Friday, December 6, 2013

An Ode to the Art Director (et. al.)

I usually fill this space with news about my illustration career. In this post, I’d like to change focus to take a moment to celebrate some of the unsung heroes of children’s books. I have newfound appreciation for these brilliant, indispensable folk who can can so often be overlooked in the complex maze of the publishing process. 

For the past five weeks, I’ve been filling in at a New York City publisher for an art director on leave. It marks the first time since I left my job at The Metropolitan Museum for grad school that I’d spent any extended time in an office. That’s the first thing—it’s amazing how soon you forget as a freelancer what it's like to go to an office every day of the week (full disclosure—I only came in four). My commute is usually about ten seconds to the drawing board within my one bedroom apartment. Sure many of my illustrator colleagues have separate studios, but my point is, you’re going to a place where for the most part you get to control your day. In an office, not so much. The books in the pipeline guide you through, and by that, I mean a fast-moving trajectory of projects some with countless complications and many, many hands in them. Slow down, and you’ll get slammed by the unstoppable force of them piling up. That’s your day—along with a bunch of meetings, too much air-conditioning, and the need for a steady supply of snacks.

It took me a while to get up to speed, and by that I mean about half speed of the person I was replacing. Just keeping all the titles straight across six seasons plus was a major challenge. There are so many checks and balances, it would make your head spin if you weren’t just trying to keep up with the flurry of activity. This is both a blessing and a curse, especially if you are not familiar with established systems. It’s easy to forget when you’re not witnessing it firsthand, how vital systems are to the process, and how difficult the job is for the art director, designer, editor, editorial assistant, copy editor, production associates, sales, marketing… to keep it all organized and moving along with aplomb, professionalism, and damn good typography. 

Next time you get revisions from an AD telling you that you didn’t leave enough room for the type or the gutter, or your main character’s left eye had 16 eyelashes on page 5, but just 15 on pages 8, 17, and 29, know that they’re not trying to make your life difficult. They’ve got to answer to a lot of people, and everyone just wants to make the books better. This might be my most important point to my fellow illustrators, especially those just starting out: art directors, designers—pretty much everyone who has contact with you as an author and/or illustrator, bends over backwards to make you feel confident in their shepherding your work into book form. They choose their words very, very carefully so as to not upset or over influence, yet often they need to seriously coax and motivate. It is an art form in and of itself. I was so impressed by the extent of understanding the art directors have of each individual illustrator’s process—whether they worked fast or slow, don’t draw that realistically thus can’t be required to do certain things—the how, when, why to gracefully push illustrators toward their best work. 

One of the biggest misconceptions among those new to publishing is that a book arrives at a house complete with author already paired to illustrator. This is pretty far from the norm in traditional publishing. I’ve always thought of this as the “secret sauce” of children’s books—that inspired pairing of words to art—and it’s the publishing house, usually the art director who deserves credit. That was really fascinating for me to observe firsthand over the last month—who they consider for a certain story and why, which sometimes is completely counterintuitive. When you’re just starting out as an illustrator, you might have a very clear concept of what you do in your own mind, but it might not come across to the people hiring. It takes a while for trust to be established, meaning art directors need to see a broad enough scope of your work to see how you’d fit to a particular project. And they think about it long and hard. There’s so much stuff (and junk) that comes across their desks, we illustrators need to remember to have patience. It’s a long process—I’ve done three books so far, and each took nearly two years from contract to finished product.

So that’s my shoutout—to all the art directors, and designers, and copy editors, production, et. al. I could go on and on. A big thanks to them for answering all my dumb questions, and especially for their patience.

Now with these five weeks behind me, I have the luxury of returning my complete focus to my own books. If you’ve been keeping up with this page, you know I’m in the middle of illustrating two new picture books that will be released in 2015, and—great news—potentially a third. This past month was a great reminder to me of the importance of children’s book publishing as a collaborative process, one in which I’m honored to play a small part.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

accolades that float

Although I’m a few weeks late announcing it here, I recently received some terrific news about Things That Float and Things That Don’t. To be honest, the book is up for an award that up until now, I never knew existed... 

Each year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) teams up with Subaru in awarding the SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, and Things That Float... (written by David A. Adler) is among three nominees in the Picture Book Category for 2014. I doubt this means I’ll be driving away in an Outback any time soon, but it’s great news nonetheless. To learn more about the award and the other nominees, click here.

Add this to the many great reviews over the past few months from The Horn Book, Booklist, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly who said... 
“It’s rare to find a picture book that uses simple, hands-on activities so successfully, leading young children to a fuller understanding of a scientific concept.”
This is great inspiration as I sketch out another picture book by David to be published by Holiday House. This one features simple machines and is full of all kinds of visual problem-solving, which I love. I look forward to sharing some teasers here in the coming months. To tide you over, there are two small details at the end of this post.

