Collaborations are a wonderful thing, especially when you’re teaming up with the delightful, inspiring and talented Kate Allen Fox.
In response to a competition hosted by Emory University’s Global Health Institute, Kate had written a lovely picture book for children about Covid- 19, that needed to be illustrated. With only one week to create 23 pastel illustrations, I put my foot to the pedal!
Kate, a professional children’s author, worked at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for eight years. Her public health background is reflected in this book. Watch out for her debut picture book, TREMBLING GIANT, published by Capstone next year!
Illustrator, Laurie Smollett Kutscera, is also a writer, whose debut middle-grade novel, Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, was recently released by Blue Whale Press. She studied Fine Art and Children’s Book Illustration at Queens College, CUNY and is an award winning graphic designer. Laurie lives on the north shore of Long Island with her husband and rescue dog, Cody.
Even Heroes Feel Sad: Fighting Coronavirus Together written by Kate Allen Fox and illustrated Laurie Smollett Kutscera, provides information for children, while also acknowledging the feelings they may have during this pandemic. Great attention was paid to ensuring its scientific accuracy, while also creating an enjoyable and comforting read for kids ages 6—9.
There’s nothing like a little magical escapism to chase away the bad news in the world. Middle school is hard enough, but more so for Alex. He’s in a new town after his famous magician father passed away attempting to create a new trick. When Alex discovers a magical deck of playing cards his dad left him, the adventure begins and what he knows about magic changes forever.
The story is fast paced and frequent illustrations by the author add to the appeal. The royal family of hearts comes to life, but only Alex can communicate with them. That is until he misplaces the deck. His ways of dealing with the crisis are sincere and kid like. The fictional small town of Orchard, Maine is the setting Alex despises as it is quite the change from growing up in his home state of New York. Filled with magical surprises and a thrilling ending, the book would appeal to any girl or boy—along with a few of us older MG readers. There’s also a hint on the final page of what would be a welcome sequel.
BOOK BIRTHDAY: APRIL 1, 2020 (no fooling!) PAGE COUNT: 178
FIVE MORE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT
MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON
1. The joker in the deck will cause a smile or two as you read.
2. The 27 chapters (each announced with accompanying cards from the magical deck) were the perfect length for a read-aloud.
3. Mom pretty much stays aside for the story and keeps the young characters in the forefront.
4. Magic lovers might be inspired to get there own deck of cards. There weren’t any sources in the back pages but I can recommend an oldie but goodie: The Kid’s Guide to Magic Tricks.
5. The small town setting was nicely woven into the story. Big city kids might be surprised at the differences.
Laurie Smollett Kutscera was born in Greenwich Village and grew up in Queens, New York. At the age of 11, she performed her first magic trick and was destined to be a ventriloquist with the aid of her childhood friend, Neil, who today is a real magician! But rather than follow in the footsteps of Houdini, she went on to study fine art and children’s book illustration at Queens College with Caldecott medalist Marvin Bileck. She is an award-winning graphic designer, a published children’s book illustrator, and toy designer.
Laurie’s passion for writing began 12 years ago while cruising the eastern seaboard from Nantucket to the Virgin Islands. Today she continues to write and illustrate and is currently working on several contemporary picture books and middle grade novels.
Laurie lives on the North Shore of Long Island with her husband Nick and rescue doggie, Cody. You can learn more about Laurie by going to lskillustration.com.
One of the joys of writing MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON was delving into the art of magic. Enter Joel Goldman, magician extraordinaire. I spent many hours working with Joel, studying his technique and learning his craft. I was mesmerized watching his variety of shuffles, fans and sleight of hand maneuvers. Alexander Finn is a remarkable 12 year old magician, thanks to Joel.
I am thrilled he had the time to answer all my questions here. But WAIT…THERE’S MORE! Joel has allowed me to share this amazing You Tube video of him performing in Central Park. WOW! What a treat!
AND NOW, HERE’S MY INTERVIEW WITH JOEL…
Joel, it was such a wonderful experience working with you while I was researching magic card tricks for MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON. You were quite adept back then at age 15. How old were you when you became interested in performing magic?
Thanks Laurie, I enjoyed working with you too. So, I became interested in magic when I was four-years-old.
What about magic appealed to you?
For me, each trick was a little puzzle to solve.
That makes perfect sense. I know your Dad is a big fan of puzzles too. Was this something you both connected with?
Absolutely. I loved puzzles, and still do. I think a lot of the things I learned while doing magic over the years have helped me throughout my life and now in my professional career. Thinking like a magician is a valuable skill especially when it comes to problem solving.
