Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving! Did you see Sheila in the parade?

Sending wishes your way for a Happy Turkey Day! (Or as we call it at our house, Happy Beef Day!)

Did you see Sheila the zombie cheerleader in the parade? She was the one with the pigtails and green skin. ;)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

update, a new blog feature, Art Day and Thanksgiving balloons

I’m back, and it’s still Monday … somewhere. I’m not back to normal, but I’m eating food again, very bland food. I’ve lost 5 lbs. so far. It’s not a diet I would recommend to anyone. Exercise and watching what you eat would be a way better idea. Thanks for the get well comments!

Ask Sheila – Sheila has opinions on everything and she wants to share (sort-of like Dear Abby, but with a 5th grade zombie cheerleader giving the advice). Ask her any question by commenting on this post or emailing her: sheila (at) sruble (dot) com. Put “cheers!” in the subject line so that Sheila knows it’s not spam. She doesn’t like spam, but she does like Spam (tastes like brains).

Remember, Sheila is a zombie and she’s in fifth grade, so her advice might not be conventional. Also, opinions expressed by Sheila the Zombie Cheerleader do not necessarily reflect those of sruble, and she may have to add a comment or two if Sheila gets out of hand.

Art Day December Schedule:
12/1 – Illustrator Jennifer Morris
12/9 – Illustrator Christina Wald
12/15 – Illustrator Marilyn Scott
12/22 – arts and crafts – snowman picture
12/29 – spotlight – Quentin Blake

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloons are one of the coolest things about the parade. Every year we go to see the balloons blown up the night before Thanksgiving. The balloons start out flat, like any other balloon, except that they are huge. Thousands of people crowd through the streets to see the balloons, and it’s hard to get pictures without getting run over, but I managed to get some pictures last year (DH guarded my back). Here are a few of my favorites:

Read more about the balloons:
Macy’s Behind The Scenes – Creating A Balloon

How Stuff Works - Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Wikipedia)

Official Macy’s Parade Site

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Deborah Freedman

Today I’m interviewing author and illustrator Deborah Freedman for Art Day. Deborah’s art and writing are a whole lot of fun for kids. Read on to find out more about Deborah and her work.

Q: How did you get started illustrating for children?

A: After I had my first baby, 20 years ago, I started making little books for my kids. I slowly started taking those little books and myself more and more seriously, and eventually put an illustration portfolio together. After a few editors encouraged me to do my own books, I concentrated on writing - I had a bit of a learning curve with that though!

Q: Tell us a little bit about your first picture book, SCRIBBLE.
A: Like a lot of artists, I’m inspired by children's drawings and have always wished that I could be that loose, that imaginative. One of the things I love about the art of young children is that so often there is a wonderful narrative that goes with it; I know that my own kids often asked me to write little descriptions or stories down at the bottom of their pictures. After years of looking at and thinking about their artwork, one day I had an idea for a book - about two sisters who draw together, and the story behind their drawings.

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: I always have a few picture book projects going, in different stages.

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?

A: Sometimes I like to do art for myself that is just a little edgier or more oblique than what I can do for the picture book crowd.

Q: When illustrating picture books do you include a visual storyline that’s not in the text or include animals or people you know?
A: Just as I was about to begin the final sketches for SCRIBBLE, we adopted a tiny kitten, Milo. I thought it would be fun to have a "real" cat alongside the pretend one, reacting to what is going on or sometimes one step ahead of the other characters, and Milo made a great model. So he is there, on every page. Although I don't expect him to show up in every book, he is the main character of a book I am working on now.

Q: Can you explain your art process?

A: When I first have an idea for a book, I dedicate a little sketchbook to it so that I can keep track of my thoughts and doodles. Once I have things worked out in my head, I move to a thumbnail, storyboard format. I write and draw at that stage for a long time, working out the overall visual theme, arc, pacing, etc. I usually do a sample or two at that point, to test out my ideas for the art. Then I slowly blow the sketches up to make room for more detail.

