Wild, Wild Midwest Conference

Hello, everyone, I hope you’re enjoying your spring!

Despite a relatively mild winter, spring has been pretty late in coming to those here in the Midwest; weeks of cool temperatures and rain can put a damper on just about anyone’s spirit.

Luckily I had something pretty awesome to look forward to that helped me to ignore the less-than-ideal weather, and that was the SCBWI Wild, Wild Midwest Conference! (image below designed by Michael Kress-Russick)

WWMW con 2016 image

This year’s conference was held in Naperville, IL, near Chicago, and what an event it was! People from all over the United States attended, about 500 people in all.

Every now and then I receive inquiries from people interested in either writing or illustrating children’s books, asking where their journey to publication can begin. To those people I offer my best advice: join the SCBWI!

The SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, comprised of some of the most kind, talented, and inspirational folk I have ever met! If you are serious about wanting to get started in the business of writing and illustrating for children’s books, this is the most important group you will join.

From April 29-May 1st, we were treated to a whirlwind of Breakout sessions, Keynote speakers, and networking with some of the finest writers, illustrators, editors, and agents in the business. The energy of the group was astounding!

Troy presenting sm

The above picture was taken at a Breakout session on creating picture book dummies, by author-illustrator Troy Cummings.

No matter where you are on your journey in writing or illustrating, attending an SCBWI conference is invaluable. Be sure to bring plenty of notebooks, sketchpads, pencils, and pens for note-taking!

I was excited to attend intensives and sessions with art directors Semadar Megged and John Sanford, listen to fantastic Keynotes Speakers Lisa Cron, Sarah Aronson, Linda Sue Park, and Candace Fleming, and was lucky enough at the opening dinner to be seated next to and have a nice chat with Melissa Manlove, an editor at Chronicle Books (who also delivered a very passionate reading of one of Chronicle’s picture books at her Breakout session)!

I was happy to see many people I have not seen in awhile, as well as making new friends. Coming from someone who can be somewhat shy in groups of people, it’s easy to make friends with those in the SCBWI. I was also thrilled to finally meet in person the amazing and talented Miranda Paul, who I had worked with in creating the logo for the Rate Your Story website.

me with my artwork r

There was also an art show featuring the art work of almost 90 incredible artists! Here is a pic of me standing next to my entry. The talented Heidi Sheffield, from our Michigan illustrator group, received second place with her fun and fantastic entry! Congrats, Heidi!

Big Magic

While I learned a great deal in both writing and illustrating that weekend, one of the best things I feel I took away from this weekend was about facing your fears and taking chances. Sarah Anderson, during her Keynote speech, shared a book called “Big Magic”, by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). One of the largest obstacles I have always faced was my fear of submitting my work (I’m not quite done, I have more to learn, I still need to improve, and dozens of other excuses). This book is helping me to put it all in perspective; one of my favorite lines from the book is, “Fear is Boring!” And it is; fear wants us to live a boring life huddled in our safety zone and never take any chances.

So if you are interested in writing or illustrating for children, whether it be picture books, novels, chapter books, or graphic novels, don’t wait one more minute. Join the SCBWI and see where your creativity takes you!

The Mitten

Mitten illustration for blog post

This month I was honored to be asked to be this month’s Featured Illustrator for the Mitten Newsletter. The Mitten is the official blog for the Michigan Chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators).  The blog can be found here.

The Mitten showcases the amazing and talented members of the SCBWI-Michigan chapter, as well as featuring the latest news and events of the chapter.

I chose this theme as at this time it is winter in Michigan, and when I think of winter the first thing that comes to mind for me is fuzzy hats, scarves, and of course snow. The kind squirrel of the forest has taken it upon herself to knit warm winter gear for her forest friends. The characters and layout are all drawn by hand, while the outlines were drawn in Adobe Illustrator and the colors and background were created using Photoshop.

Thank you to Nina Goebel, Kristin Lenz, and Patti Richards for having me as the featured illustrator, it was an honor!

PiBoIdMo 2015

PiBoIdMo 2015

Happy November 1st, and welcome to a new year of PiBoIdMo, or Picture Book Idea Month! Today also marks the end of Daylight Savings Time, so you even get an extra hour today to participate in PiBoIdMo, how opportunistic!

I’m very happy to be participating again, as last year I sat out due to all of the work I was doing to prepare the launch of my webcomic, Galactic Dragons. This year I’m STILL doing a lot of work to keep my webcomic updated, but I love PiBoIdMo so much that I decided to balance the two (goodbye, sleep, it was nice knowing you!)

In case you aren’t familiar with it, PiBoIdMo was created by the fabulous Tara Lazar and now is in its 7th year. The idea behind PiBoIdMo is to come up with a new idea for a picture book for each day in the month of November.  Anyone can participate for free and you can sign up HERE. However you do have to register by November 5, 2015, so sign up before the deadline and be sure to follow the instructions.

You technically don’t have to come up with a new idea on THAT DAY in particular as long as you have 30 ideas by the end of the month. Some people already have 30 ideas by day 10 (shakes fist at the over-achievers). The idea is to be creative and have fun.

