Wednesday, August 22, 2012

SCBWI Conference: Physical Book vs e-Book

One of the hot topics at the SCBWI Summer conference was that inevitable question: “Is the physical printed book, as we know it - dead?” The subtext of the question is asking if the advent of e-books is taking over print and if bookstores may be relegated to the dustbin of history. What does the future really hold for those of us who write, publish and illustrate books?

On August 4th, a panel of world-class editors, including Neal Porter, Tamar Brazis, Jordan Brown, Laura Godwin, Elise Howard and Farrin Jacobs all weighed in on the subject, and their answers surprised me – pleasantly.

Here is what was said:

In this climate of changes in technology, recessionary times and the demise of bookstores, children’s book publishing is trying to find equilibrium; but overall, the manufacturing of books is experiencing a general downgrade of quality.

  • Print books are becoming more archival, more collectible and more of a durable good. A book is an appreciated, treasured object that can be passed on to new generations of readers.
  • A book on an iPad is generally still pretty boring; sold as an app for 99 cents, but can cost $40,000.00 to make.

Be careful not to freak ourselves out. 80% of children’s book publishing is in print. There is always going to be a place for physical books.

“Digital” opens up possibilities and opportunities for more work, particularly for illustrators. With “digital” we have yet another venue that gets kids reading.

Practically, you are not going to give a kid an $800.00 iPad (although I have witnessed this numerous times to the contrary), but a book that costs $2.95 is pretty safe for a kid to chew, eat on, and splash stuff on. Expensive tablets will get lost, damaged and drowned in bathtubs. It’s much more practical to give a little kid an inexpensive physical book.

Y.A. (Young Adult) publishing is experiencing the greatest growth in e-book sales; now it’s about 50/50 paperbacks vs. e-books.

One editor said she is absolutely not engaged with digital; she loves the paper and format of a real physical book (applause rang out from the audience here).

In this digital landscape, the shift from physical book to e-book transforms what a book really is. E-Readers encourage the purchase of books. This is actually very exciting for us, as this encourages literacy, opens up more opportunities for those of us who work in the publishing industry – and many of us who are daunted by thick books with small print prefer the convenience of e-books.

The editor panel agreed that print books will strengthen as technology evolves, while e-books will also improve. Right now, the consensus is that e-books for children are just copies of print books that sometimes try to be “lame video games,” but some innovator is going to come out with e-book delivery that will knock the medium out of the park.

Kids are now “digital natives,” knowing a life only with all kinds of digital technology at their tiny fingertips. Any e-reader has to compete with the onslaught of diversions surrounding us. Books compete with movies, video games, social media and other things that move and blast the senses.  Creators of e-books for children must bear this in mind: a kid may go for a live action movie or game in favor of a weakly animated little picture book on an e-reader.

Finally, remember this: a book is a self-paced entertainment source. An animated thing is not. It’s up to the reader to turn the page.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

SCBWI 2012: An Illustrator's Perspective, Part 1

2012 SCBWI Summer Conference: An illustrator’s perspective  Part I

I am recovering from spending 4 breathless, exciting, mind-bending days - that seemed like 8 days – at the annual summer SCBWI conference. SCBWI stands for:
Society of
Writers and
Strange acronym, isn’t it? No one seems to know how to pronounce it.

I represent the ‘I’ as an illustrator – and as you can tell from my work, much of what I do is for children’s books, also known as kid lit.

This was my third conference. In 2010, my graduate advisor, Hala Swearingen, urged me to go – so I did, and it was great advice. I’ve been hooked ever since, since the kid in me is still very present and comes out when I’m illustrating anything. Even at this year’s conference, Cecilia Yung (Art director and VP of Penguin Young Readers Group) reminded us that we still have to entertain the little kid in us. But I’m jumping ahead of myself – that was from the “Illustrator Intensive,” that happened on Monday, 8/6/12.

The conference was full of info. Look for more blog posts on the conference, which you’ll relate to if you:
·      Have kids.
·      Read stories to kids.
·      Love art (especially for kids)
·      Love reading.
·      Have gone to SCBWI.
·      Are a kid at heart (that’s meeee!)

