In recovery mode after the SCBWI Western WA Spring conference, I suffered a bout of the blues after spending three heady days with my “tribe”. There’s nothing like the exchange of energy and creativity between children’s books writers and illustrators. Such nice people, but don’t let that fool you. These people are driven! Driven to create, driven to share and driven to succeed, all under the guise of niceness.

I’ve been scratching my head, trying to figure out why a children’s book publishing professional would torture herself giving critiques to aspiring children’s book writers and illustrators. The only analogy I can draw is my love of thrift stores and estate sales. It’s what my “goodwilling” friend Lynn and I describe as the “treasure hunt” wherein we set upon a cache of stuff in hopes of scoring that special something. We are gleaners. We scan and filter for items that resonate with us. Perhaps, for the publishing professional, the treasure hides behind the skirts of the shy artist or writer.

Highlights for me were a couple of presentations by Holly McGhee, President of Pippin Properties, Inc., a NYC-based literary agency. She and her small agency represent some of the luminaries in the field of children’s writing and illustrating. Holly is accessible and passionate about children’s books. My takeaway was that she loves subtlety of character and the physical expression of what a character is feeling or experiencing. Take your time, she said. Find yourself and your style and know the core of your story, she said. Draw every day, she said.

Alexandra Penfold, an agent with Upstart Crow completely charmed me. She’s sweet, smart and funny with a dramatic flair. She sang, she spoke French, she inspired us all. I picked up some great tips, some of which were the rule of threes, make joyful use of language and work on effective page turns!

I was lucky enough to draw Lauren Rille, Associate Art Director for Simon & Schuster for a round table critique. If you will remember, dear reader, I received a crit with Lauren about a month ago at an SCBWI OR workshop. I took her advice to heart and created a “happy babies” piece which I included in my submission for critique at this Western WA conference. She reiterated that “character is the thing” and looks for artists willing to push further and develop their portfolio and style.

It was wonderful to see Jennifer K. Mann and score a signed copy of her sweet new picture book, Two Speckled Eggs. I also picked up One Cool Friend, written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by my favorite, David Small as well as the hysterical Warning: DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK! narrated by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe.

All in all a fabulous Spring conference which, in keeping with the season, gets us digging in the creative dirt and plants a seed of hopeful optimism. ENGAGE!

Off to the 2014 SCBWI Western WA Spring Conference!

Sitting here on pins and needles waiting for crit partner and friend, Abbey Marble, to pick me up for the drive up to Redmond, WA. I’ve got my portfolio freshened up and I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, making the acquaintance of new friends and professional contacts. This conference is so well run and attended and is always a pick-me-up. I come away from the presentations and workshops with a revitalized sense of purpose and new ideas to explore.

As an illustrator working in my studio with periodic crit group meet ups, it is easy to feel isolated and out of the loop, so these SCBWI conferences are a vital way to remind us why we do what we do.

Here’s a sneak peak at the postcard I’ll be sharing with participants along with my portfolio.

Character, character, character…

I attended a wonderful daylong workshop at Tabor Space here in SE Portland with my picture book crit group (Abbey Marble and Kate Berube) last weekend. It was presented by our Oregon SCBWI chapter (thank you!) and featured Simon & Schuster Associate Art Director, Lauren Rille.

The workshop was focused on children’s book authors/illustrators and Lauren was wonderfully generous with very honest, yet kind, feedback. Sweet with a tangy top note! I won’t say she swears like a sailor, but she was loads of fun and had us laughing like crazy.

My takeaway was that in order to connect with readers we must create characters that tell their story through physical gesture and emotional integrity.

I am always leery of workshops that require participants to draw on command. Ugh. It elicits my performance anxiety and has never been an enjoyable experience. But Lauren loosened us up with her initial intro and focus on examples of illustrators who have mastered their character-driven craft. She gave us a few lightening round illustration assignments with prompts drawn from hats passed among us.

One assignment was to create a character exhibiting an emotion we pulled from a hat and the twist was that we couldn’t show the face of the character. I drew “anxious” from the hat:

I think I harkened back to the nightmare of my skinny legs and the tragic underwear of my youth.

