Saturday, December 31, 2011


 I used to spend a lot of time trying to recreate the gestures and facial expressions from my initial sketches. I was losing magic every time I re-traced my work to head into a new stage of my illustration process. To remedy this, I now let my scanner capture the details so I don't lose what's important and then I continue scanning, enlarging and revising at each stage until I'm ready to begin the final illustration. I've spent the last few years making my process more efficient and it has paid off, not only in saving time, but I'm having more fun than ever.  Here is an illustration from start to finish:

Beginning rough thumbnails
I get my first batch of ideas on paper as thumbnails. I use cheap white printer paper and a Number Two pencil - nothing special. I don't want fear of wasting expensive materials to hold me back. I make my thumbnails the approximate proportions of the final. The thumbnails shown here are about 3"x2". They're super quick and mostly for my benefit. If I were doing work for a client, I would pick 2-3 of these thumbnails to work up for presentation. The client would then choose the preferred direction(s). In this case I was the client and chose the lower right thumbnail in this group to illustrate a single block of text.

I picked this thumbnail to illustrate
I begin revising in miniature
This thumbnail is evolving, but it needs more work to get the POV (point of view) right. I want the little chicken to feel a bit left out and small because everything in his world happens over his head - in more ways than one. I take the image into Photoshop and start playing with angles and placement of characters. I also straighten up the overall shape of my drawing and erase areas that need to be revised by hand. I always scan at a higher resolution than needed so I can continue to enlarge and print at each stage.

Revisions continue at a larger size

Here I made revisions to the image by hand after enlarging 10% and printing out.

I scan again, enlarge more, print again and continue revising.
Larger still - it continues to evolve

I continue in this way - scanning, enlarging, printing and revising in pencil until I have a full size rough (in this case 16"x10"). I lighten the image in Photoshop before printing whenever I need to. I'm using a higher quality inkjet paper at this stage. It is thicker and able to hold onto all the details I'm adding. It's about $10 per ream.

Almost full size, I finish smoothing out the details
Black and white full size final rough

This may seem a little backward, but at this point I take my 16x10 final black and white rough and reduce it by about 65%. Exploring color goes much faster at this size. I print it out on untextured, matte photo paper and make my color decisions. I write lots of notes so I remember what colored pencils and layers I used. This will be the map I use during the final illustration. The color and detail are as complete as I can make them at this size and on this type of paper.
This is the color rough at 25% of the final size.

On the left is what I enlarged and printed onto my drawing paper.
The "color map" with notes that I will follow is on the right.

To begin my final illustration, I scan the 6x4 color rough at high resolution and enlarge to full size in Photoshop. This is what I will print onto my drawing surface. It will give me my basic drawing and under layers of color to work with. I have to complete far fewer layers than I did when I started my drawings on blank paper with a pencil outline. I also retain more details and gestures from the beginning stages. I'm not concerned with the roughness of the color I'm printing because everything will be smoothed out in the final process. Along with the color from the initial printout, I will be adding pen and ink stipple for the shadow areas and colored pencil over everything. All details need to be worked out before this stage, but minor edits can be done in Photoshop after the final scan. Start to finish this 16x10 illustration was completed within two weeks while working regular hours. (While I finished the illustration within two weeks - I was not working solid 8 hour days on this project alone. I finished it comfortably within this time and also made sure to take days off.) In the past this illustration, without the thumbnails and roughs, would have taken 3-4 weeks of working long hours - maybe even without taking days off.
The final illustration
So, that's my illustration process - getting better and more enjoyable all the time. My new method is far more conducive to completing a picture book while maintaining sanity - not to mention a relationship with my family.

Here's to the best in 2012!

Friday, December 16, 2011


My interpretation of Chicken Licken for the 2012 Tomie dePaola Illustrator Award
In the past I have considered myself a skilled technician at what I do. Although my current work still shows technical skill, I have moved into a new realm and because of that, I can't really "see" my work right now. It is still uncharted territory. Even though this style comes naturally, there are times when it feels like drawing in the dark. There are no formulas or rules or much of a basis in reality - except that there is gravity - most of the time.

One thing remains the same. When I start a new piece I am still filled with hope that I will be creating my best piece ever. Along the way there is always a momentary feeling of loss as I perceive that I have slipped away from my goal. This is when I have to remember that my real goal is to produce my best, not the best illustration I have ever seen. There is a difference.

Along with creating the best end result, I strive to improve my process, shave off time, be more productive. Last month I cut weeks off of my process doing the above illustration in a new way. I'll share how I work in an upcoming post, along with my new drawing set-up which allows me to work standing up.

Until then - Happy Holidays and an amazing New Year to you and yours!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


It's been a busy time around the blog. I've added a sale area to cut down on the distracting extras in my studio. Enjoy my post on NaNoWriMo and if you have time, I hope you'll head over to the studio sale on my blog and check out the cards and prints for my botanicals and Faery Medicine characters. They're going fast and I've heard a rumor that the gift giving season is right around the corner...

I generally illustrate best on assignment from clients. I like the challenge and having a well developed story to work from makes a big difference. Right now though, I don't have any assignments. That's why I'm taking full advantage of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. It's time to take the challenge and write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This is a great opportunity to create characters for my illustrations.  By living with my characters and going on this journey, I really get to know them and it gives me plenty of material to illustrate in the slow months.

I won't have to illustrate a generic child swinging on a swing or running through a field to show that I can draw a child in motion. I'll have characters that are ready to go when I need them - all with names and reasons for doing what they're doing. Not only that, but I'll know all their idiosyncrasies like whether they're deathly afraid of kittens and whether that's a secret they're willing to share. All these details affect how a character moves in a scene and relates to everything around them. Yuyi Morales taught me that well developed characters can lead to illustrations with more depth. Feedback from my portfolio critiques definitely supports this. 

Is it necessary to write a 50,000 word novel to get to know your characters? No, but it's a challenge I love. It also keeps my portfolio fresh and I'm always surprised at the amazing places my characters take me. Join me?