What kind of tricks did you start with?
I would try everything and see what worked. The things that didn’t work I would practice and improve on. The things that did work, I would try to make even better.
Can you give an example of one of the tricks that worked and one that didn’t, or took a while?
Some beginner coin magic, like a French drop, came really easy to me, but as I moved into more advanced coin magic routines like hanging coins, I really struggled. It was sometimes difficult, but I continued to practice and push through, and ask others for help.
Tell us about this performance.
This was just a photo shoot. Magic came with celebrity status even at a young age. HAHAHA!
Were there any magicians that inspired you? Has that changed?
Tons of magicians, I’d read and watch anything I could get my hands on. I’d think, what makes this magician so great, and I’d try to emulate it.
Can you give us an example of a magician you admired and what he specifically did that challenged you?
Penn & Teller are incredible performers to watch. They just captivate the audience and take you on a journey. For card manipulation, I am a huge fan of Kostya Kimlat and Joshua Jay, and no your name does not have to have alliteration in order to be a magician.
How did you learn to do card manipulations? Did you do any exercises to prepare?
I’d say learning to become a magician is an exercise in will-power and determination. Even while doing homework or sitting at the dinner table, I’d have a deck of cards in my hands practicing specific moves. Its all about Practice. Practice. Practice! From an author’s perspective, this was such an important element to include when building Alex’s character.
How long did it take you to really master your array of card tricks and flourishes?
Depends on the trick or flourish. Some, like a double lift came easy with a few hours, others like a second deal or bottom deal took weeks.
Is there a specific card trick or tricks you perform that get the most reaction?
This is a pretty common question, and it has a fairly interesting answer. I’d say any effect, even the simplest ones can have incredible reactions- it’s all about the presentation. For example, I’ve seen the reversed card blow people’s minds, and that’s a trick you could teach a five-year-old in an hour.
Have you ever created your own card tricks or manipulations?
Absolutely, and that’s probably one of my favorite things to do. Take pieces of tricks you already know, and recombine them in a different way to create something entirely new.
What advice do you have for aspiring young magicians?
If you want to sharpen your skills PRACTICE! Practice in front of the mirror so you can see what your audience is seeing.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your expertise with us. Here’s an illustration from the book of Alex Finn performing one of Joel’s amazing shuffles!
MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON, published by Blue Whale Press, will be available on April 1st. To learn more about Alexander Finn and his remarkable adventures pre-order now, or you can request it from your local library!
WOW! Congratulations to all the Winners and Honorable Mentions of the #50PreciousWord contest. I am thrilled that my entry FIREFLY was selected and included with such wonderful, heartfelt and hilarious finalists.
If you want to read all the marvelous entries, click on the link above, scroll down and enjoy!
Thank you again, Vivian Kirkfield and your team, for all the energy and support you continually give the picture book writing community!
FIREFLY by Laurie Smollett Kutscera (50 words)
Emelia caught a firefly, And for a moment It felt like she held the moon.
“You are perfect,” she whispered. Its amber light cradled between her fingers.
And then, she let it go.
It hovered close, as if to say, “You are perfect too!” Then flew into the summer night.
While we are all looking for activities during our self imposed quarantine, birdwatching might be the perfect answer. I know…Christmas Bird Count is over, for now–but there are plenty of birds outside and it’s still a fun way to get some fresh air!
Join Ava’s team as she becomes a citizen scientist for a day on her town’s Christmas Bird Count. Ava is excited when Big Al, the team’s leader, asks her to record the tally this year. Using her most important tools—her eyes and ears—she identifies and counts the birds they observe on a route through diverse habitats.
This informative story by author Susan Edwards Richmond, coupled with Stephanie Fizer Coleman’s charming depictions of birds in their winter habitats, is the perfect book to introduce young readers to birdwatching. The text offers simple explanations of the identification methods used by birdwatchers and clear descriptions of bird habitats, and a section in the back provides more information about the birds featured in the book and the Christmas Bird Count.
One of the advantages of writing for young readers is discovering Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture book Challenge and KidLit 411. These two marvelous writing communities have given me the opportunity to connect with some pretty amazing authors. And I am thrilled to share a few of their recent picture books with you!
I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM! A Boys Quest for Ice Cream Trucks
How can a nine-year-old make a difference in his community? This upbeat, educational, and heartwarming true story is about Joshua Lipshaw, who petitioned his local government to change an outdated law that prevented ice cream trucks from driving through his town.