In the meantime, my work continues on The Wrong Side of the Bed written by Lisa M. Bakos and to be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 2015. It’s going to be a fun 2014 as I dive into the finished drawings.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Rats! Pick of the Month by the Poetry Foundation

It’s always a pleasure to receive emails from author J. Patrick Lewis. This morning, in addition to pointing out that today (Nov. 2) is “Plan Your Epitaph Day”, he shared the terrific news that World Rat Day is the pick of the month by The Poetry Foundation. Thank you current Children’s Laureate Kenn Nesbitt for your kind words:
“With splendidly silly illustrations by Anna Raff, and poems about everything from ‘Dragon Appreciation Day’ to ‘International Cephalopod Awareness Day’ (and, of course ‘World Rat Day’) this cleverly-crafted collection includes shape poems, limericks, and enough rib-tickling rhymes that you can have fun celebrating ‘The Holidays’ all year long.”
Now I have to go revise my epitaph...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Society of Illustrators: Original Art Show

Hello Hello! Word on the street is that The Original Art Show is already open for viewing at the Society of Illustrators. I am thrilled that World Rat Day was chosen one of the best illustrated children’s books of the year, and that my rats lineup will be representing. If you’ve never seen the show, it’s an amazing event, and one of few chances to see the actual art from these great books in person. On top of that, if you’re in New York City tomorrow evening (October 24th), the opening reception will give you the added opportunity to meet the artists.

A big shout out goes to the terrific folks at Candlewick—Art Directors Anne Moore and Kristen Nobles made this a really fun project for me, from beginning to end. World Rat Day was written by U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis, and is a collection of hilarious “Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of.”

The Original Art Show runs from October 23 through December 21 at The Society of Illustrators, 128 East 63rd Street, between Park and Lexington. For more information, click here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

new book news and some nice reviews

It’s been difficult keeping this page current of late, and now somehow it’s already the first day of autumn. Which reminds me...time to go balance an egg!

Okay, now that’s out of the way...

I should have shared this a while back, but some great reviews have been coming in for Things That Float and Things That Don’t by David A. Adler. Both Booklist and Publishers Weekly gave it starred reviews. Here’s a quick quote from the former:

“Raff's jaunty, imaginative illustrations feature two curious children and their dog playing around with objects and water. It’s rare to find a picture book that uses simple, hands-on activities so successfully, leading young children to a fuller understanding of a scientific concept.”

And to top things off, about a week ago, I received news from Holiday House that the book has been awarded a “Junior Library Guild Selection.”  This designation comes with its own accessory...

Now for new book news: I’ve signed on with G. P. Putnam’s Sons to illustrate a new picture book by Lisa M. Bakos called The Wrong Side of the Bed. I for one, have been thoroughly entertained during the sketching phase, which is nearly complete. Of course, I look forward to sharing some visuals when the time comes. To tide you over, here’s an early sketch of one of the book’s many characters...

And on the heels of that, I’ll be illustrating another non-fiction picture book for Holiday House by David A. Adler. So it looks like it’s going to be another busy year.

By now your eggs have rolled back to it then...Happy Fall!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

some very nice things about rats

I’m not going to lie about it...I did do a little dance around my apartment last week upon hearing that World Rat Day had been selected for The Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators. Established in 1979 and juried by an esteemed group of art directors, editors and illustrators, the exhibition showcases the year’s best in children’s book illustration. So in other words—I’m thrilled.

The show will be on view from October 23 through December 21, with an opening reception on Thursday, October 24, from 6–9pm. 

And as if that weren’t enough good news about World Rat Day, four images from the book were also selected for 3x3 Magazine’s annual picture book competition. Hoozah!

All in all, it’s been a pretty good summer for the rats. As for being a Raff, that’s not too bad either. I’ve just agreed to illustrate two picture books over the next year. But more on those another time.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Trailer for Things That Float and Things That Don’t

Not getting your fill of the seaside this summer? Never fear, my book trailer for Things That Float and Things That Don’t by David A. Adler just went live. How about taking a quick 1:21 minute break to cool off?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

★ things that float my boat ★

It’s been a sweltering July in New York City thus far, but a few cool things have been happening that I’d like to share.

A big stack of Things That Float and Things That Don’t arrived in the mail today—a bit earlier than expected, since the book isn’t officially due out until September. Written by David A. Adler and published by Holiday House, it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly

So if you’re looking for an excuse to beat the heat while learning about buoyancy, this one is for you. For a peek at some of the illustrations, visit my portfolio site. In the meantime, stay cool!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The 600 (with apologies to Lord Tennyson)

The 600 followers of my bird blog Ornithoblogical might have noticed a big milestone approaching — I was about to paint my 600th bird! And then there was a long pause....

