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Hello, faithful reader!

I was hoping to wait on this blog post until hearing back on three “in the works” projects, but everything has been postponed and I’m itching to put something on the blog. So here you go, and I’ll have an update on said projects in about 2 weeks.

After completing ABC Adventures, I decided to take a month-long hiatus from illustration to celebrate the holidays, be generally lazy, and catch up on video games. But for the past month, I’ve been hard at work with a brand new Winter 2018 Syllabus!

Yes, I’m still keeping up with my nerdy trend of making myself syllabi to stay on task, and it mostly works. I broke January up into a few tasks: marketing myself, generating more ideas and entering a competition.

First task? Send out a postcard.

First, I created a mailing list. This was a daunting task, but I just pulled names from plenty of websites and the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market.

Here’s a photo so you don’t get bored

I say “just,” but this task actually took me almost two weeks, and Excel spreadsheets are my JAM. I love organizing databases and researching, and I was still shocked how many nights I spent researching names, double-checking positions on Twitter or LinkedIn, and down-right SLEUTHING to get addresses to some of these places.

They do NOT want your mail. Nope.

Then I had to create my postcard. I chose this piece I created for an SCBWI assignment, the fox wedding:

I also had to design the back, which was a new challenge. FUN FACT: The post office only had seashell stamps even though my image is a forest wonderland and I was writing “Greetings from snowy Minnesota!” on all the postcards. THANKS A LOT, POST OFFICE!

I sent out about 250 cards, received 2 personalized email responses stating my illustration style didn’t fit the bill (“but thank you!”), and about 30 were returned.

Check out all those rejected seashells!


I consider that a success! No, seriously, I do. Because that means about 220 cards were NOT returned, of those maybe 75 avoided the shredder, 30 of those were circulated, and 10 were pinned up on cork boards and may be considered for future projects. Success!! =

Second task? Send out my portfolio to publishers accepting online submissions.

This was easy enough. I created a PDF (three pages) of my work and emailed to the small amount of publishers that stated they accept digital portfolios on their website. I was able to target maybe 20 publishers this way. Another 15-20 say they accept physical portfolios or they need artist’s CVs/resumes, so that’s on my “to do” list for February, maybe. Also that sounds like a lotta work for probably 0.03% chance of response so probably not. 

Third task? Storystorm.

This is a month-long event where you brainstorm a picture book idea every day during January.

Did I succeed? No. This sucked. I had absolutely awful ideas for about 90% of the days (my idea for January 14 is literally “ABC book about kitchen items.” WTF?)

I can safely say that Storystorm is way more stressful than helpful for me. I think I got about two good ideas, maybe, but overall this was too intense for my personality type. I’m a perfectionist and completionist so I felt a gnawing sense of anxiety when I couldn’t claw up an idea from the depths of my dry creativity well. It felt bad. FAIL.

Fourth task? Create an illustration for SCBWI’s annual banner competition!

This is my completed banner:


I think it turned out pretty well. I am definitely pleased with how my style has developed over the years — I can actually SAY I have a definitive style now. 

I did struggle with color scheme on this bad boy. I did one color study and it just did NOT work. I got some feedback from illustrator friends that I had too many colors going on. Too many colors? Aren’t you supposed to use them all? Uh…no.

Remember, I didn’t take any formal illustration classes. I am self-taught. And one thing I never taught myself was COLORS. To tackle this, I spent a week in January diving into color classes on SVS and browsed color palettes on Pinterest and I came up with this color scheme and tried to stick to it:


This is super counter-intuitive to me, because Kindergartners don’t call each other and say “Okay, we’re only wearing avocado green, butter yellow, and raspberry colors today, but we also need to wear completely different clothes so it looks natural.”

It was difficult and weird, but I did it. And I think it produced a much more cohesive image than some of my other illustrations. The deadline for this contest was pushed out, so I’ll find out in February if my banner wins the contest.

Fifth and final January task?

This one was a surprise. I was contacted by a self-publishing author in Wisconsin regarding a children’s book manuscript he’s written about a walleye character!

Did I want to submit character sketches and try to get the job? Heck yes! Underwater scenes are something I’ve always wanted to try — AWESOME!  I created the following character studies and a few rough page sketches, and sent them off:


Again, this is another project that I won’t know if I’ve landed until mid-February. Normally, I wouldn’t post anything before knowing about a job, but this guy is too cute NOT to share. And even if I don’t land the gig, it’s all good, because I can always work on my personal PB dummies and a few manuscripts I’ve got simmering on the back burner.


And those were all my January illustration tasks — DONE, BABY.

Soooo….I realized this past October was also my FIVE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY of becoming a children’s illustrator, WHAT??

I’ve met so many of my goals, but it’s been an uphill journey at times. It’s a very competitive field. Work is difficult to find. There are a lot of failures and rejected postcards.

But I have more time than ever to devote to illustrating now, and I’ve already got three books I’ve completed which I think makes me pretty LEGIT. I’ve built my portfolio to a solid place where I feel confident sending it to traditional publishers. And I’m very, very happy spending my time drawing, painting and hunched over my Cintiq tablet.

And on a more personal note, I’ve fallen completely, head-over-heels in love with ROLLER SKATING!

My babies


I’ve been going to a local rink every week for about eight months, where I do couples skating! That means I’m basically doing ballroom dancing or swing dance moves, but on roller-skates with a partner — and it’s EXHILARATING. There are tons of regulars I dance with — including a figure skating gold medalist!! — and it’s a party every single Friday.

I also recently joined the training league for the Minnesota Rollergirls (Debu-Taunts)!  


I had my roller derby skills testing just this past Sunday. I think I did pretty well, but I don’t find out for another week if I’m in Level 1 or Level 2. I’m crossing my fingers for Level 2, but obviously I’ve never skated derby and Level 1 would be totally fine. I just need to polish up some derby-specific skills. Either way, I am completely SMITTEN with roller skating and feel completely exhilarated and joyous while on wheels 🙂

Thanks for reading my blog and keeping up with my illustrative career (and occasional personal gushes involving roller skates and derby). It means a lot to me!  Stay tuned for my update in a few weeks about the banner, walleye book, and skating level 😉



Full Throttle

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Well, it was May of this year that I signed on to illustrate “Alphabet Adventures” by Kathy Joneja, and I wrapped up final illustrations on Halloween! My work on the book is done, and now it’s in the publication pipeline at Beaver’s Pond Press. The art director and editor are hard at work polishing the book. I don’t have a publication date yet, but it took the Tooth Fairy about a year from final illustrations to release date — I’ll post the date on my website when I know! Here’s the final cover:

In other news, I left my job at the art center! Surprise…!  I was having trouble juggling my three part-time jobs (registrar at the art center, professional transcriptionist, and freelance illustrator), plus being a full-time mom, so I decided to cut something. With my two kids (FINALLY) both in school, I’ve decided to really go full-throttle with freelance illustrating. 

This is HUGE. I started illustrating for children five years ago, but it’s always been a side job, something I fit in after scrambling to work a day shift, entertain a pre-schooler all day, etc. Now it can be MY JOB. I’ve got the time, the energy, and I’ve been building my portfolio for five years and slowly improving my technique and skill level to the point where I’m marketable as a professional illustrator. 

So, what’s next? I’ve been taking a little breather in November since I finished my book to do some typing projects, catch up on video gamin’ (I have about 30 Steam purchases that I’ve never installed…whoops), and “up” my game as a parent/partner in general (just served up breakfast in bed this morning to the guy who actually makes the money —  homemade breakfast sausages and croissants – YUM!)

Now I’m ready to start up on my illustration syllabus again, and I’ve been working to flesh out my goals. In short, I have two main goals:

1.) Find freelance work. 

2.) Polish my Space Plumber book dummy and find a publisher! 

In order to find freelance work, I need to create a mailing list and send out postcards to editors and art directors at various children’s publishing departments. Basically, they collet postcards, pin ’em up on their bulletin boards if they like your style, and throw you an email if a project shows up that you’d be a good fit for….IF your postcard is amazing enough to make it out the slush pile. 99% of your postcards go straight to recycling, but that’s the name of the game. It’s very competitive, so we’ll see. Since 2015 I’ve produced one book per year, and I’m hoping to keep up that trend, but I need to put my boots to the ground and find my own work now.

