May 1, 2023: Grateful thanks to all who participated in my annual NAPIBOWRIWEE event from 2009 – 2019. Although this event has permanently ended, I encourage everyone to explore our archives of children's book author Q&A interviews and picture book writing tips. Happy Writing!
2018 NAPIBOWRIWEE DAY 2 – Meet Guest Artist Colleen Kong-Savage!
WELCOME TO DAY TWO OF THE 2018 NATIONAL PICTURE BOOK WRITING WEEK EVENT!
Wow! I am so impressed by everyone’s enthusiasm and hard work on Day One! Thanks for all your comments and progress reports. I will try my best to reply and comment each day as well.
My Day One got off to a late start – because of work schedule conflicts, I didn’t get a chance to start writing until late last night.
As I have said before in our “rules,” you are allowed to brainstorm ideas and even do research and take notes before May 1st. So I had already figured out a couple of book ideas I wanted to pursue for this week.
But wouldn’t you know it… instead of working on one of these pre-planned ideas, I impulsively came up with a cute poem that dealt with the theme of bossiness. It was a fun writing exercise and I loved my character that I came up with. It made me realize… perhaps this is actually a chapter book?
THIS is why I stress the importance of FINISHING a rough draft. Once you get to the END, it can help you realize whether or not the picture book genre itself is the best way to tell your story.
I am first and foremost a long-form writer of novels and screenplays. I find writing picture books to be incredibly challenging… and ultimately rewarding. Less is more! 🙂 So what I love about NAPIBOWRIWEE is that it allows me the freedom to write a very rough first draft of a picture book so I can then step back and decide whether or not the picture book is the right way to tell the story.
I still think there’s a way to keep my Day One draft as a picture book, but hmmmm…. I may be revising this later in a differennt format. Who knows? 🙂
For Day 2, I defintely plan to work one of my pre-planned ideas. I have been wanting to do another biography picture book draft and I had a new idea of how to tell that historical subject’s story for a VERY YOUNG audience, so I definitely know what I write today WILL be a picture book. I can’t wait to get started!
Until then, as you know, this is my TENTH annual NAPIBOWRIWEE, which I started in 2009. So to celebrate ten years of our National Picture Book Writing Week, I’m delving back into the archives to share some of our GREATEST HITS from years past. So below is an oldie but goodie guest illustrator blog from 2011 featuring KEN MIN!
NAPIBOWRIWEE FLASHBACK POST FROM MAY 2, 2011:Meet 2011 NaPiBoWriWee Guest Artist Ken Min!
— When you write and illustrate your own picture book, do you write the story first or do you come up with a certain image first? I’m curious to hear this process.
When I have a concept in my head, I start to sort out the bits and pieces, trying to find a through line and get an outline going. How does it begin? How does it end? And what are the bits of business in the middle. A lot of this happens in my head and when I feel like I have something interesting, I’ll start to jot down notes. I’ll also “see” specific images, which I’ll also scribble down as thumbnails. So, much of the time, I’m working back and forth once I start conceptualizing- scratch out an image, writing down a line of text- all in longhand on several sheets of paper.
When I have something plotted from beginning to end, I like to set it aside for a few days.
This allows me time to look at it again with fresh eyes and decide if it is worth pursuing or if it is the ravings of a tired mind.
If I still like it, I’ll start to thumbnail it out across a 32 page picture book format and to jot down lines of text as I go.
Once I have something satisfying, I’ll run it by my critique group and get their feedback. I think it’s important to run stuff by other people. Sometimes if we’re too close to things we like, we become blind to possible faults or deficiencies and it helps to have another opinion.
I don’t know if I answered your question properly. For me, it goes back and forth a lot. One time I could type out the story first or I’ll see a series of images flicker in my head. But I guess for me, I like to think that it’s the idea that excites and spurs all the other actions in whichever direction it goes.
And now, welcome back to 2018! Here’s our Day Two interview with this year’s featured guest illustrator, COLLEEN KONG-SAVAGE!
DAY 2 – GUEST ARTIST Q&A WITH COLLEEN KONG-SAVAGE
“My name is Colleen Kong-Savage — yes, as in King Kong was a Savage beast. This June 2018 I make my children’s book illustration debut with Helena Rhee’s The Turtle Ship, published by Lee & Low Books (woohoo!)”
— What inspired you to write or illustrate picture books?
Who wouldn’t want to create something with so much love between its pages??? Picture books are gorgeous, or they are funny, or they make your heart skip a beat. There’s chemistry between word and image, a perfect nugget of story that can be read again and again. They have such personality. I love creating characters, experimenting with their expressions. Sometimes I cackle as I draw them.
— Do you write or illustrate in any other genres of writing or art forms (acrylic, oil, watercolor etc.)? If so, what and why? Any preferences?
I have a favorite Pentel brush pen. I love the bold movement of its line, but I can’t do detailed work with it. Sometimes I scan a brush pen drawing and bring it into Adobe Illustrator to add color. But that flattens the line and turns the drawing into cartoon, which speaks differently.
