This is our 5th post of this series. This time it is with one of our members who has recently self-published a really cute-looking picture book. Let's meet Justin Plunkett and get to know him and his wonderful little book.
Tell us about your new book
Oskar and Nanuk is my first children's book. It is a story about a llama and sloth helping each other find themselves. When a storm threatens to turn Nanuk into a soggy mop, she decides to leave her hill and find shelter from the rain in the jungle. The following morning she awakens to the alarming sight of an odd looking beast with long, clawed arms, hanging above her. It’s Oskar, a sweet but slightly smelly sloth. When Nanuk realises that she’s lost, Oskar offers to help. The marvellous view from his perch in the tallest tree for miles is filled with rainbows and promise. But something scary keeps him from chasing adventure - a rather unsettling earthworm experience. Together, Oskar and Nanuk work to overcome their fears and they find far more than what they were expecting.
The story is told in rhyme. It has super colourful illustrations throughout, it is 32 pages long and is self published.
What inspired you when working on this project?
There were two books in particular that inspired me, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak and ‘Hello Lighthouse’ by Sophie Blackall. Far from children’s literature, the songwriting of Nick Cave always blows me away. Listening to him, I imagine the words leaving his mouth, where, instead of falling clumsily to the ground, the words dance with each other like smoke. I love reading lines that are playful but carefully crafted, often with the use of assonance, onomatopoeia and rhyme. In the early stages of writing I joined the Masterclass website and watched most of the writers’ courses.
Tell us about the creative process for this book.
When my son was born, I knew that I would make start making something for kids. I didn’t exactly know whether it would be furniture, clothing or something else. I decided to develop a kids brand using two names I’d resonated with during the process of naming future babies, Oskar and Nanuk.
I chose the sloth and llama as they both had really distinct visual characteristics and they could play off each other well. They were a funny combo, opposite in so many ways. To get to know them better I drew cartoons and developed lots of little vignettes that helped me clarify who they were and what they wanted. I thought a lot about the structure, the conflicts and character arcs and then I wrote the story. I loved it when it was done and shared it with a few people. It became clear very quickly that it was far too long. It rhymed in some places and not in others. But it was way too long. I think I ended up writing 4 or 5 versions, with each one getting shorter.
By the second version I felt ready to start illustrating and over about three months I went from sketches to finished work. The illustrations were done on my iPad Pro with the Apple pencil and the software I used was Procreate. Even after the drawings were complete I kept editing and tweaking the writing. The rhyming spread. It was getting really hard to stay motivated towards the end.
When I learned that the process of getting a publisher on board could take 6 months to a year I decided to self publish. After all that work, waiting 6 months for a response was too great an anticlimax. I want to get this book out into the world. Much of my careers has been focussed on branding and marketing so, equipped with a relevant skill set, I feel optimistic about building brand awareness. I remain open and interested in finding a traditional publisher as they are clearly experts, while I am merely impatient.
Did you encounter anything unexpected while working on this project?
I guess I was naive and enthusiastic when I started. It felt easy at first. The editing process was harder than I’d expected, writing became more and more difficult.
The illustration was largely a breeze but when I needed to prep the artwork for IngramSpark, the Print on Demand platform for self publishers, I ran into a really difficult issue. As a designer I’ve printed thousands and thousands of things for clients over the years but I’d never encountered a print specification that included an ink coverage limit. IngramSpark threatened to reject books that exceeded their ink density limit of 240%. I won’t go into technical details, but as a result of this ink limitation I had to spend a week fine-tuning each drawing so that it would print the bright and saturated colours I’d intended.
When I received the first printed prototype it felt small in my hands. I needed to push the book to it’s largest possible format, and with a better sense of how to edit the colours, I went back to editing the pictures.
Now for something completely different! Seaside or Mountains? Why?
While the Alps here in Switzerland are naturally breathtaking, there are shameless tribes of octogenarians who whip past me on the trails, filling me with despair as I desperately need air.