You may have noticed that my website now has a LOT of new illustrations, many pulled from Alphabet ABC’s. If you haven’t looked yet, take a peek by clicking here! I’m super proud of my new book, and what I’ve created. Next, I’m going to create a postcard (either an ABC image or create a brand new one) that showcases my style, flair, and ability. In January, I plan to partake in Story Storm (previously known as PiBoIdMo [Picture Book Idea Month]), restart my lessons on SVS (I realized I’ve been paying $15.00/mo. without actually using it for like four months straight), and completely re-imagine and re-draw certain spreads for the Space Plumber dummy based on tons of incredibly helpful feedback I collected from many illustrator friends.

WHEW! I have a lot to do. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention this other goal I’ve been throwing around…

3.) Possibly maybe pursue my teaching licensure and becoming an art teacher maybe??? 

I have been inquiring at local colleges (U of M, St. Kate’s, Augsburg) about getting my teaching license to become an art teacher in the state of Minnesota, but I’m still on the fence here. It’d be a big expense, take a lot of time (about 2 years), and even then, a position in a junior high or high school (the age groups I’d want to teach) isn’t a guarantee and could be difficult to find. For now, I’m just gathering information, but it’s exciting to think about.

Either way, thank you for following along on my adventure!


Fox Wedding + My Process!

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Hey coconuts! Last y’all heard, I’d just finished creating a comic book centered around my journey with Whole30. After the comic, I really plunged into creating artwork for my third book, ABC Adventures. The sketches are all approved, and I’m now about 1/3 finished with painting, hoping to be finished by Halloween! The bummer is that I can’t really post images from the book until AFTER it’s released, but you’ll just have to trust that they’re adorable.

I CAN share another piece I created for the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference from this past Sunday, September 24. I had an illustrator intensive with Jess Tice-Gilbert, a senior art director at Scholastic. Jess had us all pick fairy tales to illustrate, submit sketches to her, and bring a final illustration to the conference for a critique.

To be honest, I’m not a fan of illustrating fairy tales. I’m sick of them. But I found this super weird one called Mrs. Fox’s Wedding. Essentially, there’s a married couple, and “old Mr. Fox” plays dead to see if his wife will remain faithful. Instead, she starts inviting suitors to the house to pick a new husband. The first suitor has one tail and she’s like, “Nah.” The second fox has two tails and she’s like, “Still nope.” The third fox has three tails and…well, you get the picture. Finally, a fox shows up with nine tails and she’s all about it. They get married. From what I read on the internets, there are two endings: in the more Grimm-like, the old Mr. Fox wakes up and kills everybody in a jealous rage. I chose the second ending where everyone dances and never stops. Nice!



Okay, this piece was a blast, except for when we experienced a power surge and I lost three hours of work. I struggle with environments and lighting, so I challenged myself to create a strong environment with a clear background, middle-ground, and foreground. I also wanted strong/dramatic lighting to really showcase the focal points. I am super pleased with the end result and I think it showcases how far I have come as an illustrator!  It was very gratifying to receive positive feedback from other illustrators I’ve known for 4-5 years, because they could attest to the improvements I have made since I began.

On Friday, I’m visiting my daughter’s Kindergarten class to demo how an illustrator works to create a picture book. So, I thought it would be fun to show everybody on my blog, too — how an illustration is born, beginning to end. Personally, I love seeing other artist’s processes and learning new ways to do things. There were some “newbies” at the conference that had a lot of questions about process, and I think it can be heartening to see that these final illustrations aren’t just birthed from thin air, but instead go through lots of ugly, garbage stages where you doubt your skills completely. So here’s my process!

First of all, I picked a story. In this case, I knew I wanted a fox wedding in the middle of the forest, with tons of guests frolicking around, string lights, and somebody in the foreground approaching the party. That’s all I knew! So I began by sketching out tons of different thumbnails, playing with the composition and camera angle. I work tiny (like, 1” x 2”) so I’m forced to just work with large shapes and blocks of value. If I worked any larger, I would start putting in details. Details come LAST!


Then, I picked a few that I liked and started to sketch in environment stuff like where the road went, the dance floor, and the tree lines. I did this with slightly larger thumbnails, like maybe 2” x 3”. I started to think about where the text would be placed. I used a soft pencil for this, like a 4B, so I got nice thick lines and avoided that temptation to put in details. (I don’t have a photo of this step, sorry!)

Next, I picked my favorite and blew it up (I scanned it into my computer, enlarged it in Photoshop, and printed). Then I started to sketch the main characters loosely, mainly focusing on their body language and lines of action. I blocked out areas of interest (like vague groups of dancing animals) and tried not to add details still (like that it’s specifically a cat doing a hand stand). At this point, I had no idea how many animals would be added, or what they’d be doing. Next, I sent these very rough sketches to some illustrator friends and got feedback. They basically told me to add way more animals and give Mr. Fox more movement in his pose.




Next, I popped that baby into Photoshop and did a very rough value study. This helped me determine where the lighting would fall. My main focal point is the dancing couple, so I gave them some high contrast so they’d pop.  I also wanted the scene to feel really cozy, so I framed it in darker trees. I sent this to the art director, along with my character sketches, and received some feedback — mainly to make sure the foxes didn’t look too Disney-esque, like “Maid Marian and Robin Hood.” But mostly, she had only positive feedback, which was great!


Then…I procrastinated. A lot. I had an entire month to work on the piece, but I waited until FOUR DAYS before the conference, because I’m an idiot. This was a piece that needed a lot of detail – there are like, 20 characters in there, and they each needed a unique pose and facial expression. Anyway, the next step was finalizing the sketch completely with details. And nobody can recall a badger from memory so I did a LOT of Google image searches for photo reference, every step of the way! (Side note: I love looking at my internet search history after finishing a sketch because it’s always like “cat handstand” and “pissed off monkey face.”)

When my sketch was completely finished, I transferred it to watercolor paper. I did this using my industrial sized light table!  Basically it’s a table that emits light, so you put your sketch underneath the watercolor paper and can see your sketch and trace it. Then I painted! And guess what? I’m the sloppiest painter in the world. I mean, I create pure garbage when I’m painting. But, I don’t care. Essentially, this step is just to put the TEXTURE of a watercolor brush down on paper. I didn’t really care about color at this point, or tone or lighting. I’m kind of backwards that way, and I should probably learn how to actually paint, but I guess I don’t like the extreme likelihood of messing up a painting. So I just slap paint and water on there so that my final illustration will have the look of a watercolor painting, and know that Photoshop will take care of 80% of that trash. JUST LOOK AT THIS MESS:

Once it was painted, I cut my illustration in half. Yeah. I did. I mentioned this to a friend at the conference and her jaw literally dropped. Sorry! My scanner is tiny. I’ve got other illustrator friends that scan theirs four times for each corner and then Photoshop has this nifty tool that merges your image, but it doesn’t work on my scanner because the lip of the scanner lifts the paper up and creates a shadow…I don’t know, my scanner is stupid. So I just cut it.


Once it was scanned into Photoshop, I “stitched” the image together using the clone stamp, which is my favorite Photoshop tool and deserves a medal. The clone stamp picks up whatever you want and “clones” it to a new location. It’s a beautiful thing.

Then I sat at my computer for twelve hours until my eyes went blurry. First, I messed around with the levels until my lighting looked great. I used the magic wand tool and took big chunks of areas, like the trees, and color corrected and darkened them. Then, starting in the lower left with the wedding cake raccoon, I zoomed in and just started finessing everything. I use Kyle’s brushes, which simulate watercolor brushes, to paint my line work (outline my shapes and characters). They are amazing, affordable, and you can find them here:  Since my painting is so sloppy, I’m often using the clone stamp to re-paint certain portions or correct where my watercolors have bled into the wrong areas. Then I popped the text in there! The very last step is adding any detailed highlights that I couldn’t do with watercolor paper – so putting in the string lights in the trees and the sparklers. Some traditional artists do this step by using masks or by applying white gouache. I like Photoshop.



And, well…that’s basically it. I’m in Photoshop for a VERY long time on a piece this large and detailed.

In the end, I’ve got a hybrid of traditional and digital media. Photoshop makes my job so much easier. I cannot even imagine doing illustrations 100% traditionally; I think I would pull my hair out in frustration. What do you do when the water spills all over your paper? When the watercolor paint bleeds into the wrong area? Do you start over?! Dude, no. Photoshop saves.

