The Art of the Interview

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Being asked to give interviews is flattering and exciting: it’s a testament to your acceptance and importance in the field. For new authors and illustrators, it represents a milestone of achieving hard earned recognition now that you are published.

To interview well is an art. Depending on who you are and what your books are about, interviews can feel like easy, comfortable chats or can be complex or challenging. The good news is that being in the entertainment and education business, you’re much less likely to face hardcore investigative or hostile questions. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity to be interviewed should be taken lightly. If you want to get the most out of the experience, you should put a process in place to go into each interview well prepared.

Start by recognizing that each interview will be different in format, length, tone, and the dynamic that exists between you and the interviewer.

Print and online interviews are often the easiest because you have a set of written questions provided and can take the time you need to give thorough and thoughtful answers. The key here is to be prompt in responding, ideally no more than a few days. If you can’t, let the reporter know how soon you will be able to reply and make sure to do so. Also, if you have one or two additional questions you’d like to answer, or anything you don’t want to discuss, let the reporter know. Remember to provide supplementary material – photos, links, contact information – when you send in your answers so everything’s at hand when the story gets compiled.

Radio interviews, which can be done by phone or in-studio, provide an opportunity for comfortable conversation. Still, the casualness of the format can lead to sloppiness if you’re not mindful of time length and what information you want to make sure to cover. Start by making sure to provide the producer or host with your book and biographical information, as well as website links, book trailer and cover art jpegs that can be used to feature you on their show’s website. Then make sure you ask for information about format: the length of the segment, who will interview you and, if it’s live, whether there will be call-ins or anyone else on with you during the segment. If you’re calling in, find out whether you should call at the stated time or if they want you on the line a few minutes ahead. Prepare a bulleted cheat sheet that you can glance at to make sure you have any key reference information and reminders on what you want to discuss. At the same time, make sure you’re giving your full attention to the interviewer and responding comfortably to questions you’re asked.

TV and other face-to-face interviews take more preparation because you need to think about how you look as well as what you’re saying. If you’re doing the interview remotely, you also need to consider what’s behind you that viewers can see and make sure that the lighting’s flattering and nothing’s distracting or odd seeming in the background. With audio and video broadcast, it’s very important to keep a close eye on the time and with that in mind, say your piece succinctly and then stop, so the interviewer knows you’re ready to move on. Know too that it’s often good to pause before answering, particularly if you’re nervous, to give yourself a chance to compose your answer and to avoid run-on answers that can result from being uncomfortable in the spotlight. With television, it’s also important to maintain good eye contact with the interviewer and avoid looking at the camera or monitors.

That said, be aware that there will be times that you’ll be caught off-guard in an interview. It’s useful, particularly when preparing for a live interview, to having someone do a mock one in advance with you asking a mix of easy and hard questions, so you know what may come up and can think ahead how you want to answer. If you’re dealing with a difficult or controversial subject, you should acknowledge the question asked and reply to the degree you’re comfortable, but also have a way to segue to something valuable that you want to impart.

Overall, the key to interviewing well is preparing ahead and gaining experience – the more you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel.

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New York’s Art Students League in Battle over Air Rights Decision

English: Looking north across 57th St at Art S...

English: Looking north across 57th St at Art Students League of New York on a sunny afternoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Creative space is sacred to an artist. So, it’s not surprising that passions have flared on West 57th Street in New York at the prospect of change adjacent to—and cantilevered over—the site of the famed Art Students League. The 140-year-old nonprofit art school “that counts Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keeffe and Mark Rothko among its alumni” is, according to The New York Times, the scene of a “battle being fought between the school’s leadership and a faction of its 3,945 voting members” over the granting of air rights to build, in part, above the school.

On paper, the deal looks good for the Art Students League, which has negotiated to be paid close to $32 million in return for granting air rights—the right to build in the empty space above a piece of property—to Extell Development Company, which intends to build “one of the tallest residential towers in the world” next door.

