Friday, January 28, 2011

Another Reason to Write and Draw...

The Third Annual Picture Book Marathon starts February 1, 2011, during which children's writers compose one picture book each day until they have written 26 picture books (with a couple of rest days thrown in). Maybe I am a sucker for punishment or maybe I am just passionate about stories but I am about to embark this new writing adventure.
Picture Book Marathon logo by
author/illustrator Nathan Hale

I did manage to 'win' my NaNoWriMo 50,000 word badge this last November for a Middle Grade book, but picture books can be much harder to write because you have to make every word count. That about 10,400 perfect words (26 x 400 words). And I have to come up with 26 ideas to write about. And I plan to blog about it.

AND my prize is 26 new picture books to illustrate ... in my spare time.
Wish me luck!

Check out the website and blog at:  and

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It’s a NOTEbook...

I love my notebooks, my plain, paper notebooks with or without lines. It might be a Moleskin like the great writers used or a black and white composition book or a fancy little notebook I received as a gift (or a prize). It might be one I’ve had for years or one I made myself. I can’t plug them in, recharge them or listen to music on them. It’s a NOTEbook! (Thank you, Lane Smith for your insight! )

A little notebook is good – you can stick it in your pocket or purse or backpack or under your pillow for those middle-of the night lists or ideas. A big notebook is good too – you can illustrate your ideas or combine lists or doodle your name or make a paper airplane. Big notebooks are also much harder to lose. Notebooks take you into the future and back to the past at the same time.

You recharge a notebook with ideas. You don’t have to worry about dropping them, unless you live near an ocean; salt water has an amazing affect on purple ink. In a notebook you can write with anything that makes a mark; pencils, crayons, burnt sticks, eyeliner pencils. And in desperate circumstances, you can even make impressions on the paper with a fingernail or just a nail. Anything to record that elusive thought, that perfect sentence, that unique tree, that great idea…that phone number of the bank.

One can never have too many notebooks (despite what my daughter says). To me a brand new notebook is like a blank piece of paper and a new, 67 count box of Crayons; the potential is intoxicating! I do love my notebooks!

What was the last great thing you wrote in a notebook?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

When Creativity Needs a Spark of Inspiration…

Try looking up. Look up when others are looking at the sidewalk. Look at the rain clouds instead of looking at the puddles.

Or look at the reflection of ‘up’ in the puddle. Look at the top of the skyscraper or church steeple or oak tree. Do you see anyone up there looking down? Who or what could they be? Look at the tops of old building and the stone lion’s heads or gargoyles you never knew were there.

Look at the birds on that wire and wonder where they’ve been. Look up at the heron flying over the stalled traffic jam while others are looking down and texting that they’ll be late…again.

Look up at the jet and wonder where the passengers are going or coming from. Look up at your eaves and notice the tiny fern growing in the corner…no, don’t notice that you need to clean the gutters.

Most of all look up on a clear night and think about all you can see. You can see back in time, you can see billions of stars and possibly billions of billions of living things. You can see objects that hold more magic than the most fantastic science fiction story or fairy tale ever told.

Below to the right is a picture of a globular cluster. Ever seen one? You can if you look up at night into the summer constellation of Hercules. Binoculars help.

A globular cluster is a snowball of tightly packed stars that orbit a galactic core like our Milky Way. Like the moon orbits the earth, these clusters orbit our galaxy and no one really knows why or how they came to be there. And other galaxies have them too.

Now there’s a spark for some creativity if I ever heard of one. What do you think?

Friday, January 14, 2011

How to Create a Myth...

Stories, legends and myths have always fascinated me. Where did they come from? Were they plucked from pure imagination or was there some seed of truth? A seed that grew with the telling or grew in the imagination?

I believe all myths stem from some bit of history or truth. An normal day is upset by an abnormal circumstance or visitor, an expectation is exceeded or a dream fulfilled at the most opportune moment, a surprise from mother nature or a nightmare realized – these are the things that become the seeds of myth.

Of course there is one other essential component of the creation of the myth; the myth-maker. The myth-maker is that person who tells the story and adds an adjective or a supposition. He or she is someone who compares the truth with a dream or another coincidental event. The story, the myth, grows like an apple tree sprouting branches and fruit. Soon those apples drop on heads and at the feet of more myth-makers and more story tellers. The mythical apples are stuck in a pocket and shared with a friend or two or twelve. A myth is born.

Do you want to be a myth-maker? Take a story, any story, happy or not and find the interesting truth: A news story about lost boy. Then add a dose of extended reality: he finds an animal den to sleep in. Then add the miraculous: boy is missing for several weeks but is found alive and well.  Ask the question why?

