Guest Post: Christopher Cheng on the Behind the Scenes Scoop at SCBWI Bologna

By Christopher Cheng
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Every second year the SCBWI hosts a booth at the Bologna Book Fair…the biggest children’s books exhibition and rights fair in the world. It’s all about rights and networking and for SCBWI members who are at Bologna a home away from home!

Bologna, with its five halls of publishers and their books, can be mind boggling for the first-time visitor.

This year the SCBWI hosted a spectacular booth with eye-popping panels, and it was double the size of our previous booths. We were able to showcase our PAL member’s books along with information on the rights available for each; to hold portfolio critiques; and display the finalists (and hold public voting) for our Bologna Illustrator’s Gallery in a comfortable and very appealing environment.

The digital catalogue and also the Bologna Illustrators Gallery are now online, embedded in the SCBWI Bologna site showcasing our members’ works to the world.

Our Dueling Illustrators was also once again a huge hit!

For an inside look at the 2016 Bologna Book Fair check out:

and the Publishers Weekly article

Already planning has begun for our next SCBWI Bologna appearance which will be in 2018. Once again we will have our Bologna Illustrators Gallery contest, the digital catalogue of all the PAL books displayed, portfolio critiques, as well as a whole lot more.

Cynsational Notes

More on Chris Cheng

With
more than 35 titles in traditional and digital formats, including
picture books, non-fiction, historical fiction, a musical libretto and
an animation storyline, Christopher Cheng is well experienced in Australian children’s literature.

He conducts workshops and residences for children and adults and holds
an M.A. in Children’s Literature. He is a board member for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and on the International Advisory Board and co-regional advisor (Australia and New Zealand) for the SCBWI.

A recipient of the SCBWI Member of the Year and the Lady Cutler Award
for services to children’s literature, Chris is a devoted advocate of
children’s literature, speaking at festivals worldwide.

Christopher will be covering the children’s-YA book scene in Australia, New Zealand and across Asia for Cynsations. Read an interview with Christopher.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Paul O. Zelinsky

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Paul O. Zelinsky grew up in Wilmette, Illinois; the son of a mathematics professor father and a medical illustrator mother. He drew compulsively from an early age, but did not know until college that this would be his career. 

As a sophomore at Yale College, he enrolled in a course on the history and practice of the picture book, co-taught by an English professor and Maurice Sendak. This experience inspired Paul to point himself in the direction of children’s books. His first book appeared in 1978, since which time he has become recognized as one of the most inventive and critically successful artists in the field. 

He now lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York. They have two grown daughters.

Among many other awards and prizes, he received the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his illustrated retelling of Rapunzel, as well as Caldecott Honors for three of his books: Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995).

Spring is the season of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, so I thought I would focus on the business side of illustration today. Can you tell us about how you as an illustrator are selected to work on a picture book project?

Other than through the occasional subliminal suggestion I plant in the illustrations of my published books (painting “HIRE ME!” upside down in the trees outside of Rapunzel’s tower and so on), I don’t know how I get chosen.

My work looks awfully different from book to book, but I imagine that an editor or art director who ends up contacting me is thinking of one look in particular, and they might mention that to me, though they may not end up getting it. Also, from my third book on, I have tended to keep working with people I’ve worked with before, so those publishers know more what they’re getting into. On my end, what happens is that I get a call or an email. 

Could you describe your involvement in the process, from the time you are contacted about a new project, through the creation of the illustrations, to the finished book?

I usually want to stick my nose into all stages of the creation and production processes, but as I try to do it in a nice way and, I hope, not out of a personal need for control but in the spirit of collaboration, I’ve rarely had trouble.

So it usually begins for me when I get a phone call or email from a publisher, either asking if I’m available or just sending a manuscript, and I can sometimes tell pretty quickly if I think it’s a good idea for me on or not. Sometimes I don’t know and I mull.

My first criterion (and I’m sorry if this seems pompous) is whether the story makes me think that our overcrowded world, with no shortage of books in it already, would be notably worse off without this new addition. (Which is sort of like saying how much do I like it, but not quite). Then I imagine what kind of art I’d like to see illustrating the manuscript and at that point I can usually tell whether I’d get excited by the prospect of trying to make that kind of art.

Then, if it’s a go, come all the stages you probably know about in the making of an illustrated book. If it’s a picture book, that means breaking the manuscript up into pieces that fit in a 32- or 40-page book (publisher tells me what’s possible)—not a simple job if you want to do it right.

At the same time, I try to imagine the best size and proportion for this book, long before having any idea of the content of its pictures. Then with text decided for each spread I’ll very, very crudely rough out an array of thumbnail sketches, trying to establish the dynamic of the storytelling through the pictures, the content and composition of each illustration.

After or during that time, I’ll be casting around for what the characters should look like, and I’ll be thinking about the style I want the drawings to display. This is intimately connected to the choice of medium, so I’m thinking about that, too, and probably doing a lot of testing on scratch paper.

If I get the thumbnail sketches working, I’ll go to a full-sized, or at least not-so-little dummy, in black pencil, with text placed on the pages.

The dummy can be very rough, too, and I am generally willing to risk showing it to the publisher even before, say, I have any idea of what the characters will look like.

I like feedback, and things like pacing can be judged without other important features yet in place. I might also put the pictures together with text in InDesign, at least as a preliminary version before the art director gets to work on it.

When the designer does join in, I’ll want to be part of her or his process, too. Then there is research, refining sketches, working out color, checking with editor and art director all along, and working and working and working on finished art.

How involved is the art director or author in determining the style of the artwork for a particular project?

The style of my artwork has to be determined by me, to the extent that I can control it. I think the author should have a role in choosing an illustrator, and if there’s a wish to have the book look a certain way, that could be part of the manuscript’s presentation to me at the outset. But in fact this rarely happens. I think publishers are interested in seeing what I come up with.

It has happened that after seeing what I come up with, they aren’t convinced. Then it becomes a conversation, or a discussion, or a debate, in which at the end everybody needs to be on the same side. And I can be convinced that I was wrong, at least if I was wrong.



Do you ever revise your illustrations based on feedback from the art director or for other reasons?

I make lots of changes based on suggestions. Art directors and editors I work with often have great ideas that I didn’t think of, or can point out features in my drawings that I then realize were not so great. I believe we are all devoted, at base, to creating the best possible book. So if I’m given a suggestion that I don’t feel good about, I will say why, and another conversation can begin.

I will try to convince the other parties that I have important and valid reasons for seeing things my way, or point out (if it’s the case) that their suggestions might have problems they may not be considering, and at the same time they’ll do the same to me.

In the end, with very few, minor exceptions, I don’t think any book I’ve worked on has left anybody feeling that the wrong path was taken.



What is the typical timeline, from receiving a commission, to submitting the completed artwork to the publisher?

I’ve rarely managed to finish illustrating a book in less than a year. That has been about the average, I think, but I’m usually not able to start work on a manuscript right when I receive it, so it’s hard to pin down the time it takes when I’ve got a couple of projects waiting to be begun for a couple of years, and I’m already thinking about all of them a little.