Sunday, September 18, 2011


In my past portfolio critiques I have received nice compliments on my technique, composition and palette. In the end I usually hear something like this, "Keep doing what you're doing. Soon you will be published." I must admit - I float away from critiques like this with a special shiny feeling, but that soon gives way to the nagging feeling that something fundamental is missing from my illustrations for the children's market and finding "IT" would set me free...

A good start:
My critique with Marla Frazee at the SCBWI LA Conference was different from any other critique I've had and it was by far the most useful. In 20 minutes Marla learned about my illustration background, assessed my work and gave me direction.

The tip of the iceberg: 
Marla said, "If you hear something 3 or more times about your work, really pay attention to what's going on." I hear over and over that my palette is unusual, unique. I heard it again from Marla. It's always a relief to hear that my palette is alive and kicking. The many color theories I studied in college totally confounded me - as did every other art theory. Thankfully, my palette is a completely intuitive part of how I speak visually. Chalk one up to my quest for "IT".

The gift:
Marla went on to talk about the same aspects my other critiques have in the past, but then she gave me a priceless gift. She identified the best pieces in my portfolio (seen in this post), why they were the best and why I needed to do more pieces like them. She saw a departure from generic character development in them and said, "Elevate the rest of your portfolio to the level of these pieces." It was then that I realized what these three pieces had in common. I hadn't relied on photo references to develop the characters. I was inside every one of the characters as I drew them - making the movements, feeling the emotions and making adjustments until - as Marla puts it - I recognized them.

I left my critique with a little bit of that special shiny feeling, but it was different this time. I wasn't floating away. My feet were firmly planted on the ground. I received confirmation on my movement away from photo references and into a new world that resides solely in my head. I love this place, but I had no idea anyone else would enjoy it too. There is something fundamentally solid and comforting about that that isn't in the least bit shiny. In fact, it is a well weathered place with a rather unusual patina and the most interesting cracks. It's a place I want to hang out in...and draw...

Saturday, September 3, 2011


"Anyone seen my voice?"
My big unexpected takeaway from the LA conference was clarification of what voice is in illustration. Exploration began in a conversation with another illustrator on the hotel shuttle and it continued with every single speaker at the conference. I observed examples of voice over and over from every angle imaginable and it finally began to sink in. Although no one came out and said these exact words, I came away with the idea that voice transcends style. Style can be emulated, but voice is the soul of the illustrator's work that is totally unique.

In my portfolio critique Marla Frazee singled out my four best pieces and the departure she saw from generic character development to a deeper love and knowledge of the characters and their environment. This distinction made it clear that the way I use my materials defines my style, but my voice is just beginning to develop.

In so many ways I heard, "voice involves doing what you love and loving what you do". Especially important are the things we persist in doing, beyond reason, because they nurture us. I saw a wonderful example of this at the illustrator intensives when Marla Frazee applied color to an illustration background with a tiny tiny brush. Murmurs went up around me. "Why is she using such a tiny brush?" Her answer - "because". She said it's a bit like "emptying a swimming pool with a spoon". There are tools which would get the job done faster, but they wouldn't feel right and none would create the feeling of meditation that accompanies her tiny brush.

No amount of technique, palette or composition can take the place of the elusive voice that bubbles up from deep inside the illustrator. Can I illustrate without it? Absolutely, but I was craving to understand what my work was missing and this conference supplied that knowledge. My quest for voice has just begun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


The 2011 SCBWI LA Conference was absolutely amazing. I've never experienced anything like it. I think that's why it has been so hard to summarize. It was 4 full days of events from 8am to 6pm and beyond. For now, I thought I would list some favorite ideas from some of the speakers. I think these are my favorites because they made me feel like I was headed in the right direction and although some are about writing, I found them to be interchangeable with illustrating. (The lack of quotation marks around most is because they are from my notes and I may have paraphrased here and there.):

Bruce Coville -
Art is dangerous. To stay poor is supposed to be doing your job correctly. Hogwash!
Don't be afraid to show your heart.

Libba Bray -
Make it better, not perfect.
Writing holds our DNA, our bones, our blood. It is a part of ourselves.

Laurie Halse Anderson -
Your muse is you and she deserves a lot of love and tender care.
Art disturbs the Universe! We are here to continue the revolution and make it grow.

Steven Malk -
Be 100% serious about working in the children's industry. It's a career. Be committed and proud.

Kadir Nelson -
A good painting is a conversation between the artist and the painting. A great painting is a conversation between the viewer and the painting.

David Small -
An artist's duty is to surprise himself.

Jerry Pinkney -
Discomfort is part of the process of making it work.

Judy Blume -
It is determination as much as any kind of talent that’s going to get you there.

This last one is my very favorite and most definitely a quote:
E.B. Lewis - "If you love what you do, they will find you." (It was my understanding that when he referred to "they" he was referring to publishers. Hopefully I was right and he wasn't referring to someone ominous...)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


My latest Promotional Postcard
The only reason I know it has been a month since I last wrote for this blog is because of the date on my last post. It actually seems longer than a month. The days have gone by in a blur of hours at the drawing table. I eat, sleep and dream drawing. I head to my drawings in between every other activity - if there are any. It is the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night. The light at my drawing table is often the last light on in the entire house at night. I'm afraid to know how many hours I've worked. I sometimes spend 12+ hours a day, 7 days a week working on illustrations, sketches and roughs. I am determined to also spend time with my family and head into the blissful warm Tahoe sun before heat gives way to 6+ months of cold again. blog has suffered.

I have to take full advantage of this conference opportunity without destroying the balance of my life. When the conference rolls around I know I will hear people speak of what they wish they had done to get ready. Hopefully I will feel I did everything I could. No regrets.

I finished another large color illustration and had the image printed as promo postcards and business cards last week. (I just got them. They turned out great!) In the meantime I started 3 new black and white spot illustrations to go with my Ghost Writer book cover. I let one of the 3 go in the interest of sanity, balance and doing my very best work. Doing the third would have jeopardized all of the above. The two illustrations I decided on will be done this week, leaving me time to scan and print all the new pieces for my portfolio, edit finished pieces, get them on my website, relax and of course, serve jury duty.

There is no time to waste...