Another challenge was to draw prompts from three hats. The first gave us a physical feature we had to include in the character:

The second piece of this challenge was to create three thumbnails that featured our newly created character and would tell a little story driven by the other two prompts we drew from two hats:

Given that we had a very limited time frame (15 minutes?) to create the character and then the little storyline, I was happy with the result. Plus there wasn’t enough time to get too precious or worry about being nervous with the result.

The very valuable piece of advice I gleaned from Lauren’s workshop was the importance of creating characters that we, as illustrators, and our readers can inhabit emotionally. Whether through body language or facial expression (expressed as simply as eyebrow cant) we can imbue our characters with specific and relatable identities.

I have taken Lauren’s advice to heart and have created a character not unlike my “top hat” boy who is now living a life on paper in my studio and from there, who knows??

Cheers to Lauren Rille!

Happy Holidays 2013

Every year, usually over the Thanksgiving break, my lovely friend, Paula hosts a day of “carving” (as in linoleum block) at her cozy bungalow. We sip eggnog lattes and listen to great music while carving away. She is such a planner; always has a design she’s already worked out. I pretty much sit down blank (as is my usual creative state!) and go with the first idea that comes to me. This year it was this pair of deer in a wintry landscape. Brrr!

Hoping your holidays are full of good cheer and great joy…


There’s always a moment where I don’t want to open the lid. As long as the lid is closed there is no chance for disappointment or failure. Of course there is also no chance for surprise and delight, so fingers crossed, gritting my teeth, open it I do.

Wonder of wonders, everything appears to be okay and I carefully lift each piece and examine. Not counting fingers and toes exactly, but.. after all the hours of work forming the pieces and adding decoration, drying carefully and making it through the bisque fire, adding just enough glaze but not too much, then the glaze firing – you just hope for enough perfection to send them out into the world.

Hooray for success! I’ve got a kiln full of small pieces to show at the at Guardino Gallery‘s group show, “Little Things 13”.

Psst… the Dec/Jan 2014 issue of American Craft magazine has a nice little piece on Portland makers and specifically mentions Guardino and owner Donna Guardino. Kudos!

Back to the drawing board…

The past few years have been filled with loss and uncertainty – as if I’ve been tracking the national Zeitgeist – complete with the loss of my father, two beloved dogs, a job or two and specifically, passion and creativity. The publishing world has changed immeasurably and my heart has made nearly a full revolution, from believing anything was possible to believing it was all over and why bother, to a shaky hopefulness.

As with any loss, we work our way through the stages of dealing and come to a place of acceptance. Change rattles us – our sense of self, of connection, of commitment – and yet spring arrives unbidden and we watch in amazement as hopeful plants push up arduously and ardently toward the light, birds sing and build their nests, make babies and we reawaken.

I celebrated my 60th birthday this spring and though I stand in awe and wonder at the passage of time, I measure its passing by reflecting on the fact that at my age my parents retired and moved to a state hundreds of miles away from where they were born and raised. They built a log cabin and lived (by their lights) an adventurous life for many years. My mother moved away from the family home 6 months ahead of my father, rented a house and obtained a gun for protection. She invited him to join her with the caveat that if he declined, she was moving anyway. This from my mild mannered, yet determined, church-lady mother. She was going to have her adventure. My father soon followed.

And so I take heart in the singular bravery and fortitude of a woman I laughed at and wished was more than she was. After her Bible, her favorite book was entitled “How to Make Something from Nothing”. Indeed, she was ahead of her time, one of the original DIY stay-at-home moms, and made the most of what she had to work with.

Upon reflection – for my parents and the universe – I give thanks for these hands and this time and what I choose to make of it. And so… back to the drawing board.

Finders Keepers

My girlfriend and I often go to estate sales and garage sales around Portland. We call it “treasure hunting”. In the past year I’ve come across two little children’s books written and illustrated by Rosalind Welch. They are small in scale, simple in concept and execution, and delightfully realized. I have not as yet done much research on Ms. Welch. If you, dear reader, know any details, please do impart! The following images are from Do You Ever Feel Lonely? published by Panda Prints, Inc, New York, copyright 1967 by Rosalind Welcher.