Saturday, March 31, 2012

Random Acts of Art: Snowmen Sentries

Small 1 foot snowman
We've all heard of random acts of kindness, to brighten up people's days and to share some good karma. What about random acts of art? The idea is the same, but instead of leaving acts of kindness in your wake, leave something creative.

Some people have "yarn-bombed" or "knit-bombed" structures (for example, knitting bike rack covers or adding knitted creations to trees). Others share their art by giving their creations to their friends or patients in a hospital or others. Still others leave painted rocks for others to find.

When my family went for a vacation a couple of weeks ago to Colorado, one of my daughters and I decided to make a line of little snowmen, about a foot tall, along the path at our condo:

Snowmen sentries as random act of art

Our snowmen sentries were our random acts of art for that trip, and now I'm thinking of what else to do. Any ideas? Have you committed a random act of art?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Illustration Friday: Swamp

Illustration of swamp and morose creatures
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
This week I decided to try two different forms of digital painting. I played around with ArtStudio for iPad (in the piece above, I used a Wacom stylus to draw and paint on the iPad) and Photoshop (in the piece below, I scanned in a doodle and painted with some nice watercolor brushes I found online).

I like the more vivid color scheme of the first illustration, though the swamp creature and sky is more interesting in the second. By the way, in the southern part of Virginia, there's a place called the Great Dismal Swamp. I've always loved the name, and one day hope to visit in. In the meantime, I'll imagine it something like this:

Morose creatures in a dismal swamp
© 2012 Sylvia Liu

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Artifacts: a Great Story App for Everyone (plus Interview with Author-Illustrator Lynley Stace)

Screen shot of The Artifacts app for iPad
Screenshot from The Artifacts
Who hasn't felt alone and unmoored, and taken solace in the imagination?

Created by Australian wife and husband team Lynley Stace (author-illustrator) and Dan Hare (software coder), The Artifacts tells the story of Asaf, a 13-year old boy who loves to collect things, from fine art to "bagatelles, baubles, gewgaws and gimmicks." One day, his parents inform him they are moving and have thrown out his treasures, and he is not allowed to collect anything else in his new home. After a period of despair, Asaf discovers his inner resources and begins to collect thoughts, ideas, stories, and more.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 Creating Community in Hampton Roads, Virginia

A summer morning at 4th St., Virginia Beach
Beginning this month, I started contributing to AltDaily, an excellent local progressive community/culture/arts/music/politics website dedicated to creating community in the Hampton Roads area. Hampton Roads (or Tidewater) is a huge area of southeast Virginia that is off most people's radar screens, encompassing the cities of Hampton, Newport News, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, and others. Its combined population of 1.7 million makes it one of the larger metropolitan areas in the country.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Using Commitment Devices to Overcome Procrastination

© 2012 Sylvia Liu
Are you procrastinating? I wrote a guest post on Julie Hedlund's Write up My Life blog on how commitment devices can help writers, artists, or anyone achieve their goals. Check it out, along with the other excellent articles and posts on her site. And then come back and procrastinate some more with my procrastination chart.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Creator for iPad: The Easiest E-book Publishing App You'll Find (and a Bonus Interview with Dan Amos)

Screenshot from Book Creator app for iPad
Screenshot from Book Creator's app store homepage
If you're a writer or illustrator with a picture book manuscript, there is no easier way to publish it as an ebook for the Apple bookstore than with Book Creator for iPad, by Red Jumper Studio. If you're a child, parent, or anyone who wants to create an electronic picture book that can be read and shared on an iPad, Book Creator is also for you. Book Creator for iPad is super intuitive and easy to use, and you get all of this for less than the cost of a snack and a drink (the current price is $4.99).

Here is a brief overview of the app and an interview with Dan Amos, the creator of Book Creator.

Creating an Ebook on Book Creator is Super Easy

Book Creator is so intuitive and easy to use that young children can make books with it easily. You create the ebook directly on the iPad. The basic steps to creating each page:
  1. Drag saved images to your workspace and resize them or move them as you like.
  2. Add text by typing into a text box and choosing the font size, type, and color. Although Book Creator is ideal for picture books with shorter text, you can copy and paste longer passages. 
  3. You can add audio if you wish.
Rinse and repeat for each page. At any point, you can see how the book will look by opening it in iBooks. I've been working on my picture book about rubber ducks that fall into the ocean, and this is what the first spread looks like in iBooks:

© 2011 Sylvia Liu

The resulting file is a fixed layout epub file, which means that the words will always be associated with the pictures in the exact way you have laid them out. This is perfect for picture books.   