The League administration’s plan, according to the petition that was circulated earlier this year to gain support for the decision, is to allow Extell to “build a cantilever some 30 stories above the League and 6,000 square feet of air rights.” Then, they’ll use that money in the arts building to add floors, additional studios, unveil skylights that have been covered up, and to restoring “gallery space and the library.” Their board also sees this as a way to provide the League “a strong foundation for a capital fundraising campaign to pay for the expansion.” Further, they want to have money to use to “keep tuition low, and augment the League’s endowment to serve future generations of students.”

The dissenting group, which is called ASL 2025, has also expressed dissatisfaction with the school’s president, ­­­­­­­­Salvatore Barbieri, claiming that he has “ruled by fiat, making up the rules as he goes along.” Led by Marne Rizika, a painter and printmaker, and Richard Caraballo, a graphic designer, ASL 2025 claims there have also been “efforts to intimidate and stifle any dissent.”

In return, according to the Times, President Barbieri, has called the attacks a “classic pattern of amateurish slanderous writing” filled with “false and distorted allegations without supporting facts.” And the institution’s lawyers have said, “Under Mr. Barbieri’s tenure, the league is in better financial shape than it has ever been…. Its prospects for longevity and the ability to educate artists for generations to come have never been brighter.”

But that’s not the way Rizika and Caraballo see it. “The sense of collegiality that formerly existed between art students, instructors and administrators, in an ‘open-door’ policy, has disappeared,” said Ms. Rizika, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Barbieri for the presidency several weeks ago, “and been replaced with autocratic rule, which has included hiring armed guards for members’ meetings.

“The opponents agree that overturning the sale itself is impossible. The purpose of the suit, Mr. Caraballo said, is to challenge the way the 2014 vote approving the deal was conducted.”

Today, the League remains an institution run by artists for artists. They follow in the footsteps of the many famous artists who have “shaped the vocabulary of art worldwide, [and] have been instructors, lecturers and students at the League. They include, among many others, Thomas Hart Benton, Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Red Grooms, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Ben Shahn and Cy Twombly.” Hopefully, the two sides can reach a comfortable agreement soon. Perhaps it can help to recall what Paul Klee once said about his art space: “All is well with me. The rain doesn’t reach me, my room is well heated, what more can one ask for?”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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How to Storyboard for Hollywood and TV: Robert Castillo

Robert Castillo, Award-winning Director, Animator, Storyboard Artist

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I was born with a pencil in my hand, or so the story goes!  Ever since I can remember drawing has been a vital part of my life.  It’s something I have been doing all my life. Drawing was the tool which helped me communicate with others. In 1977 when I stepped off the plane from Santo Domingo, I knew not a word of English and drawing was how I communicated.  I was born here in the United States, but was raised in the island of Santo Domingo and did not speak English.

My family has stories of me drawing on walls; on the furniture and doodling on my father’s college books.  In school, I was constantly in hot water because all I wanted to do was draw.

Today, I still draw. I am a Storyboard Artist. My job is to take a script and a story and illustrate it and bring it to life! I meet with the director and try to see what is in his head. A storyboard is similar to a Comic Book, where you have sequential images that tell a story. I love movies and I love to draw so I am very happy doing what I do.

For people interested in doing Storyboards, the first thing I would suggest is putting up an easy-to-navigate website that shows your best storyboard work. If you do not have any professional experience yet, just put up any samples that you do have. When a client calls, be honest with them if they ask you what project the sample work is from. If it is not from an actual job, then just say so. Do not let your lack of experience become an issue. Try to promote yourself and find an agent if you can. There are agencies like Storyboards Inc. or Famous Frames that are always looking for new talent. Storyboard agents are not absolutely necessary. It depends on what city you live in. If you are in a smaller market town, you may want to have an agent to see if it works for you.

Professional storyboard artists charge $600 per day and higher. It is up to you to know the value of your work. Rates are listed in The Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. It is published every year by the Graphic Artists Guild. When a client contacts you about your rates, get all the details you can and be able to tell the client how many frames you are able to do in a day or how long it will take you to complete the project. Negotiating the rate is something that you will have to get a personal feel for, and finally you have to draw well, so whenever you get a chance practice your story boarding skills. There are many books and videos out there full of useful information. Many DVDs also have special features, and of course the web is full of resources and examples.

