Monday, May 27, 2013

Craig Orback Interview

This month I welcome award-winning illustrator, and my former neighbor, Craig Orback, for apple pie and a chat about illustrating.
   My Photo 

1. Welcome Craig. Your illustrating career is going quite well, are you at a point yet where you can choose projects?
I don’t really get to choose, often it’s an assignment and there’s little choosing. I do on occasion turn down a project because I’m too busy with other projects or if I really don’t like the story, but I rarely do that. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.
This illustrator rarely gets to choose projects.

2. How does an illustrator work with an author? Can you walk me through the process and how involved are writers with the illustrations? 
For picture books the publishers tend to keep the author and illustrator separate. An illustrator works with the publisher’s art director who will show initial sketches to the author. But the illustrator must be free to come up with their own ideas.

3. You’re currently involved with a rather unique project, can you tell me some more about that.
The project is called “Gifts from the Enemy” and is an exciting nonfiction picture book project that I have been working on with bestselling author Trudy Ludwig. Trudy's inspiration for “Gifts from the Enemy” is Alter Wiener, a teen survivor of five prison labor camps during WW II and the author of "From a Name to a Number".

“Gifts from the Enemy” is carefully crafted to educate young readers in an age-appropriate way about the dangers of hatred, stereotyping, and prejudice. It’s also a story of hope for anyone who has ever been devalued or treated poorly by others—not for what they’ve done but simply for being who they are. The cool thing about this children's book is that it also includes a brief history overview, vocabulary, discussion questions, AND activities to promote social justice and kindness in kids!

Trudy found me through an extensive search of the SCBWI Northwest site. She wanted just the right illustrator and someone in either Oregon or Washington who might be able to travel to Portland to meet with her and Alter in person.

I had previously illustrated a Holocaust picture book called “Keeping the Promise”, about ten years ago, and I always wanted to do more. I have an interest in WWII and I also felt I could do a better job now that I have more skills and experience.

Trudy gave me the story and after I read it I had my agent negotiate the contract. By January we were set to go and by March I had the story board, sketches and a working layout. I worked closely with the designer at the publishing company to determine the layout.


I did lots of research, online, at libraries and from the author’s notes before she wrote the picture book.

I had a month to paint two larger paintings for the Kickstart Campaign to fund the production of the book. For that I had to find a model who could stand in for a young Alter. No pictures of his youth have survived the war.

4. How do you manage to get your people to look so realistic and detailed?
 I like working with live models. I’ll put the word out on the SCBWI blogs when I need a certain type or look and then I take lots of pictures to work from. For my most recent project “Boys Camp” I took lots of pictures of different boys involved in outdoor activities. It gets pretty chaotic at times.

5. ebooks vs. traditional publishing? How has the growth of ebooks changed how you work?
Ebooks haven’t changed my work at all. If a publisher wants to do an ebook of a book I’ve illustrated they simply buy the digital rights.

6. Paints & a brush, or a computer?
I work traditionally. Most of my work is in oil paints or acrylics but I do use Photoshop to tweak things. Often I have to give digital files so I scan in my work and adjust things like contrast in Photoshop before I send them off. 

7. What do you think is the most important thing an illustrator can do to increase their odds of a successful career?
I started out on my own for the first few years and had some success. What really helped me was going to New York to show my portfolio to publishers and leave samples. I go back every few years.
Getting involved with SCBWI helped me learn about the business and the craft, especially at the conferences.
Having an agent helps once you're busy working. An agent can keep you in front of publishers and bring you new assignments.
Also, read your contacts carefully, meet your deadlines and be open to changes.

8. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret, and does it help in your art? Or what is the craziest thing you’ve ever done as research?
I think I’ll take the second question. The craziest thing I’ve done is have my wife wrap me in toilet paper to make me look like a mummy. She took many pictures!


Thanks for stopping by, Craig, and good luck with your current project!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mile-High Library

Or The Airport Book Rack

Recently I had the pleasure of traveling by air again. Granted, it’s not the pleasure it once was, but I still enjoyed it. Except for one thing.

A serious bout of nostalgia hit me when I passed the shop with newspapers and magazines ... and the revolving rack of books. Those cheap paperbacks that can be crammed into a small corner of an already over-full carry-on bag.

I realized that this was the first time I actually walked right past the book rack. An e-reader crammed with books to read had taken the place of the paperback. It’s sleek and handy. If I really want to I can take at least ten different books with me, from a trashy novel to the latest bestseller to an old classic. I can even load a 1000-page James Michener or Neal Stephenson tome, if I so choose, without risking running afoul of the weight limitations for luggage, or what my shoulder can carry.

Why was I so nostalgic for a simple, cheap paperback? Well, I’ll tell you. Many years ago (no not that many, I'm still young) I traveled far more than I do now, and would cross from Europe to the US and back with some regularity. I would always stop off and buy a paperback to read on the plane, especially if the movie listed didn’t appeal to me. This was before in-seat entertainment as you find on long international flights today.

I’d often pick something easy to read, but entertaining, knowing I would leave it in the seat pocket in front of me once I reached my destination, where it could be found by a future traveler. It seemed to be an unwritten rule of travel to leave a book on the plane once read, and I’ve found my share of fun books on my travels that way. A sort of mile-high library.

I doubt anyone will leave a Kindle stuffed in a seat pocket, and I’m happy with my e-reader, but nostalgia is inescapable... although ... the imagination stirs and who knows what kind of golden story I can spin out of this straw.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

May Book Review

Great Gatsby Cover
The Great Gatsby

I hadn’t read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “The Great Gatsby” since my teens. The book made a huge impression on me at the time, but I couldn’t remember why.

Now with a new movie adaptation out, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, I thought it was time to revisit the story myself.

It took a little effort to squeeze into 1920s New York (especially after reading so much urban fantasy lately), but once I adjusted I could see the story unfolding like a beautiful but tragically short-lived flower.

The narrator Nick Carraway gets briefly and intensely swept up into the glittering fantasy that is his neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is a man desperate to be worthy of the woman he loves but has only admired from afar for the past 5 years. What was a summer romance for her, turned into an obsession for him.

Rumors about how Gatsby obtained his wealth flow as freely as the champagne and cocktails at his weekly parties, though no one truly knows who he is or where he came from.

With a broad brush Fitzgerald paints a dazzling picture of a time between the two world wars and before the great depression. At times the image is a hazy watercolor of a hot summer afternoon, flowing into a painfully detailed drawing of characters on edge and choices looming large.

For me the imagery as well as the precise use of language held me in thrall to the story. I can honestly say that the book again made a deep impression on me. No doubt in a few years time I’ll want to read it again as its poignant themes of wanting to fit in and belong remain relevant no matter what time period you set it in. Maybe I’ll even go see the movie.