Saturday, November 7, 2009


This week I innocently exclaimed, "I'm almost done!" The reply was, "Come on, we're never really done, are we?" I know it was a tongue in cheek remark, but I thought about it. Each illustration has a problem to solve with a myriad of solutions. Along the way smaller problems are conquered and many lessons learned. With each lesson, a new perspective is gained. If I took every new perspective and started over using the new found knowledge, I would never finish anything. In the end and the beginning and every step of the way, it's all about choices and decisions. So, I have decided that I'm done...for now...with this illustration. I'll be moving on to the rest of the book to further revise my sketches. Here's a recap of the work I created in the Mentor Program over the last 6 months. I've come a long way on my journey, but I'm not done yet...

All of September I revised my thumbnail sketches hoping to get to illustration stage before the end of the program. On September 21, I got the go ahead to refine my sketches to the final size. Finally, after some revisions, I started my first picture book illustration on October 4th:

"Two Page Picture Book Spread"
I know. You might think it's a bit ominous, but I learned that even picture books need suspense and obstacles for the characters to overcome if they are going to be good stories. (You will be happy to know that the girl is not eaten. Were you judging the poor water serpent?) My first drafts had this really strong young female character who was good at everything and saved her village. The end. She was like a super hero, but even super heroes have obstacles to overcome. Important concepts sometimes take a while to sink in. Yuyi was very patient. This illustration is hot off the drawing table. I'm resisting the urge to go back in and continue working...

"Yen and the Sea Turtle"
Sometimes an illustration is done and then it isn't. I ended up having to go back into this portion of the illustration after I scanned it. When posted in smaller sizes, Yen's nose was much lighter than the rest of her face.

"Water Serpent"
Please get to know the Great Serpent before you decide you don't want to hang out with him. If you were far away from home he wouldn't leave you stranded.

It is interesting to look back at these illustrations, including the most recent. I am tempted to start each one over to improve it with what I have learned, but the decision has been made. This leg of the journey is done. There is much more to do. Onward...

If you are viewing this post from outside of it's originating blog, you can read it in its proper surroundings at

Saturday, October 17, 2009


After I made the final revisions to my storyboard and got the OK from Yuyi, I started on my 16"x10" refined sketches. The first step was to enlarge the actual three inch thumbnail sketches to the final size (shown here) and then begin refining them. Determined to finish all 15 sketches and start some final illustrations, I bought more duct tape (see previous post) and got to work. With the end in sight, I drew hour after hour in the last two weeks until my best work was on the vellum. I will elaborate on this process in upcoming posts and will show all completed work from the program in the next post. For now, here's a look at the finale of the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program.
The final gathering took place at SMAC - St. Mary's Art Center in Virginia City, Nevada. It was built in 1875 as a hospital and has since been restored and converted to an art and retreat center. It has approximately 16 guest rooms, a big art studio, and various meeting and sitting areas. Upon my arrival, I was welcomed and given my room assignment with fellow illustrator, Kjersten Anna Hayes, who was mentored by Laurent Linn. It was a good match.

As more people arrived, we played an ice breaker game and learned lots of useful information about one another. For one thing, there wasn't a tattoo in the bunch. What are the odds of that these days? We also learned who could fly us out of there if the roads were closed, who could light a fire without matches, and who could ride a unicycle. Despite the lack of tattoos, it was an amazing gathering of dedicated children's illustrators and writers from all over the United States and beyond.

That evening the entire group of 30 gathered in the studio for introductions and to listen to Simon and Schuster Art Director, Laurent Linn and Atheneum/Margaret McElderry Imprints Editor, Karen Wojtyla. The information was very good. Afterward, I noticed just how nervous I was getting. Without having time to step back and view my work as a whole, I didn't have a clear picture of how much I had accomplished. I was looking forward to a good night's rest.

The next morning we broke into our mentor groups to present our work. This is when we learned that, along with the three illustrators in the other mentor group, we would be making a second presentation to Laurent Linn and Karen Wojtyla. (Surprise!) We spread our work out on tables and began.

In my group were Abe Bern and Diana Monfalcone. Abe is a writer who was working on picture book text about a girl and her kite. It was a beautiful piece. Diana is an illustrator/writer working on picture book text and illustrations created from historical events of the local region. Her subject wasn't the easiest to communicate through a picture book and she had done a lot of work to bring everything together. It was interesting to see how different each of our projects were and yet how similar the overall process was. This initial session was valuable for each of us to gain perspective on our progress. We discussed our processes, triumphs, and what we needed to work on. Feedback from Yuyi was really helpful, as usual. The areas in my project that needed work didn't surprise me. One of the most valuable things I gained from this experience was the knowledge that my sense of what is working and what isn't, is on track. I can proceed with confidence knowing I'm paying attention to the right areas.

It was nice to have the first presentation as a warm-up and as Yuyi said, to figure out how we were going to present our work to an art director and an editor. You've got to be able to think on your feet! So we did. I presented a summary of my picture book along with my full size sketches, a dummy of my book, thumbnails, the start of a finished illustration, and a finished sample of my work so they could get an idea of my style. Yuyi also added information that she felt was important. Feedback was really encouraging. I'm not done yet, but I now have information from three professionals that I can use to take my work to the next level.

Using various references to define my grandfather character,
I begin to refine a sketch.

