Interview with Serena Phu

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

Artist and illustrator Serena Phu

I was born and raised in central Connecticut with my parents and brother, all of whom enjoy art in some capacity (my brother is currently a hobby artist, and when I was younger my mother would often paint and tell us about her brief time in art school; my dad will occasionally doodle).

As a child, I would spend my free time drawing cakes, and later on my brother introduced me to anime, which started my foray into drawing people. When I entered the 6th grade, I made an unknowingly powerful decision that art would be my schtick.

 

How do you start your day?

I wake up between 8:30 and 9:30am and usually check social media on my phone, to catch up on artists I follow, as well as general current events. Once I’m satisfied or feel I’ve spent too much time in bed, I’ll wash my face, brush my teeth, and head to the kitchen to eat breakfast and drink water/tea.

I typically go to bed with an idea of what I need to do once I start the next day, so I try to get right into it, despite my lethargy. Although, if I’ve woken up to a very time-sensitive plan of the day, I might skip breakfast until I’ve finished the first important task.

 

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

My workspace is rather cluttered at the moment! I tend to have a variety of stuff-making schemes, dabble in several different mediums, and hold onto a plethora of objects, materials, and doodles that I think could contribute to my work at some point.

My studio room has a wall of shelves that are mostly organized by type of object/what they’re used for/how often I might need to access them. I’m also a fan of tiered rolling carts, so I have 3 in my studio; one for watercolor & acrylics, one for oil paint, and one for miscellaneous things with a focus on merchandise production (screenprinting materials, tape, sticker paper, and some of my inventory).

I have a desk set up right in front of a south-facing window, and a drafting table on the opposite side of the room. On the walls, I tape up my paintings, useful notes or color studies, and in one section of wall I have hooks that hold badges I’ve accumulated from the conventions I’ve shown at.

Serena Phu workspace with art tacked to the walls using painter's tape

 

 

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

My absolute favorite medium is oils, for sure. I love the tactility of the paint, and the way that it and I seem to both leave our own personal trademarks on a piece. I’m fond of how easily I can achieve immaculate, realistic detail or large but still visually interesting spaces, depending on what I need.

 

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

I’m constantly relying on the lists I jot down in my Google Keep app. I have so many lists, both personal and work-related, with things like tasks I’m in the middle of, long-term plans, ideas I have for pieces I want to make, and so on. I find myself overwhelmed very easily, mostly by my own choices as I try to be in the middle of several different projects at once.

Maintaining lists allows me to redirect my focus on a whim and gives me a mental “shelf” where I can passively keep tabs on everything I’m doing, and not have to think about all of them simultaneously at every moment.

 

 

When you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Most of the time, “artist’s block” comes to me in the form of a lack of activity. I feel most “blocked” when I haven’t made something that makes me feel genuinely excited or happy or satisfied for a long time, and I usually have to realize that first before I can address it.

Once I have, I go back to the list of ideas that I haven’t gotten a chance to work on yet, and pick whichever one I’m most interested in. If I’m in between a lot of projects, I make it a quick study or even a sketch, just so I can get something finished and rejuvenate my motivation.

 

What’s particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

I don’t have an immediate go-to for inspiration resources per se, but I do take a lot of inspiration from fashion, so I may go to social media to find people’s fashion snaps or some streetwear blogs, especially Japan-based street fashion photographers. One of my favorites is Tokyo Fashion, which I tend to go to if I’m trying to think of an outfit design for a character.

When we’re not in a pandemic, I usually try to travel. It never has to be anywhere far, but I find that seeing new things gets my gears turning. I especially get hyped up whenever I see very modern architecture or interior design. If I can’t find that, I always feel inspired by very dramatically lit clouds; most of the time I don’t even have to look for them, but I’ll simply glance up and see an intense vision in the sky, and it always urges me to paint.

