Saturday, August 22, 2015

Thoughtful Picture Books

When agents or editors list their preferences in conferences or online the phrase "quirky, funny, character driven picture books" is a common one. That desire for funny picture books with a strong character is so common because they are great to read! You fall in love with the character, you have a good time, you want to read it again. Perfect, right?

But there are so many great books that aren't any of those things. And that seems to be the type of book that I am drawn to creating, so I keep my eye out for them. Have you read a book that was more about a place or an idea than a character? A book that was thoughtful and enlightening instead of funny? I love those books! And that's the type of book that I'm drawing right now. So I wanted to share some favorite picture books from my shelf that are NOT quirky, funny, or character driven, but ARE beautiful, thoughtful, and interesting. Please let me know if there are some you love like this also! 

Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow Miller and Eliza Wheeler

Look at this beautiful spread below!!! Every page in this book takes you someplace wonderful. I wish I could live in this world created by Eliza Wheeler.

Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin

This is a sweet bedtime book with lovely illustrations by Emily Winfield Martin. My daughter's grandmother gave it to her and we love reading it while snuggling.

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski

This book of poems is illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Pamela Zagarenski. The mood changes throughout the book with the change of seasons and colors.

Sun and Moon by Lindsey Yankey

Lindsey Yankey is a new author/illustrator and I've bought both of her books. She's a brand new favorite! Her artwork is really different and interesting to me, and her stories are thoughtful without being sappy. I also recommend Bluebird by this wonderful artist.

Home by Carson Ellis

I just love Carson Ellis' color palette in this book. Although there isn't a storyline, there are enough other things tying this gorgeous book together that it still works and makes you think about what you love about your own home.

Blue on Blue by Diane White and Beth Krommes

This is a story about weather changes at a family farm near the ocean. There are so many opportunities for the masterful Beth Krommes to show off her beautiful layouts and detailed illustrations.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

This is one of the best books ever! Marla Frazee takes on the challenge of illustrating All the World with grace and skill. Thank you for this beautiful book, Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dummy Update

I was lucky to have a portfolio review with Lauren Rille at the SCBWI Conference. She is an art director at Simon and Schuster who works with the imprints Atheneum Books for Young ReadersMargaret K. McElderry Books  and my favorite, Beach Lane Books

Lauren really understood linocuts because she's worked with Ashley Wolff who created Baby Bear and Beth Krommes who works with scratchboard which is similar to linoleum printing. She suggested I use pattern and texture more in my carving and rely less on paint to finish the image. I liked her ideas and I'm going to try being a little messier as she suggested.

I'm currently redrawing the images in my Our Home dummy. I'm doing the drawings full size, cleaning them up, using some of the pointers I got at the conference, and drawing them with black pencil so they will look good when I print them back out. Then I should have time to finish one more linocut before the Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI Conference September 19. But I have other things going on too, and I'm feeling pretty rushed! Wish me luck getting it all done!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Back from the LA SCBWI Conference

Even though it's inspiring, the LA SCBWI Conference is also exhausting. When I finally made it home Tuesday afternoon, my brain was mush. It's starting to act like a brain again.

I wanted to share a few impressions and some photos. I took plenty of photos, but darkish indoor photos of people standing together and smiling don't make the most captivating images. I was thinking about that during the conference and I realized just how much you get from being there. And mostly it's not a visual experience or it would probably translate better into photography. It's a listening experience. You hear amazing things from the speakers. You hear tips from the publishing professionals. You meet other people and hear their stories. And when you are brave you speak up to tell a bit about yourself and other people listen.

One of the greatest people to listen to was Mem Fox. What a storyteller and comedian! She has drama, she has surprise, she has crazy expressions! I could listen to her read books for hours. She was a treat better than any cake ever.

My other favorite speaker was Kwame Alexander, winner of the Newbery Medal for The Crossover. He was so captivating that I was riveted to my chair and didn't even realize I didn't take a photo. So here's his publicity photo and if you ever get a chance to hear him speak, DO!

While it wasn't the main point of his talk, I was really glad I was there to hear him tell about trying and trying to be published, and then finally self-publishing many books. And still trying to be traditionally published, and self-publishing again and SELLING TONS OF BOOKS! He even sold books successfully at a farmer's market every weekend for an entire summer! This man is loaded with charm, rhythm, and an infectious smile. What a total winner. He made us all feel like we were winners, too.

Here's the room between speakers. So many grown-up kids, there to talk about kid's books.

