Exceptional illustrators are coming to the Kutztown University campus this week. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference. I’ve been on the conference committee from the beginning and met some stellar writers and illustrators. This year’s line-up is amazing.
Peter Sís came to the U.S. as a political refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia. He has earned a MacArthur genius award and won every major illustration award. His most autobiographical work is The Wall, Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain.
“When my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion, and lies. I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it’s hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life— before America—for them.”-Peter Sís.
Raul Colón was born in Puerto Rico and now based in New York City. He has illustrated a number of bilingual English/ Spanish children’s books including “My Name is/ Me Llamo Gabito, A life of/ la vida de Gabriel García Márquez.” He will be visiting design students to share his work, in addition to addressing the literature conference.
Lee Harper grew up in Pennsylvania and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He now lives in Doylestown. He has illustrated children’s’ books by Walter Dean Myers and Wendi Silvano, as well as illustration for his own writing.
Sís, Colón, and Harper will be presenting their work to KU Children’s’ Literature Conference attendees on Saturday, April 21. Colón and Harper and author Sharon Draper will be doing Friday talks for the KU community. Details and times of the Community Day presentations can be found here.
These artists’ books will be on sale at the KU Bookstore this week. Plus KU alum Jennifer Hansen Rolli will also be here. Her work is featured in an earlier blog post.
I will also be sharing my latest silly TOON Book, Snails Are Just My Speed! during a breakout session at the conference. Original art from my TOON books is currently on display at the Kutztown Community Library, info here.
Jennifer will take part in our “Author Chat” breakout session. What’s that mean? The truth is, at any sort of literature conference it is very hard to chat with the headliners. So, authors and illustrators with Kutztown roots volunteer their time and talents. In recent years, Lisa Kahn Schnell, Rachel Yoder, Kathi Ember, and Aubry Joi Cohen shared their recently published children’s books at a chat session.
We’re delighted that Jennifer Hansen Rolli has accepted our invitation for 2018
Jennifer has been painting since the day her father bought her a professional painter’s box at a very young age. She went on to run her design firm in Philadelphia for many years. But, after her 3rd child, she fell in love with the all picture books she was reading and started making up stories and pictures of her own.
School Library Journal gave high praise to her picture book Claudia and Moth: “Rolli’s illustrations are painted in oil on brown paper and the bright, texture-rich, full-page spreads are a delight. Recommended.” -SLJ
School Library Journal called her first book, Just One More, published by Penguin Random House in2014, “A Must Read for Pre-school and kindergarten.” Among other honors it is a selection of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Q & A with JHR
Q: Was your name Jennifer Hansen when you went to Kutztown?
A: That Evangelista was a toughie, but boy, did he squeeze the best out of us! Landis, –he kept the whole show together. I loved Breter. Q: Out of college you had your own design practice. What sort of clients did you have?
A: Since I was in Philly, it was a lot of local companies like Comcast and Ibanez Guitar. My big winner was Genentech in San Francisco. Microbreweries were popping up everywhere and I had a good footing in that market (as long as I didn’t sample the product too much). Tons of fun.
Q: How did you come to publish your first book,Just One More?
A: I really loved the picture books I was reading to my young children and started writing during my downtime silly things my kids were doing…like asking for “just one more of just about everything.” It was unbelievable, kids are kids in their own bubble. But, it was a great way of learning natural consequences if they go overboard. So when all my kids were school age, I went to that notebook and made a story out of all the “just one mores” I had made a list of.
Q: Were there books, websites, or other resources that helped you reach that point? For example, did you join the SCBWI , Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ? A: I had no idea what I was doing, so I did some research via websites about getting published. I had tried selling my story – only once – and that was enough for me. I needed help and decided to get a good agent if I was going to do this. With a little more digging, I emailed my current agent and that was that. He loved my concept but said, “Jenny, this is not a story, it needs a conflict and a resolution…join SCBWI, go to a conference, and learn how to do this.” I did, and one conference was equivalent to a college education in picture book writing. Really.
Q: A lot of aspiring children’s book creators expect getting a book published is the goal line. How important is follow-through when the books come out? Website, educator packets, social media, etc?
