Cute Class at RISD

Recently, I taught a class at my alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design. It was a class in their Continuing Education department on character design, focusing on THE CUTE ONES. Suffice it to say, this was right up my alley!


I was a little nervous teaching this class. Not because of the subject matter, but because the students were adults, some of them quite accomplished artists already. That was kind of a new thing for me.


But I needn’t have worried. Once we got into the swing of it, it was a blast. Everyone seems to have gotten something good out of it, and it was really fun to work interactively with a diverse group.


This went so well, actually, that I am going to teach a six-week course on product concept and design this summer! Here’s hoping I’ll get another great group for that session- keep and eye out for it! I’ll post about it when I know the details.

IMG_3403 Thanks to my Cute Class students for making this such a great experience!

ICON 7- The Illustration Conference, Day 2

All that stuff from my previous post was merely from one day. One giant, LONG day! This post is about the Saturday happenings.

First up in the morning was the “Our Favorite Art Directors” panel. Steven Charny (Rolling Stone), Paul Buckley (Penguin), and Thomas Schmid (Buck TV) were there to show what they do in their respective companies, and the kinds of things they look for in art.

There was a “debate” about whether or not you should get an MFA or not. I nearly skipped this one, due to the fact that I will never get an MFA… but these two guys- Marshall Arisman (Chair, MFA Illustration for the School of Visual Arts) and David Porter (Illustration Professor at RISD) made it an interesting an broader discussion.

They both sort of agree that an MFA isn’t as necessary as life experiences and developing your own conceptual thinking.

Tim O’Brien, a photo-realist with a self-described “aggressive” style, changed the course of his own career when he discovered he kept being hired to do work he wasn’t enthused about. I thought it was a good point- that you have the power to change the course of your career if you want to.

Yes, Tim did the Hunger Games book art, amongst many other unbelievably excellent pieces. Check out his website.

Here is Tommy Lee Edwards, creator of beautiful concept art that is used in all kinds of ways… comics, video games, movies, etc. He likes to help create a feel for the world of each movie or game, something that other people can refer to. I think he’s been successful at that- I definitely connect his art with some of the movies and related media I’ve seen.

Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson started up Idiots’ Books on their own, after ditching the comfort of the real world and moving into a barn. Their story and their collaborations are charming, funny, and mostly weird. They are great role models for doing whatever the heck you want and making it work.

Sketchbooks… what do they mean to you? Here are 3 rampant sketchbookers- Jillian Tamaki, John Cuneo, and Marcellus Hall. Jillian said that her sketchbook is a personal place and a respite from clients. Marcellus likes to use his for “reportage”… bearing witness to everyday life.

Christy Karacas is the guy behind Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim show, ‘Superjail!‘ I have never seen such violent and creepy animation, frankly… and I am pretty sure Christy and team are proud of that! Content-wise, this is not something I would ever watch on my own (sorry, I’m a remorseless bunny-drawer for a reason), but I am glad to have seen their process, which is very hands on, traditional(ish) animation, produced here in the US of A. There is integrity in the way it is made, for sure.

Yuko Shimuzu create covers for DC Comics/Vertigo, which are more artistically sophisticated and adult oriented than typical comics. One of the things she did during the earlier, searching part of her career is make a literal “Dream List” of people and companies she wanted to work with… and has managed to cross off most. She said it’s not important, really, to get everything off the list, but to try for them.

It was fun to hear from some of the masters in the fantasy and sci-fi realm. Irene Gallo (Creative Director for Tor Books), Greg Manchess, and our old RISD classmate Jon Foster were on hand to discuss how fans help drive the excitement in the genre. It really is it’s own world, where fans truly support individual artists. Sci-fi and fantasy conventions are key places for them to connect with their fans, and in turn, to keep them motivated to create great art. And man, they make GREAT art. Check it out.

Another fun and unexpected talk was given by radio producer and storyteller Starlee Kine and illustrator Arthur Jones, who collaborate to make personal, funny and insightful animated and illustrated projects that really capture their spirits.

And then, it was time for closing remarks. Icon president John Hendrix thanked the mountain of volunteers, and then introduced the winner of the first ICON Medal for Collaborative Vision.