You have said in the past that you have created many of your picture book illustrations using oil paints. When that is the case, how is the final artwork submitted to the publisher?

Art that isn’t digital to begin with needs to be scanned, and it is still the case that publishers use scanners or cameras of a higher quality than almost any individual illustrator would have access to.

I’ve talked to some younger illustrators who scan their reflective art and deliver electronically, without even considering that they could or should deliver the actual art on paper. That is really the preferable way to go.
Oil paints have the reputation of not drying, but my oils are usually dry within a day, or at least dry to the touch. There is an additive you can put in your painting medium to speed the drying, and if I’m running very late I will sometimes mix in a little more of this desiccant, or I will avoid painting with pigments I know are slow-drying and favor the faster ones, if possible.

Although I won’t scan my own oil paintings (my scanner picks up reflections on oil paint’s shiny surface for every little textury bump in the paper), I’m not above asking for the high resolution files that the publisher gets from their scanner, and sometimes even before first proofs, going in digitally to fix things I didn’t manage to do correctly in the art.

After a book is released, what kinds of promotional activities do you as the illustrator engage in to support its release?

The more the merrier, I say. I’m on Twitter (@paulozelinsky) and Instagram (paulozelinsky) anyway, and while I don’t like self-promotional posts, when a new book is coming out, there is plenty of interesting information to share. I go on Facebook, too, but only privately for my personal account. I would prefer that people I don’t know personally “Like” my Facebook author page.

Z Is For Moose fabric, suitable size for quilt

I’ve had some ideas for contests and a raffle for prints of the cover art of a book. Sometimes the publisher has given me great support and help. But I’ve also done a raffle or two on my own.

In general I do these things because they seem like cool things to do; I don’t know if they have in any way helped sales—in fact I doubt it. Also, I like to create a repeating design based on almost every new book, and have it printed on fabric (at spoonflower.com). People can purchase it on their own, by the yard (though they don’t), and I can have some of made into a shirt or a vest (which I do). Not so long ago I couldn’t decide on color choices in one of these patterns, so I conducted an online vote; that was fun.

An additional layer of attention has sometimes become available to me that would be harder for most illustrators to garner, in that a few of these larks I’ve gone on were interesting enough that Publishers Weekly has written about them, or the Horn Book. But only after a friend pushed me into asking these journals if they’d like to write about it.

I’ve made ties that go with my books, as well as shirts and a couple of vests, and I wear this special apparel (in moderation!) whenever there’s an appropriate event.

And yes, school visits are great. I love to do them with or without a new book. There is nothing better than to see groups of children appreciating the very things you spent so much time and effort on in the solitude of your studio, a year or more earlier.

When it comes to visiting schools I tend to be passive, waiting to be asked, but it’s not out of line to approach and let schools know you’re available if they’re interested. School visits not related to a book tour are a source of income; as part of a book tour, arranged by an independent bookseller, I’m happy to give one presentation to a school, but not the three or four I’d give if it were a paid arrangement.

Are there some new releases we should look out for?

Actually, no. It will be a long time before anything new comes out. After the recent Toys Meet Snow, it’s going to be quite a while until the next thing.

But one brand-new release that is partly mine is the 75th anniversary edition of Make Way for Ducklings. I was very honored and excited (you can imagine) to be asked to draw a pictorial map of Boston that would be included with the book and a CD recording in a boxed set. That edition is just out now, I think.

I had a wonderful time researching what Boston looked like in 1941 (if felt like detective work), and illustrating parts of the story in the appropriate parts of my map, which is really an aerial view as much as it is a map. My drawing didn’t reproduce every single building in and around Beacon Hill, and I had to squash some blocks down in size for the picture to fit the proportions of the paper, but it’s pretty faithful to reality, I’d say.

You’re going to be one of our dueling illustrators at the SCBWI booth at the 2016 Bologna Children’s Book Fair. How often have you visited BCBF?

Publishers always told me, when I asked about Bologna, that going there was not something I would want to do, or should. It was only for brusque, publisher-to-publisher deal-making and if I went I would be in the way.

I first came to Bologna anyway in 2006, because after planning a family trip to Venice, I decided to look up the Bologna fair and discovered that it started immediately after we were going to leave Venice, and Bologna was an easy train trip away. And then a friend told me that SCBWI was holding a full-scale pre-conference in Bologna on the weekend leading up to the fair. I was able to get a spot on a panel, and then when I asked publishers again, they told me I should go after all, and helped me find a hotel room (almost impossible just a month before the fair). And I enjoyed it tremendously!

So after that first wonderful time there, I’ve been going back almost every other year, and continuing to enjoy it tremendously. Where else can you see virtually every children’s book published in the world in the previous year? I see a lot of editors that I know, as well as the great SCBWI community, so it’s an occasion to hang out with friends, and I must say that eating is a large part of the pleasure.

I think the Bologna fair has been changing, and now you see a greater presence of book creators among the sub-rights sales force and the editors. Mostly these are just people coming on their own, but now very occasionally they are even being sent by their publishers.

SCBWI isn’t putting on Bologna pre-conferences any longer, but they have an active booth at Bolognafiere every other year. Of course my favorite activity is the dueling illustrators tradition, which is huge fun. And this year the booth is bigger than ever before.

How can visits to fairs such as BCBF benefit an illustrator’s career?

I haven’t used my trips to the fair in a practical or useful way from the point of view of career-helping. But I’ve seen illustrators come away with publishing deals: it can happen though I’m not positive how it’s done.

SCBWI itself can facilitate this, because you can arrange for a period of time when you sit in the booth and basically represent your books to passersby like all of the other publishers with booths there.

There’s also a wall at the fair for illustrators to put up their promotional cards, and publishers look through them (although there are so many cards by the end of the fair that it seems like an awfully long shot).

European publishers set up periods for open portfolio-viewing, and illustrators line up with their work in hand, to be seen by an art director in the flesh.

Do you have any advice for a first-time visitor to BCBF?

If you have published already, and are thinking of visiting Bologna, definitely ask for advice from your U,S, publisher. If you have ever had a book picked up by a foreign publisher, it would be a great thing to arrange to meet that publisher’s representatives in Bologna. This will make you more of a real person to that publisher rather than just a subsidiary right they purchased.

SCBWI offers various good opportunities to get your work seen, so definitely arrange your visit with SCBWI in mind. Even if you’re not trying to network or push your career forward, hanging out (and eating out!) with SCBWI folk is reason enough to make the visit a fun time. Many but by no means all of them are of US origin, but they live all around the world.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Bologna, apart from visiting the BCBF?

Did I mention eating? Well, other than that, Bologna has some fantastic museums. Besides the main art museum (the Pinatoteca) there is a fabulous Medieval museum.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a museum devoted entirely to the generally under-appreciated painter Morandi, although I think it may be closed temporarily and its collection shifted to the Modern Art Museum. There is plenty more to do in Bologna, and don’t forget about the eating.

