Thursday, November 1, 2012

Firsts for October

Continuing on with my lists of new happenings and "firsts" from the previous month:
1. First time on the "other side" of an SCBWI conference. I participated in the debut picture book author panel along with Sue Fliess and Sandra V. Feder at the Northern California SCBWI Fall conference. I had a blast.
2. Our first Halloween in Pacific Palisades where the home decorating began in early October and has become more over the top by the day. Even my husband, who has never decorated before, could not resist a full-scale effort in the front yard. Needless to say, the anticipation level in the house has been HIGH.
3. I'm working on the images for my first book that will NOT be done with watercolor and pen/ink. While I've always maintained that I like the built in constraints of watercolor, I have to admit that I'm revelling in the possibilities. And to that end:
4. First time I've used acrylic paint for a book.
5. First time I've used collage for a book.
6. First time I've used (gasp) my computer for a book.
7. First time one of my books will be at Barneys New York! Beginning in November! Go Zoe!
8. First time my six year old's piano skills have exceeded my own. I am in awe of how quickly kids learn at that age.
9. First time I've gone to the beach in late October and wished I had worn a swimsuit. (Ah, Southern California...will I ever get used to you?)
10. The final first is a secret, and shall remain so for at least a little while longer. Stay tuned. :)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Firsts for September

September was filled with plenty of firsts:
1. We have our first terrarium in the house, and in a strange case of life imitating art (since my next picture book is about a family of snails), the girls wanted to have snails. We now have three of them. We also had one temporary tenant: a caterpillar that became a moth and fluttered off into the September sky.

2. First look at ZOE'S ROOM! The unbound galley arrived last week. It's always a treat to page through the book and see all of the art together after many, many months of work. The colors are striking and rich.

3. First visit to the Lake Shrine here in Pacific Palisades. We explored the meditation gardens that surround an exquisite lake. Turtles, dragonflies, and koi abound. The girls don't even mind that they have to be quiet.

4. First approval of sketches from Candlewick. This is my first book with Candlewick, and the process has been so enjoyable. I'm very eager to start painting.

5. First listen to the music for the SNIPPET trailer from my brother! May I just say—awesomeness.

6. First visit to Safari West on a full moon night. Is there anything better than being serenaded by wild critters while roughing it in a tent (okay, luxury cabin) under the harvest moon?

7. First set of sketches submitted for the new project I mentioned last month. Lots of nail biting here. It is both terrifying and exhilarating since the finished pieces will be done in a style unlike any of my picture books to date.

8. First offer for a book that I have not yet written. (Again, lots of nail biting.)
9. First time at the Casa Madrona in Sausalito. It was fun to be tourists in our home town.

10. First time my purchases of vintage books can be written off for a project. I think eBay is calling me now...

Happy October!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My First List of Firsts on the First

As some of you have noticed, my blogging has been sporadic in recent months. This is partly due to summer and partly due to the fact we’re still adjusting to the move we made eight months ago. But mostly, I’ve been busy with work.

I’ve really missed blogging though, so I’ve come up with a simple way to keep at it. As I make my way down this author/illustrator path, my career continues to surprise me with new and wonderful things at every turn. Life, too. Let’s just call these “firsts”. So, on the first of each month, I thought I’d post a list of the past month’s “firsts”. In no particular order, here we go:
  1. First storyboard drafts for two (TWO!) book trailers
  2. First set of thumbnails for a new (phenomenal, wonderful, fantastic) book that I will be illustrating
  3. On a related note: first contract to illustrate someone else’s picture book (cue the thumping of my heart, both out of love for the manuscript and terror about doing it justice)
  4. First draft of a new Zoe book
  5. First day of first grade for my daughter
  6. First time our thermostat exceeded 90 degrees. Indoors, people.
  7. First ever meeting with a TV producer (I'm in LA so it was only a matter of time)
  8. First time running the Santa Monica stairs (FYI, Santa Monica sissies, your stairs are NOTHING compared to my Sausalito stairs)
  9. First draft of an accordion book for a personal project
  10. First time I’ve completed a homemade Halloween costume in August. Let’s hope she doesn’t outgrow it before October.
And...a first look for you. This is one of my favorite images from the upcoming SNIPPET (Knopf, March 2013). Happy September and wishing you all many great firsts!

