Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Cover Project Continued...

I have a couple illustrations to add to the book cover project I've been working on. I love anytime I am driving and see a dog with their head out of a car window and ears flapping in the wind. It always looks like they are just having the best time ever. So the above illustration came out of the idea that if dogs could drive themselves, they would be in the car all the time (I have a friend who noted that this dog does not look like a very responsible driver- I don't think most dogs would be, so I guess it's a good thing that they are content to sit in the passenger seat)!

Inspiration for this illustration came from a bluesy children's musician who I adore by the name of Randy Kaplan. Among his many hilarious songs is one called Shampoo Me! about a shark that comes up through the drain while a kid is taking a bath, and he has an unusual request. My particular favorite of Kaplan's is a song called Roaches, about the little houseguests that inhabited a New York City apartment he once rented- but I didn't suppose that would make a children's book cover that looked like anything a parent would buy for their child (but if Kaplan ever decides to make his song lyrics into books, I will buy every one)!

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Indoor Bird

The idea for this illustration started out as a sort of wondering. What if there was a beautiful bird who lived it's entire life indoors- given affection from it's owner and good food to eat with plenty of snacks, but it also had it's home in a tiny cage and could only see the outside from a window. What if there was another bird who looked identical to the indoor bird, only it had lived his entire life outdoors- with the freedom to fly and go where it pleased, but doing so alone and fending for it's own food and shelter through good weather and bad (not to mention fending off cats!) What would happen if the two birds found each other one day? I like creating illustrations where there are questions without answers. But I think I would like to know what becomes of these two birds, so it is a story that I would like to write down and tell soon.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Illustration Friday: Vacation

Vacation is the word of the week on Illustration Friday, and it's also a word that has been on my mind lately. On a shelf beside my drafting table I keep a couple of ticket stubs from a trip that my family took to Disneyland when I was eight along with a little promotional pin that I won for their 35th anniversary celebration and the one souvenir I chose, an Alice in Wonderland tea set. That vacation to California holds a lot of happy memories and it is a place I would like to return to someday, which is why I keep those things in a place where I can see them often. The date on the stubs reads June 15th, 1990- 25 years ago this week. For this illustration I was brainstorming who could use a vacation, and I thought of the worker bee! I suppose I am a bit of a worker bee myself- on top of my regular job I usually spend 60 to 80 hours a month in my studio. Of course, there is so much joy that I get from illustrating that I have never thought of it as work... still, a little time away for a vacation on a beach would be okay with me!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Lots of Cats

My story Lots of Cats has gone through many, many (many, many, many!) revisions since my first draft more than a few years ago. An earlier version had my character, a witch named Margaret, searching for her lost cats in a blizzard but I felt that it made the plot a little too complicated- and from the illustrator side I really didn't want to have to color a bunch of snow! I changed the snow to a forest, which made for a much better story plot-wise and it was much more dramatic (and fun!) to illustrate scenes in a dark forest.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Covers

I've recently been commissioned by a company in Hollywood, California that rents artwork and props to create fifteen (cleared) book covers that will be available for television and film use. The only instructions I was given were to leave room for the titles (which I plan to hand illustrate and add later) and to keep them fairly simplistic because a camera would not be able to pick up on a lot of little detail. The funny thing is that even though these aren't real books, they are giving me real story ideas for what happens to the book cover characters I am creating. These are the first two of the fifteen- it will be exciting to see which television shows or films they show up in!

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Babe

This illustration is one of my personal favorites, and I thought it would be appropriate for posting on MLB's Opening Day. I was raised in a house that rooted for the Tigers, not the Yankees (doing an illustration of Ty Cobb somehow didn't seem as heartwarming) but I think Babe Ruth is the greatest player there has ever been. It isn't just because of the incredible stats but for his love of the game, for the way his fans loved him and the way he loved them back. Especially kids- he was known to call everybody "kid" and to them he was larger than life.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Illustration Friday: Strong

When I saw that the word of the week on Illustration Friday was strong, what came to mind is how strong creative people must be to be able to do what they do. Strength to share their work with the world and make themselves vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure; strength to tune out voices from people who are not supportive or understanding, strength to try an unfamiliar technique or medium, and the strength to spend many, many hours in isolation honing their craft.