Brian Rea and Paul Sahre, the medal winners, took us through the logistics of creating hundreds of designed and illustrated pages from Malcolm Gladwell Collected.

The evening ended with a crazy “Moth Ball” party, and a last loud chance to see everyone. I was happy to run into one of my favorite teachers from RISD, Erminio Pinque, the guy behind the local puppety/costumed/musical phenomenon known as Big Nazo.

All in all, I was very glad this thing came to Providence!

ICON7- The Illustration Conference, Day 1

The ICON 7 Illustration Conference was held right here in RI this year, sponsored in part by good ol’ RISD. That was good news for Eric and I…we had our tickets reserved months ago, and it was finally held this week.

The weather was perfect, the city was looking’ good for the hundreds of illustrators that came to town. We didn’t manage to get to any of the workshops that occurred on previous days, beyond going to the RISD Icons art show opening at the Woods-Gerry Gallery (the show is up until June 24th, so you can still catch it).

Our first full day of stuff was Friday the 15th, and it started early. The darkly chipper Masters of Ceremonies were Jennifer Daniel and Nicholas Blechman.

Gregory DiBisceglie, creative manager for Campaign Planning and Special Projects at Macy’s, showed how he tries to raise the bar of creative experiences that Macy’s offers. Why, there’s one of his special projects now… art created by Chris Buzelli for Macy’s Flower Show.

Here’s the art powerhouse Bob Staake, with a page from one of his children’s books. He started off working in a well-regarded cartoony style, but has since morphed into more graphic looks. He says that since art is always subservient to something else, he likes to shake up his style depending on the need. He also like to surprise an art director with unique takes.

My favorite point he made was that art directors come to you because you’re a thinker. So true. Style and execution is less important than concept, so long as the art gets your point across effectively. I find this very true in product design, as well.

Christopher S. Neal, Josh Cochran, and Sam Weber came to talk about the importance of community and collaboration, as learned in the Pencil Factory studio space in Brooklyn. They not only collaborate with each other, but with lots of varied clients.

The importance of collaboration was a theme that kept popping up throughout the conference. Apparently sequestering oneself up in a studio all alone with no input is not the best way to achieve good art, or to get anything to happen with your art. Huh… go figure!

Here are the folks from the Children’s Book panel: Cecily Kaiser (Abrams), Chad Beckerman (Abrams), and Elizabeth Parisi (Scholastic), with Rachael Cole (Schwartz & Wade/Random House) as moderator.

As a children’s author/illustrator, I thought I had heard it all about this subject. But they did touch on some important points that probably can’t hit home enough: books need to jump off a shelf due to their individuality. Relevancy and different takes on common subjects can set a book apart from the mountains of others.

Chad with a morphing cover sketch by Dan Santat.

Lunch break. Did I mention the weather was ideal for this?

I’m glad Providence was lookin’ good for the conference. The hotel where some of the events were used to be an abandoned, graffitied shell of turn-of-the-century despair. Pretty nice now, darn it!

Here’s Jessica Hische, who spends a lot of time procrastiworking on all kinds of projects, many involving her own custom typefaces. “Make things you wish existed.”

Here’s another good thought to remember:

Kiel Johnson took everyone by surprise, I think. It’s hard to describe the level of intensity of what he has made, done, created with cardboard. He said that getting out and working with others has led to surprising artistic places that he never would have gone to himself.

Another shot showing his intensity level… he decided to draw everything (everything!) he owned.

Here are Adam Rex and Dan Santat, during their session on being Man-Whores. Or, uh… promotion. yeah, promotion. They shared some of the things that worked for them (meeting people at ComicCon, devoting actual time to promotion), and what didn’t work (scaring children with clone videos).

At their book signing, I asked Adam and Dan to “do something adorable” so I could take a picture. This is what they came up with.

Pretty adorable, right? hehehe

Here’s Julia Rothman, who talked a little about how she entered into true licensing after learning the hard way about flat fee sales. This shot shows her My Little Pony style sheets that she did for Hasbro. Getting her work seen on Design Sponge seemed to open up a new flow of people that wanted to work with her, and she’s been going full steam ever since.