On the other hand, artwork created 100% digitally looks lifeless to me, at times. If you’re incredibly skilled and can make it look handmade, I’m sure I’ve been fooled plenty of times. But there’s just something about digital art that’s a bummer to me. So that’s why I found this process of marrying digital with traditional, so I still get the feeling of a watercolor painting, but with the precision and tidiness of a digital painting.

Alright, that’s it! If I can explain it to you guys, I think I’ll be fine with a bunch of Kindergartners on Friday. If you’re an illustrator, please share your process with me! And if you’re still curious, feel free to ask me any questions about my process. I’m sure it will evolve, but for now, I’m finding my style and process that works for me, and I’m happy to share.

Whole30 Comic!

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Time for an update, yo!

BTW, I’m feeling punchy today. You’ve been warned.

I’ve got LOTS of illustration projects going on simultaneously this summer, but we’re going to be alright because we have the syllabus, remember? It’s all about checking off those little boxes, one by one, until we win that Caldecott in 2020. Mark my words.

If you’ve been following me on Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr, you know that I embarked on a weird journey in June to eat only whole, unprocessed foods for 30 days. If you HAVEN’T been following me on various social media platforms, you’re in luck ‘cuz I added “follow” buttons at the bottom of my website, so get clickin’, yo!

Anyway, You may’ve heard of “Whole30,” a program where you eliminate foods that typically cause inflammation, basically ruling out entire food groups from your diet for the month. Well, I did it, and it was a great opportunity to create a comic memoir for the month. Every day, I sketched out a comic detailing my progress and thoughts, and my comic is now available in HARD COPY! Whoa! Special thanks to my bud Drew Brockington for teaching me how to make a comic book! I will be updating my B&W comics page on the website with all content soon, but for now, you can get the hard copy (plus a bonus, never-before-seen illustration within), by visiting


The entire process of creating a comic every day was a very fulfilling practice, and I’m hoping to embark on another challenge soon. I’ve been thinking about going completely tech-free for the month of August, which I think would make for a hilarious web comic. Basically, I just want that pleasure of picking up the receiver of a rotary phone when someone calls the landline and wrapping the cord around my finger while I pace the kitchen. Oh, and looking up numbers in the white pages and having an excuse for being late when I’m driving places. It all just sounds hilarious to me, but I’m sure it’ll actually be torturous and lonely. But hey, that’s the price you pay for good comics!

Besides the comic, my main priority has been Alphabet Adventures, the book I’m working on for Beaver’s Pond Press. I had a meeting with the powerhouses today. I had already completed sketches on 16/26 of the alphabet letters, but was waiting on some final edits to the manuscript before I could forge ahead. And now, as Lily (the Director) says, I can be “UNLEASHED!” So far, the author and publisher are super happy with my sketches and I got a big huge “thumbs up” on what I’m doing. So everything is moving along swimmingly for my third children’s book!

Harold Hampton, on the other hand…well, he has a lot of work ahead of him. Your favorite space plumber was recently shoved in front of the tribunal (my closest illustrator friends and mentors), and my pen was a-tizzy with comments and feedback. So basically I’ve got a laundry list down to the floor with edits and suggestions. I know it’ll be an incredible book once everything is incorporated, but ABC Adventures is my main priority, so Harold is taking the back-burner, my friend. I figure taking some time away will also allow my creativity to drum up again, as I was feeling serious monster-fatigue. It will be my go-to project, however, when I’m waiting on the ABC team for feedback on my work.

So that’s the word, people. Did anybody actually read this entire entry? Who reads blogs anymore? I do! Send me the link to your blog and we can be reading buddies – I’ll print the whole thing out and read it during my tech-free August, highlight what I loved, write notes in the margins, and mail it back to you snail-mail style, sealed with a kiss. Then I’ll draw a comic about it.


Type “A” Illustrator

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First let’s start with a visual cuz we all know you’re not going to read this blog post without plenty of pictures. And a warning, cuz this post has a ridiculous number of cuties.

OMG Look at this cutie


And this one!


The BIGGEST NEWS I have right now is that I’ve signed a contract to illustrate a THIRD book, “Alphabet Adventures!” There’s something real fancy about saying “THIRD BOOK,” like I’m a professional now or something. It’s all very exciting. But to tell the story, I need to back up just a little.


So, after finishing the illustrations for “The Tooth Fairy Who Forgot” about a year ago, the book became available for purchase in March of 2017 (W00T!)  Creating children’s books can be quite a process and it’s a great idea to have tons of irons in the fire, because you could be waiting a year (or longer) to see your final artwork in print. But when those books were delivered, it was worth the wait. It was so incredibly fulfilling to see my illustrations printed within a beautiful book – and my first in HARDCOVER!


My 96-year old grandma reading my book to my daughter <CUTIES!!>


Of course, the illustrations were done over a year ago, so I can already start seeing little flaws in my work, but that’s just the nature of the job, and something I’m working on – being more patient and positive about my artwork rather than seeing all the ways I can improve.


Ain’t nothin wrong with this lil cutie!


The Tooth Fairy book was published and displayed in the Beaver’s Pond Press office (Just to clarify in case I haven’t already, Beaver’s Pond Press is an independent publishing company in Edina that provides services for authors such as editing, design, illustration, and publishing), and I also submitted a ton of images for my portfolio there. So, basically I became one of their illustrators whom they “offer” to new clients/authors that walk through the door, wanting their books published. After only one week, I had an email that an author wanted me to illustrate her book! WHAT!


After reading through the manuscript, I went in for a meeting and met the author, Kathleen, the director of a Montessori that had developed her own curriculum for teaching the alphabet and wanted to publish a book of ABC poems. Was I interested in illustrating the book? UM, YES. These poems are absolutely adorable and will be SO FUN to illustrate. Think  “tabby chasing a toad” and “yeti yodeling with a yo-yo” kind of stuff. SO CUTE. The first step was to sketch and bring to two illustrations to full color (usually they ask for character studies, but since there were no “main characters,” it was a little different), then I’ll sketch every page for approval, then paint and submit final art for each spread plus the cover. So, for the next 4-6 months, I’ll be working on the ABC book.

A toad in a towel! You can only see the tabby if you buy the book. Otherwise it’d be cutie overload


And so far, it’s been really fun. I think the reason this book appeals to me so much is because I’ve discovered I’m a “Type A Illustrator.” I’ve always known I’m a perfectionist, I like having goals and plans of action, I’m competitive and ambitious (okay, maybe even a workaholic). But you can see it in my artwork, too — I like things to be neat and clean, and I have little tolerance for discord or mess. This translates to my artwork in negative and positive ways.


Not so good:

  • I have a hard time channeling creativity and coming up with new ideas, instead preferring to receive assignments with a clear vision already in place.
  • I have a hard time loosening up with my drawings.
  • Experimenting with new mediums? Nah, I’ll stick with what I KNOW I do well.
  • I care about presentation and what other people think. I can’t draw or illustrate without taking into account whether something is “post worthy” of Facebook or whatever.
  • A few weeks after I’ve completed an illustration I can already start seeing the flaws and why IT’S NOT PERFECT. (eye roll)


As you can plainly see, I am NOT the next Dr. Suess or creative visionary with this insane mentality. However, I’m kind of starting to just embrace this as my style. I like clear assignments, like “draw a tabby chasing a toad with a towel on its head.” YES. I want to draw that. Clear, concise, done. I often wish I had the slap-dash line of Quentin Blake, but that’s just not me. Although, I just googled him and while he’s described his style as a “freewheeling sort of drawing that looks as though it is done on the spur of the moment,”  he apparently “strives to get it perfect” and says “It’s not impossible for me to find myself…surrounded by expensive sheets of watercolour paper with a small face bearing not quite the right expression in the middle of each.”


So maybe most successful illustrators are “Type A” and behind those fluid, effortless lines are years of experience and practice at work, along with careful planning and preparation. That’s probably the answer because it sounds smart. So let’s go with that.

I dunno…this lil cutie looks pretty effortless.


Meanwhile, I’m going to be putting “Harold Hampton, Space Plumber” on hold for a few weeks until I get my feet under me with this ABC project, and then hopefully I can work on them simultaneously. Remarkably, I’ve actually completed ALL spreads for the book! My next steps were to draft a cover and then begin compiling a list of publishers and/or agents for submission. I think the idea of creating a mailing list of publishers can be really overwhelming,  because there are so many podcasts and interviews available about who is accepting what, and what the “do’s and don’ts” are when you submit work – it’s just too much information. It’s an overload! But just like anything, it’s all about taking it one step at a time, breaking it into tiny, manageable bites. So that’s what imma do. Thanks for checking in!