Finally it was the much anticipated Portfolio Showcase. I don't know how many portfolios there were but it looked like hundreds! I really tried to look at them all, then I tried to look at the most eye-catching ones, then I just tried to keep my sanity. I wish we could have a whole day with them available so we could take our time. There we some real beauties there.

Here's a photo of my friend Dow Phumiruk taking a peek at my portfolio. Dow is a fantastic illustrator who lives in the Denver area. I was so happy to hang out with her throughout the conference. We met many years ago at a Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI Conference. She's doing great things, so keep an eye on her!

Not only does Dow create amazing illustrations, she also creates amazing costumes! She made SCBWindex!! Look at that hat! Sue Ganz-Schmitt went as a window and I went as Brawny paper towels. We were the cleanest, sparkliest trio! We came in second in the costume contest at the Saturday night gala.

And I couldn't resist sharing this photo of Laurent Linn, the sparkliest, classiest guy.

Meal times were a nice way to regroup, meet people, talk about what we'd loved so far, make plans, oh, and eat! Adam Rex had a little time for dinner and no plans, so we dragged him to the food court. Here he is smiling like a gentleman with me, Dow, and Heidi Yates.

And here we are another day having lunch on the hotel lawn. On the right is my roommate, Allison Ritchie. I was happy to have such a great roommate!

I took notes and doodled throughout the conference, but proportionally, I took the most notes at the Illustrator Intensive. That was an all day event on Monday featuring a great cast of illustrators, art directors, and an agent. They shared tools for creating successful images and lots of examples. My favorite was John Rocco, a Caldecott Honor winner for Blackout. My first line of notes says, "He looks like a lumberjack!" And in fact as a young man he was a commercial shell fisherman in Rhode Island. Here's his Twitter photo:

He shared great tips, but again like Kwame Alexander, what I needed to hear most was about his struggle. He didn't start drawing until college and it took him a while to find his way. Although he draws beautifully, he says it takes him a long time to draw an image. And I can relate to that. You fast people have no idea how intimidating it is to watch you dash off the perfect image! Some days my best friend is the eraser. Anyway, I loved hearing the story about the blizzard that snowed him in as a child. And how he finally realized after telling the story to his child repeatedly that it would make a good picture book. Sometimes the obvious things take a while to reveal themselves!

And how's this for a send-off? At the end of the Illustrator's Intensive, these 12 powerhouses lined up to give us quick tips. From left to right: Peter Brown, Pat Cummings, John RoccoDan Santat, Patti Ann Harris, Alexandra PenfoldMelissa Sweet, Lauren RilleEliza Wheeler, Cecilia Yung, Laurent Linn and Paul Zelinsky. They also gave us some banter, and silly business, and inspiration. At the end of the day, that's the most important part for me. At every conference, I stock up on as much inspiration as I can to last me through another year. And SCBWI never disappoints. Thanks for another dose of inspiration!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ready for SCBWI

I've mentioned in posts that I'm going to the LA SCBWI Conference this year. And it's this weekend!!!! YAY!!

Here is my portfolio printed by Blurb, my postcards printed my Moo, and two picture book dummies printed by my excellent Epson printer! I'm so relieved to have that Our Home Dummy done.

I've gone to this conference two other times, and our regional Rocky Mountain Conference many times.  The first time I went to LA, I was really just taking everything in and trying not to get overwhelmed. A real highlight that year was talking to Loren Long and listening to his presentation as he jumped around impersonating a happy tractor.

During that conference I drew this doodle-

That turned into the biggest linocut I've ever done!

The second time I went to the LA Conference, I was having personal problems at home and was having a hard time staying focused. I was so sad that I didn't get as much out of that time as I could have. The highlights for me that year were workshops by Eugene Yelchin and Melissa Sweet. Eugene is incredibly intelligent and articulate. He was able to verbalize so many of those instinctive design decisions that you make (or don't) that create a great illustration. Thinking back, I need to pull those notes out and go over them again!

And Melissa Sweet is a very short force of nature! Her illustrations are so beautiful, detailed, energetic, fun and colorful! She was really good at giving us suggestions for ways to stay creative and come up with ideas. She also talked a lot about color which is good for me to hear since I haven't done much reading about color theory. 

Ooooh, I wonder what my favorite parts of this conference will be? I know I'm really looking forward to spending time with my friend, Dow Phumiruk who is an awesome illustrator. She is so positive and happy. I will share bits about my favorite presentations during or after the conference!

