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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Illustration Challenge #36

I told you about my homework assignment, which I did at the National Museum of Scotland. How about try it yourself? Go find a public place where you can sit quietly to one side (preferably with a cup of tea) and draw what you see. It can be terrible, nobody has to see what you create but you. Try to capture the motion and energy of the people around you. Personally, I hope to do this a lot more often, so perhaps I'll be joining you!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday Linky List - 12 February 2016

From PW: 'A Long Walk to Water' Sells 1M Copies!

From The Bookseller: Google launches e-book 'experiment'

From SLJs Fuse #8 by Betsy Bird: Walking and Talking with . . . M.T. Anderson - have you seen these? They're very cool!

From PW: Is Amazon Opening More Bookstores? It's Hiring Booksellers. WOW. This is potentially huge news, and ripe for debate...

From PW: Angouleme Comics Festival Overshadowed by Gaffes, Protests Over Sexism - what a stink!

From The Guardian: Libraries saved me, now they need rescuing - Karin Slaughter - Go Karin!

From the Paisley Piranha Blog: F**k, fudge, frick, fug, flip, fiddlesticks... Dealing with swearing in children's book writing

At Sequential Art (via SCBWI British Isles): Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics - Exhibition at House of Illustration, London

From PW: Agate Unveils African American Children's Imprint - with books by my friend Denene Millner!

Thursday, February 11, 2016


It's black history month and my friend Don Tate has a truly special book out that I have to share with you. It's called POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON and it's published by Peachtree. (Gads, they do some good-looking books!) I emailed Don for a full on guest post, but he is riding high right now, super busy. As he said, "...things are so crazy right now. I'm on deadline to finish sketches for this next book before next Wednesday (when my travel schedule kicks in), and I have to start over on the sketches." So, I asked him some quick questions...
Me: How did you learn about George Moses Horton
Don: I wish I had a more interesting or profound answer to this question, but I learned about Horton through a writing partner, Chris Barton. I started researching Horton on that same day. I knew from day one that Horton's story would be loved by readers, but because of my heavy illustration schedule, I didn't know when I'd find time to write it. And then I had this fear that someone else might publish the story before I had a chance to start writing, so I found the time. Several years and many, many revisions later, the book was acquired by Peachtree Publishers.
Me: What was your medium for this book?
Don: Initially I wanted to illustrate "Poet" digitally. I'd just purchased a Cintiq, and I was anxious to put it to use. I did all of the line work on my Cintiq, but I think it freaked out my art director, who had another look in mind. She loved my hand drawn artwork, as done in the book "Hope's Gift," so I decided to use the same medium, acrylic watercolor washes and ink (Micron) lines on watercolor paper. Acrylic dries hard and allows for layering without disturbing under painting. And I used colored pencil in places. I also wanted to find a way to include Horton's poetry, since I'd not included any in the text (intentionally). So I hand lettered portions of his poetry and worked them into the illustrations using Photoshop. I did eventually get to put that Cintiq to work on my following book, "Whoosh!"
Me: With your busy schedule, how do you fit in creative time?
Don: Balancing creative time with travel can be a challenge. To help, I recently purchased a Surface Pro 4. It's a tablet that allow me to sketch on it using Photoshop or Manga Studio. I completely sketched and laid out my last two books on it. It's not great for creating final art, but totally saved me with my last two books. I also have a great booking agent who helps with the details of travel, so that I can spend that time in creative mode. I take it one day at a time.
Me: what are you working on next?
I have five more books under contract, and one to be announced soon. Most of them are nonfiction and involve little-known historical figures. I'm especially excited about an opportunity to work with Eloise Greenfield. That will be so cool!

Learn more about Don at

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lose something?