Also I painted the garden sign for my kids’ school so that was fun. Ciao!


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I’m happy to report that I’ve been making great headway on my personal project, following along with my personal syllabus to check off 4-5 illustrative tasks per week toward the end goal of sending out my book dummy by May of 2017.

I did hit one MAJOR roadblock as I was strolling through a Good Will a few weeks ago. An AWFUL, DEPRESSIVE, DISHEARTENING roadblock. I present to you, MONSTROPOLIS:

You might be wondering: What?! It’s already published? I thought she was still drawing it!

Well, my friends – this is not MY book. Yes, it has the same title. Yes, it’s a Search and Find book. Yes, it’s set on a planet called Monstropolis and contains spreads such as city parks, apartments, grocery stores…

But it’s not my book. It’s a Monsters Inc. spin-off that I found in a GOODWILL.  As I paged through “This is Monstropolis,” I felt my heart sink. I was upset and heartbroken. This was years of wasted effort. My book was trash. It had been DONE.

But then I realized this was just an opportunity to make my good idea even GREATER. If many of my spreads had already been conceptualized in this other book (which was, frankly, a little uninspired and didn’t even have a story), maybe I hadn’t pushed the envelope enough. Maybe I needed to roll up my sleeves and re-write my manuscript to be less “status quo.”

And that’s what I did. Now we won’t be on Monstropolis, we’ll be on GOOP – The Galactic Organization of Planets – and we won’t just have monsters, we’ll have a whole myriad of galactic citizens coming together, from aliens to robots to monsters to cyborg kitties. Yes, it was frustrating to design a few brand new spreads and throw some out with the trash. But I think my book will be better and more original in the end.

Other than that, I’ve had some other milestones – small things that nobody really sees me doing, but that are slowly building progress toward my final product. I’ve completed rough sketches on many spreads for my book, including a Transportation Station, City Hall, Beach, Museum, Classroom, and Grocery Store (yes, I’m still doing a grocery store, because it’s hilarious and fun to create a spread full of snail guts and mud meatloaf and lizard tails)! Whew, sounds like a lot when I type it all out – I was showing my partner Alex the other day and he remarked, “When did you even do these?” Like I said, small things that nobody sees me doing, but I really am working here, people!


Daaaamn, check out the sweet progress on that girl


I also completed a course in Environment Design at (which I cannot say enough positive things about – what an incredible and affordable resource for artists), and I definitely have a better grasp on perspective now. Next I’ll be taking a brief course on Robot Design (since we’ll have a whole bunch of them moving to GOOP now!) and then looking for anything they’ve got to offer on book dummies, publishing and query letters. I had the fortunate luck of running into a fellow illustrator at Kiddywampus the other day who also recommended a site called Manuscript Academy where you can pay someone to critique your query letter – so who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to do all my research online and get this puppy out the door in May!

In Tooth Fairy news, the author called me up this week and told me it’d be hot off the press in 2-3 weeks. So keep checking back for news about how to purchase!

One Bullet-Point at a Time

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It’s a new year! I can’t believe it’s been eight months since I last posted on this blog. Lots of changes!

First of all, I left my job teaching young adults w/learning differences at Minnesota Life College. I miss teaching art, but after eight years, it was time for a change. I am now the Registrar at Minnetonka Center for the Arts! Tons of cool perks at the new gig, foremost being interaction with other artists and teachers, being surrounded by artwork and creativity. This is definitely the environment I want to be in. Plus, free classes. Win!

Secondly, good news on the Tooth Fairy book — After sitting idle for almost a year, the author and publishing organization (Beaver’s Pond Press) are moving forward and sent it to print TODAY! So my second children’s book should come out before summer, and I can’t wait to hold it in my hands and read it to my kiddos! 

The tooth fairy book isn’t the only thing that’s been idling. Admittedly, I haven’t been doing much illustrating with the job change and holidays. But I’m back on my syllabus plan, with a concrete list of tasks to complete each week. Thank you to my sister-in-law Tyler for forcing me to illustrate again! She’s working on her own syllabus to become a doula, and we’re meeting once per month to keep each other accountable for our goals. So far, it’s working wonders.

My main goal is to mail out my children’s book dummy for Monstropolis by May, 2017 — But also to drum up juices from my creative well, which has felt rather stagnant. To do this, you’ve gotta look to artists you admire, read, blog, network, and above all, ACTUALLY DRAW!

Monstropolis apartment spread!


We’ve been on the syllabus program for about 5 weeks, and so far, I’ve created another Lynda Barry-inspired journal, completed plenty of drawing prompts, spent an entire day creating a comic every hour for each hour I’m awake, completed coloring on a brand new Monstropolis spread (apartments, above) and completely revamped and enhanced the old “mall” spread, updated the Comics portion of my website, attended a webinar on acquiring an agent, and re-enrolled in SVS (the Society for Visual Learning, where I’ll be taking a course on environment design!).

Drawing prompt inspired by the inauguration.


This month, I’m going to pick up The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, attend Picture Book salons, and start working on rough dummy sketches for the rest of my book. WOW! It all sounds overwhelming, but when you have a syllabus, you just take things one bullet point at a time.

Of everything I did in the past month, my absolute favorite was creating one comic per hour for a day. What an awesome experience. It really opened my eyes to what was happening around me, and good practice in breaking your life into “scenes” to recreate later on paper. Check out the comic on my site (click here!) , and stay tuned, because I will definitely be doing this again in February!

Tooth Fairies, Monsters, and Teaching Awards

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Great news: I’ve completed illustrations on “The Tooth Fairy who Forgot,” by Carla Ferrell! This has been a long time in the works (about a year). The last time I published a blog post was in September, and I was in the thick of the sketching phase. Well, I’ve been hard at work painting and polishing my lil’ booty off, and now I’m completely finished! The illustrations are now in Carla’s hands as she pursues publication. I will keep you posted regarding the publication date and availability for purchase.


In the meantime, I’m feeling energized as I move on to new things. I created another syllabus for my own self-imposed illustration course (going on number 3 or 4 now, and they’re free!), something the student in me demands to keep moving forward on new projects. You’d think I’d be an adult and create a “to do” list, but I just love having a syllabus with assignments and goals laid out. Even if the teacher is me.

I’m SO pumped to start working on my own projects again. I had big plans for my “Monster Mall” illustration:


…and now I’ve got the time to flesh it out into a book. Basically, I need to hone my manuscript, figure out the layout of the book, sketch/paint another full illustration to completion, and complete rough sketches in a dummy. WOW.  I CAN DO IT!

Problems right now are my main character and his drive: He’s Harold Hampton, astronaut, crash landed on Earth 2000 years later than he intended, only to find it overrun by monsters. So what drives him through the book? What keeps launching him into new scenes and places to explore? Right now, he’s basically just…exploring. He gets hungry and needs a job for money/food, and in the end, he finds a female human scientist to hang out with, and he’s…happy? Yeah, not quite clear. I need to figure out his drive and motivation to keep the story moving. It’s not enough that he gets a job as a Mall Hot Dog, swings by the grocery store/beach/city park/other landmarks, and still feels empty for human connection. THAT’S NOT ENOUGH, HAROLD.

Secondly, what spread to pick for my second full-colored illustration? We’ve got the mall, now what? Well, I’m thinking this new Monster World has got to have a museum, right? Full of strange and ancient human artifacts from bygone times…It’ll be the “MoMA,” you know — The Museum of Monster Art. Complete with plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to the absurdity of the art world. Looking forward to brainstorming visual gags for the spread!

With any luck, monsters will be obsessing my thoughts for the next three months as I massage all these pieces together. My goal is to send out dummies to publishers by the end of Summer Vacay 2016. Wish me lucks! I’ll also be updating my website with more custom art (buttons, logo), and enrolling in SVS (Society of Visual Storytelling) to take some online courses this summer and become better at perspective and lighting. Also thinking about pursuing my teaching certificate for K-12 arts education. You know what? Can I just get an extra 100 years added to my life? Please? God or whatever? 

