Wednesday, January 31, 2007

stage fright

I'm terrible at promoting my work, at least in comparison to most of the illustrators I know personally, or by reputation, so it was somewhat of a relief to read Meghan McCarthy's post about the subject at the Blue Rose Girls blog. I found myself nodding my head while reading it: answering questions about my work with clipped responses, check; slandering my work in the presence of others, yep; seeing only the flaws in my, uh-huh, yeah. Humility is an admirable trait. It's just not the most useful trait to possess when you work in an industry in which self-promotion is practically a requirement for success.

Here's the thing: I'm not that humble. The way that I talk about my work to others is (usually) not how I feel about it myself (okay, with the exception of the "flaw" comment; I'm convinced that's impossible to get around when you're the one who both creates the work and has to spend the most time with it-see previous post). The clipped responses are more a reaction to wanting to get "off stage" as quickly as possible. Same goes for the slandering. I've never been comfortable being put on the spot, although I do enjoy getting out to see the folks who have read one or both of my books (and I think having advance notice before a reading/signing allows me time to get used to the idea, even if it can't stop my face from remaining a bright shade of red throughout the entire event).

In fact, if you ask my family or friends, people that I am very familiar with, they probably won't tell you that I can't shut up about myself. They're lying. I love talking about anything I'm working on, and I'm sure I've tested the patience of several, if not all of them, at one time or another.

So, am I letting a little stage fright come between me and success? I recently found this item at the Horn Book Virtual History Exhibit (which is so cool, I still can't believe it exists). It's a letter that William Steig wrote to Paul Heins, a former editor of the Horn Book Magazine, regarding his Caldecott Award acceptance speech (Steig won that year for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble):

May 10, ’70

Dear Mr. Heins,

Bob Kraus just read your letter to me (the one about my Caldecott acceptance speech) over the phone. I’m afraid now that in addition to having to make a speech, which for me will be like walking on red hot embers & broken glass, I will have the additional burden of feeling that my speech will leave people dissatisfied & make me seem both ungracious & ungrateful. I sincerely meant what I indicated in the opening of my speech: I would almost rather die than have to formally address a group of people larger than two in number. I’ve successfully avoided doing so for 50 years; I’ve been depressed ever since January & will not realize happiness again until after June 30th when my trial is over. I’ve told this to many people, but no one believes me & I feel like a character in a Kafka novel. Please believe me when I say that speaking only a few words will require a superhuman effort for me; that I can no longer, in my sixties, hope to change my character; that I am making this effort only out of genuine gratitude; and also because I worry about my publisher, who could be an innocent victim of my neurosis.

I want to make more books, books good enough to win prizes, & I’m hoping that my inability to make speeches will not hamper my progress.

Sincerely yours,

William Steig

Now, I am no William Steig. But, I want to make good books, too. Hopefully, they'll do most of the talking for me.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


easy listening

Working as an illustrator is great, but it also means many hours spent alone in a spare room in your apartment chained to a desk. Your eyes are being used, so you can't watch television. Your hands are being used, so you can't read. Your ears are your only useful, free appendages (my apologies to people who have a third eye, a prehensile tail, and/or can turn pages with their feet).

Sure, you can listen to music, but there are only so many times you can hear Glenn Yarbrough - All Time Favorites, Volume 1 before it starts to get on your nerves. You can try audio books, too, but that gets to be expensive (although I've listened to my fair share--the Harry Potter series read by Jim Dale being my favorite). Then there's this thing called the Internet, and it has all sorts of free programs to caress your eardrums. I'm kind of cheap and poor (back off, ladies, this guy's taken), so for me, it's the way to go.

Without further ado, here's a list, in no particular order, of the top 3 free audio programs on the Internet to get you through a long day of illustrating:

1) This American Life ( - I'm sure many people are familiar with TAL from NPR, but they also archive all of their shows on their website. Every episode manages to be informative and entertaining. I should know. I have listened to every episode. Yes, every episode.

