What Should I Write About?

As I am busily designing pages for Soda’s Valentine (and you can learn about that process here) I reflect upon the most difficult question posed to me by both children and adults–“What should I write about?”.  I have 4 kids myself, and they are often-times stumped by what to write about.  Factual reports and papers are actually pretty easy, because they are assignments, and usually, the topic is assigned as well, so that takes away all the work of coming up with a subject.  But for writing a children’s book, or an adult’s book, or a poem, or even a blog, figuring out what to write about is sometimes the hardest part. Ultimately, this question is best rephrased as “How can I come up with ideas?”

For me, it is usually about what I see in the world. Visual things flip the switch in my brain, and make me generate ideas.  I am a visual-spatial learner, and I need visual input to activate the writing parts of my brain.  Which, in many ways is a bit contradictory.  Speech is a left-brained activity, and image processing is a right-brained activity.  So, creative writing is an interesting mix of right and left-brained activities that don’t always mesh well.  I am a compulsive doodler, for instance, and when I went to school, back in the dark ages, I doodled through every lecture, at least on the corner of my page.  My children tell me now, that this is often frowned upon severely.  But for me, when I doodle, it makes my brain much more able to handle the verbal concepts that are being presented to me.  So, that’s what I did, and I did pretty well in school.  It makes me wonder if we should be teaching a doodling class in school, for children who are visual learners instead of auditory learners–kids who learn by visualizing instead of by listening.  Anyway…

Some people process information–and come up with ideas for their writing in other ways.  Listening to music will spur some folks to come up with ideas, and other people need to take a walk or a run, do yoga, have a shower–these are all reflective of the way your brain learns and processes information.  Everyone’s brain is different.  Use what works for you.

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If a bike ride with the dog works, go for it.

 

Today, I’m talking about what works for me.  However, the list at the end of the blog is good for anyone, regardless of HOW they get their brain to turn on.

Sometimes I have a very striking, visual dream.  Now, usually, the dream doesn’t TELL me a story (although that HAS happened, and I scribbled down the high points in my notebook for later use) but rather, there is an IMAGE in the dream that really gets me going.  For Sylvia McBye Learns To Fly, I had a dream about….you guessed it….flying.  And when I woke up, I knew I wanted to write about a little girl who wanted to fly.  Then, we went for a drive on a windy day in April.  You know the kind of day–you can smell the springtime in the air, and the wind rolls across the treetops, bouncing all the new, baby-green leaves.  My brain lept to flying kites, a memory I carried from my childhood.  I put those concepts together—the dream of flying, and the memory of kite-flying, and the story began to percolate.  I needed a name for my character, and I briefly thought of naming it after my daughter Sailor, who was kind of the inspiration for the character, but, I rejected that.  I just don’t like to borrow THAT freely from my real life.  So, my brain offered up the name Sylvia, and coincidentally, I have a photography client named Sylvia, who, coincidentally again, I photographed in my Studio wearing wings as a very small infant.  The pieces began to fall together.  During this ride in the car, I wrote about 80% of the book in my brain–I made some notes on paper, but no real sense of anything.  Then, we got home, I sat down, and two hours later I had the completed story written–it almost wrote itself.  It took me an additional 6 weeks to do the 24 illustrations inside.

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Bug Summer is a bit different.  For those of you unfamiliar, my Bug Summer series of books is all about the insects my main character Zack, and his dog, Flash, encounter during their wanderings in Inclement, Iowa.  The books are heavily illustrated with art and macro-photography of insects–extreme close-up work, for those of you unfamiliar with the “macro” prefix.

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A giant spider….

 

I actually started photographing bugs roughly 6 years before I had a story written to go along with the photos.  I didn’t know WHAT the story would be, but I knew there would be a story.  So, I collected images.  And I drew sketches of who I thought the main character could be.  But I didn’t really DO anything with all this stuff for many years–I just kept the ideas, the images, and the concepts.