Relive Josh’s passionate journey as he works to bring the joy of ice cream trucks to his town. Young readers will not only be inspired, but will learn about leadership, persistence, and civic action as Josh takes on Town Hall and fights to repeal their ban on ice cream trucks. Complete with adorable illustrations by Wendy Leach, this sweet book is a tasty treat as well as a lesson that they too can make a difference in their communities.
If you feel up to the challenge, here are the submission guidelines: Your story should be appropriate for kids ages 12 or under, that has a total word count of 50 or less. It can be prose, rhyme, free verse, silly or serious…whatever works for you.Title is not included in the word count.ONE entry per person, please. Deadline for posting the story in the comments is Thursday, March 5, at 11:59pm. Winners will be announced Saturday, March 21.
I’ve posted my entry below. GOOD LUCK!
Emelia caught a firefly,
And for a moment
It felt like she held the moon.
“You are perfect,” she whispered.
Its amber light cradled between her fingers.
And then, she let it go.
It hovered close, as if to say, “You are perfect too!”
Then flew into the summer night.
As a member of On The Scene in 19 (a group of debut picture book, chapter book and middle grade authors publishing in 2019/2020), I am literally surrounded by the wonderful work of these creative authors.
SHE LEADS is a poignant picture book written by June Smalls and illustrated by by Yumi Shimokawara, about a matriarchal elephant society.
Inspiring text and striking illustrations follow the empowering journey of an elephant matriarch as she leads her family through the wilds of Africa. June Smalls offers fun facts in this moving, lyrical story about African elephants along with a powerful message about real girl power that will encourage young girls to be the trailblazers of their generation. SHE LEADS offers an incredible story and an unforgettable tribute to the strength of a true leader.
This is a stunning book with educational facts and notes on female empowerment. Readers can enjoy the spare text, or delve into the facts about elephants provided in smaller print sprinkled throughout.
Sharing Information About Writing and Illustrating for Children
Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 4, 2019
Illustrator Saturday – Laurie Smollett Kutscera
Laurie Smollett Kutscera’s passion for children’s book illustration and writing began at an early age. Childhood memories of The Little Prince, the Peter Rabbit series, and Nancy Ekholm Burkert’s intricate pen work in Snow White, transported her to another world. Today, Laurie continues to work towards creating that magic and spirit in her own work.
She lives on the north shore of Long Island with her husband and very loyal rescue doggie, Cody. She is a member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge and The Children’s Book Academy, and continues to attend workshops and conferences for both writing and illustration.
HERE’S LAURIE DISCUSSING HER PROCESS:
After working up several sketches, I select one that best suits the format. For this project, I was asked to illustrate the cover of a newsletter that included a masthead and text in a box on the left side of the illustration. I scan the drawing into Photoshop, clean it up and print it on the backside of Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Gray charcoal paper. The tooth is not as pronounced on the backside so the color lays better.
I begin by scumbling color into specific areas of the drawing then paint over it with turpenoid. This melts the pastel into the paper — when it dries you have an interesting underpainting to work with.
I begin building color relationships and highlights throughout the illustration.
If I find areas where the color relationships aren’t working, I can repaint in turpenoid and start again once it has dried. This prevents reworked areas from getting muddy.
I add finer details with pastel pencils.
The finished pastel is scanned into Photoshop where I add a few additional details, highlights and a touch of brightness.
Interview with Laurie Smollett Kutscera
How long have you been illustrating?
For about 35 years. Somewhere in the middle I stopped for a while to launch a new business with my husband.
What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?
In the mid 1980’s, I designed and illustrated a poster for The Children’s Free Opera of NY. The production was designed for a younger audience and was based on Commedia dell’arte (17th century Italian comedic theatre). After researching Scaramouche and Punchinello, I decided on a traditional yet whimsical approach that would appeal to kids, a brightly colored linoleum cut of the main character dressed in 17th century attire, perched on a skateboard.
Did you choose to attend Queens College.
I did- but for all the wrong reasons! I wanted to attend a university close to home. I knew Queens College had an excellent Fine Arts Department—what I didn’t know was how this decision would profoundly affect my life.
What type of classes were your favorites?
