The SCBWI 40th Anniversary Summer Conference - Laurent Linn and Paul O. Zelinsky

In the afternoon on Day One, I went to hear Laurent Linn, art director for Simon and Schuster, talk about the process of creating a book cover. It was enthralling to see some amazing art work developed from sketch to final rendering, and to get a window into the thinking behind all the various permutations and revisions that led to the final. It was also a revelation to see the role that the marketing department play in cover design, particularly when we got the low-down on one particularly nightmarish cover job, where they went through 3-4 illustrators and no less than 3 final images (I can't count past two, so it may have been more than that...) before they finally settled on a cover that fitted the market niche that they envisioned for the book. But it was clear that the marketing department are experts at knowing what will work in a commercial arena, and at selling books, which is what we all want. Despite the fact that the process may sometimes be frustrating, it's a question of using all the different areas of expertise within a publishing house to produce a product that will be both an artistic and commercial success. I did a sketch of Laurent, but then I found his  "David after the Dentist" parody and nothing else will do. Here it is. 


Then I went to a workshop run by Paul O. Zelinsky, whose work I've admired for a long time. In fact, when I did my first book I was researching the technique of grisaille underpainting, and I found a great online explanation he'd posted of the technique (which unfortunately seems to have disappeared or I'd link to it.) In his workshop he gave us a wonderful insight into his working methods for his more traditional paintings, and I was especially impressed with his dedication to finding the right models for his work... he not only hired dancers from a national ballet company, but even got up the nerve to approach a stranger when he found the perfect model for his Miller's Daughter in Rumplestiltskin. But most impressively, in order to find out what the herb Rapunzel looked like, he actually ordered seed from a heirloom catalogue and grew the plants in his studio. Now that's devotion! And because he wanted his witch's house in Hansel and Gretel to be tiled with pancakes, he cooked up a batch and drew from real pancake models. 


The page I was doodling on in my sketchbook while listening to Paul Zelinsky. Sorry it's not a more flattering sketch! I'll do better next time.


At the end of the day we had the PAL book sale and signing - Chris and I dragged along 40 copies of Sounds Spooky, which will be released in September, putting me dangerously over my luggage limit, but luckily I didn't have to lug them all home again, because they all sold out on the first day! Here's Chris looking all authorial and me with three chins and stupid hair at the book signing, but don't look at me - Look at the book! The BOOK! Isn't it shiny?

I also went to the illustrator's social, which was so social I forgot to take any pictures... but I did get to chat with illustrator  E.B. Lewis and Cecilia Yung, art director at Penguin, and meet up with some lovely friends.



The SCBWI 40th Anniversary Summer Conference - Welcome, and Bruce Coville.

Taking the Supershuttle from the airport to the Hyatt with twelve other people, it wasn't hard to pick which of my fellow passengers were also heading to the SCBWI conference. They were the smiley ones that chatted to the driver, swapped stories, and generally seemed alive and interesting. One of the best things about the four days I spent at the conference was definitely the people there. Imagine a hotel full of 1300 animated, talented people, all engaged in a really fun creative field, and all keen to make contacts and make friends. The atmosphere was amazing. When I arrived at the hotel I saw there was a party going on in the lobby bar, so I went down to join in - I didn't realise I was gatecrashing the faculty drinks, but no-one seemed to mind too much, and strangely enough, the other gatecrashers all seemed to be Australian too. Hmmm....

There's a wonderful article in Publisher's Weekly that sums up the conference brilliantly, but I'm going to give you the Sarahscope Panoramic View in Glorious Technicolour (TM). Actually, it will be filtered through a slight haze due to the fact that it's almost impossible to get a decent cup of tea in America, so I was suffering from severe tea withdrawal. 

The next morning the conference opened with a welcome from Lin Oliver and Steven Mooser, the people who started it all 40 years ago. They claim  that when they began SCBWI, it had about 10 members, and all of them had the last name Oliver or Mooser. This year, though, the conference sold out, with around 1300 attendees from 20 countries, and a cast of luminaries on the faculty which included some of the biggest names in children's literature. In fact, Lin Oliver joked that if there was an earthquake during the conference, there would be no children's book industry left in the USA. So they've come a long way! 


