Wednesday, February 3, 2016

smart gators for Illustration Friday and a recent middle grade read

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is: smart. There's nothing smarter than a swamp full of gators, right?


Shona loves math and dreams in equations. Lilly loves to read, especially about the weather (she wants to be a meteorologist, just in case the groundhogs all disappear*). Boris is a master chef, always taking food to the next level. FYOS (For Your Own Safety), stay away from Boris when he's hungry ... Boris is ALWAYS hungry.

* There used to be groundhogs living near the swamp. Boris claims he doesn't know why there are no more groundhogs in the area. Lilly has doubled her efforts to learn about the weather before the next Groundhog Day rolls around. (Hoping the groundhogs are right about an early spring this year!)

Recent Read** I loved - 
Middle Grade Novel: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste - Are you in the mood for a scary story about spirits that haunt the forest? If so, pick up The Jumbies! Corinne La Mer isn't afraid of anything, not even jumbies. Then she sees yellow eyes that follow her in the forest and a mysterious stranger shows up at her house. Are jumbies real? Are they out to get Corinne and her father? This book will have you flipping pages to find out what happens, but you might not want to read it late at night, especially if you're all alone. Loved this book! Just the right amount of scary, and a really great story.

** Note: Recent = books read the day of, the week before, or within the last year or so, but usually that month. Unless stated otherwise, all books were purchased by me, given to me as gifts by family or friends (not the authors or illustrators), or checked out of the library.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

dance party, orbit for illustration friday, and a recent picture book read

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is: orbit. Since I just did an outer space / orbit picture for the IF prompt moon, I thought I'd bring orbit down to Earth this time for a dance party. This girl* is dancing in an orbit around her music:


* This may or may not be me dancing to 80s music during the blizzard this past weekend.

Recent Read* I loved - 
Picture Book: Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Lauren Tobia - This is a really neat picture book about how amazing our skin is and how it's something we all have in common. “It keeps the outsides out/ and your insides in.” Kids are curious about everything, including their skin. Happy in Our Skin is a good introduction to the function skin has. It's also about families and how wonderful it is to be yourself. The text is fun to read and the gorgeous art provides lots to look at and discover, as well as a diverse cast of characters.

* Note: Recent = books read the day of, the week before, or within the last year or so, but usually that month. Unless stated otherwise, all books were purchased by me, given to me as gifts by family or friends (not the authors or illustrators), or checked out of the library.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

you spin me round - spin for if and a recent graphic novel read

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is: spin. What do you think of when you hear the word spin? I thought of several things that spin, but two I couldn't get out of my mid were someone spinning on skated and a record (or these days, a CD). Once I thought about a record spinning, I thought of an 80's song by Dead Or Alive - You Spin Me Round (Like A Record).

I started sketching, and this happened:


Look, it's a girl on skates spinning round like a record (literally spinning on a record) and singing along with the Dead Or Alive song!

Recent Read* I loved - 
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson - This seemed like the perfect book to go with my drawing this week. Astrid and Nicole have been best friends for most of their lives. They do everything together, or at least they did, until Astrid signs up for roller derby camp and Nicole goes to dance camp. Roller Girl is about growing up and growing apart, figuring out where you fit in, and navigating old and friendships. This graphic novel has a great middle grade voice in both the story and art. Crossing my fingers that author/artist Victoria Jamieson creates more graphic novels in the future! p.s. Happy to say that Roller Girl won a 2016 Newbery honor!
Graphic Novel:

* Note: Recent = books read the day of, the week before, or within the last year or so, but usually that month. Unless stated otherwise, all books were purchased by me, given to me as gifts by family or friends (not the authors or illustrators), or checked out of the library.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

a robot, alligator, chicken and bunny stranded on a tropical island, ala awards, and a recent PB read

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is: tropical. When I read the topic, I had a different drawing idea, but then the week got crazy. I didn't have a chance to draw until today, which is when I came up with a new idea (a robot on a tropical island). Though I think the idea might have occurred to me a couple of times earlier this week, but I dismissed it as too weird. Today, however, it seemed just right. So, here's my robot stranded on a tropical island, with an alligator, a bunny, and a chicken (but maybe not for long - there's a plane flying by):


Not sure I'd want to be stranded on a tropical island with an alligator, though this one does seem friendly (then again, I bet a lot of alligators seem friendly right before they eat you).