Every presentation was great to see and it was valuable for us to hear all the feedback. I really enjoyed the different styles and backgrounds that everyone brought to their projects. Laurent Linn's group interpreted three scenes from either Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. My roommate, Kjersten is a papermaker/collage artist and used her creative and intricate skills on The Wizard of Oz. Jennifer Egan created an urban Alice in Wonderland with her bright colors and incredible attention to playful detail. Cynthia Kremsner brought The Wizard of Oz to life in a combination of colored pencil and digital work and also showed a picture book that she was working on. Everyone's work was stunning and it was so great to have conversations with these dedicated illustrators in fluent illustration language. I felt like I had found my people at last!

Picture book author/illustrator, Jim Averbeck was available later to answer questions and give insights into the writing and illustrating process. Afterward, we changed scenery and finished out the day with a tour of the historical cemetery up the road and had dinner at Goldhill Hotel, the oldest hotel in Nevada (built in 1859). There were lots of entertaining ghost stories exchanged over the weekend. As you can imagine, everything in the area is haunted.

The last day, we were able to meet in our groups again and talk about what we all needed to do next. I still have one character that I need to sit with and develop some more. As with all stumbling blocks, there is great potential to create something amazing if the time is spent to push through the difficulties. Before I do that, I will finish one of the illustrations. It's an underwater scene that I'm really excited about. After that, I will complete the changes to my sketches in order to put the final dummy book together for my portfolio and future submissions.

I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude by the end of the weekend. My mentor, Yuyi Morales, had so much to share and went above and beyond to guide my progress throughout the program. I never expected to write a picture book and I wonder if she regretted that I did. If she did, she never let on. She was very patient all the way through. Even more important than patience, she didn't let anything slide. If there was something to improve upon, she pointed it out.

Of course, recognizing one gratitude lead to a flood of others as I thought of my family, supporters, the other mentors, friends I met, Suzanne Morgan Williams for lighting the fire under me in the first place and for putting great events together with Ellen Hopkins...I went on and on. Let's just say my goodbyes were not totally coherent and a bit sappy at the end. I still well up when I think of all the people that have been a part of this segment of my journey. Would I work those crazy long hours again doing sketches over and over until I couldn't do anymore? Absolutely! It was amazing. (OK. Time to go. I'm feeling grateful again.)

If you bought shares to help pay for my journey in the Mentor Program - the next post will have all of the Mentor Program artwork in it.

The end of the Mentor Program isn't the end of my journey into children's publishing. It's really the beginning. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 18, 2009


I'm in the final 3 weeks of the Mentor Program - the big push to make revisions in hopes of finishing full size sketches before our last meeting in Virginia City next month. Last week my storyboards went over well and were almost ready to become full size...almost...
I was very happy about Yuyi's response to my last storyboards. My main character and her grandfather were pretty much good to go and my background scenery supported the characters. On the other hand, my water spirit was not playing her part very well. She was acting a bit like a diva who didn't want to go on stage and the Great Serpent needed to convey more intensity in a couple of the scenes. This was the most difficult set of revisions yet. I read Yuyi's comments several times and then put them away, planning to get a fresh start in the morning. The next day I stared blankly at my drawings and then...did the dishes. I had 8 changes to make, but I couldn't seem to get started. I was hitting an obstacle and needed to figure out why. Welcome to illustrator's block. It's really no different from writer's block. You can duct tape yourself to your chair and whittle away at your block or you can take a break and hope that when you come back the block will be gone. I usually do a little of both, employing music as needed to drown out the over-thinking that saps my problem solving skills. I also find developing a strategy to be important. In order to come up with my strategy, I had to figure out what it was that I was having such a hard time with. I went through each of Yuyi's suggestions again and decided to put an asterisk by the most difficult revisions. Based on my reaction, I expected to put an asterisk by each one. Instead, I discovered that only two were asterisk-worthy. Most of my apprehension disappeared. My next observation was that some of the scenes did not have to be completely re-done. Only a portion had to be changed in 6 scenes. At that point I knew that the revisions were still going to be challenging, but I knew I could do it. Back to the library I went, checking out another 30 books or so to add to an even larger stack at home. Some had an essence of "something" that I liked and others played a larger part. I went through each book, putting slivers of post-its on anything that was inspiring or useful for reference. After they all had post-its, I divided them into piles for the water spirit or for the serpent. Now, of course, I don't have photographic reference material for great serpents or water spirits. For my serpent I had books on many kinds of lizards and snakes and I also had references on other animals. In one scene my serpent had to let out a great roar with a wide open mouth and I wasn't finding anything in the reptilian world that fit. I finally found a bear doing exactly what I needed to get the correct feeling. For the water spirit I had books on goddesses, nature spirits, royalty, asian clothing, cultural traditions, and I had a mirror to fill in the blanks. Music on, pencil to paper, duct tape in place and I was ready to tackle the revisions. I did all of the serpent scenes first because they were the most challenging. I drew and erased and drew and erased working out how in the world this serpent was going to look from the new angles I was creating. I looked at lizards and snakes and bears. One by one I solved each problem. The most frustrating predicament was the fact that the serpent kept looking like a sock puppet when it was roaring. This is where the duct tape was critical. I knew I had to sit there and keep making changes until it worked. Finally, I discovered, much like a sock puppet, my serpent's mouth did not go anywhere. He had no throat. What a difference it made to add that detail! From there, everything rolled right along. The water spirit quickly lost her diva attitude and stepped out on stage. I scanned my new thumbnails, spliced them together with the old where necessary, and sent them to Yuyi on Thursday. Once again I did my best and I hope I've reached a new level. It is definitely challenging. It makes all the difference to have a mentor like Yuyi pushing me forward and guiding my work. If you are viewing this post from outside of it's originating blog, you can read it in its proper surroundings at