The grand ballroom at the Hyatt, packed with authors, illustrators, editors, publishers and agents. Lin Oliver welcomes everyone to SCBWI's 40th birthday bash.

All the keynote speakers proved themselves to be talented orators as well as writers and illustrators, and each speaker was moving, hilarious, and thought-provoking - often simultaeneously! There were many standing ovations. I can't really do their talks justice in the space of a blog entry, especially since part of their impact was due to their charisma, but I can at least share the moments that  shone out for me. 


The first keynote speaker was Bruce Coville, and his talk really struck a chord with me. I have some friends that do important things - they work for Oxfam, lecture in ethics, practice medicine, save the world. And I draw pictures. Sometimes I feel like what I do is rather frivolous. But Mr. Coville's talk was entitled "Ripples in the Pond: Why what we do matters... and matters... and continues to matter."    At its centre was the concept that everything we do is like a pebble thrown in a pond, and that the slightest action can have unforeseen and important consequences. He read from a letter that had been sent to him by someone who as a child read the fourth book in his "My Teacher is an Alien" series ( "a book that didn't make any ripples, that received no critical acclaim and wasn't noticed by many"). But this child was so captivated by one of the scenes in the book where the characters travel around the planet helping people that, as an adult, they joined the Peace Corp. So, by drawing, by writing, and by sharing our ideas with children "we can reach a special, lasting place in a kid's soul". His talk was summed up beautifully in this quote from a Steven Sondheim song:

"Only move just a finger,

Say the slightest word,

Somethings bound to linger...

Be heard."

While I was listening, I was sketching - I listen best when I'm doodling, which is why I was always getting into trouble at school for having messy books covered in scribbles. So, here's Bruce Coville... the words around his head were his words of advice to aspiring writers (all fabulous tips, but my favourite was "Marry Rich"!) I've blurred them because I don't want to plaster his material all over the web without his say-so. And look! He signed it for me!




The Fierce Little Woman and The Wicked Pirate

I was really delighted that The Fierce Little Woman and The Wicked Pirate was shortlisted for the LIANZA Russell Clark Award, especially since many of the past winners are New Zealand illustrators whose work I really enjoyed and admired when I was just a little beansprout, such as Gavin Bishop, Pamela Allen, Lynley Dodd, and Robyn Kahukiwa. The awards will be announced on the 8th of August, when I'll still be in America, so I can't go and join in the celebrations. But I thought I might have a little celebration of my own by posting my favourite pictures from the book here, because some of them turned out OK. I must say a big thank you to Claire, who made the perfect model for the Fierce Little Woman!




Marmaduke and Bernadette are set to be bookified!


I've been locked in my studio with smoke billowing from my flailing paintbrushes, trying to get Marmaduke Duck and Bernadette Bear in a fit state to be sent off to the printers and turned into a book - and I finished! I made the deadline! Who'da thunk it? Certainly not me... anyways, to celebrate, here are my favourite pics from the book. For the picture with all the animals rushing across the fields to Marmaduke's shop, I asked some kids I know what their favourite animal was, and then put them all in! Kayla, the dog's for you. Jessie, I hope you like your eagle. Brynn, the barn owl's lookin' at you, kid... and the sloth is mine. But can't stop, because I'm hard at work on Fearless 2, and on getting organised to fly off to the USA in three weeks - more on all that later.



Marmaduke 2 gets a cover!

I'd just like to unveil the cover for the sequel to Marmaduke Duck - I finished it just before I came to NZ, in time to bring the painting over with me and deliver it into the hot little hands of the fine folk at Scholastic in Auckland. Here are some of my rough ideas for the cover - you can probably tell Marmaduke and Bernadette have a fairly rocky relationship - and the cover that Scholastic finally chose. Why do you think they picked that idea? Which one would YOU have chosen?

This one was MY favourite, actually.

This one was MY favourite, actually.

This was the idea that the publishers decided to go with in the end.

This was the idea that the publishers decided to go with in the end.

And here (drumroll please....) is the finished thing. 




NZ Post Book Award visits - and more ten minute drawings...

