Merry Christmas!

I wish you all a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS, Happy Holidays, and a much brighter New Year! is taking a break until the New Year. So, until we meet again, be well and keep creating!


I am happy to be able to bring some light to your holiday this year with Aaron Becker's latest, gorgeous, board books, My Favorite Color and You Are Light. They are concept books with plastic colored sheets between the pages that form a sort of stained glass as you turn the pages and light sneaks in. Breathtaking, really! Aaron stopped by to talk about them...
e: These are not your typical picture books! I suppose they are novelty books. This is an area I haven’t shared much with my readers in the past. What goes into creating concept books like these? And what was your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
As you can see in the photographs, my process is very hands on! I build my own mock-ups of these physically, because it's really the only way to grasp how the colors will combine, interact with light, and technically come together. It's a bit like building a puzzle, and because it's so different from the work that goes into my normal picture books, the whole process feels like a vacation! In fact, I built the dummy for My Favorite Color while on a retreat at a friend's place in Palm Springs. Hopefully that spirit of relaxation and play comes through in the final book!
e: I think it most definitely does! There was so much paper engineering and interesting substrates involved - did the ideas come first, or the substrates and a “what can we do with this” sort of approach?
The ideas evolved as I played with the materials and their potentials. All I knew with My Favorite Color was that I was going to be limiting myself to a square grid, vs. the circles from You Are Light, and I wanted to push the envelope with the possibilities for color mixing now that I understood what went into the actual physical mass production of such an idea. For instance, on You Are Light, I didn't realize that each sheet of colored acetate could actually have any number of colors on it, so I limited myself to one color per page. It worked out just fine, but I wanted to see what I could do if I started using different colors on each page.
e: These books are so different from your Journey books, how did you make that transition, what inspired them?
I was struggling with my next wordless book at the time and went on a meditation retreat to clear my head. The workshop was held in an old church with stained glass, and as I was walking back and forth in the hall during a "walking meditation" I couldn't stop my mind from wandering to the colors in the window. Of course, I was supposed to be paying attention to my breath! But it's a good thing I couldn't. Because the next thing I knew, I realized what my next book was going to be!
e: That's a pretty interesting origin story!
What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Heart Art must come from within. I think a lot of children's book creators are putting their audience first, and as a result, often simplify their thoughts for their imagined audience. But kids are a lot more sophisticated than we think, and by creating work for ourselves, that resonates deeply within ourselves, we end up creating work that can tap into something universal within all of us, kids included.
e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you these days)?
I use instagram and twitter (both @storybreathing), but mostly use these like a journal of my process and thoughts. I find that publicity doesn't come naturally to me and I'd rather put my efforts into my next project.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
The great thing about creating work for yourself is that it's all up to you. On the other hand, the difficult thing about creating work for yourself is that it's all up to you.
e: Is there something in particular about these books you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
For You Are Light, my hope was to provide something a bit spiritual for a child in their interaction with color and light. But I've disguised it inside a book about photosynthesis! With the follow up, My Favorite Color, I wanted something more playful that gave kids permission to stay open to possibilities. When adults ask kids what their favorite color is, they're really asking the child to define themselves. And this is something that happens with lots of things - foods, friends, interests, and even gender identity. I think we have to ask ourselves why we do this - and I think often the reason is that we want the world to be graspable and compartmentalized, so that we can handle all of the chaos that is life. But this is dangerous too - because by asking kids to limit their favorites to one or two things, we're stifling their curiosity. What I love about the child narrating My Favorite Color is that they turn this on its head - and refuse to answer the question at hand!
e: Oh! I LOVE that! What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
Right now I'm working on two books that are fantastical in nature, both wordless, and both dealing with issues of climate change. Despite all that divides us as a nation, this is the single issue that's going to effect all of us the most, especially the children of today. I think it's important as an author to entertain and promote wonder in the world, but also to bring up these pressing issues in digestible, even subversive ways. I can't wait to have these books out there - the future is now!

e: I so agree - I can't wait to see them! Hope you'll drop back by!
Aaron: Thanks!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Polar Bear and the Christmas Star

     I don't know about you, but seeing the aligned planets create the Christmas Star yesterday gave me incredible hope for the new year. Happy Holidays to all of my readers!
CLICK HERE for more Christmas-themed coloring pages
     Remember, I create my coloring pages to draw your attention to my books! Especially... THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA! Click the cover to learn about this state-themed picture book, now available as a board book too! Makes a GREAT teacher gift!
     Don't live in Georgia? Check with your local bookseller - Sterling has a version for each state.

