Illustration Station, Kidlit County

Old Family/New Family

Wednesday night, I flew into New York to meet with several literary agents that have been interested in representing me. I’ll get to the exciting news of my decision in a minute, so keep your shirt on.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, I surprised my parents, who were completely unaware of my trip. My sister picked up my brother and I, and (by the grace of God) brought us home to Nanuet. As she sped through Midtown, gleefully squeaking “weeee!”, I dug my claws into the door handle and reflected on my life’s highlights. I have experienced cab rides in New York, Rome, and Manila, and all pale in comparison to our get away ala Bourne Identity. Anyway, I love my sister, even though she’s given me a new-found appreciation for NJ Transit (*I am not from New Jersey. Nanuet is in New York towards the end of the NJ Transit line, thank you very much).

typical Curato Clan scene

We successfully shocked our Dad at home cooking crab legs in his pajama pants, as he is prone to do. Of course, of all the nights I drop in unannounced, our Mom was at a mandatory work meeting. So, the three of us went for pizza, and then surprised her upon exiting her meeting. It’s kinda funny watching my Mom shriek like that, although I do worry about giving her a heart attack. We went home and spent a few hours laughing about…something. My mother and sister have an infectious laugh. Once they get hooked on something, they can’t stop, and then everyone around them can’t stop because they keep going, getting redder and louder and teary until they’re gasping for air. Finally, my sister brought me back to my friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side. Thankfully, there were fewer cars with the potential to hit on the way back…

Kyle is unfazed by Mom's hysteria

I also got to see an all-star cast of friends on my trip, including Sarah Jane, who I recently blogged about. Several even managed to take me out to dinner and dancing Friday night, which is a rarity for me these days. I still got the moves…although I was feeling a little…not-in-my-twenties. Also, I can no longer drink like I’m in my twenties, so I left a little “early” at 2AM to pack, shower, and get some sleep before my flight.

OK! Onto the big news!

I met with four agents. They are all smart, passionate individuals who are devoted to some of the best talent in publishing. I did my homework before the trip and talked to children’s book artists/writers that each represent. They all had wonderful things to say. This was a bit disappointing, as I was hoping that at least one or two of them would be evil goons, and therefore make it an easy decision to cross them off the list. But no, they all proved to be lovely. One took me to lunch. One even lent me an umbrella for a day, which really came in handy.

However, I have to say that one just felt right in my gut, and as much as I would love to work with them all, I have decided to sign with Brenda Bowen of Sanford J Greenburger Associates. Brenda has over 30 years in the children’s book industry as an editor, a publisher, a writer and an agent. I am honored that she (and the other agents) see my potential, and I can’t wait to get started!

My new little friend. I think I will call her Wispy

On Friday, I met with Brenda at her office and talked for a while. Afterwards, she invited me to a monthly get-together of some of her artists at The Old Town Bar. OK illustration nerds, hold on to your seats! I got to have drinks and fried appetizers with Carin Berger (Forever Friends), Jessie Hartland (How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum), Naoko Stoop (whose first book, Red Knit Cap Girl, comes out this summer), and Chris Raschka (who just won his second Caldecott Award for A Ball for Daisy). We also had a little Valentine gift exchange. I received this beautiful piece by Carin Berger, pictured above.

It was a wonderful trip. I got to see my old family and meet my new one.

These are exciting times.

Designland, Illustration Station, Kidlit County, Mikesville

The Juggling Game

It is very late, and Adobe Illustrator is taking its own sleepy time saving my files, so I’ll write a quick catch up during each save.

When it rains, it pours, they say. I have been feeling quite drenched lately. Believe me, I’m not complaining. I am excited about every project I am working on right now, and feel very blessed to have all the work. However, I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed.

As you may have read in previous posts, I have had sudden attention from several publishers and literary agents. It’s a bit of a fairy tale scenario for me. I’ve decided to fly to New York on Wednesday to meet with all of the agents that have shown interest in working with me. Each one is reputable, each one has their strengths, triumphs, and impressive list of artists and authors. I’ve talked to artists that each represent, and they all have wonderful things to say. I think it will just have to come down to an in-person meeting and seeing who feels like the most natural fit. What a decision! I will be sure to fill you in when I’ve made my choice.

There is much more going on behind the scenes. I have freelance gigs with Microsoft, Amazon, and Discovery Bay Games that are keeping me quite busy.

However, a friend and I are also starting a business. More to come on the specifics very soon, but I just want to say that this has been a labor of love for the past nine months, and we are just about to birth our project in a few weeks! Along with the analogy come the labor pains. There have been many late nights and tough lessons learned. We’re so close now, and I can’t wait to see it out in the world. Even now, as I restart Illustrator after an enormous file has crashed for the tenth bajillionth time, I feel the excitement of starting something my friend and I can call our own. I can’t wait to share it with you all!