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Bug Summer–Raining Ladybugs

So, what does all this mean?  Does it mean anything?  Personally, I believe that it tells us that creative writing is a process of following breadcrumbs through a forest, just like Hansel and Gretel.  And what is important here—following the trail even though it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.  I pick up the breadcrumbs that are there before me, and store them in my pocket (brain, or, preferably, I write them down in a notebook) and I don’t worry about how they all connect.  But those breadcrumbs that seem to lead in random directions, they accumulate.  And eventually, some of them make sense, some of them form stories, and, if I’m lucky, they form books!  So, maybe more than a writer and an artist, I am a collector of breadcrumbs (ideas). And I note them down–random stuff that appeals to me for whatever reason.  I do illustrations that way too.  In the same notebook, I have scritches and scratches of drawings (doodles!) that many times turn into pieces of real illustrations for books.

I also pick ideas that I know something about, that I really like, or that I want to learn about. I think most people do this naturally, but it is important to mention that you won’t be successful writing about a subject you just don’t care about.  I like childhood, art, science fiction, photography, insects, things that are a little bit mysterious, friendships, the environment, music, nature, magical things, wonder, Halloween, animals….the list really goes on and on.

Sometimes I am really brainstorming without knowing it, and a whole bunch of ideas will come to me at once.  This often happens early in the morning, when the sun is just peeping over the horizon and everyone else is asleep.  Writing things down is crucial–if you don’t get it down, it gets away.

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This is magic idea time for me…

Read a lot.  I read every day.  I read things I love.  I don’t read as many children’s books as I used to, because my kids all read themselves, but I do try to sample what’s out there.  It really doesn’t matter though.  Find an author or two or five that you love, that makes you want to be like them, and read their stuff.  Ideas will flow from what they have written, and HOW they have written it.

So, how do you figure out what to write about?

1. Keep a notebook of ideas and sketches and words that you like.  Add to it daily.

2. Be a lifelong collector.  Your notebooks should be a storage place for all the weird stuff that strikes you as interesting or funny or scary or inspirational.  It may take YEARS for a unifying idea to help you make sense of all the “junk” you have stored away in your notebooks.  Don’t throw them away, don’t think they are stupid, and don’t feel you have to share them.  Your notebooks are for mental hoarding…keep them well.

3. Write it down.  Write down ANYTHING.  If you don’t get it down, it gets away.

4. Make a habit of putting something down every day, maybe at the same time.  Pretty soon, your brain will associate that time with creative idea-building time, and it will get easier.

5. Write about things you know about, things you love, things you want to learn more about.  Keep a running list of what those things are, so you know when you are on track.

6. Read every day, things that you love.  Reading and writing are inseparable.

7.  Do things that activate your brain.  I doodle.  I scribble.  Some people run, or move, or dance or listen to music.  Do whatever works for you.  Then record your ideas somehow!

8.   When you feel inspired, when the lightbulb goes off in your head, write.  Write your story, your poem, your paper.  If you are in the middle of something else, at least make NOTES for you to write from later.  This is very important!  Do it when the moment strikes!

9.  This is also important—there will be ideas you have that you will never use.  Just like there are trails of breadcrumbs that you follow and they never take you anywhere.  This is okay.  Just keep moving forward with ideas, keep picking up the breadcrumbs.  Something will come together.

So, I am back to page design for today.  Hopefully, I will have a bunch more pages to share over the course of this week, as well as other projects I am working on!  For now, start generating ideas!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

Snow Day

So, this is Winter Storm Q.  I am assuming it is named for the character from Star Trek, The Next Generation.  Whatever. There is NO SCHOOL TODAY.  So, I get time to work on “stuff” around here.  But here’s the deal.  There is also NO SNOW today.  At least, not yet. I laughed out loud when I read it on the local radio station that there was no school today.  It seems just a few years ago that they had school come hell or high water, and parents were complaining that they had to get out and pick up their kids in less than favorable conditions.  Which may be why they didn’t have school.  Regardless of reasoning, here is a shot from my front yard from 9:20 am.

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And here are some of my FB posts from this morning–some of them more lyrical than others.

Wow, Sidney, no school? And not a flake in sight…Oh well, more blogging/writing/art/photography time for me today…or maybe not. 4 kids in the house instead of 2….