In other news, things are going pretty well at my day job, you know. I don’t just draw and paint for a living (yet). I introduced a Comic Arts course to my students this semester, and that’s been a smash hit. I’ve been borrowing heavily from the masters like Lynda Barry and Scott McCloud to create lesson plans that are full of team exercises and prompts. The room is always full of laughter and giggles, and my students have actually said stuff like, “This is my favorite class…after Art Block.”

And Art Block! Going swimmingly, broadening horizons, booking art shows, winning awards…No, seriously. After a year or planning and collaboration, I put together an art gallery show for my students at the University of Minnesota Institute for Community Integration (ICI). The work is actually up until April, and my students sold $600 worth of original artwork during the opening reception, which was widely attended. I also received the “Inspired Teaching Award” for my leadership in creating the new art curriculum at the school, and for fostering my Art Block students’ commitment to the process and production of fine art. WHAT!


All in all, it’s been a GREAT couple months. Carla’s book and the art show were a long, long time in the making — and now they’re finished, and I can return to my own projects. I feel accomplished and energized to move forward on to new things. I wrote “Life is good” to wrap up this blog post, but while editing I accidentally deleted part and it read, “Life is go.” And you know what? That’s actually better. LIFE IS GO!

Transitions II

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How was your September? Did your kids start school, or did you start teaching again? Did you start up college and quit hitting the beach so often? Are you at the same desk job but starting to feel your surroundings in transition – that chill and those first leaves beginning to fall and crunch under your car tires? September is always a month of transitions. For me, this month opened my creative floodgates in a big way. As an artist, sometimes you’re stuck, and sometimes you’re wide open, and I’m in a good spot right now. Here’s why.

First of all, my kids did start school, and I did start teaching again. Felix contracted LYME disease in July and spent August recovering, and that is a crazy beast of a disease, I’ll tell you what. He was feverish, cranky, and bored all summer. Bored, and yet, he had no energy to go anywhere. I’m not going to lie, this was very frustrating and trying as his mother. Everybody just had to hunker down and wait that stupid disease out. I really do feel that it stole my son’s summer.

But then he got better, and then he got happy, and his smile came out from behind the clouds. School started, and I brought that tall first-grader to school, and his sister started preschool at a gymnastics academy.

Off to school…


This gave me some free time back, and in turn, I felt more relaxed. I also started back at my job, teaching art to young adults with autism and other learning differences, which is just the most rad job ever. I added a “Craft-o-Rama” class this year for craftsy folk, and Art Block is getting more intense because we’re showing the students’ artwork at the University of Minnesota Institute for Community Integration in December! This is hugely awesome and I’m super proud of my students. I’m spending this semester building up our cumulative “portfolio” to add more pieces to the show, and then I’ll be framing like a madwoman to get it all done. It’s highly fulfilling and rewarding work.

I also just finished up a quick, three-week MCAD class – This time “Watercolor Painting for Illustrators.” What! I’d wanted a continuing ed class like this for years. The class was taught by Melodee Strong, and after looking at her website, her artwork was strangely familiar. I realized after a few classes that she’d illustrated two of our favorite board books – “I am Brave” and “I am Friendly.”




I’d always respected this illustrator because her colors are so vibrant, and the kids in her book represent a wide variety of race and ethnicity and are extremely expressive. It’s always shocking to learn that the illustrators and writers of your favorite books are, like, alive in the universe and teaching and talking and stuff. And in places like Minnesota. Right on! So I gathered a lot of wonderful tips from that class, but mainly I learned that I’m doing it right, even though I’m self taught. Seems I’ve gathered enough tips and tricks from various illustrators, books, and websites to be somewhat competent, and that felt good. The class was brief but we completed an editorial assignment for a farmer’s market article:




And after painting the editorial, I realized I kinda knew what I was doing, so I threw out all my junky brushes and my “student grade” paint and got real. I basically upgraded my studio to “BIG GIRL” status and got a ceramic palette, professional brushes, and lots of other fun stuff. Basically, I should buy stock in Blick at this point. Alex thinks I might be addicted to art supplies and he’s not wrong. All of these things — Having more free time, creating my teaching curriculum and working with new students, and indulging in new studio supplies and classes, have breathed new creative life into me.

Secondly, I found out about LYNDA BARRY. Have you heard of this woman?




She wrote this book called “Syllabus,” where she chronicles her experiences and lesson plans as an “accidental professor” of art.




She’s incredible. She’s got me drawing again! Every single day. And I can’t tell you how often I’ve bought sketchbooks of varying sizes, shapes, and quality with the noble intent of sketching every day. Then I fail and I feel bad about myself, and my sketchbooks all remain 1/3 full of uninspired, tight figure studies. Everybody tells you that you’ll only become a better artist by drawing EVERY DAY. But it’s Lynda Barry and her composition notebooks that have actually got me doing it, and feeling free and fearless. I think with these pristine white sketchbook pages, we’re all afraid we’re going to eff it up before we even begin. You have to put something pretty on that pretty sketchbook. But a lined composition notebook is like $0.98 and I just don’t care. Win!

She also has her students keep daily journals where you detail seven things you did, seven things you saw, a couple things you overheard, and then you pick something from the “did” column and sketch it out.

It’s a fascinating and eye-opening process, because you know you have to “report back” at the end of the day, and therefore, you become more observant and open to receiving the universe’s messages throughout your day. Does that sound wonky? Don’t make fun of me. It works. I’m more present and I feel like a spy that’s been dropped on an alien planet to collect samples and observations and report back. She also has another book called “One! Hundred! Demons!” which is kinda like a graphic novel in which she illustrated the “demons” of her life. Just brilliant. I’m loving this woman.


Another few gems from the daily journal. Aria @ swim lessons.



Besides the MCAD class and my obsession with Lydna Barry, I’m still working on the Tooth Fairy book and have completed painting on two additional spreads! Painting a children’s book is very slow going, so you gotta be patient with me. I’m spending every spare evening painting, but it still feels slow going. It’s hard to find the time. But at least I have the energy and the creative flow running through me. In October, I have the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference, and if last year was any indication, it’ll be GOOD to walk into the conference feeling confident and energized, because the conference tends to hit you hard in your weak spots. It’s not a bad thing, because it helps you to grow as an artist. But I’m thankful for this time, and I’m going to soak it up!

Tooth Fairy Update! 75% Done with Sketches

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Well, the dinosaur train has slowed down quite a bit — I’ve signed and mailed off a ton of “Tryceratops” books, I’ve got my extras stacked in the closet, and my brain has shifted gears to the next project at hand: The Tooth Fairy Who Forgot, by Carla Ferrell.

I’ve been spending my time sketching out spreads for Carla’s story, and it’s a blast:

So many spreads!
So many spreads!


The book follows the correspondence of 8-year old Isabella as she writes letters to a forgetful tooth fairy. It has been so fun researching and imagining the tooth fairy’s detailed kitchen and study…

The Tooth Fairy’s front door.


…and Isabella in her bedroom and poking at her teeth in the mirror of her bathroom!

Isabella marveling at her new gaps.


I just love adding tons of fun details in my scenes. Isabella’s bedroom was super fun, too. Here’s a snippet…don’t you just want her Kleenex holder?!

Details aplenty.


I am now finished with about 75% of the sketches. Just a few more to go, and then I’ll be painting!

When we’re done with these sketches, we’ll be hitting it up the salon for REAL!


Meanwhile, my awesome employer is sending me to MCAD (Mpls College of Art + Design) this week for a 5-day art educator’s workshop on printmaking. I just wrapped up day 2, and I’m learning everything from wood block prints to dry point etching on plexiglass (wood is apparently a SERIOUS pain to carve; my wrists are still in pain). I’m learning some techniques that will work great for my students, and other techniques that just won’t fly (like all the acid that’s involved with copper etching – yeah right!) I’ll be able to transfer (most of) the info back toward lesson planning in the fall, and it’ll be awesome to have so many new ideas and material.

Wood block print. This was so hard to carve. Not a fan.

That’s about all for now, folks! Just working hard drawing and sketching. Lots of trips to the library for reference material (you would be amazed to see how many tooth fairy books are on my record for the past few months). Lots of random pictures of me in random poses and making silly faces on Photo Booth and in my iPhone for reference photos. Lots of stealing away one-hour breaks at a time, in coffee shops or cars, laptop on the passenger seat and sketchbook in lap. When you’re a mom, you sketch when you can, and somehow in the end, a finished product materializes! I’m just happy I have an assignment to keep me producing work. Thank you, Carla! Can’t wait to show the world this adorable story. =)


My First School Reading

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It happened! “The Tryceratops” was published on April 30, 2015. And I am PUMPED! The reception has been amazing – I cannot believe the outpouring of support from my family and friends. Thank you to everyone who has purchased a book, and for those of you who still need one, visit!