People say that Bolognese food is the best in Italy, and although that kind of claim is sort of meaningless, it is probably also true.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. It was great to see you at the Book Fair. I really enjoyed watching your duel with Doug Cushman at the SCBWI booth during the fair!

Thank you! The pleasure is mine.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up
in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in
England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in
Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board
games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Laura Stitzel

Laura with her cat, Milk

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Laura Stitzel is an independent artist in Melbourne, Australia. She has been working as an illustrator, designer and animator in Australia and Canada since 2007.

Working mainly for children’s television, Laura was recently part of the creative team at one of North America’s largest animation studios in Toronto, Canada.

 There she worked on the Emmy Award™ winning “Peg + Cat,” and led the painting department on “Arthur,'” the world’s longest running children’s television series.

In her home of Melbourne, Australia, Laura has also illustrated and animated on a wide range of media including educational interactive projects, video games, advertisements, and television.

In her own illustrations, Laura’s work shines a light on animals and their place in our world. Creating artworks with a uniquely vintage style, Laura’s illustrations feature detailed pen and ink ornamentation and hand-lettering, paired with cheeky characters and cute creatures.

Congratulations on being awarded a SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery Honorable Mention for your illustration “A Little Nonsense”!

Thank you, I’m just delighted!

You have a varied background as an illustrator – can you tell us about the different types of projects you’ve worked on?

My training is in animation. I’ve been working in the animation industry in both Melbourne and Toronto since 2007. I’m primarily a background artist, and I also animate and design characters and props. I’ve worked on children’s television programs as well as interactive projects and print media.

When I’m not working on these big projects I like to keep creating my own illustrations that have my own style.

What mediums do you work in? Does this vary depending on the type of project (print vs. website vs. television/animation)?

It does vary project to project. For my own illustrations, I always use pen and ink along with watercolour or digital painting. Sometimes there is no digital input at all, sometimes just for touch-ups.

When I’m working for an animation studio, the process is almost entirely digital. I’m an avid Photoshop enthusiast. I love figuring out ways to imitate real painting and drawing techniques in Photoshop. This was a big part of my role on the children’s show Arthur, during its transition from cell animation to digital. I developed a new process for the painting team and created digital brushes to best recreate the original look of the beloved show. It was a great experience.

Of course there are exceptions, I was lucky enough to create some artwork for “Peg + Cat,” which is made using gouache and pencil and then scanned in for animation. Sitting in a modern animation studio and painting was quite surreal – and a real delight.

Do you have a favorite medium or illustration tool?

Absolutely – fine liners. I love using ink and I get the best results using a handful of fine liners with variations in thickness. I use black, brown and sepia. I just love that I can do both fine details and bold outlines.

I’m a big fan of old fashioned rendering techniques like stippling and cross hatching. I also use a nib pen sometimes, but it’s a lot less predictable – which is sometimes a good thing.

When I’m doing my roughs in pencil, my other cant-live-without tool is an eraser stick. With a ‘sharpened’ eraser, I can erase in a very fine line, which I use to carve gaps in or clean up my messy pencil line work. So it’s like I have two drawing tools – a pencil for grey and an eraser for white – genius!

Can you tell us about your typical creative process?

Sure. Once I have an idea for an illustration that I’m happy with, I draw a quick rough sketch to work out the story, the poses and the composition. Then I dive into references. I have loads of books of vintage advertisements and posters from the early 1900s, and I can’t do without them. I’ll use them to get ideas for a border, or a rendering technique, a font, a little ornamental decoration or even a character’s clothing.

If I’m doing hand lettering I’ll often go online to find the perfect font, and I also use Google Images for references for animals. How anybody ever drew without Google Images, I’ll never know. Then I rough out my line work in pencil. I use tracing paper a lot to mirror decorative elements or shift parts around. Then, when I’m ready – I go over all my line work in pen, and do some passes of watercolour. I often draw in layers, then scan them in and assemble them in Photoshop.

Lastly, I digitally apply any finishing touches. I’ll usually leave it and come back to it the next day with fresh eyes and find a few little things I want to change.

Does it vary depending on what kind of project you are working on?

Of course when I’m working for an animation studio, the creative process is dictated by the established style of the show, and by tight deadlines! That means there is less individual freedom, but I’m creating part of a larger vision which is immensely satisfying.

However, there are parts of my own creative process that I bring to a studio environment. I’m always a believer in taking time to rough out a plan and to look at references before diving in.

Taking a step back and reassessing an image’s readability is also very important.

Of course with studio work I can’t always leave something overnight, but I have little tricks – such as always having the Navigator in Photoshop visible, so I can keep seeing my image at a glance and making sure it works.

We’d love to hear more about your winning illustration “A Little Nonsense.” Was it part of a larger project, or is it a stand-alone piece?

This piece is a stand-alone work – but it is one of a few illustrations I’ve created using quotes from the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Mr. Wonka’s dialogue is smattered with literary references, and I’ve used a handful of them over the years. So I guess I have borrowed quotes from a character who borrows quotes from everyone else!

I intended for the characters in the illustration to be familiar from old stories and nursery rhymes, but not specific to one film or book. For example there is a little piggie eating roast beef, there’s an owl and a pussycat, and there’s a fox in a bandit mask. They’re all on some kind of adventure together that we don’t really know about, but we might imagine it.

By pairing these characters with the quote – ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men’ – I’m saying that imagined characters and stories mean something to all of us, they have a place in our world and they’re important.

What was the medium and the creative process for this illustration?

I illustrated the characters, the border and the lettering using my beloved fine liners, and painted the colour in Photoshop. The colour palette I borrowed from a 1917 advertisement for McCallum Silk Hosiery.

I love colour theory and finding out why some colours work together and others don’t, and I wanted to see if I could appropriate an established colour palette. I don’t usually reference something quite so directly – I also borrowed the sun and fish! – but it was an experiment and I’m happy with how it turned out.

What is a typical creative session like for you?

Just so much fun. I give myself a few dedicated hours to cut off from the world. I always put on loud music and sing terribly.

I find the pencil stage makes me a bit anxious – what if I can’t get on the page what I can see in my head? But the inking stage is pure bliss – I’m in my own world, what they call ‘flow’. I usually draw way longer into the night than I ever intended and regret it the next day.

Do you have a dedicated place that you like to create?

No, actually I don’t! I like to move around a lot, and it’s very important to me that I can create no matter where I am and no matter my surroundings. I have a fairly portable drawing board and a laptop.

In the past few years, I have traveled a lot and get my best ideas when I’m out discovering the world, so it’s important to me that I can draw and create in a variety of spaces.

Some of my favourite illustrations I’ve done in a sketchbook propped on my lap on a bumpy train ride, waiting in an airport, lying in a park, or wearing earbuds in one of the world’s many coffee shops.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today! I look forward to seeing more of your illustrations in the future.