Sharing and Publishing the iBook is Also Easy

Once you have finished with your story, you can email it to friends and family, or you can publish it at the iBookstore. I haven't gotten to this stage yet, but Apple provides a FAQ for Book Publishers for further information.

Children's author/illustrator Loreen Leedy has written a very informative post on using Book Creator to publish her 
book, Tracks in the Sand. Her main complaint is with the iBookstore's inadequate search function. Although Tracks in the Sand tells the life cycle story of sea turtles, a search for "sea turtles" doesn't bring up the book. Loreen says, "Evidently the iBookstore search function only picks up words in titles, which is not adequate. Can you imagine a library without a subject search index? It makes it impossible to find all the books on a given topic. Hopefully the iBookstore will fix this, and soon!"

Interview with Dan Amos

Dan Amos, the brain behind Book Creator, answered some questions:

Q. You've been hard to get ahold of, mainly because your app has been so wildly successful. How has it been doing the past few months?

It has been a brilliant time! Book Creator has topped the iPad book charts in 35 countries, and I've been really thrilled to see lots of e-book projects come to light with the help of the app.

Q. Tell me a bit about yourself.

I've been popping around the software industry wearing a few different hats. Most recently as a Product Manager for Nokia's digital music service where I finished in mid 2011 to develop Book Creator.

Q. What prompted you to make this app?

My wife Ally Kennen is a YA author published by Scholastic. Our work had always felt separate from each other, but the arrival of e-books suddenly fused us together. We travelled together to the London Book Fair and were blown away by the excitement of digital publishing. On the train journey home we started talking about how digital should make it easier and cheaper for great books to reach their audience. Add to that a house of 3 young children who love picture books and it was a small jump to Book Creator.

Q. Who is Book Creator's target audience? How has that affected the development of the app?

My aim is to make Book Creator attractive to as wide an audience as possible, and so far I'm getting great feedback from a wide spectrum of users. From K-2 teachers, right through to professional e-book creators and publishers who could write the necessary code but are finding Book Creator quicker and simpler. Having this wide spread of users means I take great care to introduce features that are going to be useful and usable for everyone, and I've been amazed at how much commonality there actually is. Going forward I do plan to add optional features for specific groups of users. For example, professional illustrators can look forward to enhanced typography and image tools.

Q. Do you need an iPad to use the app?

Yes, you do, and that's really the fun of it. Curled up on the sofa making your book just doesn't feel like work!

Q. I am impressed by how intuitive and easy it is to make an iBook that meets Apple's requirements. People have paid good money to professionally format their picture books and now anyone can do so for $4.99. What is your pricing strategy?

For professional illustrators and writers looking to publish digitally, $4.99 is a snap, and much cheaper than many of the other methods for getting your work into the iBookstore. That said, there is a trend and expectation towards lower and lower prices with apps. Book Creator is priced to be attractive to the casual user whilst ensuring that it will support its ongoing development.

Q. Are you working on improvements to Book Creator?

Absolutely. I've received great feedback from the community about the app and I have a long list of improvements that I'm working my way through. Right now version 2 has just come out which adds square and landscape page sizes, PDF export and printing, but still lots more to do!

Q. Where can people find the app or reach you?

Book Creator is available globally in the app store. You can also find out more about Book Creator including a quick video on how easy it is to use at And please do reach out to me at and on Twitter @redjumperdan.

Update (Oct. 2012) 
Since I published this review and interview, Book Creator has been updated with the following features:
  • Make any image play audio when tapped
  • Rotate text and images
  • Embed video in your books

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Encaustic Painting Workshop (Octopus Art, Part 2)

Photo of Karen Eide's Encaustic Wax Workshop
Karen Eide demonstrating an encaustic technique in her workshop
A few weeks ago, I took Karen Eide's all day encaustic workshop and posted one of my encaustic octopus pieces for Illustration Friday. Today, I'm going to talk about the workshop itself. I loved taking the workshop, because it exciting to work with a new medium and it was a luxury to devote 6 hours of a weekend to art while my husband took the kids to their activities.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Review: Mister O by Lewis Trondheim

I'm always happy to find a graphic novel my 4th grader enjoys, and this one she found herself. Mister O, by Lewis Trondheim (2004 NBM for English Edition) has a simple premise and plot. In each page, Mister O, a stick figure, has one goal: to cross a chasm. In each page, he fails spectacularly, despite his best efforts. He's ingenious and imaginative, resourceful and plucky, but all to no avail. His props don't work, the animals he recruits let him down (sometimes in horribly gross ways), and each time he meets the same terrible fate. The other stick figures he meets cross the chasm just fine.