Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 9: Raymund and the Fear Monster

Episode 9: Raymund and the Fear Monster

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

Usually a book’s cover illustration attracts my attention – however, I wanted to read this picture book after reading the author’s blog: https://www.meganhigginson.com/follow-the-progress-of-raymund-and-the-fear-monster.html.

I am grateful Megan was willing share the immense time and effort that needs to be taken to create a picture book. I was also struck by the constantly needed message to help children overcome fear.

Raymund and the Fear Monster

Written by Megan Higginson

Illustrated by Ester De Boer

This self-published book was printed by Blue Brumby Books.

The illustrations were created with graphite and colour pencils.

Both the title and the cover illustration give a clear indication of the theme of the story. It is spooky, creepy, horrifying, thrilling and in the end, very satisfying.

This fiction book is perfect for children aged 6 to 8, though it will appeal to some younger and old children. It has a universal theme which will make it a useful tool for teachers and parents. It is longer than the average 32-page picture book, but is still an easy and engrossing read.

Summary:

Raymund and his fellow villagers are being terrified by a horrific monster. Who will defeat the monster?

Lessons to be learnt from this fantastic book:

  1. Courage – The over-arching theme of this book is ‘courage’ and that courage is a choice that anyone can make. Through the story, we come to understand how crippling fear becomes and how it affects everyone around us. At some point, every person needs to learn how to overcome fear. For every person, their journey will be different. The causes of fear are different for each person. For some, they fear public speaking. For others, spiders or mice can induce a panic attack. I get cold shudders just seeing a picture of a clown (and I am very afraid of rats and mice, and break into a cold sweat at the thought of speaking to strangers). For others will be fear of the unknown or of change. Some people are afraid of dogs, sharks, reptiles or birds. Some people of afraid of loud noises or being enclosed in a tight space.

Despite our fears, we can choose to be over-wrought by them, or to choose to be courageous.

 “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all. From now on you’ll be traveling the road between who you think you are and who you can be. The key is to allow yourself to make the journey.” Princess Diaries

There are other children’s books which deal with the themes of fear and courage, but I really liked this book, because it showed that very often our fears are either not real at all, or we have made them bigger than they actually are. When we are willing to face our fears, we often find that they are not as scary as we supposed.

I write this primarily to myself and hope that by reminding myself, I can encourage someone else too.

  • Observation Skills – Ester has created highly detailed illustrations, often with only the slightest hint of colour. Children can be encouraged to study the illustrations and search for all the details – the hidden animals, birds, insects, etc. Searching in a highly detailed scene for particular items is called ‘visual figure ground’. It teaches young brains how focus on a systematic search of important information and how to ignore unnecessary data. Doing this also improves ‘visual attention’ – the ability to persevere until they find what they are looking for. We can also ask children to observe changes, for example: looking for the signs of the monster’s evolution. They will compare what they have seen with new visual cues.
  • Vocabulary development – Although the language is age appropriate, Megan has utilised a wealth of interesting and advancing adverbs, verbs, adjectives and onomatopoeia. The use of these more advanced words in context, helps children to understand their meaning, even if they have not been previously acquainted with the words.
  • Cultural Awareness – Even though the story is based in a rural village in the Philippines, the theme is so universal that it can be understood by anyone from any culture. I love that the book introduces children in Australia (and hopefully, globally) to how some Filipinos live, and that they share some of the same childhood experiences, regardless of where they live. Children are children, not matter where they are.

For writers:

  • Text is presented in varying quantities – The text was broken up for emphasis – some pages contain a lot of text, other pages only a brief phrase.
  • Vocabulary – Deliberate use of words that can invoke feelings of fear. My youngest niece loves ‘scary’ movies and books. She loves this story, but I think for very sensitive children, this book can be a fun read if they are also in a supportive environment, and the adult reading partner is willing to mediate the concept of courage throughout the book and encourage the child to finish the story.
  • Font – Bold, and different font types have been used to add emphasis to particular words or phrases. This is effective and not necessarily a decision made by the writer. But it is still a concept to keep in mind when writing a picture book. Some illustrators can also hand letter, so may wish to include this feature in their illustrations.
  • Onomatopoeia – This tool helps bring the monster to life. Megan used onomatopoeia, which increased the richness and tension of the story: e.g. ‘Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Scraaaatch. Scraaaaaaatch. Scra-a-a-pe. Aaaarrrggh!