Monday, September 7, 2009


If you've ever run long distance you know that you can't burn through all your energy in the beginning and expect to finish strong. Pace is important. During this program I have worked steadily - though I wobbled for a short period of time by not taking days off. The winning formula has been 12 hour work days with days off - completely off. The rhythm has been a good one; 4 hours client work, 4 hours picture book project, 4 hours current portfolio piece. Life gets even better when I can combine my work with my daughter's activities. Many days this summer I could be found at my outdoor studio on the grass outside the Rec Center pool while my daughter swam like a fish and made up games with new friends. Except for the bugs that became unwelcome characters in my storyboards, those were some of my favorite days. Swim days are over now and I'm back to my indoor studio exclusively. What does this have to do with tantrums? Read on...
Two weeks ago, Yuyi and I connected by phone to discuss my first storyboard for the finished text. She had a lot to say. The pacing of the story and the way the text was broken down for illustrations was fine, but there was work to be done within the tiny thumbnail images of the pages. Storyboards are not foreign to me, but the ones I did in the past were very different. When I learned how to create storyboards in college, we did them for commercials. (After all, I would be going into some sort of advertising career right?) After college I did them for court cases to take people through specific scenarios. There was no place for embellishment in these boards - just the facts. I brought this mentality to the storyboard I sent to Yuyi. All I can say is she is being very patient with me while I shift gears from functioning in the adult world to communicating pictorially with kids. The images I sent her were a literal representation of the words in the story - period. I drew Yen, her grandfather, the water spirit, the Great Serpent, and the benevolent river turtle. Big problem. They existed independently of their environment. There was no sense of where the story was happening. I considered the surroundings in the story to be an inconsequential backdrop. Not so. Yuyi said I missed an opportunity to convey emotion. I left out a very crucial character. I remembered Jane Yolen talking about the importance of setting at the April Conference. She was speaking as a writer, but it is the same for illustrators. Readers need to be pulled into a scene so they can go there. If there is no there to go to, the readers are gone. I concentrated solely on my characters and figured I would throw in background details in the big illustrations. Yuyi said the river, trees, and sky can all help convey the mood of the scene and in a sense are characters themselves. Yuyi also encouraged me to throw a tantrum. Finally! Permission to do what only children have dared to do. OK, it wasn't literal...I don't think. This was offered as a way to get into my main character's mind so I could better position her entire body in line with her emotions. When I'm illustrating I often picture a character and their movements in my mind or move myself to get a gesture or expression, but there are a lot more characters to "be" in this project. Not only did I have to "be" the main character, but there was the grandfather, the water spirit, the turtle, and...the Great Serpent! I often listen to book audio while illustrating. This helps create another world for me to travel to while I work. For this project I made sure the book I listened to had serpent-like creatures in it to help with the emotional tone. This made it less necessary to "be" a giant river serpent on city property. The other thing about my storyboard was that it was emotionally subtle. I hadn't realized that. Probably because I am subtle myself. I suggested that I needed to exaggerate to get the proper emotions. Yuyi was hesitant to agree. Perhaps she was imagining I would go overboard. We both agreed it would be better to tone down the illustrations if I went too far than to have them be flat. Knowing myself as I do, I didn't think that would be a problem. I set to work, surrounding myself with dozens of beautifully illustrated picture books for inspiration and an equal number of reference photos to draw details from. I drew and re-drew and acted out each character's part in my mind. (No, I did not throw a tantrum on the Rec Center lawn.) Each tiny illustration took a surprising amount of time and even now, as I look at my finished revisions, I wonder if I should have exaggerated more! I am posting the first storyboard I sent to Yuyi along with the revisions I sent a couple days ago, so you can see the difference between the two. I also made the thumbnails a bit bigger so it was easier to indicate the environment and the difference in size between the serpent and the main character. The first storyboard page spreads were 2.375" x 1.5" and the new ones are 3" x 2.875". Just that little bit made a big difference. First Storyboard: Revised Storyboard: As usual, I showed my work to my daughter before I sent it off to Yuyi. She always likes what I do, but this time she became more animated in response to the new energy in the storyboard. Animated enough? I don't know. Stay tuned. If you are viewing this post from outside of it's originating blog, you can read it in its proper surroundings at

Friday, August 7, 2009


If you have been here before, you might notice that it looks a little different. The long wait for feedback on my storyboard has given me time to go into the code on my blog to customize some things that I have been wanting to change. Part of working freelance is doing things like this during the down time. It's nice to have the freedom to work it in when it fits best. But you're probably not here to read about the look of my site, so let's get on with the illustration...
During my wait, I was also able to finish two more illustrations. My portfolio is lacking picture book scenes right now, so I created one of an outdoor market. As you can see here, there is an empty area in the upper right of this illustration. This was designed as a place for the story text to go (see below). The illustration can also be cropped and used without the empty area. This market scene is a fairly quick study. The first step was to airbrush the entire background with the orange color. Over that I sketched in general shapes with Derwent Graphitint colored pencil and washed over them with plain water to blend. Next I went in with dry colored pencil to add some detail. I wanted this illustration to go quickly, so I kept it loose without a lot of detail. The other thing my children's portfolio is lacking are black and white spot drawings. This type of drawing can fit many different situations from magazines to chapter books. For this one I started off with an overall gray wash and put the details in with graphite pencil. Thanks for checking in. I'm working on my folktale illustration now and a new design for my portfolio site. I'm hoping that my next post will include the feedback for my last storyboard!