Thanks for having me!

Cynsational Notes

Find Laura on Facebook at facebook.com/lauradrawsart.

Elisabeth Norton grew up
in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in
England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in
Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board
games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Lisa Anchin

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Lisa Anchin has been drawing since she could hold a pencil and making up stories since she could speak. 

She grew up just outside of New York City, passing briefly through Massachusetts where she picked up a B.A. from Smith College, and then she returned to New York to work and to later pursue additional graduate degrees—an MA at Columbia and an MFA at the School of Visual Arts. 

Lisa now freelances full time as an illustrator and designer. She is the illustrator of A Penguin Named Patience by Suzanne Lewis (Sleeping Bear, 2015). Her second illustrated book, I Will Love You, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli will be released in spring 2017 (Scholastic). 

When not in her studio, she can be found haunting one of the many cafes of the five boroughs, sitting with a bucket of tea and scribbling in her sketchbook. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner in crime and a not-so-little black cat.

Congratulations on your work “Happy Birthday Fox,” being selected as a finalist for SCBWI’s Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery. It’s on display at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. What was the inspiration behind Happy Birthday Fox?

I’ve been trying to expand my palette, so as an exercise, I’ve started picking colors that I don’t generally use then planning an illustration based on those colors.

“Happy Birthday Fox” was one of these painting exercises.

The mustard, aqua, orange, bright magenta, and lime green felt like party colors.

But rather than the moment of the party itself, I wanted to illustrate that contented, happy sigh moment that comes after the party has ended.

You are the illustrator of A Penguin Named Patience (Sleeping Bear, 2015). What was it like illustrating your first children’s book? Were there any unexpected developments?

A Penguin Named Patience was my first illustrated book and an interesting challenge.

Serendipitously, I actually received the offer only a few days before I left for a trip to New Orleans for an illustrator’s weekend. While I was there, my fellow illustrators generously agreed to accompany me on a visit the Audubon Aquarium, so I could take reference photos.

I was able to photograph the penguin enclosure and the South African penguins featured in in the book. That was a really luck coincidence, and then the publisher also sent additional images of Tom, the penguins’ keeper, and videos of the penguins’ triumphant return to New Orleans.

I had never made such a large body of work on a single subject before. That in and of itself was an experience. Before I began work on the final pieces, I did quite a few character studies and color tests. I wanted to make sure that everything would be consistent throughout the book.

Overall it was a really wonderful experience. Not to mention, drawing penguins is a pretty great way to spend your workday.

Tell us about your school visits? I imagine students are excited to learn about Patience and the other penguins who were rescued after hurricane Katrina.

My school visits have been really rewarding. The first one I did was actually at my old elementary school. The kids I’ve spoken with are always excited that the book is based on a true story, and that Patience was a real penguin living at the aquarium at the time of the storm.

After reading the story together and answering their questions about the reality of what happened and the making of the book, I like to draw with the kids. I usually start by talking about South African penguins before taking them through the basic steps to draw Patience.

With older kids, I can also talk about storytelling, character development, and how to visually emphasize your protagonist, especially when all of your characters are a single type of animal and all look very similar. I love watching the kids draw and seeing the characters they imagine and create.

What is a typical work day like for you?

On studio days—I also freelance at a publisher doing book design during the week—I’m usually at my desk by nine. I set aside some time in the morning to take care of business related things—emails, invoices, etc.—and then I begin with warm-up sketches.

Sometimes these are drawings of the characters for the project I’m currently working on, but usually I use it as free drawing time. Often these open, sketch-anything moments lead to nuggets of ideas for future stories.

After my warm-ups, I dive into work, which ranges from writing, thumbnailing images for a new dummy, sketching, working on color studies, or painting a final piece.

The actual work of the day depends on where I am in a project. I try to take small breaks as I work—for a new cup of tea, to play with my cat, or just to stand up and stretch—and I always take a long walk in the middle of the day, which inevitably includes a stop at the library three blocks from my apartment on my way home.

What are you working on now?

As of this week, I just finished the art for a new book called I Will Love You, written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and being published by Scholastic in the spring of 2017. It’s a lovely story, told from a parent/care-giver to a child. The text uses beautiful, lyrical language, and is a non-linear narrative, which allowed me to stretch my imagination. It was a joy to illustrate.

I’m also working on a number of my own stories, and I often have a few in progress.

If I get stuck on one project, I can put it aside and work on another until I’m ready to return to the first.

Right now I’m juggling work on an entirely new manuscript with revisions on two book dummies—one is a story about a precocious little plant and her garden and the second features a character that I’ve been calling Little Viking.

Do you have advice for artists who are just getting started in the field of children’s illustration?

Childhood Painter

First and foremost, join SCBWI. Between the conferences, the technical and professional information, and the community, the organization provides an unparalleled wealth of resources for someone new to the field. I owe much of my career to SCBWI, and I specifically want to emphasize the importance of the community generated by SCBWI.

As illustrators and writers, our work is largely solitary, and it’s so important to find a group of like-minded folks. They can both provide moral support on those hard-to-work-through days of doubt, and also honest feedback on your work.

If you don’t yet have an agent, editor, or art director to turn to for creative feedback, it’s helpful to have critiques from peers. I still look to my illustration critique group for a first round of editing and feedback well before I pitch a new story or dummy to my agent.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People.

Angela coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery Winner Interview: Rongyuan (Roya) Ma

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations


Providence-based illustrator Rongyuan Ma is originally from China. She is a graduate of the Children’s Book Illustration Certificate Program at Rhode Island School of Design, an elected member of Art League of Rhode Island, and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

She has won a series of awards that include 3×3 Contemporary Magazine (Bronze Medal), Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles (Gold Award), China Animation & Comic Competition Golden Dragon Award (Gold Medal), winner of Ann Barrow Scholarship, and finalist of Art Idol Figure Design Competition. 

Her works also have received accolades from institutions/organizations such as the “The Artist’s Magazine,” Danforth Museum of Art, and SCBWI.

Congratulations on your illustration “Daughter of the Dragon” being selected as the winner of SCBWI’s Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery! How long have you been illustrating?

Honestly I cannot remember exactly how long. I grew up in China when most parents felt slightly ashamed and deeply concerned to have an emerging artist in the family.

My mother used to take drastic measures to stop me from becoming one. Of course that did not work. In fact, it made me more determined to pursue my dream of art. Looking back, I am quite content with what I have become through these years.

Do you have a favorite illustration medium and/or tools?

Recently I have a newfound interest in watercolor, besides my long-time favorite of brush and ink. I am planning on using only charcoal pencil for my next project. Not to mention that I like computer graphics, too, and am pretty familiar with it.

In fact, I am really fascinated by all media, tools, and techniques. I don’t want to limit myself by drawing a line between what I can and cannot use. If possible, I would like to have opportunities to try all sorts of new medium, as I love the feeling realizing “Oh that’s how it works.” It’s just like gaining a new friendship.

What is your typical process for creating an illustration?