My apologies for the delay; brainstorming takes time, and so does execution, but I’m hoping I’ve come up with something worthy of the occasion. 

Speaking of execution, if you’re not familiar with the refrain from Lord Tennyson’s epic poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” here’s some historical background and a link to the poem. Perhaps it’s not the most uplifting subject matter, but it certainly is epic. And at the very least, a challenge for my mostly minimalist illustration style on the blog.

A BIG THANK YOU for all the support to my 600! In celebration, I’m hoping to get my etsy shop back up an running this week, with offerings of prints and other stuff. And there are more birds to come. Meanwhile, below are some details from The 600—Charge of the Egg Brigade.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
    All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
    Noble six hundred.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

some birds of paradise

If you haven’t visited Ornithoblogical this week, stop by for my take on a few birds of paradise. I’ve been saving up these crazies for when I had time to do them justice. And I’m fast approaching bird #600, with plenty of ridiculous ideas to go. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

bugs at BEA and other news...

It’s a busy week! 

If you work in publishing, you’d have to be a bug under a rock not to be aware that Book Expo is currently taking place at the Javitts Center here in NYC. This was the first year I participated in the children’s book art auction to benefit the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and was very pleased that piece Buggy Too, pictured above, fetched a pretty penny in addition to a nice home. 

This weekend, I’ll be dropping off some stuff for the “Picture This!” show at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Mass. If you find yourself in New England this summer, stop by for this juried exhibition of picture book illustration. Three of my pieces from World Rat Day, by J. Patrick Lewis will be on display.

And on my way home, I’ll be stopping off at my alma mater, Connecticut College, for an Alumni Author (and Illustrator!) book event. Any camels out there planning on attending Reunion Weekend? Come to the campus bookstore this Saturday, June 1st at 3pm for a signed copy of World Rat Day and/or Sylvia’s Spinach

Friday, May 24, 2013

The New York Times - Found Poetry Contest

This marks the third year that I’ve done some hand-lettering for The New York Times Learning Network Blog’s Found Poetry Contest

Students around the world are invited to submit poems sampled from articles found in the paper. Editor Katherine Schulten sends me a list of the year’s most popular subjects, and I take it from there.

As you can see above, the subjects chosen this year exhibit quite a range of interest—from heart-breaking and historic, to frivolous yet fabulous. For a look at my past interpretations, check out my website

Monday, May 20, 2013

Picture This! at the Danforth Museum of Art

“Picture This!” is an annual juried exhibition at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Massachusetts showcasing new work by picture book illustrators. 

I’m thrilled that three images from World Rat Day have been included—flamingoes, and rats, and sloths—oh my! A big thank you goes out to judge Joann Hill of Disney/Hyperion for selecting my work.

The show runs from June 8—August 4, 2013. For more information and directions, visit the museum website.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Things That Float and Things That Don’t

I received a surprise in the mail this weekend—an advance copy of Things That Float and Things That Don’t, by David A. Adler, to be published by Holiday House this fall. This is a fun little non-fiction picture book that presented a few new challenges for me that I’ll go into in a later post. Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek of the jacket and an interior spread. Is it wrong that my favorite part is the spine?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

American Illustration 32

Guess who’s been chosen for American Illustration 32? You guessed it...the RATS! These guys have been getting around—in addition to a cameo in the “Spring Children’s Book” issue of Publisher’s Weekly, Candlewick selected them for their World Rat Day promotional poster. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rizzoli, Rats and Raffs

On the heels of the big World Rat Day event at Rizzoli, I did a little traveling, so this post is over a week late. Still, I wanted to share a few photos—it was a fantastic turnout! Thanks to everyone who was there, bought books, and helped celebrate Poetry Month. And special thanks to the great people at Rizzoli—especially publicist Meg Parsont—and Candlewick for providing the bubbly and the big poster for the store window! Boy was my hand tired by the end, but in a really good way.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rizzoli Bookstore - April 13th, 3–4:30 p.m.

Come celebrate the publication of World Rat Day with me at the legendary Rizzoli Bookstore this Saturday afternoon! 

Monday, April 1, 2013

MoCCA Arts Festival 2013 - April 6th & 7th

April is the busiest month ~ This weekend (April 6th and 7th) is the annual MoCCA Arts Fest at the 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington Avenue and 25th Street—open both days from 11am to 6pm.

Stop by table D97 where I’ll be selling a new, limited edition, hand-bound book featuring art from my bird image blog Ornithoblogical, called What the Duck? (You may remember earlier this year, I devoted an entire week on to ducks.)

