Saturday, December 8, 2007

Book Signing

Last night I had a wonderful experience at a book signing to promote Pirate School. The local Barnes & Noble is kind enough to consistently host my events, which include a chapter reading, illustration activity, discussion and book signing. It is great to be able to connect with the local kids to talk about books, art and the Pirate School characters!
I was a little afraid that not many kids would be able to show up for this particular signing due to the snow, but we actually got a pretty good turn out. This time, all of the children were girls, so I was able to let the kids be more involved. For instance, normally for the illustration demonstration, I choose the character that the kids will learn to draw, because if I let the kids choose, the boys will all want a boy character, and the girls will all want a girl character. This time, I let the children pick, which they enjoyed. As I expected, they wanted to draw Inna, who is the most "pretty." The activity was very engaging for all of us, and I was thrilled by the girls' participation. They actually discussed and commented on the drawing process while we were going through the demonstration! They were all very observant, and came up with interesting analogies for the shapes we were drawing!
For the chapter reading, I read from book 3, chapter 1 - which is very humorous and engaging even if one has not read the other books. The chapter ends at a "cliffhanger" in which the pirate kids head off to yet another rotten lesson with Rotten Tooth. After the chapter was over, the girls took turns guessing from looking at the cover what the lesson was going to be about. It was great to see their involvement and excitement.

That is my favorite part of the book signings - to see the kids get engaged. I am always surprised by the children's comments and observations. My favorite comment at a book signing actually came over this past summer during the question & answer portion of the presentation. A little girl, no older than 4, raised her hand and asked, "What is your web URL address?" All the adults laughed....I was half expecting the child to pull out a palm pilot and look it up on the spot! I guess that is a true sign of the age that we live in!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Updated Website

Just in time for the release of the Directory of Illustration #24 (which hopefully will bring a few new visitors to my website), JZ Artworks online has a new look! I am fortunate to have a husband who is a web developer/designer, and he has worked with me to give my website a make over. There were many aspects of my old site that I enjoyed from an art-director point of view. It loaded quickly on most connections, was easy to navigate, and art samples were easy to view. Basically, the key word here was "easy". However, I felt that the site needed to make a bigger visual impact, especially on the homepage. I'm an illustrator, and I wanted the site to utilize more of my artwork in the design, and not just in the content.

I am really happy with the updated design! I feel that it gives a fresh presentation with higher emphasis on my illustration style, while continuing the easy-usability which marked my previous site.

Now, in the test phase, we tested the site on as many computers as possible, and we hope that all of the bugs have been ironed out. However, if you run into any issues while using the site, please let me know. Leave a comment to this post, and let me know the error, and also the browser you were using at the time. Thanks so much for your help!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pirate School Book 6

I just completed the artwork for the book 6 in the Pirate School series, which will be released in May of 2008. It was a fun project, with a few challenges and new discoveries.

One of the major challenges, from an artistic standpoint, is that I had to complete the cover art before the manuscript was complete. Consequently, I pictured one of the new characters as short. However, when I received the manuscript and the assignment for the interior art, I found that that author described that character as being "bigger than Pete", the series' main character! Uh-oh.

Well, I was able to address this issue with some creative composing of the illustrations in which the new character is pictured. By keeping this character in the foreground, I was able to keep his proportions the same (so that he matched the cover), but avoided showing him in direct proportion to other characters. This means that he was pictured larger than other characters, and also gave the illustrations greater visual depth. This illusion helped to cover up the discrepancies between the descriptive sentence in the manuscript, and the cover artwork.

I found that addressing this challenge was exciting, in that it allowed me to use my design skills to do more than just interpret a scene, but also to solve a problem. The result is a batch of drawings that I feel proud of, and that meets the client's illustration needs.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Golden Compass

I love to see a good book made into a good movie. It brings attention to the work from those who may not have been interested in reading. Plus, it is great to see the stories being brought to life visually...with cool special effects.