Robert Castillo is a Storyboard Artist who lives in New Jersey and works in New York City. He graduated with honors from The Art Institute of Boston and has a Master’s Degree in Computer Arts from The School of Visual Arts.

As a storyboard artist, Robert has created boards for films including Lee Daniel’s “Precious”, the Christopher Reeve’s directed animation Everyone’s Hero, Queen Latifahs “The Cookout” and “Perfect Holiday” and the award-winning cable television programs  The Sopranos, and Smash.

 He has also done music videos for Alicia Keys, Ja Rule, Kid Rock, Lauren Hill and Don Omar; commercials for Phat Farm, Adidas, And 1; as well as promo work and music videos for MTV, Nickelodeon’s Ironman, Fuse, VH1, Court TV and ESPN.

His talent has been recognized with various awards and honors, including L. Ron Hubbard’s Illustrators of the Future and The Student Academy Awards in 2004 for his short film S.P.I.C. The Storyboard of My Life which has screened in fourteen festivals including Cannes and The Museum of Modern Art.  In 2005, S.P.I.C. had a special screening at TIME Magazine in New York and at Walt Disney Studios.  Robert has also lectured on “The Art of Storyboards” at NYU Tisch and Jersey City University.

Robert has given back by auctioning his artwork for The John Starks Foundation as well as Project Sunshine.   He also volunteers his time with The Ghetto Film School in the Bronx,  Mount Sinai Hospital and The Automotive High School of  Brooklyn.

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Introducing Modern Art to Preschoolers: “Mousterpiece”

Jane Breskin Zalben. Author/Artist

1. How can your books be used to teach a love of art (Mousterpiece) and performing (Four Seasons)?

I have been told that both are perfect venues to teach the love of art and music. All I can say is that if you do something that it meaningful, write about it, and it comes through to the reader, then in essence, it teaches a lesson and shows without telling in a heavy-handed way what it means to be an artist, to do what has meaning in life, to make a life of art. Art was always my life since I was little. I think that comes through in Mousterpiece. It is who I am. It is who the little mouse, Janson, is. She discovers what it is to be a true artist. I also played the piano as a child. In the same vein, Ally, the main character in Four Seasons: A novel in four movements based on the seasons of Vivaldi’s sonata, is a child piano prodigy at Julliard in New York City and learns to discover, like Janson, (I just realized this link!) what it means to be a true artist for herself. I was not a child prodigy, but my younger son went to Juilliard as a violinist and composer for nine years as a child so I knew my “material” to say the least.

2. What do you see as connecting threads in your work?

The common thread is emotion. I do not avoid inner feelings and how people interact or relate to each other, whether it is for young children or young adults. We are complex human beings whether we are three or eighty-three. Some of us just choose to forget or deny the inner workings of who we are. I like to tap into and remember those feelings of separation anxiety or fear or heartbreak, and of course, empathy and love.

3. How does your work as an artist inform your book publishing?

Well, I am an artist – a painter – who happens to do books and am passionate about the form and structure of a book as an art object. I loved slip-cased books, books tied with silk ribbons, ragged thick paper on the trim, marbleized endpapers, embossed cloth bindings, vellum over a title page – that is why I originally fell in love with bookmaking. Of course books look different now, and that challenge I appreciate as well. Every detail down to the spacing of the typography on the page. Now, I like experimenting more in a book. With both the ideas and the materials used. I have done work on the computer, overlays like an animation, mixed media, collage, but in the end for me there is nothing like the water color on a gorgeous piece of paper painting with a triple zero brush taking my time with my nose to the surface for hours hunched over a drafting table! I consider it “serious business” and don’t take lightly the years spent on creating a book. I have done around 50 books – all kinds – and I like to push myself as an artist and a person to experiment and challenge myself to do something I haven’t done before. To grow.