Moody fantasy anime inspired oil painting by Serena Phu

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

One of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on will probably always be the series of paintings I had done that were based off of a music video by the K-pop group, BTS. They were very self-indulgent pieces for me, but I was very satisfied with the process of painting them, and overall they are a nice showcase of my capabilities with oil paint. I made them in undergrad and presented them to my professors and colleagues at the time, and felt validated to know that they could be addressed as serious pieces outside of the context of my being a fan of a music group.

 

What is your dream project in the future?

For sure, my dream project is to work with BTS on basically anything. A lot of the themes that inspire me to make my own work are themes that I can also find in theirs, which means that a) I’m very interested in what I interpret as the intent of their work, and b) I think I’d jive really well with any creative project that they could ever invite me to work on.

In a more general sense, I come from a fine arts mindset, as that was what I studied and got my degree in. I’m very much into taking the stuffiness out of fine arts and bringing it to a more modern and accessible (perhaps even “mainstream”) landscape, and would love to get myself to a point where I could do a collaboration with a huge brand or non-painting artist, similar to how Takashi Murakami has done so many unconventional collaborations from the art-world perspective.

This is also why I’m interested in illustration, because of how it combines fine art with practical appeal — for example book covers for mysterious or fantastical novels that share my work’s aesthetic.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

I wish I could tell my younger self to just do what they liked, and to not worry about looking smart or clever.

Serena Phu oil self-portrait

 

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

A lot of my personal life is actually, in ways, intertwined with my art. As someone with an interest in clothing, for example, I’ll be drawing and need to look at reference pictures of clothes and fashion, and doing that research will satisfy that itch for me. A lot of the people in my life are also involved in the arts, so I find that talking to them will often lead to discussions about art, which motivates me to get back to work, haha.

The thing I enjoy about being an artist is that more often than not, when I find something I become interested in, I try to express this excitement through drawing. Eventually, whether I consider it work or play, everything in my life coalesces.

 

 

What’s an example of a past rejection or “failure” that ended up helping you? How did it help?

As a sort of continuation of the advice I’d give to my younger self: I spent a long time framing the idea of a successful artist as one who makes completely new things that no one has ever thought of before. I thus spent a long time trying to come up with unorthodox ways to paint, mixed media pieces, and complicated metaphors and symbolisms to achieve this, without actually putting much thought into the simpler things that I enjoyed doing whenever I made art.

It wasn’t until my senior year in college, when I was trying to justify the art I wanted to make with a difficult, intangible metaphor, that I understood trying to keep it under this lens only hurt the work. It revealed the ego that I had developed about my art.

After a long trip, looking at myself and my favorite works, and looking at a bunch of art, I was able to see this, and reframe how I approached things.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

In all honesty, I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I’m still getting the majority of my income from non-art-related work, but I try to maintain social media presence within reason. My focus in terms of the work I make and the things I post has been on authenticity, being more genuine about what my work is about, and trying to create for an audience of people that are truly interested in what I make and why I make it.

This question is difficult to answer mostly due to the pandemic, but usually, I try to build my presence by traveling to conventions and sharing my work at in-person events; I find this to work better than any attempts I’ve made at marketing myself purely through social media.

What are you working on now?

I’m working with a therapist to illustrate a children’s book about tolerance, as well as a new line of merchandise for my online store. And I have a large 9’ oil painting that I’ve been slowly making progress on, although I may be pausing it to focus on the book and merchandise.

I am also trying to start up more quick painting studies to do in between working on all of these things, to satisfy my painting itches.

In broader terms, I’m also working towards unifying what has always felt like 2 distinctive streams of thought in my body of work into something that’s perhaps multi-faceted, but also consistent.

 

Connect with Serena Phu:

phoodledoodles.com

Serena on Instagram

Serena on Twitter

Serena on Facebook

See more art by Serena Phu!

Contact Me About Serena

 


An interview with Jennifer Holm, author of Baby Mouse, Squish, and Sunny Side Up, for Kids Comics Unite

Jennifer Holm Interview

Jennifer Holm is the best-selling and award-winning co-creator of the Baby Mouse, Squish, and Sunny Side Up graphic novel series, and she's also the Newbery Honor winning author of numerous middle grade novels like Our Only May Amelia, The Fourteenth Goldfish, and Turtle in Paradise.