I've been collecting gloves. Well, pictures of gloves, at any rate. You know how I go on and on about how nice people are here in Edinburgh? Here's proof.
     It gets windy here and folks are constantly dealing with layers of hats and scarves and gloves. You're bound to drop something at some point and have it blow away. But rather than getting trampled, oftentimes, somebody will pop your lost item on a fence tine in the hopes that you'll be back by that way to reclaim it.
     Every time I see one of these, it makes me smile. It's like a polite little, "Did you lose this? Here you go." (Said in the sweetest Scottish accent.) It's a lovely act of kindness and I see it all the time.

     (That's the castle behind this pink glove, hidden by the tree branches.)
     Heck, once I even saw an entire outfit. It started with the tie.
And was followed by the shirt and the pants. Not sure what that was about, it was on Rose Street after all, which is a bit of a party central after hours. At any rate, even the pants were nicely folded and placed over a rail (you can see them behind the tie).
     Just the other day I became part of the process... I found a sweet little pink mitten that some little girl was bound to be missing. So I put it on a windowsill where she might find it.
     These found items make me happy, so I'm going to keep collecting photos of them.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Coloring Page Tuesday - Sleeping Cardinal

     I wonder if birds ever wish they could just hibernate rather than flying south?
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Learning Watercolors at the University of Edinburgh - Part II

For the second day of our watercolor workshop with Darren Woodhead, we went outside. And not just any outside - we headed for Arthur's Seat.
That's the former volcano that sits in the middle of town east of the castle. I've been so caught up with school and winter, we haven't actually hiked up it yet, so this was my first experience with this amazing mountain.
     We met at St. Margaret's Loch.
     The loch was full of swans and ducks and gulls.
It was cold and windy, but we pulled out our paints and paper and gave it a go.
Eventually, it just got too cold to keep our fingers moving, so a few of us hiked up to the St. Anthony's Chapel ruins.

It really was a beautiful day, albeit COLD! Here I am with Lily, Boris and Chiho. The hike got us warmed up a little bit.
And the view of the city from the mountaintop was amazing.
All said, more beautiful works were created (not by me!), and everybody got to try a hand at true plein air painting. I don't know if anybody caught the bug as strongly as Darren has it. Here he is in his painting garb - knee pads and all. But it sure was nice to try!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Pixar's Movie Tributes

This is a fun video putting Pixar movies side-by-side with scenes from famous movies they were mimicking or were inspired by. Click the image to watch on YouTube.

TEDx TALK - getting closer!

Yesterday I attended a TEDx Master Class led once again by the amazing speech coach, Mel Sherwood. A team of volunteers gathered to give feedback to five of the speakers (me included). It was the first time to share my speech with an audience and their feedback was fantastic - a roomful of brilliant minds! (Photo shared with permission by Nel Raymond.)
But first, Mel walked us through a bunch of exercises getting our minds, bodies, and mouths ready to be fully engaged. She's brilliant with her insights and I once again learned so much from her.
     There have been several stages with this preparation for a TEDx Talk. A few weeks ago, I saw the venue for the first time - Edinburgh's Central Hall. It is truly lovely and will hold 700 audience members. 500 tickets have already been sold, and you can buy yours HERE.
     They took my official photo while I was there, although I might need a redo as I recently got new glasses:
(Click here to see the photo with its write-up on the TEDx FB page.)
     What's been especially nice is how supportive my Uni classmates have been. They've been cheering me on, helping with design tips and Michal even gave my talk a listen in preparation for the master class. I am so grateful for all of them!
     So, how'd I do for my practice run? Well, I still need more practice, but overall, I felt good about my talk, "Is Your Stuff Stopping You?" It will be recorded, so if you can't make the journey to Edinburgh, it will be online soon after the date - where it can be viewed by millions of people if it goes viral. No pressure. But really, yeah, I hope it goes viral!!!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Illustration Challenge #35

Have you ever heard of a palomino blackwing pencil? Vivian French kindly gave me one recently and I have loved how soft the lead is - especially on a soft, high quality paper. If you can't get your hands on the pencil, try a 6B or an Ebony pencil and draw on some nice paper. I promise it will be a unique experience for you!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Sarah Dillard's MOUSE SCOUTS - Guest Post!