This year’s PiBoIdMo logo was designed by the fabulous Troy Cummings, a very talented illustrator and author! 🙂

There are also tons of prizes available besides having fun and getting ideas for new picture books!

So if you love picture books, head on over to register! Best of luck with your ideas, and Happy November!

First Robin of Spring!

Robin sketch color

The other day I was thrilled out of my mind to see the first robin of spring (I know, I lead an exciting life).

Robins around mean that spring is just that much closer! How can one not be happy? Of course, in Michigan, “spring” doesn’t always mean what it’s supposed to. As I write this, it is snowing (I’m not kidding. It’s March 29th and it’s 30 degrees and snowing).

first day of spring

The American Robin is the official State Bird of Michigan and are one of the most abundant birds in North America.

This is great for me because I love watching these guys. I realized my love for robins a few years ago when I was eating lunch outside. Some small woods hugs the outside of my work, and there was something making a huge ruckus in the leaves. I thought a dog was running through the woods, but it was only some robins bouncing around. I think it’s their lack of grace on the ground that makes them so fascinating.

Robin Run 2015

Last summer I took my sketch book  outside to draw some robins. I have observed that they often “lean” forward when they’re running, then will stop at a moment’s notice to stand up straight. Then they lean down again to move forward at a frenzied pace and the process repeats. They’re a lot of fun to sketch if they choose to sit still for two seconds (they won’t). I hesitate to call them clowns because I think clowns are evil and scary, but I’m sure you can understand the context that I’m referring to.

Robins often grace my bird bath, and they are a hoot to watch. They will jealously chase away any other bird who wants to visit while they’re there. Then they will precede to jump around and beat their wings until the entire contents of the bird bath are splashed onto the ground. Now they are happy and will fly away, clean as a whistle.

Their song is very distinctive, and they will often land on branches (just out of reach) to scold you and vocally tell you of their displeasure. They especially do this if I’m out walking my cat on a harness (yes, I do this; I can feel you all judging me). OR if you’re near their nest.
Speaking of nests, can we talk about Robin eggs?

NO, not THOSE eggs (although they are sinfully delicious). I am talking about THESE eggs:

Robin bird eggs 2015

LOOK AT THEM! Aren’t they amazing?
The color “Robin Egg Blue” was named after this color.
Did you ever wonder why their eggs are blue when they’re known for their red breasts? Weird. But who can question Mother Nature? No one, that’s who. Speaking of red breasts…

Robin colorHow gorgeous is this guy?

While robins are often described as “red-breasted”, the color on their breast is more referred to as orange. I still will call them red, I don’t care what “they” say. But I still did use both red and orange on the breast of the robin that I colored up above: sketched on paper, scanned in, and colored using Photoshop.

Robin sketch

So what are your favorite things about spring? The warmer weather? The flowers? The return of the birds?
Whatever it is, I hope you are experiencing it and enjoying your spring. If you can, I recommend taking a sketch book outdoors; you never know if a critter will come by and strike a pose!

Chinese New Year and February Happenings

Year of the Sheep 2015

Happy Chinese New Year 2015! This year’s animal is the sheep…so why do I have a picture of a goat? It turns out that the Mandarin symbol for sheep also can include the goat or the ram. And I just happened to have an old illustration in my files of a goat that I created last year, so why not? And what a happy little goat he is!

February 2015 has proven to be a challenging month weather-wise; we had a pretty mild winter up until February. Right now we are having some of the lowest temperatures that I have ever experienced in Michigan, with one night hitting a low of -15 degrees (that’s the actual temperature, not the wind-chill!)

But lucky for us it’s warm inside, and this is one of my favorite times of year for sitting at my computer and working on illustrations or my picture book manuscripts. Hot coffee in hand, I don’t have to fret about being called outdoors for gardening or landscaping (only shoveling snow, ugh). Ah, peaceful bliss.

This month finds me still working on my webcomic and making arrangements for having the website built by a third party. In the meantime, I’ve had a chance to get back to my other illustrations and experiment with some new styles and textures. The image below was inspired Doodle Day, which is a Facebook group that posts daily or monthly themes. This month’s theme uses letters from the alphabet on each day. This image’s day was the letter “J”, so I created “Jousting Jaguars in the Jungle”.

Jousting Jaguars

 

I seem to have re-ignited my love for placing illustrated characters on a real-time background, which can also be seen in this illustration:

 

Phyllis newscast

 

February 2nd celebrates, of course, Groundhog Day, so I created this for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 10 year Birthday/Anniversary of her book and character, “Punxsutawney Phyllis”. You can see the image on Susanna’s blog, here (thank you, Susanna!) Phyllis is a Weather Prophet Extraordinaire, so I thought it’d be fun to up her game a bit and gave her a promotion to the Weather Channel. It was a lot of fun to create, and I love the contrast between the illustrated character and the background photograph. I feel that a real photo for a background really makes the character pop.

Or I’m just being lazy. I guess I’ll leave that to the viewer to decide. 🙂

Dana

 

 

Post-Holiday Greetings

Reindeer

Hoping everyone had a great holiday this year, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, or the Winter Solstice!