Jennifer Holm interview, June 2020, for Kids Comics Unite

In this interview for Kids Comics Unite, we focus on how she got started in her career, her creative process, and why she branched out into graphic novels with her brother, artist Matthew Holm. She dishes on so many fascinating things:

  • Her first job in NYC, before she became a writer (it involved PeeWee’s Playhouse)
  • How she got her agent, and the unusual route she took to selling Baby Mouse to Random House
  • How her first book ended up becoming a middle grade novel (originally she thought it was an adult book)
  • Her biggest piece of advice for new authors
  • How many times she typically revises (or rewrites entirely!) a book
  • How and why she works with freelance editors, in addition to her agent and editor at her publishing house
  • The television production technique she and her brother Matt use to create graphic novels together
  • The reason why Baby Mouse is 2-color
  • Why Jenni writes for middle grade (hint: she hated being a teen)
  • The exact components of her author visits; how she makes them super interactive and fun
  • The theme she returns to over and over in her work

Jenni is well-known for being an incredibly generous creator who constantly gives back to the children's book community. This interview is a perfect example of that.

Click to view the full interview on YouTube.


Interview with Andi Watson

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

Graphic novelist Andi WatsonI’m from Kippax, a small town near Leeds in the north of England. I grew up close to streams and a wood and split my time between being active and ‘laking out’ (playing with friends) and staying indoors drawing. I enjoyed the company of my friends but also loved being engrossed in my own private world of drawing TIE fighters and other imaginative stuff. I would go through periods of being a ‘hermit’ and wanting to be left alone to draw and eventually that side of me won out.

Perhaps I answered the call of the Dark Side, to overextend this metaphor, but I find I work best when left to my own devices.

I became an artist because I enjoy writing, drawing and making stuff up. I still get a kick out of a good drawing or gesture, a line of dialogue or plot progression. There’s a lot of talk about the dopamine hit of social media, that little bit of pleasure from positive or reinforcing feedback. I think my brain is wired, or has been trained through obsessive practice, to get a little dopamine hit, or equivalent, from creating. Also, drawing and reading was all I really was interested in or any good at.

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest character trading card from back matter, written and illustrated by UK indie comics artist Andi Watson

How do you start your day?

Make breakfast in bed for my wife. She works a 9-5, although it’s rarely that short a day. So I make breakfast and would normally have made a packed lunch for my daughter during school term. She’s just graduated school so I won’t have that as a pillar of my routine anymore. In fact my life will be quite different when she goes to college. I’ve been a stay-at-home-dad throughout so it’s going to be weird.

Interior page from literary adult graphic novel The Book Tour by Andi WatsonWhat does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

It’s the front room of our Edwardian terrace house. It has a handsome period fireplace. I have a writing desk as well as a standing desk I cobbled together from an Ikea bookcase. I have an uncomfortable wooden chair for when I’m drawing and a comfortable chair for when I’m writing. I try and keep the clutter under control but as it’s a workspace, I accept it’s not going to feature in a photoshoot in Elle Decor. I’m surrounded by books which makes me happy.

I have tried working away from home in the past but I find it more convenient to have everything close by. Like a couple of footsteps close by. I have often wrestled with separating work and home life but eventually accepted defeat. To some extent I’m always at work. My brain is whirring away in the background on whatever problem that day’s work has presented, regardless of whether I’m at home or in a studio. I am better at letting it go and taking the evening off now, though.

I like that I can shut the door. I’ve worked in a variety of spaces over the years, kitchen tables, a cupboard, I even had my own building for a while. It wasn’t part of our country estate but a small attached laundry room that was just big enough for me and a drawing board once we’d taken the washing machine out. It’s always nice to be able to close the door and not be interrupted, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. Especially if you have small children.

Indie comics creator Andi Watson's home office in Worcester, UK

What’s your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

I guess my first love will always be prose. That’s where I first fell in love with stories. I admire writers and their mastery of language. I have always found writing difficult so am in awe of anyone who can work the magic with words that really talented writers do.