For illustrators:

  • Graphite illustrations – There is no need to spend a fortune on expensive media. Ester used fine-liners, graphite and coloured pencils to bring this story to life. Her images, in this book, are some of the most memorable picture book illustrations for me.
  • Dynamic composition and format – Ester created the illustrations the way a film-maker would. When she wants the monster to be his most intimidating, she utilises a close-up view in a full bleed, double-page spread. Sometimes she used small spot illustrations to show story progression.  Sometimes a street view format was used, but so were slightly elevated and full aerial views. Ester zooms in and she zooms out. The illustrations are exciting and effectively portray the emotions evoked in the story.
  • Colour palette – the colour palette is extremely limited, which helps all the illustrations to be extremely cohesive. As the sketches are so highly detailed, more colour-use would have negatively impacted the effectiveness of the illustrations.

About the writer:

Megan Higginson is an Australian author and illustrator of children’s books. She struggled with dyslexia as a child, but overcame it and became an avid reader.

https://www.meganhigginson.com/

About the illustrator:

Ester De Boer lives in Australia and is an obsessive illustrator of several children’s books.

http://www.esterdeboerillustration.com/

http://www.kids-bookreview.com/2018/09/meet-illustrator-ester-de-boer.html

 ‘Raymund and the Fear Monster’ can be purchased:

https://www.booktopia.com.au/raymund-and-the-fear-monster-megan-higginson/book/9780648338116.html

https://www.amazon.com/Raymund-Fear-Monster-Megan-Higginson/dp/064833810X

https://www.bookdepository.com/Raymund-Fear-Monster-Megan-Higginson/9780648338116

https://www.mightyape.co.nz/product/raymund-and-the-fear-monster-hardback/31891811

For those of you new to my blog, I blog about my illustration journey (I am working on a new picture book at the moment, so am sharing the journey and process as I go), and review picture books (to share how cognitive elements can be drawn from the book to educate the child, and also how writers and illustrators can incorporate these elements in their work).

At the moment, I am trying to produce one of each blog per month. Please join me again next month.

Happy reading!

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 6: ‘Oh Dear, Geoffrey’ (Gemma O’Neill)

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

As an illustrator, the cover illustration draws my attention. If the cover is appealing, then I will peek inside and see what treasure I can uncover between the pages.

So, what are we reading today?

Oh Dear, Geoffrey

Written and Illustrated by Gemma O’Neill

Published by Templar Publishing in 2013.

The illustrations appear to be collage and mixed media (possibly digital). There is no information in the book, so I cannot be certain.

This book will appeal to toddlers, but many older children will also delight in it.

Summary:

Geoffrey is a young, clumsy giraffe whose efforts to make friends, with his fellow animals, goes awry. Until he realises that he was looking for friendship in the wrong places.

The cognitive insights for this book:

  1. Social messages – Sometimes we cannot be friends with everyone, but there will be someone out there who is just right for us. We just need to keep looking. The monkeys and birds reach out to Geoffrey, who is miserable at this point in the story. We can encourage our children to watch out for those who are lonely or needing a friend. This story can also be a comfort to those of us who are lamentably clumsy! I recommend this book for anyone who associates with Dyspraxic children. It can be extremely isolating if you feel that your clumsiness will get in the way of socialising, sport, games, etc.
  2. Vocabulary development – Gemma uses delightful words like: buckly, stumbles, bumbles, tangled, twitter, etc. These words are explained through the context of the story. They are often bolstered by synonyms, and the actions, both in text and illustrations, reinforce the definition of the more advanced vocabulary. Because so many synonyms are used, this introduces children to the world of using alternative vocabulary for simple, basic words. Often young children delight in using ‘grown-up’ language while conversing.
  3. General knowledge – Different animal species are introduced in the story. Most children are fascinated by animals. Animal stories have a universal appeal, and this story will be popular for many years to come.
  4. Reading with expression – The text is arranged in bite-size pieces, so the reader can relish the rhythm it creates. Emphasis and volume can be employed when the text is enlarged. Reading with emphasis helps children maintain concentration as they are receiving auditory stimulation. It brings the story to life.

