Friday, December 21, 2007

Does It Come in Chocolate?

Check out this perfect holiday gift for that map-loving-person-with-a-wicked-sweet-tooth in your life. (Can you actually eat marzipan all by itself?)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Paved With Good Intentions

I really did intend to complete and post an Illustration Friday piece this week for the theme "Backwards." Well, that's not going to happen. (Why I waited until the week before Christmas to attempt to finish by the deadline for the first time ever-- I have no clue...) I'll post the finish another time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Many Writers, Many Paths

I never get tired of reading about how other writers work. Now that the year is winding down it's the perfect time to settle in with a hot cup of tea and peruse this roundup of great interviews with different authors.

Monday, December 17, 2007

6 Reasons Why A Writing Group is a Girl's Best Friend...

1) We give each other support.
2) We encourage each other.
3) We give each other honest feedback (without throwing tomatoes.)
4) We learn from each other.
5) We kick each other in the pants, when necessary.
6) We laugh, A LOT.

And, look! Here is an article about my very own group!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Perfectionist Paralysis

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.
–Linus Pauling

A helpful quote for when you're stuck on that one great idea, trying to make it just perfect. Put it aside. Take a break. Make some tea (or eat some chocolate if you're lucky enough to be able to keep it in the house without eating it all in one fell swoop.) Relax. Then let yourself loose and crank out a bunch of others. Worry about sifting the good from the bad later.

Here's another article about generating ideas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vicarious Travel

Greece sounds lovely right about now. (Especially since they're predicting snow for tomorrow.) This is a map of different wine regions. Oh well-- it was fun to do, even if I won't be going there anytime soon!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Deadlines: Good, Bad, Ugly?

Last week I worked on a spread-sized illustration assignment for a magazine that was very detailed and complex. (I'll post it after the issue comes out.) I had only a few days to complete the final art. Hunching over my drawing table all week was not great for my eyes, wrist, back or brain-- but I was pleased with the finished piece, and the sense of satisfaction when I shipped it out on Friday felt great. (Not to mention leaving the house for the first time all week. Who knew grocery shopping could be so much fun??) This I have learned: I am much more productive when I have a deadline.

When I'm not busy I set deadlines for my own writing and illustration projects. For some reason it's easier to focus when I have a lot of things on my to-do list. I take these self-imposed deadlines as seriously as a paying assignment-- they help quell that gnawing anxiety about not having created enough.

So, how about you-- do you set your own deadlines? Do you work better with them or with wide-open spaces of time?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Friday, December 7, 2007

Art and Life Intersecting

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to spend time working in the garden-- digging, weeding, planting-- and getting completely covered with dirt and exhausted. Then taking a nice cold shower at the end of the day and admiring how everything looks. I love to garden.

This is a garden plan I did recently for Woman's Day Gardening & Deck Design. It is just plain fun to do these, since I get ideas for my own garden, and I get to create art around a subject that I love. (Plus, I learn new plant names-- which I am usually brilliant about forgetting.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dept. of Illustration: How to React When...

... your stomach drops to the floor upon receiving a complimentary issue of the thick, glossy magazine that had been a regular client who always told you how much they loved your work and seeing that they are using another illustrator whose work is amazingly, uncannily similar to your own.

First you will wonder: Why did they send me this? Then: Was it that this other person worked for that much less money? And then: If so, how on earth could they afford to? (Not that you blame this other illustrator-- having taken assignments for grocery-store-money when necessary, yourself.) But your mind will continue toward: How depressing how much fees have dropped in the 15 years that you've been freelancing (not to mention: How'm I gonna pay my oil bill??) And then perhaps you'll get to: Will we ever live in a society that values the arts as much as overpaid sports-stars and CEO's?

The answer: You will pick your stomach up off the ground and move on. And not take it personally. It's just business.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I Love Thumbnails

Sometimes I find it hard to shift from writing the text of a story to working on the pictures. This is where thumbnails come in. Thumbnail sketches are like a shorthand in my own secret code for how each page will be composed, what I will include in each illustration, and how the overall story will flow across 32 pages. They also give me an idea of what text I can cut from the story because something will be shown in the pictures instead. Even though the sketches are tiny and quick, I like to spend a while in this stage. It's like the master key for what the book will be! And also a bridge to the next part-- doing full-size drawings.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Windy Day

Yesterday the wind was howling outside my studio. It's the same this morning-- a bit too much for my comfort!

Monday, December 3, 2007

I've Been... What?

Tagged for a meme. I had no idea what that meant until a few days ago. I was tagged by Wizards Wireless to participate in a meme called "7 Things About Me" after I commented on her post called "Advice for Beginning Bloggers." (That would be me, a beginner. And it's a terrific post.) It sounded like fun, so why not?

How it works:

1) Link to the person who tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself.
3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

So, here goes:

Seven Things About Me

1) I am an early bird. I love getting up really early in the morning (say, 5 am) with a cup of coffee and a book, before the rush to get the kids off to school.

2) I like people with weird senses of humor. (Especially my kids.)

3) I think that all the answers to everything can be found in books. Which is why I keep reading.

4) I adore foreign things. (Music, languages, people, accents...) Even got married due to the accent...

5) My least favorite word is-- intolerance.

6) When I was two years old I was sick with meningitis. (The bad, in a coma kind.) I don't remember anything about it, but I often think about how hard it must have been for my parents, who were very young at the time. And also how different our lives could have been. (I know people who are deaf and blind because of it.) But then I think about how many things can change the course of a person's life. I find it strangely fascinating.

