Behind the Story: Meet the Artist, Benjamin Powell

Benjamin Powell has done an awesome job drawing illustrations for The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, and over the last year, I’ve received lots of compliments on the artwork. During this break between Year 1 and Year 2, I thought I’d interview Benjamin so we could all get to know the man behind the art.

I attempted intelligent questions, though my art-knowledge ended in sixth grade when I realized I wasn’t very good at anything other than perspective drawing—and “good” is a relative term here. So if you have any other questions for Benjamin, please ask in the comments!

1. How long has art been a part of your life? At what point did you decide to pursue a degree or career with it?

I used to draw a lot as a toddler, as most toddlers do. Most of my “work” back then consisted of dragons, knights, aliens, and dinosaurs. In 4th grade or so, I began drawing more actively, to get better at it. My oldest sister was very artistic, and I used to look at her sketchbooks and think, “Man, I want to do that!” I wasn’t very familiar with contemporary or classic fine artists when I was younger; I just drew things I liked, and I did it every day. Peers and teachers recognized my art skills in high school, and my teachers encouraged me to look into universities with good art programs. My parents have always supported my creative interests, and my senior year of high school, I decided to look into the arts at Bowling Green State University. Within the next year, I had passed the portfolio review, got accepted into BGSU, and got my first few portrait commissions.

2. Who’s your favorite artist?

My all-time favorite artist is the French illustrator/painter, Gustave Doré (1832-1883). He is mostly famous for his illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, The Bible, and many fairy tales. If you “Google” his name, you’ll find that his portfolio is truly staggering; he was a busy, busy man. I love his intricate, semi-realistic style, and find it fascinating that he was self-taught for most of his life. He learned from observation and memory, and did artwork to support his family after his father died in 1849. You can find a small collection of his illustrations at this link: http://www.worldofdante.org/gallery_dore.html

3. What is your preferred medium?

I prefer to work with solid, black and white materials such as graphite pencils and charcoal. Aesthetically, it’s hard to describe why I stick with that, but thinking logically, drawing is faster, cheaper, cleaner, and more portable than painting or sculpting. I can appreciate a full-color painting just as much as a B&W drawing, I just enjoy drawing more. I love watching silent films, and their reliance on tone, lighting, and dramatic expressions reminds me of the power one can exert in a single B&W image.

4. What is your preferred subject?

I enjoy drawing anything that places the human figure in a spiritual or supernatural setting. Angels, demons, monsters, transformations, all sorts of dark, creepy, and/or mysterious stuff. The human form is something natural, recognizable. People know it and understand it. I like to change the figure, give it features people don’t know or understand, to spread a message they’ve never heard. Faith is my primary source of topic-matter inspiration, but the narratives behind my work involve personal struggles as much as they involve Bible stories. I merely try to inspire interest in the unseen.

The Sydnee Cameron illustrations are a fun tangent, because the imagery is more “normal,” for lack of better wording. Still, there’s never a dull moment when arranging the compositions, as I strive for a relatable, sentimental feel to the drawings (as opposed to the doomy-gloomy tone of my hobby works). Every now and then, I’m tempted to draw Sydnee as a werewolf or zombie or something, but I’m not sure how you (Sarah) would feel about that…

5. Where do you want this talent/gift to take you?

I want to illustrate books, write and illustrate my own, kickstart a “contemporary renaissance” of Christian and faith-based art (there just isn’t enough “new” Bible art, and that troubles me), possibly work on character designs and storyboards for film companies, and eventually, raise enough money to move to Sweden. Why Sweden? Why not Sweden?

6. What music inspires you? Out of curiosity, is there any music that has inspired the Sydnee Cameron drawings?

I’m a shameless metalhead for the most part, but I’m a very picky metalhead. I’m not a huge fan of metal music with lyrics full of hate and anger, and I prefer bands with a broad scope of dynamics. I like heavy songs and ballads, songs I can sing to and scream along with. Guitar solos and drum breaks, piano melodies and vocal harmonizing. Aside from metal, I enjoy some alternative rock bands, and I love classical music and movie soundtracks. Liszt and Chopin are my favorite piano composers, and Hans Zimmer is my favorite soundtrack composer. I tend to start a night of drawing with some metal, get myself pumped so to speak, and then I listen to something purely instrumental or classical to maintain concentration. To get myself in the right mood to do the Sydnee Cameron drawings, I usually listen to something more cheerful and upbeat, such as Keane or M83.