For the illustrators:

  • Illustration format – Since giraffes are such tall creatures, most illustrators would probably select portrait orientation for their illustrations. Geoffrey is only fully seen once (the final illustration). Gemma O’Neill has opted to zoom in and focus on particular features, like the head, legs, etc. Illustrators should not feel that they need to draw the entire character, especially when pace and tension may be improved by showing less.
  • Dynamic illustrations – Gemma only illustrates background when it is essential to the story. She always grounds the characters (they are not walking on air!). This is a smart move, as the foreground of every illustration is packed with detail and texture.
  • Animation – At no time are the characters static. Their faces are expressive, and their actions explode off the pages.
  • Colour palette – Is earthy, with the only deviations being the turquoise birds and pink flamingos. This scheme ensures cohesion throughout the book, and is only interrupted by surprising pops of these other colours.

For the writers:

  • Gemma O’Neill takes advantage of every page she can – the publisher’s details are printed on the back cover.  
  • The text is not laid out in traditional blocks. It is symbiotically arranged with the images. The font size also is enlarged to add emphasis.

About the writer-illustrator:

Gemma O’Neill is an illustrator from Northern Ireland. She illustrates books, has her own greetings cards range and creates artwork commissions.

https://gemmaoneill.bigcartel.com/about-gemma

‘Oh Dear, Geoffrey’ can be purchased from:

https://www.amazon.com/Oh-Dear-Geoffrey-Gemma-ONeill/dp/0763666599

https://www.booktopia.com.au/oh-dear-geoffrey–gemma-o-neill/book/9780763666590.html

https://www.bookdepository.com/Oh-Dear-Geoffrey-Gemma-ONeill/9780763666590

For those of you who are new to my blog, I write a month blog, alternating between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights for parents, teachers, picture book writers and illustrators.

Please join me this time next month for another an illustration blog about my current picture book project.

Happy reading!

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 5: ‘A Year in Our New Garden’ (Gerda Muller) and ‘Earnestine’s Milky Way’ (Kerry Madden-Lunsford)

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

We will be looking at two picture books in this blog.

The repairs to our home are progressing, so I have been able to retrieve my picture book collection. The two books being reviewed this month, however, are library books. I simply couldn’t resist them.

As an illustrator, the cover illustration draws my attention. If the cover is appealing, then I will peek inside and see what treasure I can uncover between the pages.

So, what are we reading today?

A Year in Our New Garden

Written and Illustrated by Gerda Muller

Published in English by Floris Books in 1988, 2016 (first published in 1988 in German as ‘Ein Garten fur Kinder in der Stadt’.

The illustrations appear to be done in pen and ink and watercolour.

This book will appeal to junior primary-aged children.

The cognitive insights for this book:

  1. Comprehension and memory skills – Prose is an excellent pathway for teaching comprehension skills. Feel free to ask your child questions about what you have read. Not only will the child have to retrieve information (memory skills), but you will also have an opportunity to determine whether your child has really understood the story or information conveyed. You are also able to share additional information or explanation.
  2. Visual perception – Discuss the pictures. Sometimes picture and story books will contain a sub-plot that is only apparent in the illustrations. Although this book doesn’t quite do that, it does show some lovely instances that are not mentioned in the text. For example, the title page displays a sparrow bathing in some rainwater in the drain; or when the children are gardening, Anna has her doll resting in the vegetable garden beside her. Encourage the child to see all the untold story that is shown in the pictures. They will learn to notice/observe and understand and infer through what they see.
  3. Sequencing – The story travels through a year. It explores the sequence of the seasons. See if you child is able to name the seasons in order. If they remember the story, it will make it easier for them to remember the seasons in the right order.
  4. Vocabulary development – Many plants, gardening implements, creatures etc. are discussed in this book. Your child may become interested in learning the names of plants in their own garden. Books like this are great aids in developing general knowledge.
  5. Activity – Reading this book may encourage an interest in nature and/or gardening. It may just foster, in your child, a life-long hobby or a career in botany or zoology.

Additional lessons that can be learned from this story include:

  • Friendship – Benjamin and Anna become friends with their upstairs neighbour, Louis, who is in a wheelchair. At least in Benjamin and Anna’s eyes, Louis is as capable as them.
  • Facts – Although a vast amount of information is delivered throughout the story, the final couple pages are devoted to teaching the facts about pollen, sowing seeds, roots and types of plants suited to growing in very small spaces.