All you need to do now is find a plausible answer and set the story free (tell a friend or two or twelve). The lost boy was tended by a pack of coyotes who assumed he was some kind of human cub. They fed him and kept him warm and taught him to howl. Now for some reason he is able to understand the language of dogs. It becomes a myth about a Dog Boy. Retold and embellished it becomes more interesting and strange as it grows. The apple seed becomes the tree. And as they say, “We can count the number of seeds in an apple but we cannot count the number of apples in a seed.” A myth is born.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Objective Observation and POV...

Objective observation is the key to creating a setting in writing or the aspect of an illustration but everyone’s point of view is different. One person may call the solid hunk of earth in front of them a stone while the other might call it a rock. One person may be taller or color blind and miss the tiny yellow flower popping up between the cracks of the sidewalk. Someone’s perspective may be tainted by tragedy and another might not see the horror of an accident but another notices that all victims survived unhurt.

Perspective, attitude, context, frame of reference, objectivity and relativity all play a part. Do you really see what is there or do you filter it, assuming you know the reality? For example; the snow on a mountain on a sunny day is white, right? Yes, but what color are the deep shadows? Most people will say the shadows will be darker and probably gray. Nope. The dark shadows on snow are the same color as the sky. Objective observation. (to read a more detailed explanation by James Gurney : http//

Amazingly children manage to master language. My son once asked me to “turn off the dark”, which in his mind was just as logical as “turning on the light”. Children also understand objective observation. A young child’s drawing of a face often looks like the example on the right: two eyes right next to the nose and the nose with two holes. Some think it is just because they don’t know any better but they may know more than you do. Get down on your knees (child height) and look up at a friends face. What do you observe? Two eyes right next to the nose and the nose with two holes. Objective observation.

Next time you look at something, think about what you are seeing and question your filters and the reality presented. You might be very surprised at what you see.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rain, Rain and no excuse...

 ... Not to Work!
Although most people think it rains 365 days a year in the Seattle area. It doesn’t. The weather forecasters have a multitude of words to describe rain. I know because when we moved here seven years ago I wrote them down.

For example did you know there is a difference between: a drizzle and a sprinkle, mist and serious mist, fog and spitting fog, a deluge, a downpour, a shower or a spate of rain? It could be 'pouring wet stuff' or 'puddling up' in the morning with a chance of ‘sun breaks’ in the afternoon. A ‘sun break’ is when it forgets to rain for a few minutes and a big ball of burning gas lights up the sky for about as long as it takes you to drink your double short, nonfat, not too hot, macchiato with whip.

But it doesn’t rain 365 days out of the year. Tonight it’s going to snow…just plain ol' snow.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Exploring your strengths, ignoring dust bunnies…

Every once in a while it is good to list your own strengths. A new year is a good time to do that but in order to stay focused it is not a good time to explore your weaknesses. Why? Because exploring weaknesses puts the emphasis on the negative. So for the month of January I will concentrate on doing what I do well, I will not dwell on what I can’t do or do very well and do the best I can.

Is this wise? Shouldn’t I try and undo a bad habit or change errant ways or watch every morsel I put in my mouth? No. Focusing on the negative never did get me anywhere but deeper into the hole I was digging. When I concentrate on my strengths I get more done and the weaknesses can crawl into a corner like dust bunnies and be ignored. Did I just admit to ignoring dust bunnies?

I give myself permission to draw more because I’m good at it. I’ll play with color combinations because I’m good at it. I'll solve visual problems and try new designs because I’m good at it.

What are you going to give yourself permission to do this New Year?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An Alternative to Resolutions…sort of

Welcome 2011, I took a break from blogging while I cooked, cleaned, created gifts and enjoyed my relatives and friends over the holidays. I hope you all had a wonderful winter holiday! My grandmother said whatever condition your house is in at the beginning of the year indicates what condition it will be in the rest of the year. Replace the word house with studio, office, car, relationship, book revision…you get the idea.

So I am trying very hard to start with a clean and organized whatever. It is easier than a resolution because it’s visual and material and not quite so esoteric. Did I say easier? Projects cover my work desk, fancy cookies are calling my name from decorative tins sitting on the coffee table and my cats have commandeered the crunched tissue paper left over from gifts, it is their current favorite toy –  crackle, stalk, leap, attack, hide, start over. My studio looked as if Christmas threw up on it.

Life gets in the way of good intentions but taking the time now to make a well organized space will help me start those thank-you notes, sketch out three new picture book ideas, find my 2011 Writer’s Digest and revised my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo middle-grade novel.

I even have a brand new notebook to record my ideas in, thanks to Holly Schindler’s Flash Fiction Prompt contest. My idea and Holly’s subsequent story; “Fear of Clouds” was voted the best. Holly sent me a lovely gift of a fancy pen and notebook for future ideas as a 'prize'. It already has 6 ideas in it and several sketches. Thank you Holly for using my prompt! And my thanks to everyone who voted.  Be sure and check out Holly's blog; Holly Schindler Novel Anecdotes and read her wonderful book “A Blue so Dark” A story that explores a teen's struggle with art, her mother and the powerful dichotomy of creativity and mental illness.