As far as my own favourite medium to work in, obviously it’s comics. The alchemy of words and pictures. It has its own magic in combining the two. I have hopefully created something greater than the words and images separately. It is also really really hard to master. If it was easy I would have gotten bored and done something else years ago.

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest interior page image, written and illustrated by Andi Watson: a middle grade fantasy graphic novel

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently?

For my most recent book, Kerry and the Knight of the Forest (out now from all good bookshops), I added the use of a chinagraph pencil to my familiar pens in order to develop more texture to the art.

As I’m struggling with writing a new graphic novel for grown ups right now, I’m not using anything more complex than a pencil and scrap paper. I’m wrestling with plot and character rather than mastering a new tool.

As far as software goes, Janna has introduced me to the full range of teleconferencing software out there to conduct meetings. Before that I’d avoided Skype and the like. I sometimes even manage to appear on screen at the right time.

Black and white page from Kerry and the Knight Forest, middle grade fantasy graphic novel by Andi WatsonWhen you’re feeling “artist’s block,” what do you do to get “unblocked”?

Usually blame myself for being talentless and assume no one else goes through this. Truly talented people have no shortage of ideas, right?

Of course not. Being blocked can mean all kinds of things, from struggling with a story (me right now) to feeling some effects of burnout.

I think the important thing to remember is that you are a human and not a comic-making machine. I know that’s difficult to keep in mind when it’s your job — you’re freelance and you need to make rent. But no one is 100% creative every hour of the day. Do this long enough and you will realize there are ebbs and flows. Sometimes you are peaking, everything has come together and you are doing your best work and it feels effortless. Others you’ve hit a trough, you feel like you are struggling to do the very basics adequately despite working harder than ever. That is totally normal. Do not beat yourself up.

It’s nice, if I can, to do some personal stuff unrelated to what the market wants. A mini comic, or something on the web, a poster or just give myself time to doodle in a sketchbook. Take time to remind yourself art is fun and pleasurable, not just another grinding march towards a deadline or a way to make money.

Even if you’ve created a dozen books you’re still going to have to start again at the foot of the mountain and begin something new. The good and the bad news is it never gets easier. But anyone who wants an easy life would not choose comics.

Interior black and white fantasy comics page by indie comics creator Andi Watson

What’s particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

I have a bunch of prose books on the shelf facing my table, so if I’m feeling a bit flat I’ll pick up a volume of Pinter or Beckett and read a few lines. Or Evelyn Waugh or Lydia Davis or whoever. They are distant enough from comics I don’t have to worry about being overly influenced.

 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far in your career? What did you love about it?

Often the project before last is my favourite. On a most recent project the wounds are still fresh. I see the flaws and I’m sick of looking at it after working so intensely on it.

So my book before last was The Book Tour which came out in France in 2019. It’s coming out in English from Top Shelf in November and it’s the book I’m most proud of at the moment.

It’s a book I did without telling anyone about it. I just decided to go ahead and make this one and didn’t really worry about publishers and whatnot until it was done. It came together really well, the art and story are in perfect sync. It was one of those rare occasions where I knew I was working on something good while I was working on it. Usually there’s lots of self doubt and second guessing myself, but this one I was happy with throughout. I managed to balance the dark and light, drama and humour and dialogue and action.

French edition of The Book Tour by Andi Watson

What is your dream project in the future?

No one single project, I just hope I get the opportunity to make more books, tell more stories and get better at it along the way.

 

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

Probably what I periodically remind myself: remember that it’s supposed to be fun. There are any number of other ways to earn a living, or half a living, so if you are gonna choose this one, enjoy it.

Fantasy adventure graphic novel for kids Kerry and the Knight of the Forest by Andi Watson

How do you balance work and art with personal life?

See above. Sometimes I feel I’ve got it right and others I know I’m out of whack but perhaps the circumstances, a tough deadline for instance, means there’s not much I can do right at that moment. It’s a constant struggle. The pressure to produce can be intense, externally and internally. The worst thing I’ve done in the past is stress out at stressing out about work/life balance.