A: You are right, we all think getting published is the “be all end all” but actually, getting published includes the whole process leading up to your book sitting in a bookstore. But that is only the half of it, everything you do to get your book into little hands is just as important. Q: Did you initiate your great Educator packets, or was this something you publisher did? A: I met Marci Colleen at an SCBWI conference, she’s a former teacher who creates these magnificent guides. She now has her own middle grade series and picture book…but still creates the guides, thank goodness.
Q: I grabbed Life Cycle image above from your Educator Guide. Do you want to say anything about this particular image? A: The life cycle of both the moth and the butterfly are threaded throughout Claudia & Moth and it’s a great teaching tool for 1st and 2nd graders.
In May How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell with art by Jennifer will be published. A limited number of copies of this new book may be avaialable at the conference. Jennifer will talk about all her books and what it takes to have a successful author visit at a school. The books will be available at the KU bookstore at a discounted price and she will be happy to personalize them. It is still possible to register to attend The 2018 Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference, Info Here.
Last year Brian Martin got an amazing job, but had to keep it secret from even his close friends. Animation projects are kept hush-hush so other studios don’t get wind of a great idea. Now he can share that he’s been working on Steven Colbert’s Our Cartoon President. The half-hour cartoon show premieres Feb. 11 on Showtime. Brian graduated in 2015 from Kutztown University majoring in Communication Design with Ad and Illustration concentrations.
Brian signed an NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement, so he can’t share photos from inside the studio or images he has drawn for the show. I’ve grabbed art from the official Our Cartoon President trailer, which can be seen at Showtime.
Last year, Brian was a designer for a pharmaceutical e-learning company. It wasn’t his dream job. He promised himself he’d land his first animation gig before he had to renew his apartment lease. He just made it with one month left on the lease.
Q: How did you land the job with Our Cartoon President?
Brian: “With animation, past experience isn’t that crucial. It’s your reel that counts, and it always comes down to how well you do on your animation test, where they’ll ask you to animate a scene from the show. I finished the test in one all-nighter, and they emailed me the following week offering me a three-week position that could lead to long term if my work was good. It was Friday, and they wanted me to start Monday, so I packed up my desk immediately, and never went back. It was a giant risk, but every bone in my body told me to do it. Best decision I ever made!”
See the demo reel that got Brian’s foot in the door here.
Q: What was the move to NYC like?
Brian: “The first four weeks, I commuted from north Philly to NYC every day. It was a 5 to 7 hour round trip, – pretty brutal, but I think my commitment to the cause was appreciated! After the first five weeks, we went on a month-long hiatus, so I had plenty of time to prepare for the move. The first season is in production till sometime in March, so I’m staying in an Airbnb in East Harlem. “
Q: Like you, Floyd Bishop and Tom Warburton graduated from KU and had success in animation. Where did most animators you work with study?
Brian: SVA is the one I hear brought up most often.
Q: What is a typical day like? Do you work on one particular character or facet of the cartoon? Do you use specialized software?
“I’m not sure how much of our workflow I’m allowed to talk about, but I can say I work entirely in the realm of hand-drawn character animation. I don’t do any of the puppeting or rigging. We’re animating in Adobe Photoshop so our files can be imported into Adobe Character Animator, a brand new software.”
Q: Can you share some of your sketches?
Brian: Sure! Work stuff is a bit too top-secret, but here’s some recent sketchpad doodles!
Q: What is Steven Colbert like?
Brian: “I’ve only met him a couple times. First time, I was walking from the bathroom back to my desk. I was alone in the hallway and heard a voice behind me shout, “Hi there!” I turned around, and he was sticking his head out the elevator door with a big grin on his face, clearly with the intention to startle the hell out of me and leave me star struck. “
“The second time was at the Late Show holiday party. A coworker and I drunkenly thanked him for our awesome job. He was super cool about it and talked to us for a minute and took selfies with us and a few dozen other people. He just seems like a super nice dude and an average Joe in the best possible way. It’s one of those things that never quite feels real, so it’s hard to truly appreciate.”