If I were stranded on a tropical island, I'd want to have some books with me, or a robot that liked telling stories. Speaking of stories, on Monday, the American Library Association announced the 2016 youth media award winners. Lots of excellent books won awards this year, and a picture book (Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson) won the Newbery award, and also a Caldecott honor! It's a wonderful book. I enjoyed it last year when it came out, and I'm looking forward to reading it again.

Recent Read* I loved - 
Picture Book: NUGGET and FANG, Friends Forever - or Snack Time? by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Michael Slack - Can a shark and a minnow be friends? Do sharks always eat fish? This picture book is a fun new take on that age old question, with fun to read text, hilarious illustrations, and characters you won't soon forget. (This was a re-read. Enjoyed reading Nugget and Fang's story again.)

* Note: Recent = books read the day of, the week before, or within the last year or so, but usually that month. Unless stated otherwise, all books were purchased by me, given to me as gifts by family or friends (not the authors or illustrators), or checked out of the library.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

cow jumps over the moon, personal art themes, illustration friday, and recent reads

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is: moon. My first thought was the cow jumps over the moon. I love drawing cows and I make children's books, so it's an obvious fit. However, I've drawn lots of cows jumping over the moon over the years.* So, this time I decided to give the cow a rocket ship to fly over the moon!


It originally was going to be an ink drawing with digital color. Then I decided to play with watercolor crayons, which was fun, but not quite right. That was when the acrylic paints came out to add a final layer over the watercolor crayon. It scanned so much darker than the original! This is my first cow painting of the year! (I've also done another non-cow painting this year.)

* Artists sometimes have themes or subjects that they keep coming back to. Cows are a particular favorite of mine (I still like drawing/painting them, even after I drew a cow a day for a year). There's also something I'm drawn to about the idea of a cow jumping over the moon, so I continue to revisit that subject (as well as pictures of cows at night with the moon in the background, even if they aren't jumping over it). Here are a few other images I've created in the past of cows jumping over the moon (only a few - there are more!):

2003 Nursery Rhyme Cow (from the year I drew a cow a day):


2005 - Super Cow (I was thinking about how it was possible for a cow to jump over the moon - clearly the cow needed to have super powers):


2009 - Moon Cows (This was a sketch I drew for a picture book with a cow, that ended up being a picture book about a chicken instead.):


2011 - Cow Jumps Over The Earth (I was thinking about the nursery rhyme again, and how it would be possible for a cow to jump over the moon. I decided to have the cow jumping ON the moon, and therefore, it would be jumping over the Earth.)


What subjects or themes do you return to in your writing or art?

Recent Reads: After my last post about my 2015 book stats, I wanted to talk more about the books I'm reading and loving, or ones I've read in the recent past that I love** (so many good books to talk about). Note: Recent = books read the day of, the week before, or within the last year or so, but usually that month.

Currently Reading -  DEAR GENIUS, The Letters Of Ursula Nordstrom, collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus: a fascinating look at one of the great editors of children's books, who helped to shape the books kids read, and who edited many of the books and authors/illustrators that are still read today.



Recent Reads I loved -
Picture Book: THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY by Kate Beaton - A story about a princess who wants a horse to help her do battle in her kingdom of warriors. She gets a tiny round pony instead. It's not easy to get a gift you don't want, but then again, maybe the gift pony will surprise you.



Middle Grade: SHADOWS OF SHERWOOD by Kekla Magoon - A fun new take on the Robin Hood story, with a wonderful girl named Robyn who must learn quickly how to survive on her own, figure out who are friends vs. foes, help the people of Sherwood survive, and piece together clues left by her parents. This is the start of a new series and I can't wait for the next book! I've never been a Robin Hood fan, but that's because I hadn't met the right Robyn yet.




 SERPENTINE by Cindy Pon - This is another story set in Ciny Pon's world of Xia. (Note: you don't have to read her first two books to enjoy this one, but you might want to after reading Serpentine.) Skybright is a handmaid and companion to a girl in a wealthy family. They're both growing up and testing the bond they have together, at the same time that Skybright learns that she's not who she thinks she is. A story full of demons, secrets, and the possibility of love. It's also the start of a new series. Can't wait for the next book!
Young Adult:



** Unless stated otherwise, all books were purchased by me, given to me as gifts by family or friends (not the authors or illustrators), or checked out of the library.