The evening keynote was by Lynda Barry, cartoonist extraordinaire, and her “special guest” and long-time friend Matt Groening, creator of Life In Hell, the Simpsons, and Futurama. Pretty much one of the best “talks” I’ve ever seen.

Lynda by herself is a hoot. Intertwined within her off-kilter stories, she had some really poignant things to say about trusting yourself, not editing yourself, and rediscovering your own hands to make a personal connection with your work.

Jeez, though. These two together were unstoppable. They just kept tossing little stories out, back and forth…

Honestly, I could have listened to them for hours, they were so funny and insightful. I felt very privileged and lucky to hear them.

Matt said that he had just stopped writing “Life in Hell” after 37(!!) years. He did so last week. Wow.

After that, they opened up the Rhode Show, which was a bazaar of illustrators with tables full of their work and promos. It was very well attended and a lot of fun. A good way to meet a lot of people and see their work.

Here’s my pal Mary Beth Cryan at her booth, displaying all her paper-engineered goodness!

I got to meet Matt Groening at the Rhode Show. A true high point of the whole thing. Things like this don’t usually happen in Providence.


Here’s some of the day’s loot haul… I officially have a lot of business cards, websites and books to investigate!

Next up… DAY TWO.


A couple of weeks ago I was asked to come speak to RISD students in the illustration department about my work. It was great fun to be able to go back to the very building I spent many hours in (the ISB, which hasn’t changed a bit) and talk about the post-RISD experience!

There’s the unchanged ISB. What has changed is in front of it- a beautiful waterfront complete with art tile-encrusted walkways and arches. It’s about a million times nicer than the late 80s landscape I saw as a student!

Here’s my first indication that I would have to be “professional”!

A Professional Practice flyer about me!
Check out those great student watercolor studies to the left!

My talk was mostly in the dark, with a Powerpoint display, so no pictures there! But afterwards, the students could come up and play with the array of my products, toys, children’s books and kid’s menus that I brought along.

I like seeing peoples’ initial reactions to these things… it’s very telling.

While I was in the vicinity, I had the chance to walk over to the always-fun risd/works store nearby, which is now part of the cool new wing of the museum.

risd/works carries a lot of my design items, and displays them in a gorgeous setting!

Here’s a wall o’ fun from the Fred Co. My designs shown are: CooKeys, MonKeys, EarRing, TropSticks, and Cool Jewels.

Aristocakes is a new product of mine. Crown-shaped cupcake bakers!

Pastasaurus sighting!

A great array of my art glass items… Winestein, Half Pint, and Calf and Half.

If you go to risd/works, and you really should, be sure to say “hi” to the ultra-friendly and helpful Evan and Dinah!

Aren’t they cute? Be sure to tell them Liz sent you! 🙂

Library of the Early Mind

I finally got to see Library of the Early Mind, which was shown at The Rhode Island School of Design auditorium this week. It was made by Edward J. Delaney and produced by my friend Steven Withrow, and it did not disappoint! Whether you are endlessly interested in children’s books and their makers like I am, or someone who hasn’t given a thought to how and why they are made, you will find this an interesting show.

Robert Brinkerhoff, the Head of Illustration at RISD, opened the screening.

The movie itself was a montage of creators talking about the many facets of creating children’s books- from audience, motivation, and the current state of affairs in the publishing industry. It had a sort of meandering, dreamy feel as it featured different authors and illustrators talking about what led them to pursue books, what books mean in the greater sense, and where publishing is heading. I enjoyed the tone of the film and getting to personally hear from such a great array of creators.

Some of the author/illustrators in the film were on hand for a panel discussion afterwards.

Robert Brinkerhoff, Edward Delaney, Chris Van Allsburg, Steven Withrow, Natalie Babbitt, Mary Jane Begin.

We are lucky here in RI to have these local creators available and willing to be involved in an event like this!

Natalie Babbitt speaks about her experiences of having a book turned into a movie. (No, she wasn’t thrilled with the results!)

