Wednesday, December 29, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #12: Working in the Kitchen has its Advantages

This was my kitchen before I started painting again.

This was my kitchen mid-project.

This was my kitchen near the height of chaos.

We live in a small (SMALL) cottage on a wonderful street in a place that makes me feel like I'm on vacation every day. We have amazing neighbors. And so, here we stay in a home that fit perfectly when we were a two person family. Now we are four and a dog. Still, working in the kitchen does have its advantages. For the stay-at-home mom, the studio/kitchen is the perfect setup. With two kids, nearly all of my day revolves around the kitchen: breakfast, second breakfast, snacks, drinks…you get the picture. With my art in the kitchen, even when I'm not actively working, I'm subconsciously working. I'm looking at images in progress and solving problems during the day. When it comes time to work at night, I'm often ready to dig in because I've spent so much time looking at the previous night's work.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Illustration Friday: Winter

Winter in Sausalito, that is. Happy holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #11: Enjoy the Ride (It's a Rollercoaster, part 2)

A follow-up to last week's rollercoaster post: my picture book with the uncertain future now has a home at Knopf. I am just beginning to learn the details. So, for this week, the rollercoaster is on the way up. It is a lesson in patience and humility as I learn to take the long view and just enjoy the ride. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the ride. My new mantra. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Illustration Friday: Mail

Hive a Happy Holiday!
My neighbors have bee hives. They tell me one can order bees by mail. The text bubble will be lost on some of my international friends, but I think those of you in the US will recognize these words.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #10: It's a Rollercoaster

I've heard many people say that this is not a business for the faint of heart. It seems that most authors have experienced some disappointment after receiving offers for publication: they've lost editors to other publishing houses, they've had contracts cancelled, etc. If one is not in their shoes, it is easy to look at these occurrences as little bumps on the road.

However, I've had my first small "bump on the road", and from the inside, it certainly feels much more like a big old pothole. Well,let's just say rollercoaster. I received a call recently from Tricycle Press, the publisher of my first book. They are being closed by their parent company. I feel quite fortunate that my first book with them is still going to press as planned, but one of my contracts with them now has an uncertain future. It is hard to go from the excitement of an offer to uncertainty. And while I understand that it is a business decision to close the imprint, it feels very personal as well. My experience with Tricycle has been fantastic on all levels: they are wonderful people, marketers, editors and designers. And, they make wonderful, quirky books. (I'm a sucker for quirky books.) I am sad to lose this publishing "home".

Friday, December 10, 2010

Illustration Friday: Phenomenon

A chameleon's holiday tail phenomenon…

By the by, some of my work is on display in a juried show (of children's book illustrators) at the Brick Alley Art Studio. It's a lovely gallery and they have a Saturday Art Walk tomorrow evening should you find yourself in Sacramento, CA. I learned today that my work was awarded best of show. How's that for a nice Friday morning piece of news?!

My favorite piece of Friday morning correspondence, however, came from a 9-year old girl and her mom. They emailed drawings inspired by some of my work. I am so touched and honored. And may I say, this 9-year old is quite the artistic phenomenon herself.

Happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #9: Find Your Own Art Directors

I am lucky. My husband is an art director (although not of children's books). He usually comes home after a long day at work to my pictures spread out on the kitchen table and a barrage of questions. (An art director's work is never done.) My kiddos are privy to a lot of conversations along the lines of: "Maybe it needs more blue here. What if the frog's eyes were a bit more menacing? Oh, is that supposed to be a wing?"

I find it so helpful to have other eyes on my work and people who will be honest with their feedback. Finding your own art directors is key. They may be under your roof. They may be in your critique group. They may be online. They may come inside 4-year old bodies. Recently, my 4-year daughter took a look at one of my paintings and said, "You know Mama, it's good but I think it could use some sparkles."