For final art, I like to work on the whole book at once, if I can. I do like things in batches to keep them consistent – like settings at once, each character at once, etc. Then I scan everything and assemble it on my computer. And I try to make it look like it hasn’t been pieced together!

Q: What is your favorite color?

A: That's an interesting question for me.

Most of my projects start in my head with some sort of big visual theme or hook, and color is an important part of that. I don't necessarily have one, forever favorite color, but I do have a favorite of the moment - one color that sets up the palette for the rest of the art in a book. I use that color in a very deliberate way, as critical element in my story. In SCRIBBLE I focused on yellow and pink, which some readers may find an odd or even unappealing combination, but those two colors helped me add depth to my characters and drive the theme of the book. Right now I'm working a lot with blue, a calming blue, maybe as an antidote to all of that pink and yellow!

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in?

A: I both love and hate the unpredictability of watercolor. On days when I don't have the patience for it, I like pen & ink.

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?
A: Play-Doh. Mmmm, that smell…

Q: Do you have a favorite childhood picture that you remember making?
A: I don't. Isn't that sad? But I do remember that when I was in nursery school, I painted lots of girls with hair that flipped into swirly curls at the end, like Princess Aurora's in SCRIBBLE. I also remember the different houses that I built from blocks, and the funny outfits that I sewed for my brother’s and sister’s stuffed animals.

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: I don't know that I ever said to myself, "I want to be an artist", but art has always been a part of my life. My sister and I took art classes together after school and in the summers, throughout our childhoods. My grandparents were avid art lovers, and often took us to museums and galleries. Largely because of their influence, I majored in art history in college. But in the end I decided that I needed to be "doing" something artistic and not just studying it, and so I went to architecture school.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?

A: Mostly my imagination; it's hard to pose a child doing something like flying through the air. Also, I find that my drawings are less rigid and more emotive when I work from my head. But when I'm having trouble with a pose, I do look at myself in the mirror or go to photos. Or I give up and change the pose!

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?

A: Do I have to be something else?

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?

A: My husband and I have a large collection of art books, so when I'm stuck I often go to those for inspiration. Sometimes I even steal from them (don’t tell). Or I take a long walk. Or a nap.

Q: What was your favorite toy, stuffed animal or doll when you were growing up?

A: I had (still have) a stuffed lion with a winsome face and legs that were sewn on backwards.

Q: What illustrated books do you remember from when you were a child?

A: I actually have a list of my old favorites on my website, here. From that list, the single book I've always remembered most vividly from my childhood is THE SNOWY DAY. Ezra Jack Keats’ images - Peter dragging his stick and making angels in the snow, the snowball melting in his pocket - have always stayed with me. And the words too. “Down fell the snow – plop! – on top of Peter’s head.”

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now? (You can list more than one.)
A: Ooh, tough question! I don't know where to begin or stop. My taste is all over the place, ranging through Sendak, Peter Sis, Stephen Gammell, to William Steig and my buddy Frank Dormer.

Q: Did you like to tell jokes or stories as a child?
A: No, never! I was the one who liked to make things; my brother and sister always accused me of abandoning them once their stuffed animals were dressed and the block houses were built, when it was time to PLAY. They think it's funny that I'm the one telling stories now. No wonder I have so much trouble with plots...

Q: If you could be a kid again for just one day, what would you do?

A: Lie on the grass and daydream.

Bio: Deborah Freedman lives with her family in Connecticut, and is the author and illustrator of SCRIBBLE (Knopf 2007), a Book Sense Pick. Please visit to learn more about Deborah and her work.

Thanks for the interview Deborah!

All images in this post © Deborah Freedman.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

writing story and characters by watching TV (especially the West Wing)

You can learn a lot about writing from watching TV, especially The West Wing (one of my all time favorite TV shows).

If you take the politics out of the show, you can concentrate on the writing (some of you are probably saying that’s impossible; the whole show is about politics, but I assure you, it’s possible). Politics is only a backdrop, the premise behind the show, along with exploring who the players in Washington are, what the issues are, what it’s like to work at the White House. However, politics is not the main point of the show. Honestly.