I remember going to the Kindling Words conference in Vermont and seeing early sketches and story ideas for Sarah Dillard's MOUSE SCOUTS, so I am thrilled to have her on today to talk about these adorable books which are finally in print!

by Sarah Dillard

      Mouse Scouts took a long time to write. It started as a picture book, spent some time as a graphic novel and finally found its place as a chapter book.
      In the beginning they weren't even scouts. There was just Violet and Tigerlily, two mice who were best of friends but very opposite. I loved the characters and wrote many different versions of their story, but something just wasn’t working. One day I was talking about it with my agent, the fabulous Lori Nowicki. She said that they really needed something to do; just being best friends who were opposite really wasn't quite enough to sustain a story. We bounced some ideas off of each other, and then one of us, I can't even remember if it was me or Lori, said MOUSE SCOUTS! From that point on, that was what they were.
     I was never much of a Girl Scout myself. My older sisters were both scouts and I was fascinated by their Girl Scout Handbooks and their badges. I couldn’t wait to be a Girl Scout myself. I was so proud when I was finally a Brownie, and I remember how magical my Flying Up ceremony felt. But Girl Scouts itself was a disappointment for me. At meetings we talked about hygiene and made macaroni necklaces.   There was a miserable sleep over at Camp Green Eyrie, our local Girl Scout Camp. It was cold, damp and smelled like Pine Sol. We slept in musty sleeping bags, in cabins with dirt floors. For breakfast there was gluey oatmeal with cold hard raisins. I never earned many badges, but I remember taking some off of my sisters’ badge sashes and sewing them on to mine. I was not a very good Girl Scout and it wasn’t long before I drifted away from it.
      So before writing Mouse Scouts I felt that I really had to do some research about what scouting was all about. I got a hold of the current Girl Scout Handbook and Badge book and read it cover to cover. On a visit to my husband's parents, we found his old Webolos and Wolf Scout handbooks. I felt like I was starting to get a grasp of scouting but something was missing. Then one day we were at a flea market and I found the exact same Girl Scout manual of my sisters that I had loved. All of my early memories of dreaming of being a Girl Scout came back.
      Originally, Violet and Tigerlily lived in a world of mice. They had computers, bicycles and all of the accoutrements of their human contemporaries. Other than their appearance, there really wasn’t anything mouse-like about them. I started to wonder what it would be like if they were mice living in a human world. It was a hard decision at first. There were many things that I liked about their mouse world that I would lose if I put them in a human world. It was like reaching a fork in the road, and I struggled for a while deciding which direction to go in. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that mice living in a human world would be much more interesting. It would emphasize the mouse like aspects of Mouse Scouting and serve to differentiate them from Girl Scouts. I drew on my memories of books like the Borrowers, The Rescuers and Stuart Little.
      The art for Mouse Scouts is black and white, except for the covers. This was something new for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed working on it. I started with pencil drawings, using water soluble graphite pencils. I love how you can go into the drawing with a damp brush and get wonderful gray tones. Then I put the drawings into photoshop to clean them up a little and make them richer. It has been fun playing with working digitally and it turned out to be a godsend for me. Soon after I started on the art for the first book, my mother became ill. I found myself dividing my time between my home in Vermont and Massachusetts caring for my mother. Working digitally meant that I could just pick up and go at any time and set up shop where ever I happened to be.
     Spending so much time in the house where I grew up gave me a window to my childhood self. While going through things in the attic I came across some mouse dolls that I treasured as a child. They now sit next to me while I work. They are a great reference for scale. One day I was looking at them, remembering how I used to play with them in the woods, taking them on camping trips and other adventures. I realized then that in many ways my life hasn’t changed very much since I was eight.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Learning Watercolors at the University of Edinburgh

Recently we had a visiting artist, Darren Woodhead, come in to conduct a watercolor workshop with the MA and MFA Illustration students. Hard to believe that in my entire art career, I'd never had a watercolor lesson. Wow, what a good one to start with! Darren is amazingly talented. You really need to have a look at his website before reading more.
     Darren started us off with just one color in a limited palette. I learned so many seemingly simple things, like working with tube paint, how much water to mix with the pigment, what sort of paper to use. Darren brought in skulls and a large stuffed heron named Patrick for us to render.
     Darren talked a lot about the simple nature of watercolor and how ironic it is that it's one of the hardest media to master. (He doesn't feel like he has - HA!)
     There were lots of sighs of frustration as we all struggled to create something we were happy with. Catherine took to it pretty easily.

