Saturday, December 12, 2009

Winter Scene

I remember when I used to walk my kids to school on snowy mornings, I'd return home solo, and it always made me smile to see their footprints in the snow. They never went in a straight line for long. (Click on the image to get a larger view.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Elfin Friends

These are a few new digital stamp designs I'm selling at

I plan on adding new designs whenever I have time, so if there's anything you'd like to see, let me know!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Scary, but not TOO scary

This is a sketch from an early reader I'm doing called "The Bad Witch." The tricky thing is to make a witch who looks bad, but not too scary for the little guys. My mother ran a preschool/day care center for many years, and I used to work there from time to time. Once, around Halloween, I was playing a game with a 4 year old boy. He sat across the table from me and drew a bunch of pumpkin shapes. Then he told me what kind of jack-o-lantern face to make in each one (silly, sleepy, etc.) Finally, he told me to make a scary face, and I did, but when I turned it around to show him, he about fell off his chair, he was so scared! I felt terrible. Now I'm a little leery of using my scary drawing powers on little kids.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Here's Owen's costume this year. We stole the idea from Theatre Zarko, an amazing puppet symbolist theater created by my friend Laura Montenegro and her husband, Michael. There's still time to see their brilliant show, and if you go to the link, you can see the bit that inspired Owen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Go Bears!

(I'm not really much of a sports fan.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Stamps

I just finished some new stamp designs for The Greeting Farm. I'm having fun with these!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cleaning out the Closet

Now that the kids are back in school, I finally had the time to clean out the closet where I keep my art supplies and old artwork. It's such a great feeling to be (somewhat) organized, and I even found a bunch of art I had long forgotten about. For instance, these b & w images were done about 10 years ago for a little publication for preschool teachers called "Building Blocks." They were lovely people to work with, and I got some great ideas for activities to do with my then pre-school aged sons, including a great recipe for homemade playdough, as I recall!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Teen Stamps

OK, this was something different. I was hired by little company called The Greeting Farm to design "teen themed" rubber stamps. Crafters use the stamps to make lovely greeting cards and such. Well, it was a departure for me, but it was fun! They are a delightful company to work with, and I enjoyed the assignment. I have two sons and several nieces around this age, so I'm surrounded by teens and "tweens," but oddly enough, I never draw them. I tried to capture two things that I've noticed about this amazing, confusing time of life:
1. When you catch them in a certain light, or a certain pose, they show glimmers of the little kids they were not so very long ago.
2. They're starting to really play with style, picking up pieces here and there and trying them on for size.
It's a wild ride, but I wouldn't miss a minute of it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Promotional Postcard

Here is the illustration I created for a promotional post card. This is from a story idea I have that I've been tinkering with off and on. (More about that later.) I ordered oversized postcards from Vistaprint. Although I've heard other illustrators occasionally grumble about the color quality, especially when reordering postcards, I've always been very satisfied. They're super cheap and quick.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What Book Got You Hooked?

First Book is an excellent organization that aims to put new books into the hands of children in need. You can join in their "What book got you hooked?" campaign at their website and tell of that first reading experience that made whole worlds bloom inside your head. Doesn't it make you warm all over just remembering that book? For me, it was "The Littles," a series by John Peterson, that FIRST got me hooked. I used to order them through the Scholastic Book Club at my elementary school. I loved, loved, loved the idea of mouse-sized people with tails living in the walls of the Bigg family home. I especially remember how vain they were about their tails, and I remember their thrilling adventures, including fighting off the family cat with a sewing needle, and their daring trips to visit other tiny families, including a branch that lived in the town dump, and one that lived in the forest, and . . . oh I could go on and on. As you can see, I'm hooked!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Two Girls and a Worm

I keep a file of interesting photos of kids that I cut out of the New York Times, mostly. The other day I was flipping through those photos for inspiration and found one of two little girls in a school room looking closely at a worm on a petri dish. They had very different reactions to this little science lesson, and their expressions inspired this illustration.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Guest poster

I'm turning over the blog today to my 14 year old son Sam, who draws all the time and makes it look so dang easy. This is his response to a challenge I gave him to draw a rectangle and then draw a figure inside the rectangle touching all four sides.