If this snow materializes, there is a very good chance the hubster will be sleeping in his office tonight. Must remember to pick up a bottle of wine or three before the snow flies…medicinal, you know…

I grew up the daughter of a teacher. I can remember snuggling in my bed, listening to the flakes tap-tapping against my window in the darkness of early morning. It’s true–if you listen hard enough, and if it’s quiet enough, you can hear the snow fall. And why was I up at 5am, listening so hard to the virtual nothingness in my house as the snow stacked up on the eaves outside? Teachers’ kids didn’t get the news of a snow day via the internet (there was none) or cell phone text (ditto) or radio or tv. Nope. I can remember the thrill in my heart when the phone would ring–a REAL ring, not some strange-assed ring TONE–before the sun came up, announcing the PERFECTION of a SNOW DAY! My mom would mumble into the phone, hang it up, and then move down the hall through the dimness to tap on the door and whisper through it what I already knew. And even though I had the whole of a glorious day ahead of me, the entire world and all the fun in it knitted up in a crystal-white blanket, I could NEVER go back to sleep again. I was up, elbows on the windowsill, my breath fogging up the glass, watching it all come down.

Talk about a “pregnant pause”…I don’t know if I felt this anxious waiting for the births of my kids! SNOW! There is NO school, so just DO IT! When I looked outside at 4am, nothing but the brown old world out there. Time to dress it up a bit, give it a little sparkle. And if it doesn’t? If that dry air just hangs tight? If we get a dusting and that is it ( and oh, there is a small, cynical part of me that does really think that might happen, just because of the weather-HYPE that is the forecast these days), there we will all be, bereft, with our brown winter-world, holding our collective breaths until Sunday-Sunday-SUNDAY…

And there are others.  Doesn’t really matter, except my day is noticeably freer to work on Soda’s Valentine and other creative projects I have going.  So, that’s what I’m doing–this SNOW DAY is now a CREATIVITY DAY!   Here is the list I made for my kids when they get bored–a THINGS TO DO list, that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen (which is, ironically, what I’m doing right now.)

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My kids hate me…

I think I will post a lot today.  Maybe 5 blog posts?  Is that possible?  Of everything I do today that is creative.  This “snowpocalypse” could be the end, you know….and I want to go out with a creative BANG.  Keep your eyes out!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

 

Page Design—Getting Closer Now!

Okay, I took a few days “off” from blogging, simply because my children had a few days off from school. Sometimes it is good to take a little break from creativity if you are feeling “stale”, just to let things percolate in your brain and feel fresh again. Today, we are going to design a couple pages for the book! That is the next step, now that all photography has been completed (unless I find I need something else in the middle of things, which has happened before). So, here we go, with two pages all about the flowers.

First thing is first—the easy page. I am seeing this as a two page spread in my mind, which means when you open the book, these pages face each other. The first one is simple. I simply set up a blank document in Photoshop for the size of the page I need to design. 8.75 inches high by 8.75 inches wide is the size I need, but the finished book will be 8.5 inches by 8.5 inches, due to the fact that in the manufacturing process, the outer edges are trimmed off. This needs to be accounted for in page design, so I must make sure no words, text, or important parts of the illustrations are not in that .25″ trim area. This guideline is for laying out illustrated children’s books, and it will vary depending upon the manufacturer of the book.

So, the first illustration I am using for this pair of pages is this photograph, and I drag it onto my square page.

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It is very simple, straightforward, and will have text either running across the top or the bottom of the page, but NOT in the trim area.

The second page is harder.  I am putting two photos on the page, because they both illustrate the words I am using, and I like them both.

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BUT, since the page is square, I must find a way to “layout” the images in a pleasing manner that leaves room for the text, AND doesn’t leave any empty space.  So, again, I set up a blank document 8.75″x8.75″ and open up the images I want to use.  I drag them onto the page, and, after a few minutes of playing around with them, I decide that I like this layout.

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It leaves space for the text in the bottom left corner.  It also leaves a big “hole” of nothingness in the upper right of the page. So, I must improvise.

I think I should fill any empty spaces on my pages with quick illustrations of Soda that follow along with what is going on in the page.  I love art, and I want this book to feel arty, even if it isn’t filled with hand-drawn illustrations.  I made the decision to illustrate in a fairly “loose” style, meaning I’m not trying to be too neat or clean with my drawing.  I want it to feel like a sketch, done quickly, simply because the photographs are so real–I want the drawings to contrast with the feeling you get with the photo-illustrations.  So, I opened up another program, Corel Painter 12, and did a quick drawing of Soda with a flower in his mouth.  You can see it here.