The West Wing is really about the characters, who they are and how they interact with those around them. We care about the characters after the first show, and continue to care about them for several seasons. Plus there are a ton of major characters to care about. It’s not just one or two. Even the minor characters are important. Think about how you might pull off a novel with a huge ensemble cast, with many main players and several key secondary players. Could you do it?

How did they create such great characters and make us care about all of them? They did it by making the characters think, act and feel like real people, with great stories, real problems, and realistic dialog (and good actors too). We care about the characters because they’re flawed and because we get to see their good and bad sides. We get to see them on incredible highs and rock bottom lows; we see their whole range of emotions. There are no cookie cutter characters or continuously happy people on this show, and there shouldn’t be in your writing either.

The West Wing is not just about the characters; it’s also about the stories. Yes, many of them involve politics, but not always in the way that you’d think. In the very first episode, Sam, the Deputy White House Communications Director, accidentally sleeps with a call girl, which could be a political nightmare for the administration, not to mention embarrassing to him. (Sam met a cute girl at the bar and went home with her; he didn’t know she was a call girl, but that won’t matter in public opinion.) What actions might your characters take that could wreak havoc on the world around them? Do they do them on purpose? Or do they not realize what they’ve done until it’s too late?

The West Wing has excellent stories, sometimes several in one episode. Some of the stories carry over into following episodes and some of them wrap up in one show, but they manage to keep all the plots and subplots working at once.

If you’re writing series books, watching TV could be a really great way to see how to do single episode and longer story arcs at the same time, while keeping your readers interested in what’s going on at any given time. The West Wing is one of the best shows to study for this.

If you haven’t seen The West Wing, don’t take my word for it. Go rent the DVDs (or buy them if you have some $), or watch them on Bravo like I do. If you deconstruct the episodes, or even just watch them for entertainment, you’re bound to learn something about characters and stories and how to make them work.

If you have seen the show, think about this:

How many of you wish you could write a love story like the one between Josh and Donna? Or write the love story between Danny and C.J.? These start at the very beginning of the series and aren’t finished until the end of the show (it ran for 7 seasons and 156 episodes – that’s a long time to stretch out a romance and make people still care what happens).

* What about writing Charlie’s story? When his mom dies, he postpones college to take care of his little sister. He goes to the White House to get a job as a messenger and ends up being personal aide to the President. Then he dates the President’s daughter, which riles up the hate groups because Charlie’s black, the Zoey is white. The President and Josh get shot instead of Charlie when the hate groups target him. Later in the series, he was able to finish college and move into a new position as Deputy Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff.

How about Leo, the Chief of Staff? He’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who helps one of his friends get elected to the Presidency. Then his past drug addiction is made public knowledge, which puts that friend in political jeopardy. At the end of the series, Leo ends up running for VP with the next President.

Have a happy weekend everyone! Hope this gave you some food for thought or at least an excuse to watch more TV.

* One last thing, remember Charlie? Originally his character was only supposed to be on for a few episodes; he ended up being on all 7 seasons. It shows how a minor character in your story can end up taking on a more important role than you had originally envisioned.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

art vs. illustration

From an article mentioned in the PW Children’s Bookshelf newsletter today, that I think is worth mentioning in case you didn’t see it: Not just a pretty picture

Fiona Gruber | November 10, 2008 | Article from: The Australian

The article compares art and fine art, while at the same time talking with Graeme Base about his art for books and about the exhibit he’s about to hold at a gallery. They also talk about other children’s book art and fine art, as well as markets for art in different countries. My favorite quote from this article is a quote from Graeme Base:

“Their primary function might be as a commentary on accompanying text or as a book-framed visual narrative, he adds. But this does not cancel out their uniqueness. "Obviously they have to work as a sequence of pages or they're not doing their job properly, but I see every one as an individual piece of art," he says.”

