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Children's Literary Salon in Retrospect: Illustration on June 2, 2012


© Miskend, Used With Permission© Miskend, Used With PermissionI was delighted to hear from members of the Children's Book Illustrators Group in New York City (CBIG-NYC) in the Margaret Berger Forum of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on June 2, 2012. I do not draw that well, but I appreciate art. I love photographing my cats, and my drawing teacher in college told me that I have a good eye for composition. My mother also takes good photographs. CBIG-NYC was founded by Brooklyn illustrators in 1987 as a forum in which to share publishing information and industry experiences.

Presentation of Illustrators' Art: First, Donna Miskend, President of CBIG-NYC, gave a Power Point presentation about members' work. She stated that they had recently had an exhibition at the Jefferson Market Library on dragons. She showed illustrations for various Aesop's Fables works, including "Fox and the Crow," "Fox and the Grapes," "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," and also "Magic City." The group does illustrations for upcoming exhibitions, chapter books, and picture books.

Panel Discussion with Author/Illustrators: Then, they had a panel presentation with Miskend, Vicky Rubin (webmaster, listserv manager), Maria Madonna Davidoff (Postcard Designer), H Ruth Karpes (author/illustrator), and Diana Ting Delosh (author illustrator), all members of the CBIG-NYC. Betsy Bird, Youth Materials Specialist for NYPL, moderated the program.

Bird asked how the group started.Art © Diana Ting Delosh, Used With PermissionArt © Diana Ting Delosh, Used With Permission

Karpes said that some people were talking in a bookstore. A clerk mentioned that there were a lot of children's book people. They had dinner together in 1985 or 1986. The group met informally and talked about their projects. CBIG-NYC meets six times a year, they have dues, and all of their meetings have a speaker. Members can have their portfolios reviewed. It is a chance for members to network. Once a year, they have a big portfolio review with editors and one-on-one meetings. She is about to sign her first book contract.

Bird mentioned that a lot of similar illustration groups exist. She asked what sets CBIG-NYC apart from the crowd.

One of the panelists stated that the group is small, and it has, at most, 60 members. It is a great way for members to meet publishers, art directors, and editors in members' apartments during the bimonthly meetings. It is a personal, small group.

Miskend mentioned that conferences and seminars in larger organizations such as the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) can really help members understand the industry. Their organization focuses on illustrators, and illustration is a very competitive field.

© Art by Madonna Davidoff© Art by Madonna DavidoffDelosh stated that the group gives members opportunities to succeed. They have members from other parts of the country that can participate online in their blog or exhibits, but the organization is based in NYC.

Revamped Website: Rubin mentioned that the group had recently revamped their website. Access to the website and the ability to create an account is free with the membership fee, and members can place their portfolios on the website. Members can also see a calendar of events, and they also archive the minutes of the meetings. They also have a blog.

Bird asked how many groups like theirs exist around the country, and if they have been contacted by any other groups.

Delosh stated that there is another CBIG group in Minnesota, but that she had never heard from them.

Miskend mentioned that members can use the group to market their illustrations, but they can also market themselves individually.

© Miskend, Used With Permission© Miskend, Used With PermissionPublishing Houses: Large or Small? Bird wanted to discuss publishing houses. She asked if panel members preferred to publish with smaller or larger publishers.

Davidoff mentioned that she started in Asia. She said that there is more money in big publishers, but small publishing houses are more intimate and illustrators have more say in the process. There is more interaction between the publishers and writers. However, the economy has caused some of the smaller publishers to close.

Read Davidoff's blog.

Rubin stated that the smaller publishers are easier to work with than the big ones, which are more bureaucratic, but they have more marketing clout.

Karpes said that when illustrators are marketing a book, they are glad to have anyone publish it.

Bird asked if there was an advantage to being an illustrator in NYC versus elsewhere.

A panelist mentioned that with illustrators, it does not matter, since publishing houses work with people globally. However, being in NYC is convenient because the speakers, editors, agents, and art directors are all right here.

Publication in Books versus Magazines: Bird mentioned publishing in books versus magazines. She asked how illustrators came to do this, would they do it again, and had they worked with Ladybug and/or Cricket.