There have been a lot of “firsts” for me with the publication of The Tryceratops. Obviously, this is the first time I’ve had a children’s book published. And along with that comes my first sale and signing of an inside cover, my first reading at an elementary school, the first time I saw my book sitting on a bookstore shelf…It seems like every day, my network of family and friends is helping me to spread the word and add more “firsts” to my list!

11233564_10106168749837810_6117343196439945472_n 2
My book…on a SHELF! (Kiddywampus in Hopkins)

This blog post is all about my first book reading at my son’s elementary school. It was AWESOME!

I knew just reading the book would only take about 2 minutes. I wasn’t sure how to structure my time at first, and I had a hard time finding any forum posts or suggestions online about how illustrators can engage a classroom. So instead I made up my own plan— having a year of “art instructor” experience under my belt, and another 6 years of “mom” experience made it easy-ish.

I walked in to a classroom full of smiling and eager faces. I started by explaining that I had tried something new just yesterday, and I was going to draw the picture on the whiteboard so they could guess what it was. They quickly guessed the illustration: singing into a microphone for the very first time. I said I was nervous at first, but after awhile, I started to enjoy it.

Then it was their turn. I asked who had tried something new recently. They had a LOT to say! We took turns sharing all the new things these Kindergartners had tried: riding bikes without training wheels, going into the “deep end” of the pool, trying new foods. One soft-spoken girl waited until the very end, but quietly shared, “My Dad took me to the ocean, and at first I was scared, but then I found shells, and now I like the beach.”

Every time a kiddo told me something new, I drew it on the whiteboard. At the end, we had a whole board full of illustrations. This was a great transition to start talking about what it means to be an illustrator. I explained that there was an author in California who did the same thing: He gave me words and stories, and I drew the pictures.

That’s when we launched into the book reading. They were great listeners and I elongated the book by engaging them with questions like, “What are they baking in the kitchen? What have you tried baking? Can you sniff with your nose to smell the cookies?” (All great reading comprehension tricks you pick up as a mother!) They loved the dog fart joke – It seems to hit pretty well with the 6-year old age group!




When we finished the book, we had a brief Q&A about illustration — what is my process? Where do I get my ideas? Why does Felix have so many questions if he lives with me? (LOL!) 

I told them ever since I was a Kindergartner, I had drawn and painted and wanted to be an artist. I knew I wanted to draw for my job when I got older. I worked hard, and I’m still working hard, but I followed my dreams and now look!  I illustrated a book. And it feels pretty darn good.

New Book!

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Initial character sketch for “The Tooth Fairy Who Forgot.”


Great news! I’ve just signed a contract to illustrate my second book! “The Tooth Fairy Who Forgot,” written by author Carla Ferrell, is a sweet story about an absent-minded tooth fairy who accidentally forgets to bring payment to 9-year old Isabella. They begin writing letters to one another and become pen-pals. My absolute favorite books as a kid always involved hand-written letters (like The Jolly Postman and Amelia’s Notebook), so I can’t wait to work on this project! I’m already full-steam ahead working on the storyboard – check it out!

Beginning the process – I cut up the manuscript and rearrange the text on 32 pages, the standard for children’s books.


My timeline for the project is six months, so stay tuned for updates on my blog and look for the book to become available right in time for the holidays, 2015!

Dino News & Staying Motivated

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mom print
“Let Go and Let God” print, December 2014.


Before I get started on my main blog post, all about motivation (or lack thereof), I just had some great news to share: I’ve completed illustrations on the Tryceratops book! This is probably old news to some, but I haven’t officially posted the announcement on my blog yet. I will keep posting updates, but for now, the book is in the pipeline for release in Spring 2015! Red Heart Books just published “Magdalena’s Picnic,” and has one more book to publish before it’s our turn.

Sample spread from the book: “Sometimes they hear music that makes them want to dance.”


So this morning, I listened to Ira Glass talk to me about creativity (here).  Ira told me something I really needed to hear:

“There’s a gap that for the first couple years you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s trying to be good. It has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game…is still killer. And your taste is good enough that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase [and] quit…Everybody goes through that. The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap…and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.”

I have been struggling since the illustrator’s conference to stay motivated and keep producing work. I even went through eight weeks of “The Artist’s Way” (Julie Cameron), a book designed to unblock artists through a 12-week course. Admittedly, I didn’t finish. I decided to exit the “lecture hall” early, because the course (to me) felt dated and like it was designed for artists that have been knocked down their whole lives by disappointed parents and naysayers. I’ve always had support, in childhood and adulthood, to pursue my creative career, so some of the exercises seemed unnecessary to me (for example, chapters devoted to identifying the “crazy makers,” critics, and “shaming” you’ve experienced and writing pages of affirmations to build up your confidence again).

However, there were plenty of take-aways and affirmations that were like mini-revelations, ones which I’ve written and posted in my studio. One affirmation mirrors Ira Glass, and I find it to be particularly comforting:  “I’ll take care of the quantity, and god will take care of the quality.” I also really love one definition of “god” Julie Cameron gives: “Good Orderly Direction” (which I believe is rooted in AA). To me, these affirmations mean I just have to “show up” to my studio and do the footwork, and in good time, I’ll get there. I’ll “close the gap” and find my work not so disappointing, but tasteful. “Good orderly direction” is the benevolent force of the universe that keeps things on track. This is always how I’ve always viewed “god,” so for me, it works.

And how do I get there? By doing the footwork. Ah, there’s the rub. I’m definitely an assignment-driven woman, and when there’s an MCAD course or a writer asking about the progress on his book, I’ll churn work out. Even gifts for others are hugely motivational: I spent Christmas doing watercolor paintings and prints for my family, and an unexpected Valentine’s Day commission had me at the block again. I can do these projects in 2 or 3 days, because there’s a deadline and somebody is watching me. But with projects like “Monster Mall,” I’m vacillating between watercolor painting or digital painting, and spending time researching how to create the perfect color palette in photoshop rather than just jumping in.

ellie illustration
Mash up of characters from Tomie dePaola’s children’s book “The Knight and the Dragon,” a watercolor painting for my sister, a librarian and bibliophile.


laura print
A Valentine’s Day block print in “Adventure Time” style, commissioned by my other sister.

I suppose we all know the answer. I can hear you already! Put yourself on a deadline so you’re producing a volume of work. Ok, ok!  I’ve done it before — After taking Children’s Book Illustration with Carrie Hartman at MCAD, I created my own syllabus for “Children’s Book Illustration II,” and I stuck to it, mainly. I think I did 8/12 weeks. 🙂    

So, what do you think? Are you a creative who is feeling the gentle nudge of winter to pull you back under the covers and hibernate? Do you need a syllabus? Or some kind of challenge to keep you motivated?  One friend posted on Facebook a few weeks back that he’d be “running 10 miles, writing 10 pages, or some mixture of the two adding up to 10,” every week, Sun-Sat. Sounds good to me. I’m off to write my syllabus.


SCBWI 2014

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This is my very belated post about the Minnesota SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrators) conference that took place earlier this October. I’m finally able to write, after my brain has reconstituted from its state of befuddled mush. This was my second time attending the 2-day conference, which consisted of keynote presentations, workshops, and a half-day illustration intensive on character development. The conference was:

  • Overwhelming
  • Inspiring
  • Discouraging
  • Encouraging
  • Exhausting
  • Energizing
  • Incredibly helpful to the further development of my craft
  • Rather dispiriting regarding the further development I must undertake toward my craft

Overall, the conference was wonderful, because I was challenged. It was reminiscent of a Comparative Literature class I had in college, where the professor could see RIGHT THROUGH my immaculate, well-written essays and realized I wasn’t trying very hard underneath it all. Papers that would have pulled easy “A’s” in every other class were receiving “C’s” and comments to “dig deeper.” And boy did that suck. I was a straight-A student, but I realized it wasn’t because I was actually thinking or trying. I just knew how to write shiny essays with big words. And that lit professor could see through it, which challenged me to work harder, even though it hurt.

