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. It's a love story in a way- he has some unfortunate luck and goes through many balloons before finding the right one that will stick around. But the balloon in these images isn't that one!

Jellyman Kelly

*Click to view larger!

 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) but I didn't think much about it until it came up on a playlist while I was working on another project recently. Who were Jelly Man Kelly and Jenny Mulhenny? 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 to join her for tea time? 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

A good way to fall asleep, I think!

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". It gave me the idea that if cats could understand that they were the poster animal for lonely women, they might have something to say about it. They might even need a support group.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tomie dePaola Finalist Entry

(click on the image to view it bigger)!

The things on the table were telling BLIN "the journey must begin"! Happily, BLIN would not be alone. Friends of all sorts are always welcome. But where would it start? Where would it end?

This is the text that was sent to me last September by Tomie dePaola, as part two of the contest in which I was a finalist. The instructions were to illustrate the text using any medium with a size no larger than 11 X 14. The words stumped me at first. But I love being stumped. It challenges me to really think, and that results in better ideas.

Over the first few weeks I did a lot of thinking about who the character was, who his friends were, what the things on the table would be, and why he would be taking a journey. I started to develop a story about this main character, BLIN, who has grown up in a place where everything is bleak and gray. While wandering one day he comes across a gathering of trees growing pails of paint in many beautiful colors, and there are also plants nearby that grow paint brushes. He builds his house beside them and sets to work painting everything around him with color. Curious animals, who were also gray, begin to appear and they become friends and fellow painters. When their work on one side of the stream is complete, they decide to cross over and begin a journey to make the rest of the world more colorful.

Once I had my idea set, I could start with sketching. For the animals, I wanted ones of a more unusual variety. I like watching those nature shows on PBS and a couple of the animals they showed documentaries on around this time, sloths and aardvarks, I ended up putting into my illustration.

I used some of my books and animal encyclopedias to come up with the rest of the animals for the illustration.

I also had a lot of fun looking up unusual species of birds.

I decided the main character would be a little old man who would have a little house.

After I was done with sketching and laying out the composition with several rough drafts, I turned my attention to color. My medium of choice is usually colored pencils. But since I was making a story about characters who are painting, I decided that I would use a combination of colored pencils with watercolors. A lot of experimentation followed.

I wanted the color side of the illustration to be vibrant, but in my experimenting I decided that if I went too bold it would clash with the black and white side. I needed a way to tie the two worlds together and started looking at some of Maurice Sendak's work. I love the way his illustrations could be colorful and soft, and that was the look I wanted for my piece. I also usually work in a limited color palette, so finding a way to illustrate something like the work table that is covered in many colors of paint without details getting lost was a challenge and I spent quite a bit of time getting it right.

The black and white side posed another new challenge, as when I usually work in b&w I use graphite pencil alone. But for this illustration I used a combination of watercolor washes and various shades of cool, warm and French gray Prismacolor pencils.

My heart and soul went into this illustration over the two months that I worked on it. I decided to have my main character smiling and looking back at his work as he steps upon the rock to cross over the stream, because that is how I feel when I complete a project- proud of what I have accomplished, but also ready to move on to the next idea!

Monday, December 22, 2014

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Every year I have the same one wish for Christmas... SNOW! Christmas isn't Christmas to me without it. It is because of this love of snow that I decided to make it the theme for my holiday card, having my little Dot character doing one my favorite things as a kid- sitting by the window and watching in wonder as the snow fell outside and transformed the world into something magical. 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 by way of the annual television showing of the MGM classic when I was very young, perhaps 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, 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:

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!