While the sparkle comment just made me laugh, her reactions to my work are often genuinely helpful. If she can't tell me in one sentence what's happening in an image, I know that the image is not succeeding. In addition to my in-house art directors, I belong to two different critique groups. With that many eyes on my work, it doesn't take long to realize where I have holes in my writing or images.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #8: The Answer is Obvious, Once You Figure it Out

People talk a lot about this elusive thing in writing called voice. I suppose style is (kind of?) the illustration equivalent. I was in art school in the 1990s. The picture books I studied had long texts and complex painterly illustrations. Often they were based on folks tales and legends that called for ornate period costumes. I tried my hand at this type of work but it never quite clicked for me.

Then a new generation of picture books was born -- they were simpler in both text and images. I really connected with some of those books. Olivia, anyone? I LOVE that pig. And I began to find my own voice in writing and illustration: simple and clear with a touch of humor.

In retrospect, it seems so obvious, especially when I look at myself as a person. As much as possible, I live a simple life -- I opt for simple clothes, usually no makeup, I'd rather walk than drive, etc. I wear earrings so infrequently that both of my daughters get excited on the rare occasions when I do. :) So, doesn't it make sense that my work would be similar? As I'm writing this post, it all sounds so obvious that perhaps it doesn't even need to be stated. But it was interesting to me when I began to connect the dots, and who knows, it may give some of you insights into your path or process. Happy December!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Illustration Friday: Savour

The last cup of water before the light goes out.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #7: Live Near a Good Coffee Shop

I have two young kids and the chaos in our house is not often conducive to thinking. When I need to write, I ride my bike to the coffee shop, order a cup of coffee and then grab the table in the corner. I order only a cup of coffee because as soon as I start thinking about whether I need a muffin or a pumpkin cookie moon pie or whatever other amazing pastry they've whipped up for the day, the focus is no longer on the writing.

I like the commotion and activity of the cafe. Silence is deadly for me. Thank you cafe owners for allowing me to "rent" a table for $3.00 when I need to get something done. :)

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #6: Your Experience Will Serve You

For most of my life, I have wanted to write and illustrate books. I've tried on and off over the years to do so. It is only recently that I'm beginning to find inspiration and a voice that feels authentic. I'm realizing though, that all of my various pursuits up to this point are informing what I do now. This is amazing to me because when I wasn't illustrating or writing, I always felt so far away from it. My jobs and pursuits felt completely unrelated. But when I look at my current work, I see all of those years woven in. For example:
1. I worked as an art director for years. Most of that time was spent designing multi-page publications. Some were magazines but most were (gulp) catalogs. I realize now that this was my bootcamp for understanding pacing and page design.
2. I worked in a calligraphy studio. This was my bootcamp for lettering and drawing with nibs. I am more comfortable with a dip pen and india ink than a marker.
3. I've spent a lot of training time on a bike. I've gotten to know Northern California from the seat of a bike. The terrain and early morning scenery live in my brain. I find that I gravitate toward those colors and landscapes frequently in my images.

I suppose my point is that all life experience gives us resources from which to draw. And when the time is right, those experiences can come together in unexpected and wonderful ways. I'd love to know if you agree. :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Illustration Friday: Burning

Burning cheeks: the realization that polka dot footie pajamas are no longer okay to wear to school. My daughter is four. She has pajama day at her preschool. I'm assuming that, at some point, she probably won't think wearing pajamas to school is the best thing ever. When exactly does that happen?!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #5: Getting Ideas Down on Paper (Part Two)

Last week I wrote a bit about my process. Did I mention that I love thumbnails? Okay, good. Then, picking up where I left off:

My thumbnails are rough (they’re only about 1” x 2”). I enlarge them and refine. I do this again to arrive at a rough sketch. I like to sketch at a small size. That is my comfort zone. As a student, I tried to begin by sketching large images, assuming that beginning with a larger sketch would result in more detailed images. I was always frustrated by the results. It has taken me years to develop this process, but I’ve finally figured out that working from a thumbnail is the right method for me.