The conference was like getting a great big “C” on my illustration portfolio. And I felt shocked, because I could see it myself: My art fell flat. During the portfolio showcase, I was astonished to see fresh, dynamic illustration work from my peers, and the abundance of ways I could improve. I was able to get brief critiques from some accomplished illustrators: Stephen Shasken (“Three Triceratops Tuff”), and Kelly Light (“Louise Loves Art”), who absolutely blew my mind with her illustration intensive on character development. Tucked into the very back of my portfolio, crudely printed off the night before and still in black and white, she noticed my Monster Mall sketch. It’s arguably my least polished piece, but teeming with weird life and humor. Kelly noticed this right away, and encouraged me to keep moving down that path, where it was obvious I was having FUN with illustration.

Again, an overall wonderful experience, but also painful. It’s taken me a few weeks to feel competent again, to feel interested in drawing and painting again. To feel empowered by all the resources and tips and knowledge I gained, rather than completely overwhelmed and defeated. I am an artist, and there’s always room for improvement. It’s a life path that’s truly all about the journey, not the destination, not the big red “A” on the top of my work. At the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis (a remarkable resource for writers, if you haven’t checked it out), one of my instructors gave me a mantra that’s always stuck with me and pulled me through these murky times of self-doubt. She said, “You are uniquely qualified to tell your story.” I think I just need to get back to the roots of my story — adorable/quirky monsters buying bug smoothies. Or as my partner Alex would say “mice flying planes.” I’m good at those, too.

Again, overall a very positive experience, and as always, such a wonderful networking experience. I found myself hunting down fellow illustrators like a bloodhound, because the conference in primarily geared towards writers, and when I approached someone with the “illustrator” name tag, I found it was David Huyck, who illustrated “If Kids Ruled the World,” a magical picture book I’d JUST picked up from the library a week ago. He became my “doodle buddy” and spent the conference drawing away with me in our notebook’s margins. I also met Drew Brockington whose “Catstronauts” are the freakin’ cats’ pajamas.

And finally, in tradition with last year’s blog post about SCBWI, I just want to throw out a few other quotes/gems that resonated with me from the conference:

  • “I’ve spent most of the day putting in a comma, and the rest of the day taking it out.” —Oscar Wilde
  • “Illustrate and write with fire and panache!” —Bruce Hale
  • Look, I don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you’ve got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death, and therefore you must at very least think noisy and colorfully, or you’re not alive.” —Mel Brooks”
  • “When you boil things down to their simplest, it actually makes it harder.” —Regarding gesture drawings during Kelly Light’s intensive

And finally, one of my favorite quotes of all time was retold by Bruce Hale at the conference:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

—-from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.

So keep that in mind, friends, as you pursue your own creative endeavors…give yourself permission to let your light shine, and remember that you are uniquely qualified to tell your story!

2-Month Update: Transitions

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Autumn has given the air a a pleasant chill, plumes of gold and scarlet leaves are beginning to burst into view, and…

My son is in Kindergarten.

Which is apparently the big secret parents have been keeping. At one point, you gain back your independence. You really do! Your children go to school and you’re left at home to do leisurely things like scrub the bathtub in solitude or mow the lawn without pausing to make sure nobody has gotten into the jellybeans while your guard was down. No, really. Chores have become lovely, because they’re just chores and not something to cram into my schedule while also taking care of small children. Okay, I still hang out with my 3-year old daughter all day, but it’s a freaking cake walk because she’s adorable and happy all the time.


Aforementioned adorable daughter


I also have a new job. I’m now an Art Instructor in the evenings at Minnesota Life College, which is the same place I’ve been working for the past 5 years, but as an Executive Assistant. Compared to my previous admin job where I was juggling a million plates and wearing a million hats and just generally doing that whole non-profit circus act, I am now developing art curriculum, teaching classes, and utilizing art therapy techniques with young adults with autism and Aspergers. It is awesome. I love it. And the kids love it, too. You can actually see them beaming with pride when they share their artwork at the end of class and their peers respond positively. A student said to me the other day, “I didn’t know I could draw so well!” And that just feels damn good.

So I’ve had quite a few transitions in my personal life. And the book, “The Tryceratops” is also undergoing a transition…I’m finally PAINTING!


A hot mess.


And…it’s not easy. I continue to be amazed at how much time and effort this process can take. Since I started illustrating for children about two years ago, people in my life have often remarked that watching my process has given them a newfound appreciation for the work that goes into children’s books.

It reminds me of something an anonymous poster would reply on my blog posts when I was a teenager. I never knew who the person was, but they always offered tidbits of wisdom on whatever drama my 16-year old self could muster up and broadcast to the world via Livejournal. This anonymous poster would often comment “It’s simple, but not E.Z.” I found out many years later this poster was my Dad.

Well, it’s true in many ways, and it’s definitely true for kids books. Good children’s books look so simple, so effortless — don’t they? But you have no idea how much went into them until you’re behind the scenes, or trying to orchestrate your own. They’re simple, but not E.Z.

And while I do have my education in Studio Art, I am self-taught in the field of painting (which has recently become quite evident). Give me a piece of charcoal and a nude body and I can draw you something freaking EPIC, but if you throw color into the mix I’m just confused. My mom recently asked me for advice on what color to paint her front door and I was actually dumbfounded. I ended up saying raspberry and now I just don’t even know what’s going on. Sorry mom.


This is a photo of my workspace because I realize I’m writing a lot and need to break up the text with a visual.


Fortunately, a few months ago my cousin Joe shared that he had a friend in the field of children’s illustration. He hooked me up with their contact info, and Lo and Behold, it was an illustrator I’d admired for quite some time: Jennifer Emery ( Jennifer met with me over coffee, spent hours giving me pointers, and continues to be a source of inspiration/light tables and help when troubles arise. So it’s been AWESOME to have someone in my network when I’m just confused.

As it turns out, while I’d always thought drawing was a rather solitary activity, it’s largely about networking. It’s not like you can graduate with a degree in “Drawing Kids’ Books,” and land a job at “Kids Books Inc.” and work your way up the ladder as you sit at your cubicle surrounded by all the necessary tools and supplies. YOU are responsible for finding your own employers/jobs, supplying the materials and space, and making your own connections. You basically create your own success. It feels good, but it’s difficult. So you need a solid network of people around you, to ask questions, bounce ideas off, etc. In related news, The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference is coming up in October, and I am PUMPED to show my new work and brand new business cards. I also have FACEBOOK this year so I can actually stay connected with people after the event!

Now: About “The Tryceratops.” Everything is going swimmingly, and I’m about 1/3 finished with the painting process. There are still final edits to be made in Photoshop, and I keep returning to previous illustrations (probably in danger of overworking the paper at this point), but I think I’m making good time. I should be done in about one month!

An almost/probably/sort of “finished” full page spread.


I cannot wait to see TEXT on these pages. I’m making a real book! Sometimes it’s hard to believe. I’m so involved in the nitty-gritty of getting details right…finding scanners that don’t completely warp the color schemes…making sure the dinos look consistent from page to page. It’s hard to imagine a finished product I can read to my kids. But I cannot wait!



1-Month Update!

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I just realized it’s been almost a month since I signed on to illustrated John Edwards’ book “The Tryceratops.” Wow, how time flies. I’m sure a million illustrators have drawn clocks with wings, so I won’t even go there. Just visualize it.

I’m down in the nitty-gritty of finishing my sketches, and I’d say I’m about 80% finished with drawing all spreads. The sketches have been commented upon by the author/publisher/editor (let’s just call them APE for short), and my next step will be making those small revisions and moving forward with painting! Oops, I forgot the cover. Okay, I’m 75% done with sketches.

Last night, I walked my mom through each page of the book, and her excitement felt revitalizing. She was actually laughing out loud at certain pages. It was like an ice-cold mojito after you’ve been walking in the MN humidity for too long. Basically, I started out this project drafting the BIG PICTURE storyboard and figuring out the flow of the book, but ever since, I’ve been down in the tiny details, sitting with my pencil and paper at the dining room table every night, sometimes producing quality work, sometimes not. Sometimes I scribble angrily at the page for about 12 minutes and get all huffy, and just eat chips and watch episodes of “The Colony” on Netflix instead, while making lists for apocalypse preparedness (true story — maybe next time I’ll illustrate the list…at least then I’m drawing).