Friday, July 24, 2015

My Creative Life: Art

I wrote earlier about my time as a musician. That was a long time ago and it feels like a different person lived that life. When I decided to stop playing oboe, I moved to a different state and sold my instruments. That was the only way I could really start over without answering painful questions every day. I had a fantastic oboe and English Horn that I didn't want to rot in my closet, so I sold them to other musicians. They are hopefully still living a good musical life without me!

I let myself go a little wild and be a kid for a few years in my mid-twenties. I'd been so serious and focused as a young musician that I needed that time. Right away I also started painting. I didn't want to fall too quickly into another obsessive career, but it kind of happened on its own.

Knowing all about music school, and knowing people who went to art school, I made the decision not to go back to school. I didn't have the money, and I wanted to explore art in a more organic way. Mostly it's been the right decision for me. In the last 20 years I've read tons of art books, taken workshops, worked for Riverhouse Editions making etchings, and even had the wonderful experience of working for Laura Wait as a studio assistant helping her make hand-made artist books and prints. Being a self-taught artist is kind of a misnomer. It's more about being a self-learner and tapping into all of the resources around you to learn what you can from them.

1 Potato, 2 Potato, 3 Potato, 4
I want to tell you about finding my calling. Which sounds silly. But it's happened to me 3 times in my life and it's an incredible feeling to discover the thing that resonates with you so perfectly. I found my calling making potato prints.
Couch Potatoes
Yep. I'm a goofball. I don't remember what prompted me to cut up russet potatoes with a razor blade and print them with acrylic paint, but I did. And it was SO FUN! I couldn't stop for about 3 days. I told my friend at work about it. I was working at a frame shop (a skill I highly recommend for any 2-D artist) and my friend said, "Hmmmmmm, maybe you should try linoleum prints."

I got a couple of linoleum blocks from the art supply store but I was too cheap to buy the cutting tool. So I carved this print with a razor blade. (Don't try it!!!!! Buy the cutting tools!!!!!) It's a commemoration of my truck's odometer turning over to all zeros.  I can't believe I pulled it off at all. I drew directly on the block and my drawing skills weren't great. I didn't really understand the way the print would be a reverse of what I was carving. I painted acrylic ink on the block with a brush and printed it by hand. And I LOVED the process. It was so much fun I could barely stand it. I wanted to do it for my whole life!

So I went out and bought a linocut tool and ink. And this is the next print I made:

I've discovered that it's the process of making a print that I love- monotypes, etchings, solar plates, letterpress, linocuts, whatever. I just keep making linocuts because I can do them at home without a lot of equipment and no press. One day I will own a press, but I'm so used to printing by hand that I don't mind it, and I can get effects that I couldn't get on a press anyway. Those first potato prints led me directly to becoming a printmaker. And I still want to do it my whole life!

Many years later I reprinted my beloved truck from that original block and put her in a field of stamped tulips. It looks like she's having a nice little vacation from the road. :)

But back to being a self-learner. I know that I can learn anything I want to. Sometimes it takes a while and it would be more efficient if I could just go to school or take some workshops. But I can't afford them. If it's something I really want to learn, I will take the time and find the resources I need and practice. I definitely know about practicing from being a musician.

There's one thing I didn't even realize that I needed to learn until recently though- self confidence. Some people seem to be born with it, but not me. I learned it as a musician, but I never learned it as an artist. Starting completely from scratch as an adult making art is no way to have built-in self confidence. I know I have great skills in some areas, and there are lots of areas that need work. But overall, my artwork is at a much greater level than my confidence. And it's time to change that!

What I've found that helps is listening to and reading inspirational material for creative people. A lot of it. And then I do any of the things they suggest that make sense to me. If I hear that I should join Instagram and post lots of art photos, I'll do that. If I hear that art directors still really like to get postcards in this digital age, I'll do that. If I hear that I should share more personal information, I'll do that. (See- I'm doing it!!) If I hear something that doesn't make sense to me or I think it's wrong, I won't do that. But lots of those little tidbits add up and help me feel confident in my business and my presentation. My favorite podcast for inspirational art business ideas is the Creative Pep Talk by Andy J. Miller.

