduce them to you.  These people are quirky, talented, incredible storytellers that you will fall in love with, I just know it:)

So this month of March I'd like to introduce you to Renee Galvin, author and illustrator of three children's books and a great new friend.  

Here is the interview:

HH:  I discovered you on the internet, I think it was through Periscope or Instagram:)  I instantly loved your energy and passion for picture book art and immediately started following you.  But I don’t know much about your beginning.  I’d like to travel back to your childhood and the influences you had, favorite books or art experiences or travels, that framed and formed you as an artist.  

Can you tell me about that?

RG:  Awe that is so sweet of you to say because when I was young I was extremely shy.  I was always very quiet. There were two moments in elementary school that I remember very well. One was in Kindergarten and we read the book Cloudy with the Chance of Meatballs. Our teacher was friends with the local weather lady and she came to our class for a visit. I just thought that was so exciting. The other was when my second grade teacher read the book I'll Love You Forever and she started tearing up when she read it.  I just remember being so moved because she was always such a bubbly upbeat person.  I think maybe it was a little bit of shock that a book could create so much emotion from someone.  

When I was a child, my main influence as an artist was Disney. With that, also came Mary Blair...gosh, I love her.  

 Mary Blair Illustration

Anyways, I had a giant Disney Encyclopedia that had every film ever made (at that time) and all of their characters.  I started to draw from that book and really used it as a study guide. About that time, my mother got a job as a colorist for a comic book company and that played a huge influence on me as an artist as well.  We would go to her work with her a lot. There were many days that I would sit and watch people draw or watch them color and shade comics. 

As far as books, I had many favorites.  I have always been a book worm.  Some of my picture book favorites were I'll Love You Forever, The Little House, The Giving Tree...well...basically anything by Shel Silverstein.

  Shel Silverstein Illustration

Were there teachers who influenced you as an artist?  Or other artists?  Can you tell me about them?

I had the best art teacher in high school that I could ever ask for. She taught me so much more that art fundamentals. She was very sweet and soft spoken and saw something in me that I didn't.  I've always been my worst critic. I think everyone is but she pushed me to push myself in my art.  She really took me under her wing and gave me so much confidence just by guiding me to try techniques, entering me into art shows and letting me take a leadership role at times.  My senior year, I was in her class 4 hours a day. All of that made her a great teacher, but she was more than that. In the summers, she worked with a company that arranged educational tour groups all over the world. My junior year she was taking a group to Europe. I worked and actually saved up enough to go on that trip. That tour really opened up my eyes to just how powerful art can be.  She showed me the world in so many different ways. I could never thank her enough.

As far as other artist's influenced, I loved Salvador Dali. I appreciated his abstract thinking.  It is something that I struggle with but highly appreciate. Mary Blair for the impact she makes with color and over all whimsical appearance. Georges Seurat is one of my favorites; I love pointillism.  My husband is also an artist and he influences my work now as well. We have two totally different artistic styles, so it is always enlightening to see his point of view on a project. 

Where do you find inspiration?  For your art, for your book ideas?

Haha, this is a hard question. My published book ideas all came from my children in one way or another, conversations we have had or their personalities. Sometimes they even show up in my illustrations unintentionally. For example, take the book Teal, my youngest son is named Teal so the initial idea sparked from his name. But honestly this book was modeled more from my experience as a child. I do have a notebook filled with story ideas and thoughts.  They are usually on a few words but they trigger my ideas. For my art, its really hard to say.  I am constantly trying to do different techniques and push myself to the next level.

You have three published picture books, Chasing Monster Tales, Stuck in a Muck, and Teal!  You are both author and illustrator on all three!  Can you describe what it’s like being both author and illustrator? 

How does writing and storytelling differ from creating pictures, how are they similar?

It was a little bit of an adjustment in the beginning because they were two different thought processes for me. I wrote stories that I didn't plan to illustrate myself. I was a realistic artist. I didn't illustrate. I did tons of research on how to publish a children's book and it always said "Do not illustrate your own books". For years, that phrase created a mentally block that kept me from moving forward with my books. Crazy huh? Once I jumped that hurtle, the books have came out ever year since. Now the process is a little more fluid and I jump from being the author to being the illustrator rather quickly because I am envisioning the stories as I write. 

When you are writing the story there is a rhythm to it. You create a story and you know exactly where the page needs to flip. You still have to tell a story with the illustrations, but you have to shake up the storyline when needed.  It is more of keeping the attention or adding silly things on the page that are unexpected.  The ideal goal is that both the child and the parent love the book! 

Can you share with us your process for creating picture book art?  What mediums do you gravitate to?  What surfaces do you like?  How do you bring a book through it’s states of development?  

When I am writing, I tend to doodle the main characters and continue writing. If I get stuck on the story sometimes I jump to sketching out a page of the book and it helps me visualize it and pick back up on the story. After the manuscript is complete, I start the story boards for the illustrations. Often when I am writing, I get a very clear image in my head of what I would like the illustrations to look like for that page. Sometimes those images have to get tossed out because they do not work within the story board layout. That's always a struggle for me. I complete the boards and then work on each page. When it is complete I pass it along to my husband Christopher to clean up and edit.  He also does the book layout and we decide on any revisions that are needed. After all that is perfected, we have a completed book! 

My go-to medium is watercolor. I love the forgiving soft warm look it gives..  I also love Copic markers if I am going for more of a bold statement.  

Do you have an established color pallet that you like to use?  Will you share it with us or is it secret?

I would share it with you if I had one. I really don't.  Each book has its own color pallet.  I do tend to favor certain colors throughout them unintentionally though.  Aqua and red is one of my favorite color combinations and they tend to show up in every book.