What do you guys think? Anyone want to start a discussion in the comments section?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sheila the zombie cheerleader vs. NaNoWriMo

My portfolio reviews went well on Sunday. Yay! I learned about some things I need to improve and found out some things that were working well too. It’s always interesting to hear different opinions, especially back to back. Sometimes one person will like something the next person won’t, and vice versa. It’s always telling when they agree.

I’m putting my portfolio up on my site soon (no really, this time I’m actually going to update my website). Here’s a sneak peak of 2 book covers I did:

Bee’s cover:

Sheila’s cover:

Sheila thinks that since she has a book cover now, she should be the NaNoWriMo novel, even though she’s younger than Bee, and even though she (apparently) lied to me on Halloween about how she became a zombie. She assures me that she has way more than 50,000 words to say, which I believe, because she never stops talking to me.

I would ignore her, except that I’m not that far into Path of Bees (because I was working on my portfolio last week) and because she said she would eat my brain if I didn’t. Maybe for another reason I can’t talk about yet, too.

What I didn’t tell Sheila is that I’m still going to work on Path of Bees (at the same time), just at a slower pace.

Hope you all have a creative and productive week!!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Diane Dawson Hearn

Today’s Art Day interview is with illustrator Diane Dawson Hearn, who creates wonderful images of children and animals. Read on to find out more about Diane’s art.

Q: How did you get started illustrating for children?

A: I started illustrating when I first learned to write, and would draw pictures for my own stories. I tended to get more recognition for the drawings when I was small, and so I think this lead me to focus more seriously on my artwork. After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York I was given my first book to illustrate called, SEE MY LOVELY POISON IVY, by Lilian Moore. I've been illustrating ever since, and have also had three of my own stories published called DAD’S DINOSAUR DAY, BAD LUCK BOSWELL and ANNA IN THE GARDEN.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the recent picture book you illustrated, RAIN FORESTS, by Nancy Smiler Levinson.
A: I had illustrated two other books for her called DEATH VALLEY, A DAY IN THE DESERT, and NORTH POLE, SOUTH POLE. All of these books are nonfiction, which is a challenge for me since my art leans more toward the humorous and whimsical. I needed the artwork to be accurate enough for children using the book as a learning tool. Needless to say, I did a lot of research for RAIN FORESTS and enjoyed learning about the flora, fauna and human inhabitants of both temperate and tropical rain forests. The book took me two years to illustrate (with some delays in the editorial process) and there were lots of corrections made along the way. Considering I am not a scientific illustrator, I'm pretty happy with the result. (sruble note: check out the amazing cover. It looks like you’re really in the jungle, staring down a leopard, doesn’t it?)

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: I am working on some illustrations for some of my own unpublished stories right now. I need to update my website with new artwork and I would also like to get a few stories circulating to publishers. I've included a drawing for one of my stories, which is about a troll.

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
A: My husband keeps encouraging me to try my hand at some licensed work, but so far I haven't given it much of an effort. It's tricky, because what works for greeting cards or licensed work doesn't necessarily work for children's books, and my artwork seems to always look like a book illustration. And I fear that I don't have a fine art bone in my body. I remember once in college my professor was trying to get me to think more like a fine artist, and he told me to bring in some of my doodles that I would do in the margins of my notebook in classes. He expected to see the sort of abstract designs a lot of people do when they are doodling, and he was dismayed to see all my doodles were of little animals, monsters and fairies! I think he gave up on me at that moment!

Q: When someone else has written the text for a picture book or novel, how do you decide what scenes and details to draw?

A: If the story is well written the ideas just seem to flow naturally from the words. I rarely have trouble thinking of scenes and images for books; the words are like fuel for the fire of my imagination. The dummy stage of illustrating a book is one of the most important, because it's at this point where I begin to think of the flow of the story, what I want to illustrate on each page and the design of the book. Often at this stage I'm not thinking of the little details, just the overall ideas. Once I've done my necessary research and have designed characters and settings I start to think about more details.

