surprise publicity punch!

Burris Mag

I just happened on this book magazine at our Fairfield Main Public Library yesterday.  Maybe it’s everywhere and always been, but I hadn’t seen it.  And what should the section for children’s books hold for me but a wonderful surprise !! It’s theme was about ‘back to school’ books.  I wondered ….. sure enough one of the three books it reviewed was Priscilla Burris’ new HELLO SCHOOL which she wrote and illustrated (a first really) for Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House!!

Burris Mag 2

SUCH a thrill!  as is the fun, sweet, very realistic visual story of those first few days and weeks of a new school.  The wee characters are darling and familiar I felt, and their discoveries have all been made by others from year to year….which is why it’s so so perfect a story.  It IS the small but important things and happenings in a youngster’s day that makes their memories… our memories!

Burris Mag 3

Made MY day…..

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I am most pleased to spread the word about what promises to be a wonderful semester class called CREATING THE PICTURE BOOK!  Author/illustrator Steve Henry and long time editor Barbara Lalicki have developed a course for Pratt that will help you bring your vision to life if you are an illustrator wishing to build your own stories.

FALL SEMESTER – 10 Sundays 9/30 – 12/16,  2-4:50,  at Pratt Manhattan (14th and 7th)

register at or by calling 877 551 7727

Course number is PMFA 451

We get so many ‘outside agency’ artists sending us their book ideas that we can tell just need a wee bit of editing and revision first.  As an agency, we only present ms/dummies from our own list of agency artist/writers, so we often can’t really help these other artists.  This course seems a wonderful possible answer for those able and interested!…. including our own CAT illustrators if they have interest! 😉


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A Highlights highlight!…Szalay!

AUG. 8, 2018 Highlights magazine has honored illustrator Dave Szalay of Richfield, Ohio, for his illustration of the verse titled “I Love Our Country”, which was published in the July 2018 issue. The illustration was named “Best of the Issue” by the editorial, art and production staff.

The verse was written by Eileen Spinelli

Christine Cully, Highlights for Children Editor in Chief, says that illustrators like Szalay “help us achieve our objective of bringing the most imaginative and original works to our readers.” In recognition of the achievement, he received an eight-inch pewter plate engraved with his name, the title of the winning work, and the issue in which it appeared. The pewter plates are handcrafted in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, the home of Highlights since its beginning in 1946.

Speaking of the illustration assignment, Szalay said, “I was contacted by Highlights Art Director Patrick Greenish to create this work. I work very well with Patrick as he understands my style and technique. He gave me a brief description and then I used my imagination to build an amalgamation of scenes I’ve experienced from our travels.”

Szalay is represented by Christy Tugeau Ewers at The CAT Agency and his clients include Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Harcourt-Mifflin, North-South of Zurich, Simon and Schuster, Charlesbridge, Cricket Media, Highlights for Children, and Jimmy Patterson at Little Brown.

He is a full-time Associate Professor of Art at The University of Akron and his work can be found in national editorial, advertising, and communications media.  His work has been recognized and awarded in several advertising and illustration competitions, including one of the SCBWI National Portfolio Showcase Honor Awards in 2018. His whimsical images are created in a vintage picture book-inspired technique using digital drawing and painting methods.

Szalay is based in Richfield where he lives with his wife Krista and three cats. He has two adult sons, Matt and Alex, and one grandchild.

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Launch for HELLO SCHOOL!

I know ….it’s summer and not school time!  But it will be very soon, and if you have a new child and/or a new school this book will be a BIG HIT!

HELLO SCHOOL Launch July 3 pic 3 new

Our own Priscilla Burris has written and illustrated this fun story of children learning to feel good and happy about their place in a new school….full of emotion and expression and laughter and a few  loving memories for all readers!

HELLO SCHOOL by Priscilla Burris and from Nancy Paulsen imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group.    And here’s a pic of the kids from this new class….and an actual piece done by Priscilla while IN KINDERGARTEN !  yup!  it was meant to be!

PBURRIS Art & Kids JULY 10

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burris book delievery

if pictures tell stories better than words…..this photo tells it all!   WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO!  This is Priscilla Burris opening her first box of books of HELLO SCHOOL the first picture book she has totally written and illustrated!  BIG MOMENT!

thank you to the wonderful Nancy Paulsen at Penguin who worked with her so patiently to draw out this wonderful story of details and moments so beautifully!