Brainstorming the overall composition, posture of the characters, sources of lighting and the vision angles. This is my “Step One”, and then there it is, the long creation process. To me, this initial part is the most challenging.

As an illustrator, I am creating something out of thin air: from an abstract concept to a depicted visual image. I really value the instantaneous inspiration that strikes me, showing me the composition and the perspective of the picture, what visual angle applies, where the light comes from, and so forth. That instant blueprint flashes in my head usually determines what my final work looks like. And, with such a scheme, the following part of the process, such as outlining and coloring, will flow naturally, which makes the whole creative process quite enjoyable.

However, as much as I try, that transient Eureka! moment does not guarantee to honor me every time I brainstorm.

Does this process or the tools you use vary between projects?

Yes, and no to this question. “Yes”, with my great curiosity in diverse methods and approaches, the creative process itself or the media/tools involved in it may vary significantly. Every artwork has its “voice” to be heard, and it demands distinctive interpretation.

I personally don’t think there is a panacea for all tasks: solution α might be the least effective for problem β. As I said, I am keen on finding the particular expression that makes the voice stronger.

Yet, “No” is that no matter how different the projects are, there is something unchanged in all processes: the brainstorm at the very beginning, which I called “the enlightening phase”.

Is this how you created your winning illustration, “Daughter of the Dragon”?

Yes, “Daughter of the Dragon” went through such a process. It is the first spread of the whole storyboard, so I figure it has more responsibility than other pages in terms of fulfilling purposes such as introducing the character, setting the background and atmosphere of the story, and appealing to the reader in a visual way.

Technically, the illustration was done mainly with traditional media of brush, ink and gouache on 22″ x 11″ board paper for the drawing part.

I even used a tooth brush to create a certain richness of texture before scanning into my computer for finishing up.

“Daughter of the Dragon” is beautiful! Can you tell us about your inspiration for this particular illustration?

“Daughter of the Dragon” is a retelling of a Chinese folktale about a
young dragon girl leaving the sea to join the much loved Lantern
Festival but having underestimated how different and complicated the
human world could be.

To be more believable, the main character was modeled after my daughter, who was born not too long before the making of this illustration.

I was trying to blend in metaphors and symbolism to this piece in order to best interpret the manuscript: I use lotus, a Buddhist symbol which grows up from mud, through water, into air, still remaining stunningly beautiful with faith, to signify the characteristic of transcendence of our protagonist.

So daughter of the dragon must triumph over all challenges and follow her heart to go somewhere she had yearned for. In particular, the red scarf hints at her passion and determination.

Is it part of a larger work such as a picture book or was it created as a stand-alone piece?

The illustration is from the same titled children’s picture book that I
cooperated with my husband. He writes and I illustrate. “Daughter of the
Dragon” is the first full spread among other illustrations in the
picture book. 

Where do you like to create?

It depends on what phase I am in during the process. Though the “enlightening phase” requires full alert and deep contemplation, I strangely prefer to do it somewhere outside home, likely with crowd and noise, for instance, a small cafe or even a busy restaurant. I feel more engaged and motivated with such populous effects, thus I am more efficient in finding the idea that sparkles.

After succeeding in getting the satisfactory design of the project, my choice for creative space is the least flexible: home and home only. I think many may agree with me that the creating process itself can get very lonely and stressful. So an environment that is familiar and also comforting and supportive will help tremendously.

I do have my work space at home, with all my equipment, tools, supplies, and references handy. Every so often more stuff crams in and I constantly feel that I am running out of space. Lighting is super important to me when comes to work, as I need to have sufficient yet comfortable lighting to do my job well. Maybe because my space is pretty cozy, it becomes a hub where everyone in the family, my husband, my daughter, and our cat, like to hang out.

What is the typical illustration process like for you?

My work habit is to make plans and to stick with them. I believe
participation is quintessential for an artist, for it broadens one’s
horizon by practices such as professional critiquing and/or peer
networking. Therefore, I try to be active in my field signing up many
art activities during each year.

I make both general plans and detailed schedules, usually prior the year to come. According to the different artistic missions I sign up, my illustration session can stretch to a full-year-long, with multiple sub-sessions, each with a precisely timed beginning and due-date.

In order to prevent procrastination, I make day-to-day schedule for the sub-session to proportion my project and to specify my daily task. Whether ahead or behind, it shows clearly where I am in the process. Also, it feels great to check off things from my to-do list every day.

Even during each illustration session, I am not always switched on to the “work mode”. Instead, I try to allow life intervene occasionally: running errands with my husband, playing with my daughter, feeding my cat or the squirrels and birds in the backyard, making dinner plans or simply mopping the floor…these small but peaceful moments help refresh my mind so that I can stay sharp and sensitive in art.

Thank you, Roya.

Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity of being interviewed! I am truly happy and flattered that my artwork is appreciated by many.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up
in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in
England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in
Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board
games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Author-Illustrator Interview: Elizabeth O. Dulemba

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children’s author-illustrator with more than two dozen titles to her credit, including her debut historical fiction, A Bird on Water Street (Little Pickle, 2014), which has been awarded thirteen prestigious literary honors, including Georgia Author of the Year and a Green Earth Book Award Honor.


Elizabeth splits her time between Roanoke, Virginia, where she teaches Picture Book Design as visiting associate professor at Hollins University in the MFA in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating program, and Scotland, where she is currently pursuing an MFA in Illustration at the University of Edinburgh.


Elizabeth maintains and active blog where she hosts author/illustrator guest posts each week and gives away free coloring pages. Her weekly newsletter has more than 3,600 subscribers.

Elizabeth, welcome to Cynsations! Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today.

Thanks so much for having me!

Can you tell us a bit more about your background? How long have you been an illustrator? What led you to pursuing a career in children’s books, and specifically in illustration?

Hoo boy. I’ve wanted to illustrate picture books since I was a little kid. I used to stare at Garth Williams’ illustrations in The Golden Book of Elves and Fairies (1951) and wish I could create that same magic with my art.

As a kid, I always had a drawing pad and pencil with me. Of course, back then, I didn’t know real people actually made books. And even though the adults in my life knew I was an artist and supported me with lessons my entire life, they steered me towards a more stable lifestyle.

I became a graphic designer for many years. I was always in-house illustrator, though, and I never stopped dreaming about creating books.

When I married my husband, I got the chance. We moved to be together, and I went freelance while I pursued my dream to illustrate books. Three years in, I got my first contract to illustrate The Prince’s Diary (Lee & Low, 2005).

You have illustrated both your own stories, and those of others. Is there a creative difference for you as an illustrator when you are illustrating your own work, versus illustrating someone else’s work?

It took me seven years to get my first contract as both author and illustrator, Soap, Soap, Soap (Raven Tree, 2009). Until that time, I had a lot of fun coming up with images for other people’s writing – I still do. But yeah, it’s a blast to come up with my own text and images.

Heck, I imagine it will be fun to have another illustrator use my words at some point. It’s all about telling stories and creating! I love all of it!