Hope I can keep all these balls in the air. Here’s to circus acts.

Inspiration Island, Mikesville

Chronicles of an Elsewhere Studio Mate: Sarah Jane Lapp

SJ & me in our old studio, circa 2007

Now that I have a blog, I am very excited to share all of the artists who I have either had the pleasure to call a friend or who have influenced me as an artist. Sarah Jane Lapp has been both friend and inspiration.

I met my friend Marc on a plane from Newark to Seattle about 7 or 8 years ago. We hung out one day, and he said he had a friend who lived just two doors down from me. Enter Sarah Jane, curious and wild-haired. Unlike most keep-to-yourself Seattleites, Sarah Jane immediately invited herself over and asked to see my art, and we have been friends ever since.

SJ's famed loveseat that you see us sitting in above. This piece hung in our studio until Sarah Jane moved away.

We would sit in her kitchen almost daily, and plot out our lives while she would make some tea and vittles from her random cache of twigs, greens, and legumes. We had big plans to have our own art “destination” where we would make things, and somehow sell them to people who would be lured in by the scent of our fresh-baked cookies. Surprisingly, this did not come to pass. However, we did become studio mates and remained so for four wonderful years. We have seen each other through the highs and lows (and very lows) of our personal and artistic careers.

This is one of my favorite pieces by any artist. I just want to jump into it and turn into a burst of bright colors.

Sarah Jane is a film maker/illustrator, working in ink and gouache. The honesty of her line matches her genuine spirit. Some of her pieces have a minimalist approach that capture such a depth of feeling with just a few strokes. Others marry her line with bursts of colors that I can only describe as alive.

Still from Chronicles of a Professional Eulogist. A character study of these birds hangs proudly in our dining room.

I had the honor of watching her work on and complete an animated film that took her nearly 11 years to create, Chronicles of a Professional Eulogist. When she was done, when all of the frames were stacked in one proud pillar, the film stood more than half her size. It was an entire film handmade with ink and gouache and edited in Final Cut Pro. Eulogist went on to screen at South by Southwest and the Seattle International Film Festival.

Op-Ed piece for the Post Intelligencer

Meanwhile, SJ also did op-ed pieces for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (RIP), and sold her art to the masses via a booth at Pike Place Market. This was always funny to me; I wondered if customers understood that the woman in the Russian faux fur hat that they were purchasing handmade greeting cards from was a genius. I am in awe of the various fellowships and residencies Sarah Jane has been accepted to, not to mention teaching at several universities (including a little place called Harvard). I do want to note that I am totally butchering SJ’s resume by leaving out her other lauds, but these are the moments that stick in my mind, the ones that make me proud and give me hope as a creative.

The title of this is "This Is A Total Catastrophe", but to me this is a total illumination.

SJ would always say to me “be good to yourself,” and it’s something that I try to impart to others. She is always trying to connect people, always trying to learn and grow and be a good human.

When you're Not Here, starring SJ's loveseat and the void where her ink seat used to live. (by me)

SJ left Seattle over a year ago, and it hasn’t been the same without her. She’s currently living outside of Providence, plotting new adventures.

Designland, Mikesville

Shoulders, Neck, and Back to the Drawing Board

Like many people, I spend a lot of hours a day hunched over my computer, endlessly surfing the web…er…working. Yes, diligently working day in, day out. It looks like my years diligence have finally caught up with me.

If my creative career doesn't work out, I could always become a bell ringer...

I’ve been experiencing upper back and neck pain over the last half-year. I would go for a massage, which would help a bit, but it would come back even worse the next time. Finally last week I was totally locked up. I had an intense massage yesterday, and today I went to a chiropractor for the first time. I have been weary of going to one, as I have heard horror stories from some people about going to quacks who took their money and didn’t fix anything. However, I’ve worked with my trainer, Damien Krantz, for years, and I really trust his recommendations. So, I went to a chiro that he loves, Dr. Shelley Cathrea-Roy at Mobilty Plus. She told me that I don’t have any deep-rooted problems, that it’s mostly due to my poor posture. She did a brief (albeit freaky) realignment, and taped by back with an elastic adhesive that’s supposed to show me how I should be standing and sitting. Apparently, since I’ve been hunched over my laptop airbrushing drawings and trying to figure out the perspective tool in Illustrator CS5 for so long, the unnecessary stress I’ve placed on my upper back has caused all of my present pains. Great. She also mentioned that the way I’m arching my neck may explain some mystery flash headaches I have sometimes (don’t ask me to relay the medical explanation of this, as it will shatter your confidence in my intelligence).