Saturday, June 11, 2011


It is less than two months until the SCBWI Los Angeles Conference. I thought I was going to start feeling rushed at this point, but things are going very well. I finished the first of my new portfolio pieces last week. In fact, I finished it in half the time by starting the piece differently. It was a big experiment, but I had nothing to lose and I ended up winning big.

Normally I dial in my final sketch on vellum and then transfer it onto bristol with graphite paper. I'm not very fond of that step. I always feel like I lose detail and line quality, so I decided to experiment with scanning my final layout and printing it onto the bristol with my inkjet printer. My scanning/printing tests turned out great so I decided to take everything one step further to save time.

After I transfer the layout, I usually block in color with an airbrush or brush thin layers of paint. This stage is very rough, but it saves time. I also spend a fair amount of time fixing things that didn't transfer well. This adds time. I often feel like I'm re-drawing what I had already spent a lot of time on. I thought, what if I blocked in color on the computer directly on my scanned layout and then printed it out? When I tested this technique by printing out onto bristol and using colored pencil over it, it worked beautifully. The final illustration turned out great and was finished in half the time. I wasn't struggling with all those lost details from transferring and I could erase without losing my base layout. I also had the psychological benefit of knowing I could print out a new copy easily if I needed to start again. (I've never had to start an illustration over, but it's always a dread in the back of my mind. It's nice to be rid of that.)

So, I'm cruising through my new pieces with the knowledge that my usual 8-12 hour days at the drawing board are going to yield even more. I even took a couple days off without worry. What's not to like? Back to it...

Friday, May 13, 2011


(My apologies to those of you who subscribe to my blog. You have already received this post and may have been sent some old posts too! Everything went haywire when Blogger made changes recently and this original post disappeared. If you care, you can read briefly about it here. The joys of technology!) 
I am ecstatic to announce that last week SCBWI California North/Central awarded me a Conference Grant which insures my attendance at the Los Angeles conference in August. (The grant essay was the most challenging 250 words I've ever written!) I am very excited and will be using the next 84 days to prepare. I have been firmly positioned at my drawing table for the last two weeks and will continue to be until it's time to leave for the conference. I have two final roughs ready to begin as color finals and sketches for quite a few black and white book interiors.

Keep an eye out. I will be offering some great specials in the upcoming months for workshops, web design and art to help pay for the rest of my trip. 

Back to work!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Every year I put the SCBWI Summer Conference dates on the calendar. Every year, at some point, I cross them off. Maybe next year. The reasons for crossing off the dates? It's a long way to travel, a chunk of change and a lot of logistics, but even more importantly - it's a huge commitment I don't want to make unless I'm ready and the conference line-up fits me.

This year my portfolio is more ready than ever. Never have I anticipated the opening of SCBWI Summer Conference registration the way I did this year. I was so eager to see the line-up. Would this be the year? April 15th was the day to find out.

That morning I went about my business, but had my eye on the clock as it ticked closer to opening time at 10:00. The conference web page was already on my computer. Twitter was alive with the same kind of anticipation. And then…finally…it was 10:00. ACK! Nothing happened. I stared even harder at the screen while clicking refresh. Refresh! Refresh! Nothing. With some navigation I finally got to another page with the information I was waiting for.

The workshop that immediately jumped out at me was Creating Book Cover Art by Laurent Linn. Exactly what I've been looking for and as a bonus I know how great Laurent Linn is at presenting his expertise in an encouraging way. There were also speakers like Jerry Pinkney, Paul O. Zelinsky and Richard Jesse Watson - all illustrators who have elements in their work I greatly admire. As if that weren't enough - the list of illustrators, authors and publishers went on and on to fill up 3 full days. It was an amazing line-up, but I knew it would be the fourth day of optional illustrator intensives that made the final decision.

Clicking to the Intensives Page I found that 7 illustrators would be giving 7 hours of demonstrations with time for questions. HOLY SMOKES! As I saw the names, the dates etched themselves deeper and deeper into my calendar. For me, Kadir Nelson topped the list. His illustrations in Ellington Was Not a Street, Coretta Scott and Henry's Freedom Box are favorites of mine. If he alone were giving a demonstration, that would have been enough, but Jerry Pinkney, Paul O. Zelinsky, Richard Jesse Watson, Marla Frazee, David Small and Denise Fleming would also be giving demos. But wait! The list of demonstration moderators was equally impressive with E. B. Lewis, David Diaz, Priscilla Burris, Pat Cummings and Cecilia Yung.  I couldn't see straight!

Everything about the conference fit, just how the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program fit two years ago. And everything about the cost didn't fit. Just like the Mentor Program. Money can always be a reason for not doing something, but I don't think it's a good enough reason to give up before even trying - especially when the opportunity is so great. I pondered this as I stared at the registration form on the screen. It auto-filled from my SCBWI membership information. Just for fun, I clicked the conference options I wanted - Individual Portfolio Consultation, Juried Portfolio Showcase, Post-Conference Intensive for Illustrators. The cursor flashed, the submit button loomed large. I closed the window and walked away…four times. But I came back. And although I could feel that I was beginning to hyperventilate slightly, I hit the submit button, made sure my email receipt arrived and shut the computer.

A sense of elation filled me, along with a woozy hot feeling and the continuing urge to hyperventilate. (I think that woozy hot thing was because I was actually sick.) I still have to figure out how to pay for the conference, travel and lodging. Am I worried? Judging by the way I didn't sleep, yes. I was crunching numbers and formulating plans all night. I have some ideas and a month to figure it out before the penalties of canceling become too great.

So, here I am once again approaching a stream crossing like I did two years ago. Is it time to turn up the volume and take another chance on the unknown? Or will I dip a toe and go back to what's familiar? Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Overall, the 2011 SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference was excellent. As usual - our North Central California team did a great job. Here is a summary of the day.

There was never a dull moment during Bruce Coville's talk. He moved around animatedly, kept the crowd laughing and at one point enthusiastically jumped up on a chair to make a point. He was definitely a dynamic speaker with a lot to share about his journey as a writer.

The Magazine Workshop with Appleseeds editor, Susan Buckley and illustrator, Domenic Catalano was excellent. The editor and illustrator processes for a project were seen side by side from start to finish. What a great idea. It was an excellent opportunity for illustrators to see another part of the industry.