     Nadee and Chiho did too.
     I must admit, though, I was one of the sighers. This is the only piece I was moderately happy with.
     To a non-illustrator, it may seem silly to become so angst-ridden over the ability to apply paint to paper, but that's what we're all about and it means the world to us!
      Darren was a great teacher as we took on this great challenge. And this was only the first day. Wait until you read about our plain-air exercise next week!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Coloring Page Tuesday - Bird Art

     This week we painted birds using watercolor as our medium. Made me wonder, what if the birds did the painting?
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Monday, February 01, 2016

National Museum of Scotland

Saturday I took care of two homework assignments at one time by visiting the National Museum of Scotland. (Worth a click-through.)
     My first assignment was to sit somewhere and for two hours try to record everything I saw through text and illustrations. The point being, it's an impossible task. When we interpret or try to describe something, anything, we can't help but fall short. It's an important lesson towards trying to describe or interpret your own work, let alone anybody else's.
     The second assignment was for Vivian French's writing workshop. She told me to go sit in the cafe of the National Museum and live sketch - observe the children - the gestures, the outfits, the motion. So that became my location for the first assignment and a wonderful exercise for the second one.
     Stan and I went early to just wander about for a few hours. It really is a spectacular museum with its lacy Victorian atrium and metal work. And the coolest thing is, it's FREE - always.
It has dinosaur bones and beasts of all sizes, both land-dwelling and aquatic.
The exhibits are eclectic and varied between the old and the new.
This is a part of an Atom Smasher used between 1950 and 1972. Isn't it beautiful?
Stan and I had lunch, then he went to run his errands and I went to plant myself in the cafe. This was my view to the left.
and the right.
I had purchased a cute little moleskin in the gift shop. It had a blank page on the left for sketches and a lined page on the right for my descriptions - perfect! (Click the images to see them larger in a new window if you're curious about the writing required by the brief. I used a varied nib pen and a palomino pencil for my sketches.

About half way through, the head of our TEDx Talk walked by, so she joined me and we chatted for a while. Otherwise, I wrote and I drew, wrote and drew.
     The whole exercise was surprisingly relaxing. As I wrote at the end, "Observing others takes you out of yourself and I find myself eager to keep going - to record everything. But of course, I can't. And isn't that the point of this project after all?"
     What I did find is a lovely place to hang out, sketch, drink tea and enjoy some fabulous references. I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bologna Book Fair - SCBWI Illustrators' Gallery Shortlist!

Woohoo! I've made it into the shortlist for this well-respected gallery show which will be on display during this year's Bologna Children's Book Fair, which I will finally be attending!
     The images are listed alphabetically by image title, so mine is the last one, called "Where Did She Go." My piece is alongside some pretty amazing company. I especially love the Billy Goats Gruff piece by Nicola Robinson, fellow SCBWI British Isles illustrator. CLICK HERE to have a look at all the finalists! (I think, I hope this page is open for public viewing.)
     At any rate, this is an awesome welcome to Italy for me! I can't wait for the Fair way away in April.
     Here was my entry...

Spec Work

Have you seen this video about people in "normal" professions being asked to do spec work? It's been making the rounds - deservedly so.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Snow in Edinburgh

It didn't last for long, but it did indeed snow this morning in Edinburgh - GORGEOUS!!!

Illustration Challenge #34

Use a pen (a really nice pen) and a pencil (a really nice pencil) and switch between them as you sketch your favorite things to draw. How does the tool change your artistic expression?


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