Thursday, February 25, 2016

In search of... free picture books on the Internet!

Well, it's been a while since I've posted here, because I'm doing more posting over at my main blog, Doodle Soop. In case you happen to be here, thought I'd do a little roundup about what's going on over there (East Coast vs. West Coast? Orange vs. blue?) Just did a post about my favorite sites for free 'n' legal online kids books. Some are readalounds, some streaming, but all have high quality books. You can see that post here.

I've also gotten on a mystery jag and wrote three posts about children's book mysteries for the different age groups. I learned a lot from this, and perused by Kindle. Not sure any of my own stories counts as mysteries, but one is maybe thriller-related. Here is the post about picture book mysteries. I think my favorite one is Mystery of Eatum Hall! And Miss Nelson is Missing. Its older sibling is about chapter book and middle-grade mysteries and can be found here, though I wrote this one first (did a lot with the cover thumbnails, but didn't continue with that after). I still miss good old Encyclopedia Brown. And last but not least, here is my post about teen mysteries. That includes tweens. Paper Towns come to mind.

One thing's for sure, this genre is awesome, and it's hawt. The sleuths, being kids, don't have to wear trenchcoats or say things like "Just one more thing." (Though I like that). They're just regular kids trying to hide their involvement in stuff from their parents. Or, they're busy trying to figure out who stole the cookies.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Why I use a tablet (even for watercolor)

New ways of painting

I used to do all my art the traditional way. I used tracing paper to develop a drawing, ending up using many sheets. I'd erase too, but sometimes the drawing would become too complex to erase so I'd use little bits of tracing paper. A lightbox also came in handy but it was a bit unwieldy as the size of the lightbox was usually smaller than the drawing. So I'd end up with lots of little bits of paper and tape, then a final drawing, which I'd transfer onto watercolor paper. I would use tracing paper to trace the drawing then rub the back of the tracing paper to transfer the drawing. I tried transfer paper but found it would leave marks I could not erase.

Transitioning to a graphics tablet

Then I got a Wacom Bamboo, and found I was not very coordinated and could not do original drawings on it, so I'd scan in my drawings then color in Photoshop, but generally I wanted to only use paint.

Then I got a tablet PC, back in 2004. I could then draw in Photoshop Elements, completely on the tablet. It had no pressure sensitivity, so the line did not have light and dark parts like a hand-drawn work would. This was ok for some art, but generally I would print out my computer drawing then end up using the tracing paper transfer method anyway, but I'd use less overall paper. Then I'd paint the watercolor paper. I tried printing right onto the paper, this worked sometimes, but my printer would jam or or I'd want to make more changes and could not erase. Sometimes I'd color directly in Photoshop.

I had deadlines that were rushed so then I'd work completely on the computer, or scan in drawings and color in Photoshop.

Later I got a Wacom Cintiq, and this eliminated the whole scanning part. I practiced digital painting until my digital art was hard to distinguish from my watercolor.

What if the client wants traditional media?

But some clients wanted watercolor. The Cintiq has pressure sensitivity, so I'd draw my sketch on the computer, even being able to get the sensitive line work I wanted. Then I'd print, transfer using the tracing paper method, paint, THEN scan, and tweak any colors or even line that I wanted, then email the files to the client. I had to scan in two parts because my art was bigger than my scanner. But that was OK.

Almost all digital

So now I use a combination of computer, watercolor, and tracing paper (and Scotch tape! Double-sided makes it easier). Some of my art is half-digital, and now that look is on purpose rather than a "tweak." So it's like a cyborg!

Camera vs. scanner

I find using a digital camera such as one on an Iphone can make better reproductions of my watercolors than can my scanner (someday I'll get a better scanner). So I take high-res photos instead of scans, tweak them digitally, and send them to the client. If I am doing an original piece of art for a show, I work it all out on my Cintiq or tablet PC with Wacom digitizer first. Click here for lots of info about using tablets to make art.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

new blog address

My new blog is right on my site, Doodle Soop, instead of a separate blog. Please see my latest artwork and postings. I've got lots of helpful articles on children's book illustrations, art tablets, writing, and more, so check it out!


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Children's Book Writing Critique Groups: Online or In-person?

Sitting in a room with a friendly group of writers is an energizing experience. There's laughter and support. Friendships form.  You can see and hear their reactions to your work. You may start to become obsessed with reading body language. Did she really mean that positive thing she said--if she did, why did she touch her nose that way? Is he allergic, or bored?--he keeps coughing while I read! But for all the insecurities it's a lot of fun.

But sometimes, they fizzle. Attendance dwindles. People take time off. Life happens. Other times in an in-person group, the conversation goes off-topic. Which is fun, but not productive if you want critiques. Classes or workshops with a teacher are more structured, but they can be expensive, and you have no say in when and where they meet.

