Jason Jam! An SCBWI Montana Illustrator Spotlight

Art, Illustration, SCBWI Montana

Last Tuesday evening, the Billings community had the great opportunity to meet a beloved local artist and illustrator–Jason Jam! We invited Jason to come speak at our monthly SCBWI HobNob, share some of his artwork, and talk to us about his experiences as an illustrator.

Jason was halfway through his “100 Drawings in 100 Days” challenge, a project he started back in 2009. He brought his first 50 or so already completed drawings with him–less any that had been sold–and we got to take a closer look at them. They are even better in person than they are online!

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Jason’s skill with pen and ink was obvious, but I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn that he also has a way with words and a wonderful sense of humor! It is easy to see where the wit, irony, and plays-on-words come from in his comics. Thank goodness he didn’t listen–back when his guidance counselor in school told him to keep his career options open, because “there isn’t any money in comics!”

We are all glad he followed his artist’s heart and kept right on drawing! His watercolor artwork and daily pen-and-ink drawings have built an ever-growing fan base of followers, and I can’t wait to see the next 50 drawings in his 100 day challenge!

To follow along with Jason and his drawings, you can follow his Instagram here:

@jamcomics

And on Facebook here:

Jason Jam Gallery and Design

And here is the link to a great article about Jason and his 100 Drawings in 100 Days Challenge for 2019 in the Enjoy Billings:

100 Drawings in 100 Days

Thanks Jason Jam, for sharing your incredible talent with us! Here are some more photos from our fun evening!

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I look forward to featuring more Montana illustrators like Jason Jam, in our SCBWI Illustrator Spotlight! If you are a Montana illustrator who would like to be featured at a future event, please get in touch with me here:

Contact Erika!

A Farmgirl in The Big Apple: SCBWI Winter Conference 2019!

Art, Illustration, KidLit, We Are In This Together

I spent last week in a place I had come to “know” only through TV. (Thanks Monica, Rachel, Phoebe–and Jerry Seinfeld!)

It took me almost an entire day to get there, thanks to our sub-zero Montana winter weather, but I made it!

I still can’t believe it, but this farmgirl just spent survived! four days in New York City!

And I learned a whole lot more in those four days than I ever expected I would.

Here are a few takeaways from my first ever SCBWI national conference. I was honored to be there on behalf of Montana, and I can’t wait to visit with any of you who want to dive in deeper to any of the topics I mention here. Which is the perfect segue into my first point. . .

  1. The best part of SCBWI is the COMMUNITY.

I left for NYC focused on my own artwork, my own “next book,” my own goals, and how this conference could help ME become a better illustrator and storyteller.

After spending three days with my fellow Illustrator Coordinators–from all around the world–I came home with a completely different mindset.  I realized that all of a sudden, I had NEW goals. Rather than diving back into another book project of my own, I was inspired to build the kind of community back home that I got to experience in New York. A vibrant, creative, collective “hive” of fellow artists, creators, and lovers of KidLit! I know there are artists all over the state who may already have dreams of children’s book illustration, but don’t know yet just how to get started. SCBWI is the perfect place to start, and I hope to help increase the number of “I”s in our Montana SCBWI! I have some great ideas for new events and activities to implement, while we build our community of illustrators in Montana.

     2. A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. 

SCBWI both encourages and celebrates the great achievements of its members. The climate of SCBWI in general–and especially at events–is collaborative and supportive, not competitive or cutthroat. I was privileged to attend several deep-dive workshops with master illustrators, who generously shared their processes, tips, and best practices! I was blown away by how willing they were to share their creative processes, and how genuinely helpful they were to even the newest of members. No question was a “stupid question” and every question discussed was extremely helpful to all attendees. I took notes as quickly as my pen could write, and I was immensely impressed with all the amazing illustrators in attendance who were able to not only listen to the workshops, but do it while SKETCHING the presenters! Talk about multi-tasking!

It also impressed me that I did not meet one person at the conference, whether attendee, volunteer, published author/illustrator, or faculty, who gave the impression that they were more important than anyone else. We were all learning together–no matter our level of expertise or place in our careers.

      3. Get Feedback. Get Feedback. Get Feedback.

My most helpful workshop was with the incredible Cecilia Yung, Art Director at Penguin Random House. Cecilia had us swap our portfolios with several different attendees and give feedback on the work for those artists to consider. We chose what we thought to be their strongest and weakest pieces; we then gave feedback on how effective their illustrations were, what aspects of their artwork were effective, and what areas could be improved.

In this workshop, I got some really helpful constructive criticism. And even better–I AGREED with every suggestion I read from my anonymous peer-reviewers. They told me things I knew (deep down) about my work, that I just didn’t KNOW I already knew. 

As artists–and as writers too–we spend so much time working on our images or our stories that our eyes can become blind to them. Cecilia’s exercise helped us to see our work through new eyes. Once I read the suggestions on my portfolio pieces, then looked at them again as if I were critiquing a stranger’s work, I saw my own artwork in a completely different light. 

We may think our illustration or our manuscript is finished after the first or second stab at it, but I have learned how important (and how HELPFUL!) external feedback can truly be in our creative process. If I had to choose one most salient point from all the knowledge I gleaned from this conference, this is definitely it. THIS is why critique groups are so important. THIS is why I want to work on setting up a better illustrator network in Montana, with regular “Meet-Ups” to share work, get feedback, and discuss best practices. THIS is why we should all always strive to get feedback from our fellow writers and artists in our awesome KidLit support system before sending off a pitch or a manuscript. The feedback someone gives you may be something you already know, or it may be the suggestion that makes a good piece of work great! Get feedback. Get feedback. GET FEEDBACK. 