Brian can’t talk plot, but Showtime reveals a bit about the show’s first episode: “The President tries to revive his low approval ratings by delivering the greatest State of the Union speech in history and to strengthen his relationship with First Lady Melania by naming her the national bird.”
Brian can’t tell us much more about his work. However, Our Cartoon President‘s lead animator Tim Luecke shares much about process in this cool Adobe video.
Our Cartoon President, Feb.11 on SHO, or on demand beginning Jan. 28. Could it be funnier than a White House Press conference? Let’s see! New subscribers can get a free 7-day trial of the Showtime app. Tell ’em Brian Martin sent you.
P.S. I contacted Floyd Bishop, now an artist at Microsoft, who taught Brian animation at Kutztown. Floyd says, “Brian pushed himself to tackle tough challenges, and grew his skills faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. Whatever he gets involved with is going to be great!”
In Illustration 1 class, we added a bit of motion to our art using Photoshop gifs. Shout out to Prof. Dannell MacIlwraith for teaching me how to make a gif loop.
Amanda Collins, artwork above, sits alongside Mia Clark, artwork below. Both focused on nostrils, oddly enough.
Ashley Ferguson animated one of her 3 icons, or “tricons,” as they are called here. Not sure what sort of lifeform this is, but looks to be dancing on a very magic mushroom.
Haeley Vernon imagined a green smoke enveloping a purple skull encrusted with crystals, something you don’t see every day. Yow!
Rachel Lefko began working on an ambitious animation of a cliff diver. I hope she completes it someday. Meanwhile, she delivered this quirky item, The Devil Knitting.
The gif assignment was a first for these juniors and the results were fun. Coming full circle back to nostrils, Todd Weber produced a somewhat snotty image, below.
Gif illustrations have definitely gone mainstream. The New York Times digital edition runs gif versions of art that appears static in the print edition of the newspaper. Check out this link for the animated version of the art below by Peter and Maria Hoey. By the way, Peter Hoey is a successful Kutztown University illustration grad, BFA 1982. So, we expect great things from the current crop of students.
Art for NY Times by Peter Hoey and Maria Hoey. Click through to see in gif form. Teachers in TIAA retirement plans, like me, may find the story eye-opening.
Illustrator Ryan Lynn, 2006, BFA, Communication Design, is doing fine, thanks. I remember covering my ears when Ryan’s punk band, The Aurora, rocked the Trexlertown Grange, around 2005. His music career may have faded, but his artistic energy certainly hasn’t waned. He just completed the biggest illustration job of his career. His slightly-retro super-graphic style is the perfect match for this project.
He writes, “I was approached by Miller Lite to create a series of illustrations for 15 NFL teams that were to appear on posters, billboards, and other materials in each NFL team’s market. These illustrations were created in the Miller Lite illustration style that I helped establish in their Summer Poster Campaign.
As a huge NFL fan, it was awesome to get to work on this series and immerse myself in each NFL team’s colors, attitude, and traditions.
Question: How did this job come to you?
Ryan: I’ve been working with Miller Lite’s agency of record for about a year. I got an email from them one day out of the blue asking if I could do a poster series for the summer (the dragon and octopus, plus a robot one that never got finished). After that, I kept working with them on some billboards and trade show graphics before getting the NFL series.
Q: How long did it take?
Ryan: It was a tight turnaround – 15 posters took around 5 straight months without weekends or holidays. I even had to skip a cousin’s wedding!
Q: You are an Eagles fan, but strictly from a graphics point of view, which image is your favorite?
Ryan: I’m pretty happy with how they all turned out. If I had to pick, I like the Ravens because it has a lot of detail. The Steelers is cool, too.
Q: What size is your original art?
Ryan: They are all the same size 24” x 36”. Each poster also has a landscape version as well. The final illustrations had to be vector so their team could put them on billboards, buildings and whatever else.
Q: Have you gone to any of the Stadiums to see these?
Ryan: Not yet! I don’t know if they all are going to be in their stadiums. I know the Atlanta Falcons illustration is in their stadium bar and there was talk of the Texans putting theirs on a mural, but I don’t know.
Ryan: Miller Lite illustrations for Major League Baseball!