If my news and images add value to your life, won't you please
Just love this one image? Consider a one-time donation...

     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.

Student Loan Debt Explained

As an educator, I found this video to be especially helpful in understanding the current student loan debt crisis. Bottom line, it's a societal problem created by societal decisions to transfer costs that were once subsidised by the government (as adding to the greater good and success of our nation) to the individual students themselves, which is hurting our nation as a whole. We moved from educating our citizens for the sake of being more competitive on the world stage, to strapping our brightest minds with debt just as they are in their most influential stages in life. It's hurting our economy, leading to lower investments in marriage, child-birth, home ownership, etc. And it's not solely a priveleged, white male issue. "Women hold roughly two-thirds of all student debt," and yet make less money in the job market, putting them at greater risk debt-wise. So, while it is not a complete answer, I support Joe Biden wiping away $50K of federal student debt. But it needs to be followed with legislation that returns us to a federally supported higher education system, which makes us more globally competitive. Most other first-world nations subsidize or fund higher education, the US is an outlier in this regard. This needs to be fixed.
When I posted this to facebook, an interesting conversation ensued, so I went a bit further to say:
      I want to make it clear - I don't think loan cancellation by itself is the answer. It's a temporary solution. The government used to fund the majority of higher education. That support started to decline with Reagan and pursuant recessions. Now, the onus of the cost has moved to the students, creating the situation we're in today. (My own university used to get a fair amount of its funding from the state of South Carolina - funding that was cut during the last recession and was never returned to pre-recession lebels.) So, to clarify - tax payers did used to pay for college - it has always been seen as an appropriate investment in the betterment of society. The more educated citizens we have, the more innovation we have in all fields, which makes us less reliant on other countries. The problem is, government has Stopped paying for it, and now our best and brightest minds are mired in so much debt, they can't contribute to society. So, there is a seed change that needs to occur, or reoccur. Yes, the cost needs to go back to the government, because WE ALL BENEFIT from a more educated populous, just as we all benefit from good roads and fire departments. There are some things that simply must be in the public trust.

VIDEO: Aerial Footage outside Berlin

A friend who from Scotland, who now lives in Berlin, Mattias Keysermann, has the fun hobby of filming with an aerial drone. He made a compilation of his favorite footage from the year from outside the city. It's a bit dizzying, but beautiful too. He also did a video of Berlin's abandoned places, which may be my fave. The tower in the first video is called the Grunewald Tower dating back to 1897 and marked the 100th birthday of the German Emperor Wilhelm I (d. 1888) (a.k.a. the King of Prussia). Have a look on Youtube - click the image:

Connie's Cards

I love this photo so much. We miss our friends in Scotland, and they miss us too. So Connie pulled out the cards I made her as part of her Christmas decorations. This is a photo of her windowsill and Edinburgh in the background.
Our only solace is that even if we were still in Scotland, we still probably wouldn't be able to be together because of Covid. But that doesn't make the missing any less! Love you Connie - hugs to all!

Friday Links List and Illustrators' Treehouse News - 18 December 2020

From The Guardian: How Julia Donaldson conquered the world, one rhyme at a time

From PW: 2020 Children's and Teen Choice Book Award Winners Announced

From Brightly:
     11 Girl-Centered Sci-Fi Novels for Middle Grade Readers
     Memorable and Meaningful: On Giving Books Over Toys This Holiday Season

From the AP: Publishing saw upheaval in 2020, but ‘books are resilient’

Do you know about KidLitTV?