Priscilla is a master of the special, touching, memorable moment….and this book is FULL of them, in a good, reassuring story as well.  If you know a new student starting a new school…. check this one out!

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Masterful Master Class..Kornacki

It is very exciting for me to share this artistic ‘adventure’ from our artist Christine Kornacki !  This is a unique and special experience, and she jumped in with both feet!  now you’ll want to go….. 


By Christine Kornacki  |  June 26, 2018

Last week I partook in one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I attended the one week workshop in Amherst, MA called the Illustration Master Class (or IMC for short). It’s a workshop started by Rebecca Guay and features some of the best artists in the genre of Imaginative Realism.

It includes artistic giants such as James Gurney, Greg Manchess, Donato Giancola, Greg Ruth, Scott Fischer, Dan Dos Santos, Boris Vallejo, and Julie Bell. Plus the addition of select creative directors including Irene Gallo from Tor, Lauren Panepinto from Orbit Books, and Jeremy Jarvis from Magic the Gathering.

It has a relatively free format, where for one week students can work on whatever they’d like, and the faculty will walk around giving feedback to those who need it. Throughout the day the faculty will do lectures and demos that you’re welcome to view, or you can just keep working. I’ve known about the IMC for about 10 years, but it was always a matter or finding the time or the money to fit it in. Finally this year, I pushed aside all excuses and made it happen. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.


Something you may not know about me is that I’m a huge Sci-Fi and Fantasy fan. I’m sucker for time travel, worm holes, robots, space ships, knights, dragons, magic, and just about anything out of the ordinary.  These are few of my favorite things.

A friend of mine lent me Alanna, by Tamora Pierce in 8th grade and I devoured it in two days. That summer I spent every waking moment reading. Once I had read through all of Tamora Pierce’s books, I went back to the bookstore hungry. I was hooked. From there I found Madeleine L’Engle, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Diana Wynne Jones, Lois Lowry, Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, Neil Gaimen, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Steven King, and so on. Most days if you were to step in on me in my studio I’d probably be enthralled in one of their worlds.

I love the articles on Tor and io9, I idolize all of the artists on the blog Muddy Colors, and my favorite podcasts are One Fantastic Week and Imaginary Worlds. For so long, this has been my favorite media to absorb, but because I idolized it, I never thought I could be apart of this world.

Then two years ago I saw Donato Giancola give a presentation at the Society of Illustrators. He has been one of my all time favorite artists for a long time, and on that day he talked about why he loves illustrating book covers. What resonated with me was the idea that a book cover needs to encapsulate a book in one powerful image that entices a viewer, gives a hint of the story, but doesn’t give anything away. It’s the ultimate puzzle. Then it hit me, why aren’t I already doing this?!

Since then I’ve been slowing rebuilding my portfolio and pushing it more towards the fantasy and book cover realm. Then, I finally reached the point where I felt I needed some input from the best in the industry to help push myself even harder.


In case you haven’t gotten the impression, I am a superfan of all of these artists. So needless to say, on the first day I was completely star struck. We were told to show up with 1-4 thumbnail sketches to be critiqued by several of the staff. Irene Gallo, the Creative Director from Tor, provided 5 prompts you could choose to work from, or you could work on your own project.

I instantly fell in love with the book Irene provided, In An Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire. It’s the 4th book in the Wayward Children Series (that doesn’t come out to Jan 2019), and it happens to be a series that I’m a huge fan of. I’m a sucker for any “Alice in Wonderland” or “Narnia” type stories, that involves characters being dropped into a different world. And this book fell right into that genre.

I read the book in less than 24 hours and was completely enthralled by McGuire’s world, once again. Knowing that my thumbnails were going to be reviewed by some of my idols, I worked extra hard to push myself. I created 80 initial thumbnails in my sketchbook.


From those I narrowed it down to my top four, that I then redrew and refined digitally. These four I brought on the first day for my critique with Donato Giancola, Scott Fischer, Greg Ruth, and Boris Vallejo (I may have had a minor panic attack when I was given the list of my critique group).

My crit group was happy with all of my thumbnails, bouncing back and forth between several ideas. After a little deliberation, they collectively decided on my 4th thumbnail and gave me the go ahead to start developing it.


The next three days involved gathering all of the information I needed to create this painting. This book is about a girl who goes through a doorway in a tree and travels into a Goblin Market, rich with rules and unforgettable characters. To get the proper references, I build a 3D model in SketchUp, photographed one of my classmates as my model, and went walking around campus to find the perfect tree.