For the illustrators:

  • Dynamic illustrations – there is a mixture of formats, including aerial view, vignettes, plans, diagrams, thumbnails, full-bleeds, with and without background. As a result, the illustrations are attention-grabbing.
  • Colour palette – is consistent throughout the book and tends to more neutral colours. They are realistic and detailed without being cluttered.

For the writers:

Written in prose, this book has more than 32 pages and is more of a story book than a picture book. The word count definitely exceeds 500 words. Though story books are now considered old-fashioned, I believe there is still a place for them, as they present a bridge between average picture books (containing approximately 500 words) and chapter books. Please comment if you know of any publishers who welcome story book submissions.

About the writer-illustrator:

Gerda Muller is a Dutch children’s book author and illustrator. She has illustrated more than 120 books for children and her books have been translated into many languages. She is best known in Britain for her Seasons board books and A Year Around the Great Oak (all published by Floris Books). https://www.florisbooks.co.uk/authors/gerda-muller.php

‘A Year in Our New Garden’ can be purchased:

https://www.booktopia.com.au/a-year-in-our-new-garden-gerda-muller/book/9781782502593.html

https://www.amazon.com/Year-Our-New-Garden/dp/1782502599/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=%27A+Year+in+Our+New+Garden%27&qid=1567066808&s=gateway&sr=8-1

https://www.bookdepository.com/Year-Our-New-Garden-Gerda-Muller/9781782502593?ref=grid-view&qid=1567066827540&sr=1-1

Ernestine’s Milky Way

Written by Kerry Madden-Lunsford and illustrated by Emily Sutton

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books (imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC), New York, 2019

The illustrations were created using ink and watercolour.

Keeping with the theme of gardens, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book.

This story is perfect for young children, aged 3 to 6. It could be a quick read, but I lovely how much can be unpacked from the text, illustrations and general context of the book.

The story summary:

Ernestine and her mother live on a farm. Since her mother is in the late stages of pregnancy, Ernestine volunteers to carry milk to the neighbour’s house, but the journey is fraught with danger.

Lessons to be learnt from this lovely book:

  1. Botany – Like the previous book review, this book offers an enrichment experience. Who wouldn’t be curious about Googling plants named ‘doghobble’ and ‘devil’s walking stick’?
  2. Astronomy – In a charming and informal manner, children can be introduced to learning about constellations, galaxies, etc.
  3. History – This story is set during World War II, in the rural Great Smoky Mountains of the USA. It is a reminder of days past and of a lifestyle few of us can fathom. This book presents a lovely opportunity to discuss the differences between the era in which the book is set, and our own time. Also watch out for the colloquial dialect. If you can mimic the accent, your kids will love it.
  4. Zoology – The majority of children are fascinated by animals. This book mentions creatures that your child may not be familiar with (wolf, skunks, panthers, whistle pigs, mockingbirds, black bear, raccoons). In New Zealand, we have many birds, reptiles, amphibia and insects; but not native animals. How exciting for children to learn about wildlife from other countries!
  5. Vocabulary – I feel it is always a privilege to help expand a child’s vocabulary. This book introduces words like: hollered, springhouse, constellations, shanty, pail, barbed-wire, Venus, lavender, thicket, passel, glistening, pell-mell, straddled, etc,
  6. Emotional and social lessons – Emily Sutton’s folksy illustrations support the text so well. They bring alive a story set in a time when more people lived off their land and had to co-operate with others to exist. So many of us now live an ‘island’ existence – struggling through on our own. This story reiterates that we need to be there for other people, and they will be there for us.
  7. Map – The simplified map gives the child an opportunity to relive the story and recite it back to the adult. The grown-up can then be sure that the child has correctly sequenced the story, and adequately remembered it.
  8. Hobby – the writer provides a recipe for the corn bread mentioned in the story. You might find yourself living with the next Jamie Oliver!
  9. Background – this story is loosely based on the life of the author’s friend. The Author’s Note, at the back of the book, makes interesting reading.