When I feel down about a particular rejection or string of rejections, there are people who will tell me not to give up. The thing is, I don't know how to do that anyway. I've never even considered it, because I feel so passionately about the art of picture books and being a children's book illustrator is the only thing I have ever wanted to be (really, I don't know what else I would do). I don't think there is weakness in feeling sad or frustrated when the rejections seem endless. But there is strength in not allowing those feelings to linger too long, in picking oneself up and doing whatever works best to get back in the positive, creative frame of mind. Reading always seems to help me do that, so does music. There is a line from a Jim Croce song I like that goes "ain't nobody ever had a rainbow baby, until he had the rain." They are words I try to keep in mind every time I open my mailbox to find another rejection, along with some very encouraging words that came from a well-known author/illustrator I admire who told me that my work was so strong and funny and emotional that getting published wouldn't be a question of if, but a question of when.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

From the Sketchbook...

A drawing that I found from a few years ago while going through some old sketchbooks, from when my niece was a baby and her big brother liked to take her toys away!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Here are a couple of color images from the newest story that I have been working on about a little porcupine who would very much like a balloon of his own, but many unexpected things (bees, birds, clowns, himself) make it difficult for him to keep them from popping.

My nearly wordless book was partly inspired by my love for comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. Because their films were silent and told mostly through actions and emotions, with only a few words appearing on the screen, I think they are very similar to the art of the picture book. I love the surprise element of their films- when you think one thing is going to go wrong, it turns out to be something else. A perfect example of that is a scene from a Buster Keaton short called One Week, in which Keaton is attempting to move his house on wheels across some train tracks, with disastrous but very funny results. Check it out here.

Jellyman Kelly

Growing up my dad introduced me through his record collection to many musicians of the 60's and 70's, including James Taylor- but Jellyman Kelly was one of Taylor's songs that I serendipitously discovered on my own while watching Sesame Street. I love it's nonsense lyrics (I read that the song came out of a poem that his five year old daughter Sally wrote at school). It came up on a playlist recently while I was working on another project and I started to think about who Jelly Man Kelly and Jenny Mulhenny were, and why is there a big question as to whether she will let him come home? I decided Jellyman Kelly must be a jelly salesman- only he eats more than he sells, and makes a big sticky mess in the process. Jenny Mulhenny is his wife and she likes to boil hot water for her tea. The answer to whether Jellyman Kelly can come home? No! (At least not until he sells the rest of that jelly and cleans himself up)!

Here is a link to James Taylor singing the song on Sesame Street. I give you fair warning if you take a listen- it is quite infectious and you will most likely be singing it to yourself the rest of the day!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Illustration Friday: Sleep

I am willing to admit that sometimes my bed looks like this when I fall asleep at night.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cat Support Group

Last year a single friend of mine turned 30 and made the comment that maybe it was time to give up and get a cat. There seems to be a negative stereotype about the woman over a certain age living alone with her cats. There is a line from one of my favorite shows, Mad Men, where Peggy's mother advises her, " If you're lonely, get a cat. After twelve years, get another one. Then another. Then you're done."

Monday, December 22, 2014

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Every year I have the same one wish for Christmas- snow. It's hard to get into the holiday spirit when you look out the window and see lighted trees and decorations surrounded by dead grass and dirt. Growing up in Iowa, most years I have gotten my wish. This year it has been rainy and gray, and with a few days left till Christmas I am still hopeful!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Little Dogs

I have been drawing these fluffy white dog characters in one form or another since I was a kid. As I was cleaning out a drawer in my studio recently, I came across some light sketches of them that I had started a few years ago. Since they fit the theme of the holiday season, I decided to finish them!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Illustration Friday: Sea

The word for Illustration Friday this week fits with a couple of illustrations that I have done that were inspired by the Robert Louis Stevenson poem My Bed is a Boat.