I prefer the seaside in spite of my fear of sharks. As a kid, waist deep in the sea, I found myself face to face with a shark swimming towards me in a tall rising swell. When the wall crashed into whitewater, all oceanic sports were permanently washed from my future. But later in life, the natural beauty of Cape Town left an equally profound mark on me. No bite marks, but brilliant orange sunsets over the sea that stay with me still.
Thank you for this insightful interview.
It's quite inspiring to meet someone who has taken the bold step to self-publish. We wish Justin all the best with his picture book and in future writing/illustrating endeavours.
Bio - Justin Plunkett
Like most people I wear many hats. I’m dad to a beautiful 3 year old. I’m husband to a wonderful Swiss who inspired me to leave the country of my birth, to join her in the land of hers. I’m a South African designer, illustrator and artist. Today I call the sweet little city of Schaffhausen home.
I grew up in a family of avid explorers, every school holiday became an expedition to deserts, jungles and the African bush. I learned to drive a Land Rover at 11 and watched my dad fix them on beaches, salt pans and mountain passes. When I tell stories of my wild childhood to Europeans, they sound far fetched, torn from the adventure books I loved to read during the hours and hours of driving. I had time to imagine and can’t remember being bored as a kid.
In my career I’ve zigged and zagged. I’ve had terrific mentors and hopped from advertising to animation to design. I could always draw. As a restless 5 year year old with pneumonia the only way my mother could keep me in bed was sitting in bed with me. She taught me to draw birds. She was an illustrator and interior designer and as a kid I remember looking up through our glass dining room table littered with markers, papers and french curves. My dad was a creative director in an advertising agency and could draw great cartoons. With my mom’s help I won art competitions at school and my hungry ego found a steady source of approval and admiration. Decades later, I picked up awards and professional recognition and created work I’m still very proud of.
When I became a dad, the wonderful world of children books reopened doors to the past, and this is the reason you are reading this now.
We are excited to launch a new series of blog posts, highlighting our published members and their work. So join in me giving a hearty SCBWI Switzerland welcome to Simona Ceccarelli!
Her new book is called “SOIC and SOT: The Microchips” and it’s a lovely picture book.
Tell us about your new book.
“SOIC and SOT”, written by Jeffrey C. Dunnihoo, is a friendship story…only the friends happen to be microchips! After a harsh separation at the assembly line, they experience all the scary stages of electronics production and finally get to meet again in the most fantastic of ways: through the network.
The book is published by Pragma Media, which has set itself the goal of making electronics approachable and interesting for children. It is part of a three-book series, with the next two scheduled for next year.
Every page of “SOIC and SOT” has QR codes that link to a webpage with additional information about each step of the friends’ journey - for the most curious engineers-to-be.
What inspired you when working on this project?
I had to learn a lot about electronics myself to illustrate this book - and it’s a fascinating topic. It was thrilling to have experts review my illustrations and provide feedback. The author, Jeff Dunnihoo, is an electronics engineer. He was always happy to explain the hows and whys behind every detail: I ended up learning a lot more than what is included in the book and stand in wonder at what happens inside all our electronic devices.
Having a scientific background definitely helped.
Tell us about the creative process for this book.
It was a fun challenge to make microchips interesting and relatable as characters, convey emotions and have some dynamic range of expression. That’s why the first step of the process was extensive character design.
Finding the right style for the final illustrations also took some time. We wanted the book to have a painterly feel, but there had to be sufficient details as well. At the end, we settled for a colored-pencil look, which allowed to have both texture and fine linework.
I work digitally, but in a way that emulates traditional media.
The hardest part of creating the illustrations was collecting the right reference, because all technical details had to be caricatured yet accurate. There is a circuit board on many spreads: to keep consistency, I created a model of it in a 3D software to use as reference. Pragma provided a lot of images as well as technical files of the components and there were many changes before the board looked right: it’s completely fictional but looks like it could work!
Did you encounter anything unexpected while working on this project.
I found myself watching factory training videos to know how the inside of the assembly machines looked like.
Now for something completely different! Autumn or Spring, Why?
Autumn. Red and yellow are my favorite colors!