For writers:

  1. Onomatopoeia – Ernestine hears noises as she walks to the Ramsey’s shanty house: snuffa-snuffa-snufflin, grunta-grunta-gruntin, scratch-scratch-scratchin. Onomatopoeia teaches children auditory and phonological discrimination – the ability to understand sound, which is so important when they are reading and spelling.
  2. Increased anticipation is induced when reading about Ernestine’s wariness when hearing the animals around her. First, she said, then called, and then yelled.
  3. Recurring phrase – several times in the book, Ernestine says, ‘I am five years old and a big girl!’. When a phrase is repeated multiple times, children often memorise it, will recite it at the correct moment in the story, and will often make it a catch phrase during play, etc. Memorisation like this helps children to remember other things too; and helps them to pick up and use phrases in their everyday speech.

For illustrators:

  1. Colour Palette – Emily Sutton kept her colour palette very simple: warm brown, reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues and greys. Her palette only deviates slightly for the illustration depicting the early morning, and is painted in cool shades of brown, green, blue and mauve.
  2. Textural illustrations – Instead of heaps of detail, the illustrator has created the illusion of detail by using pencil texture marks. It works extremely well.
  3. Dynamic composition – It is very easy for an illustrator to use just one kind of ‘viewing angle’ for illustrations; for instance, a direct street view. However, Emily Sutton uses different angles and winding curves to create the impression of distance and danger. She also illustrates at an elevated angle (looking down) and gives the idea that she is either following or leading Ernestine in the scenes, a little like a camera man.
  4. Varied illustration formats – The illustrator utilises full page bleeds, vignettes, double page layouts and even a simplified map. Both the composition and format maintain visual interest throughout the book.

Ernestine’s Milky Way’ can be purchased:

https://www.amazon.com/Ernestines-Milky-Way-Kerry-Madden-Lunsford/dp/1524714844/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Ernestine’s+Milky+Way&qid=1567067245&s=gateway&sr=8-1

https://www.bookdepository.com/Ernestines-Milky-Way-Kerry-Madden-Lunsford/9781524714840?ref=grid-view&qid=1567067252451&sr=1-1

https://www.booktopia.com.au/ernestine-s-milky-way-kerry-madden-lunsford/book/9781524714840.html

For those of you who are new to my blog, I write a month blog, alternating between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights for parents, teachers, picture book writers and illustrators.

Please join me this time next month for another an illustration blog about my current picture book project.

Happy reading!

Illustration

Setting Up a Print on Demand Store

Store header

The last couple of months have been hectic. Unfortunately, in all the chaos, I forgot to blog last month.

Better late than never!

Please note: I am not being paid to review print on demand platforms. All comments are my personal opinion and are formed from my experience.

Stepping Out and Setting Up a Store

I am one of the most risk-averse people on the planet; however, thanks to Nina Rycroft (during her ‘Project Portfolio’) and her guest, Nic Squirrell, I was encouraged to set up my first Print on Demand store.

By setting up a Print on Demand store, I hoped to make, at least a part of, my living. Like many artists and illustrators, it is necessary for us to have multiple sources of income.

How Did I Decide On Which Platform to Use?

I read the FAQs on well over a dozen print on demand (POD) sites, and created a spreadsheet on which I could easily see the similarities and differences of the platforms, then googled reviews on these sites.

I decided to start on one of the smaller platforms, Redbubble.

My First POD Store

Since I was a complete POD newbie, I watched several Youtube videos and read a few blogs before setting up my Redbubble store.

To my technophobic delight, I found Redbubble to be a simple, intuitive site, easy to navigate, and in no time, I was uploading my artwork to my new store.

One of my favourite aspects of Redbubble is that you upload your illustration / design ONCE, enter the design description, and then you either:

  1. De-select the merchandise items your design is not suited to, OR
  2. Manually edit your image to make it appropriate for the merchandise items.

Save, and ‘hey, presto!’, a new design, and many new merchandise options have been added to the store.

What is the Hardest Part of Using Redbubble?

The most challenging and time-consuming aspect of creating POD merchandise doesn’t actually occur on the store platform.

The hard work takes place in the scanning and digital editing (digitising) of the illustrations.

I use GIMP, and am happy to report that this software is not only free, but can do everything that I require for editing illustration images.

I have watched many tutorials about GIMP on Skillshare and Youtube in order to get up to speed, but it has been totally worth it.

I am not a digital artist. I work with watercolour and coloured pencil (and occasionally ink). The next couple of paragraphs are about what I experience when I scan and digitally edit my traditional media pieces for use on POD platforms.