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It only took me maybe 20 minutes to do this drawing, and I think I really like the sketchy style.  Now that I’ve solved THAT problem–and remember, art and writing are an exercise of problem solving skills–I can proceed to putting my page together.  So, I have to drag the illustration onto the page I’ve already created and put it all together.  Here is what I’ve come up with so far.

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Please note I will add all text at the very end of the book design, simply because the hardest part of the book “assembly” is adding the illustrations. Typing in words is relatively easy.  Also note I will probably not use bright yellow all-capitalized text.  I simply did so here so it would show up for the blog.

Now, when I look at it, I like it.  But I don’t LOVE it.  I’m headed back to Photoshop…just a sec.

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Now THAT’S more like it!  The color scheme was bothering me a bit, and I think I figured it out.  This is much more harmonious than the red background you see above.  I still feel like there could be some more hearts and things in the background, but I will make that decision after I get more pages done.  Sometimes, you can spend too much time figuring out one or two pages, and then discover the “solutions” that work for those specific pages don’t work for the rest of the book.

So, here’s how I work with page design.

1. Know the size of your book, and thus, the size of your pages, before you start.  Everything will flow from that.

2. Keep all words and vital parts of pictures away from the edges of the pages.  They may get trimmed off during manufacturing.  Even if they don’t, the words can feel crowded if they BARELY fit.

3. I use Photoshop for my page set-up.  You can use whatever software works for you, OR, you could do all of this on real paper using real paints and colors.  But, the same rules apply–size is important, as is word and illustration placement.  I also use Corel Paint for illustration.  Use whatever you know.

4. I type in the actual words of the book last, right before I set up my book for final review and printing.  Typing in words that I’ve already written is easy.  Making sure everything looks good can take some time.

5. Fill each page.  If you have empty spaces, find another element to fill it.  Add pictures, drawings, or anything else that will make your page interesting.  Little kids like complex pictures–their eyes just FEAST on complexity, and they notice things adults don’t.  Have fun with the empty spaces.

6. SAVE IT.  This is something I haven’t mentioned yet, but it is crucial.  Save your pages OFTEN.  Save them when you don’t think you need to.  Save it in a couple different places, not just on your computer’s harddrive.  Put it on an external drive as well.  Burn your page designs to DVD.  Whatever.  Just make sure there is more than one copy of your work.  Designing your book takes a lot of effort.  Be smart.  Don’t make MORE work for yourself if your computer breaks.

Alright, that is just 2 pages out of 28 or 30.  So, I have a lot more to do.  I will keep you posted on my progress.  We are expecting a snowstorm day-after-tomorrow, so I am hoping to make significant progress towards finishing this simply because I can’t do anything else….except shovel snow.  Be good, and keep creating!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

Coloring Soda’s Valentine

In one of yesterday’s posts, I mentioned printing out black and white images and then adding color back into them using various colored pencils to create your own works of art. Last night, I did the printing part, and then asked my kids and a few of their friends to do the creative part.  Here are a few of their images, as well as some black and white images you may use for your own art!feb_1700

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Feb_1470c4So right-click the images above and save them.  Print them out and add color with colored pencils.  Have fun!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

 

 

A Soda’s Valentine Coloring Page

Just finished this line drawing for Soda’s Valentine, and I think it makes an excellent coloring page!  So, I’m posting this afternoon.  This illustration will be in the new book as well, but I will probably alter it a bit….

Have fun!soda val

 

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

 

Soda’s Valentine–More Visuals

Quick blog today, heavy on images, light on words–which is sometimes a blessing for both of us, Dear Readers.  Worked hard last night to complete pages for the upcoming book Soda’s Valentine, and digitally “altered” photos are my main style.  Here are some samples of what I have done thus far, before and after things.  Feel free to print the “before” pix and use them as the basis for your OWN altered photographs.  Colored pencils and pastels work really well for this–you can see the process on this Halloween blog post here.  Children and adults really find coloring on photographs a fun, freeing activity.  Art is involved in the project, but no one is looking at your actual drawing skills when you do this–it is about having FUN without feeling intimidated by a blank piece of paper.  Instead, you are decorating a photograph!

Okay, here we go with a few of the photos I’ve worked on for the book!

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Before…

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After…

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Before….

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Before….

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After….