Delosh said that sending the text and art or just illustrations works the same way. However, magazines only accept a certain number of pieces per month, which significantly increases an illustrator's chances of getting published. Magazines may publish ten times a year, which gives the illustrators multiple chances per year to get published. It is much easier to get published in a magazine, and there are less upfront costs in magazines versus books. Publishing in magazines is a good way to get started, and this shows the publisher that a person has been published.

© Miskend, Used With Permission© Miskend, Used With PermissionRubin said that she did an entire poetry collection of animal rhyming poems, which she submitted to a magazine. She sent seven, and two got published. Someone else illustrated the poems, and they were actually published a couple of years after submission, since the magazine published thematic issues. The magazine edited the poems a little bit. Publishing in magazines is a great way to break into the business.

Bird mentioned that she wants to do a children's literary salon panel on magazine publishing, but no publishers, like Cricket, are here in NYC.

Moving from Publishing to Illustration: Bird mentioned that some children's book professionals have moved from working in publishing houses to illustration. She asked if Karpes could speak about the transition, and was it more or less difficult to be an illustrator for people who had previously worked in publishing.

Karpes said that she had interfaced with publishing houses and she learned what happens behind closed doors. The bottom line in writing and illustrations is the person's talents.

Day of Dickens Events: Miskend stated that CBIG-NYC is promoting its exhibitions online. This exhibit, titled Dickens: a Celebration in Pictures: Illustrations by the Children's Book Illustrators Group at the Yonkers Riverfront Library in Yonkers includes Day of Dickens Event Days.   On September 13 and October 13, 2012, there will be artist demonstrations for little kids, a program on graphic novels, a panel discussion, and a performance reading of Dickens' work. The artwork spans a range for all children's books from picture books to young adult books. For a schedule, view

Bird mentioned that a lot of people do not talk about how exhibits can be used to promote art.

Miskend said that this is the third year that they are doing the exhibit, which is a challenge for the artists, and it is easier to see the range of talent when there is a similar theme across the work.

Art © Diana Ting Delosh, Used With PermissionArt © Diana Ting Delosh, Used With PermissionAudience Questions: Bird opened up the floor for audience questions.

The first audience member asked if the theme is chosen and the artists create the work especially for the exhibit.

Delosh said that the theme is chosen by CBIG-NYC just as the theme for the blog is chosen by the group.

Name Your Price: The second audience member said that she had a comment about working for small versus large publishing houses. She submitted her illustration to a small publishing house and the organization asked her to name her price for the work. The illustrator named a price, to which the publisher asked, "That's all?!" She stated that a large publishing house would probably not ask what an illustrator would like to be paid for his or her work. She advised illustrators to do research ahead of time so that they can have an idea of what is the norm in the field and what is a fair price. She said that illustrators can negotiate price with small and large publishing houses.

Davidoff said that she worked with a large publishing house in Scandinavia who asked her to name her price. She retained the copyright on her work and the publisher will use her illustration in a historical scene in a work which will be published in 2012.

A third audience member said that she was a member of CBIG-NYC, and that it was a very supportive group which will always answer questions.

A fourth audience member asked if CBIG-NYC is a nonprofit organization.

Miskend said that it is a volunteer-run organization.

© Art by Madonna Davidoff© Art by Madonna DavidoffIllustration in Textbooks: Bird wanted to discuss publishing illustrations in textbooks. She knew of one author whose work had been used for testing purposes, and some of it had been changed.

Delosh said that she had worked with education. They give you a list of what they want and illustrators work to the list. Sometimes they ask you to change things.

Davidoff said that you can get royalties or not, depending on what the contract says. She likes working with education because it is varied and illustrators can achieve international and national exposure.

How Images Influence Text: The fourth audience member asked how images can change the intent of the work. Children are very visual. She asked if the panelists knew of any studies about this.

Miskend said that there are books with interviews with illustrators about the illustration process in children's books. Illustrations have changed and they are not just illustrating the text exactly to the letter nowadays. The illustrator tells part of the story visually. For example, they can have characters in their pictures that are not in the text but that tell part of the entire story.

The fourth audience member mentioned that, in theory, the more interaction that there is with the student, the more that the student retains the information.

Delosh stated that the work in magazines for infants to five-year-old kids is much simpler than the intricate artwork in magazines for older students, such as Ladybug and Highlights.