7) I buy notebooks almost obsessively. Not expensive ones. Just cheap, everyday, grocery-store-type ones. They're so... tempting.

So, here are seven blogs that I'll tag, in no particular order: Children's Illustration, Through the Studio Door, Wordswimmer, Revision Notes, John Nez Illustration, Greetings From Nowhere, Reading, Writing, and Chocolate.

Some I know and others are blogs I've come across and like. I have to admit that I feel kind of funny tagging people I don't know. But if they don't want to take part, that's okay. You'll still get to check out their blogs. And if anyone else wants to join in-- feel free!

Happy Monday!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

So Many, Many Books

Every nook and cranny of my house is piled with books. (Actually, I'm kind of suspicious of a house without any.) I usually read three at a time (sometimes more)-- a fiction book for pleasure; non-fiction for story research (right now I'm hooked on the Middle Ages); a book in Spanish or French to keep up my language skills; and then there's the perpetual stack of picture books from the library. (Let's not even get started on magazines...) It's not that I get bored easily-- I think it's rather that there is so much I want to read and not enough time. (Yes, I'm impatient... so many books... so many possibilities...) Obviously this is not exactly the fastest way to read. In fact, I've been wondering lately whether it is normal or even healthy! I'd love to hear what other people's reading habits are, if you'd like to share.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Map, From Start to Finish

When I'm not working on children's books my "day job" is creating illustrated maps. Here is a step-by-step of one I did for Westchester Magazine.

First is the scrap that the client sent-- rough map info and a few reference photos of some of the buildings. The yellow box lists all of the places that need to be included. ("Yikes!" I say to myself. "How am I gonna make that look pretty?")

Here is a very-cleaned-up version of the sketch after the client approved it, with corrections indicated:

And, voilĂ , the finish!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Forgetting How to Draw

In a recent interview with author and illustrator Brian Lies at Greetings From Nowhere (part of Robert's Snow- Blogging for the Cure) one of the tips Brian shared was to draw as much as you can. He said:

My ability to draw waxes and wanes. When I'm in the writing stage of a book and don't draw for several weeks, my drawing becomes terrible. It's only after drawing daily for a week or so that my skills return, and the mental muscles get back into shape. But it's important to build those mental muscles first--and the only way to do it is by spending time practicing.

I totally relate to this! I actually think most of life is about practice-- whatever skill you are trying to master. And it reminds me to keep a sketchbook with me wherever I go. Even for the smallest of scribbles.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tough Decisions...

... apple, pumpkin or pecan pie? Why not some of each?
Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Books with Maps

This is a map that I did for the frontispiece of a book called Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine, which was just released this fall from Henry Holt. It's a fascinating story about a girl growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution. This map was particularly fun because I got a chance to read the manuscript beforehand. I loved the story then, and am happy to see that it's getting great reviews.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sunday Event!

I love my local library. And my local children's librarian. She includes me in so many special events.

On Sunday, November 18th I will be signing books from 1 to 3 pm with three other really well known children's book authors and illustrators– Nancy Tafuri, Leonard Everett Fisher, and Paul Meisel. I am totally honored, humbled, and intimidated all at the same time!

This event is part of the C.H. Booth Library's 75th anniversary celebration. There will also be Author Friendship Quilts on display– sewn together by local volunteers from individual squares signed and decorated by different children's book authors and illustrators. It should be a lot of fun. If you're in the area come on over and say "hi!"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reading and Feeding

This morning I had the pleasure of reading to Mrs. Attanasio's 4rth grade class at the Hawley Elementary school as part of their celebration of Children's Book Week. This year, the school combined their celebration of books with participating in Heifer International's Read to Feed program, to help alleviate world hunger. The students are trying to raise enough money to purchase an entire "ark" of animals– goats, rabbits, chickens, and more– in order to benefit a community in need. I think it's great that the kids are combining literacy with social awareness.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I started doing Illustration Friday a while back. It's a great exercise for your creative brain, even if, like me, you don't get the artwork done by each week's deadline in time to post it to the site! (Hmmm... note to self... early New Year's resolution??)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Snow's A Coming

Last week it was cold enough for us to light the wood stove for the first time this season. Of course, it was the annual "smoke ourselves out of the house" event that happens every year when we first fire it up. (It's a good-hearted but temperamental old stove.) But once we reaquainted ourselves with its quirks it cranked out heat beautifully.

Lighting the stove always makes me wish for snow. And this year it's going to snow early-- because Robert's Snow is taking place! I am very excited to be participating in this unique and creative fundraising event for cancer research to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over 200 children's book illustrators were each asked to decorate a wooden snowflake to be auctioned off online during three weeks in November and December. The first round of bidding will begin on November 19th. Check out the snowflakes here. There are some amazing artists participating this year! And of course, it's for a great cause.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Water's Fine

It's only been about forever that I've thought about starting a blog. It's just that other things kept getting in the way. For one thing-- I'm terrified of my computer. Also, I'm one who usually has to think something to death before I do it. But recently I've felt as if time is passing too quickly... it's time to just leap! So, thanks to encouragement from friends (thanks Julie!) here it is-- a peek into my world of writing and illustrating children's books, plus some of the other things that I find make life interesting. Whew! That wasn't so hard now, was it?