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After…

Three out of….like 26 or so pages, I know…..LOTS MORE to be done!  But, it is happening.  Next blog will be about actual illustrations I am doing for any “empty” page space there is between and around the photo illustrations.  So, arty-art-art is coming atcha!

In the meantime, print out the BW images above and do some Soda art on them!  Have fun!  Back to work I go….

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

 

The Style Of It….

So, here we are, down to the nitty-gritty where Soda’s Valentine is concerned.  Thursday–day-after-tomorrow–is Valentine’s Day, and I doubt I’ll be finished.  AH, such is life.  But, as with most projects, I got new ideas when the illustrating began.

I know, I know, I was going to do it all with photos.  And I still am.  Well, mostly.  But, since it is a kid’s book, and since I love visually interesting things, and so do children, I decided to do it right the first time and fulfill my vision.  It might take a little extra time, but so what?

First, I had to determine what my vision for this book is.  I started by thinking of what kind of LOOK I wanted.  I didn’t want it to look boring.  And, when I viewed my photos all together, they felt a little, well, blah.  They were okay, mind you, just not eye-popping.  They were pictures of a cat in a house doing what he does.  Now, normally, I would throw some really fun, jazzy illustrations in there to pop the visual interest up a bit.  But I didn’t want to get involved with full-scale illustrating on this project.  We are talking 6 hours or so per page.  I wanted to spend no more than, say, an hour per page.  So, how about altering the photographs?

Good idea, I said to myself.  So, I had a couple choices.  I could print the pictures out and draw on top of them.  I could color them selectively, add all sorts of squiggles and shapes and just have a good time.  Here is a blog post that shows that very project, albeit a Halloween post.  I thought this was the way to go, initially.  But, as I thought it through more, I realized that then I would have to scan all the pictures back into my computer to prepare the files for the printer.  Okay, I know that doesn’t sound like too much work, but trust me, it is.  We would be looking at possibly doubling the time it takes to produce the book from this point on.  Now, don’t get me wrong–there is something beautiful and fun about a black and white photo with art applied on top of it.  But, fortunately, I have a computer set up that allows me to do much the same thing digitally, thus eliminating the printing, waiting for the prints to “set” for 24 hours, then applying the art and risk messing up the art (and then having to repeat the above process) and then scanning, putting the page together, etc.  So, wanna see what I use for digital illustration?

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There it is.  My Wacom pad and pen.  I have a couple of these, for different computers, and they are different models, but they all do the same thing.  They allow you to use the pen, or stylus, just like you would a colored pencil or an ink pen or a paintbrush.  At first, when you get one, it feels very awkward to use instead of a mouse, but after a few hours, you will never use a mouse again.  These tablets and pens are pressure sensitive, so they respond much like a real art tool would.  So, I decided to apply ART to my photographs using the pad and pen, inside my image editing program, which for photographs is good old Adobe Photoshop.  Note–you can use whatever editing program you want.  I just happen to have lots of experience with Photoshop.   Now, there are TONS of tutorials on Youtube for learning Photoshop, so this isn’t going to be that kind of how-to.

I opened up a shot I thought would be fun to start with—Soda contemplating the messed-up toilet paper roll.

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Now, what to DO with it?  First, I went black and white.

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BOOOORRRRRIIIIINNNNNGGGGG!

Then I cropped the image to the correct proportions for my book, which will be square, 8.75×8.75 inches all the way around.  Then, I went crazy, using my pen tool and all sorts of fun ideas for a bathroom.  And this is what I ended up with.

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Okay, I love it.  But then again, I don’t.  It seems too….random.  Too un-Valentine-y.  So, I went to bed.  Sometimes, going to bed is the best solution.  And when I woke up this morning, I did THIS, in about 20 minutes.

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And I LIKE it.  I feel like it is what the book needs—some whimsical, fun, altered photographs with a Valentine theme.

Teachers and parents—feel free to download the BW image above and print it out–encourage the children to apply art to it using colored pencils to achieve some really cool effects like those detailed in this blog, to which I already referred earlier in this post.  You can also have them write their OWN narrative or poem based upon the photo that they decorate.