So, when I heard that Pullman's "The Golden Compass" was being made into a movie, I was very excited! I've watched all the trailers, behind the scenes videos, and - my personal favorite - used the quiz on the movie website to determine my animal spirit "daemon." I think this function was supposed to be enjoyed by children to get them familiar with and excited about this aspect of the plot. However, I got a huge kick out of this feature as well. Plus, I got this neat little widget to post on my blog.

It seemed sort of fitting that I should get some form of cat to match my personality. For some reason, artists and cats just sort of go together in my mind. To bad I can't own one...they have a tendency to jump on unfinished watercolor paintings. At least now I get a virtual one.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


This has been one of those weeks....a paperwork week. We've all had them, and for me, they always seem to occur exactly when I am excited to get to work on a project. For instance, I've been itching to begin the cover for my next book commission. I have a great composition in mind, and new outfits for a character, and have been doodling thumbnails in my sleep.
And times like these are when my desk seems to become the collective depository for all manner of paperwork and post-it notes.
Someone needs a form filled out. So-and-so made a clerical error that needs to be corrected. Advertisement contracts need to be signed. Follow-up phone calls need to be made. Records need to be updated. Contacts need to be confirmed. This or that document needs to be scanned, emailed, filed, faxed, shipped or otherwise dealt with.

It's a pain. It's also very affirmative.

The thing with freelance illustration is that....*drum roll*'s work. And so when the going get's annoying, the annoyed must ask themselves, "Is it worth it?" Truly. Are you one of those people who likes to draw/paint/create, is good at it, has fun, and wants to keep it that way? There is nothing wrong with realizing that by making a business out of a hobby, you risk losing the joy of your craft.

But to me, it's worth it. During these times when the business seems to get in the way of the "fun part", an illustrator has the opportunity to come to terms with the realization that her passion for illustration, passion for storytelling, and passion for being a part of something greater than herself is enough to warrant navigating the business jungle. It is through the mundane tasks that I realize that this truly is what I want to do with my life.

Because unlike the hobbyist, no amount of contracts, documents, emails or post-it notes can diminish my heartfelt love of illustration. In fact, it only brings into sharp relief my desire to get through that business-stuff I can get back to the fun part of drawing that new cover art.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I recently updated the "Sketchbook" section of my website with some new drawings. Well, new to the site, that is. Over the past year I started making quick (usually 30 minute long) conceptual mini-illustrations. These pieces are not quite sketches, but not quite complete illustrations either. They are spontaneous personal reactions to a topic or concept, done in ballpoint pen.

I really enjoy the loose, expressive lines, and the high contrast of the pen & ink. Call me simple, but I love ballpoint pens. Nothing fancy. Unlike true black in pens, I can actually get a truly lighter shade of ink by letting up on the pressure, creating deep shades of black, and very light grays.

Basically, I really like the look of these pieces, and feel that they represent some sort of emerging development in my black & white illustration technique, or at least a potential alternative to graphite. Unfortunately, most of these do not have backgrounds, so I have no idea what a finished illustration would look like using this scribbly ink approach, but I hope to have some time to experiment and refine this method so that it can potential translate well in to more finished pieces. Something about this look just really speaks to if only I could figure out what it is saying! In the meanwhile, I am trying to apply this more expressive, high-contrast look into my graphite pieces, to give them more depth and energy.

Friday, October 12, 2007

So Why Should Illustrators Write Blogs?

OK, so I'm an illustrator. Typically, I leave the text-based storytelling to the authors.

But as I've talked with others - be it in person, via the internet, or at books signings - I have realized that illustrators have stories to tell as well. Stories about inspiration and creation. I always receive questions like, "How did you come up with that character?" or "What did you use to paint that picture?". People are interested in the illustrator's side of the story.

I have also learned that a personal webpage makes for a great portfolio, but is not a great place to post those stories. Heaps of text does not enhance an illustration site. Visitors are there for the artwork.

Hence, this blog. A place to write about projects, techniques, experiments, and daily sources of inspiration!

However, no inspiration to write about today, as for now, I am just focusing on setting this page up! So stay tuned!