So, I thought I would share some advice that the good doctor told me. If you work on a computer, make sure your screen is at eye level. This has been a challenge for me, as I work on a laptop. When it’s on top of my desk at eye level, the keyboard is too high. When it’s on the lower keyboard tray (where I’ve had it for the past year), it’s too low, hence my craning neck injury. She recommends getting another keyboard to type with on the lower tray and keeping the laptop higher up. “Bring your world to you, don’t bend yourself to fit the world you live in,” she said. I kind of like this, not only as posture advice, but it sounds like a good mantra in general.

So, I will be working on improving my posture. I suggest you do the same so that you don’t end up with a frozen bag of butternut squash wedged between your back and a couch. Have fun bringing your world to you!

Illustration Station, Kidlit County

Agents, and Houses, and Contracts, OH MY!

So, along with my (still not quite believable) win at SCBWI, I have been solicited by several agents and publishing houses, all eager to learn more about Elly the Polka Dotted Elephant. This has been both flattering and overwhelming.

If I'm getting married to an agent, they better get me a really good cake...

One agent described the relationship between writer and agent as a marriage, which fills me with both exhilaration and anxiety. How do I choose my one true love!? We haven’t even been on a “date” yet! And then there are the publishing houses, who are equally as flattering. Obviously, if I get an agent, they can help me decide which house to get involved with. I never knew I’d be in a three-way relationship, but whatever works!

Well, dear readers, I beg of you to help me remain calm. If any of you have experience with  an agent, I would love to hear your “love story” (how you met, how things are going now, who hogs the blanket, and other intimate details).

Image by Rosen Georgiev


Illustration Station, Kidlit County

How do you do that?

Some questions I hear about my work are:

  • “How do you do that?”
  • “Is that watercolor?”
  • “Is that pastel?”
  • “Colored pencil?”

The answer is pencil with digital color.


Let me provide you with a brief tutorial (without giving away too much of my secret sauce ;D). Be advised, this post is more for art nerds who are interested in technique. I won’t be offended if you just want to look at the art and leave the shop talk to the artsy fartsies.

STEP 1: make a pencil drawing 

I start out by filling a whole sheet of paper (I use Strathmore drawing) with loose graphite and a shammy. I use a mechanical pencil with 2B lead for laying out the composition. Then I “chisel” out the drawing by darkening with a graphite stick, pencil, or more loose graphite, and I erase out the highlights.


STEP 2: refine

I scan my drawing (be sure to scan at least 300 dpi) and bring it into Photoshop. I am currently using CS5. Now is the crucial moment to go through the drawing to retouch any imperfections, move anything around, darken, lighten, etc. Can you spot the differences?



STEP 3: color overlay

I usually like to make a color overlay that will set the “mood lighting” for the piece. If you were a painter, you might call this a unifying wash or glaze. Since my setting is a candle lit room, I want the cold, grey graphite to be warmer and cheerier. So, I make a copy of my black and white image layer, open up my “fx”, click on color overlay, set to multiply, and search around within the color picker until I’ve found something that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.






STEP 4: adding local color

Next, I start adding color to all the different parts of the drawing. I create a new layer and fill it completely with one color. I set the layer mode to multiply so that the pencil comes through the color. Then I add a layer mask and fill it completely with black, so that the whole layer looks like it disappeared. Finally, I select the layer mask, set my brush, select white in my color palette, and start “filling in” the places that I want the color to show through.



It seems like a very long winded way to add color, but this way I have more control. Since I’m not coloring directly on the pencil layer, I can remove color later. Also, if I were drawing with my brush in multiply on the actually drawing layer, I would have to keep the brush in contant contact while coloring, or else the color would over saturate if two separate brush strokes were to overlap.

STEP 5: final touches

Now that all of the local color has been tended to, it’s time to put on the finishing touches!





Here I’ve added another color layer that’s a bit golden in color—another unifying wash, to give it that candlelight glow. I’ve set the layer to multiply, and brought the opacity down to 33% to keep it subtle.




However, those candles and sparkling crystals aren’t bright enough for me to believe the light, so I create a new layer and go in with a white brush to bring out those saturated points of light.




Finally, I create one more layer, this time with the mode set to hard light, and go in with my brush once again, this time with a more golden color at a lower opacity, to paint the shimmering reflective light onto the details (mostly the metal and glass objects that would pick up a strong reflection, like the candelabra,  mirror and frame).


And there we have it! One magical feast made to order! So, if you’re curious, please give it a try. When you’re done, send me a link so I can see it!