Picture Book Master Classes I and II by Domenic Catalano were very good. He didn't jump up on any chairs, but he was engaging and humorous in all the right places. It was very course-like in structure, but I enjoyed the academic points he brought up and he made me want to revisit Joseph Campbell's work on archetypes.

My Social Media Critique with Greg Pincus gave me excellent information on all my social media venues with solid next steps. It resulted in a quick and painless launch into Twitter. I love it. More on Twitter in later posts. (In the meantime...follow me on Twitter!)

And of course, as usual, it was great to see old friends and meet great new people - SCBWI veterans and newbies alike.

Portfolio Review:
I already paid for a written critique with illustrator/instructor, Domenic Catalano, so I was looking forward to hearing what the editors had to say about my portfolio. That was where all my anticipation was. I had worked on my portfolio for several months with this in mind. Unfortunately, it didn't happen for me in the group portfolio review. There were just too many cooks in the kitchen. It was a great line up with Random House Editor, Christy Webster, Appleseed Editor, Susan Buckley, Grosset and Dunlap Editor, Eve Adler and illustrator, Domenic Catalano. I was on the edge of my seat as they went down the line of portfolios, but there wasn't enough time for them all to speak. Dominic Catalano's enthusiasm and knowledge swept up most of the conversation. Although he had great things to say, I badly wanted to hear more from the editors.

By the time they got to my portfolio, they really needed to speed things up. The pluses - I was happy I put more black and white in my portfolio and I didn't hedge on what I put in. I wanted response - good or bad. Not one of my pieces was singled out as a bad one.  That was good.

The last comment on my portfolio was from Domenic Catalano - "Keep doing what you're doing." At the time, I was profoundly disappointed with this. I wasn't given a solid task. What next? Just keep doing what I'm doing? Once this bit of advice sank in though, it was great. It became decadent permission to continue on and pursue what I wanted to do for middle grade readers.

I know most illustrators at the SCBWI conferences are exclusively picture book illustrators, but there were numerous missed opportunities for discussing publishing opportunities outside of picture books. Now more than ever we all have to be more flexible if we want to illustrate in this industry. I happen to illustrate for kids 8+ which is already borderline for picture books. I'm always looking for information that will help me illustrate for the rarely talked about "older" kids. 

What Next? 
A few books to study.
I'm going for middle grade book covers and interior illustrations. No one has been able to give me solid advice on this, so I'm doing what I did when I was studying picture books except I'm in the older kid's section at the library. I'm driving the librarians crazy by checking out 20-30 books at a time. So far, I've looked at Tony Diterlizzi, Bagram Ibatoulline, PJ Lynch, Christian Alzmann, Sal Murdocca, and James Gurney because they are masters at what they do in middle grade books and their styles resonate with me. (Where are the female illustrators in this mix? I'm still looking.) I'll be seeing what each illustrator does that is different and similar to what I do. I'm looking at techniques, what POVs are successful, what reads best on the type of paper used, etc.

The Projects: 
Six years ago I read the Unicorn Chronicles series to my daughter. She was 5 at the time. I decided I wanted to make an illustration project out of it and do a series of black and white and color illustrations. I wrote out all the descriptions of the characters and set to work sketching likenesses of them from all angles in the most interesting scenes. Shortly after that, I joined SCBWI and began to realize that the focus was on picture books. I abandoned the project. Now I'm going back to it. I will also be doing interior illustrations for Ghost Writer, my 2010 Nanowrimo novel featuring my character, Adriana Fernandez. I'm looking forward to seeing where she takes me.

The Presentation Book: 
The final presentation book - an Itoya binder
What presentation book did the picky illustrator end up buying? Well, it wasn't the one I mentioned in my last post because the sleeves were too thin for the $60+ price tag. Instead I got an Itoya. I was surprised by their sleeves which were very clear and thicker than average with stiff page inserts to keep the bending to a minimum. The disappointment - the binder rings were the old style that snag pages when they begin to separate. They seemed tight at the store, but the permanent separation began after opening them the first time to put sleeves in. Because the separation was only on the top two rings, I was able to flip the book over so the pages didn't catch as badly. Of course, when I did that, there was an Itoya logo on the front. I covered it with one of my promotional postcards. Quality just isn't what it used to be...

Saturday, March 26, 2011


It is one week until the SCBWI conference in Rocklin. I'm all ready, but I hit a snag last week as I loaded my new presentation book with images. I wasn't happy with the quality of my new book, so I reluctantly set to work searching for a better one. 

It is nearly impossible to buy a presentation book without seeing it in person, but because I live 100 miles from the nearest art supply store, I often have to shop online for what I need. The most important thing to me are the pages. I don't like thin and flimsy and that's mostly what I'm finding. The thickest page sleeves I've found have been in Prat books. I've been using their books for almost 30 years, but they seem to have changed their sleeve quality more recently. Here are my latest findings:

My best presentation book - Prat Start with thick clear pages.
This is my old book - a 12 page Prat Start from several years ago. (Now I need  more pages so I can show 3-4 pieces from each category of work.) The sleeves in this book are very thick, non-textured, clear as glass and they don't wrinkle. They show the illustrations without distraction. Neither the sleeves or sleeve inserts ding easily and stand up to repeated viewings and image changes. It was inexpensive which means it was a great and durable book to ship off to publishers. There is no ink residue left on the inside of the sleeves after images are switched out. The cons: After many showings, the cover is showing fingerprints and the pages are sealed into the book and cannot be replaced or added to.

This Robert Ware book has flimsy pages which ding.
This is the book I was loading my work into last week. It is a Robert Ware and on the outside, it's a nice looking book. The 24 sleeves aren't as thick as I like, but I thought it would be fine temporarily. I knew it would have a lifespan of about 2 conference viewings. My impression changed when I started loading it with images. The sleeves were showing dings just by putting prints in. You can see in the photo how the sleeve doesn't sit flat on my sample. Over time this will get worse and some wrinkling will become permanent. My biggest concern was the way the black paper in the sleeves was shedding black specks all over my work. The static from the sleeves made it impossible to get rid of all of it and new specks appeared every time the pages were turned. That was a concern I didn't want while my book was on display.

