Monday, March 28, 2011

Books Give You Someplace to Go

I don’t read the comics on a regular basis, but last week I opened the newspaper (I still get an actual paper newspaper!) to the comics page and saw a wonderful cartoon. Dennis the Menace is seated under a tree with his pal Joey listening with rapt attention to Gina reading a book. This in itself caught my attention because Dennis is usually pictured getting into some kind of trouble. Instead, he is caught up in the magic of books. The caption reads, “Reading is fun. It gives you someplace to go when you can’t go anywhere.” I couldn’t agree more. Books can transport us to far away places both real and imaginative. We can run with zebras in Africa, float high in the clouds, or encounter magical creatures with Harry Potter. As a child, I traveled vicariously to France with children whose professor father was spending a year in Paris as I read the book Family Sabbatical by Carol Ryrie Brink. Books expand our world through both words and pictures. Books helped me dream that someday I could go someplace and see for myself some of the things I had first encountered through reading. A few years ago, I did go to France and climbed the Eiffel tower just as the children did in the book I read long ago.

Monday, March 14, 2011

How Do We Get Ideas?

How do we get ideas? On occasion, they come full blown in a sudden flash of insight. More often, though, they evolve a little bit at a time. My recent book, Global Warming and the Dinosaurs: Fossil Discoveries at the Poles, was a project that developed slowly. At first, all I had were random bits of information. These facts, fascinating though they were, did not make a book. I did not have enough and I still needed an organizing principle. But by keeping all those interesting bits floating around in my mind, over time, an idea for a book on polar dinosaurs began to gel.

This is the opening paragraph of my article Evolution of a Book Idea: From Percolation to Publication published in the Spring 2011 issue of Kite Tales, the newsletter of SCBWI-Los Angeles. In the article I discuss how the book grew out of my natural interests in fossils and dinosaurs, how conversations with librarians gave me valuable new material, how other book research added to what I already knew, how experts in the field helped answer questions, and finally, how a chance encounter propelled me to start writing and finishing the book. Click here to read the full article on page 31.

Global Warming and the Dinosaurs is illustrated with beautiful watercolor paintings by Laurie Caple. Laurie has illustrated five other books of mine about prehistoric animals and has done a fantastic job on all of them. Her naturalistic style is perfect for these books. She does as much research as I do to make sure that everything she draws is as scientifically accurate as possible. This is a challenge when most of what she draws has been extinct for millions of years. By creating whole environments for the animals, she truly brings them to life.

I am often asked, why don’t I illustrate all my own books? After all, I’m trained as an artist. The truth is that I don’t want to illustrate all my books. My style does not necessarily always suit the subject matter I write about. I am delighted that artists like Laurie Caple can illustrate my books. It takes just as much time to illustrate a book as it does to write it. If I did all my own illustrations, I wouldn’t have as much time to write. I enjoy illustrating my own books, but only when the concept of the writing and the art work together for me.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Etsy Anniversary

February marked the one year anniversary of the launching of my Etsy gallery, CarolineArnoldArt, offering cards and prints of my book illustrations. I now have 74 items listed, 48 cards and 26 prints, and plan to add more in the future. I am sometimes asked which of my images are the most popular. Platypuses, koalas and wombats are surprisingly popular. Perhaps it’s their exotic nature. After that, pandas and penguins seem to be well liked. Their black and white markings certainly lend them to decorative designs. That said, all of the animals get plenty of views. Etsy has been an ideal way for me to market my artwork to a wider audience. I’d love to hear what you think of my Etsy site!