Calligraphy was one of my favorites. I studied illuminated manuscripts and practiced alphabets ranging from Italic and Copperplate to Gothic to Uncial. The classes were taught by Don Kunz, an outstanding calligrapher, painter and Zen Buddhist, who stressed the importance of proper posture and breathing while writing. I also had the great fortune of mentoring with Professor Marvin Bileck, Caldicott recipient of Rain Makes Applesauce. He taught drawing, children’s book illustration, printmaking, and a marvelous course called The Art of the Book, where I learned to hand-bind books. My final project in college was a French fold, hand-bound book of calligraphy and linoleum prints of Aesop’s Fables.
Did art school help you get illustrating work when you graduated?
Queens College did not have a placement program, however, my calligraphy classes played a huge role in getting my foot in the door of many companies. I would do certificates and awards for organizations such as the New York Philharmonic and the Modern Language Association. Once I established myself, I was introduced to other areas within the company that needed illustration and graphic work. My career took off when I began designing posters, brochures and book jackets.
What type of illustrating did you do when you were first starting out?
I did spot illustrations for several publishing and theatre companies in pen and ink, watercolor, linoleum cuts and scratchboard.
What type of products did you design for the toy industry?
Oh gosh, I designed several doll collections and a variety of stuffed animals. My illustrations were sent to China where all the prototypes and final products were made. They were sold at Macy’s and various gift shops throughout the US. It was quite a thrill to see all my furry friends and dolls dressed in their nautical outfits and ballerina skirts come to life!
When did you decide to illustrate children’s books?
I entered college with visions of being a fashion illustrator. But when I meet Professor Bileck, I began to appreciate the art of children’s book illustration. The endless possibilities of how illustration and text can work together opened up a whole new world for me.
Was Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows your first picture book?
How did you get that job?
My dear friends Marietta Abrams Brill, a brilliant writer, and her husband Peter, a talented artist and curator at the Museum of the American Indian in NYC, spent their honeymoon camping out in the southwest. Sitting around a fire, they wove this beautiful tale about a young, fearless girl and the strange shadows that haunted her cliff dwelling tribe. Marietta and Peter returned from their trip and handed me their story. I started working on sketches in a variety of mediums, colored pencil, linoleum, pastel. Eventually we all agreed the earthy, textural qualities of the medium fit the story best. I had never worked in pastel, so I did a lot of playing before I actually started the illustrations.
Once the dummy was completed, we snail mailed 5 or 6 off to a variety of publishers we thought were a good fit. Soon after, Rizolli Books in NY offered us a contract. (This was back in 1993 when you could not only collaborate, but easily send your project off to an editor, unsolicited!)
What inspired you to write MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON by Blue Whale Press
I was sitting in a movie theatre watching the first 007 with Daniel Craig— Casino Royale. As the opening credits appeared, these large playing cards jumped on the screen. There was something very appealing about their graphic nature. I kept staring at them, asking myself, what if they were real people? What kind of personalities would they have? What type of adventures might they have encountered? The next morning, I jumped out of bed and began writing about a cast of unusual characters that would find their way into Alexander Finn’s heart!
I know it is a middle grade book, but did you add illustrations, since you are an illustrator?
Actually, I began illustrating MISADVENTURES while I worked on the manuscript. In a sense, it was a collaboration—working back and forth, fine tuning the illustrations while I wrote, adding details to the story while I drew.
At first, I did all the illustrations in color, but after speaking with an editor at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in NYC, she explained most publishers preferred black and white illustrations for middle grade novels. So, I went back to my studio, took all the images into Photoshop and changed them to grayscale. To my surprise, removing the color gave them more of a mysterious, moody quality.
Once the manuscript was ready to submit, back in 2012, I planned to include the black and white illustrations, but then I kept hearing editors prefer to find their own illustrators. At that point I thought, OK, maybe it’s best to hold off on sending illustrations until I found a home for the manuscript. So, I tucked all the artwork away.
A few years later, editors and agents were requesting middle grade novels by author illustrators. So, I pulled all the illustrations back out and started subbing again. I guess the old adage is true— timing really is everything!
Would you like to write and illustrate a book?
That is my ultimate goal. I currently have a few projects I’m finishing up dummies for. I also have a few manuscripts I’m hoping will speak to me— so I know how to proceed with the illustrations!
Have you ever been published by a US publisher?
Yes, Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows was published by Rizolli’s Children’s Division and distributed by St. Martin’s Press in NY.
Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who and how long have you been with them? If not, would you be willing to consider representation?
I don’t have an artist rep at the moment and yes, I would love to work with someone that feels strongly about my work.
Do you do freelance illustrating full time?
No. I divide my time between illustrating and writing and our seasonal business.
Have you done any book covers for novels?