Monday, July 13, 2009

From the Sketchbook

My fellow train riders. The woman on the left was reading a book titled "Why Men Love Bitches."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Character Sketches

I'm sorry this is so light, but if you click on the image, you'll see the sketches larger and more clearly. These are quick character sketches I did for the book dummy I'm working on. These are the new neighbors of Florence Finnecker, a character I posted earlier. I find that my best character sketches happen when I work standing up, drawing on a large pad of paper. The challenge is to then keep that looseness all the way to finished art.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Step by Step

I recently received an email requesting a "step by step" posting of my illustration process, so here goes.

My agent Nicole Tugeau asked for fresh images for the T2 website, so I decided to create a finished piece from a story idea I have. The concept came from an exercise I did in Laura Montenegro's class (which I posted about earlier) in which we created two characters through collage and had them interact. Here's my collage from that class.

This exercise gave me an idea for a story about a wandering minstrel who solves problems with his music. He is called to a village to help rid them of an ogre who has been bullying them.

I love working in collage, and my goal is to create a separate portfolio of work in that style, but for this project, I decided to recreate this idea in my more traditional, watercolor and gouache style. So here is a little thumbnail I did based on this concept.

I enlarged the thumbnail and decided to change the ogre's expression to happy and innocent rather than sad and wistful. I reduced the size of the minstrel and made his head tilt back more with my old-school scissor and tape method. Some day I'll have to learn to do that stuff in Photoshop.

I transferred my sketch on to Artistico Extra White 140 hot press watercolor paper and started layering in color after marking off the borders with blue masking tape.

Here's the final piece. After looking at it for a while and discussing it with Nicole, I see room for improvement, and I may want to take another crack at it. I kind of rushed the background, and I could have created much more narrative interest by making the village more unique and showing the villagers a little closer, with more detail. And then there's the problem of all that green. I should have either given the ogre a ghastly blue skin tone or changed the setting so there wasn't so much grass. Oh well, live and learn.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Very Hungry Illustrator

I have a new goal: to create a character so iconic that it moves people to sculpt it with pastries. This is a photo from a wonderful blog called "Cake Wrecks."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

From the Sketchbook

I've had a hard time getting back to the old drawing board since we returned from our trip. I don't have any paying jobs right now, and although I've been working on a couple of book dummies for the past month or so, I find I'm not really eager to return to them right now. I've been catching up on other things, cleaning and organizing, sort of biding my time until the urge to draw overcame me. I finally decided to sit myself down this morning and draw like kids do, without overthinking or planning, and this is what came out. What does it say about my mental state? Not sure . . .

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back from the Land of Walden

My family and I flew out to New England to attend my niece's graduation from Boston College (with Phi Beta Kappa honors -- you go, Kelly!) Since we rarely pony up the money to fly anywhere, we decided to make a trip of it, traveling around Maine and the rocky Massachusetts coast. We went to Concord to visit the starting point of the Revolutionary War, which my fifth grader had just studied, but we ended up really grooving on the Transcendentalist vibe there. We stopped by the Walden Pond gift shop and struck up a conversation with the heavily tattooed young man working there. When my husband asked if we could swim in Walden Pond, he said "You MUST swim in Walden Pond." So we did! Here's Owen, enjoying his "bathe," as Henry would say.

I bought a copy of Walden from our tattoed friend, and I've been reading it since we returned home. To be completely honest, I'm probably only understanding about 75% of the language, but what I'm getting, I'm liking. Here's a quote from Henry that was on a onesie in the Walden gift shop: "I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Copper and Cleo: Chapter One

Copper called his best friend, Cleo.
"Heddo?" she said.
"Don't you mean 'Hello?'" asked Copper.
"Dat's what I said!" answered Cleo.
She sounded crabby.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I was going through an old sketchbook (from 2005) when I ran across this color sketch I did for Illustration Friday on the theme "Crowded." It was inspired by my son, who actually slept with all of these stuffed animals back then. I remember the turtle's name was Shell. This is one of those memories that plays tricks: when I was living through this phase, I often found it SO annoying to have to round up all of the guys and arrange them just so before my son would consent to sleep. GOD FORBID one of them was missing! But now I think back and go, "Awwww." And when he woke up in the middle of the night with a bad dream, he'd climb out of bad, scoop up the entire entourage, and appear silhouetted in our doorway with his armload of friends, announcing his nightmare. I know, awwww, right?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