From The Bookseller: Avon and Mushens Entertainment hunt for new commercial writer of colour

From The Guardian:
     Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels
     The Best Children's Books of 2020 for All Ages

From Bookends: How Publishing Managed 2020 is an Indication of Future Success

From BookBub: 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Readers Loved This Fall

From Anavrin: Create a mini study room adorable!

f COMPETITION: CommArts Illustration Competition Call for Entries (deadline, Jan. 8, 2021)

COMPETITION: York County Storm Drain Art (open until Jan. 8, 2021 - $200 award)

CONTEST: Check out the Astra International Picture Book Writing Contest (Astra is the new house headed up by children's lit scholar Leonard Marcus)

PARTICIPATE - SUBMIT TO the: Bologna Children's Book Fair (12 -15 April 2021) Illustrators Exhibition

SCHOLARSHIP: 12x12x12 Scholarship Program for budding children's book writers

PARTICIPATE: From The Bookseller:

From Bobby Chiu: How to Paint with No Reference

PARTICIPATE: From the State of Illustration: Annual Illustrators' Survey

JOB: Steak N Shake, Charlotte, NC is looking for an illustration graphic designer

From CommArts: Siaya print ads With the help of EunSun Choi’s intricately crafted dolls, these surrealist print ads reveal the strange things that happen when people spend too much time indoors.

From Diamond Book Distributors: Newsletter

From Valiant Entertainment: Newsletter

From Muddy Colors:
     A Box Full of Dreams with Robert Hunt - on the 1983 The Society of Illustrators annual - WOW.
     The Psychedelic Singularity with Cory Godbey a graphic novel seven years in the making!
     Obeka Brute Chronologist with Jasper Ejsing On creating art for Magic the gathering

From CommArts: Launching a new typeface: Whirly Birdie

From SLJ and Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes: Top 20 Books of 2020: 15-11 (with links to all the lists)

From Print & Pattern: Christmas 2020, Paperchase

From The Art Room Plant: Peter Van den Ende!!!!

From Inside Higher Ed: Guest Post: The Strange Case of the Exploding Student Workload

From EAB: The Anatomy of a Great Meeting - infographic

From The NY Times: The Social Life of Forests

From Ali A Olomi on Twitter: A master thread organizing all the threads I've done- On angels in Islam, Dreams and their interpretation in Islam and Eastern Folklore, On the Zodiac in Islam astrology - beautiful

Maja Dusikova's THE LITTLE BELL

I have a special Christmas story to share with you this year - a real treasure from NorthSouth Books called The Little Bell, written by Heike Conradi and illustrated by Maja Dusikova, who is visiting all the way from Florence, Italy. Her answers are translated by her daughter.
e: Welcome Maja! What was your creative process/medium for The Little Bell, can you walk us through it?
The first thing I usually do with a new book project is to prepare a storyboard. I divide the text into smaller sections depending on the number of illustrations needed for the book and I decide which scene of the story I want to illustrate. Then I prepare pencil sketches for the storyboard drawing the scenes and characters I had envisioned while reading the text for the first time. In The Little Bell, the bells are speaking, so initially I experimented with giving them eyes and mouths, but I soon realized this wasn’t really my style – it was too Disneyesque. My editor at NordSud Verlag, Andrea Naasan, also agreed that it would be best not to give the bells human-like features, but rather leave it to the little readers to use their imagination. Another important decision to be made was about where to place the little bell in relation to the two big bells. I really wanted to give the little one a place of honor on the tower, since it is, after all, the main character of the story, but none of the solutions seemed good enough both technically and aesthetically. Eventually, I involved my daughter Katarina in the decision making process and she found the perfect spot for the little bell, which is the one you can now see in the book.
Once I am satisfied with the storyboard, I send it to my editor and my publisher, Herwig Bitsche, for review and once they approve it I can start working on the actual illustrations. The way I like to create is to do a lot of research both online and offline. Unlike a painter, who can freely choose their subject, an illustrator must stick to the text of the book and be rather accurate! For The Little Bell, I primarily researched pictures and videos of bells, their different shapes, how they work and what a bell tower looks like from the inside. It was quite the technical feat for a Christmas illustration!

Afterwards, once all the reference material is gathered for every illustration, I proceed to draw the subject on watercolor paper using pen and raw Sienna ink. The last step is adding watercolour to my drawings.
      The cover and title page are very important illustrations as they present the book to potential readers, so I made separate sketches for them. There were different options for the cover, but after discussing it with my editor, we eventually decided to go for the one you can see now as it offered the most comprehensive view of the story at first glance.