My other MoCCA offerings will include a new set of hand-painted children’s t-shirts;  Ornithoblogical magnets, buttons, and prints; and a new line of notebooks featuring hand-painted tip-on images of robots and martians. And of course, I’ll be selling and signing copies of World Rat Day and Sylvia’s Spinach.

Once again, the lovely Sophia Wiedeman and I will be sharing a table. What table, was that again? Table D97. And just to make it easier on you, here a map. See you there!...

At the Bank St. Bookstore - April 4th

On the afternoon of Thursday, April 4th (World Rat Day proper) I’ll be presenting World Rat Day to the after-school set at the Bank Street Bookstore on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Click here for details. If you can’t make it to that event, you can still celebrate World Rat Day with me at Rizzoli Bookstore on Saturday, April 13th. More information from my earlier post can be found here. In addition to reading some of J. Patrick Lewis’ wonderful poems, we’ll be drawing rats, and inventing our own holidays. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

sloths in creative quarterly 31

With all of my focus on rats these days, I was thrilled to learn that my sloths image from World Rat Day snuck into the spring Creative Quarterly competition as a runner-up. Of course, if you look closely, you’ll see the rat squad is in there too. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Release of the Rats!

Today’s the day World Rat Day, by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by me, storms bookstores and mailboxes. Here are a couple of reviews...

“Funny from start to finish, these superbly crafted poems and inventive illustrations celebrate...holidays that the elementary-school crowd will love. Raff’s intelligent artwork adds to the lighthearted play with many surprises...The entire book is such fun that children will will want to shout, “It’s J. Patrick Lewis Day!”  
School Library Journal 

“J. Patrick Lewis gives...ear food for elementary school kids accompanied
by charming illustrations by Anna Raff!” Bobbi Katz


Monday, March 4, 2013

Signing at Rizzoli Bookstore, NYC - April 13th, 3pm

Happy [belated] National Pig Day! I hope you found a proper way to honor the swine this past Friday.

The release of World Rat Day is a little over a week away, and it has been getting some nice attention in print and cyberspace. But first things first...

On Saturday, April 13th from 3:00–4:30 PM, the Rizzoli Bookstore in midtown Manhattan is hosting a book signing for me. Here’s the announcement from their website:

To help celebrate National Poetry Month, award-winning illustrator Anna Raff joins us for this kid-friendly event in which she unveils a whimsical collection of poems and her illustrations commemorating such quirky holidays as Dragon Appreciation Day and International Cephalopod Awareness Day.

I know you’ll want to fill me in on how you celebrated the actual World Rat Day which is a few days earlier, so I look forward to seeing you there! For directions, click here.

In other World Rat Day news, the rats got a nice, visual shout out in the “Spring Children’s Books” issue of Publisher’s Weekly last week. To read the complete PW review, click here. And the book trailer has been featured on several illustration sites. If you still haven’t watched it, take a short 1-minute, 36-second break. I hope it puts a smile on your face.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"I love your book muc."

About a week ago I received what may be the best thank you card ever. In an earlier post, I wrote about my visit to a kindergarten class in Brooklyn late last year for some coloring and a presentation of Sylvia’s Spinach. It’s such a delight to have this gorgeous, oversized card full of creative portraits of me and scenes from the book, now prominently displayed in my living room. I wish I could share all the drawings here—see below for a selection. 

Some kids chose to draw me in the middle of my opening anecdote. I told them about how much I loved to draw at their age, but had a hard time remembering where mustaches should be placed on a face—above the nose, below the mouth? Interpretations of my confusion can be seen in their drawings.

A reciprocal thank you goes out to my buddy Cooper’s teachers, and to his parents Matthew and Lori for organizing the event with this great group of kids, and for buying each of them a copy of the book!

Friday, February 8, 2013

duck week! (February 9–16)

It’s official: I’m proclaiming February 9–16 “Duck Week” on Ornithoblogical. That’s right, seven ducks in a row. Look for an original duck illustration to post on the blog each day at noon. I really hope it gooses your gander.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

★ the WORLD RAT DAY trailer ★

Book trailers are all the rage in children’s publishing these days, so in preparation for its publication in March, I wanted to give World Rat Day proper attention. 

This meant investing a considerable amount of time teaching myself Adobe After Effects, but I think it was time well spent. As an illustrator, it’s so rewarding to make still images you’ve been working on for months and months actually move. If this weren’t already part of my profession, I’d take it up as a hobby.

So without further ado, here it is. Enjoy, share, post, tweet, whatever you choose, but mostly I hope it puts a smile on your face. 

Oh! One more thing—as if I hadn’t mentioned it a million times before—World Rat Day is available for pre-order here. :^)