     4.  GO TO CONFERENCES ANY TIME YOU POSSIBLY CAN.

Lastly, I realize getting to a national conference can be expensive, logistically tricky, and take you away from your families, jobs, and obligations for 3-4 days. That said–if you are serious about your path as a writer and/or illustrator, an SCBWI conference is well worth the investment. There is nothing quite like the feeling of solidarity and kinship I felt in the grand ballroom last week, listening to one powerhouse speaker after another who both encouraged and inspired us. There was not ONE single keynote speaker who didn’t make me cry!

Books bind us together. Let’s keep doing whatever we can to keep making good books!

Please send me a message if you want to hear more about SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC! It was magic!

Here are some photos of all my NYC fun!

The Magic of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards

Art, Illustration, KidLit

This past weekend, I had a dream come true!

I got to fly to Traverse City, Michigan, to accept a beautiful bronze medal for The Spill with its incredible author, Author Jacqueline Leigh! The book won the medal in the Picture Book – Preschool category of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.

What made this trip even more special was getting to take my biggest supporter–my amazing mom Cathy–on this adventure with me! We had so much fun exploring the beautiful town of Traverse City and celebrating one of our favorite shared passions–books!

My other favorite part of this amazing trip was getting to finally MEET Jackie! She and I had so much fun working together over the last year and a half to bring Faye to life, and we never imagined we would be meeting for the first time at an AWARD CEREMONY! (We went through the entire illustration process for The Spill living on opposite ends of the country in two different time zones! Thanks to technology like texts, emails, Skype, and Dropbox, we never missed a beat!)

Meeting Jackie was like meeting up with an old dear friend!

At the Moonbeam Awards ceremony, each medalist got the change to speak about their book for a minute or so, and I cannot put into words how inspiring that part of the evening was! (Maybe that’s why I’m an illustrator, and not an author?) 😉

The award-winning books covered a wide range of meaningful topics, across all age levels and genres. Tears were flowing at tables across the room after many acceptance speeches, and the feelings of solidarity and camaraderie among the authors, illustrators, publishers, and their special guests was contagious!

Here are some more fun pictures from the ceremony and our day exploring Traverse City!


Here’s Why Women Love Windmills

Art, Illustration, Motherhood, We Are In This Together

I’m a farmgirl. And just like any other farmgirl, I love everything that goes along with that title.

I love chickens, tractors, horses, springtime babies, fresh-cut hayfields, big red barns–the list goes on and on.

But there’s one farm icon–hands down–that has always been my very favorite.

Windmills.

I am drawn to those towering, rusty structures like moths to a flame.

I adore those sentinels that keep watch over their farms and keep the all-important waters flowing. I always have, and I always will.

I can tell you where darn near every windmill is in my whole county–after all, aren’t huge windmills perfect landmarks?

And lately, I have loved seeing more and more windmills popping up everywhere I look. On pinterest. At the craft store. At the antique store, at the hardware store, pretty much everywhere . . . which makes me realize that I’m clearly not the only woman in the world with an affinity for Aermotors!

I have given it a lot of thought, often during the countless hours I’ve spent seeking out my own perfect antique windmill, scanning newspaper classifieds and craigslist columns to no avail. I may not have found my own perfect (attainable) antique windmill yet, but I think I have figured out why we females all like them so darn much! (And no–it’s not because Joanna Gaines sneaks them into her farmhouse decor collections now and again. But hey, can you blame her?)

Nope. Women love windmills because we are just like them.

Windmills represent us. Beautifully.

We are sentinels, too; standing silent watch at our nursery doors while our little ones struggle for precious sleep, or at the front door while our not-so-little ones race to make it home before curfew. We stand strong, around the clock, just like they do. Because our workday doesn’t end when the sun goes down, either.

We stand by our husbands, our partners, through the strongest storms of our marriages, and keep our own wells from going dry.

We stand tall and strong, no matter how fiercely the winds are blowing our way. We absorb those winds, the forces of nature we can’t control, and we turn them into goodness.

We turn adversity into growth, and struggles into successes. We turn hard work into reward. We turn and we turn and we turn, so our families can thrive.

We pump (and sometimes literally pump) ourselves into keeping our children, our families, and our relationships healthy. We may slow down at times, but we never quit.

Women are just like windmills. Beautiful and sturdy, steadfast and striking–just what every landscape needs.

I hope that the next time you see a windmill, mama, you will take the chance to tell yourself what a good job you are doing.

And I know exactly what you’ll do next.

You’ll keep right on turning.

This post originally appeared on Her View From Home .

Print Making with Julie Sola

Art, Illustration, KidLit

This week at my favorite Indie bookstore, This House of Books, we had a very special guest! Julie Sola, author and illustrator of RUN FAST, MILO! and Possum Dreams, was in town to sign books. She also gave a fantastic demonstration on print making.

Both of her books were illustrated with hand-pulled linoleum cuts that were carved and printed by hand at Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee, on a 1968 Vandercook proofing press.

I have never hand-printed anything before, so this demonstration was absolutely fascinating to me!

Here I am, giving it a try! I am using a spoon on the back of my print, making sure all the ink gets spread onto the paper evenly. I was surprised at how little ink I needed to make such a bold print!

Here are the two prints I “pulled” from Julie’s original hand-carved blocks:

I was completely enamored with this method of illustration, and I can’t wait to go find all of the odds and ends I need to start experimenting! I learned what “brayers” are, (the rollers) what kind of ink to use, how to keep from cutting your hands while cutting away your shapes, and how to “think in reverse!”

The icing on the cake was all the fun we had meeting Rod Stewart’s band/road crew! (Julie is also his costume/wardrobe manager, when she isn’t busy making amazing art!)

Please take a minute to go check out her awesome website:

Fat Crow Press

Thanks so much, Julie Sola, for sharing your art and teaching us a fun new skill!