7. If you could illustrate any novel, which would it be?

I would love to illustrate CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy. They aren’t as well-known as his Narnia books, so I’ve rarely seen any artwork inspired by Out of the Silent Planet and so on. The imagery he creates in the sci-fi stories is wonderful, and I would love to realize his depictions of space and alien encounters. The subject matter of the stories is not far from what I enjoy drawing in the first place, so I could easily incorporate such drawings into the rest of my portfolio.

8. Any advice for aspiring artists?

Nobody is instantly good at making art, and nobody is instantly good at making art about everything. Practice, and start with something you enjoy the most. Draw/paint/sculpt that one thing, all the time, and add to your art subjects little by little. Me, I started with faces. Then I gave those faces entire bodies. Then I put those bodies in elaborate backgrounds. Make what you want to make, and challenge yourself to make that awesome thing even more awesome.

Sometimes, people will make the same type of art as you. That’s why you have to find your style. You want to paint flowers, but so do a lot of other people. So, what makes your flowers your flowers? Find your subject, build it into something unique, and find your style. Even if someone asks you to make something you’re not used to making, find a way to make it yours. Borrow from the methods of your favorite artists, experiment with new materials and see what works best for you.

If you’re working with the human figure, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family members to model for you. Chances are, you’ll get better results from having someone pose for you than you will searching for stock images on Google. And, sometimes, asking someone to pose for you will boost his/her self esteem, which is a nice thing to do.

Selling work is hard, especially when mailing/packaging/shipping is involved. Sometimes, you have to make art as gifts to people before people will see enough of it to want it. Humbleness is good, but if you don’t advertise yourself and show off every now and then, nobody will know what you can do.

Finally, don’t underestimate the functions of art. Art isn’t all about making pretty pictures. It’s all over the place, and can be applied to many aspects of life. It serves as self-expression, preservation of memories, teaching tools, inspiration, encouragement, therapy, etc. Art may not cook food, mow the lawn, or provide shelter to someone, but that doesn’t make it any less useful to the world. Somebody, somewhere, will want what you have to offer, so keep making it!

 

Thank you so much, Benjamin! Your advice is right on for all in the creative arts, including writing and music, and is worth repeating: Find your subject, build it into something unique, and find your style. Even if someone asks you to make something you’re not used to making, find a way to make it yours.

I’ll see what I can do about Sydnee Cameron and werewolves and zombies. :-)

If you want to follow Benjamin’s journey into illustrating, kickstarting a contemporary revival of Christian and faith-based art, character design and storyboard building for film companies, and his eventual move to Sweden, connect with him on Facebook.

Any other questions for Benjamin? Please post in the comments and he’ll answer!

Book Review: Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek

A couple of months ago, I received Jill Osborne’s debut tween novel, Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek. I immediately passed off the books to my oldest two girls. They finished the book in under a week. Sadly, it took me a little longer :-) But here are our reviews:

Rebekah, 13: Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek is about a girl who signs a contract to be the official spokesperson for a shoe company. It doesn’t go as planned. I enjoyed the book. I really liked the fact that it was very unpredictable. I also enjoyed the second book although it was more predictable than the first. I really liked her friend Rusty. I also liked TJ and hope that she’s in the third book.

Elizabeth, 9: I couldn’t put the Riley Mae books down, and I can’t wait until book 3 comes out! I read books 1 and 2. Riley Mae is a shoe girl, but doesn’t like this job. She has to do it for 2 years. She meets a girl named Rusty. I didn’t like everyone being different in the end, but overall I liked it. This is the first chapter book I read on my own.

photo copyMe and author Jill Osborne at Mount Hermon

Sarah, the mom: In Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek, Riley Mae eagerly accepts the role as spokesgirl for a new line of shoes named after herself. But with the opportunity comes sacrifice. The commitment with Swiftriver Shoe Company takes Riley away from the field during softball season, and that strains her relationship with her best friend TJ. And Riley discovers that being a Swiftriver spokesgirl is more exciting and dangerous than anyone ever imagined.