So, here we are.  I have my STYLE for the book down.  At least, most of it.  As you noticed, the book is square. And not all the photos I took for the book will work in the square format.  So, that means there will be space….and I hate space that isn’t doing ANYTHING.  An upcoming post will be about all that empty space, and what I intend to do about it.  Now, I’m off to work up some more photo-illustrations.  I will do a couple more blog posts about them over the course of the next couple days, but without the long narrative, just so you can see progress.

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

Soda, T.P. And Stew

The next set of photos I need for my book involve Soda Pop tearing up a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom, which is something he used to do in real life if left to his own devices when he was a kitten. Soda Pop is going on 4 years old now, and although he still plays when one of our family plays WITH him, he rarely tears up anything on his own. He does have a cat-wrestling buddy in our other male cat, Sunny–they spend much of the humans’ sleeping hours pounding up and down our hallway, pausing to whap each other around righteously before chasing each other to a different part of the house. But, that is a completely separate story.

Sunny-boy

Anyway, my 11 year old son was recruited to help me do the photography for this part of the book. He is very good and patient with our animals, and I needed a cat-wrangler for this one. The bathroom we worked in was small, and Soda is not normally in there, so this was a challenge in comfort level with him. However, after a few tries and much petting, he relaxed in the bathroom on the floor, and watched intently as we “decorated” him with swirls of toilet paper.

He purred and allowed his picture to be taken for several minutes. Then, we cleaned up the t.p., and we were done!

The next shot involves Soda eating from a pot of stew on our countertop. Soda doesn’t like stew, normally–he is crazy about his cat food and treats, but stew isn’t his “thing”, normally. My son and I thought he might be curious as to what was in the empty pot to just stick his head in, but, no dice. He isn’t usually allowed on our counter top, so I imagine the unfamiliar surroundings had something to do with it. We put dried catnip in the pot—still not interested. Finally, I busted out the leftover chicken breast, and that did the trick.

Soda clearly loves chicken breast. After the shot of him with his head in the stewpot, I thought we should try for one of him jumping up on the counter. My son waggled a stem of artificial flowers (what we had on hand) over the counter to lure him into leaping, but the only thing that really helped was the unplanned barking of our dog, Sophia. After we had nearly given up, the dog barked, the cat lept, and I got the pic.

And here comes the bark!

And, Soda was rewarded with some more chicken breast. We all won.  Two photo “sets” was enough for one day, so we folded up production to continue the next day.

Lessons learned:

1. Have a good, patient person to handle animals for photo shoots.

2. Figure out what motivates your animal and have it on hand–chicken breast = success–with Soda Pop, at least.

3. Plan every shot ahead of time and source what you need–for these shots, I knew I would use one roll of toilet paper, the stewpot, and of course, bathroom and kitchen locations.

4.  When you and the animal are tired, stop.  Cross what you managed to finish off your list and start the next day.

5. Reward the animal richly for desired behavior, even if it is just sitting still.  And love them up afterwards as well.

Equipment used—Canon 7d camera, a couple different lenses that function well in daylight without flash.  I am trying to use natural light as much as possible in this book, because I feel flash spoils the look of the story.  I want the book to look like Soda Pop in his house, not Soda in a photo studio shot with a bunch of professional equipment.  Other than the camera and lenses, and the few props mentioned above, that is it.  Of course, the computer and software to edit the images are very important as well.  But these shots can be done with simple point-and-shoot digital cameras as well, so please don’t let the lack of “professional” gear stop you from photographing anything creatively.

I ended up shooting over 200 shots for these two different “sets”, which will amount to maybe 4 pages in the book.  I only have a few more “sets” to shoot–we’ll start with Candy next time, and maybe do Cupid as well.  Then comes the more interesting, difficult part of setting up the book format, page design, and any other illustration work that needs to be done.

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

Foggy Perspective Makes Sharp Photos

When you go to someone’s home, and they cook you a great meal, do you ask what kind of stove they have? I am always amused by the question “What kind of camera do you use?” I hate to tell you all this, but it isn’t what you have, but how you use it that matters the most.

I went for a walk in the fog yesterday—for 2 days here in Southwest Iowa we’ve had a luscious, velvety fog enveloping our world. And, yes, I realize that fog is sucky when you are driving. But for photography purposes, it is AWESOME. Several years ago, I went out in a fog very similar to this one and took photos in the cemetary that is just up the street. I got beautiful images, and yes, I took my pro gear. Here’s a couple, and I love them.