I wrote and drew a monthly book by myself for a year when my daughter was a toddler so I’m probably not the best person to ask. In retrospect that was super dumb. But it did teach me that I had to put family first. I’ve done a fairly good job since then. Not always perfect but I haven’t felt that same intense mixture of frustration and guilt I did then when I was working harder than ever and still failing on the important stuff.

I try to take evenings and weekends off.

I just recently discussed some thoughts on this subject in my newsletter here: https://andiwatson.substack.com/p/the-real-thing

Sketch page by indie comics artist Andi Watson

What’s an example of a past rejection or “failure” that ended up helping you? How did it help?

I’m not sure I subscribe to the idea that iron sharpens iron. I’ve never got a harsh crit or review and thought “I’ll show them”. My ego likes a good review as much as the next person and rejection still stings, but I’m not really the type who when they receive a critical kicking, shuts myself away, weeps tears of rage and produces my masterpiece. I just keep working away trying to get better.

To be honest, I have enough self-doubt of my own not to get overly concerned about external criticism. Of course, I’m also small enough of a person to wish painful gout on all my critics 🙂

The only thing I used to do in the days of rejection letters was keep them as scrap paper, flip them over and sketch or write new ideas on the back. That was my revenge, keep making new stuff.

 

How do you maintain your art career? Either in terms of marketing yourself, or developing multiple income streams?

I have maintained a, I hesitate to call it a “career” — a career assumes some sort of upward trajectory whereas mine resembles the flight path of a butterfly — through sheer stubbornness. Or lack of transferable life skills.

I have made it difficult for myself in switching genres, art styles and age groups. It might have been more sensible to find a niche and stick to it. Of course one person’s niche is another’s rut and I’m keen to avoid those.

I don’t have any specific practical advice, but broadly I would suggest the best way to maintain a career is to maintain enthusiasm. For some that might be drawing Batman everyday for the rest of their lives. For me I like to try new things.

Follow your passions, hunches and interests whenever possible. Returning to personal projects and putting aside commercial concerns can help refill my enthusiasm for the medium.

Graphic novels by Andi Watson, one of the best indie comics creators

What are you working on now?

Right this minute I’m working on this script for a graphic novel for grown ups. And I also have a pitch out with publishers for a new middle-grade book. Whatever happens, I’ll keep on making comics.

Punycorn by Andi Watson, a middle grade humor fantasy graphic novelConnect with Andi Watson:

andiwatson.info

Andi on Instagram

Andi on Twitter

Andi on Substack

Read Andi Watson:

Kerry and the Knight of the Forest

The Book Tour

Glister

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula

See more art by Andi Watson!

Contact Me About Andi

Children's GN 101 webinar with literary and illustration agent Janna Morishima

Children's Graphic Novels 101

Very early this Thursday morning, I was supposed to be getting up and going to the airport to fly to Las Vegas for the Nevada SCBWI conference.

I was very excited about this. It was going to be my first time visiting Las Vegas. It was going to be my first official public appearance as a Literary and Illustration Agent. It was going to be my first talk to an audience of SCBWI members.

On March 6th, only about seven weeks ago -- when we were all in a state of denial about what was coming down the road -- I sent the organizer a cheery email.

"I currently have no plans to cancel my travel to the conference! Looking forward to it!"

Four days later, the conference was cancelled.

But before you start feeling sorry for me, as it turns out, Cynthia Mun, the head of SCBWI Nevada, is an AMAZING PERSON. We ended up getting on the phone together and strategizing how we could still go ahead and do something fun for her SCBWI chapter.

The answer, of course, is to deliver a talk virtually. I.e., a webinar.

I had been planning to give a talk about career development, because I wanted to offer something of value to all the authors and illustrators there. But Cynthia reminded me that I have an area of expertise of great interest to many of her members: graphic novels.

"I'm not sure if we've ever had someone give a 'Graphic Novels 101' presentation before," she said. "I think that would be extremely useful."