Monday, July 20, 2009


I didn't wait long for Yuyi's feedback and when I got it I was very excited. Hi Kristen, here are a few comments, very minimal. I think that you should start planning on breaking the text. Based on her comments, I made my revisions and when I was happy with them I was surprised by my subsequent inaction. I sat and sat. I looked at my text. I sat some more. I looked around the house... This phase was throwing me for a loop. As I stared at my words, each sentence demanded an illustration. After all, I am primarily an illustrator. There are 834 words in my story and approximately 75 sentences. A 75 page picture book was not going to fly. No - I wanted to break my text into 15 illustrations (14 two page spreads and one single page). I decided to ask Yuyi for some tips. Here are a few things she offered to help drive the process: • Break the text so that it makes the reader want to turn the page to find out more. • Think of balancing the amount of text on each page spread. • Think of what makes a different scene every page. • Think of the different scenes that will develop according to how you break the text. I printed my text out and began penciling in possible page breaks. It was pretty straight forward, but I wanted a better feeling for it, so I studied some picture books to expose this process even more. I looked at page breaks, observing my feelings at the end of each page. Did I want to turn the page? Did I care? Again this was helpful, but I needed to be more a part of the process. I decided to take "unbroken", published picture book text and see if I could break it down myself. Since I already had the answers - finished picture books - I could then see how close I came. At this point, I was almost buried in picture books. I chose Stellaluna and The Great Adventures of Wo Ti for my page break experiment because these books are more story-like and have a similar format to the one I am creating. I typed each story into my computer in a big block and printed them out. It was a fun challenge. My page breaks were very close. Stellaluna threw me because I didn't realize it had more pages than a standard picture book until after I divided up the text. Even then I was almost right on. In areas where I missed the mark I was able to study the difference between my version and the published version. It was very enlightening. This little exercise gave me the insight I needed to return to my own story. Once again I broke down my text while thinking about imagery and getting the reader to turn the page. When that was done I began my storyboard thumbnails. While doing the thumbnails I discovered areas of emphasis that needed to shift. Sometimes an image seemed too similar to the image just before and I needed to focus attention on a different part of the text for that page. Sometimes I needed to move a line of text to the page before or the page after. All the while it was important to vary the point of view to make the images interesting. Creating a small storyboard is a great way to look at the overall relationships between illustrations. When things looked flat I thought about looking at the scene from a different angle - high, low, side, etc. So, this time my feedback is going to take a little longer. Yuyi will be gone for a couple weeks. While she is away, I will be working on three other illustrations. I hope to post a finished one soon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


In my last post I said I wasn't good at waiting. As it turned out, the alarm bells going off in my head were for good reason. I checked in with Yuyi to see how things were going and she never received my story revisions. She was sitting on the other end wondering what happened to me and if her comments and suggestions made it too difficult for me to keep revising. It took a couple more tries for my revisions to reach Yuyi. Interestingly enough, I had gone to great lengths to make sure my email wouldn't get bounced for looking like spam*. In doing so I probably did myself in.


After Yuyi got my revisions, I was back to waiting again. So, I worked on a new illustration rough of a Japanese Ocean Spirit for a folktale and started a black and white spot illustration of a wizard's apprentice. I didn't get very far on these new illustrations before I had Yuyi's feedback on my story.

I felt very hopeful that there weren't very many changes to be made. Yuyi said I'd be ready to break the text down for illustrations after I made these revisions...successfully. In a way these were the toughest revisions yet, but I also knew they were the most important. I may make it with this story after all.

Just as there is a fine line between being impatient and knowing that waiting any longer doesn't feel right, there is a fine line between just enough detail and too much. That's what makes it so great to be getting feedback in this program. Often in editing, it takes only a slight change in perception to make things just right. It's easy to overshoot the mark.

Overall, I needed to be more specific in a few areas. In one part, my main character needed some guidance from her grandfather before she could continue on to a conversation with a water spirit. Originally the text moved on, but the lack of guidance was distracting, leaving the reader wondering what just happened. It was a mini dead-end.

In the next scene, the water spirit was a bit verbose and I actually got to cut out a sentence of dialogue! That was easy. Another simple shift followed that one. I needed to change the word "near" to one that expressed exactly how close my main character was to the angry Great Serpent as she approached on the back of a turtle.

The last revisions weren't as easy. I had to define an abstract concept in words that kids could relate to. You know what it's like when a kid asks you what a word means and you struggle to define it without using the word they were asking you to define? That's what I was dealing with. I could feel the meaning right on the tip of my tongue, but I was tongue-tied. I sat with the feeling of the definition for a while, looked at it upside down and inside out. I made many free-form attempts at defining it to get ideas flowing. I'm not sure if I've done it, but I'm hoping I'm close enough to begin breaking the text down.

In the meantime, I'll continue working on the illustrations that I started. I bet I don't get far before I get my next feedback!