It can sometimes take a couple of hours to get rid of the background paper texture from an intricate, filigree-type illustration, but it is time well spent, when you see how good the images look on the merchandise. This extremely necessary step guarantees brilliant results. If you do not delete the paper backgrounds, the images look grainy and unprofessional as the paper background is printed onto the merchandise.

Be aware that the software cannot always differentiate between the background paper and the colour yellow or other pale shades. To those who use Photoshop, please comment if yellow is a problem for you when cleaning up artwork. I am interested to find out if this is just a GIMP issue or if it is a yellow issue.

I have theorised that my yellow watercolour paints are very transparent, and that other very pale shades are super transparent too, which may be why the software cannot detect a difference between the paper and the painted areas.

Please comment if you have some knowledge about this.

Another word of warning, if you use a cheaper scanner, although the scan will still be clear, you may find that the colour is either weaker, or that certain shades simply do not scan accurately. I love using Bright Opera Pink, and it makes the most gorgeous shades of purple when mixed with different blues (and amazing bright oranges when mixed with lemon yellow); however, my scanner does not read Bright Opera Pink. Any areas painted with this colour show up as an extremely pale, icy pink. I have to digitally touch up any work done with the more luminous shades. My scanner doesn’t even represent Quinadcridone Violet or Magenta accurately.

One day I will invest in a better scanner.

Your merchandise images are only as good as your scanning and editing. In a way, digital artists have the edge over traditional artists when it comes to reproducing work.

What Do I Like About Redbubble?

I have already mentioned why I like the Redbubble system.

I also like the product range, which is smaller than some other platforms; however, all the items are well-priced and, I think, popular.

I like how clean the set-up is and how easy it was to learn to use it. It is very logical, and not technical.

So, Am I Selling Products?

Yes! My store is new, but I have made sales – long may that continue!

My Second POD Store

I am currently setting up a Zazzle store.

Zazzle is a very different beast to Redbubble. It cannot be compared to Redbubble as it is a considerably larger platform in every respect. I will give you the pros. and cons. as I see them.

Pros.

  1. Massive number of merchandise options.
  2. Huge variety of merchandise options – you can specialise, if you choose. For instance, you may decide to only create stationery items, or clothing and dress fabrics, or only household items. Or, like me, put your merchandise on the products you like and believe will sell – eventually! Quite a lot of people selling on Zazzle only sell t-shirts, or coffee mugs, etc. For those designers, Zazzle is a simple and easy tool.
  3. There is a great range of goods at different prices. You can purchase small, cheap items; or large, speciality items that cost a bit more.

Cons.

  1. I found that Zazzle was not as intuitive and simple to use as Redbubble. Redbubble is so easy to use that I initially felt very frustrated with the Zazzle system. Having stuck at it for a while now, I have accepted it for what it is, and am coping with the system and its requirements.
  2. It is not as straight forward as Redbubble if you wish to put your designs on a greater number of items. Although you upload your design once, there is no really quick way to create merchandise. For items that are in the same range, for example, badges, you can upload your design and it will automatically be available on different shaped badges, or badges made from the same material. You can decide whether to turn off this option. If you upload your image to a badge, it will not be available on t-shirts or tea-pots until you upload it to those items.
  3. Zazzle is a much more time-consuming platform to work on. I believe the system is this way because of the necessity to set up SEOs (search engine optimisation) for the products. Apparently, you can create product templates, but I was confused by the information as it did not seem to apply to the kind of work I was doing. As previously mentioned, technology is not one of my strengths, so if any of you know how to help me out with time-saving methods, I would love to hear from you.
  4. Description data is required for every merchandising item you choose. I have a system, and now am pretty efficient as I work; however, it takes many hours to create all the merchandise options that I may wish to use. Redbubble takes about 10 minutes!
  5. Redbubble has more colour options available for merchandise items. Only a selection of default colours is available on Zazzle, whereas, Redbubble has custom colour options for the majority of items.
  6. Because I am not American, it was a NIGHTMARE wrapping my head around the IRS tax form. God bless the New Zealand IRD – their tax forms are so much simpler to fill out!

I have chosen to continue building my Zazzle store because I consider it as time invested in passive income. I won’t need to do this again. I also remind myself constantly: NO PAIN, NO GAIN. Hopefully people will start to see my merchandise and like it enough to buy it. It will be worth the hard work.