Thank you very much Simona for giving us an opportunity to learn more about your new book and your creative process. I must say it’s so interesting to hear how much you had to learn in order to produce accurate yet charming illustrations.
We wish you all the best on your continued journey as a children’s book illustrator and look forward to more books by you.
Bio – Simona Ceccarelli
After an exceptionally nerdy childhood, Simona left home with a passion for both art and science, a large library – which has been growing out of control ever since – and a dream that life would offer wealth beyond riches and several roads to travel. Her first journey was to study science and, after earning a doctorate, she worked as a medical research scientist for more than 10 years.
Art eventually lured her back to follow "the road not taken.” She studied illustration and visual development at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, and since 2013 she’s been happily doing illustration and animation projects for magazines, advertising and scientific education.
In 2016 she joined SCBWI and focussed almost exclusively on children’s book illustration. She has since illustrated two direct-to-school reading books for Rubicon Publishing (“The Horse of Seven Colors” and “Circle of Friends”), designed the cover and characters for a successfully crowdfunded book by the Microactivist Foundation and illustrated the “SOIC and Friends” book series for Pragma Media, of which “SOIC and SOT” is the first book. She is currently working on several educational titles for Rizzoli/Mondadori and Scholastic. Her first trade book as illustrator: “If You Had Your Birthday Party on the Moon” with Sterling Children’s Books (written by Joyce Lapin), will be released in April 2019.
Simona lives in Basel, Switzerland, with her husband and two children.
For children’s books, she is represented by Andrea Cascardi, Transatlantic Literary Agency
BY MONIKA BAUM, ILLUSTRATOR COORDINATOR
There are a few things to be said about children’s book illustration and twitter: Twitter can get you work as an illustrator, but mostly because someone has tweeted a link to an external site. Because of this, the platform is more suited towards networking, tips and chats.
It is also a secondary platform to Instagram where illustrators share their artwork and tag it with strategic hashtags.
You do not need to have an account to have a look around and explore, as everything is public, but it helps in case you want to keep track of a few things or to network. Keeping that in mind, twitter can be extremely helpful but also time-consuming.
To write this blog, I thought I would compile a list of art directors and illustrators that post content relevant to illustration and how to get work opportunities. However, that proved to be rather time consuming and would have had to be periodically kept up to date at a later point in time.
So instead, I will write about how to make Lists to help you create your own groups of people you’d like to collectively keep an eye on.
“A list is a curated group of Twitter users and a great way to organise your interests.”
To create a list:
1. Click on your profile picture on the top-most ribbon and then click on “Lists”.
2. On the page that opens up next there’s a button for creating a list.
These lists can be set to either public or private. (This means that you can see other people's public lists and you can subscribe to them, which can potentially save you a lot of time but is possibly not fully meeting your children's book illustration interests.)
Here you will also see the lists you have
- subscribed to and
- been added to by others.
Ideas for Lists:
• Art Directors
• SCBWI / PB / MG / YA /… authors
• SCBWI / PB / MG / YA / digital / traditional/… illustrators
• Europolitan attendees
• Frankfurt Book Fair stuff
• Bologna Book Fair people I need to make sure to say Hello to
To add people to existing lists:
1. Go to their main twitter page.
2. To the left of the “Follow” button, click on the “settings” symbol and then on “Add or remove from lists…”
3. These people will get a notification that you have added them to your list.
4. You can now see the extra ribbon item “Lists” on your own Twitter page.
Click on any list and you’ll see only the tweets by people who are on it.
Hashtags and how to save them
Some of the main (children’s book) illustration hashtags that you might want to check out are:
There are so many more hashtags that have to do with sketching and doodling, but for the purpose of this blog post, we’ll stay with the children’s book hashtags.
Rants, problems, vents, praises and delights can be tweeted with #amdrawing, #ampainting and #amillustrating, analogous to the writer’s hashtags of #amwriting, #amrevising and #amplotting.
To save one of these hashtag searches, click on:
1. “More options” on the search result page,
2. and then on “Save this search”.
The hashtag search will then appear in an auto-complete-like drop-down that appears when you click into the empty twitter search box.