Thanks, Ryan. All I can say is “Wow!” Your artwork is solid and just right for NFL.
Visit Ryan’s website and shop to snag listed edition sic-fi art and gig posters for as at little as $20. Ryan is still into music. Below is his poster for Cruisr, the hit band that includes two KU design grads, Andy States and Jon Van Dine.
As the semester begins, I warn new students that illustration is a very tough field. Like acting, -the world only needs so many movie stars. On the other hand, I should share success stories of grads doing great work in illustration. Here are a few stellar grads.Take 2017 grad Heather Fox, for example. She made a zine that debuted at MoccaFest 2016. Then she self-published via Amazon’s CreateSpace. She created a retelling of one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, The Elephant’s Nose. She collaborated with her boyfriend Jonathan Stutzman on these projects. Now they have an agent and a real book deal with Putman books for Butts Are Everywhere! I wrote more about Heather and her talented classmate Meredith Shriner here.
Tom Whalen’s collector tix for Rogue One
Tom Whalen, KU CD, 1996, is one of the greatest vector-illustrators in the country. He has worked for major entertainment studios including Disney, Lucasfilm, Paramount, Marvel, DC, and Warner Bros. Above are his collector’s tickets for Rogue One’s theatrical release. Below is one of his posters for Disney/Pixar.
Tom Whalen’s work can be found at Strongstuff.net. Below is a screen grab from his site to give a window into his versatility and prodigious output.
Amanda Geisinger, a 2008 grad from Pottstown, won an Emmy for her work at Nick Digital, part of the Nickelodeon empire. She works on Times Square with Spongebob and other celebrities. Back in 2010, I interviewed her for a blog post I titled, What’s Spongebob Really Like.
See more of Amanda’s work including cool gifs like the one below at her website, AmandaGeisinger.com
The insanely-talented Chris Sickels came from rural Indiana to rural Pennsylvania with a suitcase full of strange characters. He let me play with his dolls. – Me and a roomful of artists attending his workshop for the UCDA Summit at Kutztown University.
Chris Sickels is Red Nose Studio. The studio is known for 3-D illustration and experimental animation. “I don’t think of myself as an animator,” said Chris, “but as an animation enthusiast.” And his enthusiasm is contagious.
Chris gave us a rapid demonstration of how he shoots still frames on his Canon SLR and animates in Photoshop. After the demo he divided us into pairs.
I got paired with Prof. Brytton Bjorngaard of U of Illinois, Springfield. We tore up scrap paper, bits of a Brillo pad, and using Chris’s model plus some masking tape and florist’s wire we made a film. Our 20-frame film is so extremely short that by the time you say the title, Professor Cigar, it is starting over. See below:
It was a wonderful learning experience. I was lucky to work with Brytton, a whiz at both analog and digital media. A one-woman art and design department, she has taught animation and everything else. She ably used Photoshop’s Healing Brush Tool to clean up the frames where the Professor’s stray wire was showing, see below.
Seven other short films by newbie animators were created by noon and then we had a mini-film festival. Thanks to KU Prof. Josh Miller, the Program Director for the 2017 UCDA Summit. He did a wonderful job planning the event. Kathy Sue Traylor, the CD Dept Office manager, did a great job at event planning. The wine tour was a hit. Even I, a designated driver, enjoyed it. Nearly 100 conference attendees came from all over the country, a few even flew from China for the event.
Do visit Red Nose Studio and check out more wonderful Lo-Fi animation here.
Our last blog post featured recent illustration grad Meredith Shriner. Chris Sickels signed The Secret Subway, one of his children’s books for Meredith as Prof Cunfer looked on. His books are as marvelous as his animations and another way to become acquainted with his extraordinary imagination.
There was more to the UCDA conference, but Chris’s workshop was a high point. We will leave you with a a photo of KU CD grad, James Pannafino, now a prof of Interactive Design at Millersville U of PA. He worked with Prof. Denise Bosler, chair of the KU CD Dept. Believe me, they made this little bellhop hop!
Chris Sickels keeps busy making award-winning illustratios. He only does one or two workshops a year. If you ever have the chance to participate in one, do it!