Monday, November 28, 2011

More Picture Book Trends: Holiday Edition

Less than a week after I wrote my previous picture book trends post
, the displays at Barnes & Noble had switched to full holiday mode. The prime real estate is now dominated by holiday picture books, as seen above. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The 33 Best Apps for Your New iPad

You just bought an iPad and you don't want to spend hours researching what apps to get. Here’s my subjective list of 33 great iPad apps to get you started:


If you’re like me, your first downloads will be games. Some of our family favorites:

1. Angry birds ($.99) The birds are angry at the pigs who have stolen their eggs. It is your job to launch them from catapults to destroy the pigs.

2. Cut the Rope ($.99) Figure out how to cut the ropes to feed the hungry candy-loving monster. Each level gets harder and more intricate.  

3. Veggie Samurai ($.99) Take out your aggressions against vegetables by slicing and dicing them with your fingers.

4. Moron Test ($.99) Developed for kids, this is fun & challenging for all. Prove you’re not a moron by following the instructions carefully and quickly. Sometimes you need to think outside the box to advance.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Interview With Children's Illustrator Chris Soentpiet

photo of Chris Soentpiet, children's illustrator
Chris Soentpiet at my daughters' school
I recently had the opportunity to interview Chris Soentpiet, the talented award-winning illustrator of twenty picture books known for his historical and realistic illustrations. We talked while he visited my daughters’ school last month.

Q. How did you start illustrating children's books?

When I was an art student at The Pratt Institute, a four-year art college in Brooklyn, NY, we had several illustrators come to visit our school. I was particularly inspired by Ted and Betsy Lewin. They gave a presentation about their books, and I was so impressed by their lifestyle and general outlook on life, that I thought it would be a perfect career. I was also inspired by my favorite illustrator, Norman Rockwell. I have all of his books in my office.

After I graduated from Pratt, I showed my work to publishing houses. Although I was rejected numerous times, I was given the opportunity to illustrate my first book, Around Town, about a day in New York City. I have been illustrating since then.

Q. What is your process for illustrating a book?

Once hired by a publisher, I study the manuscript. I don’t talk to the author, only the editor and art director. I prepare and send the publisher seventeen 3 x 5 inch thumbnail sketches for the story. After getting feedback, I send final thumbnails. This process takes about 3 months.

Once we agree on the thumbnails, I make final pencil sketches 20% bigger than the final copy, sketched on tracing paper. I use a 7h pencil for detail. This takes about 4 months. When the sketches are approved, I re-sketch the drawings on watercolor paper using an 8h pencil, and paint them in watercolors.

Each finished spread can take 2-4 weeks to make. For example, the following spread from Coolies, written by my wife Lin, took 3 weeks to make, painting 8 hours a day. I like to paint the background first, and then work my way to the main characters:
spread from Coolies, by Chris Soentpiet
Spread from Coolies  © Chris Soentpiet
From start to finish, it can take a year for me to finish a book.

Q. Your books have such detailed and realistic people. What is your process for illustrating people?

I use real people as models. I hire children in my neighborhood or nearby schools to pose as models, or ask my friends and family. I photograph them in the positions and angles that I want to paint, in costumes and with props. My wife Yin is a frequent model in my books, and I have even put myself in my books. For example, my wife and I are the waiters in this spread from Jin Woo, written by Eve Bunting:    
Spread from Jin Woo © Chris Soentpiet
Q. Do you have a favorite book that you have illustrated?

All of my books are special to me, but Jin Woo holds a special place in my heart, because it is about the adoption of a baby boy from South Korea. Like Jin Woo, I was adopted from South Korea. 

Q. What are you working on now?

I'm working on the sequel to my most recent book, Amazing Faces. (In Amazing Faces, noted poet Lee Bennett Hopkins collected 16 poems about people all over the world experiencing universal emotions.)  My new book is called Amazing Places, and Mr. Hopkins will gather 16 new authors to write about amazing places from all over the world. 

Q. What do you like best about illustrating for children?  

Children are honest and they tell you what they really think of your work.  Unlike adults who are not as blunt.

Q. Do you have any words of advice for aspiring illustrators?

As I tell students when I visit them at their schools, follow your dreams and believe in yourself. Also, keep practicing. That’s the only way you get better.

To find out more about Chris Soentpiet, visit his website at

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Illustration Friday: Silent

© 2010 Sylvia Liu
This is a painting I worked on last year. I'm not completely happy with it, because the water still needs work, but it does seem to evoke silence.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

5 Nontraditional Publishing Models from Around the World

The world of publishing is changing with ebooks, but writers and readers may not be thinking outside the box enough when it comes to new forms of publishing. Authors and publishers around the world are figuring out intriguing new ways to publish:

1. Let readers read through the slushpile, then micropay for good fiction.

Recently, the press has been abuzz by the "freemium" model of self-publishing that has become popular in China. As Publishing Perspectives reports, hundreds of websites offering free original fiction web serials are attracting 40% of all Chinese internet traffic. Once an individual author's serials gain enough followers, he or she is invited to a separate paid section of the site, where readers pay small amounts of money for the next installments. Successful authors reportedly have made substantial amounts using this model.

Monday, November 7, 2011

IF: stripes (made with ArtStudio app)

© 2011 Sylvia Liu

This week, I experimented by making this illustration entirely on my iPad. I used the ArtStudio app, a fun, intuitive Photoshop-like program that allows up to five layers. It has special effects, like the tubular paint used for the bars, and filters like the "noise" added to the background. It was unwieldy drawing only with my fingers, so I'm going to investigate getting a tablet pen. Let me know if you have a good recommendation for one.

Many people have discovered the art of making art on an iPad. Here is a collection of excellent paintings made on an iPad, and another compilation of twenty more interesting ones.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

4 Ways for Picture Book Creators to Find Inspiration

November is turning into a great month for inspiration for children's book writers and illustrators. Here are some things inspiring me to be more creative:

1. Picture Book Idea Month, also known as PiBoIdMo

Children's book author Tara Lazar organizes this month-long event, which challenges writers to come up with 30 picture book ideas during the month of November. Each day, she blogs or has guests blog about writing picture books. Today is the last day to sign up in order to be eligible for prizes and giveaways, but anyone can participate at anytime this month.