PBAA poster

Here is the promotional poster for the Picture Book Artists Association that is being sent to art directors and editors. I can't tell you how helpful this group has been to me. Members converse through a Listserve, and I've learned SO much, from advice on papers and materials to the lowdown on publishers and much, much more. They're the smartest, funniest, most thoughtful group of virtual friends I've ever virtually met. Check out the PBAA blog for an enlargeable (is that a word?) view of the poster.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


We had our annual egg dying party -- isn't it amazing what can be done with rubber bands, masking tape, wax crayons, and food coloring?!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

From the Sketchbook

FYI, a read-a-thon is when the kids get to read all day, except for a break for math. Sounds good to me. But after reading all day, Owen came home and watched TV, which was OK, because it made it easier to draw him.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Real Thing

My sister, who lives less than a mile from me here in beautiful Arlington Heights, just sent me this photo of a fox family she saw in her neighbor's yard while out walking her dog. Though you can't see them all, my sister says there are six kits. Aren't they adorable? I wonder if this is the same fox we saw trotting down the middle of the street with a rabbit in its mouth this time last year. Who says the suburbs are sterile?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"I s-say, what are your intentions?"

This is a scene from "Miss Chicken and the Noisy Nuisance," which I wrote and illustrated, and for which my lovely agent Nicole Tugeau is currently trying to find a publisher. The book dummy I created has one finished piece, and the rest are sketches. Nicole suggested I do some color character pieces and/or finish another illustration to help sell the book, so I painted this yesterday.

By the way, I came up with the idea for this story through an assignment done for Laura Montenegro's "Intuitive Suitcase" class.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Collage Done Right

Now that I've got my mind on collage, I seem to see it everywhere. Of course, collage and children's books have gone together for a long time (think Eric Carle, Ezra Jack Keats, and Leo Leoni). But I've recently gotten my hands on two beautiful picture books that combine collage and painting in a really exciting way.

Wow, is this book fun to look at. Shelley Jackson uses the perfect combination of fabrics, photos, stitching patterns, and painting. My favorite is the illustration depicting the main character trying to "think all kinds of chicken thoughts" so she can sneak up on Miss Hen. We see her squinting out of one eye at the chicken while photos of corn kernals, worms, eggs, corn bread, and corn cobs swirl around her head.

Then there's "A River of Words." This book absolutely took my breath away. In the back pages, Melissa Sweet explains how she turned to a box of used books she bought at a library sale for inspiration when creating the collages for this biography of the poet William Carlos Williams. Among other things, she uses star charts, spelling books, and prescription pads in her collages and often paints right on the covers and end pages of those used library books. Combined with Melissa's quiet, simple paintings, the result is brilliant. No wonder this book won a Caldecott Honor.

Finally, I was in Barnes and Noble the other day when I bumped into this book:

Now, Louis Armstrong is kind of a hero in this household, so I was so excited to discover that he was a fellow collage artist! The yellowing Scotch tape somehow fits perfectly with the cut up photos of jazz life and newspaper words. Satchmo's love of life and of music comes through loud and clear.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Words and Pictures

Here's a portion of another collage I did in Laura's class (only a portion because of my dinky scanner). The assignment was to put the character we created earlier in a setting and have that character show a different emotion. It's amazing how this simple assignment got the wheels spinning, churning up story ideas. After several false starts, I've got a plot outline I'm really excited about now. The hard part is coming up with the words to turn that outline into a rip-roaring good story. I usually do alright building the tension toward the climax of the conflict, but it's SO tricky to create a convincing and satisfying resolution. Still, I'm loving the challenge -- so far.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Adventures in Collage with Florence Finnicker

I've been taking this fantastic class with author/illustrator extraordinaire Laura Montenegro. Laura has a wonderfully sneaky way of pushing you outside of your comfort zone in order to find wellsprings of creativity you didn't know you have. We've been working with collage, and it's a blast! One night in class I created this character who I'm naming, for the time being anyway, Florence Finnicker. I've been working on a picture book story based on her which may or may not go anywhere. If anyone's interested, maybe I'll post updates on Florence's whereabouts in upcoming days.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Tree Pose

Well here it is, my first actual blog post! I'll keep it short and sweet. This is an illustration from a beginning chapter book I'm writing about two best friends and their adventures. Hopefully one of their adventures will be to FIND A PUBLISHER! In this chapter, Cleo (the cat) convinces her friend Copper (the dog) to try Yoga. I won't give away the ending, except to say it involves Copper chasing his tail.