I’ve designed several book covers for MacMillan and Simon and Schuster that were graphic in nature, not illustrated.
Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?
It would depend on the project. Time is so precious right now— especially because I’m trying to focus on getting both my writing and illustration work published.
What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?
While my work has evolved over the years and the medium has shifted, my influences (while a bit eclectic) have always remained constant. I love the primitive, earthy qualities of Gaugin’s paintings. I try to bring an earthy essence into all of my pastel work. I also love the lyrical intricacies of Persian Art. These detailed works have inspired the many patterns and textures I incorporate in my own illustrations.
Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?
I’ve designed for McGraw Hill and the Modern Language Association.
Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?
No. I haven’t approached them as of yet.
Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?
Now THAT would be fun! Thank you for planting the seed!
What do you think is your biggest success?
I’m hoping to update the answer to this question once MISADVENTURE’S OF A MAGICIAN’S SON, is released—but for now, I would say- when Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows was published––that was pretty huge. The book(s) were displayed in the windows of Barnes and Noble across NYC and Long Island. This was followed by an offer of representation by Marilyn Marlow at Curtis Brown. That was kind of amazing!
What is your favorite medium to use?
I love working in pastel. I’ve also been playing with watercolors and my new Ipad Pro, Apple Pencil and Procreate.
Has that changed over time?
Yes. Early on I worked in scratchboard, linoleum cuts and watercolors. As time went on, I shifted to colored pencil and Photoshop when an Art Director I workshopped with suggested I try another medium that gave me the outcome I was looking for without having to rework so heavily in Photoshop.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
When an idea hits, I make room in my schedule to work out the rough details. I keep weekends and evenings available for following through on ideas, writing and illustrating. In the winter months, I have more time to devote to my artwork and writing. This might be the reason I love snow so much!
Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?
Absolutely. For example, Alex, my main character in MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIANS SON, does quite a number of card tricks. I knew very little about this form of magic and needed to find someone really adept in this area. While the internet offered helpful information—I felt strongly that I needed a one-on-one experience. When I discovered a dear friend’s son was quite the card trick aficionado, I met with him and picked his brain on numerous occasions. He performed shuffles and fans and cuts while I scribbled notes and took lots of photographs. I also shot video that I watched over and over —this really helped me translate the energy of each trick onto the written page.
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?
Yes, absolutely! Online writing forums and contests have been invaluable tools. In fact, it was an online opportunity that led me to signing with Blue Whale Press. And just recently, an online contest provided several requests for my work from a number of agents and editors.
Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?
Yes. When I’m working in pastel, I often scan the finished piece into Photoshop to adjust highlights and shadows and maybe add a few finer details.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?
I have a tablet connected to my desktop computer- which I use mainly for end-of-illustration detail work, not really drawing. However, this past Christmas, I received the IPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I think I stopped breathing watching those first few You Tube Demos! The possibilities are endless!
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
My goal is to publish quality picture books that I’ve both written and illustrated. I’ve come across some exquisitely designed books, with gorgeous fonts and illustrated endpapers that make my heart skip a beat. That’s where I hope my work to ends up someday. And if by chance someone decides to make a musical out of Misadventures…well that would be just fine too!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two projects at the moment. One is a more painterly series of illustrations for a poem I wrote about a girl that paints her room in a southwestern landscape and ends up on an adventure through the Painted Desert. The other is more whimsical in nature about an anxious lizard whose favorite toy is stolen.
Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?
For those who write: Read, read, read!
Become a part of the writing community: Join SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, #50 Precious Words Contest, Tara Lazar’s Story Storm, The Children’s Book Academy- these are all wonderful resources to help strengthen your writing skills.
Work on your craft (try not to focus on the goal of getting published.) In the end, your work will flourish and editors and agents will be more likely to take notice.
Create a great website with a range of work that includes color and black and white images. Instagram is also a great resource for getting your work out there. And yes, postcard mailings are still an excellent way to promote your work. (Tip: Try to send out mailings appropriately themed just before holidays and seasonal events such as Halloween, Ground Hog Day, Spring, Fall and Winter.)
Get involved in online contests. Don’t be afraid to take chances. Be inspired by other artists but don’t make the mistake of following trends too closely. Your work should be as individual as you are. Bring your spirit into everything you create and you will not only find success, but satisfaction too!
Thank you Laurie for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Laurie’s work, you can visit her at: Website: https://www.lskillustration.com/
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Laurie. I am sure she’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.
Thank you Laurie for the interview. What amazing illustrations. They are so detailed and focused. Love them. Penny