The new 24 page Prat Start with "linen" cover.
The best idea was to find the quality I wanted, so I decided to find another Prat book. Their pages had always been the best. After looking at all their books and every other brand available, I decided on a 24 page Prat Start. It was impossible to tell how thick the sleeves were, so I called customer service. They told me the pages were thick and heat sealed, so I ordered the book with a rush on shipping...just in case. Glad I did. I ordered portrait format. They sent landscape.  The sleeves were also not like my other Prat book. They were a little thicker than the Robert Ware, but not crystal clear, they wrinkled and upon opening the book I noticed that some pages were already creased. (On the upside - the "linen" cover would wear well and hide fingerprints.) Even though my picture book spreads would look nice in landscape format, more than 3/4 of my work is portrait format. Having my book open the other way would take up too much table space and require awkward maneuvering - something art directors frown on. (Trust me, they do.) I can't use the book for the conference and replacing it by ordering online would be really risky.

Old style presentation book with page snagging feature.
So, it's Plan D. When I head into Sacramento the day before the conference, I'll be taking a detour to look at presentation books in person. Because it doesn't look like anyone is producing the sleeves I'm looking for anymore, I'm leaning toward a book with removable pages so they can be replaced as needed. I avoided ringed books in the past because they snagged pages and added bulk, but they've gotten better. So far the Prat Premium Case looks good. We'll see. If I don't find what I'm looking for, Plan E goes into effect - replacing the black inserts in the Robert Ware.

Please feel free to share your favorite presentation books. It's always helpful to hear firsthand experiences!

Friday, March 18, 2011


Brand new revised sketch for my picture book dummy. 
Occasionally I'm accused of being organized. I say accused because there's generally a tone of betrayal that suggests I've done something horrible. The truth is, I wasn't always this organized, but with so much going on in my life, it's a necessity, and as a homeschooling mom, I also have to be flexible and free flowing. If I wasn't organized, I would feel like the character in my sketch. She is being swept up by the current and everything important is out of her reach and beyond her control.

My degree of organization depends on what I'm doing. Right now I've got web designs in progress, publisher packets going out, a conference to get ready for and a bunch of things in my homeschooling/personal life to tend to. To keep from going absolutely batty, I need to get it all down on paper to free my mind to work. My prioritized list and calendars provide the structure I need to sculpt my day.

My prioritized list is hand written on a letter size piece of paper which is broken down into sections.  (I don't necessarily write a new list every day. I re-write it if it starts getting too hard to read with cross-offs and add-ons.) The left side of the page is wider and devoted to professional work in order of importance from top to bottom. Clients go at the top, followed by portfolio work and then promotional work. I also have a card and print business that appears occasionally according to urgency. The right side is narrower. Errands, bills, orders, email and phone calls go on the right.

Calendars provide the framework for the day. I have a calendar for events with time slots, a calendar for my daughter's independent study and the dinner calendar with shopping notes. (The dinner calendar is fairly new. Before I added that, I would sometimes forget about dinner until too late and was left to throw something together last minute. That wasn't very satisfying.) I look at all the calendars first thing in the morning so I know how everything on my list can fit in and around the immovable things for the day. (I have separate calendars because it feels less overwhelming to me.)

Sculpting the day. If an event on the calendar isn't a client meeting, it's usually one of my daughter's activities and I know I can get some computer work done while I wait for her. I can do writing, bids, design and correspondence in that time slot. (I'm at her skating lesson now.)  I also consolidate my errands with my scheduled outings so I'm not wasting trips. The shopping notes on my dinner calendar tell me what ingredients I'm going to need. Most illustration work has to be done at my drawing board at home, so I know I'm wasting time if I'm doing anything else at home besides illustrating on a day that involves lots of scheduled activities away from home.

If I have time. I always have a few things on my list that are low priority. They're not things that really have to be done at all. If I have time after getting high priority things done, they're icing on the cake. The other day I added some character studies to the list for my conference portfolio. If I don't get them done, it's no big deal, my portfolio is just fine. If I do get them done...bonus!

Stuck? If I get stuck on something, I move to another area and come back to the troublesome item later. Maybe I need to write instead of illustrate or research publishers instead of write. Then again, sometimes my self-imposed deadlines are unrealistic. It's important for me to ask myself why I need to get something done by a particular time. Maybe I have a good reason and maybe I don't.

A tip - I make sure to break projects into stages when I put them on my list so I always have things to cross off during the day. That way I don't have to wait until an entire project is done to cross it off and I always have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

So, that's a bit about how I organize my work. I definitely find it a lot easier than being disorganized and discombobulated.

If you have any tips for staying sane and organized, I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I've been so busy I'm behind in reading the blogs I follow. Since I flew through picture book revisions yesterday, I got to redesign my blog and catch up with other blogs too. The blogging community is great. I'm always finding new tools and learning new things. I'll pass on a few:

WriteOnCon - I happened upon this one on the SCBWI Mentee blog. Summary from their website - The brainchild of seven writers who wanted to “pay it forward” and give something back to the writing community, WriteOnCon is a totally free, interactive online Writer’s Conference held annually during the summer. Our first Conference, held August 10-12, 2010, had over 11,000 attendees. What a great idea! You don't even have to go anywhere. Wear your pajamas! Here's a link to last year's line-up. (They had illustrator events last year, too.) Right now, they are doing a lot of promotion and giving away critiques of all sorts. You can see what their latest critique giveaway is by looking in my blogroll list to the right. Go check it out!

LinkWithin - Next stop - illustrator, Melissa T. Liban's blog. She is a children's illustrator and is at about the same stage as I am in sending to publishers. It's fun to see what she's up to. While I was there, I saw a really cool feature that placed post suggestions from her blog underneath each post. I saw that it was called "LinkWithin", so I clicked on it. It's an easy widget that seems to be working well so far. You can click on "LinkWithin" at the bottom of this post to check it out.

From there, my path isn't totally clear. My tangents took on a life of their own as I clicked link upon link within the blogs I was on.

Check out this post from illustrator, Victoria Jamieson. She worked at Harper Collins in the design department and has some advice to illustrators on their promo postcards. There are other great links there as well.