I mean, it’s definitely fun, but it’s work, and as an artist, you’re always grappling with those feeling of inadequacy. I recently saw these on a fellow illustrator’s Facebook page (The “process for writing a book” could be the creative process for anything, including illustration):



And how true. You just have to power through, I guess. I don’t force it when I’m not feelin’ the magic, but I have developed my own regiment for staying focused:

• Clean up my space. I can’t work if there’s clutter.

• Have water at the table. And a snack.

• Have storyboard & all sketches handy for reference, and to remind yourself that you’ve created quality work in the past & can do it again!

• Set a timer. I’ve been doing 60 minutes per night, which feels like a good amount of time. Not too short, not too long.

I guess that’s it. I tend to procrastinate by doing everything OTHER than draw, like clean up my entire basement because I can just *feel* its clutter even though my studio is upstairs. Yeah, I’m insane. I know. But slowly, surely, this book is happening. And I think it’s gonna be kind of awesome.

The Tryceratops

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Great news! I have officially signed the contract to illustrate my very first children’s book with publisher Red Heart Books!

Red Heart Books contacted me a few months ago because one of their writers was interested in my illustrative style. I ended up submitting a sample (sneak peak below) for John Edwards manuscript, The Tryceratops, a lovely book about triceratops that aren’t afraid to try new things. Red Heart & John both loved my sample and chose me to illustrate John’s book! I just signed the contract, so it’s official!

I’ve already completed the story board for The Tryceratops, and now I’ll be receiving feedback and edits from the publisher, editor, and author through an online portal that keeps us connected since we’re in Oregon, Cali, and Minnesota respectively. I’ll take their edits and draft sketches of every spread in the book. Once we’re all good with the sketches, I’ll be able to complete final art with my watercolor painting. Overall, it will definitely take me 3-4 months to complete the project. Then, you’ll be able to purchase the book online through Red Heart Books or for a physical copy, or online through your Kindle or iBooks.

It’s an incredibly opportunity for me and I am so excited to get started! Stay tuned for more details – I plan to post updates every 1-2 weeks on my progress!

The Tryceratops

Eat My Art

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What is my goal, as an illustrator? Am I just drawing pretty pictures, or is there something more? When a child opens my books, what do I want him to feel?

Maurice Sendak said:

“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

Not actual drawing. Actual drawing eaten by Jim.


I want my drawings to be edible. I mean, I want them to be so vibrant, ring so true, look so delicious, that you just linger, and maybe want to put them in your belly and carry them around.

I feel this way about certain illustrations from my childhood — they actually feel like a part of me, and most certainly informed my own illustrative style. It’s in the intense detail of  R. W. Alley’s Busy People All Around Town as his characters run shops, coach gym, milk cows, and gas up their cars in millimeter-high detail. I spent hours pretending I was certain characters, living my day as they would, choosing the red Ferrari one day and living in the trailer park the next. One day I owned the violin shop, and the next I was scavenging car parts in the junk yard. I would put my finger on those tiny characters, trace my finger up and down roads, in and out of jobs and lives. But I always ended up as the painter in the loft above the park, doodling away.




It turns out, I am that painter. I made it so. I know it’s cliché, but what children’s books do is absolute magic. They are the vehicles in which children imagine all sorts of possibilities and paths. Through these drawings – these palpable, delicious, dancing drawings – I imagined myself in a million shoes, but settled on the artist. And maybe someday, if I’m lucky, a little kid will want to eat my art too.


Children’s Book Week

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Children’s Book Week was May 12-18, and in honor of the occasion, I have posted a sneak peak of my current illustration project: The Monster Mall!

photo (1)


I love drawing monsters, and my kids love finding hidden objects in detailed drawings. During a recent trip to the mall, I was inspired by all the unique and wacky characters surrounding me, each with their own distinct look and behaviorisms. After a few sketches, the visual puns just kept coming, and the walls of my shopping center just kept expanding to hold all the wackiness, and now I’m in the middle of final sketch art on my largest illustration yet. It may even morph into a “Find the Hidden Object” game with all those details. That’s what I love about drawing: you start with a simple sketch, which grows into a concept, a few friends are invited, and before long your creativity is hosting a pinata party on a yacht with a hunchbacked monster as captain and banana for a skipper. Stay tuned for that illustration.

Happy Children’s Book Week, and keep reading, writing, and drawing for those special kiddos in your life.

SCBWI Conference – Oct 12-13, 2013


You weren’t allowed to take photos at the conference to protect the unpublished work of the authors & illustrators. So I had to draw. Here’s Dan Yaccarino, Keynote Speaker, talking about all the stuff kids love. 


I am feeling really good right about now. Because I have accomplished my first major goal on my path to becoming a full-time children’s book illustrator:

Produce a complete portfolio, website, and postcards for the MN SCBWI conference in October.

I did it, folks. This was a goal I set about one year ago, when I took my first Children’s Book Illustration class at MCAD. And it was exhausting.

The conference, not the class. Although the course did have me producing at a rate akin to my college days. The conference was exhausting because of the sheer amount of networking, information , and just being… “on.”  I’ve never been to a conference to hone my professional life in any capacity, and the amount of being “on” almost put me in a state of shock.

Case in point:

Upon arrival at the conference, and after five minutes milling about in the crowd of strangers with only a cup of coffee as companion to my nerves, I fell into a routine of using this icebreaker: “So, are you an illustrator or writer?” The third person I tried my “line” on replied: “Neither. I’m an editor.”

“Really?” I responded. “From where?”

“Harlequin. I flew in from New York.”

What. This is the situation your instructors warn you about. Those instructors whose wise words, once sharp and concise, now melt, dull and fuzzy in your brain. Those instructors who stressed,

“Remember your elevator speech! What are you going to do if you meet an editor from New York and you’re stuck in an elevator for exactly one minute? You need to know exactly what to say! Pitch your book like it’s already a best seller!”

Right. That’s the theory. But listen: It was 8:00 in the morning, and my coffee hadn’t kicked in yet, and I had orange-cranberry muffin crumbs on my nametag already. So basically, I just stared at her.

Then I started talking. Hey. I have a YA manuscript. And it’s Sci-Fi. Do you get a lot of Sci-Fi? No, she replied. There’s not enough Sci-Fi in the YA world, actually. And before I knew it, I got her card. Her card. To send in my manuscript. And then, I was expected to keep talking. Carry on a conversation like a normal person. Like my heart wasn’t in my throat, and my manuscript isn’t even edited, and here’s another person, and they know each other from New York —-

That’s sort of the conference in a nutshell. You’ll just be minding your own business, talking about Photoshop techniques with a fellow newbie (who looks like she’s 16, a deer in the headlights, and hey wait, do I look like that?), when all of a sudden, there’s Dan Yaccarino, the keynote speaker, the guy who created Oswald and the Backyardigan characters and countless picture books you actually read to your kids like on a normal basis, asking you Is This the Cooler Where you Get the Icecream Bars. And you’re like, “Um. Yes.” And you rack your brain for those intelligent questions, some down-to-earth witticism, and maybe you manage something and maybe you don’t.

So basically, I’m still in shock.

But it was good. Really good.

For starters, I have about a million new goals. My portfolio was okay. I had a portfolio critique with an art director that went well (Have you thought about illustrating spots for Middle Grade chapter books? (No, but I will now!)–, but I didn’t exactly score any more business cards during the weekend. I thought the conference would have more professionals, more agents, more art directors…but it was mostly people just like me, beginning illustrators trying to pick up magic tips and hone their craft. Which was good. It was good to actually meet and converse with people who are passionate about illustration, who geek out on things like micron pens and watercolor paper. My new major life goal is now:

Be on a Q & A panel at an illustration conference and answer a cute question from a total Deer-in-the-Headlights newbie.

I’m thinking it will take approximately twenty years to get there.

I did want to share a few of the more colorful quotes from the weekend before I wrap up this post…

  • Will Alexander (keynote speaker, author of Goblin Secrets):
    “An artist in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. An artist at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.”
  • Dan Yaccarino:
    “I love speaking at the SCBWI chapters, because there’s never a line for the men’s room.”
    “Be brave, rip your guts open, and put them on the table.”
  • Barry Goldblatt (Barry Goldblatt Literary), during the “First Pages” critique in which authors submit first pages of their manuscripts for critique in front of the entire group (their bravery! their courage!):
    “Please, please, just use ‘said.’”
    …He said this in regards to using too many “dialogue tags” such as “expressed,” “shouted,” “retorted,” etc…and I completely agree!
    And after “First Pages” was over:
    “You did make sure nobody was armed, right?”