I also do watercolor and color pencils, but I can’t get my images as rich with those mediums as with paper collage. The strength of wood/linocut print images also appeal to me, but illustrating a whole book in woodcuts would give me tendonitis. Regardless of medium, almost everything starts with a pencil sketch.
— What do you like most about picture book writing/illustrating versus other genres?
I love looking at picture books, sometimes more than paintings. Picture books are more intimate. You hold them in your hands and share them with kids. A story pulls you through images, and you see your subject from many angles. The rhythm of words is in your ear. The art is direct because its creators want you to understand. Fine art is sometimes so opaque, I get annoyed by its enigmatic, self-indulgent nature.
— What is the most challenging part about writing/illustrating picture books?
I am learning to not dread backgrounds, which is basically interior design, architecture and landscaping. I look at the infinitely detailed environments that Studio Ghibli rendered in its films and comfort myself, thinking “at least my canvas size is limited to a book, not the entire world of a movie screen.” And the more I do them, the more I realize that environments are just another opportunity to express a mood.
— Tell us about your first published book or first art assignment – what inspired the idea for the book or how did you figure out how to approach the art for the author’s text?
The Turtle Ship is my first assignment. It dropped me down a rabbit hole of researching 16th century Korea: clothing, architecture, nobility, warships, and the legendary Admiral Yi Sunsin. I “nerded out,” as author Helena Ku Rhee said, visiting the Korean Cultural Center library, the Met museum, spending hours online. I watched Korean blockbusters, The Admiral: Roaring Currents and The Face Reader, to help me visualize the era.
Just as important as the time period were the characters. I wanted characters to charm the readers, have readers connect with the characters, so that they invest in their story. I wanted Sunsin’s spunk to come through in his expressions. And I had fun with that turtle, who emoted like a human, but never got bogged down by people problems.
I learned so much from this first assignment. Lee & Low pushed me. For example, one scene was a naval battle of 13 Korean turtle ships fighting over 100 Japanese warships. I have no idea what 16th century maritime warfare looks like. My solution was to zoom in on one ship ramming another.
(Please note: Click on the image for a larger version.)
Buuuut kids like to read things literally and will look for 13 ships, said my editor and art director. So maybe try a bird’s eye view, showing everything? Solution 2 was to use a graphic style, where I represented the ships as simple shapes in formation across an ornate map.
(Please note: Click on the image for a larger version.)
Buuuuut this style was inconsistent with the rest of the book. Finally I gritted my teeth and sketched out the inevitable illustration I was avoiding: rendering over 26 ancient warships, knowing I would be cutting and gluing more itty bitty paper oars than I cared to count. However, I am glad I was pushed because I love the end result.
(Please note: Click on the image for a larger version.)
— How long did it take to write (for artists – or illustrate & write)?
About ten months. With guidance from the art director and editor, I went through four rounds of sketches before settling on the compositions and executing the final illustrations. With the actual collage work, each spread took 5-14 days depending on the complexity of the image.
— Any fun or interesting details about the road to your first book’s publication?
I’ve been trying to break into picture books for years. The process is like running a marathon in the dark. I’d send out work, showcase my portfolio at conferences, meet other creatives, gather information and hope, then keep plugging along. I got nibbles, but nothing came.
Soon after my first LA conference, my agent forwarded me an email chain between her and Lee & Low Books, which had begun in March. It was now August. The publisher asked if I’d be interested in illustrating a book about a Korean boy who was inspired by his pet turtle to design the greatest battleship in history. At this point I would’ve illustrated a book about paint drying, so a unique story like The Turtle Ship was a privilege. I celebrated.A week later, I got this lovely email from a writer who had seen my portfolio at the LA conference. She wrote, “Just wanted to give you a heads up that I’ve sent your website link to my editor. A NYC publisher just acquired my picture book text (it’s a book about a turtle).”
I responded, “Is your publisher Lee & Low?”
“Yes! How did you know??”
Neither Helena nor our editor knew the other was also interested in me. They found me independently of each other. This is kismet in its finest form.
— Do you have a favorite picture book or a picture book that most inspires you with its writing and/or art? If so, which one is it and why?
Chris Raschka was my favorite illustrator when I decided to pursue picture-bookmaking. My style is nothing like his. I simply admire his mark, so loose and juicy. I think Mysterious Thelonious and Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop are brilliant in the way they communicated the spirit of music so succinctly through the art. Another favorite is How Little Lori Visited Times Square by Amos Vogel, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. It’s one of the funniest books I know. The pacing is spot on, and I love NYC. I buy it for every other kid I know.
— Where is the best place for you to write your books or to do your illustrations? (If you are an illustrator, are you hi-tech or low-tech? Do you use those fancy computer programs or do you sketch/draw by hand on paper/non-computer materials?)