2) The Treatment & The Business ( and - Radio station KCRW in Santa Monica, California has a wide selection of archived programs. The Treatment and The Business are the best of the bunch if you, like me, love movies and the industry of movies, respectively. Yes, Elvis Mitchell, host of The Treatment, sometimes comes across as a little James Lipton-esque, but he also asks questions more insightful than "what is your favorite curse word?", and finds connections and themes in the work of actors and filmakers that they are seldom aware of, themselves. On the other end of the spectrum is The Business's host Claude Brodesser-Akner, who is sharp, unmannered, occasionally goofy, and just as insightful and and curious about the inner workings of Hollywood as Mitchell is about the outer workings. If you want the fall of Michael Eisner and the rise of Bob Iger at Disney explained concisely (and who doesn't?), The Business is the place to go. My only complaint is that the shows haven't been airing consistently, of late.

3) Hometown Tales ( - Okay, I lied. I did save the best for last: Hometown Tales is a podcast that you can find on iTunes, but you can also link to it through the HT website. It's my new favorite program, which is saying something because once anything becomes my "favorite", I'll be a fan until either it bites the dust, or I do. HT is all about urban legends, weird news, pork rolls (or Taylor Ham, egg and cheese sandwiches, depending on where you live in New Jersey), and above all, well-told tales from around the world. Listen to Gene and Bryan. I dare you.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

the fabulous adventures of toothpaste and stringy

Sometimes...okay, most of the time, when I get to the end of a project, or a phase of a project, whether it be a picture book or single illustration, I get the blues. And that's putting it lightly. Today, for instance, I finished another draft (what I was hoping would be the final draft) of my new book. I loved it two days ago.

Today, the honeymoon is over.

What causes sudden dissatisfaction? Is it the length of time spent staring at the same images? Personally, the more time I spend working on a project, the more I think that a smear of toothpaste on the sink is far more appealing, visually, than what I'm trying to accomplish. And that's no exaggeration. I'd rather look at anything else than my own pictures, and therefore am likely to admire anything that my pictures are not, especially something as unforced and natural as a minty blob sliding down porcelain.

Unfortunately, I can't make a book with toothpaste smears, unless I wrap some kind of story around it, most likely one involving the toothepaste's journey to the sewer, and the fantastic and dangerous adventures he has along the way, helped out by his lovable but clumsy sidekick, Stringy, a piece of floss (note to self: write this story, make zillions, retire to Portugal, spend rest of life fishing on a rickety pier and cackling at strangers).

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thursday, January 25, 2007

what now?

One thing I haven't made mention of in either of my blogs is my follow-up picture book to Hippo! No, Rhino (or if I even have a follow-up picture book, for that matter). It does indeed exist, and it's well under way. I may be starting the finished art as early as February. I don't want to reveal too much at present, but you can see a tiny portion of a sketch from the book, above.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

a clean sheet of paper

Jeff here. Thanks for stopping by and checking out my sad-looking blog. Yes, it is barren at the moment, but, like a clean sheet of paper, I intend to fill it up (if it were possible to fill it up) with content: thoughts on making picture books, writing, drawing, doodling, actual doodling, drawing, and writing, major annoucements of the professional kind, and whatever else springs to mind. I may even decorate the place a bit, but, unlike my apartment, not with a windchime and a dead plant...don't judge me.

To bring you up to speed before proceeding, here's a handy primer: when we last had returned relatively unscathed (at least, bodily) from the madness that was the Society of Illustrator's The Original Art show, my most recent picture book,
Hippo! No, Rhino had been chosen as one of the 50 best picture books of the year by Nickelodeon Jr. Family Magazine, and more recently (read: last night) had been selected as an American Library Association 2007 Notable Children's Book, joining such fine company as Emily Gravett's Wolves (which is a book I wish I'd thought of) and Antoinette Portis's Not a Box (yep, wish I'd thought of this one, too). This morning I had a large coffee and a muffin from Dunkin' Donuts, I have yet to eat lunch as of 3:24 PM, and I've got a funny taste in my mouth that is less funny than it is gross.

What now? Who knows?

Until next time,