I enlarge the rough sketches to use in my dummies. I think this works on two levels. One, I can work in my comfort zone (smaller sketches) and two, it keeps the sketches from becoming unnecessarily detailed at this early stage. It’s easy to get drawn into the details and distracted from the purpose of each image.

I’ve arrived at this method of working because of my background as a designer, illustrator and writer. I continue to be amazed at the ways in which we all bring our unique experience and strengths to the process of creating children’s books and always love to hear about what works or doesn't for everyone else out there.

Here's a progression from smallest, roughest thumbnails to intermediate thumbnails and then a loose sketch:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #4: Getting Ideas Down on Paper (Part One)

Hi all, just a quick note to let you know that I am SWAMPED with work. I may not be doing Illustration Friday quite as much (sniff) but I'll still be posting on Wednesdays. I hope to be back to IF soon. I miss it already. Now, on to the topic of the week:

People tend to be curious about my process and whether I begin with words or images. In my case, both are woven together. Most projects begin with a spark of inspiration—usually a character idea or an observation of a quirk that develops into a character. After that initial spark, I do rough sketches of the character. I keep them very loose and try various poses and expressions. This helps me get to know the character.

I also begin to consider dialogue: what does the character think or say? This guides me into the story. I try to envision the character’s environment and how the character exists within that environment. I also begin to envision the other players in the story and their relationship to the main character.

Next, I like to think about spreads. What are the moments of action in the story? I jot down notes about various scenes, sometimes with sketchy thumbnails in my notebook. I brainstorm and put as many possibilities down on paper as I can. This stage is not about the plot. It is about getting to know the character(s) and key interactions. I am drawn to humor so this is often about the moments—either visual or written—that make me chuckle.

After some time has passed, I review the scenes with a fresh perspective. I circle the most cohesive parts. Often an order begins to suggest itself. At this stage, I like to do thumbnails of the whole book. In art school, I didn’t understand thumbnails. It frustrated me that I couldn’t put any detail into those little squares. It wasn’t until I began to work as a designer that I came to value them. Now, I love thumbnails for their ability to show size relationships, positive/negative space and pacing at a quick glance. In my studio, there is a drawer full of legal sized sheets, each printed with thumbnail rectangles. There’s no need to mess with rulers or drawing rectangles or anything else that might distract me. I write. I sketch. I write. I sketch.

(Part two will be posted next week!)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #3: Kill Your Babies

I am a very independent person (at least I like to think so). In the past, I've been guilty of trying to write and illustrate in a vacuum. It just seems easier that way. But this past year, I've found my way into two critique groups. And now, I look forward to the groups and use them as deadlines to keep moving forward. The feedback and interaction has helped me to grow as a writer and illustrator.

A favorite piece of advice came from one of these groups. Probably lots of seasoned writers are familiar with this, but it was new to me: kill your babies. Any part of my writing that I love in a completely irrational way probably needs to go. It is hard. In fact, I had another name for a main character that I adored. It was perfect. It just HAD to be the name. But I couldn't figure out a way to spell it that would make it easily pronounceable. And thus, after a few weeks of mourning, I (sniff) let it go. I think this is important for illustration too. There are plenty of situations where I become attached to a sketch because of a cool perspective or fun detail and forget about the overall goal of the image. In the end, images (and words) need to tell the story first.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Illustration Friday: Racing

It's raining here which means lots of racing: adults racing indoors and kiddos racing out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #2: Inspiration Arrives at the Strangest Times

Over the years, I've tried to keep daily journals and sketchbooks. Unfortunately, I haven't been particularly faithful at either. I do, however, keep an idea book. I jot down phrases that catch my ear and/or strike my funny bone. Sometimes I do quick sketches. The entries are nothing more than that. However, I've found that the simple act of writing/sketching keeps the ideas brewing in my mind. They simmer away until they're cooked. A couple of years ago, I had written the phrase "messy sleeper" in my notebook. I was thinking about people who tear their beds apart every night vs. those whose beds are still perfectly made in the morning. There was something intriguing about that to me. It simmered for a few years.