Friday, January 1, 2016

reading in 2015 - book stats and book favorites

Book Reading Goals for 2015: 1. Read more. 2. Write down all books read.

Pretty sure I read more than in 2014 (don't have 2014 totals, but it seems like I read more in 2015). I managed to write down most of the books I read too.

2015 Book Reading Stats:

20 Board Books

42 Picture Books*

1 Easy Reader

6 Chapter Books

29 Middle Grade Novels

22 YA Novels

10 Graphic Novels

2 Memoirs

2 Adult Books

Total = 134 books!*

* There were a few (or more?) picture books I read that I know I forgot to write down.

Note: There were also six books I didn't finish (they weren't the right books for me at the time, though I may have enjoyed them at a different time), and one book I wish I hadn't read (book pubbed several years ago - some people might like it; wasn't for me).

2015 Favorites:
I thought I'd pick a few favorites, but in the end, decided to pick only one for each category that I read more than five books. So hard to choose! I could add so many more!

Board Book: ARE YOU MY MOMMY? by Joyce Wan
- I've loved Joyce's art for years. It's always wonderful to read one of her board books or picture books and see her art. In this book, she makes clever use of cutouts of animals in a story about a baby rabbit trying to find her mommy.






Picture Book: WHEREVER YOU GO written by Pat Zietlow Miller / illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
- This book is gorgeous! I love both the art and the verse. It's a book that uses the theme of travel to open up a world of possibilities.







Chapter Book: THE PRINCESS IN BLACK AND THE PERFECT PRINCESS PARTY written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale / illustrated by LeUyen Pham
- This is the second book in The Princess In Black series. In this book, Princess Magnolia is having her birthday party, with princesses from all over invited to attend. Unfortunately, the monsters have other plans for the same day. Chaos ensues and The Princess In Black races to the rescue! This book is even more fun than the first one in the series. Can't wait to read the next one!



Middle Grade Novel: UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER written by Kelly Jones / illustrated by Katie Kath
- A wonderfully wacky story about a girl who moves to a farm her family inherited and uncovers some mysterious and unusual chickens that she needs to care for (and protect from a possible chicken thief). Loved the fun illustrations and the characters, including the chickens.






YA Novel: BONE GAP by Laura Ruby
- This book contains two mysteries: What happened when Roza went missing? What did Finn really see? These mysteries, woven together with Roza and Finn's stories and the stories of the people of Bone Gap, combine to create a powerful story that's part real, part magic, and part myth. But this book is so much more than that. There are subtle and important truths about life hidden in each part of this book. I'm so happy that Laura Ruby wrote this book so I could read it, and so all of you can read it too.




Graphic Novel: PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN by Dana Simpson
- This graphic novel is part comic strip and part friendship story (think Calvin and Hobbes). Not every graphic novel that reads like a connected comic strip works out, but this one does. Loved this book and the second in the series, UNICORN ON A ROLL. Just found out there's a third book coming in February. Hooray! Can't wait!

Book Reading Goals for 2016: 1. Continue to read a lot! 2. Write down all books read (ALL of them this year).

Friday, December 18, 2015

happy holidays, an updated website, and soar for illustration friday

Happy Holidays!


Every year I come up with new art for our holiday card. This year I wanted to feature my character Kitty, who was on three of the postcards* I sent out this year. I also wanted to use similar art for our holiday card and my end of the year postcard to publishers. Note: the text on our card said, "May your holidays be filled with joy."

* I ended up sending out six postcards this year, though only four mailings - two mailings had two cards (the postcard version of the holiday card is on the bottom left):





I'm happy to say that along with the holiday card, I updated my website with new art, and my favorite pieces of unusual holiday art and art challenges that I did this year. Click here to check it out.

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is: soar. One of my original ideas for the holiday card and postcard was to have Kitty soaring in the air on her sled. I ended up going with the snowmen instead, but I still like the sketch, so I'm going to post it for the IF prompt this week. Here's my sketch of Kitty soaring above the snow:


Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

three ways to make a picture book dummy, unicorn for IF, and a studio visit

I recently had a visitor in my studio (a.k.a. The Art Cave). Mr. Pig of Little Crooked Cottage dropped by. It was fun to have a visitor. It can get lonely working by yourself sometimes. If you want a peek into my studio, check out my visit with Mr. Pig here.