In many ways, Snippet was an ordinary snail. He drew on the sidewalk.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tiny chairs and big imaginations: school visits

A few weeks ago, I visited a bunch of schools during a trip to New York. I don't have much extra time in my schedule for school visits, but when I do, I sure LOVE them. They are fun and inspiring and humbling. Plus, I often receive the most amazing gifts, like these works of art:

I've introduced an imaginary character into my school presentations. I'm always amazed and heartened to witness the eagerness of young children to engage in silliness and shenanigans. The character makes appearances in my talk, but overall, he is somewhat mysterious. He plays two roles. One, he is the crazy guy. I have a hard time being the clown, but I'm always happy to have one next to me. Two, he stirs the students' imaginations. At the end of my presentations, many of the questions are about the character; this makes me very happy. I encourage the children to come up with their own answers to these questions and to write their own stories. The importance of including magic, mystery, and wonder in children's lives can't be overrated.

One school asked me to speak about reading and literacy for an annual event. I found it very difficult to find the right words. My beliefs about reading and its value are so deep and go so far back in my life, that they are almost beyond verbal. They just ARE. In much the same way that I know I need to eat, breathe, move and sleep to stay alive, I know that I need to read. Finding words -- especially the right words for elementary children -- was a good challenge. Here's an excerpt:

"Every time I open a book, it’s like opening a gift. I like to think of it this way: for each of us, there is a perfect book out there, just waiting to be discovered. A perfect book that’s so perfectly perfect, it will change your life. It will make you see the world in a new way. And once you’ve read one perfect book, you understand just how much fun and joy is waiting for you inside other books. You’ll read and read. Your world will get bigger and bigger until you know everything. And once that happens, you will solve all of the world’s problems and figure out how to live on the moon or maybe mars and most importantly, you’ll get to choose your own bedtime. Which will probably be early, so you can snuggle in and read more books."

Simultaneous to all of this focus on books and reading in my professional life, my eldest daughter has begun to read. Voraciously. And I am witnessing the birth of a reader from a whole new perspective -- that of a parent. We've hit a couple of new milestones in the past month:
1. I'm starting to witness reading related injuries, i.e. walking into doors because her nose is buried in a book.
2. She's pronouncing words incorrectly because she's never heard them, she's only read them. My favorite instance of this happened recently when she announced at the dinner table, "I'm surrounded by a bunch of dwebs."

Needless to say, both of these things make me ooze with pride.

I'll be at Children's Book World and Mrs. Nelson's in LA soon. See this post for details!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A visual recap of the past few weeks

More words about the past few weeks to come soon, but for now, here is a brief summary:

At one of my many school visits, feeling very tall amongst the tiny chairs and tiny people.
At ALA, feeling very small amongst the towers of books and giants of the book world.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On the Horizon

I'm gearing up for some Zoe Gets Ready events; here is a comprehensive list for the next couple of months.

I'll be in San Francisco for this:
May 19th, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA
4:00 pm: Launch Party! Cupcakes! Stickers! Come! More info here.

I will be back in my old Western New York stomping grounds in June. I'm doing a whole bunch of school visits, plus:
June 13th: Liftbridge Books, Brockport, NY
(morning activity, time TBD, please check their calendar)
 June 15th: Arts Council of Wyoming County, Perry, NY
6:00 pm: Speaking and signing books. More info here.

Then back to LA again:
June 23rd: ALA Convention, Anaheim, CA
Signing books from 11:00-12:00.