Once I had my references, I started my full-value sketch and color studies. With these, I got the feedback and approval from several of the faculty, I was finally able to dive into the main course, the painting! So I transferred my sketch onto my board, giving me only two days left to complete the painting.


After watching painting demos by several of my favorite oil painters (James Gurney, Donato Giancola, and Greg Manchess), I was feeling very eager to paint. Along the way, the faculty were each pushing me to really stretch the fantasy of my piece. This was exactly what I had come for, and I’m incredibly grateful for each piece of feedback I was given.

Two days later, I was able to (mostly) complete my painting. It was a long exhausting week filled with inspiring lectures, and magical moments bonding with all of the other students and amazing faculty. A lot of the students can come out of this week feeling confused by all the conflicting feedback they get from the different faculty. Luckily, everything seemed to go smoothly for me throughout the whole process. Each piece of advice I got came at the right moment, and helped elevate my piece even more. I never felt lost or unsure of myself, I just felt like I was being guided along a path that I had already started.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Irene Gallo and Lauren Panepinto for portfolio reviews. They both gave me great advice on how I can target my portfolio even more to the Mid-Grade or Young Adult book markets.


It took me several days to sleep and really absorb all the feedback I got. This was a completely unreal experience, and I came home overflowing with ideas. I had several tweaks to do to my painting once I was on solid ground again. On top of that, I wanted to do a postcard blast with this new painting. So I completed the back of the postcard with an original sketch to go with the story.

kornacki b:w

In the end, it was worth every penny and sleepless night I spent there. Hopefully my portfolio will start to reflect these changes I feel inside, and if all goes well I hope to go back again next year!

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Bob Staake retreat…from Dave Szalay!

SZ NR home drawing

A peaceful fun sketch done recently by our artist Dave Szalay of the Norman Rockwell Home and studio in Burlington VT while he was attending a very special Bob Staake retreat: The Art and World of The Children’s Picture Book.   I was most interested in learning more about this intriguing intensive, especially as I had just spent time at the CT Rockwell museum and Stockbridge town over a Dec. trip, and felt many artists in our market might be as well. So I asked Dave to tell us more…… he kindly shared the following.

“I initially found out about this event through Bob Staake’s Facebook post.  He framed it as the inaugural event for the American Creator Seminar program, a proof of concept that world be offered in a variety of unique iterations in the future.  

It was pitched as an uncommon seminar to a small group of student/guests in Norman Rockwell’s famed Arlington, VT studio, March 16th-18th. I signed up right away even though I was still reeling with excitement and inspiration from the big SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC a few weeks earlier. [where DAVE won an honor award!)]  This event was especially appealing to me as both a professor and as an illustrator, and aspiring author who made a mid-career leap of faith into children’s literature.  There’s nothing better than learning from someone like Bob Staake who has been in the kid lit trenches for so many years. 

As the event came nearer I plotted out my drive….to Stockbridge MA!! That’s right Massachusetts !  I have been to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge several times and just glazed over the fact that this was actually going to be in VERMONT! The night before, I was reading through the material and getting ready to set GPS on my phone when I realized this was not where I thought it was.  The drive was similar at about 8.5 hours so I was just glad I didn’t go to the wrong place!

I was a long drive and a little snowy, icy and treacherous with near whiteout conditions through the mountains of New York. I was surprised to feel reenergized once I turned onto the little winding road that lead to a red, one lane covered bridge over a creek in front of Rockwell’s former home. The home looked like one would imagine. A large white colonial house painted white dating back to the 18th century. It sits on the Covered Bridge Green and the nearest neighbors are old farms. Pulled into the little dirt path of a driveway and my tires crunched through the ice and frozen mud.  Once inside, I noticed immediately how the old wooden floors creaked and the ceilings seemed a bit low The home hugs it’s visitors like a comfortable old quilt with the familiar homespun charm found in many of Rockwell’s paintings.

SZ farm

DAY ONE: Seven autor/illustrators from all corners of the country (Seattle, Chicago, MA, NY, OHIO and TX) arrived and checked in throughout the morning at Rockwell’s historic home. The syllabus/agenda instructed us to head over to the studio behind the house that afternoon for introductions and orientation. As we all headed over individually, we gathered around a table in Rockwell’s little cabin-like studio with a fire crackling in the fireplace and the cold wind howling outside.  Each of us took a turn introducing ourselves, stared where we are in our careers, and what we’ve worked on so far. Bob gave us a little background on how he got involved in children’s publishing and the path that lead him to Cape Cod and his current work. This was scheduled from 2-3pm but the lively conversation soon turned into 3 1/2 hrs!  The format was very conversational. There was plenty of time for questions and comments and we all laughed at Staake’s humorous delivery.  He made us all feel comfortable and like old friends just hanging out talks about writing and illustrating.