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is: unicorn. In September, I drew a unicorn to illustrate a guest post for Dani Duck's Smart Dummies challenge (a month dedicated to helping illustrators create a picture book dummy).

I'm re-posting this in case anyone is gearing up to create a dummy to start the new year (can't believe it's almost January) or planning to create one before the year ends, and also to show my unicorn drawing for Illustration Friday:

Three Ways To Make A Picture Book Dummy

There are probably many ways to make a picture book dummy, but I can only think of three. I gave them nicknames so they’d be easier to remember [also because it made me laugh]. I’ve actually made dummies using all three ways, though I never know which one it’s going to be when I start. Every book is different. The important thing is to start. The picture book dummy will not make itself, no matter how much you wish it would.
- Note: Making picture book dummies is a lot harder than it seems like it should be. 

I. The Unicorn - unlikely, but possible


* Think up a great story and/or character idea.

* Draw/imagine the character(s) and the world of your story.

* Write the manuscript.
- Note: If someone else wrote the story, re-read it, and move to the next step.

* Make a dummy.

* Yay! You’re done! You have a dummy!

II. Tiny Kitten – each step is a toy mouse waiting to be pounced on


- Note: These steps don’t need to be done in order and, in fact, rarely are in order. Also, some of these steps will need to be repeated, possibly multiple times.

* Think up a great story and/or character idea.
- Note: The next step is also a great place to start.

* Draw/imagine the character(s) and the world of your story.
- Note: If you start here, you might want to go with the step above next.

* Write the first draft of manuscript.
- Note: If someone else wrote the story, re-read it, and move to the next step.

* Make a rough sketch dummy [draw stick figures for your characters if you want].

* Research, “how to draw _______,” so that you can figure out how to draw whatever it is that you don’t know how to draw in order to make the dummy. Wonder for a second why it is that you always make a character or story out of something you can’t draw, then pull a Maurice Sendak and decide not to draw that thing you can’t draw [in his case, horses]. Instead, draw that thing that you can draw [in his case, Wild Things].

* Draw/imagine the character(s) and the world of your story again, now that you are smarter and no longer drawing that thing you can’t draw.

* Research “plot” and try to add it to your story. Then channel Yoda and actually add it to your story. [“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”]
- Note: If someone else wrote the story, re-read it, and move down two steps.

* Write another draft of the manuscript, since you now have a shiny new plot to go with those things you can actually draw. If you still don’t have a plot, repeat the step above as many times as needed, all while repeatedly shaking your fist at plot.

* Make another dummy, only this time make sure you have the BIG eraser on standby. Or better yet, do it in pen so you can’t erase!

* Go to the library and/or bookstore and get a bunch of picture books. Study how to make a picture book, from people who know how to write stories with plot and know how to draw things, like horses and bicycles, or even a horse on a bike. [Realize that maybe this is how you should have started.]

* Start over.

* Rinse and repeat as needed until you have a shiny new picture book dummy!

III. Moo Cow - slow and dependable

 * Think up a story and/or character idea. It should be an idea you like and want to work on. It should also be something that picture book aged kids like and/or experience. Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem like a brilliant idea. That’s what revision is for, to take your idea and make it the best it can be.
- Note: If someone else wrote the story, re-read it, and move to the next step.

* Noodle ideas/scenes for the story and how your character(s) and world will look. Have fun and play with the art and story. Think about “what if” questions and the unusual traits or looks of your character(s).

* Study picture books to get inspired and to learn about the craft of writing and illustrating picture books. Use current ones so that you know what’s working in picture books now. You can also study older picture books to see what was done in the past, but remember that the pace and word count of older books is different from what’s being published now.

* Write a manuscript using your ideas and what you learned from the steps above. When you’re satisfied with your story, or just can’t wait to start making the art, proceed to the next step.
- Note: If someone else wrote the story, re-read it, and move to the next step.

* Page out the manuscript. You can do this on the manuscript itself, by drawing small boxes to represent pages of the story [a.k.a. thumbnails], laying our sheets of paper or Post-it notes, or making an actual dummy. The important thing is to look at where the page turns are and whether or not you have enough room to tell the story, or not enough story for the number of pages.

- Note 1: Tara Lazar has a good explanation of pages and layouts here:
http://taralazar.com/2009/02/22/picture-book-construction-know-your-layout/

- Note 2: many picture books are 40 pages these days [Self-Ended], but not all. Some are still 32 pages.