My favorite—though infrequent—place to work is in a cafe with a sketchbook. I like the quiet energy of others around me as I work. I often use cheap paper for sketches. I make several copies of the drawings. Those copies are templates for the shapes I cut from decorative or handmade papers. If I could, I’d take the snipping outside the studio as well, but that process is like dropping confetti everywhere. I want to use a digital drawing tablet as well for other illustration styles, but computers are making me blind.
— If you weren’t a writer/artist, what would you be?
A pastry-chef because I have a sweet tooth and like to play with my food—when my kid was younger we’d nibble the pre-dinner bread into various shapes just to keep him entertained at a restaurant. Baking gingerbread cookies is sculpting with edible clay. And I love what people do with fondant and caramelized sugar.
— Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
For some reason, I fall asleep whenever I sketch with a pencil, which is obviously VERY inconvenient in this line of work. Maybe it’s because I often struggle to resolve a drawing. Rather than rising to the challenge, my brain goes on strike. An artist friend theorizes that I’m sleep-deprived, and because drawing relaxes me, it acts as a tranquilizer.
— If you could give one piece of writing or illustrating advice for our NaPiBoWriWee participants, what would it be?
I’m a proponent of “Fail fast, fail often.” Or rather, make lots of stuff, knowing most of it will be mediocre crap, but occasionally you’ll hit a gem; and meanwhile your skills improve with every “failed” manuscript. I think the NaPiBoWriWee challenge of blasting out seven manuscripts in one week aligns with this creative philosophy. Making books is a marathon: you’re not creating one fantastic work, you’re creating 10-20 works in hopes that one shines bright enough for a publisher to snap up. And that’s the other numbers game, asking publishers or agents to look at your work. Illustrator David Gordon says it beautifully, “The amount of rejection you can endure correlates directly with the amount of success you will have.”
– For the artists: When you write and illustrate your own picture book, do you write the story first or do you come up with a certain image first?
The first manuscript I ever wrote came from observing my son as a toddler, endlessly harassing his dad for stories about the subway. In that case, the text came first. However, usually I’ll write a story because my agent or a publisher says, “What a great image! Is there a story that goes with it?”
— There’s been a growing demand for more diversity in children’s book publishing for women and people of color either as book subjects/stories/characters or for diverse writers/illustrators. What are your thoughts on that, if any?
It’s about time! I love that Lee & Low Books has a mission to inject minority voices into our American culture. Concerning the publication of women, it both peeves and puzzles me that 85+% of attendees at SCBWI conferences are female, but over half the illustrators on the bookshelves are male. It’s not like women are trying to break into an all-boys club because the gatekeepers, the editors, are mostly women. No one has a satisfactory answer as to why male illustrators have greater success in achieving publication than female illustrators. I hate that when asked what my favorite books are, I automatically thought of books by men. I want more Emily Gravetts and Sophie Blackalls in stores and libraries; more Anne Wilsons and Jane Rays so that names of women, not men, pop into my head when I am asked for my favorite picture book artists… Hmmm, I notice that every woman I just listed is white… My point is, I am happy publishers are now making a conscious effort to diversify the talents they push.
— There’s been increasing pressure for writers and artists to be active on social media. Are you on social media? If so, where can your readers reach you? Has social media helped your writing/art journey and career? Any advice for writers or artists who might feel overwhelmed by the social media “burden”?
I am not a social media butterfly, but do enjoy posting. I am just slow. I have accounts on Facebook (Kong-Savage Arthouse), Instagram (@kongsavage), and Twitter (@KongSavage).
I like sharing my work, others’ work, my thoughts, and accomplishments. On Twitter I found communities of talent, which inspire/intimidate/push me to keep growing as an artist. My ultimate goal is to build an online presence and catch the eye of a publisher who will say, “Wow! That Colleen Kong-Savage is fantastic! I want to work with her!”…… yeahhhh, that hasn’t happened yet. Social media can be a bit anxiety-provoking if I count how many likes/comments each post reaps to measure the worth of my content, however inaccurate the measure.
Suggestion to the overwhelmed: find one platform where you are most comfortable, and focus on that one. From what I gather, publishers and artists gravitate to Instagram. I like Twitter because you can easily discover new talent when people you follow retweet other people’s work, plus there are illustration groups like @AnimalAlphabets, @Clr_Collective, and @PinchPunchPost, which provide interesting drawing assignments for fun. I treat Facebook as my creative blog.
Wow Colleen! Thank you so much for answering our questions AND giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how your art came to life. It was fascinating to see how you approached storytelling via visual art.
Good luck everyone today on Day 2! Please post comments here to be included in our contest drawing (winners announced May 8, 2018). Winners will receive autographed books from all our guests plus souvenirs from our store! If you post on Twitter, please use the hashtag #NAPIBOWRiWEE 🙂
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Day 3 Blog featuring author RITA LORRAINE HUBBARD! Until then, HAPPY WRITING! Remember… WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT! 🙂