I ended up at NetworkedBlogs also. It sounds interesting. I'll be checking into that some more. Anybody have any experience with them?

OK. Back to my picture book dummy. I have one sketch for a two page spread to do based on my critique from Candlewick last year.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I finished my book cover sample the other day. This is the cover for the NaNoWriMo novel I wrote in November. I'm still working on the title treatment, but that will be done on the computer. I can work on that anywhere. I have a list of other things to get done that require my drawing table. My main focus at this conference will be getting feedback on my newly dialed in portfolio. My critiques last year were the best of both worlds. One publisher really liked my portfolio which did great things for my state of mind. The other felt my portfolio was too brief at 12 pieces plus a picture book dummy. This gave me some information I needed to improve it. I have expanded it to 20 pieces plus a revised picture book dummy. The added pieces show more variety in subject matter and the picture book dummy has been edited according to a publisher critique from last year. I'm working on that now. Work, work, work. I'll continue posting my progress...

Saturday, March 5, 2011


PubSubPackMo ended and I moved on to my next deadlines without a word. No fanfare - no nothing. It's just that there is so much to do this month, I had to keep going.

PubSubPackMo Summary: I completed my goal. All my research yielded 31 well matched possibilities to send my illustration samples to. I can't help but feel that I cheated a bit though. Not all of those possibilities are unique and separate from each other. Some are imprints with identical addresses. It was the same amount of research either way and I came out of the month with a better picture of where I fit in and what I want to accomplish. That's always a good thing.

Onward - April 1 I leave for my next SCBWI conference where I will receive two critiques and have my portfolio on view for Random House, Holt and Carus to peruse.
Stay tuned - I'll be posting my conference prep process and results...

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I've been dragging my feet in writing this post. I don't like feeling discouraged and now that I'm hopeful again, I want to sweep my prior despair under the rug. But it's important to talk about. We all feel hopeless in our pursuits at some time or another and I've been there way more than once!

Right around Day 10 I was having a hard time finding illustration submission guidelines for a lot of my publishers. I was getting really frustrated. Why was I so concerned about guidelines? Because I care and my time is really important to me. I don't want to waste it or anyone else's by sending something to the wrong place in the wrong format to be discarded before it is ever seen. So, instead, I ended up spending a lot of extra time trying to double check guidelines everywhere I could, including web addresses I already had from past research. In most cases the web pages I had previously been on had been removed. What's up with that? The submission guidelines for writers could still be found and were full of apologies that they would no longer be accepting un-agented work. Instead, submissions would be discarded. Everywhere editors were overtaxed with piles of submissions and didn't have the time to open them all. But what about art directors and illustration submissions? Was I wasting my time? They still need illustrators...don't they?

Suddenly my time felt very insignificant. The excitement and hope fully drained from my body. Why bother? So...I threw a pity party. Luckily it got too loud and obnoxious for my good neighbor, Rational Thinking and she quickly put an end to it. Since I had been to one of these parties before, I knew what to do. I closed my computer, put away my other research tools and got busy doing what I needed to do...none of which had anything to do with publisher submissions.

These are the general steps I follow to get out of the trap of hopelessness:

Reality check - Even though I really really really want to illustrate for the children's publishing industry and I dedicate hours and hours to that pursuit...that isn't all there is to my life. I have a family, friends, web design/illustration business, cards and prints to sell, I live in beautiful surroundings with amazing outdoor things to do...I was feeling better already!

Act on it - I checked in with my family. Hey! They were still there!

Get back in sync - For me this means doing everyday things that are really important to the enjoyment of life - like cooking delicious healthy meals and spending quality time with my family and friends.

Exercise - I had been staring at my computer in research mode and had barely moved for days. No wonder my thoughts had gelled into a quagmire of irrational ideas. It was time to get that blood moving and expel that icky residue. Out to the forest with the dog!

Start a new project using established strengths - Starting a new illustration is like hitting the reset button for me. All becomes right with the world. My last post reminded me how much I want to do middle grade book covers, so I started one for the NanoWriMo novel I did in November. I'm using all my favorite illustration techniques. I'll post it when it's done.

Positive role models - This quest for publishers is most often a solitary pursuit - so is being an illustrator. That isn't a bad thing, but as I move forward in this new terrain, my footing is sometimes unsure. In situations where I feel discouraged, I like to read about successful illustrators, writers and musicians who share their journeys in very real ways. (By successful I mean remaining true to themselves and doing what they love.) I like documentaries too - especially about people who have been unconventional in their paths. (Reading Editorial Anonymous while feeling discouraged is not a good idea.)

Feel that strength - This is the lion's roar where I declare, "Oh Yeah!? My time is important too!" and I get back up, brush off the debris and puff myself out a bit to continue my journey forward.

Clarification - With renewed conviction, I clarify my vision of who I am, what I can do and what I want. This results in stronger footing and a reminder of why I'm doing what I'm doing. A new plan is formulated from an informed place and new confidence to do what I need to do while being true to myself. I know my time is valuable whether someone else thinks so or not. If I fit the publisher, I'll be sending illustration submissions until I see something concrete that says not too. I take full responsibility for that.

Benefits to losing hope - Benefits? Yep. Clarification and renewed hope are the benefits I usually get, along with dispelling all those irrational thoughts that clutter my path and keep me from moving forward. That means onward to PubSubPackMo, Day 17! I've got to catch up a little, but I've got 15 publishers so far.

