February 24, 2011

6-1/2 Tips to Help You Create Picture Books with HeART by Author/Illustrator Janeen Mason

I've had the pleasure of knowing Janeen Mason, artist and friend extraordinaire, for more than a decade. Janeen has a remarkable spirit of giving, and today, she's sharing her favorite quotes, a peek behind the scenes at the making of a picture book, a precious photo and wise words.

As if that weren't enough, please enter for a chance to win Janeen's brand new book -- GIFT OF THE MAGPIE. (Details at the end.)

"Look at a child's face as you read an illustrated book to him. He is utterly lost in the pictures, his mouth is open, his eyes are wide, it's as if his mind has left his body. It's as complete an immersion into a work of art as a human being can ever hope for. It is pure seeing." - Zora Charles

Janeen Mason writes and illustrates award-winning children's picture books. She uses her brilliant sense of color to transport us through each one, and she's now on her fourteenth. Mason says "Children's picture books are a primary source of inspiration which have enormous consequence in our culture. They provide the introduction to a lifetime of creative imagination and appreciation for the arts. This is powerful juju in a landscape of ever accelerating technology."

Janeen is a popular speaker on radio, at schools, libraries and in workshops. Awards for her books include the Ben Franklin Award (silver), the U.S. Maritime Literature Award (gold), the Moonbeam Children's Book Award (gold), the Mom's Choice Award, the iParenting Award, and in 2010 she was a finalist in the Book of the Year Award. Mason has received a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award. Her large scale fine art hangs in the collections of Burt Reynolds, Reba McEntire, Evan Lloyd and S. Kent Rockwell. Ms. Mason was recently featured with the MacArthur Award Winner, Dr. Edith Widder, on NOVA Science Now.

Ms. Mason is active in the arts. Appointed by two senate presidents, she is serving her second term as a member of the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, currently as the vice chairman. Memberships include the board of directors for the Arts Council of Stuart and Martin County, the board of directors of The Friends of the Blake Library of Stuart, Inc., the Florida Association of Public Art Administrators, the Florida Reading Association, the Children's Book Council, and SCBWI. As the Illustrator Coordinator for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in Florida for the last five years, she produced annual "Illustrator Intensives" where she hosted well-known contemporary children's book illustrators as guest instructors in retreat settings.

A solo exhibition of 100 original picture book illustrations from her books visited six Florida museums and galleries and is scheduled for three more in 2011. In 2010, her art celebrated a one-woman exhibit for three months in the 22nd floor gallery of the Capitol Building in Tallahassee, Florida.

6-1/2 Tips to Help You Create Picture Books with HeART

by Janeen Mason

"Artists effortlessly speak across time because the technology of the human soul does not change." -Wynton Marsalis

Truer words have never been spoken. But creating a beloved children's picture book that will be enjoyed over and over again requires sophisticated tools, tinkering and tenacity.

1) Start with a story idea that you love, love, love. "Gift of the Magpie" presented itself as an idea when I worked in a studio that was built in 1926. It was near the Manatee Pocket on the Atlantic Coast of Florida, where the wind whistled through the high windows and through the 20' door in the back. At a certain time of year crows would flock to the power lines that stretched across the courtyard in the back. Their cacophony every evening made me stand at the door and wonder "WHAT?" Clearly they were reporting the results of their daily quests... and I wondered, what if you were a crow whose wings didn't flap to the same drummer? What if you were interested in... say... shoes instead of green beans?Would you tell your best friend? Would he understand?

2) Sketch thumbnails with joy and abandon. Remember when you were a child who was too innocent to fear failure and brave enough to feel emotions?

3) Take your story to your writer's group. Don't have one? Join SCBWI and find one. Workshop your material with other children's writers and illustrators. Attend conferences. Meet people who can help you polish your work to perfection. Be open to suggestions that resonate. This particular story was originally titled "Max and Regina", but when one of my brilliant writer friends, Jill Nadler, read it and whispered, "It's like Gift of the Magi", I thought she said "Magpie", and a whole new vista opened! Max and Regina turned from crows into their corvid cousins, and "Gift of the Magpie" was born. Magpies, by the way, with their white breasts and white striped wings are much more graphically interesting on the page.

4) When your work is ready and the members of your critique group smile and nod and offer up their blessings, it's time to submit. I recommend buying the Annual Exhibition Catalog of the Original Children's Picture Book Art Exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in NYC. You'll find the names of the editors and the art directors who worked on every book in the exhibit. It is a concentrated way to shop for who might be interested in your style, your sense of humor.