I can’t believe it’s been this long since I’ve blogged…whenever I visit a website and I see that it hasn’t been updated for some time, I usually don’t stay long. Well, those in glass houses…

This past year has found me to be very busy with a comic strip that I created some time ago; I have re-booted it and instead of trying to get it published through a syndicate as I had in the past, I am instead making it into a web comic. Any and all extra time and energy I have has gone into that, so unfortunately I have not been as in touch with my children’s book work. My hope is that once my web comic is established, I can will have more time to attend to my children’s book work.

I just recently joined a sketch group through Meetup in my area, and the above sketch was created there as we drank coffee and shared sketches.

May the New Year be filled with joy, good health, and success for everyone!

Dana

Snowpocalypse 2014

Screaming bird pic2

If you are reading this, congratulations! You have survived Snowpocalypse 2014! Also known as the Polar Vortex, etc, etc. I’m sure you’re tired of reading about it. Here where I live in Michigan we got about 12-13 inches of snow dumped on us. Friends of mine further north got 2-3 feet!

I feel so bad for all of the little birds and critters outdoors…how do they survive?  I can barely stand just the short run to my car and then the run into my work (while holding my tumbler of hot coffee). My sister was kind enough to lend me some money so I could buy a bag of bird and squirrel food because I didn’t have enough left from my last paycheck to buy any (sad, I know).  I was traumatized because I didn’t have any food in my feeders. After I filled them, my yard looked like a scene out of a Disney movie (or an Alfred Hitchcock movie).

Here is a screenshot from my phone on one of the coldest days that I ever remember in my LIFE:

Coldest Day Ever sm

NEGATIVE ELEVEN! FEELS LIKE NEGATIVE THIRTY-FOUR! WHAT IS HAPPENING?? Oh, but hey, at least it’s SUNNY! Silver linings, right? At least I’ll be whistling in the sunshine before my lips freeze off and I die of hypothermia.

Yet this winter is a little different for me in the aspect that I don’t despise winter as much as I used to. Why the sudden change of heart? Did I fall and hit my head? Did I secretly move to Florida?

Nope and nope. I realized that when it’s cold and miserable outside, I stay INSIDE and work on my artwork and writing.
When it’s warm outside and the birds are singing zip-a-dee-doo-dah, when I can hear kids laughing, see joggers, bikers, people walking their dogs… I want to be outside. Technically I COULD paint outside, and I COULD write outside (except that I don’t own a laptop)…but when I’m outside, I want to be physically active. Walking. Gardening. Hiking. Kind of hard to write and draw when I’m doing those activities.

A friend of mine who grew up in Michigan but moved to California years ago commented on his Facebook that the only thing about Michigan winters that he misses is that it kept him inside, drawing.

So for those of you who live in snow-belts or places that are seasonally cold…do you find yourself being more productive in the winter months? I personally get a lot more done during cold weather!

So I guess I’ll tip my hat to Old Man Winter for now. Thank you for keeping me on the straight and narrow! But this still is not an admission that I want you to stay forever… keep your visit reasonable okay? 😉

PiBoIdMo 2013!

NOV 1 2013revised

It’s been a loooong time since I last blogged. Everyday life often can get in the way of blogging (unfortunately), as well as time needed for drawing and writing.

But now that November is here I feel the need to blog about an amazing event that is open to anyone in the month of November: Picture Book Idea Month, or PiBoIdMo for short. PiBoIdMo is the brain child of Tara Lazar, and came as an offshoot of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

During the month of November, PiBoIdMo challenges you to come up with a new picture book idea (or more) during every day of the month. Some participants outdo themselves and come up with fifty ideas or more. You can sign up here.

Besides being a lot of fun, there is great camaraderie between other kid-lit picture book writers and illustrators, and also a chance to participate  in an event that can lead to THIRTY new ideas for picture books as well as a chance of winning great prizes. At the end of the month you are asked to sign a pledge stating that you did indeed create 30 new picture book ideas. It’s based on an honor system, but kid-lit writers, I find, are an honest bunch. 🙂

After you register, then you can ask to join the Facebook Discussion group, where you will find an amazing group of people sharing ideas, links, accomplishments, and a lot of support!

So go ahead and take the pledge, participate, and HAVE FUN!

I do solemnly swear
that I will faithfully execute
the PiBoIdMo 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge,
and will, to the best of my ability,
parlay my ideas into
picture book manuscripts
throughout the year.

If you are also an illustrator, then you can earn bonus points (sorry, not really actual bonus points, just bragging rights) by joining SkADaMo, which is Sketch a Day Month, created by the talented Linda Silvestri. There is no registration or Facebook page, but there is a lot of fun and encouragement between fellow illustrators! And way more illustrations in your sketchbook that otherwise may not have been there! 🙂

About the above rough sketch: Apparently this is some kind of a dog, I don’t know, a poodle mix or something. He seems happy as he writes and draws at the same time. I, on the other hand, tend to not handle multi-tasking such as this with a smile on my face, but usually with stress drops flying from my head.  But it doesn’t mean that in the end I don’t enjoy a good challenge! And my mug of coffee is much larger!