What mediums do you work in?

I’m currently pursuing an MFA in Illustration at the University of Edinburgh College of Art. It’s an introspective and experimental time for me. I feel like I’m in the thick of a creative chrysalis at the moment.

So while I was digital for my first 15 years, I’ve been working with more traditional media of late, getting messy with paint up to my elbows.

We’ll see what style steps forward as my fave. I don’t know yet!

Does this vary depending on the type of project?

Yes! I tend to follow the vision of the story rather than stick to one particular personal style (so far). Although, I’ve been told that when you look at my works on the whole, they all look like mine. Ha!

Do you have a favorite medium or illustration tool?

Elizabeth’s studio

Not at the moment! I’ve been leaning towards dip pen and ink with watercolors. But I just discovered dyes, and I don’t want to throw out the computer altogether, so we’ll see!

Can you tell us about your typical creative process?

I’m right in the thick of a new project, so I can share exactly!

Right now, I’m in the research stage. I’m looking at images, costumes, architecture, landscapes, color palettes, trying to soak in the looks of the story I’ll be working on – get it set in my head. I broke out the text into the key moments I think I’ll need to illustrate. And I’ve done some very rough thumbnails to get an idea of how the story will visually break out.

Next, I’ll start doing sketches – tons and tons and tons of sketches! Slowly, I’ll start working out my compositions and get bigger and tighter with those. Then I’ll start playing with whatever media I choose. I love the rendering stage the best, so I can’t wait to get to that!

Does it vary depending on what kind of project you are working on?

Y’know, not really. I was sitting here doing online research, and for a minute I thought, “I’m not drawing, why am I wasting time?” And then I realized that I always do it this way and I’m not wasting time at all!

What is a typical creative session like for you?

There’s no such thing as a typical creative session! It’s always different.

Even though my processes remain similar, I might be researching, sketching, painting, digitally rendering – all while listening to music, an audiobook, or requiring absolute quiet so that I can concentrate. It all depends on what stage I’m in.

Do you have a dedicated place that you like to create? Has that changed for you over the years?

Right now, my dedicated space is my desk at the university. It’s a big change from my dedicated studio/office bedroom in the states! But I love the energy of being surrounded by creative students.

I also love that I have to walk through beautiful Edinburgh every day to get here (1.6 miles from my flat). My view is of 17th and 18th century buildings, and lunch often involves meandering into one of the loveliest and oldest areas of the city (Grassmarket). Yeah – it rocks.

You are also the author of a middle grade novel, A Bird on Water Street (Little Pickle, 2014). What was that creative process like for you, in contrast to the very visual medium of picture books?

Completely different. I didn’t realize I was writing a novel when I started it, but dozens of interviews, rewrites, and ten years on, I’m a novelist!

A Bird on Water Street has gotten fantastic reviews and even won 13 literary awards and honors! I’m so proud of the novel, it’s done some wonderfully positive things for the community in which it took place, and for me personally. It has its own web page at http://ABirdOnWaterStreet.com.

As far as the creative process when writing – it has to be dead quiet outside my head because it is so loud inside my head! Now that the writing muse has been set loose, there’s no stopping her.

Sadly, she doesn’t get along very well with my illustration muse. They are constantly battling for my time.

Do you have plans for more middle grade works?

I do! I have about three or four other novels that are at various stages. It’s hard to concentrate on novels right now, though. School is keeping me unbelievably busy, and I don’t get unified chunks of mental space where I can focus on one project.

Instead, I’m working on dozens of projects all the time right now (including personal projects – mostly picture books – and school projects). But spring break is coming, then two months of summer before I head to Hollins University where I teach in the MFA in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating program, then over a month free before school starts back.

I’m planning to do some concentrated creating in those windows!

I loved your recent TED talk. Like you, my husband and I sold our house and most of our possessions to make a move from the U.S. to Europe. For those who haven’t seen your TED talk yet, can you tell us what led you to make that move?

Thanks! I’ve received the nicest emails from folks who feel the same way or have experienced something similar. It’s been a tangent from my children’s books and school studies, but equally as gratifying. I think a lot of folks are experience-based people trapped in stuff-based lifestyles and could do what I did… I sold almost everything I own to move overseas and go back to school.

Truly, the best way to understand my journey is to actually watch my TED talk.

While it’s not specifically about children’s books, it describes the motivation behind how I live my life, which is all about children’s books!

So you’re currently studying children’s illustration in the masters of fine arts program at Edinburgh University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Can you tell us more about your plans once you complete that program?

I’m going to pursue a PhD in Picture Books! Several reasons have come together in my life to make an advanced degree make sense for me. And who knows, I might actually become an expert!

Through it all, I’ll continue to teach at Hollins University in the summers (it’s a summer MFA program).

After that, I really don’t know. That’s one of the nice things about being mobile. I don’t feel trapped by anything anymore. The future is exciting and shiny!

What is the one piece of advice you would give an aspiring illustrator or author?

Follow your heart, not the trends. The only thing you can control is yourself. Heck, you can’t even always control your own creativity.

Be willing to jump down rabbit holes and see where creativity leads you. More often than not, your instincts will take you someplace good – especially if you get your pesky brain out of the way.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today! It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.

Thank you! I’m honored!

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board
games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Rahele Jomepour

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Rahele Jomepour was born in Mashhad, Iran. She moved to the United States in 2011 and graduated with MFA in Visual Arts from Iowa State University in 2015. 

She is a professional children’s picture book illustrator and painter, living and working in a tiny city of Ames in the state of Iowa. 

Rahele has illustrated seven children’s books, including Donkey in the Woods, The Great hunting, The Lion and the Rabbit, The Grape Garden. Follow her Instagram/blog.

I really enjoyed the detailed coffee cup illustrations on your website. What inspired this set of illustrations?

I started to draw on paper coffee cups right after I came back from the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, summer 2013. I was overwhelmed with a lot of fabulous information I had received from the workshops and people who share the same love of picture books.

I actually went to the university’s coffee shop and ordered my regular coffee. While I was reviewing my notes from the conference, I started to just draw on my paper coffee cup as a mental break.

Suddenly I found the surface of the coffee cup very smooth and very friendly to work with in pencil. I looked around and imagined myself and other people as different type of animal characters – rabbits, dogs, cats, etc. Later, I started to think how cool it would be if I kept all of my coffee cups every day and instead of drawing in my flat sketchbook, use my coffee cups as my daily round sketchbook.

This unique dimension altered my understanding of composition, forgoing page borders in exchange for unending movement. I found this idea to be vital in illustrating a story – propel the viewer toward a world without borders and limitations imposed by the edge of a page.

All drawings include every simple joy we have in our routine life and sometimes we forget about them. The illustrations help my audience to take a look back into their inner child and invite it to come up and play the life and enjoy the freedom of uninhibited self-expression. This open-ended approach to storytelling helped me find a new style in illustration.