Riley Mae isn’t a short book, but it’s fast-paced. The diverse cast is unique and entertaining—from the goofy but endearing cameraman Flip to temperamental TJ. Jill Osborne does a wonderful job introducing characters and moving the story along at a pace that matches Riley Mae’s personality—energetic and a little impatient. There are several subtle lessons throughout the story that readers may or may not pick up on. My favorite is Riley’s realization that becoming a shoe spokesgirl required giving up softball. A little ironic since she was selling softball cleats! As a person eager to say yes to an opportunity without acknowledging or accepting potential sacrifices, this is a lesson I learn again and again. I’m not sure if my daughters took that away from the story, but if the opportunity arises for any of them to become shoe spokesgirls or any other exciting but time-consuming venture, I will remind them of Riley’s experiences!

The only confusing drawback for me was the girls’ names. So many had boy sounding names—TJ, Riley, Rusty. Reading the back cover copy and listening to my girls discuss the characters, I expected Riley Mae to be a girl with male friends. But in the book itself, the distinction was obvious and not confusing at all.

Over all the story was delightful, fun, and an easy read. It fills a niche for girls who are tomboys but still embrace their femininity. It’s innocent yet still touches on age-appropriate deeper issues like sharing the gospel of Christ with others. If you know a preteen girl who likes to read, she’ll enjoy The Good News Shoes series!

Swimming Through Clouds Giveaway!

Last Friday, I finally read Swimming Through Clouds by Rajdeep Paulus. Though I participated in a blog tour for the release of this book back in June, I didn’t get around to reading it until last week. What was I waiting for? Apparently, I needed a 4-5 hour blog of time to devour the book, because that’s all it took. The story swept me away, and I couldn’t stop reading until I reached the happily—or hopefully—ever after ending.

Not for the faint of heart, Swimming Through Clouds is the intense story of Talia, stuck under the thumb of her insanely-controlling father. One wrong move, and he won’t hesitate to squash her. But hope comes in the form of Lagan, a basketball playing classmate who isn’t scared away by Talia’s withdrawn, anti-social behavior. Instead, he peels back her layers, one sticky note at a time, believing she is worth knowing.

I was crying before I was halfway through this book, and I don’t cry easily. Paulus weaves a beautiful story of a girl finally discovering a hint of sunshine in her storm-cloud existence. Hope finds its way onto the pages despite a hopeless situation. This is a story that will stay with you and change you, from the inside out.

Right now, Rajdeep Paulus is hosting a major giveaway! Here are the details from Raj herself:

 

My favorite season of the year is fall. Not summer with her hot sun and trips to the beach. Not winter with her sled rides and snow angels. Not spring with her rainy days and scent of blossoms.

But fall. With her reds and yellows and oranges swaying on and off branches. Sparkles of floating embers from bonfires in the evenings. And the crunch of leaves beneath my boots on early morning walks. Okay, afternoon walks. You know I’m not a morning person. :)

Talia and Lagan, the main characters in Swimming Through Clouds, met in the fall of their senior year in high school. To celebrate their unforgettably sticky, Post-it love story, I’m declaring fall as the best time to fall in love. :) And no better way to celebrate than with a MEGA-Giveaway with lots of Fun Fall Prizes including a $50 Amazon Gift Card!

Fifteen Winners will win over $150 worth in prizes. You could be one of them! So whatcha waitin’ for? The Swimming Through Clouds family invites you to jump into our pile of prizes and find plenty of ways to rack up your chances to be a winner. See you in November when the Lucky 15 will be announced! Happy Swimming, all!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hugs,

Raj

 

Get in on this! And while you wait for the winners to be announced, read the book!

Book Review: The Christian Girl's Guide to Your Dream Room

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A few weeks ago, I received The Christian Girl’s Guide to Your Dream Room by Sherry Kyle. A fun book for preteen girls, this combination of devotional/Bible study, short stories, quizzes, and DIY room decor ideas is a great resource. As soon as my copy arrived, I handed it off to my two daughters in the target audience, so I haven’t had the chance to give it a thorough reading! Instead, I’ve let my daughters provide a review.