SZ interior tables

I don’t think any of us knew how much time passed except we were all getting hungry. Around 5;30 we all headed out for dinner on our own.  At 9pm w were to meet up again for a wine tasting and conversation in the living room of the Inn.  It all wrapped up between 111;30 and midnight. I was exhausted but I couldn’t fall asleep, so I sketched the rustic old home.

SZ drawing interior

DAY TWO:  We had breakfast together in the Inn and then headed over to the studio for Bob’s presentations.  Having created over 70 fairly different books, Bob showed how his diverse approach is anything but formulaic.  Some of his books are written in rhyme, some in prose, some feature die-cuts and some are even wordless.  He read some out loud and walked us through sketches failed manuscripts, and filled us with anecdotes from his personal experiences.  He would often pause to show us how he worked in a certain style or technique.  It was an incredible glimpse into Bob’s process and knowledge.  He generously shared his views on the dynamics between the author/illustrator and publishers and editors.  He took us back into the trenches of what it’s like to do upwards of 25 revisions to a manuscript or cover versus creating something in a few days that is ready right away for publication.

Time flew by again and in what seemed like minutes, hours passed and it was time for lunch in the Inn.  During the afternoon session, Bob discussed his successes and well as flops. He talked about crafting the story and the importance of balancing the words with the images.  Imagery IS language as he explained, and he demonstrated just how to formulate a good recipe for creating engaging picture books. And he showed us some of the systems he developed to organize, archive, complete, and harvest in-progress work.

It was nearly 5pm and time to split off for dinner again. A small group of us headed off to eat and socialize.

SZ bs table

DAY THREE: We met the next morning in Rockwell’s old studio again after breakfast at the Inn.  The discussions began with what publishers might want to see.  Do they want “message” books or do they prefer light an humorous stories? Should you compromise your ideas or stories just to get published? Is an agent essential? [!!] Most importantly why it is important to write, write, write and keep a journal of ideas. Bob shared his notebook so we could see behind the curtains so to speak. 

An hour or so before it was time to leave, Bob asked each of us to give a quick presentation pitch of a current story we’re each working on that we brought with us from home.  We each took a turn presenting and briefly commenting on each other’s work. it was a quick run through so it had to be as concise as possible.  Some of us read aloud, while others just showed prototypes and preliminary images. It was great to see what everyone was working on.

Really enjoyed making new friends, Tina Hoggatt, Maria Scrivan, Mike Allen, Tannie Smith, Marjorie O’Brill, of purse Bob Staake, and his wonderful wife Paulette who was always nearby in the wings keeping his event on track. There’s a lot to be said of the spouses and partners of creative people!  [AMEN!]

Staake’s goal this final day was to wrap it all up and leave us motivated, confident, and inspired. In fact he said he wanted us to be inspired to a degree that we could hardly wait to get back to our studios prepared to get our work published!  It worked, As we gathered for a group photo we couldn’t resist the opportunity to recreate the classic ‘Brady Bunch’ pose on the stories in Rockwell’s studio. This picture perfectly captures the tone of the weekend. 

SZ brady bunch

Illustrators and writers typically lead a solitary work life. I make a point of getting out and expanding my network and this was my primary goal. When you have an opportunity to spend time with the likes of Bob Staake, the experience becomes a milestone.  This is one thing I learned from my time in grad school.  My talented illustrator friends at all career levels, are among the most generous and supportive people I’ve met in my life.  This session was jammed packed with valuable information but felt very conversational.  Everyone contributed and Bob expressed how this open forum format allows the instructor to respond and adjust – as well as learn from the group. I left not only inspired but equipped with some new information on managing my studio, the process of writing stories, making smart decisions when illustrating picture books, and working with editors and agents.  all invaluable.  I hope Bob Staake’s American Creator program continues. Well done Bob!!”

And well done DAVE!!  this shared experience feels very warm and real, inspire of the COLD NE weather!  I, and all who read this, thank you so much for sharing.  Check out this and other events like this retreat! They can be a needed ‘gift’ to your creative soul….and a leap forward for your  personal career!    


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