When all the illustrations were ready, I sent them to my publisher and the excellent editorial, design, and production departments did a wonderful job at turning them into a lovely book.

e: What was your path to publication?
I was born during the 1940s in former Czechoslovakia. I started drawing when I was still a little girl. It all started with my father, really: he was very good at drawing and I still remember how he would sketch little things for me, especially animals, and teach me how to do it myself. A rabbit, a little mouse, a rooster, a piglet… he drew them all, but my favourite among dad’s drawings was always a Christmas tree!
      When I grew older, I went to the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava, where I specialized in book illustration and etching. This allowed me to start a career in children’s book illustration afterwards. This way, I could keep drawing animals, flowers, children and especially Christmas trees as much as I wished, and to do it professionally!
      Unfortunately, after 1968 the political climate in Czechoslovakia became worse and worse. My husband (an artist himself) and I were under constant police surveillance and I felt a lack of freedom in my creative work, so in the early 80s we decided to flee the country and seek asylum in Italy. We packed a few suitcases and, together with our three children and a caged budgie, we drove our car to Italy. That is about all we could take with us back then, but it didn’t matter: I had my artwork and creative ideas securely stored in my mind anyway.
Santa Claus and the Christmas Surprise was one of the first books I illustrated in Italy for NordSud Verlag. Every year, a Children’s Book Fair takes place in the city of Bologna, Italy. The Fair also includes an illustrators’ exhibition featuring works selected by an international committee. One year, my illustrations for a book of English fairy tales, that was published the previous year by a publisher in Bratislava, were selected. I was very pleased to hear that the international committee had chosen my illustrations for the exhibition, but I was even more excited when Mrs Brigitte Hanhart Sidjanski, chief editor of the Swiss publisher NordSud Verlag, offered me a collaboration for a Christmas book. I had been a long-time admirer of the books published by this publisher and I was always keen on visiting their booth at the Book Fair. I never imagined that one day I would work for such an amazing publisher! The beautiful Christmas story I was offered to illustrate perfectly resonated with me and I could finally pour my love of Christmas into an actual book.
      In addition to that first Christmas story, I illustrated many more Christmas-themed books. With NordSud Verlag alone, I published Silent Night, Holy Night (1999), The Advent Storybook (2004, written by Antonie Schneider), and What the Shepherd Saw (2014, written by Selma Lagerlöf).
e: Wow, that is quite the story! Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of The Little Bell?
Yes, there is! When I was researching pictures and videos of bells and bell towers, I couldn’t find a good enough view of the inside of a real bell tower. So, a friend of mine offered to take me on a special visit up on the bell tower of the Old Palace (Palazzo Vecchio in Italian) here in my city, Florence, which is 92 meters high. In the uppermost section of the tower, in order to get to the very top where the bells are, one has to walk up a very old, steep, spiral staircase, which is positioned in a way that you climb almost on the external side of the building and has a rather low metal railing. You could see all the red roofs and the tiny cars from up there and as much as it was a fascinatingly unique view of Florence, it was also very scary! I was too afraid of falling down to take any pictures, but I did have a very good look at the bells once we got up there and the memory of such an exciting experience will stay with me forever.
e: No wonder you're an illustrator, you are full of good stories! What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
I believe that art, especially children’s illustration, must first and foremost provide an emotional accompaniment to the words of the text. So, although technique is of course important, being able to really pour emotion onto my work plays a much greater role in doing a good job in illustration, in my opinion. I am most happy when readers write me saying that they were deeply touched by the warm, almost nostalgic atmosphere of my art as they read the stories. That is the best compliment I can ever receive.

e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you)?
I am not very good at promoting myself, to be honest. I do have an Instagram account (@majadusikova) and a Facebook page (Maja Dusikova Artist), though, where I like to share my art and new releases from time to time. Other than that, I am sometimes called to conduct workshops for children where they learn how an illustrated book is made from the artist’s point of view and where they can create their own little book model. For me, this is the best kind of promotion as it addresses directly the little readers. I love their enthusiasm, after I have read the story out loud for them, as they create their own illustrated little books. Last year, I used The Little Bell during one such workshop held at a school in Florence. The children had a great time drawing the bell tower and the bells, while some chose to focus on the bakery featured in the book, depicting all kinds of yummy cakes and pastries!
Sometimes I am also invited to speak at events geared more towards adults, with a book presentation and a Q&A session.