Then, when I was a slightly delirious, sleep-deprived Mama with a newborn and feisty 3-year old, my friend asked me to take a writing workshop. I was too tired to say no. As I started to mull over story ideas, I was struck by the contrast between my swaddled newborn who slept so calmly, so neatly and my 3-year old who thrashed from one end of her bed to the other every night. I thought about the "messy sleeping" note in my notebook. I began to suspect that my 3-year old was having BIG dreams. And the story of Buglette was born.

Looking back, I suppose it’s not surprising that I wrote a book about sleep at the point in my life when I was getting the least. Now that my kids are (slightly) older, I'm finding inspiration in the piles of clothes all over their room. Hopefully this will be the upside to the loads of laundry I find myself doing lately.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Illustration Friday: Spooky

This is in honor of my 18-month old who is literally afraid of her own shadow (a new and hopefully short-lived phase).

After receiving an award from Leen Christens, I am excited to pass it on to some more Illustration Friday bloggers whose work I truly enjoy. The list could be much, much longer but I tried not to include folks who have already received the award. Thanks everyone for stopping by!

Yiannis Stilos
Sarah Bowie
Christine Grove
Nicola Killen

Kaitlin McCane
Brooke Boynton

Vera Lluch
Lesley Grainger

Wendy W. Lee

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

30 Lessons Learned, #1: Always Have Another Project

It was exactly a year ago today that I received a call from Nicole Geiger, the publisher at Tricycle Press (Random House Children's Books). That was the beginning of my journey to publication as an author and illustrator. So, on that anniversary, it seems fitting to begin sharing some of the process. I've decided to do weekly blogs—thirty lessons that I've learned along the way. Some lessons are frivolous and some deeply meaningful (to me, at least). I hope they will be enjoyable for all. I'm also happy to answer any and all general questions from folks about the process. Please feel free to leave them in the comments. I am currently working on new projects and can only hope that I will learn another 30 lessons from each. :)

So, back to the phone call. Nicole told me that they were interested in the dummy I had submitted, asked me a few questions about myself and then said that she would be in touch soon. Barring anything unforeseen, she expected that Tricycle would make an offer on the book in a few weeks. I was thrilled. Writing and illustrating a children's book has truly been a lifelong dream. However, I was a bundle of nerves. Would the offer really come through? What if something unforeseen DID happen. I mentioned to a writer friend of mine that I was jumping out of my skin and she gave me one of the best pieces of advice EVER. She said, "It's time to start on your next project." I have gone back to that advice again and again over the past year. It has served me well because there is plenty of waiting during the process of making a book: waiting for the offer, for revisions, for comments on art, etc. Waiting is the perfect time to dig into something other than a tub of ice cream (or in addition to a tub of ice cream, more on that later).

That friend, by the way, is the fabulous Amy Novesky, author of two stunning picture books (and more on the way). Her latest release, Me, Frida, is illustrated by Caldecott winner David Diaz and is a captivating read about Frida Kahlo's time in San Francisco.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Illustration Friday: Transportation

I've just returned from a mini-vacation to Safari West (only an hour from my house and a very special treat.) The family had a wonderful time and, in addition to all kinds of amazing big beasts, we watched newly hatched baby swans taking piggyback rides.

I have a couple of blog notes. First of all, I want to thank Leen Christens for giving me a very nice shout out. I'm looking forward to passing on the good will. Also, fellow writer Lynne Marie Pisano has a short writing prompt on her blog from yours truly. Her blog is full of interesting tidbits for writers and illustrators alike.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Illustration Friday: Old-fashioned

"Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer sitting on a branch," said Walter to the birds on the wire.