You have a full life, husband, children, career….Do you have a regular art routine to keep producing your books or do you create when inspiration strikes?  
What times of day do you create your art?  Is there a time of day when you are more creative?

I love my life, my heart is completely full.  I'm constantly creating. If I am playing with the kids, a book idea might spark from one of our conversations. We may create art and that gets me thinking of ways I could use it in the next book. Always thinking! 

 I don't have set times that I create art because that can feel almost forced. However, Tuesdays are my book days. I create if I am feeling inspired. If not, I used that time to send out invoices, catch up on emails, figure out my marketing plan for the next week, mentoring calls with future authors, etc.

I am much more creative in the evenings after everyone goes to bed, that is if I can keep from falling asleep next to one of my kiddos! :) 

When you create art and picture book stories what is it you want your audience to feel or take away with them?  

I just want them to feel.  I love reading book reviews from bloggers and they see something totally different then I planned. That means I did my job, I created something that made them connect and feel and I couldn't ask for anything better than that!

Since I discovered you on social media, let’s talk about that for a second.  I know a lot of artists, especially older ones, are uncertain as to how they should use social media and digital technologies to share their art. Can you share some insights with us?

Social media is my lifeline. By that I mean, you have the whole world at your fingertips if you chose to use it. I have built many business relationships with people I have "met" through social media. Starting on a social media platform is the hardest part. The rest is just you sharing your story. I once heard someone say "people do not buy your product but they buy you". They see beautiful art every day but the reason they bought your beautiful art work because they have come to "know" you. 

Which platforms (FB, IG, Twitter, etc) do you find are most helpful in connecting with your audience and why do you think that?

I have two favorite social media platforms. I love Instagram. I get more new connections through Instagram and they are usually people who found me by searching a certain hashtag. That makes those connections stronger.  I also love that it is visual there. Everything is photos or videos which is great for artists!  Facebook is my old faithful.  It has treated me great over the years.  I do Facebook live videos that really help me connect with my existing audience.  I do Tutorial Tuesdays where I teach children (and parents) how to draw using simple shapes. If I could explain it for me personally, Instagram is the introduction and Facebook is the relationship. I used periscope (where we met) as a learning tool.  I really wasn't comfortable in front of a live camera but I knew that was where things were headed. So I started making videos on Periscope because it was a platform where I didn't know anyone but could get experience and feed back for live video. I primarily use Facebook Live now for video. I also use Snapchat, but in fun ways for my audience to see a more silly side of my life. 

How much time a week do you put into your on-line presence versus your off-line presence?  

I weigh heavily on my online presence. I spend a lot of time there and a lot of time preparing what I am going to do there.  If I am offline I am either creating, visiting schools or hanging out with my family. 

And to finish off the interview, what is your favorite part about being a picture book author and illustrator?

Oh my gosh... I love it all.  Right now to go along with my book Teal, I am hosing a Teal Crayon Challenge to promote random acts of kindness so that is amazing to see reaction to this! My favorite part though, has to be when I visit the schools.  Every time I come home for a visit I say the same thing...  "This is why I do what I do." 

Thanks so much for interviewing me! I love connecting with you and your readers! 

Do you have any questions for Renee?  Click on her name above and you will be taken to her Facebook page or leave them here in the comments and I'll share them with her.

  Thanks for stopping in!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chiaroscuro Portrait

One of the things I love about art is sharing it.  And one way I get to share it is with my private instruction students.  I have had about six private students over the last decade.  I will usually start working with a 12 - 14 year old student.  We will draw and paint on a weekly basis straight through till they graduate high school.  I share with them all that I know about art, and they share with me their joys, fears and dreams.  I love being with them on their path during those formative years.  

Here is my most recent student.  She is doing a self portrait drawing from a photo that we took in my studio.   Look at what a beautiful job she is doing!  I taught her the chiaroscuro method that I learned at the Academy of Art University.  She was so proud of it when she finished.  I am so lucky to be a part of watching my students become empowered by their own talents. :) 


Would you like to know how to do a chiaroscuro portrait?  I have lots of resources to share.  Just let me know in the comments.  


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Author Visit - Read Across America

I am so excited about this week!  I have been invited to be one of the guest authors at St. John Vianney school in Orchard Park, NY as part of their Read Across America program.  I get to read both of my books, The Swing and Clover and the Shooting Star,  to the pre-K through 2nd grade children and I'm so excited to meet them!  

Sharing my stories with young readers has got to be the ultimate satisfaction for me as children's book writer and illustrator.  Author visits are so cool because they can get kids reading, writing and creating illustrations.  I remember author visits in my school when I was young and loved them!  It's part of why I wanted to become an illustrator.   

I will also be sharing my creative process with the students to give them a little behind the scenes look.  When students learn the "inside stories" and ideas behind books they can't help but be drawn to them and become motivated to read more, write more and of course create wonderful storytelling art.  Children are natural storytellers and storytelling connoisseurs, so I can't wait to see how they respond to my stories.

And the staff at St. John Vianney have put together a fun program that gets the children involved in reading every day of the week!

As you can see in the events, Friday is the local author visit day...that's me:) And it's also "wear your favorite hat" day!  I just may wear my French beret.   

They are also featuring two other authors during the week on Thursday.  They are two amazing child authors who are in the same family - bother and sister named Soloman and Cecelia Schmidt.   Soloman writes about U.S. history and already has two published books, and Cecelia wrote a historical fiction love story, with God being the central figure of love.  I am so honored to share this week with these amazing authors.  And how cool is that for children to meet authors who themselves are children?  

I am really looking forward to this Friday!