Thursday, March 19, 2020

Video: How I Book Cover


Kate Messner invited me to contribute to a library of educational videos for kids whose schools have been suspended due to covid. This isn't a polished video, not by a long shot, but my editing program was crashing constantly and I told myself I needed to finish this by the of the day, so it's GOOD ENOUGH. Hope you guys like it, or, at least, find it mildly distracting from the chaos of our current reality.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Ranger in Time: Escape from the Twin Towers



When I first heard that the next Ranger in Time book was going to be set during September 11, I was surprised. Really? Why do kids want to read about September 11?

Then I realized: because it's history to them. They know of it, but they don't remember it.

But you remember it. And I remember it.

I was 15 years old.

An excerpt from my journal

For months, I couldn't escape the tragic images on every magazine cover, every newspaper, every tv screen in every home and store. Everywhere, another photograph or video of thousands of people - mothers, fathers, children, grandparents - plummeting to their deaths. The planes crashing. The towers collapsing. The news played the clips over

and over

and over again.

Maybe it was particularly bad for me because the news was kept on all day at my house, and I was homeschooled. But then again, if it was scary for me, a California kid who previously hadn't even known what the World Trade Center was, I can't imagine how traumatizing it must have been for the children and teens of New York City.

I don't remember how long it took for the news to move on, but once it did, I avoided 9/11 media from then on, even into adulthood. I never wanted to see anything September 11-related ever again. Especially, especially the videos of the planes hitting the towers.

Until two years ago, when I learned that the next Ranger in Time would be set on September 11th, I knew my self-imposed 9/11 media fast was officially at an end. Instead of avoiding 9/11 media, now I was going to be creating it.

"Why would you do this to me, Kate Messner," I whispered at my email inbox.

I promised my art director, Stephanie Yang, that I would finish reading the manuscript before the end of the year. So, true to my word, on New Year's Eve I built a blanket nest on the couch, curled up in the middle and opened up the manuscript with a sigh.

There was a lot of crying.

I cried as I read the book. I cried as I looked at photographs. I cried as I watched the documentary 9/11.

But once I had got all that out of my system, I found that I was able to concentrate on creating the best illustrations I could. Every day was another challenge: how do I draw a stairwell full of people and firefighters?


How do I depict the air quality immediately after the towers collapsed?


In every scene I did as much research as I could to make the scenes accurate to life, to pay attention to the small details in the manuscript, and to represent the great diversity of people who were affected by the attacks.

I was inspired by the text of the book, which I personally think is the best in the Ranger in Time series. Kate Messner did a stellar job of balancing historical accuracy with age-appropriateness. Despite my initial reluctance to read it, I found it totally riveting and read the whole manuscript in one sitting.


Younger generations will have what my generation didn't: a curated view of September 11. My generation watched the events unravel in real time, the adults around us as frightened and confused as we were. Now children have the guidance of adults with distance and hindsight - and I get to be one of those adults. We can give them a history that is real but not raw. Gentle, but still genuine. We can focus the spotlight on the heroes and the helpers - including the furry helpers.

To be a part of that is my privilege.


I don't think I'll make watching 9/11 documentaries on New Year's Eve a tradition, though. Maybe some donuts or something? Donuts and hot chocolate. What do you guys think, sound good?

Ranger in Time: Escape from the Twin Towers is available now.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Motherhood and Career, cont

Hey, long time no see. Nice of you to stick around.

I've barely blogged at all this year, and I'm sorry. I'm still drawing, still working, but the thing is that I had another baby.

In my post from last year called Motherhood and Career, I said this:
People ask me how I manage to “find a balance.” The answer is, I don’t so much “find a balance” as I do “manage to get through the day.”
If this was true for one kid, it's double true with double the kids. In my old post, I talked about how difficult it had been to adjust to becoming a mom, but how things had gotten better over time. I was able to look back at the dark valley and feel proud of myself for getting through it.

Well, I'm writing this blog post from another valley. It's been even harder, more stressful, more difficult, than the first one. And yet it's also less difficult because I've been through one before, and I know I can do it. One early morning at a time, one sleep regression at a time, one flu season and late-night deadline crunch at a time. Some days it's a struggle to even find the time and space to shower. Blogging has, to say the least, not been a priority, as much as I miss it.

I cling to the hope that, someday, I will look back on this period and feel proud of myself. That I will look back and see that this experience leveled me up in ways I couldn't perceive at the time.

If you're asking yourself, "why did you decide to have another kid, then, if it's so hard??" to you I say I DON'T KNOW. IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE TO ME EITHER. I guess I must find it worth it, on some level? My kids are pretty cute. One of them says funny things. And the other one has these amazing little chubby baby legs. And don't get me started on her precious little hands omg I can't even!

I realize this blog post is mostly incoherent. That's my point: things have been rough. My brain is, like...I don't know. Like those ratty, stained kitchen rags my husband uses to wrap tofu in before he presses it to get the water out.

What was I saying? Woah, it's already 9:30 PM! My bedtime. I should wrap this up.