*In my business I correspond with a lot of people through email. People sign up to get my newsletters and there is a lot of back and forth between myself and clients. For newsletters and lengthy correspondence, I check the content of my email to make sure it doesn't look like spam to email filters. There are key things to check for and sometimes I run it through a spam check software which points out problem areas and gives suggestions for ways to fix them. Ironically, it wasn't working when I was sending my revisions off to Yuyi!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I'm not especially good at waiting. As much as I try to stay busy, I eventually drift back to my email to check it "one more time" or look in my records to make sure I sent my original email to the right address. Here's a little bit of what I've been doing while waiting for feedback on my revisions.  
After I sent my revisions off last time, I set to work looking for a fully written fairy tale in case my story was still too far off the mark. As a place to start, I made a list of my favorite tales from childhood. Some seemed like they would be fun to illustrate and others didn't. Some of my favorites are Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, and Rumpelstiltskin.
There are a myriad of versions for each story. I wanted one that was already in the public domain so I didn't have to worry about copyright. One of the best resources I found was SurLaLuneFairytales. This site has a lot of information, including history and similar tales from different cultures. I was even reminded of stories I had forgotten about. It was like traveling to a far away land.
All of the original tales were very long, so I picked the one I liked best and challenged myself to an editing marathon. Could I edit away more than 4000 words and still have something that made sense?
I started by whittling away at extraneous language. That was easy - there was a lot of that. I even caught myself thinking it wasn't going to be as hard as I thought. After doing a word count, however, I discovered I had a long way to go.
My next plan of attack was to take out events that just weren't relevant to the progression or solution of the story. That wasn't so bad, although there were some scenes that I was quite attached to because of the cleverness of them. Beware of cleverness that has no other purpose! I decided that these ideas could become interesting details in the illustrations. 
With each round of editing, the hill I was going up became steeper. I had only managed to take off 2000 words and it seemed impossible to take off any more. I kept going. It was actually becoming difficult to put it away. 
That night my daughter had a sleepover and I was determined to get those last stubborn 2000 words off. While she was occupied and giggling away, I kept whittling. After each edit I read through to make sure the story was still making sense. Sometimes words I edited away had to come back.
Then at 1036 words I was at a standstill. It seemed impossible. I knew for my purposes, as a framework for illustrations, this total was fine, but there was something in me that was determined to get the total below 1000 - so I kept going. I became even more focused on simplifying sentences and condensing many words into one.
In the end the fairy tale went from 4991 words to 967. Still a bit lengthy, but I'm happy with it. The process was extremely gratifying. I have always enjoyed editing, but this exercise took it to a new level. I can't wait to do another one. For now, while I wait, I will turn back to illustration. I have a couple illustrations to explore and some characters to develop through sketches. I have spent too long away from my drawing board and I'm looking forward to getting back.
Stay tuned. If you have trouble waiting, I know a great way to pass the time...

Monday, June 8, 2009


I've taken notice of the fact that time is going very quickly. Long work days are adding to that. If you're used to seeing me around town - you're not seeing me these days! You may have noticed that I extended the contribution deadline. The first 20% of the total was of timely importance because fees were due for the Mentor Program. The next 5% paid for travel and lodging for the first meeting. The rest of the total can trickle in over the course of the program. Thanks to contributions I have been able to purchase the first round of supplies for illustrations. Continued contributions will help me concentrate my time in the Mentor Program with less of those 14 hour day/7 day weeks fitting in clients and program work. My family and I appreciate that greatly. Total contributions as of June 8, 2009 are $1235. I'm so happy to share my work with everyone in this way. It's not too late to get some great art and help me in my journey. Purchases from Faery Medicine in any amount help as well. Thank you!
After I sent my latest revisions to Yuyi, I decided to look for a fairytale that is already written so I have a backup in case my story is too far from being illustration worthy. I originally set out to do that, but I went for a folktale that needed more depth. I will continue to work on the story I'm writing because I'm enjoying it, but my main objective is to finesse my portfolio for children's publishing. Last week Yuyi sent me her comments on my revisions. Straightforward feedback is something I appreciate a great deal. I have been in critique groups where feedback is watered down for fear of hurting feelings and I have no time for that. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate good etiquette in critiquing, but I'm here to take my work to the next level and there isn't room to take things personally. When Yuyi points out an area in my story that's weak - I'm going to run with it. Yuyi highlighted the elements in my story that held promise. It starts out pretty well, but it peters out along the way and there are some weak solutions. I needed to turn up the volume on my story ingredients. Once again I wasn't sure how or if I was going to be able to do that. Every time I send my revisions off I think I've got it. That's why Yuyi's experience is so important. She notes where I don't quite have it yet. When I get her feedback I go inside my head and look at everything from varying angles. I remind myself that I know what I'm trying to say, but someone who doesn't know my intentions has to get it right away also. I read things out loud a lot. I would say that in all my work over the years as an illustrator, most times I am initially stumped for solutions when I get revisions from my clients. Collaboration with clients is a valuable catalyst for expanding my horizons and I love the challenge of looking at things from different angles while still being true to my vision. Will I have the same experience in writing? I hope so. I sent my latest batch of revisions to Yuyi a couple days ago. In the meantime I will continue looking through fairytale ideas. I grew up loving Grimm fairytales, so that may be where I end up. If you have a favorite fairytale suggestion, let me know. Signing off for now.