So, that's what I do when I feel discouraged. How about you? What do you do to get yourself out of that funk?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I started writing about publisher information this morning and realized I skipped a step. It's day 8 and I have 9 publishers confirmed to send samples to. I've crossed many more off my list, but why?
Reading about each publisher is one thing, but you've got to know what style of illustrations they're looking for, what your own style is and what areas you want to illustrate in the first place. I illustrate everything from picture books to non-fiction nature books, but I'm especially interested in middle grade spot illustrations and book covers for stories that feature cultural diversity. I'm not going to send middle grade book cover samples to a publisher that only prints picture books or illustrations of realistically drawn people to publishers who prefer cartoony animal stories. Where to start - In the end it's always the impression I get from seeing what a publisher publishes that gives me what I need to make a decision. From reading the description in CWIM (Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market) of the subject matter they print, my mind tells me that Barefoot Books is totally right for me, but visually, for the most part, my style isn't a match. Catalogs - I don't like to accumulate catalogs, so I don't generally order them from publishers. If I happen to see one at a conference that is a good match, I will grab it. The ones that work best for me are the publishing groups with many imprints under their umbrella. Having all the imprints from one publisher in one place helps me get a handle on who belongs where. I don't keep the catalogs past a couple years. Yuck. They're dust magnets and there's no reason to keep outdated material. If I find something I need to keep, I rip it out and file it. This might be a publisher statement that sums up their "house" or a book cover that really speaks to me. Bookstores and Libraries - I search online or in bookstores and libraries whenever possible. I happen to love books (That's a no brainer isn't it?) and looking through piles of books with great illustrations is really enjoyable. Check out the bestseller tables at the bookstore in all categories that pertain to you, but, in your excitement, don't forget to see who actually published the books. After a while, you'll start to get the "flavor" of each publisher. Some are more broad in style than others. You don't have to stick with bestsellers either. Not everything will be a bestseller. When I'm perusing, I gravitate toward colors, illustration style and fonts on the covers and spines that are similar to my style. Digital - More and more publishers are offering catalogs to download - mostly smaller publishers. Publishing groups tend not to go to the trouble of having individual catalogs for each division. Having a digital catalog isn't the same as having physical pages to thumb through, but I can usually get the jest of whether my illustrations are right for them within a quarter of the catalog. I download catalogs and toss them right away when I'm done. I can always go back and get another one if I need to. I don't want dusty old catalogs filling up my computer either! Websites - Bigger houses often have their books cataloged on their websites, but if they have many imprints, it's not often that I see them divided up that way. They are usually lumped together into one big listing and then divided by age group. Hopefully you'll be able to find the name of the imprint somewhere near the book title. Publisher Blogs - Still not sure about a publisher? If they have a blog, check it out for the latest in what they're doing. What are their awards, new projects, innovations? Amazon - Sometimes I have luck searching under a publisher name in Amazon. Sometimes not! Magazines - The library and bookstore are also great places to look at children's magazines to find a match to your style. You can also order sample copies from the publisher. It's worth ordering a sample if you find a good match. If you're still not sure if your work is right for a particular publisher, ask people around you for their impressions. Or it could be that your style isn't quite defined enough to be able to tell yet. Don't expect a publisher to see what you're capable of creating down the line by showing them a sketch from life drawing class. You've got to show For me, that meant getting to work on my portfolio. Good luck out there! UPDATE - WEBSITE CATALOGS - Simon and Schuster has digital catalogs available on their website for all of their imprints. They are very well organized. (I like Simon and Schuster a lot. ) I have not, however, found any illustration submission guidelines anywhere on the far...

Thursday, February 3, 2011


It's day 3 of PubSubPackMo and I promised to add details on the process of submitting illustration samples to publishers. I'll be adding more as I go, but I'll start with publisher information. There isn't one way to collect the information you need. It's important to do what works best for you. Because the world around me can be hectic, I like to keep things simple whenever I can by staying organized.

During the year I come across lots of information about publishers that might be right for me. As soon as I can, I transfer the information to a text file on my computer. Some of the information is from websites I find, some is from notes I take at conferences and some comes from SCBWI bulletins. By transferring the information that pertains to me directly to a file on my computer, it keeps me from wasting time trying to backtrack and find the information again. This file can be a simple text file or a more involved database.

I also have a copy of the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) on hand. It isn't always the most current copy, but I try to stay within a year of the current one. If you want to buy the new copies right away, you can get them from Amazon. If you don't mind waiting to buy, you can generally get an unused copy of the previous year for a really good price on Things can change fast, so it's important to update records by going to the publisher websites, watching for changes posted in the SCBWI bulletin, and making phone calls to publishers when necessary.

There are lots of helpful articles in the CWIM too. My problem has been the copies from past years that pile up. It is a mind trap for me to think that I need to keep each year because there is information in them that I need. I'm never going to go through each one again and they take up valuable space. Instead, I mark them up freely with pen, pencil, highlighters and sticky notes. I transfer the publisher information I use to my database, cut out articles I need and file them and then recycle the books when I'm done. I started doing this when I discovered I had copies dating back to 1999 that I had never revisited!

My first pass through the book is quick. I mark publishers that look promising and put a sticky note on the page. This is something I can do anywhere, anytime - while waiting for clients, watching my daughter's Aikido or Ice Skating, etc. The publishers I mark at this stage are the ones I need to look closer at online. I'll be looking at their book art with mine in mind and if they seem like a fit, I'll make notes about what samples are best and any other guidelines I find. This is where I am right now. I'm double checking websites to see what kind of samples to send and to make sure I don't disregard any new guidelines the publisher may have. Once I have all the info I need, I transfer the address and notes about what to send to my database. The sticky note then comes off the page, but all my written notes are still on the page if I need to go back. If I find that a publisher isn't right for me, I put an "X" through it on the page.

I've got to go add some publishers to my list and finish my client work for the day. Yesterday I added Abrams to my list as a great all around publisher with excellent variety. Stay tuned for more information on finding the submission guidelines you need...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


PubSubPackMo is here! "What is it," you say, "some sort of pub food special?" No, but that's not a bad idea. PubSubPackMo is Publisher Submission Packet Month. I had so much fun during NaNoWriMo and PiBoIDMo (okay maybe fun isn't the correct word, but I got a lot done and that was fun) I decided to create an entire month dedicated to researching and submitting work to publishers.

There is a lot of research involved in submitting work. In the past I found I would do 10 at a time and then let the whole thing drop for months. It's best to keep submissions going out several times a year to publishers already on your list and submissions to new publishers going out regularly. If it becomes a part of what you do all the time, the habit should be as easy as brushing your teeth.