I had been in an online crit group in the past which was quite productive, but was no more. I had also taken some online writing classes, and found I GAVE much better feedback in writing, after having time to carefully read and compose my comments. Also, the comments I got were from people who had also had time to read and consider. In the in-person groups, we'd just react, talking, sometimes in a rush, with a time limit, or not remembering all that was read, or maybe even being preoccupied.

After I moved, I had trouble finding an in-person group, and the travel distances here are rather daunting to me, so I stopped looking and went without. After solo writing for a while, I was really jonesing for feedback (as in, please somebody, is anybody out there?). So I started an online group. I posted it to the SCBWI board. The post was called "Advanced Picture Book Critique Group". I wanted people with some writing experience--not necessarily published. Just people who are really into it. The crits would be in-depth, I said.

For years I took a children's writing workshop where I was often the only picture book writer, and just once I wanted it all to be picture books. I had taken some continuing education writing and illustrating courses, and had been in a writing-illustrating in-person with members from the group I'm in, Children's Book Illustrators Group (CBIG) I loved that everyone was on the same page, so to speak. That all the work was short, but meaningful. I like to hear novels too, but that's a very long-term and involved thing. Different set of brain cells.

Once I posted, no one answered. There were other posts about crit groups, some with dozens of interested writers. None of them said "advanced," though. I went into my post, thinking maybe it was scaring people off. I edited it to emphasize that publication was not necessary, and said by "advanced" I meant maybe took a class or did a lot of reading of picture books. That the crits would be in-depth, and that was why a bit of knowledge or experience was necessary. I wasn't trying to sound exclusive, I just wanted to be with people who were already focused--even if they were beginners, what I really wanted was to be sure they had READ picture books, carefully and with love. Was that OK to ask for, to a group of strangers? I decided it was.

Slowly, members trickled in. I didn't grill them on their qualifications. I was glad to have anyone who wanted to be in it. Some of them were published. After about a month, with seven members, I closed the group to new people.

I had been in one before but I wasn't running that one, I was just along for the ride.  For the new one, I set up a Yahoo group, since the one I was in was a Yahoo group. I suggested we post every week. Of course, that's way too much. I was thinking how in person, we'd meet every week and go over all the stories. We did that in my writing class with seven people. It met for two hours. But, there was no "homework" there. No need to write comments or digest. We just listened to the stories, the teacher did most of the talking and wrote comments.

Somebody in the new online group suggested every two weeks, and I realized that was much better. Someone else made nifty folders. As moderator, I didn't have to moderate much at all! After a couple rounds, we've gotten into a good rhythm, I think. I love that I can get feedback, and I really enjoy writing crits, too. It keeps me on my game. It lets me into the heads of other writers and how they see picture book structure; it gets me out of my loner subjectivity. I love to see the stories develop. Our members are spread all over the country. Even in states so remote I never thought I'd know anybody from! Ah, the Internet.

All in all, I can't say online is better than in-person. Both ways have their pros and cons. But with both, there are way more pros than cons. It's comforting to know that like minds are a click away. But it's the human spirit, whether in the same room or in cyberspace, that makes the group take on a life of its own.

Next, maybe I should start an online illustration critique group!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Next Big Thing! (Blog Tour)

What is the Next Big Thing?

It’s a global blog tour that started Down Under and has tagged numerous, FABULOUS illustrators and author/illustrators along the way. And now The Next Big Thing is here! Rules: answer the same ten questions about your work, then tag up to five wonderful artists whose work you want to champion. I’ve been tagged by Donna Miskend.  You can see more of her work at her blog 


 At the end of this post I will tag more artists, for your next stop on the tour.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The Diary of Dr. Knuckle

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had some ideas left over from my other Pigs book, The Three Swingin' Pigs. Mostly unused puns.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
humor, picture book

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Hmm... Peter Lorre as Dr. Knuckle, Vincent Price as Mr. Hide, Terri Garr as Nurse Hocks.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A pig (Dr. Knuckle) becomes a wolf (Mr. Hide).

6) Who is publishing your book?
No one yet, though there has been some interest.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
A few weeks, but that's just the first draft.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Picture of Morty and Ray by Daniel Pinkwater (based on Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray) was also a fractured version of a novel and had a similar theme. I call Dr. Knuckle "a fractured scary tale."

And I just found another with kind of similar theme called How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long. When I think about it, I guess it all goes back to Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, where a child gets to go on a wild night romp before coming safely home.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As a kid I dreamed of being fearless and able to do anything, and not have so many rules. I think a lot of kids dream that, but would they really like it? That's the question the story poses.
Then I guess it has to do with archetypes, fairy tales, cartoons, the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and old movies.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
It has laughs, puns, and a battle scene.

Next up for the next big thing is SUSANNA PITZER. Check out her blog at

Susanna Pitzer's cover art:

More tags to come so please check back!