Monday, November 17, 2014


I wish I could remember my introduction to Oz. I assume it was by way of the annual television showing of the movie when I was very young, maybe three or four. The story of a Midwest girl like myself who goes on an amazing adventure must have captured my imagination, because I have been intrigued with Oz ever since (and also, oddly enough, I have no memory of ever being scared by the witch or flying monkeys as many children are- maybe I thought it was a small price to pay for getting to be in such a beautiful place).

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.

To illustrate how much I loved Oz, 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 in Color

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. Also, it makes me laugh.

When I was writing the story I was having trouble coming up with a name for the main character that would fit her. Then I thought of Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the witch in my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz. As the Wicked Witch of the West she has scared generations of kids out of their wits, but in real life she was a very kind person who was also a Sunday school teacher and loved children. Then I was very surprised when looking up facts about Margaret Hamilton to learn she was also a big animal lover and an advocate for the rights of stray animals, making commercials for the Humane Society. I also learned that later in life she bought a lighthouse on an island in Maine that was practically deserted. She spent a lot of time there alone, enjoying to do housework and other activities herself.I was so pleased to find out these things about her that have so much in common with my character, so I decided that my witch's name must be Margaret!

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, and I am looking forward to my next challenge!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Crazy 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:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Lots of Cats

This is an excerpt from a book dummy I have been working on for quite a while called Lots of Cats. I didn't have far to look for inspiration, especially for this part of the story. I am the owner of two cats, and one of them in particular enjoys "helping" me in my studio.

Things he enjoys helping me with include drawing the pictures

(this can be very tiring),

rolling in the drawings,

pushing the drawings onto the floor,

printing the book pages,

trimming the book pages,

and doing work on the computer.

Well, he may not be helpful in the way that he thinks but he has given me many ideas for my book! And while Dino gets involved, Linus prefers snuggling in between the stuff on my studio window bench!

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 any time at the ocean. It wasn't until I was 26 years old that I set my feet in Atlantic Ocean water for the first time and it was a wonderful, unforgettable feeling. A few years later when the Gulf oil spill was all over the news that I remembered the joy and exhilaration I felt being at the ocean for the first time, and how it was like being a kid again. I wanted to get that emotion I felt in an illustration, and so I did this little piece.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Red String

I was very pleased to see the Tomie dePaola challenge a few months ago. 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 a personal experience. Not long after I adopted my cat, Dino, I gave him a big ball of yarn to play with. Cats and balls of yarn go together like bread and butter, 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!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

IF: Temptation

When I saw the word of the week on Illustration Friday, I thought it would fit perfectly to share an excerpt from one of my book dummies. The story was inspired by personal experience, when I visited my father and stepmother and baked a cake (which I rarely do!) and their little dachshund Dottie climbed up on the table and ate the whole thing when I stepped out of the kitchen for a few minutes. Of course I wasn't happy to have to make another cake, but we all had a good laugh about it later and it gave me a great idea for a story!

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 ago. My favorite artist is Mary Blair, and her concept art and color palette were my biggest inspiration for creating this magical space under the stairs.

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 get pretty stinky. 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.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Grandpa Dropped His Glasses

Grandpa dropped his glasses once in a pot of dye,
And when he put them on again he saw a purple sky.
Purple birds were rising up from a purple hill,
Men were grinding purple cider at a purple mill.
Purple Adeline was playing with a purple doll,
Little purple dragonflies were crawling up the wall.
And at the supper table he got crazy as a loon,
From eating purple apple dumplings with a purple spoon.

I love poetry and finding inspiration in them for new illustrations. Recently before going to sleep I was reading one of my favorite poetry books, The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, when I came across this one by Leroy F. Jackson. I thought how much fun it would be to illustrate and grabbed a pencil and paper to sketch out my ideas before shutting off the light. It reminded me of my favorite book, The Wizard of Oz, when the characters arrive at the Emerald City and are required to wear green glasses. Everyone in the city has to wear the glasses- the Wizard's way of fooling them into thinking that the city really is all made of emeralds. I liked the challenge of illustrating a piece using variations of only one color and I'm quite pleased with how it turned out!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mr. Wiggles

Here are a couple of finished pages from the book dummy I've been working on, Checkers and Dot. I really did have a pet rabbit growing up named Mr. Wiggles. He was initially used in a disappearing trick with the family act, but preferred being just our pet and having hops around the block on his leash to being in the spotlight.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Wood Between the Worlds

A few months ago I was listening to The Magician's Nephew on audiobook as I worked on another piece. I remembered that I really enjoyed reading it when I was a child, but I didn't recall much of it. As I listened to the chapter called The Wood Between the Worlds, my head was filled with wonderful visuals of this strange place. It is described as a place where it is so quiet and peaceful you can hear the trees growing, a place where it is easy to forget who you are and where you may feel content to lay down in the grass forever. Digory and his friend Polly have been sent there by his wicked uncle using magic rings and they are to report back to him on what they find. What they find (once they remember who they are and why they are there)is the guinea pig who was the original experiment, eating the grass with one of the magic rings tied round him. They also find that nothing ever happens there, but that by jumping in the pools they can be transported to other lands. I won't give anymore away- but it is a wonderful story. I remembered why I enjoyed reading it so much as a child and why it was my favorite of the Narnia books. It also gives the origins of how things in Narnia came to be, so it helps if you have read the other books first- or at least The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Chronologically the book comes first, but it was the last of the seven Narnia books that C.S. Lewis wrote.

The image stayed in my head as I packed up my studio to move to a new location. I was so glad once it was set up again so that I could finally get my vision of this hazy and mysterious place out of my head and onto paper!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

From the Sketchbook...

I haven't had much time to sketch the last few months, but yesterday I went with my sister and five year old niece Jade to get her haircut and do some back to school shopping. The stylist gave her a bob, and we found a vintage style polka dot dress and bow while shopping. Her new look definitely fits her personality and she loved it, and it made me itch to get a pencil and paper in my hands and do a quick sketch.