So that's exactly what I'm going to do.

At 10 am PST/1 pm EST on Saturday, May 9th, I'm leading a webinar on "Children's Graphic Novels 101."

Be prepared for a jam-packed introduction to everything I can think of that you need to know if you're thinking about breaking into children's graphic novels.

  • How are graphic novels different from illustrated books? What's the difference between "comics" and "graphic novels"?
  • Why are graphic novels so popular? What's selling particularly well in the category right now?
  • What do you need to include in an effective graphic novel submission? How do you format a graphic novel script? What are agents and editors looking for?
  • Who are the major players in kids graphic novels? Which publishers are doing what, and where might the industry go in the future?
  • What's different about promoting and selling a kids graphic novel versus a children's book?

The best part about this webinar is that you don't have to be a Nevada SCBWI member to sign up! Registration is open to anyone.

If this sounds intriguing to you, please join me on May 9th for the webinar. You must pre-register at this link:Children's GN 101 with Janna Morishima webinar hosted by SCBWI Nevada May 2020

http://bit.ly/kids-gn-101

Please share this information with anyone who'd be interested!


P.S. Do you have a specific burning question about children's graphic novels that you definitely want me to answer? Leave a comment below so I make sure to include it in my presentation.


The Future of Children's Book and Graphic Novel Publishing in the Covid-19 Era

Kristen McLean Interview: The Future of Children's Book and Graphic Novel Publishing in the Covid-19 Era

Last week I interviewed Kristen McLean, publishing industry analyst and VP of business development for market research firm NPD Group.

The Future of Children's Book and Graphic Novel Publishing in the Coronavirus Era-kristen-mclean-interview for Kids Comics Meetup April 2020

She answered a lot of burning questions about what's happening in the children's book and graphic novel market right now, like:

  • What's happened to book sales overall since the coronavirus crisis began?
  • What's the biggest "white space" in the book market at this time?
  • How have comics and graphic novel sales been affected in 2020?
  • How might the comics distribution system in the US change in the near future?
  • What categories of books are selling best during this crisis? What's been negatively affected?
  • Which trends might be accelerated by this crisis?
  • How is the crisis causing innovation to happen, and which innovations might change the publishing landscape once the acute crisis abates?

It was a fascinating discussion. Click to view the full interview on YouTube.


Remind Yourself of Your Mission

There's a lot of fear swirling around out there, and it's not irrational. We're facing a silent, deadly virus that is causing health systems to collapse, and the entire global economy is in a deep freeze from which it may be difficult to recover.

Even if you're a naturally optimistic person, you may still be feeling deeply uneasy right now.

When external events disorient you, it helps to have a North Star that gets you back on track.

Because one thing is eternally true: life is change. This crisis will pass. New problems will arise.

If you have a strong, clear sense of purpose, you will be able to navigate any set of circumstances more easily. Including really scary ones, like now.

So, during Office Hour, I'm going to lead an exercise in reminding you of your mission.

For me, there's something interesting about the difference between "a mission" versus "a mission statement."

"A mission statement" sounds like something a corporate committee would develop.

But "a mission" sounds like something Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo would undertake against all odds to save a beautiful planet from extinction.

I want you to figure out your mission.

What is the adventure that you are beginning right now?

Who are you trying to save?

What are the stakes?

Cue dramatic music....

You are the hero. Where are you going and why?

 

 

 


Getting Creative Work Done During a Time of Uncertainty and Stress

Creative work is hard.

Even in the best of circumstances, it’s hard work translating your imagination and raw emotions and jumbled ideas into something structured and tangible, and then sharing it with the world.

And right now, we’re not in the best of circumstances.

In fact, it’s easy to say that our current circumstances feel downright terrifying. The coronavirus pandemic is inexorably making its way into every corner of the world. The global economy has collapsed. Political views seem to have hardened into vicious polarization.

Scrolling headlines on the internet reminds me of Henny Penny, the little hen who ran screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” and soon recruited a host of terrified followers… who all ran breathlessly straight into the fox’s den.