I went to three lovely little schools in Stokes Valley today. The kids ordered me, most politely, to draw a seagull stealing a lizard's tail, a sweet baby calf who loved her mum, a monkey swinging to get some bananas, and my personal favourite, a secret agent platypus spying on his arch-nemesis, a crocodile. So I did. Thanks for letting me come and visit, you guys! It was a lot of fun. 

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I have a new lease on life....

Because I'm leasing a new studio! I spent my first proper day there yesterday, and it was wonderful. I worked so quickly, and had so much peace and quiet and space to think. Bliss. Here's what I did... it's an image for a poster for Marian Street Theatre's upcoming play about a little boy whose Arthurian flights of fancy basically conjure up the characters and shenanigans in the play itself. It's very funny - kids aged up to about 9 will love it - particularly if they like dragons!




Proud Auntie...

I've been lucky enough to have my two nephews staying with me for six weeks, and they've been fabulous company. Solomon, who's 8, is an absolutely amazing artist - way better than I was when I was that old... or young. Actually, in many ways he's much better than I am now. He never stops experimenting with ideas and styles and shapes, and has notebooks full of his creations. He's inspired me to start drawing again for fun, and made me remember what it SHOULD be like. He's taught me a few things while he's been here - his two best pieces of advice are "Just draw it!" and "There are no accidents for artists" (This was said while he turned a scribble that hadn't worked out for me into an amazing bird.) Here are a few of his sketches. Did I mention the fact that he's 8? EIGHT!? Watch this space... he's going to do great things. 

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Troll Lullaby


I just drew an entire Troll Family for the School Magazine - well, Troll Father doesn't seem to be around, but maybe he's working late at the Dung Heap, or maybe Troll Mother is a hardworking single parent. Anyway, the text is a traditional Swedish Song, sung by a troll mother to her eleven babies, and beautifully translated by the Art Director at the School Magazine. She's Swedish herself and so grew up with the traditional Scandanavian stories about Trolls and Gnomes, which are near and dear to her heart. It was really tricky trying to fit eleven sleeping baby trolls into the tiny bit of available space around the text, and we had a few takes to try and get the look and feel of the trolls right. I did the final painting completely digitally, using Photoshop, and took a series of step by step shots so you can watch a timelapse demo of how I painted the Troll Mother. It's the first time I've tried this, so it's a bit wobbly, but I might try again soon and get better at it!

Troll Lullaby from Sarah Davis on Vimeo.

So, now you've seen the final painting, here's a little bit of background on the process we went through. The first rough sketch I did was far too monstery, because Scandinavian Trolls try as hard as they can to be just like humans, even though they usually fail miserably. So I had to make them a bit cuter. Also, mother trolls apparently don't hang their babies up  - instead concientious troll mothers tuck their little offshoots in bed then tie them tenderly in place with their tails. Here's my first go -

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Because these guys weren't close enough to traditional trolls, the art director sent me links to some cool videos to get me in the mood - here's a gorgeous Norwegian singer performing the traditional song (in Norwegian, of course!):

And here's a clip from a Swedish cartoon series about a family of trolls:


I also remember reading the most incredible book on gnomes ever written when I was a kid - I read it to death, and I still have some of the poor dismembered pages. I'll have to get myself another copy, because I think it will be just as fascinating to me now that I'm a toothless old crone. It was created by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet, and the artwork was amazing. Their trolls were real baddies though...

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Obviously my trolls were going to be different, because they had to be a bit cute, and because I can't paint this well! Aren't those trolls wonderfully gross and menacing? You can find copies of the book on Amazon, if you're interested.

And here's another artist who paints wonderful trolls - John Bauer.

Perhaps you could invent a troll of your own. If you do, email me a copy and I'll post it here for everyone to see.



Newsflash: Sad Bunny Loses her Fancy Shoe...

When I visited William Carey Christian School, the Year 2 kids gave me a great scenario for my 10 minute illustration - a bunny who was sad because another rabbit had hidden her fancy shoe. So I gave it my best shot, but 2M have topped me by going off and writing the WHOLE STORY! They each took turns adding a sentence, and then edited it all together. 2M's teacher, Mrs Mackenzie, has just emailed me their creation - they've named the bunny Ella, and created a story of shoe-theft, betrayal, true friendship, remorse, lessons learned, and happy ever after. Well done, 2M! I love it.