(Obviously I'm continuing on with the bird on a wire theme from last week.) I've been doing IF since May and wanted to take a moment to thank the IF community for your support and encouragement. I LOVE seeing all of the fantastic work and I am so jazzed that people take the time to leave comments. Soon, in addition to IF, I'll be blogging weekly about the process of making my first picture book. Please consider becoming a follower. Thank you!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Illustration Friday: Acrobat

I did two images because it's such a fun prompt this week! I remember having levitation dreams as a kid. They were AMAZING. Being on a trampoline is the closest I've come in real life. In fact, I had the chance to do some trampolining with a bungee harness (I'm sure there's a technical term for this?) a few weeks ago and that was super cool.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently finished my first picture book. I am considering doing weekly blog entries about the whole process. Is that something folks would like to read? If so, please let me know in the comments. Happy weekend everyone!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Illustration Friday: Dessert

Dessert is an apt word, because this week, life is sweet. I received a sneak peek of the cover of my forthcoming picture book, Buglette the Messy Sleeper (Tricycle Press/Random House Kids, May 2011). Woot! I could not be more excited. The cover is below—along with dessert, of course.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Webinar with Agent Mary Kole

My amazingly fabulous agent, Mary Kole, will be teaching a webinar about writing for children with the folks at Writer's Digest. Mary has incredible editorial instincts and is also unbelievably knowledgeable about the industry in general. Plus, she has offered to critique the work of all participants! Click on this link for details and much more information.

Mary blogs at You can get a good sense of what she's all about if you check out her site.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Illustration Friday: Atmosphere

Another aquatic theme this week -- I've been daydreaming about swimming lately. Perhaps this happens when one lives near San Francisco and endures a foggy, cold "summer". I've been layered in sweatshirts and sweaters for weeks.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Illustration Friday: Caged

I painted two images for this week -- both with a bear theme (can't exactly say why that is). Happy Friday!

The bear cub awoke from his nap with a strong suspicion that something was not quite right.

Try as he might, the panda just could not keep up with the bamboo.
(The bamboo next to our house grows FREAKISHLY fast. It's actually unsettling.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Illustration Friday: Breakfast

I wonder what's for breakfast: the leaf, the caterpillar or the bird. Hmmm....

Monday, July 12, 2010


My sketch card appears on the Ripple blog today (which just happens to be my birthday!):


For those who aren't aware of it, the Ripple blog allows folks to help with the gulf oil spill...either by contributing images or purchasing. I've been doing both :) The Mo Willems painting I purchased arrived in the mail this afternoon -- one of my favorite birthday "gifts" ever!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Illustration Friday: Satellite

Okay, it's a bit of a stretch, but after a week in New York with insects circling my head like little buzzing satellites, well...

And, just to have my bases covered, I've included a very literal version of parent and child satellites. "The world doesn't revolve around you" quote is one that I heard quite a bit as a kiddo.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Illustration Friday: Trail

Trailing behind a crazed biker is not the best plight. Poor stuffed lion. Again this week, I stuck with a loose sketch rather than inking and painting...very refreshing!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Illustration Friday: Slither

The "if I stay low and creep ever so slowly, you won't notice me moving in on your ice cream" slither. Just a sketch this week since I was out of town and paint-less :)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bouncy Bug

My daughter was playing with "googly eyes" yesterday. Couldn't help myself...I had to get in on the fun.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Early (Illustration Friday on Monday)

The theme for the week is early. As a high school swimmer, I feared diving in too early at the start of the race. (And thus, I was consistently the last person off the blocks.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Equipment (Illustration Friday on Tuesday)

Theme for the week: equipment. A cardboard box is the most versatile piece of equipment around, at least in our house.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Honorably Mentioned...

I just learned that I am one of three illustrators selected to receive an honorable mention for the Don Freeman Grant from SCBWI. I am thrilled! SCBWI rocks. Thank you judges.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


My Illustration Friday image for the week! The topic is "fearless". Please stay tuned for updates about my picture book in progress, Buglette the Messy Sleeper.