 

Elizabeth, age 9:

This book is great! I love it because the chapters are short. The stories are great. You would really like it if you are 8 or 9. And I like to do crafts. Even though I haven’t finished it yet, it seems like a good book.

 

Elizabeth also worked on the craft project at the end of chapter 1—a diorama of her bedroom.

 

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Rebekah, age 13 (and two weeks):

I read The Christian Girl’s Guide to Your Dream Room. I liked it. There is a Bible story in every chapter, neat crafts for your room, and designs for different stuff. It’s good for preteen girls.

I really enjoyed the quizzes. I learned I like a modern feel and music. I would buy this for a friend.

My thoughts:

From a parent’s perspective, this book has helpful ideas while reminding kids of the need to respect their parents when it comes to decorating. Like the question about not being allowed to paint a room black—I really hope Rebekah took notice of the answer to that one!

Including a heart-issue through the stories, Bible stories, and questions to get girls thinking is a neat touch. However, it surprised me. Probably this is an aspect in all the books of the series, but with this being the first one I’ve looked at, I was surprised by the devotional-like questions in each chapter. I wish that was included in the back-cover copy, because this book is truly more than just a “Guide to Your Dream Room.” It’s also a guide to becoming a Christian young woman.

Because the concept reminded me of the American Girl series on topics like style and friendship, I thought the book might be similar, so I asked Rebekah about that. She says these are very different. Given the depth that the Christian Girl’s Guide goes into thinking about heart-issues, I would definitely recommend choosing this book over a similar title!

Perfect Clouds Blog Tour!

Today I’m hosting two authors who’ve just released two fabulous-sounding books—Laura Kurk and Rajdeep Paulus. If you’ve been following the Perfect Clouds Blog Tour all along, welcome to my blog! If this is the first time you’re hearing about the tour and want in on the fun, you’ll find a complete list of the blog hosts at the end of this post.

 

So let’s get to the good stuff—the books!

 

Swimming Through Clouds-OfficialWithLogoSwimming Through Clouds by Rajdeep Paulus 

 

I live in the in between. Between what if and what is. It’s how I manage. It’s the only way I know. Everyone has their way. This is mine.

 

 

When high school, cell phone disruption forces a classroom ban, the words on a Post-it note spark a sticky romance between two unlikely friends. Transfer student Talia Vanderbilt has one goal at her new school: to blend in with the walls. Lagan Desai, basketball captain and mathlete, would do just about anything to befriend the new girl. One Post-it note at a time, Lagan persuades Talia to peel back her heart, revealing her treasure chest of pain—an absent mother, a bedridden brother, and an abusive father. In a world where hurt is inevitable, the two teens search for a safe place to weather the storms of life. Together.

Post-It Note STC Puzzle:

STC Puzzle Graphic for Sarah Tipton

 

STC quote for Sarah Tipton

 

Fun Facts about Swimming Through Clouds:

 

Rajdeep here: On Dreaming…

 

Talia often dreams at night. Even when she attempts to escape her pain, it returns to her in her sleep as images of her daytime horrors packaged in 3D pictures that wake up to haunt her.

 

When I was younger and a bad dream would jar me awake, I would dread falling back asleep for fear of returning to the world where the Boogie Man lived. The worst reoccurring dream I have involves a fall off a cliff into an endless abyss. I just keep falling and falling and falling until I wake up, gripping my sheets for dear life. Oh, and the one when I’m running late for class and for the life of me, I cannot find the room number on campus, and I end up missing my final and failing the course. Hate that dream!

 

Nowadays, I totally look forward to dreaming. Many of the key scenes of Swimming Through Clouds made their first appearances while my head lay on a pillow. My favorite dream find was the chapter I like to call, “Cucumber confessions.”

 

AMC_8382

 

Rajdeep decided to be a writer during her junior year in high school after her English teacher gave her an “F” but told her she had potential. She studied English Literature at Northwestern University, and she writes masala-marinated, Young Adult Fiction, blogging weekly at InSearchofWaterfalls dot com.