Ellie and the Lost Shoe

Ellie the bunny was very sad.  Her friend Josh had hidden her fancy shoe.  He had promised that he’d never trick her by hiding her shoe again, but he had chosen to be unkind once more.  

Ellie looked here and she looked there but she couldn’t see anything except her friend laughing.  She asked Josh, “why are you laughing?”

“I heard a funny joke!” answered Josh, with a giggle.

Suddenly Ellie saw a diamond twinkling beneath the bush.  “My shoe!” she exclaimed.  But as she reached for it, Josh snatched it and hopped away quickly.  He hopped and hopped until he was so tired that he lay down in the shade of a blueberry tree and before he realised it, he was fast asleep.  

While he lay snoring, a new bunny came along and accidently thought it was HER missing shoe that was on the ground next to Josh.  She picked it up and popped it onto her bare foot.  Now she had two shoes.  Sophie hopped home.  “Oops!”  As she was getting ready for bed she noticed her real missing shoe.  It was where she’d left it this morning!  

The next morning Sophie took the shoe, which wasn’t hers back to where she’d found it.  There was Josh hopping miserably round and round underneath the blueberry tree.

Sophie apologised in a really kind voice for taking his shoe.  She even gave him some carrots to show him how sorry she really was.  

This made Josh feel sad for what he had done to Ellie.  So he hopped towards Ellie’s house, but on the way he met her in the forest.  She was looking under bushes for her shoe.

Josh said, “I’m so sorry for taking your shoe.  I will never do it again.  To show how sorry I am, let’s have a picnic.”  And they sat down in the comfy grass, underneath the leafy trees and Josh shared his carrots with his friend Ellie.  

Ellie looked down at her diamond shoes and smiled.  Then she hugged Josh and forgave him.  Then for the rest of their years and forever, Josh and Ellie have been friends.


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Blacktown Talent

I spent the last two Saturdays at the Max Webber Library in Blacktown, with a lot of talented, keen young authors and illustrators. Sue Whiting and I were running a Picture Book Making workshop - Sue spent the first week helping them come up with a story, then the next week I worked with them on layout and illustrations, from thumbnail roughs to final pages. Then we ran a session together, and helped them polish their books. It tickled me pink to see the range of their ideas - ice cream floods, goblin kings, injured dancers who dance again, a girl trapped in a grey world dreaming of colour, princesses and monsters, Superhero dogs ... and that's just a few of them. Wow. I feel very boring by comparison. Now the kids have another month to finish their books and hand them in, and the library will print them - I'll see them all again at the BIG launch party when the books are released. Thanks, guys - you were lovely to work with. 


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More ten minute drawings...

So, mainly I'm head down, flat out, working every waking hour on the illustrations for Sounds Spooky - Chris and I will have a website and blog up for the book soon. I'm really excited about this one - I actually, for once, love the way the pictures are turning out. But I took some time today and yesterday to visit a couple of schools. Yesterday the lovely kids and librarians of Wiley Park PS hosted me, and today I went all the way out to Dural to St Madeleine's primary school. It's so lush and green and pastoral out there - Im very tempted to move out that way and get me some chickens. And a cow. And maybe a donkey, just for luck. But I digress. When I talk to a group of kids, it seems a shame not to steal some of their amazing ideas - I must take advantage of being in the midst of so many wild imaginations. So they boss me around, and tell me a story, and I illustrate it - hopefully not too abysmally. But it's amazing what you can do with a trusty piece of charcoal in 10 minutes...

The Chattosaurus bores the Three-headed Dragon - By Wiley Park.  

The Chattosaurus bores the Three-headed Dragon - By Wiley Park.


The elephant is sad because the mouse punched him on the trunk, by years 3 & 4 at St Madeleine's

The elephant is sad because the mouse punched him on the trunk, by years 3 & 4 at St Madeleine's



Violet is here!

Last week, Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot, the first in the series from Walker Books, was let loose in bookstores all over the country - Anna spotted a few of them on shelves around town. Then yesterday we had a party to celebrate! I'm in Melbourne at the moment, for the YABBA award ceremony, and since Anna, who created Violet, lives here, it seemed like a good time to plan a launch. Anna organised the most amazing afternoon, generously hosted by the Book Grocer in Northcote. There were stylists on hand to festoon everyone's hair with flowers and adorn them with butterfly tattoos.