Q: When illustrating picture books do you include a visual storyline that’s not in the text or include animals or people you know?
A: It depends on the story. I like to do it if it's not intrusive. In several of my books I've included a floppy eared stuffed dog like one I had when I was a child, and I'll often add a pet. For instance, in my own story, Dad's Dinosaur Day, I included a cat who was not in the text, but he appears on many pages reacting to what is happening in the story. I've never included people I know, probably because I'm terrible at portraits.

Q: Can you explain your art process?

A: One of the most important steps when I've received a book to illustrate is to let it sit with me for a time, to give my imagination a chance to get going on it. If necessary, I'll do some research for various elements in the story such as setting, costumes or animals. Then I draw character sketches to get an idea of the cast, and I create a dummy to show basic design. After that I do sketches on tracing paper and transfer them to heavier paper. Then I ink or paint them, using acrylic paint. Sometimes I water down the acrylic and sometimes I use it in an opaque method.

Q: What is your favorite color?
A: I know this sounds crazy, but I don't really have one. I've noticed, though, that recently when buying clothes I've tended toward teal a lot, and ultramarine blue. But I don't necessarily use those colors a lot in my artwork.

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in?

A: Pen and Ink and Acrylic paint on paper.

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?

A: I remember when I was about nine my mom bought me a set of magic markers. They were a new thing back then, and very smelly, but I was enthralled by them. I still have the cardboard box they came in!

Q: Do you have a favorite childhood picture that you remember making?

A: When I was in fourth grade every week my teacher would read us a chapter from Sinbad the Sailor, without showing us any pictures from the book. Then we would illustrate the chapter. Other than illustrating my own little stories I was writing at the time, this was probably my favorite memory of drawing.

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: Yes, and specifically a children's book artist. I also was interested in cats and dinosaurs, as you can see by the little drawing of a cat I did when I was seven. Interestingly enough, the first books I wrote myself that were published were about a cat and a dinosaur! Go figure.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: I've never used models because my artwork is stylized, but I often used research from the library, internet and my own picture file I've been keeping since I was a student. I had a teacher tell us to start saving photos and magazine images on all kinds of subjects in an organized fashion. I now have two tall filing cabinets crammed with images of every kind, neatly filed into categories like bears, plants, cars, etc. and I refer to them on just about every assignment I get. The photos are jumping off points for my imagination, as I rarely directly copy them.

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?

A: It's hard to say, since I've been focused on the art for so long. But as a student I was interested in France and Russia, and I have a fascination for tribal peoples, so who knows where that would have led?

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?

A: Prayer and hard work! Usually I do lots of thumbnail sketches to iron out my composition, so by the time I'm doing a sketch I have a fairly good idea about where I'm going. Since I don't use a computer I often have to cut parts of the sketch out and flip, or rearrange them to get what I want, but it usually works out eventually. And when I get to about page 23 of a 32 page book I often think I'll never make it (kind of like a marathon runner "hitting the wall"). At that point I just have to make myself keep that brush moving, knowing that if I do I will reach the end.

Q: What was your favorite toy, stuffed animal or doll when you were growing up?
A: I've mentioned earlier that I had a floppy eared stuffed dog I called "Oggy Doggy" after a cartoon character of the time. I still have him, all worn out and threadbare, very "real", like the rabbit in the Velveteen Rabbit. I also loved playing with little plastic dinosaurs and I had a big boxful of them. I would have loved all the crazy plastic monsters and creatures that are available now.

Q: What illustrated book(s) do you remember from when you were a child?
A: Ferdinand the Bull, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Red Balloon, and Eloise, to name a few.

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now? (You can list more than one.)
A: I enjoy the work of Lane Smith, Brian Froud, Peggy Rathmann, Brock Cole, and David Wiesner, among others.

Q: Did you like to tell jokes or stories as a child?

A: I love jokes, but I can't make them up myself. Though I wrote stories, I think I was too shy to tell any out loud. I would read some of my stories to my mom, though, before bedtime.

Q: If you could be a kid again for just one day, what would you do?

