Archive for the ‘picture books’ Category


One of the most common questions an author, cartoonist or illustrator receives is, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’

This is somewhat straightforward to answer when you are contracted to illustrate a manuscript. I literally was handed a story to illustrate. Granted all the visuals must be created, so you are definitely generating visual ideas that must come from somewhere, but you have the architecture plans in hand – the manuscript.

John Cleese has lots of great quotes about creativity and ideas.

“We get our ideas from what I’m going to call for a moment our unconscious — the part of our mind that goes on working, for example, when we’re asleep. So what I’m saying is that if you get into the right mood, then your mode of thinking will become much more creative. But if you’re racing around all day, ticking things off a list, looking at your watch, making phone calls and generally just keeping all the balls in the air, you are not going to have any creative ideas.” ~ John Cleese

I recite an answer to the question of where I get my ideas when I give talks, which sounds much like every other author’s answers I’ve ever heard. And I think I began to believe it. It makes it sound likes it’s a discipline. Like you can take Idea Generation 101 at a university where you practice and develop and study and craft creating ideas. NO. You craft and refine and revise a manuscript or a sketch – which is based on an idea that comes from…????

When looking back on things it’s easy to think we see dots connecting to create an outcome. I think we mostly create those dots to fulfill a preconceived notion of ourselves. For those very same ‘dots’ could produce an infinite number of different outcomes. That they resulted in any particular event is simply a product of odds. So the looking back and pretending to know where an idea generated from is a comforting fiction we tell ourselves so that the world continues to unfold in an orderly action-reaction state.

A few weeks back I was sitting in the waiting room of a local athletic club. I was tired, a little bored, thinking about what I was going to make for dinner while I waited for my daughter to get done with swim team practice. And I was writing/doodling in my sketchbook, which I do all the time. And a story simply developed from a few sentences and a quick sketch.

I have NO idea where it came from. And of course no idea if it’s any good. But if I continue to revise it and if it is submitted to editors one day, I will follow up on this post.

But the fact is – I see no logical reason for that story to have appeared in my head at that moment. I hadn’t been working on it. It doesn’t have to do with swimming… it was totally random.

So much for knowing where ideas come from.

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I’ve been cleaning out my studio. And filling the recycle bin. Filling and refilling the recycle bin. Wow.

Animation timing sheets and countless reams of old drawings have been collecting dust for too long. I saved a few things and scanned a few others. I spent hours going through character designs from old animation projects, odds and ends from sketchbooks (I was keeping way too many old sketchbooks for some reason), life drawings and random pieces that were no doubt the start of something great, 18 years ago…. I pulled out a book dummy or two. But I must have thrown out at least 80 pounds of paper. It will take two or three weeks to get it all in the recycle bin.3

You can’t keep it all. You just can’t. As I finish all my work digitally now the only physically tangible aspects of a project in progress I have are sketches and roughs. These past 10 years I have held onto way too much.


I’ll post a few scans of stuff along the way.

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Are there REALLY hidden, deep messages in kids literature? Are they intentional or are they brought to the work by adults accustomed to looking for meaning? You can read the article on hidden messages in kids books by Hephzibah Anderson online at the BBC.

It seems to me the more explicit the intention of a kids book the less intriguing the book is. And yet everyone LOVES a kids book with a message. Tastes change through the years and the overly moralistic tomes I ran across as a kid are definitely out of favor. And yet the vey best books in kids lit can always be read on multiple levels. But that’s not just a sign of a good book. It’s a sign of great art.

When it comes to fantasy books another interesting question is how important is the delineation of good vs. evil? How much real world nuance does a reader of any age want? George R.R. Martin (decidedly NOT a children’s book writer) enjoys setting his characters up to face decisions where there is seemingly no RIGHT choice and the results are always unexpected (impossible to clearly foresee) much like the twists and turns of our lives – although these days our life decisions usually involve less swordplay and dragons (unfortunately).

Check out the article. It’s a short read and interesting read.

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I was recently asked about my ‘career’ by someone interested in writing and illustrating books.