Chris Van Allsburg fields a question about one of his lesser-known books, The Wretched Stone.

Follow the link above and see if the film is coming to a screen near you- it’s well worth checking out!

2009 RI Festival of Children’s Books and Authors

Also known as one of THE BEST book festivals you can go to, and lucky, us, it’s right here in RI!


Every year, the Lincoln School in Providence opens up and we get treated to the best writers and illustrators currently working. That is no exaggeration! To wit:

Here’s Brian Selznick explaining some of the windy journey that led him to create The Invention of Hugo Cabret. What’s fun about this festival is that the speakers have to be ready to talk to a mixed audience of kids and adults. I find that a lot more engaging, and it seems like they feel that way too! Brian is at the top of his game- a wonderful author/illustrator, and a contemporary of ours from RISD (he graduated in ’88, Eric and I in ’89). Go Brian!


Here’s the amazing Lois Lowry, signing our festival poster. Our kids have read a bunch of her books, so it was a treat to see her in person.

lois lowrey_sign

Jerry Pinkney. What can you say about him? I’d say he’s in the Liz Top Ten of Living Illustrators. Oh, yeah- and add to that he’s a totally genuine guy who really cares about people. You can see this in person for sure, but I think it comes out in his art, too.

That’s his childhood home in the slide.

Look- there’s betty Brown getting her book signed!


Here’s Mary Ann Hoberman:


With a few fans!

Chris Van Allsburg: My old teacher from RISD!

A very popular presenter at the festival each year!

Christopher Paul Curtis gave a great talk, also geared for the mixed kid/adult audience, that had the place in stitches. Here he is coercing a boy to declare his love of reading, after which he gave him a cash “bookmark.” Ha! Hearing him describe his ascent from Detroit auto worker to Newbery and Coretta Scott King Award winner was purely inspirational.


Paul O. Zelinsky was there too…add another name to the Top Illustrator List! He’s prolific, and also seems to be able to bend his style to match a story, sometimes in very surprising ways. What an array of work…very inspiring. And very dapper to boot!


AS IF that weren’t enough, The Very Hungry Caterpillar was there, too!


I simply had to add to my signed book collection. Wouldn’t you? My only regrets are that we couldn’t see everyone there and hear all the talks. It’s pretty much impossible to do…but for however long you are there, it’s a top-notch treat and a wonderful experience. If you’re anywhere near RI next year, be sure you come to the Festival!


John Maeda Meet ‘n’ Greet

Eric and I got to go to an open house of sorts at the renovated ALCO building on Valley Street in Providence. The American Locomotive Works used to be housed in this cavernous building, but this night, it was turned into a cool gallery/buffet/chat session.


It’s the first time we’ve heard RISD’s “new” President speak. At least in real life; he’s very available online: via the RISD blog, Facebook, and Twitter.


It was great to hear him in real life, because now it is very clear- this is a whole different kind of President for the school. He’s about as open and forthcoming as possible. Already he has started a major outreach to the greater RISD “family”, those of us out here in the working world, the alumni, parents, and anyone who wants to be involved. If you didn’t think you had a voice at the school before, I can honestly say I think you’ve got one now.


The houses and apparel pieces are by recent grads, I think. They looked great in this ginormous space!

I think RISD is in for some interesting times as it goes on with John Maeda there. It’s a good time to toss out ideas and be heard, despite the economy.

Authors Heart Kids, Too

The first ever Kids Heart Authors Day went really well here in Rhode Island! Barrington Books is a fabulously well-stocked store, and they went all out to make for a festive book signing event. It was truly heartwarming to see so many people (both the kind that make books, and the kind that read books) enthusiastically supporting this event.

Here are the five of us that were at Barrington Books:

Linda Crotta Brennan, Me, Anika Denise, Chris Denise, and Mary Jane Begin.


See what a nice job they did of making the setting as playful as possible? Excellent job!

Linda and I had fun chatting, meeting lots of little people and their parents, and eating M+M’s.


Chris and Anika have a great rapport with their little book fans.


Thank you to everyone who came out, and to Barrington Books for supporting such a great event!