It is possible to search for (and save) all tweets containing a specific hashtag by a specific account with: "#hashtag from:username".
For example, to see all tweets from Susann Spann, a publishing attourney, about publishing law, you would type in the search box: PubLaw from:SusannSpann
Let’s continue though with the relevant and specific children’s book illustration things to be found on twitter.
This is the fun part!
The KidLitArt ChatThere is one chat that illustrators of children’s books should probably follow - if they are awake:
The KidLitArt Chat on Thursdays at 9pm Eastern Time (which is 2 am for Britain and 3 am for most of mainland Europe).
To participate, make sure your tweets and replies contain “#kidlitart”.
Topics are announced on @kidlitart and kidlitart.blogspot.com, and by the moderators: @DiandraMae, @rubinpingk and @blythe_russo.
Art Tips, online illustration schools ...
Guiseppe Castellano @pinocastellano, Executive Art Director at Penguin Random House, regularly posts art tips on his twitter account.
They are extremely helpful to go through for when you are not sure about your promotional postcard, your artistic voice, things to avoid, interesting kidlitart podcasts to listen to, portfolio tips, website advice and external links to even more art tips. To view all of his art tips, copy and paste the following into the twitter search box: #arttips from:pinocastellano.
Do check out Susann Spann @SusannSpann, publishing attourney. Her #PubLaw tweets are helpful for both writers and illustrators for dealing with contracts, agents, editors, copyright, licensing and much more: #PubLaw from:SusannSpann.
Worth mentioning here is also the twitter account “Tips from Jesse Hamm” @Hamm_Tips by @jesse_hamm whose posts focus most on design, composition, visual storytelling, comics.
The following illustrator resources should also be included because they are active on twitter and announce upcoming classes, podcasts and other happenings regularly. The majority of their kidlitart-helpful content is outside of twitter though:
The School of Visual Storytelling @SVSLearn
"Specializing in illustration education in fields of visual storytelling." Some their instructors are: @willterry333, @mrjakeparker, @sillybeast_ltd, @paintFACT, @yangmeister, @deniszilber, @ZacDRetz, @annwhitfordpaul, @tycarterart, @jimmadsen.
The Oatley Academy of Visual Storytelling @OatleyAcademy by @ChrisOatley
"The most personal art education you can find online." Chris Oatley teaches you how to paint digitally, illustrate stories and design characters.
... and more
• KidLit Artists @KidLitArtists Tips, resources and news for children's book illustrators & writers from @SCBWI-LA Illustration Mentees, past & present.
• Illustrators @cillustrators Children's Illustrators Showcase - promoting the best #kidlitart & #illustration.
• The Children's Writer's Guild @CWGORG The Children's Writer's Guild is an online magazine and community for children's writers, illustrators, educators–and anyone interested in children's media!
• SCBWI Illustrators @SCBWI_illustrat Illustrator members of the British Isles Region of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).
• CBC Book @CBCBook The best in children's and young adult literature and literacy news!
• Children's Bookshelf @PWKidsBookshelf A free e-newsletter from Publishers Weekly that reports on children's and YA books.
• Directory of Illustration @DirIllustration Art buyers, art directors, and creative directors discover outstanding artists for commercial assignments through the Directory of #Illustration.
• KIDLIT411 @KIDLIT411 Everything kid lit- in one place! Your one stop info. Shop!
Other fun illustration hashtags and challenges
#scbwidrawthis by @scbwi
#colour_collective by @Clr_Collective
#IllustrationFriday by @ifri
#sketchdailies by @SketchDaily
#monthoflove by @MonthofLove
#Inktober, @Inktober by @mrjakeparker
#draw100somethings by @mrjakeparker
Twitter for children’s book illustrators – never mind illustrators in general! - is far bigger than what I have posted here, but I hope I have given a good starting point from where to build your network, lists and hashtag searches.
Tweet us @SCBWISwiss or email us if you have further helpful kidlitart-twitter-info to add!
Willkommen! Bienvenue! Benvenuto! Bainvegnì! Welcome!