Monday, May 25, 2009


The last two weeks have been phenomenally busy. May is busy anyway with a birthday, an anniversary, and Mother's Day, but I had to laugh last week (because it's so much better than crying) when every client I'm working with decided to move forward with their projects simultaneously and Faery Medicine retail orders began rolling in. The shifts were long and I was often seen sneaking off to work on my latest picture book edits.
Yuyi suggested scheduling a phone call for the last batch of edits. There was a lot to go over. I had only planned on illustrating for this program, but Yuyi encouraged me to write as well and I'm glad she did. She is so knowledgeable. Not only can she write and illustrate a picture book, but she can pinpoint very well what is and isn't working in someone else's work. That's not easy. She often asked me questions to get the point across. Why is this part your main character's responsibility? Did this event happen because of something your character did? This put a spotlight on the loose ends in my story. Writing a picture book has special challenges. At 500-1000 words, you can't deviate from the main idea if you want to have a cohesive storyline. No superfluous details. It is necessary to be thrifty with words without being stiff or simplifying so much that it's insulting. Believe me, kids know when they are being spoken down to. My daughter shuts a book with a snap when this happens, proclaiming, "This writer thinks I'm dumb!" I digress. I did in my picture book as well. The area of growth for my main character was OK, but I had way too many other ideas working in the background. Each one of those ideas could become a story on its own. It was also clear that I needed to dwell on the conflict a bit more to rev up the tension. It was a great editing session and my head was swimming when it was over. I will admit that I was overwhelmed and had doubts about my ability to do this. I'm committed 1000% to this program, so what else could I do? I started writing and cutting things out and hitting a lot of dead ends. My daughter helped keep my sanity in check, pointing out that it looked like a good time to plant the vegetable garden. (Actually, she asked the question, "When are we going to plant the garden?" over and over and over. Same thing.) She was right. The garden was a big job too. I wanted to do it right for an optimal yield of vegetables, so we set out to sift all of the soil in our 5 foot by 8 foot raised bed. We sifted and sifted, getting rid of the big clunky parts and making sure the worms stayed in with the fine fluffy stuff. That's when it dawned on me that gardening is a lot like writing a picture book. I felt renewed thinking of and feeling the process in this different way. Keep all the good stuff that makes the story flourish - especially the worms - and toss the rest. It was then that my picture book characters began to behave differently as I watched the interaction between my daughter and myself in this long and challenging project we were sharing in the garden. Yesterday I sent my latest revisions to Yuyi. My hope is not for a perfect edit, but that all the elements will be in place to begin the next phase of the project. I didn't have the luxury of time to storyboard this version - too much overlap between clients and the Mentor Program at this point. Maybe I'll be able to do it while I'm waiting for feedback. This post is about the length of my picture book so far. One of my goals was to keep it under 700 words so I had leeway in editing. Stay tuned for the next stage of my Journey!

Sunday, May 10, 2009


This is a new thumbnail storyboard for the latest version of my folktale. (If you don't know what thumbnails are check out the May 3rd post.) I expect to do another set of thumbnails when I get feedback from Yuyi. I really don't need to keep doing thumbnails until all the text revisions are finished, but I continue to redo them because it's good practice and reminds me that the lines I make on the paper are not precious. There are many different directions to go in. It's good to keep exploring.
Happy Mother's Day!
Last week I got Yuyi's feedback on my folktale revisions. Some of the elements I needed were in place, but overall the story needed a more obvious obstacle for my main character to grow from. I guess I had a little conflict avoidance going on. Hopefully I included all the elements in the revisions I sent back. While waiting for feedback, I've been testing new art materials and making sure I have everything else I need to begin the illustrations. I generally do 4-6 illustrations for Faery Medicine and whatever others clients need every year. Doing a picture book is roughly the equivalent of doing 32 Faery Medicine illustrations, so I need a lot more of everything to get the job done. I got up before the rest of my family this morning to test out paint. My illustrations are done in multimedia layers. I start on Strathmore 500 Series Bristol by airbrushing general areas of color. Next I stipple with a .00025 mechanical pen to create the darkest areas in my illustration. Last, I finish detail with colored pencil. My aim this morning was to make sure that I had all the airbrush colors I need and to test out new paint that can speed up my process by yielding better color saturation. My favorite paint to use in my airbrush is Golden Opaque Airbrush Colors because I don't need to use much to produce great color. If I apply too much paint, I can't work on top as easily with colored pencil, so this is important. Yuyi mentioned liking Golden Fluid Acrylics and I found that they yield nice results when I dilute them for my airbrush . I did a lot of tests using different combinations of materials on various colors and thicknesses of paint. Afterward I placed a nice order to round out my airbrush colors, added airbrush medium and a new type of colored pencil, got bigger bristol board and masonite boards so I can easily begin several illustrations at a time. I'm back to waiting, but I have plenty to do! I'm sure I will be posting another set of thumbnails soon. Stayed tuned!

Sunday, May 3, 2009


While I was getting ready for the beginning of the Mentor Program, I was very excited and quite nervous too. I could have done without the unexpected visit to the vet for a wounded cat and the car trouble the day before I left, but it all worked out. The cat only needed a "lampshade collar" instead of surgery and the car...fixed itself. Go figure. I guess it kept my brain occupied. Since my return I have been processing everything I learned at the beginning of the 2009 Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. (Beetle illustration copyright by Kristen Schwartz)

I don't know if it was the genius and authenticity of the faculty, the timing, or a little bit of everything that made this the best SCBWI event I have been to over the years. (Of course, Suzanne Morgan Williams and Ellen Hopkins did a brilliant job organizing it!) Overall the tone was hopeful and the information accessible with each presenter giving lots of examples for better comprehension.

I have read and read about illustrating picture books and gone to conference workshops, but there is nothing like being in a small group with the luxury of asking lots of questions. I was able to get answers to questions that had been worrying or hindering me in some way. Some questions seemed silly to ask, but from my roots illustrating botanicals, notecards, and logos, children's publishing is a foreign land with lots of mysteries. Each question was treated respectfully and seriously. (Not to say there wasn't plenty of humor.)

