Review and reflection: How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

click on the photo for a good designer-oriented review

See? Sometimes I do read grown-up books that have nothing to do with picture books! Though this does. It has everything to do with working creatively, in writing or illustrating or designing.

Author: Debbie Millman
Publisher: Allworth Press; 1st edition (October 30, 2007)
Summary: I think Malcolm Gladwell’s blurb describes it best: “A delightful opportunity to eavesdrop on some of the most curious and creative minds of our time.”
Why I like this book: For one, this book is not a recipe, or a soul-selling ticket to the short cut, but I think if I had read this many years ago (and had the wisdom to let some of it sink in!), I would have been able to profit by such tidbits as:

Shared by Michael Bierut: “Massimo had this saying: ‘Once a work is out there, it doesn’t really matter what the excuses were.”

Carin Goldberg was peeved with friends not charging properly for their work , worried about losing the client: “I’m a big believer in the bungee jump. I think you have to do the right thing and the fair thing even if you’re afraid.

Paula Sher shared advice from a teacher: “…find one thing you can do. And only do that. Be the best at it, no matter how narrow it is. And get rid of all the stuff you don’t do well.

James Victore on telling the truth in your work: “…you have to push everything aside. Everything – and then get down to that one perfect little gem.”; “It’s about taking something and whittling and whittling and getting it sharp and perfect. Then you’ve got something.”

It was also a trip down memory lane, of art school and experience in the field, but it was also a view-bender. It was nice to find that in the end, even the ‘best’ are human. I appreciated the insights of many of those interviewed, especially referring to some things I have struggled with as a designer, like client relationships. The stories brought to mind a logo I designed years ago. It took me weeks to persuade the client to streamline the design, to go from what she wanted, to what I believe she needed. I still think it was one of my best design efforts.  I’d like to share the difference in opinion here:

Snapshot 2013-01-26 14-58-22No, no, no –  don’t blame me for that one! I suggested the following (I think Vignelli would have been proud of me):


In the end we ‘compromised’ – and that has too often been the root of my problems. But it was never used:

Snapshot 2013-01-26 15-07-43

The client called me out of the blue a few years later and asked if I wanted to take on the project again – from the beginning. My answer was blunt. I think Vignelli would have been proud of that too!

PPBF: Applesauce

Author/Illustrator: Klaas Verplancke
Publisher: Groundwood Books, 2010, English translation 2012
Age Level: 2-5
Themes: parent-child relationship, love, anger, fear
Opening: My Daddy has smooth cheeks and an apple in his throat. He sounds like a mom when he sings in the bath.
Summary:(from the publisher) Johnny’s daddy has smooth cheeks, an apple in his throat and sounds like a mom when he sings in the bath. At other times a cactus grows out of his chin and his breath smells like cauliflower. At times he has warm hands and his fingers taste like applesauce. Other times his hands are cold and flash like lightning, and he becomes a thunder-daddy. When this happens Johnny wants to find a new daddy, but he eventually realizes that thunder-daddies don’t last forever. And that there’s nothing like the comfort that comes from those we love.

Why I like this book:  This book addresses the fear a child has when a beloved parent gets angry, which we all know NEVER happens! Ahem. And that finding the way back to the parent they love can be difficult. It’s always clearer seen from the outside: the reaction of the child in the book reminded me a similar scene in our family when a grandparent had a strong reaction to some not-so-good table manners of one of my children – I think this would have been a great book to have had to share back then! The illustrations are hands-down FANTASTIC!
Resources/Activities: this book could easily spark discussions about anger issues; might be a good addition to a counselor’s office. Make applesauce!

I use an old-fashioned aluminum sieve to make applesauce

I use an old-fashioned aluminum sieve to make applesauce

For more PPBF picks, go to Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog – HERE

PPBF: Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters

Author/Illustrator: K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Kids Can Press, 2012
Age Level: 5-9 yrs
Themes: guests, sweaters, school mishaps
Opening: Cousin Clara’s cottage was consumed by a crocodile. Luckily, Cousin Clara wasn’t in it.
Summary: (from Amazon) “…when Cousin Clara moves in and knits him truly dreadful sweaters as fast as he can surreptitiously dispose of them, Lester must think of a way to get rid of them for good — or be doomed to look like a clown forever.”