July 21st: Children's Book World, Los Angeles, CA
10:30 am: Reading and activities

July 22nd: Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop, La Verne, CA
Time TBD. Please check their website

And although this is not a Zoe event, I am including it here because I will be there. I'm hoping to see lots of familiar author and illustrator faces!
August 3-5: SCBWI National Conference, Los Angeles, CA

I plan to do more posts about my projects, process, etc. soon. Thanks for visiting!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Nine (Great) Hours in Manhattan

As soon as I heard Zoe Gets Ready would be in the window of the Scholastic Store on Broadway, I HAD to go. Due to a couple of ridiculous schedules (mine, my husband's), the trip was very quick. But oh, was it worth it! My agent has already written about it on her blog; please check it out for better coverage than you'll get from me in my current, sleep-deprived state.

The window! That's my wonderful editor, Cheryl Klein on the left.

Here are the stickers that Mary mentions in her post. Even the Scholastic grownups were not immune to their charms.

Zoe stickers: repositionable and good for hours of fun.

On a personal note, it was the first time I've been back to Manhattan in over 12 years. I lived there for six years in the 90s. In addition to the book stuff, I was able to spend a leisurely morning with my brother, a leisurely afternoon with one of my dearest friends in the world, stroll along the High Line (such a phenomenally brilliant idea), take in the SVA MFA Illustration Thesis Show (My Alma Mater! Fantastic work!), and snap photos of the restaurant where my husband and I went on many of our early dates almost 17 years ago. All in all, a good day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Today is Zoe's birthday! Zoe Gets Ready is officially on shelves now. I realize I've done very little rambling about this book on my blog. So...

Zoe Gets Ready is a story about how one little girl chooses her outfit for the day. It is Saturday and no one tells young Zoe which uniform or pants or skirt are required. Zoe surveys her closet and gleefully imagines how each item might allow her to more fully experience the day.

While this book is covered with glittery little girlie goodness, it contains some very universal messages. Zoe Gets Ready is a story about the power of daydreaming. It is an ode to unstructured time. And in a world where we are often encouraged to fit into predefined, predetermined costumes and characters, this story is a reminder that the right outfit can make you feel more like yourself—not someone else. It acknowledges the complexity of identity—that on any given day, for example, there are moments when we choose to be bold and moments when we choose to be meek. Most of all, it celebrates the ability to believe in unlimited possibilities.

I'm very proud of this book. Many thanks to my editor, Cheryl Klein, for her vision.

There are all kinds of great ZOE GETS READY events on the horizon, beginning with my book launch at Book Passage on May 19th at 4:00 pm.

Praise for Zoe Gets Ready:
This seemingly simple idea subtly encompasses much larger themes about creativity and independence. With layers of meaning, a spunky, fun-loving heroine, and clever use of the butterfly motif throughout, this one is a keeper. —Booklist

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Process: End

Finishing the illustrations is not the end! I have to remember to leave time to prepare the illustrations for shipping. I've experimented with a number of preparation methods. These days, I am covering the images with vellum and shipping them inside a folder. I learned how to do traditional bookbinding in art school; various aspects of that process have come in handy for the folder construction.

It's somewhere around this stage that I begin kick myself for working traditionally. It's so much work to get a package together—not to mention the fear of it getting lost or destroyed en route. But I love to think about the recipient opening the package and spreading out the images. People can gather around and look at them all at once. Is there an equivalent moment when digital files are sent? It seems very different to me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Process: Middle

Following the previous post about the beginning of my process (stretching paper), this one is about the middle—making marks on paper.

From left to right: 
Wash brush (Aqualine Raphael, XL): I thoroughly lucked out and bought this at a huge discount—squirrel hair and so thirsty! The XXL version is on my wish list. :) 
Flat brush(?): I forget the technical name for this brush, but it is great for laying down water when working wet-in-wet. 
Painting brushes (Winsor Newton Series 7): I finally broke down and bought these guys after being reprimanded at a workshop for using cheap brushes. They are great for many things, but I must admit that I still like my cheap brushes for certain kinds of detail work. Even though the expensive brushes can have very fine tips, I sometimes find that the softness of the hair makes detail work tougher for me. In general though, expensive brushes are worth the cost for their ability to do beautiful washes. 
Waterproof ink and Speedball nib: I use this pen for most all of my line work.