A: When I was young, living in suburban New Jersey, we used to follow streams as they meandered through backyards and under streets. If I were young today I'd be tempted to follow Tom's Creek that runs nearby our house here in Virginia, to see if it would take me all the way to the New River.

BIO: Diane has been drawing since she was very small, and has known she wanted to write and illustrate children's books since she learned to read. Over the course of her career she’s illustrated over 50 books for children and has had three of her own stories published. You can find out more at

Thanks for the interview Diane!

All images in this post © Diane Dawson Hearn.

Friday, November 7, 2008

zombies are chasing me!

Help! Sheila and her friends won’t leave me alone! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh! The only way to get them to stop chasing me is to work on my portfolio (there will be zombie pictures and vampires and … ).

Back to work! Hope you all get lots of creative work done today and have a great weekend too!

Remus Update: No teeth pulled! (They said they might have to pull several.) He’s pretty sore, but his teeth are clean and healthy, which in the long run should help him stay healthy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Remus, bad days, and what if?

I’m not here; I’m working on my portfolio (review on Sunday – eep!) and taking Remus to get his teeth cleaned. Send some good vibes his way. He’s having a bad day. Poor kitty!

Something to ponder while Remus is at the vet:
We don’t like it when we have a bad day or someone we love is having a bad day. However, we need to give our characters bad days, or at least get them into sticky or uncomfortable situations. That’s what makes the story interesting and the characters grow. So …

What’s the worst thing that could happen to your character and could you put them into that situation?

Could you write her out of it and help her get to a better place?

Could you make the situation worse?

You could throw in an old boyfriend (that she still loves) when she’s having a fight with her new boyfriend, or an earthquake, or showing up to school in her underwear (and it’s not a dream) or maybe she goes skydiving and her parachute doesn’t open, or …

What if your character had the worst day ever? What then? How would he save face or make things right?

Today is a good day to ponder What If? I’ll be doing that for some black and white images for my portfolio. Bee and Sheila need to make an appearance, and I’m about to give them both bad days, and a few good moments too.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

videos for illustrators, authors, and snarky people

I’m not here; I’m working on my portfolio. However, there are a few cool videos that I thought you might like while I’m gone:

For Illustrators – How to watermark a whole batch of illustrations in Photoshop at once. The video is long, but really helpful. Watch, © copyright your images, post.

For Authors and Illustrators – 2 interviews with Sandra Boynton in one video!

For Authors – Sherman Alexie on the Young Adult Novelists panel at the Texas for the Texas Book Festival, November 3 2007.

For Snarky People – Have you seen the TV show Whatever Martha? It’s my new favorite snarkfest. Alexis Stewart (Martha’s daughter) and her friend Jennifer watch old Martha Stewart shows and make funny comments. Sometimes they try the craft projects (and usually fail). Don’t feel sorry for Martha. She had the idea in the first place. The Rice Krispie treats episode and the Andy Rooney episode are my favorites, but I couldn’t find them on YouTube. The s’mores episode is good too, and it’s here:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

election day Twilight Zone

Don't forget to vote, because if you don't, you will be sucked into a Twilight Zone like vortex, where the pre-election political ads and commentary will run over and over and over again, and you won't be able to escape it ... unless you go vote.

Ok, not really, but please remember to vote today. Thanks!

Tomorrow it will all be over, unless we are sucked back into the vortex that was the 2000 election, but that won't happen again, because you're going to go vote, right? Right now? Okay? Please? Yay!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Sherry Rogers

Today’s Art Day interview is with illustrator Sherry Rogers. Her images are fun and kid friendly. Read on to find out more about Sherry and how she makes her art.

Q: How did you get started illustrating for children?

A: In my previous career I was a Graphic Designer/Technical Illustrator. When we moved to our new home three hours away the market for Graphic Design was fairly scarce and the house prices were half, so for the first year I didn’t work outside the home which I thoroughly enjoyed. Both of my kids were in High School and didn’t require much of my time. I had worked full time most of my life and after a year off, though I enjoyed it, I started feeling like I wanted to work outside the home again.