Miskend mentioned that artwork in European countries utilizes a color palette that is considered more muted than what is often used in the United States in addition to the typical bright colors that are associated with children's illustrations. In the United States, illustrations are much more influenced by Disney and the Warner Brothers in style, and they have much brighter colors.

Bird stated that the publishers in the US can also afford the brighter colors, which are more expensive.

Art © Diana Ting Delosh, Used With PermissionArt © Diana Ting Delosh, Used With PermissionThe second audience member asked if illustrators and writers can get things published together.

Bird said that she heard that David Letterman's au pair got her work published together with an illustrator, but that this does not happen very often.

Miskend said that any chance that illustrators have to expose their artwork is good and publishers appreciate seeing the illustrators getting their work out there.  

Advice for Aspiring Illustrators: Bird asked if members of CBIG-NYC had any general advice for illustrators who are trying to get their work published that people might not know.

One of the panel members said to never give up.

Davidoff said that it is good to write down your ideas on an iphone or piece of paper as you have them so that you will not forget.

Delosh said that illustrators should keep sketching every chance that they get so that they can create as much as possible. Ideas can feed off one another.

Miskend said that it is a good idea to look at other books, including the classics and more modern, trendy books. Illustrators can also take art classes at colleges or art schools. It is a good idea to learn about SCBWI and the industry so that illustrators know how the field operates.

Karpes said that it is important not to take rejection personally. The publishing house may already have something similar that they are planning to publish, and they may not want the illustrator's work to compete with that.

Thanks to Betsy Bird for organizing and moderating another scintillating Children's Literary Salon.

Art © by Madonna DavidoffArt © by Madonna Davidoff

Future Children's Literary Salons

September 15, 2012 - Acts of Mischief: Editor Patti Lee Gauch and the State of the Picture Book
The picture book has long been a favorite of both children and adults. But why do some picture books stand transcend? Do they begin, as an Act of Mischief — with design and color as well as idea? And what about the creators themselves? Did the mischief begin with them? Using examples from some of the most best loved picture books, Patricia Lee Gauch, editor of three Caldecott medal winning books, will bring new understanding to this popular genre.
Time: 2 p.m. - 3 p.m.
Location: Margaret Berger Forum, Room 227

October 20, 2012 - Bullying in Books for Youth
Join author Frieda Wishinsky and a host of other authors as they delve deep into the topic of bullying and its presence in literature for children and teens.

October 27, 2012 - Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature
An illustrated talk, focusing on Johnson and Krauss in the 1950s, the period in which they reinvent the modern picture book, and the FBI places them under surveillance. Working with legendary Harper editor Ursula Nordstrom, Johnson publishes Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), and Krauss begins her decade-long collaboration with Maurice Sendak, creating the groundbreaking A Hole Is to Dig (1952), A Very Special House (1953) and six others. The FBI builds a file on Johnson, opening his mail, monitoring his bank account, and noting the names of people who visited or phoned. Drawing from the biography (forthcoming September 2012) that shares its title with this talk, Nel offers a story of art, publishing, politics, and the power of the imagination.

Philip Nel is Professor of English and Director of Kansas State University's Program in Children's Literature. His most recent books are Keywords for Children's Literature (co-edited with Lissa Paul, 2011) Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature (co-edited with Julia Mickenberg, 2008), The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats (2007), Dr. Seuss: American Icon (2004). Forthcoming, fall 2012: a double biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, and The Complete Barnaby, Vol. 1 (co-edited with Eric Reynolds), which collects the first two years of Crockett Johnson's influential comic strip. He also blogs and tweets.

November 3, 2012 - Independent Publishing in an Age of Mass Marketing
While huge companies like Scholastic, Macmillan, Harper Collins, etc. may have seemingly unlimited funds to promote their materials, smaller independent publishers have found niche areas missed by some of their bigger competitors. Join Cheryl Hudson (Just Us Kids), Claudia Zoe Bedrick (Enchanted Lion Press), and others for a conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of being a David in an era of Goliaths.

December 1, 2012 - Design and the Picture Book as Object
Join Jonathan Yamakami, the designer behind I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, and other children's book designers for a discussion of the unique challenges and opportunities affording to this one-of-a-kind book type.


January 5, 2013 - Ethics
February 2, 2013 - Middle Graders
March 2, 2013 - Diversity

Descriptions provided by Betsy Bird, Youth Materials Specialist at NYPL


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