5) A contract arrives, you've read it carefully, sought counsel if you were sans agent and found yourself confused... (I type every contract into my computer. It is the only way I can "read" legalese. When I find something that confuses me, I highlight it and bring that up with my attorney.) When my sketches are approved, the work on final art begins... In my studio everything goes up on the wall in front of my drafting table where I can watch the whole book come together like a puzzle. It will never be seen this way again, but I am comfortable weighing it as a whole composition, darkening - lightening, working on balance.

6) "The best picture books are more than text and art bound together. They are small movable sculptures: a combination of kinetic art and performance art." - Lolly Robinson.

Let me introduce you to my boss . . .

(This is Keira, one of Janeen's grandchildren.)

1/2) Back to work! You've gotten this far, surely there is another idea that is scratching at the door now... whining to get out.

To win a copy of Janeen's delightful new book, GIFT OF THE MAGPIE, about which Kirkus says, ". . . the artwork is an impressive display, as riotously colorful as a bowlful of jelly beans," simply click the follow button on the right and leave a comment below.

The winner of the autographed book will be announced Thursday, March 3rd, so please check back to see if you've won.

Thank you, Janeen, for sharing your art and heartfelt words with us.


Karin said...


What a wonderful inspiration and story of creating a picture book that has such heart...art.
And I must say, the picture of the boss, Keira, priceless!!!

Pat Zietlow Miller said...

I love the story about how the title of your book changed based on your friend's comment.

Donna J. Shepherd said...

Thanks for the wonderful advice! And your inspiration is perfect.

Thanks for posting the interview and contest.

Anni Matsick said...

What a lucky grandchild to be holding that lovingly-worn book! I can see she and her dolly are having a cozy time!

Will Orser said...

Looks like a fun book! I'm not an illustrator, but learned a lot about story and observing from Ms. Mason in a conference last year.

Congratulations on the book!

Freddie Levin said...

One of the best book covers - I love the colors and design.

Lyn Martin Illustration said...

What a wonderful book!

David Opie said...

Great post--I wish I could see the book thumbnails better.

Leanne Franson said...

Oh, I love the comment about the technology of the human soul not changing. The advice on how to "make" a picture book is also very clear and succinct. Love seeing the thumbs for the sketches and the colored artwork all lined up like that. Thank-you for sharing Janeen with us!

Joanne Friar said...

This post was very motivating for me. And I wish we all had editors like Keira!

June said...

Janeen, the title is perfect, the cover is wonderful, and your advice to new authors/illustrators is spot on. I am sure the inner pages will delight me too!

JKW said...

Janeen, the writing and illustrating talent you have is awesome. Knowing you from the beginning has been a treasure for me. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and advice. Blessings, Janet

Jill Nadler said...

What a fabulous post, Janeen (and Donna!). Thank you! I can't wait to read your new book. I remember when it was Max and Regina. I LOVED the idea of a bird with a passion for shoes. I also remember the Gift of the Magi moment. Glad my garbled speech could help inspire this fabulous title. Woo hoo!

Linda Shute said...

So nice to know a little more about how the story was born and to remember your studio. I always loved those first sketches. You are in the sisterhood of the "WHAT IF?" storytellers! Best question ever.

KatieC said...

What wonderful advice! Love it!

sherrymeidell said...

Magpie's are beautifully designed birds. How fun to do a picture book with them as the star. The pages of the picture book are nicely designed. This looks like a great book.

Nicole Matthesen said...

Inspiration comes from life around us, but when you take that inspiration to create and motivate others is when you are successful. What a wonderful book and amazing illustration! cheers!

Janeen Mason said...

Thank you everybody, for the encouragement. Donna Gephart, you are our true gem. I'm grateful to you for posting my 6-1/2 tips. Karin and Pat, Donna Shepherd and Anni Matsick, Will and Freddie, Lyn, David and Leanne, Joanne, June, Janet, Jill, Linda, Sherry, and Nicole - aren't we lucky? To be hatched into the world with an exquisite sense of wonder and the ability to kindle it in others?

Wild About Words said...


Thanks for those lovely words and your inspiring post. Can't wait to find out who wins a copy of GIFT OF THE MAGPIE tomorrow.

Thanks everyone for commenting!


Linda Marlow said...

Lovely post, Janeen. Thanks for sharing.