Patricia Keeler lives across the Hudson River from New York City in Hoboken, NJ, with her husband, photographer Francis X. McCall. Ms. Keeler received an undergraduate degree from Virginia Polytechnical and State University and a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. Before coming to Hoboken, Ms. Keeler worked in advertising for the Richmond Times Dispatch and was art director for PBS Television (WCVE, Channel 25) in Richmond, VA. She has illustrated and/or written many books, including Thank You, Angels (Hay House, 2007), Drumbeat in Our Feet (Lee & Low, 2006), Car Wash (Lee & Low, 2004), A Huge Hog Is a Big Pig (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2002), and Unraveling Fibers (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon and Schuster, 1995). She is the illustrator for Brain Food: 100+ Games That Make Kids Think, published by Prufrock Press. Ms. Keeler has also created a variety of illustrations for magazines, posters, and educational projects with Scholastic, Pearson, Victory Publications, and Techbooks/GTS.
WINNER: Tiemdow Phumiruk is the winner of Patricia’s book fairy print below. Congratulations Dow!
Patricia Keeler has offered this 12″ x 18″ print of Book Fairies as a book give-away to anyone who leaves a comment. Want more chances to win? Talk about it on your blog, Facebook page, or Twitter, etc. Just let me know how many things you have done to get the extra chances.
Here is Patricia explaining her process:
For this project I thought about picture books giving ideas wings–that children’s imaginations can soar and grow through books. Then I began to sketch. I make lots of sketches.
Next I paint a background in watercolor. I don’t worry about color at this point, I’m just looking for the right environment.
I scan the work into Photoshop and play with it. I add other book fairies, move the background around, add a dramatic sky, and even try out rose wallpaper on the horizon. I keep it black and white, because colors can change the balance and focal point of an image. I want to get the design right first.
Here, I didn’t think the town or the foreground book fairy was working. I was going for an image that represents dusk, when a child is being read to, right before they fall asleep. I want to show that moment between reading and sleeping–when a picture book can morph into a child’s dream.
I created a new background with a new foreground book fairy. This town seems more from a dream. It was fun to put the names of picture books in French. It seems possible all children can read French in their dreams. N’est-ce pas?
Again, I didn’t worry too much about the colors, because they can be changed in Photoshop.
Here, I darkened the sky and town, and added my favorite picture books as wings. But, I was thinking it was getting more night than evening–and a little spooky.
So I thought I’d lighten it up a bit and switch the foreground fairy with Supergirl Fairy to make it more playful.
I love this Supergirl Fairy, but it didn’t work. I hope she finds a home in another image, because I love her ‘tude.
My original idea came together in this image. The foreground girl gently floats on the wind. She looks pensive, her thoughts turned inward. The sun sets. A mom keeps watch over the children, as the books take them off on a journey, where the cats are longing to go.
How long have you been illustrating?
I know I was sketching while I was learning to write my name in cursive . . . and telephones had cords.
What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?
My first paying job was when I was in college at Virginia Tech. Four of us got hired to paint murals at the end of several lunch lines. You can see the rack on the left for trays.
Did you study Art? What kind of art and classes did you like the most?
Virginia Tech didn’t offer many art classes. The Art Department was housed in the basement of the Architecture building. We took a lot of architecture classes, and went into Blacksburg to take pottery classes.
Do you feel College helped develop your style?
It was more an introduction to the arts. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any portfolio development.
What type of work did you do after you got out of school?
I moved to Richmond, Virginia. At first, I interned at an advertising agency, worked for a lithography studio, and then in the paste-up department at the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Did the college you attended help you get work?
Not so much in the arts. I remember VT job placement services offered me a job as a restaurant manager trainee.
What type of jobs did you get in the beginning and did they change over time?
I went between working as an artist and teaching.
I see you were an art director at PBS in Richmond, VA. How did you get that job and what type of work did you do there?