My bed is like a little boat;
Nurse helps me in when I embark;
She girds me in my sailor’s coat
And starts me in the dark.

At night I go on board and say
Good-night to all my friends on shore;
I shut my eyes and sail away
And see and hear no more.

And sometimes things to bed I take,
As prudent sailors have to do;
Perhaps a slice of wedding-cake,
Perhaps a toy or two.

All night across the dark we steer;
But when the day returns at last,
Safe in my room beside the pier,
I find my vessel fast.

Monday, November 17, 2014


I don't remember the first time I was introduced to Oz, perhaps age three or four. The story of a Midwest girl like myself who goes on an amazing adventure must have captured my imagination, however, because I have been intrigued with Oz ever since.

When I was seven and old enough to read on my own I checked out the book by L. Frank Baum from the library- and as much as I loved the movie and Judy Garland, I loved the book even more. Quickly I went through Baum's 13 other stories about the land of Oz and it's many wonderful inhabitants. Jack Pumpkinhead, Tik Tok, and the Patchwork Girl were a few of my favorites. I spent quite a bit of time as a child thinking about how much I would like to go to Oz and visit these characters.

Here is photo of me in the first grade wearing a Dorothy costume for Halloween:

And here is a photo of me in the second grade, wearing the same Dorothy costume for school picture day:

Recently I read a biography of L. Frank Baum called Finding Oz, which detailed the events in his life that led him to the eventual success of his American fairy tale The Wizard Of Oz when he was 43 years old. Pieces of his failed careers as a chicken breeder, traveling playright, castor oil salesman, and store owner/ newspaper man in Aberdeen all found their way into his story. There were also inspirations for The Emerald City from the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and a strong female protagonist in Dorothy from his famous suffragist mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage.

As an aspiring author/illustrator I found particular inspiration in Baum's optimistic outlook that endured through his many failures- he never stopped telling his stories to children and he never gave up hope. I had heard from different sources over the years that initially Oz was rejected by fifteen different publishers. This is a story however that Baum most likely embellished, because the book explains that he only had one handwritten manuscript (where is that now?!) and it would have been highly unlikely that it would have been sent to so many houses. He had success the previous year with Father Goose, His Book and his publisher was ready to take a chance on Oz.

I'm glad they did.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lots of Cats

I wanted a color piece from my book dummy to add to my portfolio, and I thought this scene would be perfect for the season we are headed into.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

IF: Journey

The word of the week for Illustration Friday is Journey, which is great because the newest story I've been working on has to do with an imaginative little mouse who embarks on his own adventurous journey. I loved using rich, earthy colors on this little fellow and it made me wish that fall was here already!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tomie dePaola Award

I was thrilled upon hearing the news that I was chosen as one of the fifteen finalists for the Tomie dePaola Award! I am very thankful to Tomie dePaola and SCBWI for the honor.

In other years the prompt has been to illustrate a passage from a book or a poem of his choosing. This year the task was to create characters and a story from our own imaginations in six panels, so the possibilities were wide open! I think it was a wonderful assignment because for illustrators aspiring to make picture books, creating consistent characters and an interesting story involves so much more than creating one nice picture. I have experience with telling a story in a 32 page book dummy, so the hard part for me was figuring out how to tell one (with no words) in only six panels. After doing several thumbnails to work the story out, I decided to do the final panels in black and white with the only color being the red string to really emphasize it.