The moral of this story is: the herd mentality is very, very dangerous. It almost never leads to anything positive.

Creative work, on the other hand, almost always leads to positive things.

For you, the creator, it leads to feelings of accomplishment, confidence, and the joy of touching other people’s lives. For your audience, it leads to insight, camaraderie, and the thrill of experience.

Therefore, now more than ever, it is critically important for you to continue creating your work. Because you are a force for good in the world.

But how can you create your work when it feels like the sky is falling?

We all feel overwhelmed when we embark on ambitious projects, but it can feel especially impossible when the TV is blaring bad news and headlines are a non-stop barrage of dire predictions.

I have two simple pieces of advice:

  1. Break your work into manageable chunks
  2. Connect with your peers

1. Break your work into manageable chunks

This advice holds during extraordinary circumstances just as much as it does during normal ones.

If you find yourself thinking, “OMG, I’ve got to finish writing, penciling, inking and coloring this entire graphic novel by the end of the year, and I was so distracted/freaked out I didn’t even finish one page last week!!!”...

Stop. Take a deep breath. Say to yourself, “Let’s focus on this week, not this year.”

I recommend that you spend 20 minutes or so every Friday afternoon, Sunday evening, or Monday morning deciding exactly what chunk of creative work you want to finish in the upcoming week.

Be realistic. It’s better to set smaller goals that you can definitely accomplish rather than consistently fall short.

Then, schedule it. Even if you’re on lockdown and have no other meetings and you’re thinking, “I have all the time in the world right now, why in the world do I need a schedule?”...

I’m telling you, make a schedule. Write it in your calendar: from 9 am to 11 am on Monday morning is Creative Work Time (for example). Tell your family or your housemates in advance and gently ask them to be respectful and not interrupt you during that time.

Come Monday at 9 am, you’ve already decided: you know what you need to do. You sit in your chair and start working.

Even if at first you feel distracted or unmotivated or worried about something else, you’ve pre-determined that this is work time, so you don’t even need to think about it. You only have one task: put pencil to paper (or stylus to tablet, or whatever your tools may be!).

If the work you do is crappy, so be it! You did your duty. If you continue to show up and work as planned, day in, day out, you will make progress.

2. Connect With Your Peers

During a time of enforced isolation like we’re experiencing now, it is imperative that you proactively reach out and connect with peers on a regular basis.

Social connection is a basic human need. It is also amazingly important for creative work -- even creative work that we typically think of as a solitary endeavor, like writing or drawing.

Talking with your peers is the gasoline that keeps your engine going. It’s what keeps you motivated and inspired.

And as most of you would probably agree, your mom or significant other or best friend usually isn’t the right type of person (unless you’re unusually lucky). You need to talk to people who understand what you’re trying to do, and who are trying to do similar things themselves.

For instance, when you say, “I’m trying to figure out this shading technique on Clip Studio Paint but having issues with XYZ,” it isn’t helpful if your conversation partner looks at you with a blank expression and says, “Huh?”

Instead, you want someone who leans forward enthusiastically and says, “Oh yeah, I know who you should ask about that!”

So, in addition to scheduling time for your creative work, make sure you schedule some Zoom calls or FaceTime with fellow artists/writers/creators you trust. Every single week.

Keep going. Keep creating your work.

The world needs it.


Looking for a place to meet your peers? Join Me for Office Hours

Office Hour is happening again this Monday, March 30th, and next Monday, April 6th. All are welcome.

Please join us Monday at 11:30 am EST: https://zoom.us/j/846524330


How to Promote Your #Kidlitquarantine Event

The coronavirus pandemic is the first time in history that so many people, and so many children, have been quarantined at home. Millions of families are sheltering in place. That means millions of kids -- most of them normal, healthy schoolchildren -- are forced to sit at home all day long.

We aren’t used to thinking of authors and illustrators as “first responders,” but in this crisis, they have already started playing an important role. The children’s book community has stepped up to the plate in amazing ways, quickly organizing live-streamed readings, workshops, and activities to entertain young people stuck at home. (Search #kidlitquarantine to get a glimpse of the action.)