4. Do you cross-promote the two?

I try, but it is almost like two different fields with different editors with their own passions. Some are better at novels, while others at a shorter form. I love music. Many people have mentioned it enters a lot of my work, in timing, space and intensity. I have used it in both age groups – novels and picture books. Sometimes people know me as a young adult / middle-grade author, and most know me as a picture book author/artist. I began my life as an artist, but felt I needed to say more so I began to write novels when my children were little and napped. I had stopped doing picture books for a few years to get away from all that! They no longer are small; I feel even more intense now about writing novels. The link between the two is that in a novel you are there visually with the characters, and in a way, it is like doing art. I disappear into another place that feels real in that fictional world. I love being in it and feel consumed by writing the story when I am working on a novel, like Four Seasons (Knopf 2011) which took about 3 or so years, and Leap (Knopf) before that, which I developed into a screenplay – another visual form with dialogue. I have had eight published between doing the picture books.

5. Is there an art technique you’ve learned recently that you’d be willing to share tips on?

I have experimented so much in these last ten years with so many different techniques that I find it actually interesting. I get bored when I look at some illustration work and the style is the same again and again. For me, it personally shows no growth. I know people often want the same old thing from an artist, but for an artist, that is not always exciting.

What is exciting is the journey, the process of working, revising, and knowing there is never an end because even when the book is done, it could always be redone in another way. There is a time though, you have to say, move on to the next one.

As a former art director, teacher at the School of Visual Arts, chair of the Society of Illustrators, I can say I have seen a lot of techniques, and in the final analysis the tip is what works for the individual. There are no rules. The key is to wake up and do what you love and keep trying to make it better. I think that is the plight of the artist. The process. The work. The time alone in a room to create.

Jane Breskin Zalben the author/artist of more than 50 children’s books. She’s just published “Mousterpiece: a mouse-sized guide to modern art,” which is receiving starred reviews. Her young adult novel, “Four Seasons” had jacket blurbs from Judy Blume and Gordan Korman and fan e-mails from Bunnicula author, James Howe. She travels around the U.S. and abroad to talk about her children’s books.

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If you draw well, you’ll work: Phyllis Pollema-Cahill

Phyllis Pollema-Cahill, children’s book illustrator

What’s made the most difference in your career success?
A mentor told me years ago that if I could learn to draw the figure well, then I’d always have work. Drawing the figure well takes a lifetime, but I think he was right. Other things are: just plain hard work, marketing myself, always trying to do my best, meeting deadlines and being easy to work with.

What organizations do you find useful and would be accessible to newcomers?

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) without a doubt. The information they offer in their newsletters and at conferences is invaluable, plus you can make wonderful new friends and contacts.

What are common pitfalls in managing your time and career?
It took me a while to get over this one, but fear which causes procrastination was a big pitfall. I could find a million things to do before doing creative work. “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron was a big help to me. Another pitfall is being too focused on day-to-day business instead of planning for the future. I’m still working on that one.

Where do you see growth potential in the field now?
It seems publishing apps is creating a lot of interest now. I’m doing more digital art and learning about apps. There’s a lot of growth potential in new technology.

Phyllis Pollema-Cahill has been illustrating for children full-time since 1995, after working for many years as a graphic designer. Her degree is in illustration from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver. She’s illustrated over fifty books for children and regularly illustrates for children’s magazines. She loves to draw people and research different cultures and historical periods. A step-by-step demonstration of how she works can be seen at www.phylliscahill.com. Also see her Great Sites for Art Directors and Editors and Great Sites for Children’s Authors and Illustrators. Some of her clients include: Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, Scott Foresman, Scholastic, Zaner-Bloser, Highlights for Children and Spider. She lives in the Colorado mountains with her husband and two cats.

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Learn medical animation: XVIVO

Michael Astrachan, President and Creative Director, XVIVO LLC

XVIVO art and animation

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How did you get started in medical animation?

While I was in school at UConn I started airbrushing t-shirts and started selling them at craft shows and then at malls. All the time I continued to study and did the airbrushing and t-shirts for ten years. I also sold at fairs, like the North Haven (Agricultural) Fair. After ten years, I was totally burned out from being on my feet all the time and from the fumes. So, about 15 years ago, I started pursuing computer animation, which was a young field at the time.

To find clients, I began calling video production studios and small agencies. I became friends with a lot of people I was working with and for some unknown reason I started to get a lot of medical clients. So with medical, I just followed it and taught myself and consulted with others to learn what I needed to know. While doing all that, I also continued my art training.