I also like to listen to interviews of creative people and how they generated their own success. Here is a recent post with some favorite podcasts. It can be depressing to hear about someone else's great artistic life and achievements if you also want that for yourself. But then when you hear how they started out you realize that all beginnings are awkward and success wasn't built overnight. One of my favorite illustrators, Carson Ellis was a cocktail waitress in her twenties. She lived cheaply and spent as much time drawing as she could. Check out this great interview with her on Pencil vs Pixel.        

There is an inspiring interview with Anna Joyce on Jennifer E. Snyder's Creating Your Own Path podcast. Anna started her textile design business at a time when she couldn't get a job elsewhere. She had $3000 in savings and enough money for childcare for 3 months. And she dove in with all of her energy. Here is one favorite quote from the interview: "The number one thing that people should pay attention to if they are starting a creative career is taking themselves seriously. And when you take yourself seriously, others take you seriously. And if you really have a lot of passion, it's just about follow-through at that point. There are a million people that talk about wanting to do something and so many less actually do it. So if you have a goal and you just keep chugging away until you reach that goal, it's so much easier to reach the next one. So take yourself seriously and follow through with all of the things you intend to do."

And finally, when people compliment my work I really listen and take in the compliment. I was raised to be a humble girl and it was hard to learn to be publicly proud of my work. But I work hard and I'm really good at some things! So each little unasked-for compliment I take and use to build the strong base of self-confidence that I'm building. I'm not the person to build a skyscraper, but I've got a really good foundation for a cozy home right now. Thank you for coming over to visit. When I get the walls and roof done, I'll have you all over for a party!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Our Home Picture Book Dummy

I got all of the drawings done for this picture book dummy! They are small- each spread is 4 1/2 x 8 inches. But they are pretty detailed. 

I was pushing myself to work quickly so I could have this dummy done for the LA SCBWI Conference which is next weekend. Even though I was trying to get through the drawings quickly, this is the second complete dummy that I've done for this book and I've been thinking about and doing artwork related to this book for many years. So it's well thought out even if a bit rushed. Sometimes a deadline is all it takes. I would have liked to have time to finish a linocut for another spread, but that will have to happen later.

Here are the Instagram photos that I took along the way.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

My Creative Life: Music

I've been wanting to share a little bit about my life as an artist because right now I'm working on something that is so important to me that it's making me very introspective. I wasn't always an artist though. I didn't draw a lot as a child. I wanted to be a writer and I did write stories and poems as well as reading constantly. And in 5th grade I started playing oboe and became focused on music.

Usually in bios I mention that I was a musician because it explains why I didn't go to art school. But I gloss over that part of my life because it's not relevant. Does anyone ever live a life that is linear with only one purpose and no side trips, though? NO! If it seems that way when reading your favorite person's bio, you can certainly imagine that they left out quite a few side trips that contributed to their life view, but weren't really relevant to the bigger picture.

I want to explain something I discovered because there is an off chance that it could help someone else. But also because the way I handled this one challenge was not so great. Hopefully I've learned over the years and am facing my current challenge as an artist better that I did as a young oboist. I'll talk more about that in my next post.

The oboe when played well has the most gorgeous and haunting sound. It's a tough instrument to learn though, especially because you also have to learn to make your own reeds. Here is a YouTube video of Eugene Izotov giving pointers about and then playing a beautiful solo from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scherezade if you'd like to hear what the oboe sounds like.

I graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Oboe performance from the University of North Texas. The photo above is from my senior year. Our conductor was the incredible Anshel Brusilow.

After graduating, I knew I wasn't ready to be on my own without a teacher. I auditioned for a Master's program at the most prestigious school for oboists. I wasn't accepted. So I started taking lessons from the wonderful oboists in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I had challenges and setbacks, but nothing I couldn't have gotten through with time. But after college, my heart wasn't in it. That's because there was something I thought I'd never be able to do well enough to become successful. I couldn't articulate quickly enough. People tried to help and suggest alternative ways to improve but I felt like I'd hit a wall. I had so much potential in other areas, but my tongue just could't keep up with my fingers.

I'd showed my college teacher, Charles Veazey that my tongue was connected almost from the tip down to the bottom of my mouth. We vaguely thought that might be related to articulation or fast tonguing but we didn't know what to do about it. And this was so long ago that there was no internet or we probably would have done a little online research.

I wound up quitting oboe two years after college. I'd been playing regularly in an orchestra and having plenty of gigs. Things were generally good but I felt a little lost. I needed guidance and a strong teacher to help me figure out my weird problem. I probably should have applied for a Master's program at UNT and continued to study with Dr. Veazey but instead I quit.