I’d always loved picture books and children so I decided to research what I needed to do to start a career in that field.

When my kids were really small I’d written and illustrated a picture book. It was done strictly for myself and obviously never published. Hmm … I should go back and visit that book and think about submitting it.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the recent picture books you illustrated, KERSPLATYPUS by Susan Mitchell and SORT IT OUT by Barbara Mariconda.
A: Both are published by Sylvan Dell, an incredible publisher to whom I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude for letting me fulfill a dream. All of their books start with a fun warm story with a math, science, or nature theme. In the back they add a 3-5 page “For Creative Minds” section that includes fun facts, crafts, vocabulary and games, to reinforce the educational value and to support National Science and Math Standards.

KERSPLATYPUS is a story which takes place in Australia. It is about a small lost creature (a platypus) that appears out of nowhere after a big rain.

He is befriended by animals who try to help him find where he belongs. His fur, feet, tail, and duck-like bill remind each of the animals of something they have in common with him. They set off on a journey to find what he is and where he belongs. Along the way they have him do the same sort of things they do, climb trees, fly, and hop. They all try very hard to help him find where he belongs … everyone, but the blue tongued skink. Each time the creature (platypus) is unable to perform the task the animals give him, the skink laughs.

KERSPLATYPUS is the story of one creature’s journey to find what he is and where his place in the world is and how he sometimes falls flat on the way there. It’s a great story that helps children understand that with a little determination (and some really good friends) you can pick yourself up when you fall and keep on going and find the place you belong.

SORT IT OUT is about Packy a packrat who loves to collect things. Packy’s mom is tired of the mess of his growing collection and tells him to sort his things and put them away. SORT IT OUT is a rhyming book that encourages the reader to participate in the sorting process by putting Packy’s things in categories such as characteristics and attributes. The illustrations include a subplot, not in the text, about Packy’s sister, who enjoys taking some of his things for her own enjoyment.

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: I just finished illustrating a book called PAWS, CLAWS, HANDS AND FEET, which is due out in Spring of 2009 and I am in the process of illustrating another one called MOOSE AND MAGPIE, which is due out fall of 2009. I also just completed a job for Humpty Dumpty magazine.

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
A: I don’t, but I have thought about it. I just haven’t had the time to explore the market and learn what I need to do enter that market.

Q: When someone else has written the text for a picture book or novel, how do you decide what scenes and details to draw?

A: I usually get a pretty strong vision the first time I read through the manuscript. I never start illustrating the book right away though. I usually read through the manuscript several times and try to let the words really sink in. Once I get the idea of the story pretty solidified, I go through the manuscript and decide the pacing or page turns that might help create more drama. Although, the page turns can still change as I go into the sketch phase. I try to always let the story work its way out of me no matter how many times I have to start over from the beginning of my process. I have been known to add things even after the painting process has started. If it makes the story better I have learned I need to do it.

After I figure out the page turns I move on to rough sketches. That is the hardest time for me. I find it hard not thinking about the story/book all the time. I find it hard to shut my brain off enough to sleep. After I get the rough sketches done, I hang them on my corkboard wall in my studio and really study them. I try to let them hang for a couple of days and see how I feel about them. By doing this I usually see ways to make the story better or more interesting. When I first started illustrating books, I was too excited to get into the painting, so I didn’t let this waiting period happen. I just sent the roughs off to the publisher for approval. It felt like it would be too painful to change every page because I wanted to add something. Now I know that I need to wait and look and let the story unfold..

Q: When illustrating picture books do you include a visual storyline that’s not in the text or include animals or people you know?
A: I either have something on an item that has the name of the city I live in (this time it’s a book the beaver is reading), my kids’ names or a secret mushy message (usually in very small print so no one can see it) to my husband or his name.

The last three books I have illustrated all had subplots in the illustrations and not in the text.

Q: Can you explain your art process?
A: You can visit my website I have a place there that explains my process:

Q: What is your favorite color?
A: I have loved the color red since I can remember. It really makes me feel inspired and happy.