I have sold only two items so far, but hopefully sales will increase as I add more items and designs.

Are You Thinking of Setting Up Your Own POD Store?

Nic Squirrell recommended that artists put their illustrations on as many platforms as possible. That is my goal.

After watching other POD artists, the general consensus was:

  1. Keep producing new work – this encourages repeat customers.
  2. Update your stores regularly.
  3. Upload to as many different POD platforms as you can.
  4. Upload your designs to as many merchandising options as you can; however, don’t be tempted to put your designs on all options, as not everything is suited to a particular design. Choose items that suit your work, and delete any merchandise you are not happy with.
  5. Advertise your stores. I try to share my store items 5-6 times per week. Apologies to my Instagram and Facebook followers who feel ad-bombed. I am just trying to catch that one person who is trying to find the perfect birthday gift for someone who has everything.

What is So Great About POD?

One of the best aspects of print on demand platforms, is that the artist does not have the expense of producing merchandise. Instead you upload your work, choose your products, sell them to the public, and receive royalty payments. The platform manages the manufacturing of the goods, shipping to the customer and the payment to you.

The royalties vary between platforms, so take the time to check all of them out.  

So, What Can a Print on Demand Store Mean for the Shopper?

These print on demand platforms are a great place to find gifts. They cater for everyone.

And Now…

For the time being, however, I am content maintaining my Redbubble store, and developing the Zazzle store.

Please Check Out My Stores:

https://www.redbubble.com/people/auntiebetty

https://www.zazzle.co.nz/store/auntie_betty

Even if you are not interested in purchasing anything, please feel free to like the designs and follow my stores. This helps move my store through the ranks, which hopefully will mean some sales.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the merchandise items, please keep an eye out for the sales. There are regular sales on both Redbubble and Zazzle.

If you purchase items, please feel free to email, message, Facebook or Instagram me with a review and a photo. It would be lovely to ‘meet’ my customers.

A Shout-Out:

I have a shout-out two Instafriends, who also sell their amazing artwork on print-on-demand platforms.

Please check out their stores too:

  1. Lise Holt Art: https://www.redbubble.com/people/liseholtart
  2. Squibble Creative Services: https://society6.com/squibble

This is my recent experience of setting up print on demand stores.

I have heard very good things about Society6, so hopefully, one day, I will start a Society6 store too. Some of the other POD platforms are: Threadless, Bucketfeet, Design by Humans, Spreadshoes, Bags of Love, Sunfrog, Café Press, Teerepublic, Spreadshirt, Teefury, Vida, Art of Where, Be Smart, etc.

Please comment if you have a POD store, and if you would like to contribute to any of my thoughts.

Please join me this time next month when I review a couple of lovely picture books. Until next time…

Illustration

Clairefontaine PastelMat

PastelMat pads

How did I come across PastelMat?

As a beginner colour pencil artist, I was confronted by a wide range of colour pencil options. My local art stores stock Prismacolor, Derwent and Faber Castell. I was counselled to buy Derwent, but floundered in choices there too. Eventually I bought a 72- set of Derwent Artist pencils and a 72-set of Derwent Studio pencils. (By the way, I thought that they were complementary sets, but found they feel much the same! My bad!)

I was delighted with the colour range, but on my first project, I was concerned about how hard the pencil cores were, and how difficult it was to layer colour because of the early development of wax bloom. I had worked on cartridge paper, and ‘hit myself over the head’ for using an unsuitable paper and tried a watercolour paper, with even worse results. The pencils are so hard that the tooth was destroyed early on. I work with a very light hand, so the colour looked very ‘wishy-washy’, but pressing hard was out of the question as the tooth was gone and I had a wax bloom. Eventually, in desperation, I bought a set of Prismacolor Premier pencils on sale, despite everyone’s warnings about sharpening issues, etc. I love my Prismacolors and used them for several projects, and for mixed media work.

In frustration, I thrust my two brand new sets of Derwent colour pencils onto the shelf, and moved onto water-soluble pencils, ‘kicking myself’ for spending a small fortune on pencils I could not use.