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
For me, the hardest part in the creative process is to achieve a good quality drawing. I need a long time for this first step, before I feel satisfied with my drawing. This is also the time I stress-eat quite a bit, especially chocolate! The best part is when I finally prepare the illustration with ink and then I can fully focus on adding color and and an emotional quality to my work. This is the phase when I feel the highest degree of creative freedom as I strive to give life to my cosy or nostalgia-infused atmospheres.

e: Is there something in particular about The Little Bell you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I hope that readers will take away and keep in their heart two things especially. The first is the power of friendship, which can truly make miracles happen in terms of helping someone in need. The second is the message of the Peace Light of Bethlehem that scout groups from all over the world carry and hand over to other groups before Christmas every year, spreading a message of peace for all nations and all peoples.

e: That's lovely! What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I am finishing another Christmas story at the moment for Bohem press, a book written by Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter, “Rock Crystal”. Illustrating this title has been a dream of mine for the longest time, ever since I first read the story and fell in love with it. It is a beautiful story about two neighbouring villages in the Alps, separated by mountains and discord. But when, on the night of Christmas eve, two children living in one of the villages, on their way back from visiting their grandparents who live in the other one, get lost after a snowstorm in the forests and glaciers separating the two villages, both their inhabitants decide to join forces and set to search for them together. It is a wonderful tale of reconciliation and overcoming.
e: I can't wait to see it, Maja! I hope you'll stop by again. Until then, Merry Christmas!

Coloring Page Tuesday - A Reindeer for 2020

     It's been a crazy year and one of the most desirable purhcases has been, well...
CLICK HERE for more Christmas-themed coloring pages
     Remember, I create my coloring pages to draw your attention to my books! Especially... THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA! Click the cover to learn about this state-themed picture book, now available as a board book too! Makes a GREAT teacher gift!
     Don't live in Georgia? Check with your local bookseller - Sterling has a version for each state.

If my news and images add value to your life, won't you please
Just love this one image? Consider a one-time donation...

     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.

Art Studio

I've shown you my teacher's cockpit before. Well, with the changing of the seasons, my corner has gotten very dark, which made it look like I was in a police line-up on Zoom and was straining my eyes. But there wasn't really room for a lamp, and I didn't want a spotlight shining on the top of my head anyhow. So, I went searching for a creative lighting solution and came up with this fabulous metal sign from Rustalgic.
They can customize the words on your sign (which are magnetic, so can be changed or moved around. And it's just enough ambient light without a lamp shining a spotlight on my head. Isn't it fun? This is our Christmas present for the flat this year.
(Click the image to see it on their site.)

Making Merry

Our sweet little town is filled with signs of Christmas. Gold reindeer have spring up.
And the balcony decorations are over the top.
And our tree is covered with ornaments from friends... a trumpet-playing snowman from my trumpet-playing friend, Elisa.
A tribute to 2020 from Stan.
And a lovely hand-made ornament from my Hollins friend and colleague, Ashley Wolff.
And a star for the top of the tree - HA!

VIDEO: Chaos Walking

I loved the book, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. It's now been turned into a movie called Chaos Walking. And the trailer is cool! Click the image to watch on Youtube:

Trailer: Tiny Pretty Things

I'm thrilled to announce the upcoming show for Netflix, Tiny Pretty Things, written by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, my colleague at Hollins University! Click the image below to watch the trailer on YouTube.
Tiny Pretty Things is set in the world of an elite ballet academy and charts the rise and fall of young adults who live far from their homes, each standing on the verge of greatness or ruin. As Chicago’s only elite dance school, the Archer School of Ballet serves as the company school for the city’s renowned professional company: City Works Ballet. The Archer School is an oasis for an array of dancers: rich and poor, from north and south, and a range of backgrounds. Yet they all share a rare talent and passion for dance, a loyal sense of community… and when it comes to their dreams, no Plan B.