Illustrators' Night--The Fabulous Patricia Storms

Saturday, January 17, 2015 10:59 AM | Lena Coakley

Minutes for the January 2015 CANSCAIP Meeting

CANSCAIP President, Bill Swan, began the evening with big news about Brenda Clark and Eric Walters.  They join CANSCAIPers Barbara Reid, Robert Munsch and Jean Little as members of the Order of Canada! Congratulations Brenda and Eric!


Second Story is holding a contest for contemporary writing for young readers that reflects the modern experience of Canadian Aboriginal – First Nations, Métis, and Inuit – people. The jury will be particularly looking for stories with an urban setting.

Canadian writers who identify as Aboriginal are invited to submit their original, previously unpublished, manuscripts by March 31, 2015. The winner of the contest will be announced in April 2015 and will be offered a publishing contract from Second Story Press.  Further info.

Bill asked newcomers to introduce themselves. We met and welcomed Randy, who wants to get into children’s illustration; Linda, who writes and illustrates; and Cathy and Anita, who are both children’s illustrators.


Anne Dublin took the podium to tell us about Helen Drazek, who was born in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland in 1941.  She and her parents were the only survivors of a large, close-knit family that was entirely annihilated during the Holocaust.

In Odyssey through Hell, Helen (with Anne as co-author) tells the harrowing story of her parents’ desperate attempts to survive in the ghetto, their narrow escape into hiding, and their ultimate journey to freedom in a new land.


Our speaker for the evening was the lovely Patricia Storms, who began her talk by telling us about IBBY Canada’s Illustrator in Residence program, and later when on to talk about children’s book covers.

Patricia was very honored to be this year’s IBBY Canada Joanne Fitzgerald illustrator in residence.  This is only the second year of the program.  It is hosted by the public library, administered by IBBY Canada, and funded by the family of Joanne Fitzgerald.  Patricia found out about the program through CANSCAIP and the CCBC.  She is a great fan of Joanne Fitzgerald, the GG-winning illustrator of Plain Noodles, Dr. Kiss Says Yes, and Emily’s House. Patricia didn’t know if she was good enough to apply, but her friend, author Helaine Becker, said “Apply for everything! Make them decide if you are good enough!”  Patricia applied in 2013 and didn’t get it.  (Martha Newbigging did.) However, she was encouraged to apply again and got it the next year.  Martha turned out to be a great support.

For those interested in applying, you must be a Canadian citizen with a minimum of four children’s books illustrated. You must have a vibrant online presence and experience with presentations. Patricia’s application was seven pages long and included two references. She was asked to suggest activities for kids and adults. Patricia got to have a launch at the Northern District Library with her own work on display.

Some of Patricia’s workshops for adults were:

How to Illustrate for Publishers

Building a Professional Illustration Portfolio

What Makes a Good Picture Book?

Creating a Successful Book Cover

With kids she often created characters.  She asked them, How do you recognize a character like Bart Simpson?  What makes him unique and interesting? She told them a little bit about how a book is made, explaining the relationship between illustrator and art director. Then she told them THEY would be the art director and THEY would tell her what to do.  She did this for every class.  As Patricia drew, the kids told her what sort of hair, clothes etc. to draw. (Unicorn horns were very popular.) Here is some of the art they came up with:

Then she turned the tables, getting the kids to draw what she told them to.

Part of her duties as Illustrator in Residence was to do portfolio reviews one-on-one. She tried to be realistic, telling attendees what they needed to work on. She encountered people who were very talented and was struck by how many talented people are afraid to take the next step.  She wanted to tell them, You know, you’re going to DIE one day! (Something we should all remember when we avoid risk taking.)

The application process for this program will be starting again soon. Sign up for the IBBY Canada Newsletter to get the call for submissions.


Patricia studied graphic design and started out by designing book covers. She got freelance work from her blog, eventually freelancing for Scholastic.  She was asked to redo the Gordon Korman classic, Liar, Liar Pants on Fire, updating the cartoony font.

Her connections at Scholastic helped her to get her first illustration job, a Halloween counting book that came out in 2007.

In terms of her technique, Patricia still hand draws her work, then colours in Photoshop. She did the cover for 13 Ghosts of Halloween first, because the cover is the first thing marking folks need. Because she used watercolour for her original version of the cover, some online versions look washed out. For the final version, she used Photoshop and is much happier with the vibrancy of those colours. 

What makes a great cover? Patricia says one important factor is simplicity of title and message.  You can see this in the two rough concepts she created for Joel Sutherland’s Be a Writing Superstar.

And now the final version:

Patricia feels that certain colours sell better, noting that the blue background of Be a Writing Superstar is very popular.

Patrica gained fame with her books, The Pirate and the Penguin, and especially, Never Let You Go.  Now she says she is starting to have more confidence.  She was very insistent about the cover for Never Let You Go, feeling that it was an iconic image and that nothing else would communicate the mother-child bond so well.  She says it was one of the few times she got her way.


Q: What illustrators inspire you?

A Patricia is having a “Mary Blair love fest.” Mary Blair worked for Disney and did backgrounds for Song of the South and Alice in Wonderland. Patricia wants to experiment more with bright, bright colours.  She admires the cover of Oliver Jeffers new book, which is a gorgeous bright orange.

Q: Hardcover or softcover?

A:  You have to be a big name to get hardcover.  If you’re really good, a paperback will come out after that. Numbers are crunched.

Q: How did you get started in cartooning?

A: Patricia is mostly self-taught, although she was trained in graphic design and has taken classes here and there. 

Q: Other than developing your skill set and having a professional attitude, what do you recommend for aspiring illustrators?

A: Develop a thick skin. Rejection is inevitable.

Neil Gaiman says that there are 3 secret keys to success:  Be nice.  Do good work.  Show up on time.  You only have to do 2 but three is better. Immerse yourself in world of picture books.  Devour everything.  Study the illustrators of the past. Who were Maurice Sendak and Robert McClosky? Then find out how the game has changed.

Author and storyteller Kari-Lynne Winters piped up with the last word: And don’t leave it on your computer.  Submit it!