 

 

 

 

Come Hang out with Rajdeep Paulus on:

 

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Goodreads

Pinterest

 

That story sounds intriguing! Definitely in my TBR list! Buy it here:

Smashwords

Amazon

 

Now on to Perfect Glass by Laura Anderson Kurk. Knowing my love of music, Laura tailored her post to that :-)

 

believe me I'd choose the guitar for Sarah Tipton's blog

Behind the Scenes:

Quinn’s Music

 

“Stop it. Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed him. You love Irish music.” Thanet leaned back so he could see my face. He was only smiling a little.

“He’s not Irish music. He’s made of cheese and I’m not trying to talk to him.” 

This is the first time Meg acknowledges the new boy, Quinn, in Perfect Glass. One of the things that makes her curious about him is his indie band front man image—dark skinny jeans, short black boots, longish dark hair, and the stooped shoulders of a sensitive soul. Is he a poet? Is he a songwriter? Or is he made of cheese?

Turns out, music is an incredibly important part of who Quinn is. His favorites are bands from Ireland—like Stand and Little Green Cars. But he also likes indie and alternative rock from the U.S. He gives a shout out to Houston’s indie band Castle Lights when he admits his ex-girlfriend burned his favorite Castle Lights t-shirt in his yard.

Quinn played with a band in Rhode Island as a guitarist and singer, and probably penned a few songs for them. He hasn’t been able to find anyone in Wyoming who shares his love of folk / indie rock / alternative music.

Until he meets Meg.

Have you ever been drawn to a guy because he shared your taste in music?

 

today's secret letter is E for Sarah Tipton's blog

Perfect Glass for blog posts

 

About Perfect Glass:

 

Things get messy when Meg Kavanagh gets involved—first with Jo Russell, the eccentric old artist, and then with Quinn O’Neill, the intriguing loner who can’t hide how he feels about Meg. Her senior year isn’t turning out like she planned it, but sometimes the best parts of life happen in the in-between moments. And Henry will be home soon, right?

 

He commits to one year in an orphanage that needs him more than he ever dreamed. Thousands of miles from Meg and the new punk who has fallen for her, and absent from the ranch that’s in his blood, Henry Whitmire finds out what it means to trust. When you’re so far from home, it’s terrifying to realize you’re not who you thought. But the perfect glass of calamity makes the best mirror.

 

An identity crisis, long distance love, new temptation, and growing pains teach Henry and Meg how to hang onto each other and to what really matters.

 

From YA author Laura Anderson Kurk comes the sequel to Glass Girl, a lyrical, multi-generational story about love that teaches, loss that haunts empty rooms, and reunions that feel like redemption.

 

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Laura Anderson Kurk writes unconventional and bittersweet contemporary YA. Her debut novel, Glass Girl, and its sequel, Perfect Glass, are available now from Playlist Young Adult Fiction. Laura lives in Texas with her husband and two children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where to buy Perfect Glass:

 

Amazon

Smashwords

 

Where to find Laura:

 

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Pinterest

Playlist Fiction

Goodreads

Amazon author page

 

Don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for fabulous prize packages from both authors!

RAFFLECOPTER CODE:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Make sure to follow the tour to its next stop!

PERFECT CLOUDS Tour Stops:

Saturday, June 1 –  Laura Anderson Kurk 

Sunday, June 2 –  Rajdeep Paulus

Monday, June 3 –  Melanie Brasher

Tuesday, June 4 –  Tessa Emily Hall

Wednesday, June 5 –  Melissa Tagg

Thursday, June 6 –  ReganStar McBeigh

Friday, June 7 –  April Hamrick

Monday, June 10 –  Diana Garner

Tuesday, June11 –  Stephanie Karfelt

Wednesday, June 12 – Bethany Baldwin

Thursday, June 13 –  Kim Vandel

Friday, June 14 –  Sarah Tipton ⬅YOU ARE HERE!

Monday, June 17 –  Jennifer Watrous

Tuesday, June 18 – Marni Jarman

Wednesday, June 19 –  Peggy Warren

Thursday, June 20 –  Bethany Jett

Friday, June 21 –  Amy Leigh Simpson

Monday, June 24 –  Summer Andrews

Tuesday, June 25 –  Arlette Geuverink

Wednesday, June 26 – Jennifer Murgia

Thursday, June 26 – JoJo Sutis