Snapshot 2013-01-14 08-57-45

What I thought: The cover got me…again! The illustrations are marvelous, soft yet edgy, the compositions striking, and her use of color to convey emotion, well, all these things are spot on. The writing is good, and I especially like the alliteration and use of ‘big words’, but the beginning lines promise another story. I wouldn’t mind if K.G. Campbell delivered it to us in another book, but they are out of place here. Still the silliness of the dreaded gifts, the complications and the solution, are strong enough to make this a very enjoyable read for a slightly older audience. One thing I was thrilled to see were a pair of scissors, in use – glad the publisher had the guts to keep that illo in – I won’t tell you too much, but it’s my favorite page!
Resources/Activities: teach a child to knit; Does the thought always count? Lead a discussion on appreciation, and how to react upon receiving gifts one might not like.
For more PPBF picks, go to Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog – HERE

PPBF: Bear Despair

Author/Illustrator: Gaëtan Dorémus
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books, 2012
Age Level: 4-7
Themes: stories without words, bears, stealing, adventure
Opening:…..(story without words!)
Summary: (from the publisher) Don’t ever take a bear’s teddy bear – no matter how cute you think it is! If you do, you’ll be in for trouble. Big trouble. For a bear whose teddy has been stolen isn’t simply heartbroken, but determined to get it back. So determined that he might just gobble up more than honey to do so! However, should he succeed in getting his teddy back, then there just might be a surprise in store. This is a book that all readers will relish, and one they will want to read again and again.
Why I like this book: This book is for anyone who has ever had their dearest and most beloved toy taken from them – did someone in the crowd NOT raise their hand? For one, I really like the book’s format 10 1/4″ x 6″, and the thick paper and of course the drawings, because that’s what they are, and maybe that is why the strokes retain their energy. Recently, in looking over some other artist’s start-to-finish stories, from sketches to final art, I have noticed how unfortunate it is that so much energy is often completely lost in the process. Maybe we are too focused with colors and depth to notice that this happens. But not here!
Resources/Activities: this book is a perfect lead in a discussion about emotions: here is a pdf from The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) with wonderful ideas on teaching the vocabulary of emotions – click here BTJFoxSupplementalActivities
For more PPBF picks, go to Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog – HERE

NYT Best Illustrated Books includes Bear Despair!

For another review with ALL the pictures go to Brain Pickings – I dare you not to love this blog!

PPBF: Castle On Hester Street

25th Anniversary Edition – 2007

Author: Linda Heller
Illustrator: Boris Kulikov
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers 2007 (Text copyright: 1982)
Age Level: 4 and up
Themes: immigrant experience, grandparents, tall tales, imagination
Opening: One day while Julie was visiting her grandparents, her grandfather said, “Did I ever tell you about my good friend Moishe?”
Summary: (from Amazon) A flying goat, buttons the size of sleds, and a castle on Hester Street are some of the widely imaginative stories Julie’s grandpa tells her about his journey from Russia to New York many years ago. But Grandma’s no-nonsense memories are far different from Grandpa’s tall tales. This classic story, which reveals the immigrant experience with wit and warmth, won the Sydney Taylor Book Award when it was originally published with Linda Heller’s own illustrations. Now, on its twenty-fifth anniversary, The Castle on Hester Street is given new life with Boris Kulikov’s vibrant paintings.

Why I like this book: The summary says all, but this gem is delightful and VERY funny, despite being a wonderful way to bring the immigrant experience closer to children.
Resources/Activities: Great book to instigate and answer questions when teaching a unit on immigration: check out ideas here
For more PPBF picks, go to Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog – HERE

Looking for Tom: My Illustration Entry for the 2013 scbwi-TdP-Award

The Rules: an illustration in black and white, including half-tones, from a classic. Choose a passage, line or description from one of the following books: “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain, or “The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

The Advice from Tomie de Paola: “I want to be surprised, excited and – VERY jealous. I want to see an image, a style, a vision that I’ve never seen before – all in glorious black and white!”

I read. Tom Sawyer sparked the most interest while reading the book again, but there were passages in Little Women that intrigued me, esp. those showing Jo’s dark side. So I started sketching…1Tom









And a couple from Little Women, in particular the scene where Jo decides Amy can take care of herself…



But my attention kept coming back to this scene, of Tom in church with his Aunt, because the writing transported me.


I then experimented with watercolor


And finally decided to go with a digital version because of the fun I’ve been having of late, playing with transparency and shapes, presented here with the text. Do read it, it’s wonderful!