My watercolor painting process has been cobbled together from various books and occasional workshops over the years. For a long time, I favored a very limited palette of transparent colors: cobalt blue, permanent rose and aureolin. Over the years, I've added others: thalo blue, manganese blue, raw sienna, burnt sienna, quinacridone gold and sap green. For my most recent project that included a number of nighttime scenes, I used indigo and also experimented with acrylic washes. There are a few other colors on the palette that I'm testing, but haven't really integrated into my work yet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Process: Beginning

I've been thinking a lot about process lately. The next few posts will be focused on the nuts and bolts of my illustration process. I'm always curious about the details—how people do what they do. Please feel free to share in the comments if you have any good tips or tricks.

First, though, a bit of housekeeping: I've got a number of events planned for Zoe Gets Ready, which will be in stores on May 1st.

1.    Book Passage Book Launch, Corte Madera, CA: May 19th at 4:00pm. Please join me for a reading and treats.
2.    Children's Book World, Los Angeles, CA, June 23rd. This will be my first reading at Children's Book World, one of the most fantastic bookstores for children that I have visited. My daughters agree.
3.    Wyoming County, NY: I'll be back in my old stomping grounds for a week in June. I'm thrilled to be doing an event with the Arts Council as well some school visits.

And now that the housekeeping has been attended to...

I work traditionally in watercolor and ink. I begin by stretching paper. This doesn't actually involve any pushing or pulling (as is the case when stretching canvas) -- the simple process of wetting and stapling the paper down accomplishes that task. First, I cut the paper to size. Next, I soak it in the tub for a few minutes. I give it a few quick shakes to get rid of excess water, and then I staple it to a board. I let it dry for at least a day. I use a staple gun with the semicircular staples that are intended to go over wires. I find that these are easiest to remove when the painting is finished. 

Some folks like to tape down their paper, but I find that the water pools along the tape and "blooms" back up into the painting. (See image below. Blooming can happen with staples as well, but it's much more likely with tape.)

The downside is that I don't have a nice clean border on the image. This is not an issue when printed, but I'd love to come up with a solution that allows the painting itself to look a bit less rough around the edges!

The board is formaldehyde free plywood. It took a bit of work to find, but I decided that it's worth avoiding chemicals whenever possible; I spend a lot of time hunched over these boards.

I like the ritual of stretching paper. It's necessary to avoid buckling when I paint, but it also allows me to ease into the process of beginning an image. Each board with paper is an invitation to begin. Nothing makes me happier than a having stack of prepped boards waiting to be painted. Each stretched sheet also has a certain amount of value (for me) because I've spent time preparing it.

Every so often, I consider working digitally. At some point, it may happen, but for now, I am committed to paper and brushes and paints. I've found that I like limitations. What to do with unlimited undo and a new sheet of digital paper with every click of the mouse? If I could start over and over and over again, I'm not sure I would know where to begin or where to end. I like that each piece of physical paper feels precious to me. I like that each watercolor paint has very specific abilities -- there is so much that watercolor can do and so much more that it can't! I like finding solutions within those parameters.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Yes, I'm still here...

But here is now Los Angeles, and I have been buried (in a good way, of course) with work. I'm realizing that I haven't even done a brief update on the blog. So, in no particular order:
1. We've moved 400 miles away from Sausalito to Los Angeles, aka The Land of the Leafblower. I have plenty of thoughts and observations about my new home, and I hope to do a series of LA impressions at some point, but that will have to wait a while, because:
2. I am in the middle of final art for not one, but two picture books. I'm hard at work on SNIPPET (Knopf), an energetic little snail who drives his family crazy by waking up too early AND another ZOE book. Zoe is back and now, she must share her room--her precious room--with her little sister. But wait, who's Zoe, you ask? That's right, I keep forgetting...
3. ZOE GETS READY (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic) is not on shelves yet. But it will be soon (May)! And the trailer is finished. You can view it here. I'll be sharing more info as we get closer to the release date. In the meantime...
4. Back to work. *Cracks whip* I apologize for being out of touch. I miss my blogging friends and promise to post more frequently once the painting frenzy is over!