I stayed at the Hyatt, so I got a full immersion. I shared a room with Nadia Roldan, an illustrator and educator, who was a joy to share the experience with. She taught me so much about social media! Here is her blog:, and she’s having a show on August 18th that must not be missed:

From the first day on, we were flooded with information. Just the stats were interesting: There were 1,234 attendees. 411 of us are published (I am fortunate to be among this population), and 941 were known to be female and 171 were known to be male. The rest had names that couldn’t be distinguished by gender.

The conference faculty likes to introduce themselves with a single word, like this:
   “moxi” – Linda Pratt
   “Flexibility” – Cecilia Yung
   “seduce (me)” – Neal Porter
   “climax” – Eugene Yelchin
   “dream” – Tony DeTerlizzi
   “charming” – Lauren Rille
   One faculty member – a famous YA (Young Adult) writer said: “penis!!!” and ran away –loved her!

   I would say: “Overwhelmed.”   And so would most of us who attended the conference.

Enough intro…here is the good stuff:

We heard from Arthur Levine, who has his own imprint with Scholastic, who told us that timelessness is a quality he looks for, when deciding on what to publish.

So I had a new word that supplanted “overwhelmed” – which is now: “timeless” –thanks to Arthur Levine.

     Then, Tony DiTerlizzi, a bestselling author and illustrator took the stage. He won a Caldecott Honor for his book: The Spider & The Fly.
     He asked us to be aware of this, while working on a book for kids; e.g.: what does the 10-year old Tony want in a book?
      This is if you want to connect with your audience - if they're ten.
      Cecilia Yung asked us later, what does her 4-year-old self want in a picture book? This is if you want to connect with 4 year old kids...and you have to appeal to their parents who buy the books.
     We have to tap into the kids that still exist within us. If you’re not careful, every year we get older puts us a little further. You have to remember.

More later. I’m overwhelmed!! The kid in me wants to go out and play.

Look for Part II….

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fat Cat

Not too long ago I started a series of Idiom paintings.
Idioms are so much fun to illustrate, providing a golden opportunity to show what a phrase or play on words means to me.

Just like in my other idiom painting "Holy Cow,"
the idiom "Fat Cat" brings ups up all kinds of ideas about what it really means to be a fat cat.

Fat Cat is a political term originally meant to describe a filthy-rich political donor who is able to buy access and influence, to fuel that rich person's personal gain. Fat Cats can live easy off the work of others.

Here is my Fat Cat painting:

Fat Cat by Laura Hoffman

Here is what inspired me to paint Fat Cat, painted while we were going through the bank bail outs in 2008 - 2009:

Thomas Nast
Thomas Nast (1840-1902), the American illustrator known for coming up with the look of Santa Claus, mocked Tammany Hall's notorious king of corruption, Boss Tweed - the quintessential fat cat of his day.

Through years of fearless caricature, Nast's illustrations helped promote the downfall of one of New York City's most crooked and corrupt politicians. His merciless political cartoons helped identify and bring down fat cat Boss Tweed, who ended up dying in jail in 1878.

It is estimated that Tweed and his cronies stole anywhere from $400 million to $2 billion dollars in today's terms during a two year period from 1870 to 1871. Legend has it that Boss Tweed offered Thomas Nast $1 million to "Stop them damn cartoons!" But Nast refused the bribe.

Here is my sketchbook  drawing of my version of a Fat Cat:

Fat Cat sketch
Fat Cat in progress.
Finished painting of Fat Cat, by Laura Hoffman

Fat Cat was first sketched, then painted using mixed media. The stripes are applied last, following the fat stuffy contours of the Fat Cat's body. Look closely, and you'll find his gold watch straining against his pin striped suit and the glow of his fat cigar. His fluffy hair is poofing out of his 3 piece suit in unfortunate places.

Fat Cat, my painting, has made the rounds!
It won entry and a certificate of merit in SI-LA (Society of Illustration of Los Angeles) Illustration West #48 competition and exhibition (March 2010).