How to start? If you're an illustrator, start by deciding what samples to send. This might be as simple as one image on a postcard, several postcards or several images on a tear sheet. If you're an illustrator/writer, you might be sending out a picture book dummy or a query letter depending on the publisher's guidelines. And if you are an illustrator/writer sending out dummies - beware of simultaneous submissions. This is where the research comes in.

Always make sure to match your work to the right publishers and follow their guidelines (more about that in upcoming posts). It's a common notion for newcomers to think they should get the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market and start sending to every publisher in there. How do I know? Before I got serious about children's illustration, I was toying with the idea. That was about 15 years ago when I was still illustrating botanicals. I had begun to play with adding faeries to my work. Not knowing anything about the children's publishing market, I approached a children's illustrator I knew and told her my plan to blanket the entire industry with my samples. The look on her face was one of amused pity and she patiently explained why this was a bad idea. I would need to research each publisher individually. Back then, this generally involved making phone calls. Horrified, I abandoned the children's publishing idea and stuck with the publishing opportunities I had doing botanicals.

It's a lot easier to research now. Phone calls to verify addresses are rarely necessary anymore and most information about the types of work the publishers publish is online or in the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market.

I will be posting throughout the month about the submission process, but for now, I've got to research my publisher for the day!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


It's a secret that many illustrators and writers know. Finish your project and put it out of sight. When you look at it again, you will see it with fresh eyes. Last week I put away my promotional postcards and began printing up a portfolio to send off for critique.
The printing process isn't always easy, mainly because I have my illustrations in several different forms on my computer. I have versions for 8x10 portfolio, full size for book dummies, cropped for some uses, lo-res for internet, and CMYK for print media. For the most part, they are labeled well, but sometimes it gets confusing and I have to go through a few files and sometimes a different computer to find the right one.
As I was doing this, I came across one of my first designs for my latest batch of postcards. It was clearly the right design for the batch. This happens a lot with my sketches too. In fact, I'm in the process of changing some of my picture book dummy sketches back to earlier versions after several comments from art directors. Ninety-five percent of the time, when I put that first design down on paper, it's good to go. It's when I begin thinking and working it that I complicate things. I can see my thinking process all over the postcards I posted on Monday. Good thing I wasn't having them printed in mass quantities. Another perk to printing at home.
I would love to post images of the new postcards, but blogger is not formatting well this morning. I'd rather not spend the time de-bugging the code to make the images behave. Maybe I'll come back later and try again... UPDATE: Came back and switched my blog to the "Old Editor". I hated to do it, but I don't have the time to waste on images that don't stay put in my posts!

Monday, January 10, 2011


This month I'm readying all my promotional postcards so I can launch into PubSubPackMo (Publisher Submission Packet Month) without hesitation. In the past, sending out samples has been laborious for a lot of reasons. For one, there isn't just one type of publisher out there and for another, I don't do just one type of illustration.

I used to spend a lot of time preparing custom packets for each publisher -  sometimes more than an hour each - researching, writing cover letters and printing custom samples that I thought fit their needs best. Printing out custom letter size samples was always problematic. It was difficult to get illustrations for different applications to work together on one sheet. It could definitely be done, but to do this over and over for many different publishers took a ridiculous amount of time and in the end, I was only guessing what their needs were anyway. Instead, I've come up with a new solution.

My first batch of samples will be packets with up to four postcard for each publisher. It all depends on who I'm sending to. I have work for picture books, middle grade spot illustrations, book covers and the educational market.  Then, for everyone I've already sent this initial packet to, I will follow up with one brand new sample every 3 months. These quarterly postcards will most likely be printed commercially. (The bottom right postcard is one I had printed in quantity by a couple years ago.)
Picture Book Sample
Black & White Graphite Sample
Botanical/Pen & Ink Sample
Book Cover Style Sample
I picked the above samples because I've been listening to portfolio reviews from publishers for quite a few years now. Hopefully I've hit all the points well enough so at least some of my samples will stick around for future projects or perhaps my timing will be excellent and there will be a current project I'm right for.

But the samples are just one aspect of the submission process. There are a lot more considerations. I have asked all of the following questions multiple times, taken notes on what publishers and illustrators have said and added in my own trial and error to come up with the answers that work best for me. Caution: If you look hard enough you will always find the answer you are looking for or the one you fear most...

What do publisher want from samples? They want samples specific to children's publishing! They don't want to spend a lot of time on them. They want the samples to speak for themselves and an easy way to follow up if they want to see more work. This would be a portfolio by mail or a website. Some Art Directors put their favorite samples up on their bulletin boards, some put them in files, some pass them on to other departments. A lot of samples, GASP, get thrown away. This made me think that postcards of each type of illustration was my best bet. Each has my contact info on it and two examples of that style. They can be put up, passed on or filed and still have my contact info on them. Notice I didn't say they could throw them away?

Cover letter or no cover letter? This has held me up more than anything else in the past. Now, unless there is a specific project I'm pitching or interested in, I say no to cover letters and yes to my continued sanity. The number one reason for this is, who has time to read hundreds of cover letters from illustrators? They already have piles of book submissions with cover letters to go through and I spent way too much time customizing those letters anyway. I was frozen in my tracks many times, afraid I wasn't wording my qualifications well enough or succinctly enough.  I was even losing sleep.  What if I left out the one thing they were looking for? Forget it! Now I say let the illustrations speak for themselves.

Return postcard or not? I started out sending these and then I decided not to. Return postcards add expense and more work for me, not to mention more work for the publisher. Often times I didn't get them back for a year after my submissions went out and by that time I was already sending new work out. Instead, I do my research and I have a database where I keep track of all mailings - what I send, the date, publisher, who I directed the sample to and any responses. I take all the data into account when sending anything in the future and whether to keep sending to that publisher at all. As I see what each publisher is working on, I can look at my samples and send something appropriate.

It's important to keep up on what publishing houses are doing, what their current projects are and who is working where. It isn't a small job, but there are resources to help. Joining SCBWI is a huge asset. They supply updates on publishing houses that are invaluable and the conferences are a great way to stay connected. Another resource is the yearly Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market. I use it as a prompt to find new publishers, but I don't rely on specific information too much. Things change so quickly. I always go directly to the publisher for any submission guidelines and addresses I might need.

PubSubPackMo anyone?

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