Yuyi Morales walked us through her picture book process from beginning to end and Laurent Linn, Art Director at Simon and Schuster, took us through his process of art directing a picture book. Laurent Linn said that children's publishing is an industry that truly cares about children. I would take it further and say that children's publishing also gives generously to the people that aspire to work in the field. No wonder it feels like home.

It's a humbling experience to start over as an illustrator in a new genre, but with Yuyi Morales mentoring me, it feels obtainable. In our first meeting I shared the "thumbnail storyboard" of my folktale. If you are unfamiliar with thumbnails or storyboards in this context, they are a very very rough and small map of the layout of a picture book. I wasn't completely happy with my first layout. I guess you might say it wasn't consistently magical. It became clear after talking with Yuyi that I needed to think from a different point of view to stir up the visual magic. That night I woke up and realized that I was in the middle of rewriting my folktale. I continued on - awake this time - taking out the elements I didn't like and emphasizing the ones that I did. In the end I felt more connected with the story.

Laurent Linn gave a presentation on the difference between picture book illustrations and non-picture book illustrations. He presented examples of both - comparing and contrasting - emphasizing the fact that picture book images are not static. They make an emotional connection with the viewer and tell a story. They are also not portraits. This presentations was pivotal for me. My illustrations for Faery Medicine are character studies for the stories that accompany them and are not necessarily for the children's book industry. They are definitely more in line with portraits. As I pondered more of my work, I had to laugh when I remembered that I used to call my botanical illustrations "botanical portraits". What Laurent said clicked. I get it. It's the big simple secret that was right in front of my nose...the one in the portrait.

I could go on and on listing every pivotal moment. The truth is, every moment was pivotal. Even listening to writer Jane Yolen affected my illustration process. I looked forward to hearing her speak because I like her work, but I was surprised at the outcome. It was truly an amazing conference.

Since I've been back, I sent Yuyi the rewrite on my folktale and I'm waiting for feedback before I do another thumbnail version of the illustrations. Well, actually I already did another one. I was too excited not to, but I expect to do another one after she reads my rewrite as she will probably have suggestions for revisions and pacing on the story. It's all good practice. So, I leave you with my most recent storyboard inspired by a Vietnamese folktale. Stay tuned for more!

(Horizontal lines on the page represent text placement. The vertical line down the middle of the illustrations represents the gutter or space between pages.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Update: I have received several contributions by mail and I'm not able to update my Chip In Widget manually, so I will do it here. I am now at $1110 in contributions, which pays for the first leg of my journey. Thank you again so much!

The Mentor Program starts tomorrow - yikes! - and I have been quite busy getting ready. From here on out I will be adding posts more regularly to chronicle my journey. Here is what I have been working on in preparation for the program:

  • I picked a Vietnamese folktale to illustrate as a picture book.
  • I have done character studies of my main character.
  • I collected reference materials and information on the region and culture I am illustrating.
  • I created a small storyboard of the picture book to go over with my mentor.
  • I compiled a list of other children, animals, and scenes to illustrate for my portfolio which I will also be going over with my mentor.
  • I have been working on a quicker style for tight deadlines.
I will be in workshops all this weekend including one with Art Director, Laurent Linn from Simon and Schuster. He will be doing a portfolio review, so I've made sure that everything is in order. I'm looking forward to the additional feedback.

That's it for now. I will have plenty to say next time, after my first meeting in the Mentor Program.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I have spent a good deal of time over the years looking at the possibility of illustrating picture books and then running the other way proclaiming that I was just not a picture book artist - even though I have secretly wanted to be one for a very long time. I have gone to SCBWI conferences, read books on the process, and poured over stacks and stacks of picture books long after my daughter was interested in them herself. (There goes my alibi of checking out all those books at the library for my daughter!) I sat through portfolio reviews with children's publishing professionals and told them I was not a picture book illustrator. One reaction both puzzled and intrigued me. Several years ago children's illustrator rep, Christina Tugeau, answered my comment that I was not a picture book illustrator with, "Someday you will be." What did she see? The process of illustrating a picture book baffled me. When I would attempt it, I always experienced this awful shift in imagery. Very different from the imagery I got when illustrating concepts for Faery Medicine. I always chalked it up to my not being right for the job. When I was accepted for the SCBWI Mentor Program, I was prepared to declare my suitability to illustrate for older kids and stay away from the picture book genre. So, when my mentor suggested doing some picture book illustrations for my portfolio - I stood up and declared I was ready for the challenge - to face my fears - to conquer the process. What? That's right. I couldn't get away from the fact that even though I was not yet able to get through the process without losing my visual voice - I really really really wanted to be able to do it. So, I set to work looking for stories that fit me - my voice, my style. First stop - folktales from around the world. I read and read. The ones that resonated with me the most tended to be Asian and I found one that featured a hardworking girl with skills in using medicinal plants. Bingo. I read through the story several times to get a feel for it. Four beautiful images came into my mind. Next I sat down to create small image ideas for the remaining 11 spreads and I hit the wall again. My first images were very dream-like and flowed well, but when I looked at the words again to work on remaining images, I felt a mental shift and got very stiff, mundane imagery. Baffling. "Blueberry" a literal interpretation Yesterday I finally figured it out. I have a sort of dual personality in illustrating styles. I work in two different genres that employ different parts of my brain. I illustrate both scientific literal ideas and abstract concepts. Words - if there are too many - put me in the scientific, literal area of my brain and the imagery is quite different there. It is devoid of dreamlike quality and definitely part of the real world. Something I read in Uri Shulevitz' book Writing With Pictures helped me put it all together. He explains the difference between a picture book and a story book. A picture book needs illustrations to accompany the words to help them make sense. A story book can stand alone without pictures. Sometimes pictures books start with imagery and the words are written later. When I looked at the picture book equation in those terms - without the words - it all made sense. If I rely on words too much - my interpretation becomes too literal and mundane. (Interesting for me to have missed this correlation since I talk about brain function in my sketching workshops!) "Tree Faery" a dreamlike concept So, next I will do one of two things - isolate key concepts in order to illustrate the existing folktale or create the imagery and then write the words. I generally create imagery first and text second when developing characters for Faery Medicine. It's funny that I thought I was working backwards by doing this. All along I was working in a picture book fashion. Just like the Wizard of Oz - there's no place like home and I was already there.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