You categorize your children’s art in your website into two categories “fine & detailed” as well as “loose & simple.” Is this a decision you make before starting on a piece? Or is it something you decide after completion?

Mostly this is an afterthought. Some works are highly detailed images of simple ideas, other times they are sketches containing a great deal of meaning. These categories describe how I’m feeling at the time.

Some works I really focus on, and curate every detail. Other works I’m just not so patient with, and need to just get the basic point across and move on.

But the major differentiation is not always in terms of graphic detail. Sometimes I spend extra time on subtleties that illustrate complexities of life, whereas other times I just want to make something that is easy for people to relate to.

There are times in our lives when we look at every little detail, and focus on it intently, and other times in our lives where we just want to ‘take it easy’. I only make the distinction on my web site to aid the viewer, not necessarily to define my work.

What was the inspiration behind “Donkey in the Forest,” your piece that was a finalist for the SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery?

“Donkey in the Forest” was part of a series of images associated with a series of books I recently completed with a publisher in Iran. These books were part of a national curriculum that millions of young people took part in, as part of national testing.

I was honored to be included in this project, as it drew on stories and themes that have been part of Iranian culture for hundreds, even thousands of years. Stories are the conduit of human understanding through the ages. It is through metaphor that we grow and maintain a sense of who we are, our place in this world, and our duty to grow.

The donkey represents so many aspects of humanity. His reflection is our reflection, and through his life experience we evaluate our own. Have we grown? Have we been content with our own understanding of the world? Is it a fact that everything we believe is true?

Letting go, and connecting with the small animal that is ourselves is a step toward understanding these broader issues. The donkey is simply a trusted friend with whom we can travel, each on our own unique journey.

How has your art changed over the years?

Art for me over the years has changed with my life, as anyone else. As a teenager in Mashhad, Iran, I was interested in testing limits as any normal teenager would. I felt lost and alone, burying myself in books and culture well past the limits of my own neighborhood and city in an attempt to know that which is not widely known, or see that which is not readily available in a confusing and contradictory world. In my twenties, I was concerned with independence and growing past my preconceptions of those expectations upon me. There were a number of pieces of art that I produced that I was excited to publicize, but I knew better as it may have proven difficult for my family or detrimental to my career.

I grew past this impulsive and sometimes mischievous phase into my thirties as a master’s student at the University of Tehran. Unfortunately, I had not yet understood the boundaries and cultural limitations that my work tested, and I left before I was finished with my MFA.

Since coming the U.S., I have tempered my message, working to understand the deeper meanings of my roots, while also refining and broadening my messages to appeal to a wider variety of audiences, enabling people to think and question the world around them without fear of persecution.

The donkey relates to us that we are all put on this Earth to live, and breathe, and feel and love, right or wrong, and that it’s ok to relate to an image that may reflect our emotions at the time. The donkey also carries with him the test of human character over time, that all of our cultures have come from somewhere, and are worthy of patience and understanding.

What are you working on now?

I have several projects at the moment. Project Art at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is part of the “Percent for Art”–an effort promoting education and cultural understanding within public spaces.

Two projects focus on public spaces and our relation to them. The BenchMarks project in Iowa City takes a simple public object, a bench, and creates a metaphor for public engagement, encouraging passers-by to relax and enjoy a peaceful moment that their community has provided.

The second project is through City Sounds, The Des Moines Public Piano Project. This project takes used pianos, subjects them to visual artistic interpretation, and places them throughout the greater Des Moines area in attempt to draw out and engage the public in well-mannered frivolity under the sun, with music and sound at their fingertips.

I have also begun collaboration with a New York agency working on a new and evolving project focusing on education-oriented work for school-age children.


What advice would you offer someone just starting out in the field of children’s book illustration?

The common adage in writing is “Write what you know.” Illustration is no different, in that one should illustrate what they see, both through their eyes and through their mind.

Likewise, this is not as easy as it sounds, so don’t be afraid to see things differently. Not every dimension is well-defined, and not every answer is questioned.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie
(Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a
Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social
Studies Book for Young People.

Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Dorothia Rohner

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

From an early age, Dorothia Rohner knew she was an artist. Inheriting her artistic parent’s fascination with art and nature, she was encouraged to pursue and refine her skills. She studied technical illustration, fine art, art history and graphic design. 

Eventually, she earned her degree in Biological Pre-medical Illustration from Iowa State University—a curriculum that allowed her to combine her love of illustration and science. 

As an artist, she has worked in various fields: scientific illustration, animation, graphic design, nature painting, licensing and gift design. She now works from her studio, surrounded by woods, overlooking a small pond where she writes and illustrates stories for children; inspired by nature, imagination and a tad bit of humor. She also enjoys creating pop-up and moveable books.


Her illustrated children’s books include: Numbers in a Row, An Iowa Number Book (Sleeping Bear Press) and Effie’s Image (Prairieland Press). 

Her work for children has also been published in Cricket Magazine

Her illustration, Firefly Forest, was the Grand Prize Winner at 2014 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Gallery, Bologna Children’s Book Fair

That same year, she was selected for the 2014 SCBWI Portfolio Mentorship Award at the SCBWI Summer Conference. 

Her portfolio was one of six chosen out of two-hundred. Follow Dorthia: Instagram & Twitter: @dorothiar and Facebook.

What inspired you to begin creating illustrations for children?

When I was small, my mother wrote stories for my six siblings and me. She created believable worlds and illustrations to go with them. They were never published, but I remember how magical an ordinary day became when she shared her stories with us—inviting us into her imaginative worlds.

My mother’s influence first inspired me to want to create books for children. Years later, while studying scientific illustration, the class assignment was to make a spread for a children’s book. That studio project sparked my childhood memories and rekindled that desire to make books for kids. It took a little while, but eventually I illustrated my first children’s book.

How has your experience with scientific illustration influenced your work for children?

Good question! The transition from creating scientific to children’s illustration has been interesting journey for me. Because of my scientific training, I wanted to add every detail into an illustration. For children’s illustrations, I’ve had to un-learn some of that training in order to leave emotional room for the viewer, exaggerated expressions, emotion and motion. I’m still working on that.

My training has influenced me to enjoy drawing animals, plants, birds and insects living in the natural world. However, with my illustrations for kids, I find it much more fun to add in a few fairies, and other whimsical critters.

What was the inspiration for the illustration Firefly Forest, winner of the 2014 SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery?

I’ve always been fascinated with fireflies because of the magic they bring to summer nights. Years ago, like most children, we used to chase and capture them to fill our jars with light.

Inspired by these memories and the forest we now live near, I sketched out the trees that speak only truth, an angry council of fireflies that rule the forest and a little girl carrying a jar full of fireflies, searching for her brother. I intentionally left the narrative open for the viewer to interpret.

I created this illustration in two days and I really enjoyed working on it. However, I almost didn’t enter the BIG contest because I thought it was too odd of an illustration. However, I ended up sending it anyway. I’m glad I did.

What are you working on right now?