It was odd I was hired for that job. Virginia Commonwealth University is in Richmond, and they have a really good art school. A lot of art graduates applied for the WCVE-TV PBS member television station job. It may have been because I hadn’t developed a portfolio at Virginia Tech, and just pieced mine together from the work I’d done recently, so it looked unique. I think that because later when I interviewed artists for a job opening we had in the WCVE Art Department, I noticed all the VCU applicant portfolios looked similar. For example, they might have all had a portrait, a beach landscape, a painting of a rabbit, and a city scene, etc. I still remember everybody had a palm tree.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
When I married, my husband, Francis McCall, he and his daughter would go to the library together and bring home lots of picture books. I thought illustrating a picture book would be fun and easy. Now I know illustrating a children’s book is challenging, but exciting.
What was the name of the first picture book that you published? How did you get that contract?
A friend, Paul Fleisher, and I bought a book called WRITERS MARKET. Every Saturday night for months we put manuscripts and sample illustrations together for the editors listed in the book. SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE, a science chapter book, was the first book we sold (from the slush pile!) to Marcia Marshall, editor at Atheneum. I went on to do a picture book with Marcia, LOOKING INSIDE, and a photo book, UNRAVELING FIBERS.
Although most of the illustrations for SECRETS were spot pen and ink, here is the cover art.
How did you get the job to coauthor and illustrate DRUMBEAT IN OUR FEET with Lee and Low?
SCBWI used to put on an Illustrator’s Day at the Society of Illustrators, hosted by Frieda Gates. There were speakers, one-on-ones, and a portfolio show. An agent, Carol Bancroft, saw my portfolio and took me on. She repped CAR WASH, a paperback book I wrote and illustrated to Bebop/Lee and Low.
After that, I saw a children’s African dance group, Batoto Yetu, at Victory Theater in Manhattan under dance master Julio Leitao. I thought the young dancers were powerful, the costumes and staging, joyful. I took the project again to Bebop. Shortly after we finished the paperback book, AFRICAN DANCE, my editor, Jennifer Fox, contacted me to ask if Julio and I would like to create an expanded hardback version for Lee and Low.
For nearly two years, going to work meant going to dance rehearsals to sketch. Some of my last images were created from Batoto Yetu’s performance at Carnegie Hall.
Raven before a performance, and Raven and me at dance practice. Loving her pink tea kettle bag!
Have you ever worked with an educational publisher?
I’ve worked for Scott Foresman, Rowland Reading, and the Committee for Children. I enjoyed doing my first ebook with the Committee for Children.
Have you done any illustrations for a children’s magazine?
I’ve illustrated for a Scholastic magazine.
Do you think you will ever write and illustrate your own book?
Probably CAR WASH would qualify as a paperback book I wrote and illustrated. But really, any book I’ve done has had a lot of people working with me to make it successful– illustrator’s groups, friends, editors, art directors and Francis.
Have any of your books won awards?
I loved receiving the Christopher Medal in 2011. It was for a self-published book, WOULD YOU STILL LOVE ME IF, by Wendy LaGuardia. Wendy and I won for Ages 6-8, and Mo Willems won for KNUFFLE BUNNY FREE in the Preschool category. It was a fun night!
How did you hook up with Liza Royce Agency?
I had been with Carol Bancroft and Friends for nearly ten years. The agency got me a variety of interesting illustration jobs. I learned to work under a tight deadline and draw on spec. I learned how to develop characters and keep them consistent.
I wanted to create my own fiction picture books. I thought I could sell them myself, but when a deal fell through last summer, I realized I needed help.
I met Liza Fleissig from Liza Royce Agency at NJ SCBWI. I went to the Agent Pitch Session and pitched her my book idea. She agreed to represent LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL. Within a few months, Liza sold L&LS and a second picture book to Sky Pony Press!
Have you ever thought about doing a wordless picture book?
I love the interplay between words and pictures. I like sounds and images. I’m thinking I would if there is a reason there are no words–if being wordless is relevant to the story.
What type of things do you do to promote yourself and get your work seen?