This was a difficult week for me. My friend, Melissa Lanitis Gregory, died suddenly on February 24th. As difficult as death is for the living, it brings valuable reflection that can result in profound gifts. We will all miss Melissa and her quest to bring the community together through art.

As I finished this illustration of Nepenthes bicalcarata - aka Fanged Pitcher Plant - I also sent my goals and dreams off to my mentor, Yuyi Morales. I sat with my ideas for a long time and this is what I came up with - I want to inspire children with my art, make words come alive, and transport onlookers to amazing lands through imagery. I also want my income to come from doing this. What a concept. What a dream. As a concrete way of achieving this, I want to develop my portfolio enough in the Mentor Program for this to happen. OK. Seems pretty straightforward. : )

One of the objectives Ms. Morales suggested is to do some illustrations for a folktale or other type of story that fits my style. I'm drawn to cultural stories and I've been researching them all week. If you have a favorite cultural story that you would like to suggest, you can email me or leave a comment and I'll take a look!

Now I'm off to finish the other client illustration I am working on!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Even though the Mentor Program hasn't started yet, the journey has begun. I am getting all my ducks in a row - finishing current illustrations and getting art ready to send to contributors. The contributions have made it so much easier to be focused and get ready for what needs to be done. (Thank you so much.)

My mentor, Yuyi Morales has given me my first assignment. Now is the time to go inside and look at my biggest dreams and decide what my goals are for the program. This is more difficult than I thought it would be. There is so much. It is clear that I need to prioritize and pare down what I want to do in that 6 month block of time. It will be here in no time.

Fortunately, I have one of the best occupations for thinking while I'm working. As I am finishing up Nepenthes bicalcarata and the castle garden, I will wander through my thoughts and dreams, completing my first assignment to help my mentor guide me to my goals.

For more information about contributing to my Journey, go here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


As an illustrator, I have always wanted to do more with my art - give back in some way by inspiring others - especially children. For the last several years I have been developing a portfolio to enter children's publishing in order to follow my dream. The work paid off. Out of a pool of applicants through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, I was chosen to work with award winning illustrator, Yuyi Morales in the 2009 Mentor Program. It is an amazing honor and opportunity.
Perfect opportunities don't always come around when they're easy and I don't have the funds available for this one right now. I've never been one to give up, so I have come up with a creative way to share my journey, pay for the program, and replace income from illustrating when the program and work overlap. I am selling "shares" in my journey and will be sending more than double the value in my artwork to contributors at the $35, $50, and $75 levels. (Contributions to my Journey in any amount are very welcome.)

6 - Notecards (Your choice of images from my online portfolio.)
1 - 8x10 Signed Limited Edition Print (Your choice from the images I produce in the mentor program. I will only produce 75 - 8x10 prints from each image.)

1 - 5x7 Signed Print (Your choice of images from my online portfolio.)
12 - Notecards (Your choice of images from my online portfolio or Mentor Program images.)
1 - 8x10 Signed Limited Edition Print (Your choice from the images I produce in the mentor program. I will only produce 75 - 8x10 prints from each image.)

 $75 LEVEL
1 - 5x7 Signed Print (Your choice of images from my online portfolio.)
12 - Notecards (Your choice of images from my online portfolio or Mentor Program images.)
2 - 8x10 Signed Limited Edition Print (Your choice from the images I produce in the mentor program. I will only produce 75 - 8x10 prints from each image.)

1. Click on the ChipIn button below and you will be taken to a secure payment page where you can pay by credit card or Paypal.
2. After payment, I will contact you by the email address you used when paying to find out which images you want so that available images can be shipped right away. (Images can be seen at Mentor images will be available after the program ends in October 2009 and can be chosen as soon as they are posted on this blog from April to October. (Make sure to follow my journey!)

In addition, I will be asking contributors (of any amount) to name favorite objects, fantastical creatures, and other ideas to work into the illustrations I create in the Mentor Program. I will work in as many of the top 5 ideas that I can. I want you on the journey with me!

Please email me if you have any questions at all.
Thank you for your support!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Each of us is on a journey made up of ever smaller journeys that weave an amazing story. This blog will chronicle an odyssey - one that I have wanted to take for a very long time. I have been to the edge of this mysterious forest where the journey begins many times, dipping my toe into the cool stream, only to hurry back to the path I already knew, forever dreaming of what would happen if I ventured into the unknown.

December 2008 I jumped across the stream and headed into the forest to see what lie ahead...

Above is client illustration in rough stage by Kristen Schwartz.