If you take anything away from this post, please let it be this: if you know an artist who is a parent of young kids, know that they created their art through a haze of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Take a second to let them know that you see them. That you see their art.

And if you ARE an artist who is also a parent of young kids: I see you. I respect you. You're not alone.

Happy New Year.

Monday, September 16, 2019

American Girl


FINALLY I can show you guys the project that occupied most of my time last year - a series of books from American Girl!!

I loved the American Girl books when I was a kid, especially the beautiful and realistic illustrations. Here's me and my Felicity doll, which I bought with my own allowance money, birthday money, and money from extra chores. My Mom sewed us these matching dresses!


American Girl has been a "bucket list" client for me since I became an illustrator, so when I was offered the opportunity to work on some of their books last year, I was thrilled!



This was, by far, the most complicated and intense project I've ever worked on. The books contain a combination of photography (by Chris Hynes and Blake Morrow) and illustration by me. I worked on six books, often simultaneously, collaborating with three different art directors. Not only did my drawings have to pass muster with American Girl's historical expert, but the faces and costumes also had to match the models in the photos, and sometimes the doll costumes and accessories as well. Major props to art directors Wendy Walsh, Jessica Rogers, and Riley Wilkinson for organizing what must have been a very complicated operation.



Deadlines were often tight, and working on so many books at once meant I had a lot to keep track of. On top of that, my toddler got sick a lot last year, so sometimes my only choice was to work at night, after she had gone to bed. I started making myself cups of coffee at 8:30 PM.




And then there was the time I caught the stomach flu the night before a big deadline. I finished the spread below in between rounds of running to the bathroom to hurl up my guts.


So yeah, it was quite the project, consisting of over 100 illustrations. Despite all the hard work, I'm very grateful that I was given the opportunity to illustrate for American Girl. Keeping my mouth shut about this for an entire year has been hard! I was so excited to receive my books in the mail this month! If you see the books at your local bookstore, send me a pic on Twitter, I'd love to see!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

In ImagineFX magazine!


About two months ago I wrote a blog post about using photo references, and it was shared around quite a bit on Twitter! Writer at ImagineFX, Tom May, contacted me and asked if he could use some of my photo reference examples for an article he was writing. Luckily I had two illustrations that I had the rights to and for which I still had the original photo references, so I sent them in along with some short quotes about using photo references professionally.



The article is in the September 2019 issue of ImagineFX, and you can order print or digital versions here. Thanks Tom May for featuring me!


Monday, July 15, 2019

A Year Without Summer


Earlier this year, Clubhouse magazine asked me to illustrate a historical article about the year 1816, also known as "The Year Without A Summer."

In 1815, a volcano eruption in Indonesia was so massive that it changed weather patterns all over the world. In the Northeastern United States, snow and frost occurred every month for a year, wrecking crops. This article was a short story about a family of Swedish-American farmers trying to survive the winter and keeping faith that the world wasn't just ending. (Which, I imagine, probably seemed like a reasonable hypothesis at the time.)


These illustrations were a lot of fun to do, especially the storm clouds in the first piece. I just received some copies of the issue in the mail. The print quality looks great!



I hope the readers of Clubhouse magazine enjoy the story. Thank you to AD Jenny Dillon for the assignment!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Wishner's Curse book cover


I created this book cover for author Camille S. Campbell. When Camille contacted me earlier this year, she told me that she found me through the writing website Storybird. Storybird is mostly used by students (children and teens), and occasionally I'll get an email from a Storybird user along the lines of "hi my name is kara i love ur art!! can u please make a drawing for my story thank u." (I genuinely love Storybird users, they're very sweet, but...you can tell they're kids!)

Camille was different. She wrote emails like a business school graduate, and was willing to pay my professional rate.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that she was 14 years old! Clearly I was working with a prodigy, and she deserved nothing less than my best work.

My process for working with self-published authors is pretty similar for working with publishing companies. I'll do a little more explaining about my process, so the author knows what to expect and what I expect from them in return. (I often refer them to this blog, which is handy because then they can see step-by-step examples.)

Camille's book, The Wishner's Curse, is an Egyptian-based middle-grade fantasy novel. She described what she wanted to see on her cover: the two main characters looking like "a mystery-solving team," with the villain holding a sapphire amulet behind them, and a cave studded with "glimmering gems of many colors and golden dust." Here are the sketches I sent to her.


Camille asked me to combine two of the sketches, and to make some changes to the appearances of the main characters. Also, more sparkles!


From there I was cleared to go to final.





Camille described the illustration as "everything I ever dreamed it could be," which was a relief! I really didn't want to disappoint!

This was my first time designing an entire book cover, not just the illustration. Camille and I worked together on font choice and word placement, and I also painted a little landscape for the back cover.



I asked for a signed copy and Camille delivered! I'm proud to add this to my bookshelf.


You can buy a copy of The Wishner's Curse at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thank you Camille for the opportunity to work on such a fun cover. Remember me when you're a famous author!
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