I mail cards to publishing house editors and art directors, as well as doing social media. I have a website, http://www.patriciakeeler-author-illustrator.com.
I’m trying something new for LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL. I’ve started a L&LS Fan Page on Facebook called Lizzie and Lou Seal. It is a weekly installment of Lizzie’s back story. Lizzie’s Fan Page shows Lizzie’s adventures where she lives in the city, and the events that lead up Lizzie being at the beach in a trailer with a blow-up seal.
Have you ever worked with a self-published author? Would you be open to that?
I worked with Wendy LaGuardia on WOULD YOU STILL LOVE ME IF. Self-published authors are passionate about their ideas. They are developing their vision, and like being involved in every aspect of the project. I hope to bring that passion to the books I write and illustrate.
Besides the two picture books I’ve contracted to complete, I have other manuscripts I’m working on, so for the time being I’m pretty busy. But in the future I would be open to working with a self-publishing author.
Do you do any other type of illustration other than for children’s books?
Not so much. If I have free time I like to sit by the Hudson River and watch the ships go by.
Do you have a favorite medium you use?
I love to settle at my drawing table, with loud music and a Starbucks latte, and ‘get inside’ of a large painting working in gouache. I like to mix paints. I love color charts. But I rarely have time for long painting sessions now. I’m usually working quickly on several book pages at once, going back and forth between painting a section of an image and layering it in on the computer.
Do you take research pictures before you start a project?
I usually take images from Pinterest and set up private boards on my site. I can find images more easily there than on Google or Bing. Pinterest people do a great job in selecting images. The boards work well to organize research pictures. My public Pinterest boards are more to show my own work.
Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?
Do you have a studio in your house?
Yes, but I don’t have a dog. I wish there was a self-feeding, self-walking dog. Maybe one that could water the plants, but I think a cat might be better at that.
Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?
I’m pretty much where I want to be. I think one of my challenges is to not rush the art. I’d like to keep my focus on individual pages and the interaction of the images. Publication will come when the contract time is up.
Any exciting projects on the horizon?
The two book deal with Sky Pony Press is SO exciting! Here is a synopsis of LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL and a digital sketch from the dummy.
Lizzie loves her flip-flops. They go shuffle-shuffle across the rug, smack smack on the floor tiles, and thwap-thwap down the stairs, as Lizzie drags Lou Seal, her blow-up toy, to the beach. But beach fun turns to beach disaster when Lizzie loses her flip-flops and Lou Seal is losing air. It’s a sink or swim scenario. What will Lizzie do?
What do you consider to be your biggest success?
Keeping a character consistent throughout a picture book is challenging. My biggest success is having learned how to fluidly draw my characters from different angles, while keeping their attitudes and movements rich. That skill gives me the artistic freedom to enhance a manuscript.
What are your career goals?
To create little girl characters with more and more attitude.
What are you working on now?
The two book deal with my editor, Julie Matysik, at Sky Pony Press!
Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?
I use Winsor & Newton gouache and Prismacolor colored pencils on Lanaquarella Hot Pressed 300 lb paper. My favorite brushes are Raphael Kolinsky Red Sable. I’m playing around with brush markers.
I like to paint the image in gouache first, then add color and detail in Photoshop. I think work done exclusively on the computer, even when using textures, makes the final look too slick and almost shiny. Painting the image first and scanning it, gives the final, Photoshop art, density.
Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?
Going to NJ SCBWI conferences helped me meet other artists and get my work out there. Reading Kathy Temean’s blog daily gives me current publishing information. Kathy Temean’s blog also introduced me to the Liza Royce Agency. Thank you, Kathy! Also, I love Illustrator Saturday!
One time I considered quitting working in children’s books. Getting rejections is tough. My dad said, “Honey, (read with a southern accent) just keep throwing mud at that wall. Sooner or later some of it’s gonna’ stick!”
Thank you Patricia for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us.
To see more of Patricia’s work, visit her Web site, http://patriciakeeler-author-illustrator.com/
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Lori. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!