What differentiates you and your company?

One thing that differentiated me was that I didn’t have a fear of failure or of trying new things. I always believed I’d figure out what I needed to know. It’s one of the things I think can be a big problem for people, which is that they look at something new and think, “I don’t know how to do that,” and then won’t push themselves to learn. Then they blame the rest of the world for not being able to get ahead with what they want to do, but if they open their minds they might find that there is an opportunity that they are missing.

When I started in animation, I was married, had a child, and had to learn a whole new career. To succeed, I knew I had to make myself visible and indispensable – whether I was working for myself or for someone else. The first job I had, I started out as an intern and did just this, I worked weekends help to get the company awarded some jobs and I was quickly hired and went on to become lead animator. As always I pushed myself to do new things and improve my work.

Now, with my company, XVIVO, we continue that tradition by looking for ways to make our process more efficient. After projects we do postmortems to see what we could have done better. We constantly review, reexamine and evolve our processes.

Are there opportunities you’d suggest to people entering the field?

Medical animation is a growing field and great for those who are good artists and have an interest in science. You need good composition, editing and design skills as well as good training in traditional art and painting. I think that having a solid foundation in art is good for anything visual – illustration, working with images, website design, etc.

People interested in pursuing this field can look for specialized graduate programs, and there are some undergrad programs out there as well.

What networking tips would you recommend to find opportunities in medical animation?

Networking is so important. The Association of Medical Illustrators, is a great resource for those wanting to learn about the field. It’s the place where you can meet others who are doing similar work and it is a great resource. To find business, you’d want to look at medical ad agencies, video production agencies, and pharmaceutical companies. Interning is a good way to go, but know it can take a couple years to break in.

My advice to people pursuing the arts is to work hard, stay focused, look for new opportunities and don’t get discouraged. Don’t be afraid to approach people and sell yourself. Making connections is what it’s all about.

Michael Astrachan has been involved in the visual arts for over twenty-five years and is one of the founders of XVIVO LLC, a leader in the field of scientific animation.  As president and head of the creative team at XVIVO, Michael brings to animation a sophisticated knowledge of artistic naturalism, grounded in strong technique. Michael draws upon his extensive fine arts background and leads his team to develop visually compelling animations of scientific content. XVIVO was recently selected by The International Academy of Visual Arts to receive a 2012 Communicator Award. XVIVO clients have included Amgen, Bayer, Disney, GlaxoSmithKline, Harvard, HBO, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, NOVA, PBS, Smithsonian, TEDMED, and Yale University.

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How Do You Draw a Maze? Ask Roxie Munro!

Roxie Munro, Illustrator (publications, books and apps) and amazing Maze Artist

Learn the art of maze drawing from artist and amazing maze maker, Roxie Munro. Inspired by art, nature, architecture and design, Roxie’s mazes are found in paintings, murals, books, and now apps. She shares her design process and arts business tips here.

How to make a Geometric Maze

How to make a Random Roxie Reversing Maze

What’s made the most difference in your career success?

Tenaciousness.

What do you advise newcomers?

Don’t feel entitled. It’s not easy, so you have to work very hard and not give up.

Dos & Don’ts about the arts business?

Be on time. Don’t burn your bridges. Don’t be high maintenance. Be generous to others. Don’t dwell on rejection.

Roxie Munro is the author/illustrator of more than 35 children’s books, including Mazescapes; Inside-Outside Books: New York City (New YorkTimes Best Illustrated Award), Washington DC, Texas, London, Paris, Libraries and Dinosaurs; EcoMazes (School Library Journal Star; Smithsonian’s Best Science Book for Children); and Hatch! (Outstanding Science Trade Book, NSTA/CBC; Bank Street College Best Books of 2012/Outstanding Merit).  Her books have been translated into French, Italian, Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese. Apps: “Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure” and “Roxie’s DOORS.” Out Oct 2012: K.I.W.i.StoryBooks (Kids Interactive Walk-in Story Books). Out 2013: Slithery Snakes.