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in?
A: My favorite medium for creating picture books has to be digital. I LOVE PHOTOSHOP!! I love that it is easy clean up. If I only have five minutes I can still work and then just go … no mess. Also there is no scanning the final art. I just send it off to the publisher.

I use acrylics for my personal projects. That is the medium I used for my snowflake for the Roberts’ Snow project. What a great opportunity that was for me and I had a great time doing it.

I would like to explore watercolor more. Not a detailed watercolor and simple washy watercolor. I loved watercolors as a kid.

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?

A: Watercolors were wonderful for color books but ruined the back of the page. Crayons, markers, color pencils, tape, glue, paste, glitter, acrylics, felt, construction paper, beads, scissors, pipe cleaners. I loved it all. Just typing all that was very exhilarating . . .whew!

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?

A: I wish I’d had the vision, or maybe the ego, to think I could have been an artist and make a living. I never thought of art as a way to make a living, just a way to have fun. It wasn’t until my mid thirties when I went back to college that I got the vision.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?

A: I have never used models, but do use references photos from books and such. I usually collect lots of reference material (too much) for an animal and elements of my books. I try to study the reference material so that I have a better idea of how I’d like to draw the items.

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?

A: Wow never really thought about that. . .hmm. . .maybe a Therapist of some kind.

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?

A: Looking at other illustrations I have already finished helps. Just knowing that I persevered and finished previous illustrations lets me know I can do these too. Also, knowing that creativity takes a lot of time and rarely does it just come without a lot of hard work . . .it evolves over time.

Q: What was your favorite toy, stuffed animal or doll when you were growing up?

A: I had a doll I called Teddy when I was little. He had a thin type of rubber for skin and was stuffed with a cotton material so he was soft a pliable. How do I know he was stuffed with cotton? Well I was swinging him around by his arm and well his arm came off. I was so sad because he couldn’t be fixed. I can still see Teddy in the garbage can. . .

Q: What illustrated book do you remember from when you were a child?

A: Anything by Dr Suess
The Little Fish That Got Away, by Bernadine Cook, illustrated by Crockett Johnson
“I Can't,” Said the Ant, by Polly Cameron
The Beezus and Ramona Series, by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Tracy Dockray
The Henry Huggins Series, by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Tracy Dockray

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now? (You can list more than one.)
A: David Catrow, Brian Froud, Toni DiTerlizzi, Jim Harris, Barbara Upton, Chad Camero, Karen Stormer Brooks, Amy Wummer.

Q: If you could be a kid again for just one day, what would you do?

A: If I could be a kid for one day. . .I would want my sister and brother to be kids again too. After eating waffles for breakfast we would spend the morning watching cartoons (the old ones like when I was a kid.) We would eat toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for lunch. Then go outside on the porch and play board games, like Life, Parcheesi, Old Maid, Go Fish, Poker and Clue. When we got tired of playing board games we would play all the great games we played on the lawn. Games like Red Rover, Simons Says, Red Light Green Light, Mother May I and maybe we’d have a water balloon fight if the weather was good. Maybe we would look for clover in the grass and then lie on our backs on the lawn, look up at the clouds and see what kind of animals and creatures we could see in the clouds. Then we would ride our bikes and roller-skate a bit and then we’d go in and eat Mom’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and corn for dinner. After dinner we would play more board games on the front room floor or go outside and play. When it got dark we watched tv or read books … then off to bed.

Bio: Sherry Rogers is a digital illustrator who lived in the San Francisco Bay area of California for over 17 years, where she attended Foothill College and studied Graphic Design/Graphic Arts. After completing college she worked for over a decade as a successful graphic designer and technical illustrator with three high-profile engineering companies. After relocating to Rocklin, California, where she currently lives, she was lucky enough to have the opportunity to make a career change and now illustrates for children, which is where her heart has always been. Sherry has illustrated six children’s books and is working on a seventh. For more information, visit her website - - or her blog -

Thanks for the interview Sherry!
All images in this post © Sherry Rogers