Fast-forward a few years, and I had increasingly been using watercolour and ink for my illustrations. I would glance guiltily at my colour pencils and try to forget about my disappointing results. Occasionally I would use my water-soluble pencils, and would promise myself to use them more frequently. (I am finally keeping my promise – I have used them quite a bit recently!)

On a slow day, when I wasn’t feeling 100%, and suffering from severe case of Unmotivated Artist Syndrome, I decided to consult Dr Youtube about appeasing my increasing feelings of guilt (due to ongoing neglect of my colour pencils). I tried to find videos of artists using Derwent Artist/Studio pencils, in hopes of finding some tips that would help me resurrect my colour pencil artwork. I found a ‘Claudia Sketches’ video, where Claudia used a product called Clairefontaine PastelMat. I was fascinated to hear that the PastelMat was not a sanded paper (which gobbles pencils, like I do chocolate!), so decided to try and get my sticky paws on some.

At the time, sadly, neither of my local art stores stocked it, but Tasart (Takapuna Art Supplies – https://www.tasart.co.nz/search/pastelmat) in Auckland, sells on-line, and I bought a small pad.

My findings

I was hooked, from the very first pencil mark. I found it has sufficient tooth to take layering very well, even with wax pencils, but was not so rough that my pencils disappeared in front of my eyes (as I feared). I like to blend my colour pencils with Odourless Mineral Spirits (OMS), so that the illustration is very smooth, and can then take more layers if necessary. The PastelMat responded to the OMS so well, and also handles textural marks beautifully.

My pad has tiny (pin-head sized) blemishes, which are hard and smooth and do not disappear under the pencil colour, but they are small enough for me to barely see, and can easily be digitally repaired when the artwork image is uploaded to my portfolio. Through watching Youtubers, other than ‘Claudia Sketches’, I saw that some artists were struggling with bigger blemishes, however, they also stated that Clairefontaine was addressing the issue. I can see that the blemishes might be problematic for fine-art pieces, but the product is such a pleasure to use, that I hope its production continues long into the future. My reasoning is purely selfish, as I can finally use my Derwent Artist/Studio pencils and produce artwork I am pleased with.

Through social media networking with some local artists, I discovered that one of the Christchurch art stores is now stocking PastelMat. Be warned, however, that the product’s popularity among us means that stocks are rapidly bought out! I have now bought several pads and a couple of large sheets. I cannot wait to do some more coloured pencil work.

The results

Here are a couple of examples of my work on Clairefontaine PastelMat (I only had a white pad at this stage, but bought some other colours a couple of weeks ago, and am looking forward to doing some botanical, bird and architectural pieces with these soon).

The important information about PastelMat

PastelMat is 100% cellulose, and is designed for Pastels. It works superbly for colour pencils too. I would love to try Pastel Pencils on it one day, and I believe, some artists even use watercolour on it, except that the PastelMat cannot be stretched and warps with wet media.

Each pad contains 12 sheets of 360gsm/170lb acid-free cardstock/paper, packed between sheets of Glassine. A variety of pad sizes is available (18×24 cm, 24×30 cm and 30×40 cm), as well as loose sheets (50×70 cm and 70×100 cm). My local store does not stock the mountboard option, but I presume that these are available on-line. There are a variety of colours available too, however, the selection is pretty small, and more ‘neutral/natural’ in tone, which I like, but might be limiting for some artists.

The colours are: Anthracite, Brown, Burgundy, Buttercup, Dark Blue, Dark Green, Dark Grey, Light Blue, Light Green, Light Grey, Maize, Sand, Sienna, White.

The verdict

Needless to say, I am super happy to continue using PastelMat. Because of the tooth, it makes layering colour pencil very quick. At least for me, it means that my colour pencils are now being used, and I can produce decent artwork pretty quickly. My next experiment will be trying my Prismacolor premier pencils on the PastelMat. I have used these on watercolour paper with good results, so I am extremely optimistic about how they will work on the Clairefontaine PastelMat.

So what now? HELP!!!!!!!

FYI, if anyone knows of an environmentally-friendly and non-toxic version of Odourless Mineral Spirits, please let me know. I will be experimenting with baby-oil, so that I can teach colour pencil art to my students, however, I would prefer an archival-quality product for my own work.

Please join me this time next month when I review books written by two of my favourite botanical artists. If you are interested in knowing more about the value of picture book for the growing minds of children, please check out my blog in a couple of weeks.

Until next time…