Once again, the inspiration came from personal experience. Not long after I adopted my cat, Dino, I gave him a big ball of yarn to play with. Because what is cuter than a little kitten with a ball of yarn, right? My mistake was leaving the ball of yarn out when going to bed. When I woke up in the morning the very long string of yarn was wrapped around all of my furniture winding through my living room, dining room, and kitchen. My immediate reaction was to laugh. Though it took much of the morning to clean, it looked like he had the most fun ever. Also, I never left a ball of yarn out unsupervised again.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Balloon Hat Boy and Dog

This started as a doodle in my sketchbook and I thought it would be fun to turn into a colored illustration! It is a lesser known fact that besides being an artist, I also know how to make balloon animals. I learned from my dad, who was a professional clown- although I can't make hats this elaborate, I do know the basics like dogs, giraffes, bunnies, swords, and ray guns (that alternate as blow dryers).

A photo of me at about six years old modeling a more simple version of the balloon hat:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

IF: Summer!

I thought this would be an appropriate illustration to post up for the first official day of summer, and summer is also the word of the week for Illustration Friday. Actually, it's not a new piece but one from a few years ago that I discovered recently while organizing my studio and realized I never posted it to my blog. Being raised in the Midwest, I didn't spend much time at the ocean- just a trip to California when I was eight, where my memory of seeing the Pacific can be summed up in was that it was very cold (in June) and my sister and I got one picture standing in front of it from a distance, bundled up in our sweaters, before we were ready to pile back into the warm car. It was eighteen years before I visited the ocean again and that was a completely different, much more blissful experience. I was in complete awe, and I can't begin to describe how wonderful it felt to set my feet in that water for the first time. Even though I didn't get to experience that kind of joy as a kid, I felt like one the second time around and wanted to capture it an illustration. Although I should note I did take some artistic license with the seagulls, with who I did not have the most pleasant experience. Beginners tip for visiting the ocean- seagulls are not ducks. Do not attempt to feed them unless you want to recreate a scene from The Birds.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole

About a month ago an SCBWI friend contacted me about a woman who was looking for an artist to create a mural in her home. I met with her to see the space, which was a play area built in the basement that they were having remodeled. She wanted it to be a special place for her grandchildren to play, and she wanted the theme to be Alice in Wonderland. I was thrilled to hear this, because I love the story and already had experience in designing a set for a theatre production of Alice a few years before.

Before picture:

Originally the owner of the space had the idea for a tree to be painted, but after viewing her loft-style basement with a brick wall on the opposite side I thought that it would fit better with the space to make it look like the room Alice falls into before she crawls through the little door to Wonderland.

I wanted to make a little pattern around the doorway to look like wallpaper, and I thought what could be better for entering Wonderland than a pattern of small keyholes!

On the other side of the door is Wonderland, and that is where I could really have fun with color and imagination!

I used chalkboard paint inside the heart so the children could make their own artwork in Wonderland. I had such a good time working on this project (maybe aside from being a little sore from painting in such a small space!) and getting to know the wonderful family who lives in the home. They can't wait to make memories with their grandchildren in the space with tea parties and sleepovers, and I was so happy that I could help be a part of it!

Friday, April 25, 2014

From the Sketchbook...

The sketch I did of this little girl made me think of a line that I have heard often, a compromise offered by an adult to a child who does not want to eat whatever it is they don't like. It led me to think of a story about this girl, who does not want to eat her broccoli and tries several ways to hide it, such as in her ears...

or disguise it, perhaps as a hair bow?

I didn't hate broccoli as a kid. I don't remember really liking it either- with a little cheese it was okay. But I did hate peas and fish sandwiches. I still hate peas and fish sandwiches. The peas were easy to dispose of, as there was a vent near the floor in the dining room that I could poke them down. The fish sandwich I didn't have as much luck with when I hid it underneath a chair in the living room, not having the foresight to think that the fish sandwich would start to reek. I came home from school a few days later to see the chair moved, the vacuum out, and the sandwich gone. Busted.

So maybe it wouldn't make a great children's book, giving kids ideas of what to do with their unwanted food. But there still might be an idea in there somewhere. Sometimes I will remember a drawing that I had done months or years before and it will fit in perfectly with my present story project. Which is why I keep all of my sketches (which now fill up a couple of large containers) because you just never know.