You can do it, too! Read your book on Facebook Live. Do a drawing demo on YouTube Live. Teach a poetry workshop on Instagram Live.

Do whatever lights you (and the kids) up.

But you want to make sure kids are actually watching, right? 

It’s important to get the word out in advance. Otherwise, you might be alone… and that wouldn’t be fun.

I've created a checklist to help you promote your #kidlitquarantine event effectively. Follow it step-by-step, and I guarantee you’ll have an eager audience waiting for you.

Download the checklist and get started.


Big, Big, VERY BIG News

2020 is going to be a BIG YEAR for three reasons:

Reason #1:

“2020” sounds awesome. It’s alliterative and stands for perfect vision. 

Reason #2:

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2020 is the year of the metal rat, which is supposed to be a particularly strong, prosperous, and lucky year. It’s an especially good year for new beginnings. (And I’m a rat, so it’s my double lucky year!)

Reason #3:

Today, I'm relaunching Janna Co. as a literary and illustration agency specializing in graphic novels and visual storytelling for kids!

It’s a totally new business and a huge new chapter in my career.

Please browse around my new website here and take a peek at the fabulous artists and authors I’m representing. You can also find me on Instagram (gasp!). Please connect with me there so I’m not all alone!

2020 will be a wild ride filled with lots of new adventures, new clients, new friends, new challenges… and my favorite things in the world, new books! I’m excited to be sharing this journey with you, and will keep you posted as it unfolds.

Happy New Year!

P.S. Special shout out to Abby Denson and Matt Loux for being the people who set the wheels in motion for this to happen.

P.P.S. If you want a copy of the official press release, you can download it here:

Janna Co. Agency Launch press release (1)


Where to find Janna: Anime NYC, Kids Comics meetup, Insider Secrets webinar

Where you can find me

Over the next 3 weeks, I'll be in many public places. I would love it if you could join me!

Anime NYC

Friday, Nov. 15-Sunday, Nov. 17
The Javits Center

Visit me at Table G13 in Artist Alley, where I'll be hanging out with Misako Rocks! Get your tickets here:

http://animenyc.com/

The US versus Japan:

Making Manga in Two Very Different Publishing Environments (panel discussion)

Saturday November 16
3 pm
Room 1E02, The Javits Center

I'll be moderating this panel discussion at Anime NYC with Misako Rocks, Gina Gagliano (Random House Graphic), and Erik Ko (Udon Entertainment). We'll discuss how Japan and the U.S.'s comics publishing industries have evolved differently -- and what best practices we should “steal” from each other!

Insider Secrets LIVE workshop

How to Build a Successful Career as a Creator

Sunday November 17
10:30 am
Room 1E15, The Javits Center

In this workshop, get the scoop on how how agents and editors choose creators to work with. I'll offer lots of tips on how to find mentors, improve your work, and build a following so you have the best chance for success as a published creator.

Kids Comics Meetup NYC

The Influence of Studio Ghibli on Kids Comics Creators

December 4th
7 pm - 9 pm
Resobox East Village, 91 East 3rd Street ($5 cover charge)

Join professionals in kids comics for this presentation and informal networking event. We will start with a short conversation with creator Matt Loux about how Studio Ghibli has influenced his work, and how he sees its influence impacting a younger generation of artists.

Then we’ll hang out and talk comics together while enjoying Resobox’s tea and Japanese snacks. Anyone who works in children’s graphic novel publishing is invited to attend, including artists, writers, editors, librarians, agents, book designers, booksellers, reviewers, etc!

RSVP here: http://bit.ly/kids-comics-meetup-dec-2019

Insider Secrets ONLINE workshop

How to Build a Successful Career as a Creator

Friday December 6th
12:00 pm
online

I'll be repeating this workshop as an online webinar! Yay -- that means you can join me no matter where you live. If you're interested in attending, please register at this link:

http://bit.ly/insider-secrets-workshop-dec-2019

After you register, I'll send an email with login instructions for the webinar.

See you soon!