Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 12, 2011

Illustrators Intensive – June 3rd

I would like to introduce you to the two Art Directors doing the NJSCBWI Illustrator Intensive, Conference and portfolio critiques. If you are an illustrator and are serious about making a career in the children’s book Industry and have never worked with an art director on a picture book, you really should think about signing up for the Illustrators Intensive. I participated in our first Illustrators Intensive held a few years back.  I have to say, it was a awesome experience. It gives you a first hand look at working with an art director. 

You are given an assignment to do a double page spread taken from text supplied before the conference by the art directors. Once you pick the double page spread you want to do, you do a sketch and send it back for the art directors comments. They send back their thoughts and suggestions and then you work to finish the spread and bring it with you on the day of the Intensive.

Patti Ann Harris is Senior Art Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.  She started her career in book publishing designing for Cartwheel Books, the novelty imprint at Scholastic.  In addition to novelty books, Cartwheel publishes board books, early readers and picture books so she was able to get experience designing a wide range of titles.

PattiAnn will tell you she was lucky to work with a creative group of editors and designers where shewas encouraged to experiment with formats. Novelty books were a focus of hers so she learned a great deal about book production. She created book dummies made from cloth, board and other combinations of materials. It always sparked new ideas for her.

Her experience with novelty books lead her to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.  She was hired to work on their new imprint, LB-kids, which focuses on licensed properties and interactive formats. Early on, LB-kids teamed up with innovative and creative publishing partners.  Her role as Senior Art Director grew to include overseeing their picture book list.  

PattiAnn says, “I can’t say that there is a specific style of illustration that I’m interested in. I think I’m more drawn to a strong character or a unique point of view. That’s what I respond to most in illustration. I also love to see different media explored like letterpress printing, collage or any blending of traditional medium with digital to invent something new and exciting.”

Martha Rago is the Executive Art Director for HarperCollins Children’s Books.  Her first position was at G.P. Putnam’s Sons as assistant to the Art Director.  She progressed from Senior designer at E.P. Dutton to FSG as Art Director, then on to Henry Holt as Creative Director.

Martha oversees the development and design of HarperCollins picture books, including those in the Rayo and Katherine Tegen imprints, the estate programs of C.S. Lewis and Shel Silverstein, and the Blazer & Bray imprint.

Here’s Martha:

A good picture book must begin with a good story, no matter how creative and talented the artist may be. But like an author, artists have a voice, a unique vision that comes through in their work. If their style is the right complement to the text, the visuals give the story additional interest and resonance.

I look for artists that will add another dimension to the text in that way. The images need to be narrative, tell a story and work sequentially.

Next credible, believable characters are essential. They have to engage and win the reader over. And of course, the artist must have skill in their medium, to render the images well and with appeal.

Generally an editor will informally show me a manuscript, and we’ll talk about the editor’s vision for the book, and the various ways we each see it could be developed. We also discuss possible artists. This gives us a game plan for presenting the project to acquisitions and ultimately a clear set of expectations for the artist.

Sometimes the acquisition process may be very formal, involving a presentation a to sales, marketing, editorial, art, finance (which is the way it is at HarperCollins), or may be a smaller, less formal discussion involving only the publisher, art director and maybe the marketing director (as it was at Holt). Some kind of financial analysis (preliminary manufacturing estimate or profit and loss analysis) is always done to determine that the format, production costs, anticipated advance and projected sales all make good business sense.

Once the project is acquired and underway, the editor and art director (or designer) work as a team to establish an approach, goals, and a schedule with the artist. We may provide critical commentary and guidance, technical and general support, or simply encouragement. Who takes on which role depends on individual skills, inclination, prior relationship etc., but we are all equally invested in the process and outcome. This sort of collaborative effort provides the artist with what they need to work well and comfortably.

We have 3 spots left and the assignments are being sent out this week.  Don’t let this opportunity pass by.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. C’est si bon!


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