* Start sketching out the picture book dummy, using your ideas and scenes from the first two steps above. Give yourself enough time to do this without rushing. It will take longer than you think, so give yourself a deadline and then double it. Better yet, triple it so you actually have enough time. Don’t get frustrated if it takes even longer than that. Some people can do this step quickly, while others need lots of time to work out the details and get them right.

* When you’re done with your dummy, read the whole thing and look at the art while turning the pages. Reading out loud will help you to catch any mistakes or places where the wording isn’t as smooth as it could be or doesn’t work with the art.

* Make any necessary revisions to the text and/or art. Repeat the step above and this one too, until you’re satisfied with the way the art and text work together to tell the story.

* Choose 2-3 of your favorite pages/spreads from your dummy and make finished art.

* Put the sketches and the finished art all together in dummy form [paper or digital - scan if needed to make digital dummy].

* Congratulations! You now have a shiny new picture book dummy!

Final Thoughts:
No matter which of the three ways above you chose to use to create a picture book dummy [or your own way not listed above], you’re now done! Celebrate! Reward yourself! Pass out and sleep for a week!

Then forget how hard it was to make a picture book dummy so you’ll want to do it again next time!

Good luck!

You can do it!

*waves pom-poms [actually a pencil and eraser]*

p.s. Three other posts I've written that might be helpful if you're interested in becoming a picture book writer and/or illustrator:

Ten Tips For Choosing What To Draw For Your Portfolio, And Ten Ways To Find Inspiration

Five Tips For Illustrators  

How To Write A Picture Book In Twelve Easy Steps  

p.p.s. If you're planning on creating a dummy, check out all the great posts for Smart Dummies. So much wonderful and helpful information!

p.p.p.s. If you like my unicorn and want it on something fun like a t-shirt, it's up on my cafepress store and also over at my zazzle store.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving, from Ewe and Aye, and me

It's Thanksgiving week. Did you know that there's a parade on Thursday? At this parade, they have HUGE balloons of characters from books, TV, and movies, as well as some old favorites, like pumpkins and elves!

It's always been my secret wish to have a character of mine as a balloon in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Not so secret now that I've shared it on my blog, but still a big wish!

My first picture book came out last December, EWE AND AYE, written by Candace Ryan, and illustrated by Stephanie Ruble. *

Since nobody asked me to create balloons for the official Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, I decided to draw Ewe and Aye balloons for my own Thanksgiving Day Parade. BTW, Ewe and Aye would be great as balloons because Ewe and Aye want to fly!

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is city, so it seemed like a good way to incorporate the city theme for this week too.

I love process posts from other artists, so I decided to post several images of the art at different stages. Here's the final image of Ewe and Aye soaring high in the parade:


I'm glad that I did finished color, but I liked the black and white line art, and almost stopped at this point:


The first part of the picture I added color to was the balloons. Almost stopped at that point too. There's something really fun about Ewe and Aye floating in color with everything else black and white:


I also thought about using a black and white and grey version of the image (gives it a certain old time photo appeal):


So hard to choose a favorite! But if I had to, it would probably be the one with Ewe and Aye in color and everything else in black and white. Which one is your favorite?

Did you notice that there are little Ewes and little Ayes pulling their balloons? It might be too small to see above. Here's a close up:


The image seems large, but the whole thing is about 5.5 x 7.25. Some of the animals got really, really tiny.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

*Info about EWE AND AYE, written by Candace Ryan, illustrated by Stephanie Ruble: EWE was a sheep with a feel for wheels. AYE was a lemur with a thing for wings. BUT it wasn’t until Ewe and Aye found one another that things really got off the ground.

Whimsical word play and heartfelt humor work hand-in-hand in this irresistibly vibrant celebration of the unlimited possibilities of togetherness.

Want to know more about EWE AND AYE? Click here.

Looking for an independent bookstore to get your own copy of EWE AND AYE? Click here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

a cow, a bear, and a teddy bear for illustration friday

The Illustration Friday prompt this week is: animal. I had a couple of ideas that I played around with, then I remembered this image that I sketched and inked in September for a project. I ended up not using it then, so it was just black and white. Dug it out and added color today for the IF prompt.

It's the story of the beginning of a friendship between the bear and the cow, and the other animals in the bear's new neighborhood. It was a lot of fun to sketch back in September, and I'm happy to be able to finish this piece and share it today!