I still have a difficult time saying this is my ‘career’. I have worked as an art director, character designer, UI designer, graphic designer, producer, product manager, creative director…the list is long. I’m not sure how good I was at any of those jobs. And I’m not sure my career path can even be called a career path. It was more off-roadin’ until I got somewhere I wanted to stay awhile. But, I  believe all these professional experiences have helped shape who I am as a writer and artist and created good work habits in me.

But about writing and/or drawing books -

It is not a job where you get promotions and yearly reviews or daily meetings.

It is not a job where you can get ahead by (saying this nicely) becoming involved in someone else’s project.

Response to your work can be fickle. No one knows what will resonate with the public at large. Though some have slightly better luck in guessing.

Working from home takes a lot of focus and I hate to say it, discipline. You must have the ability to push chores aside – or you spend your whole day cleaning and walking the dogs (and posting to your blog) and get no work done.

It is a job for those who like to spend time alone. If you need social contact you will have to cultivate that.

For me it is a job where one day I am happy with my work, the next I want to repaint everything I did.

It’s not for people who can’t take rejection. Maybe it’s just me but I spend more of my time with rejections that acceptance letters.

There is no one path to ‘get there’. And there is no cleared path to where it will take you.

Everyone who manages to be involved in it seems to have come to the work by different means. I know some people who were offered work the first time (yes, the first time!) they showed their portfolio. I know people who were rejected repeadtedly by agents and worked  years to get offered a book.

Writing a a good picture book is as much work as writing any other book. Picture books aren’t ‘easy’ because they have fewer words. The people who make it look easy are just really, really, really good at writing picture books.

It’s the best job in the world when it’s not being the worst job in the world.

But it’s not what most people think it is. And I love it.

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I just heard from David LaRochelle that How Martha Saved her Parents from Green Beans was nominated for the 26th annual Minnesota Book awards in the Children’s Lit category. David has TWO books nominated in that category one illustrated by the awesome Mike Wohnoutka.

Congrats to David and Mike!

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Are the green beans bad? They are if they make noise after midnight.

beanbean2If you are unlucky enough to be having green beans tomorrow you better keep a close eye on them.

Thanks for the mention on the What is ML Reading blog!

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There are a few really good days being a full-time author/illustrator. Getting checks is nice of course. After all, the food doesn’t buy itself. But really the best days are when you get the book you worked on for a year or more for the first time.  Seeing the final proof for the first time is also a good day.

This past week I’ve been busy working on the second picture book I wrote and will illustrate. The dummy is coming together, though it’s at that point where I spend a lot of time wondering if a particular page communicates the right story beat.  I was concentrating so hard that my daughter and her friend snuck up to my studio and gave me a big “BOO! ” on Saturday. Twice to be exact. Each time  I screamed out loud. My wife heard it from the front porch. Well, it is the season for scares.

But the other cool thing this week was seeing the final digital proof of the picture book I wrote and illustrated that will be released  by Candlewick Press next Thanksgiving. The cover, the flap copy, the final art with final type…very cool to see. And I am looking forward to the first hardcopy proofs in a few months. You will hear me talking more about both books as they near release.

Now, back to work. But I better make sure my daughter isn’t sneaking up the stairs.

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I had some energy to burn and I had been kicking this idea around. It’s part of a story. It’s kind of my version of pre-visialzing or development work. This will probably never be used for anything, but I managed to get it out of my head looking something like I wanted it to.

Click on the image to see it bigger.


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Here I am tooting that horn which belongs to me. A Very Witchy Spelling Bee written by George Shannon and illustrated by me was selected as an ideal Halloween book by USA Today. And who would know better?

See the list by clicking here.

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IMG_1364 A nice review of A Very Witchy Spelling Bee over on this great little blog. Take a few minutes and and give it a read — the blog AND the book! I’ve received many nice comments from kids who enjoy this book and teachers and librarians who have fun with it celebrateing the season AND introducing some spelling lessons. See it at Amazon and Indie Bound.

Here’s a spot image from the book I haven’t shown before.


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