I've been thinking about all of this a lot in the last two years since my daughter was born. She had big problems nursing which led me to reading about different things on the internet (how handy!) One issue was tongue-tie. That wasn't my daughter's problem but OMG, it was MY problem! Apparently I was a very colicky baby which is understandable because babies with tongue-ties can't suck properly. Sorry for all of the crying, Mom & Dad!

This problem has been known for an incredibly long time but around the 1950's doctors started dismissing tongue-tie as a made-up issue. It's recently becoming more widely known again. It's absurd how often science denies ancient knowledge only to find later that it has merit.

I'm sad that this minor handicap that could have been easily corrected changed the course of my life. I may have quit playing oboe for another reason along the way, but maybe I'd still be playing today. I did love playing in an orchestra. Sitting surrounded by musicians in the middle of a performance of Beethoven or Brahms or Debussy or works by any of the great composers is a transcendent experience. It's not the same as sitting in front of an orchestra as a listener. As you perform you are hyper aware of everything around you. You are nervous, you are confident, you are thinking on your toes, you are responding to so much stimuli, you are electrified! And now when I hear my favorite classical pieces I feel like crying, so mostly I don't listen.

I still have lots of musician friends from my earlier life, and if you folks or anyone else reading this encounters a young person who seems to be having this same problem, it's an easy surgical fix! Please investigate tongue-tie as a possibility.

I did discover after I quit playing oboe that I'm a very creative person. And I'm so happy to have become a visual artist! But one of my biggest hurdles as an artist is believing in myself and having confidence. I know this is partly because I walked away from my oboe career and that makes me feel like a quitter. I just didn't have the information and help that I needed at the time. Now my challenge is to learn self confidence. And I have a lot to say about that because I've been making great progress. I'll post about that and making my way as a self taught artist next time.

I only have 2 photos of myself playing and the other one is too dark to see. So even though this isn't how I usually sat or practiced, I thought I'd share this old picture. My boyfriend and I were in the middle of a fun vacation but I still needed a little time away from my vacation to be alone and play my oboe.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Blurb Portfolio

This is the first time I've had my work printed into a book instead of putting the images into the sleeves of a portfolio binder. It turned out really nicely!

I used Blurb to make the book and used their online layout option which was easy. The one I made is 12x12 inches, has no dust cover, and I used ProLine Uncoated paper. The paper is wonderful!!!

Here are some photos:

Monday, July 6, 2015


I've been furiously drawing the artwork for my dummy, Our Home. There's nothing I'd like to post yet so I thought I'd share some of the great podcasts I've been listening to while drawing.

I've been loving podcasts about creativity and art career strategy. It's such a good feeling to get inspired and have some new insights into how to be a successful artist while drawing, carving, and painting. Listening keeps me focused on the art in front of me also. I tend to get less fidgety and distracted.

So here are a few great podcasts I've found. If you know others, please share them with me!

Andy J. Miller's Creative Pep Talk
Andy shares lots of concrete tips on how to improve your art business and gain clarity about your work.  And who doesn't need a pep talk? I know I often do! He's fun and inspiring and definitely full of good ideas.

Creating Your Own Path with Jennifer E. Snyder. These are weekly interviews with creative people. And Jennifer asks great questions that lead to interesting answers. 

Todd Henry's Accidental Creative Podcast.
There are years worth of podcasts here about all things related to art. Todd also has guest speakers who share their own insight.

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
These are conversations with  children's book industry professionals, authors, and illustrators. You can hear them if you are a SCBWI member.

These are interviews with lots of different people hosted by Alec Baldwin. I was skeptical at first but he's an excellent interviewer!

This is a great way to learn about lots of different topics. Each program is based on a theme and has excerpts from several different TED Talks and well as exploring the theme with the speakers even more than in the original talk.

Pencil vs Pixel is a series of interviews with different creative people.

The ones below are actually videos, but you don't have to watch them, they work well as something to listen to while creating.

Reading Rockets Interviews with Children's Authors and Illustrators There are so many great interviews here with the giants of children's books! They usually talk about their childhood, how they got into creating children's books, and a bit about a book that they created.

Creative Mornings is a lecture series that I just started exploring. There are so many of them!!

TED Talks Everyone has heard of TED talks, right? There are so many that it's hard to know what to listen to. I usually type in the search words "art" or "creativity" to find something interesting.

So have fun listening and let me know if you know other good ones!