The book opens, "Violet Mackerel is a girl with a theory. Her theory is that when you are having a very important and brilliant idea, what generally happens is that you find something small and special on the ground. So whenever you spy a sequin, or a stray bead, or a bit of ribbon, or a button, you should always pick it up and try very hard to remember what you were thinking about at the precise moment when you spied it. Then think about that thing a lot more. That is Violet's theory, which she calls The Theory of Finding Small Things. " So, Anna had made absolutely beautiful tiny packets of Small Things, and everyone got one to take home. There was a lucky dip too - the first prize was one of the original drawings from the book, and Anna had put together some Boxes of Small Things as rewards for the runners-up.There were violet ballons, and violet lemonade, and a craft table with notebooks and paper for plotting and doodling. There were cupcakes and fortune cookies, and a crowd of happy people.

One of the best things about the day was finally getting to meet Anna - we'd only ever swapped a few emails before, but after the launch, we went out for pizza together and had our first chance at a really good chat. And she's every bit as lovely as I thought she'd be! You can find more photos of the day on Anna's blog.


Here's Anna looking happy, with a pile of Violet books behind her - they all flew off the shelves, and some people bought five copies!


Here's Zoe having her hair glorifid by violet flowers.Another amazing hairdo....Nikau and Zoe hold their packets of Small Things. They helped me with the illustrations in the book - Zoe designed Violet's doodles, and Nikau provided Violet's handwriting, so they were signing books with Anna and I!Even the grownups had their hair done!


The crowd...


Crafty crafters crafting


The cupcakes...Everyone listening to Anna and me making speeches.



A rather nice trip to the postbox...

Last week the mailman was good to me. Quite often when I check my post box to see if anyone loves me, there's nothing there but some dead leaves and an indignant spider or two. But on one magic day last week, look what I found... My shiny new advance copy of the Fierce Little Woman and the Wicked Pirate, from Gecko Press, two official certificates from the Children's Book Council to prove that Fearless was shortlisted for Book of the Year and won the Children's Choice Junior Judges award in the early childhood category, and a really lovely thankyou book made by the children at Abbotsleigh College. They collected and bound letters from the kids who I spoke to as part of the Abbotsleigh Literary Festival. It now has pride of place on the bookshelf in my studio, and I've uploaded a few random pages so you can see what a great job the kids have done. Thanks so much, everyone at Abbotsleigh!



Paint the Town Read, with Mission Australia

I had a fantastic week visiting schools as part of the Mt Druitt Book Week, accompanying Rooby Roo, the amazing reading kangaroo! (That's her on the left, the furry one with the big ears.) The CBCA provide funding to Mission Australia's Communities for Children program to run an early intervention programme called "Paint the Town Read" in suburbs where children have been identified as needing extra support with literacy.   The team at Mission Australia and the Mt Druitt library did a great job putting together a week of reading and story-telling fun, and I was invited to join in.

I visited Madang Ave Primary, Bidwill Primary, and Willmot Primary during the week. I read Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam with the kindies and preschoolers, who were all very talented at making animal noises, and made very convincing flocks of ducks! I ran writing workshops for the Year One and Two kids - they invented some characters and a story all together, and bossed me around while I illustrated it, and then settled down to either write and illustrate a story of their own, or finish off our collaborative story.

Here are just a few of their stupendous stories ... I wish I could put them all up, because they were fantastic, but there were hundreds! So I can only give you a small taste, but well done, you writers!

 The hammerhead shark can't see the turtle and the hammerhead shark was going up, and the turtle bumped him out of the water and back in. The shark was going down to the turtle's eggs and the turtle smashed the shark into the other sharks with his shell, and his shell started to crack!







The Lonely Bat: There was a lonely bat and he was sad because there were no bats left and he was the last bat in the cave.






The cat like to fight the cat woman, because they are both a cat.






The baby dinosaur hatched, the mother and dad were happy, and they lived happily ever after.







The cat wanted colour on it but it has a big head and fleas. So no one wanted to touch it. It made a little pond of tears. It got so big it needed another cage. In the end it got adopted.