From Society of Illustrators web site - Fat Cat entry on Si-La West #48

Fat Cat has hung proudly in a few exhibitions at CSUF (California State University Fullerton).
Laura Hoffman in front of her paintings at CSUF's Evolving Narratives MFA show
Here I am at the Evolving Narratives MFA Illustration show, curated by Barbara Malley.

I donated Fat Cat to LCAD’s (Laguna College of Art & Design) annual Collector’s Choice fundraiser.

Another version of Fat Cat is hanging now at the Orange County Fair until August 12.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Aesops Fable: The Milk Maid

Recently, I illustrated a very classic Aesops Fable, "The Tale of the Milkmaid." It's also known as "The Milkmaid and Her Pail," or simply, "The Milkmaid."

Growing up, I always heard my folks say, "Don't count your chickens until they're hatched." The milkmaid is really me in my more clueless state in my teens and early twenties. Sometimes that little milkmaid still comes out to haunt me.

Here it is, illustrated:

End paper

Pages 2 & 3

Page 4 & 5 spread

Pages 6 & 7
P. 8

End paper

"A Farmer's daughter was carrying her Pail of milk from the field to the farmhouse, when she fell into a daydream.

She imagined, the money for which this milk will be sold will buy at least three hundred eggs which will produce two hundred and fifty chickens.
I’ll sell them and get enough money to buy a beautiful new gown. I’ll look so glamorous that everyone will want me. I’ll be rich and famous!
But as she ran to escape from her imaginary throng of suitors, she tripped and fell. The pail of milk crashed to the ground with all her dreams.
Moral of the story:
Don't count your chickens before they are hatched!"
I made the drawings with my favorite pencils: Tombow Mono pencils on cold press paper. 
      Just last month, I re-cast the chicks again for a new illustration project I just finished for Dickson Louie, a professor for UC Davis. He needed me to create a spot illustration for a textbook on technology that was a lot of fun to work on. This new project deserves its own post - coming very soon. The book gets published later this month.
Here is a preview with my chicks (they're cute, why not bring them back?):

Holy Cow!

I love working out images for idioms, illustrating what a play in words looks like to me.

So there's that outburst, "Holy s**t!" that is best said in a more polite way. Saying "Holy Cow!" is a good substitute. A lot of people say this when in awe of something, or if you drop a hammer on a foot. I find myself saying, "Holy Cow" more than most people.

So here is another explanation I painted for Holy Cow - or Holey Cow, in my Idiom series.

Here are the sketches as I worked on what a "Holy Cow!" really looks like.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My Muse: Penny the Dachshund

Three summers ago, we rescued a 7 year old dachshund named Penny. Though I have grown up with dachshunds, as an adult I've always had cats - and love cats.

When Penny came into our lives, everything changed. We bonded immediately. She has us wrapped around her powerful little paws. Now she is our spoiled and indulged little friend, who charms everyone in her wake.

Being a hilarious little dog, she has inspired a new book project, starring herself!

Here, she is doing what she does best - going to bed after a long day of playing, sleeping, walking, romping, eating, sleeping more and getting petted. This might be the dust cover jacket.

 Originally, her co-star was going to be another dachshund - a puppy, but that has since changed.

Here are some sketches of Penny, the main character for the book project:

I'm working on capturing Penny from different views. She just turned 11 and moves a little slower now, so she keeps a pose long enough to draw her from life.

The paintings are drawn traditionally with graphite. I like the energy of the original drawn line  to show up under transparent washes of paint.  Over the next year, I hope to complete sketches (called a "dummy") for a 32 page picture book that features Penny as its star character.

Cat Sit

Recently, I got an assignment to create artwork for the letter 'C' for an alphabet book
called "Sick of School," a different kind of alphabet book.

The book is still in progress.

Letter C stands for Catatonia, which we changed to Cat at on Ya. Why not?
It's really about a cat sitting on a kid; fat cats sit on anything.

Here are some initial sketches:

Cat at on Ya, thought to be too disturbing...
This one was more on the right track...

We liked the version with the cat looking back.

Now, on to the final painting for Cat at on Ya:

But there's something missing; 
Why the cat looking over his shoulder?

Here is the final version for Cat at on Ya. Look for Sick of School, a different kind of alphabet book.