She has been a working artist all her life, including freelancing in Washington DC as a television courtroom artist. Clients included CBS, Washington Post, and Associated Press. The New Yorker published fourteen covers. She also creates oils, watercolors, prints, and drawings, exhibited widely in museums and galleries.

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8 Networking Tips for Artists: Scott Daros

Scott Daros, Animator/Illustrator

What networking tips would you give to someone just starting out?

  • Ask for introductions from professionals in your field.
  • Get into art shows.
  • Meet people face-to-face. I’ve also had tons of luck networking online.
  • Make a website! You MUST have your work online.
  • Don’t be ashamed to show off.
  • Create a blog and update it regularly.
  • Join and be an active member of sites that discuss your area of expertise.
  • YouTube, Vimeo, Behance, LinkedIn are great sites for networking, getting feedback, and sharing your work.

How did you set prices for your projects early on?

I asked other illustrators and animators who were more experienced. There’s also a great book called Pricing & Ethical Guidelines that will give an artist an excellent idea of how much his or her time is worth.

What was the best advice you got when starting out?

Make time to keep up with the artistic projects you truly enjoy. Getting paid to be an artist is great but it can be exhausting and frustrating. It’s important to still do the creative things you did for fun before you decided to make it a career. After a long day of animating I like to sit down and draw some silly comics.

Any resources you’d recommend to others to learn about animation?

I’d recommend both StopMotionAnimation and AnimateClay.

Scott Daros is a stop-motion animator for the Adult Swim television series Robot Chicken and the CollegeHumor web series Dinosaur Office. Before moving to Los Angeles, he earned his BFA in Illustration from the University of Connecticut where he dabbled in animation prior to graduation. His subsequent job in a local advertising department got him interest in stop-motion animation, and he went on to work Michael Bannon who founded his own stop-motion studio, “Wreckless Abandon”. While helping Bannon create animated advertisements, Daros was taught “everything he needed to know” about stop-motion animation to go out on his own. 

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Art success do’s and don’ts: Steve Light

Steve Light, Illustrator/Author Storyteller

Don’t give up and certainly don’t give up too early. I’ve seen better artists than me give up on their art within a year of graduating. That’s too early! Be very tenacious and be very determined and you will succeed. This has paid off for me. I have some real momentum now. I enjoy telling stories and there’s a lot of opportunity out there. My career and work just keeps getting better. I feel really blessed. –Steve Light

What made the most difference in your career and what do you advise newcomers?

When I just started doing the work for me. Doing the work that I love, knowing someone else will love it also. I stopped chasing work and started producing work I love and then showing it to people.

Never, ever, ever, ever give up. Do what you love and do not listen to the naysayers.

 Do it because it is your passion.
 Don’t do it because you want to get rich over night.

 Do be kind to everyone you meet.
 Don’t underestimate anyone.

Do surround yourself with people that can help you.
Don’t stay around anyone that is negative or brings you down or does not share your passion or vision.

Do work hard—draw EVERY DAY!
Don’t get lazy or think it will be handed to you.

Do the art, if you are good at the business then do the business part—if you are not good at the business part, then let someone else do it for you.
Don’t spend all your time promoting or running the business part—your time should be spent doing the art!

I think Facebook, Twitter, a blog and a website are invaluable tools. A hand written note is also very powerful. Special interest forums can really help spread the word.

Steve Light grew up in an enchanted place known as New Jersey. He went on to study Illustration at Pratt Institute, he also studied with Dave Passalacqua. Upon graduating he did some corporate illustrations for companies such as: AT&T, Sony Films, and the New York Times Book Review. Steve Light then went on to design buttons that were acquired by the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.

He has published 12 children’s books by Abrams, Candlewick Press and Chronicle Books. Steve’s books include: I am Happy, Puss in Boots, The Shoemaker Extraordinaire, Uncle Sam, Trucks Go, Trains Go and The Christmas Giant. As well as 2 Hello Kitty books that he engineered. “Zephyr Takes Flight” will be out in October as well as Diggers Go soon after. Steve Light has also had his Steve Light Storyboxes produced by Guidecraft. Teachers, Parents and Children can use the props in a storybox to tell a story. Steve loves to draw and sharing his art and stories with children.

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