 

Yesterday, I decided to walk the daughter to school, simply for the fun of walking in the fog. And, I decided to bring a camera. BUT, I didn’t want to drag out the studio cameras and the bags of lenses and go trotting 13 or 14 blocks with all that rattling gear. So, I grabbed a small Canon point and shoot camera that I keep around because it has an awesome zoom lens and I don’t have to think much when I use it–hence, the name, point-and-shoot.

And I got beautiful stuff. Now, it isn’t the same stuff. It has some technical differences that i can see, but many people won’t be able to. In fact, I might like some of the point-and-shoot pics better.  My point here is this….no matter where you are in your own creative journey, no matter what gear you have, or how long you’ve been doing whatever it is you do, when the moment is there to do something creative, SEIZE IT. Don’t worry about whether you have tools that cost 5 grand or 50 bucks. Just go do something.

My grandmother ran a motel when I was little. She had a guest once that did some art with ballpoint pen and cocktail napkins, and it was AMAZING. He left them behind, because, to him, they were probably just cocktail napkins with ballpoint scribbled on them, but wow….he had talent. That stuck with me. I spent hours drawing on whatever I could, WITH whatever implement was nearby, all because of this man’s inspiration.

Use what you have. Use it as often as you can. Practice, practice, and don’t be discouraged by your first attempts. Artists of all types discard many more “pieces” than you can possibly imagine. You don’t have to have expensive ANYTHING to be creative.

Snow is coming tonight (I hope. Please, weatherman, be right for once!) I’m gonna photograph everything in it. I’m gonna use all sorts of gear. I may even break out the black and white film and the old medium format cameras.

Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my life were cooked over campfires, no fancy stove required.

Photo-Illustrations–The Beginning, With Flowers…

So, the cover has been designed. And the next step is the illustrations. As I have mentioned, I decided to use photography for the bulk of the story simply because it is a little faster for my production schedule. Don’t get me wrong….I LOVE doing actual art illustrations, but, for this book, and because it is about a REAL cat, I think the photography will add to the story rather than detract from it. So, the first thing I must do is make an illustration list.

I do this with every book, no matter if I use photography or art for the visuals. I read through the text and decide which parts of the text should be illustrated in some form. Not everything that happens in a story needs a picture, but for children’s books, I always feel the visuals are an extremely strong and necessary element to actually tell parts of the story. I need fewer words because the images are effective.

So, my illustration list, or my “shot” list, as I will refer to it from now on ( in photographic terms) goes something like this for this story.

Flowers (2 shots)
Stew (2 shots)
Shoes (1 shot)
Candy (2 shots)
Bathroom (2 shots)
Hearts (1-2 shots)
Cupid (2-3 shots)

Now, I know, from experience, that I will actually take many more photos than those during my shooting time with Soda Pop.  I also know that my text may change slightly while I am shooting–the cat may do something unexpected and interesting that can be incorporated into the book, and I will photograph it, and then write it in.  So, even though I have 14 or so shots listed there, I will probably end up with at least 20, and maybe more for the book.  And that is EDITED shots.  I will actually take maybe 500 pictures in order to get exactly the ones I want for my book.  There will also be a few pages of illustrations as well, but I will execute those after the photography, because then I will know exactly what I need to complete the story.

If I were doing art illustrations for my book, I would make a similar list, and then start sketching ideas for each item on the list.

So, the first item is “Flowers”.  I decided to go with daisies, so, I sent my dearly beloved to the florist for a few stems.  Then, it was time to set up the shot and retrieve Soda Pop from wherever he might be having his nap-attack and take the pictures.  He is pretty cooperative, although he isn’t extremely intuitive when it comes to understanding what I want him to do.  So, here are a couple of flower pictures…..

I shot around 50 images to get these.  I’m not sure that these will be the ones I use, and I won’t know for certain until I have all images and illustrations in front of me.  But these are “possible-maybes”.  I still have to work with the flower images some more, in another image set….but a few things have to be secret about the book, right?

Overall, Soda Pop was relaxed during these shots.  His attention was captured pretty well by the flowers, and he sniffed and posed for me just fine.

Next post….the bathroom pix.  These were more challenging.

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative.  You may learn more about her here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.