With the input of my agent, Laura Biagi, I am revising a manuscript that is almost ready for submission. Yay! I’m finishing up the character sketches and illustrations that will accompany this story.

While I was in New York at the winter SCBWI conference, I was able to meet with Laura to discuss my other projects. She asked about the story behind Firefly Forest, so I am brainstorming and diving into that next. I also received helpful input from an art director in New York on a novelty fairy book, so I will be revising that too. I also have a sketchbook filled with ideas that could be potential stories.

Dorothia & Laura

What advice would you offer illustrators who are just starting out in the field of children’s literature?

The advice I try to remember is patience, practice and perseverance. It’s hasn’t been that long since I began focusing on making books for children, so I still feel new to this, too.

In any field of creating art, I believe it is essential to honor your individuality and create from the inner voice. This helps to quiet the inner critic that so often leads to comparison and competition with other artists. It is important to study other artists work, get involved with online picture book communities, and celebrate other’s successes.

I would suggest joining SCBWI, going to conferences, getting portfolio and manuscript critiques, joining local critique groups and finding like minded people who you can learn from, share with and enjoy the journey. Lastly, read lots and lots of kids books!

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie
(Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a
Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social
Studies Book for Young People.

Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Annie Won

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

New-York based illustrator Annie Won received her MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York. 

Her style is characterized by the use of digital collage, mixed perspective, and a dreamlike quality that speaks to the imagination of children. 

Her illustrations will appear in The Dragon Circus, Tea Party, Picnic in the Snow, and Welcoming Song, ibooks such as The Old Man and The Sea, The Hound of the Baskerville and picture books that will appear in 2017.

Congratulations on your illustration The Light being selected as a finalist for SCBWI’s Bologna Illustration Gallery. SCBWI will display The Light at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this illustration?

Thank you to SCBWI for selecting my piece. I am so pleased to have such a great opportunity. I hope I can attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair one day.

I can’t say what inspired me exactly. It may have been a sweet lyric of a song, a warm breeze across my face or a touching story from news. What I know is all of those were mixed harmonically and made me to create image of mother and her child.

As a children’s book author-illustrator, my illustration is always based on stories. It’s funny that I need a full story even though I draw a simple doodle. And The Light is the peak moment of a story about a Mother who finds her lost child.

I can see that emotion in the illustration. When did you begin drawing?

I started drawing when I was able to grab something to draw with. My official artistic career started with my first job. I was a computer game concept artist. I drew all kinds of things such as characters, trees, clothes, weapons and more for the game.

However, after working as a designer about seven years, I decided to do something more meaningful for both people and myself: a children’s book author-illustrator. I studied at School of Visual Art and after graduating the awesome course, now I am working as a freelance illustrator.

What led you to children’s book illustration?

I love children’s picture books. They are each like a small art gallery with brilliant stories. Also I’m always amazed by how children read stories from a single image. They even find something interesting in my image that I haven’t recognized!

You’ve illustrated work for children’s magazines, including the cover for the back to school issue of Spider (September 2015). What do you enjoy most about magazine illustration?

I like magazine work because I can try something new for each piece and have to complete those as fine images. I must get successful results right away, since I don’t have much time to start everything again. Compare to children’s book assignment, magazine assignments have to be completed on a tighter deadline. Thus it is pretty tough but I love the challenge. And I love my editor Sue, who encourages me to try the new thing.

What advice do you have for others who are starting a career as a children’s book illustrator?

Do not to give up your dream. It seemed like I would never get a book assignment until I was offered my first assignment by Little Golden Books.

Before that, I tried my best to promote my work and learn from others. I made more than dozens of picture book dummies, sent bunch of postcards to publishers, presented my portfolio to several publishers, joined SCBWI and attended three conferences, enrolled children’s book boot camps and more. While I was trying those things, nothing was sure and clear except one thing: I believed that my dream would come true if I don’t stop trying.

What are you working on now?

I just completed my first Golden Books illustration assignment. And now, I am working on another magazine piece, cover art for Ladybug magazine. I am also developing my own story for a picture book, too. I am truly happy to start my career as children’s picture book illustrator but I hope I can publish my own story as well.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie
(Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a
Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social
Studies Book for Young People.

Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Ying Hui Tan

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Ying Hui Tan is a Malaysian Chinese illustrator. Born in a small town, Teluk Intan, she graduated with a degree in 3D Animation at the University of Hertfordshire and currently living in Reading, U.K. She spent the first few years working as a concept artist for games and cartoon series then she decided to become a children’s book illustrator. 

She loves storytelling and giving ideas while working with talented people. Her favourite parts of creating her artwork are mixing colours and experimenting different lighting setup for her scenes. 

Tan’s dream as a children’s book illustrator is to spread positive energy, thoughts and happiness to another because she believes everyone is born kindhearted and have a choice to forgive and help another. 

Tan spent her free time traveling with her husband and camera, eating local food, taking good photographs and meeting local people or just staying at home watching classic old films, listening to oldies and cooking new dishes. Tan loves animals especially whales, dogs, dragon like reptile and dinosaur, she wanted to adopt a dog someday.

Congratulations on having your illustration Dreamer Whale selected for SCBWI’s Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery. Dreamer Whale will be displayed by SCBWI at the prestigious Bologna Children’s Book Fair. What inspired Dreamer Whale?

Thank you, I am thankful for being selected as a finalist and taking part of this interview. I always fond of whales, especially blue whale. They are the biggest living thing yet they are so gentle and elegant, they can sing too! I don’t know how to swim but I always imagine myself swimming closely with them just like a kid having a dream.

Your career as an artist has included many fascinating achievements from working as a concept artist for games and cartoon series to 3D animation and now children’s books. 

How do these experiences influence your current projects?

Those experiences help me see my art differently, making a children’s book is like building a 3D world for me, everything has to start from scratches and find the connection between them. Since I left the games and animation industry, I always start from a story before I creating a character or a scene. I don’t like to paint without my soul and feelings, so having a background story really helps me to stay excited of making the scene looking right to tell the story.

Being a children’s book artist is really fun because I can be a director and photographer at the same time, the biggest challenge is using limited frames to tell a story and make each page / frame counts.

As a woman from a small town in Malaysia who now lives and works in Reading, U.K., do these experience inspire your art?

I have been living in the U.K. for more than five years without my family and friends. I never felt this loneliness and emptiness before. What I could do to help myself is creating and imagining happy and beautiful things to keep me going.

You mention on your website that it was your love for Japanese anime that got you started drawing. 

Did you first draw your favorite characters? Or did you create your own stories?

I drew my favourite characters at first because I didn’t know I can draw, then soon I started creating my own stories, it was more fun to create my own.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new book called JoyN’TheVoid, a book to help children opening their mind and feelings towards happiness and helping another.

What advice do you have for artists just starting out in the field of children’s book illustration?

Good things will come eventually after loads of hard work, always have faith in yourself and keep trying!

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie
(Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a
Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social
Studies Book for Young People.

Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.