2019...and a 20/20 for 2020

Wow...what a year!

This same week a year ago, I sat on pins and needles waiting to see if a long time prayer would finally be answered.  The long time prayer of more than 13 years was to live closer to my family in northern Virginia.  With a grand baby on the way, those prayers got lifted up a lot higher, if you know what I mean.  My husband had applied for a job close to where we wanted to be.  We both know and believe that God does immeasurably more - way more than we can imagine in our limited vision.  He does not hold back a single good thing and His timing is always perfect.  A "long shot" was all we needed to hope that much more and put our entire future into His capable hands. We were completely committed to whatever He gave us.

When God moves hang on tight

Well, he got the call a few days later that he had the job!  We had 6 weeks until his start date...that's 6 weeks to pack up 13 years, put our house on the market, coordinate with movers, etc.  It also meant, that even though this was what we prayed for, our lives were going to change in a big way.  We had friends and a church family that would be greatly missed.  We were only an hour from my husband's family. There was a rhythm to our coming and going each day.  It was comfortable.  I'll admit it - I wrestled with this. Change is hard, even the good kind.  When God moves, it's never what you think it will be...it's always better than you can imagine.  I held on to Him pretty tight the past year...something solid in the middle of the chaos!

Fast forward about 11 months

We had the blessing and privilege to live with my parents for a few months while we searched for a house.  The process of buying a house and selling the old one was a huge challenge.  Those details are for another day...BUT GOD knew what He was doing.  Our new house is walking distance from our new grandson.  Not to mention, I live closer to my family than I ever have...literally minutes.  We are getting to know new friends and have a church family that is simply amazing. I am grateful for a job I love that allows me to "rescue" my grandson from daycare on Monday afternoons. Illustrating and writing for children is still my #1 passion and I am excited about the opportunities that the new year will bring.  Life is one adventure after another and we're happy!

More than just words

Going in to each new year, I choose a word and a bible verse for the entire year.  It's sort of like a guide when I get blown off course, or when life gets a little tough.  For 2019, the word was TRUST and the bible verse was Ephesians 3:20 (TPT)...Never doubt God's mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this.  He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes you.

Can I tell you something?  2019 has been all of this and much more.  So much more. It goes beyond words.  There is a God and He loves you...me...all of us...it's nothing short of mind blowing.

Clarity in 2020

It didn't take long to find the word and verses for 2020.  An extra verse seemed to fit the joys and  challenges of finding the "new normal" in Stephens City, VA.  My word is SUSTAIN.  I know that God is enough and will sustain me each day.  I also want to create sustainable art.  I'm not sure what this means yet, but I know He does. 

My bible verses for 2020 are...

Ephesians 2:10 (TPT)
We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it.

Luke 1:37 (TPT)
Not one promise from God is empty of power, for nothing is impossible with God!

God is the ultimate Creative and I am so thankful for the gifts He has given to me.  Nothing is impossible and we all have a purpose. Having a relationship with the One who created me gives me endless hope for things to come and a beautiful peace and clarity in 2020.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Our Family to Yours!


Staying traditionally connected in digital art

As a child, I loved the smell of crayons, the feel of paper, and the possibilities of what the blank page held.  And I still do!  I love being a digital artist, but I don’t want to lose the tactile connection of my traditional roots so I have made it part of my process.

Start with paper

I just want to stop a second and give a shoutout to my favorite sketchbooks...Baron Fig!  (I’ll share my detailed love of them in another blog post.). I carry sketchbooks of various sizes with me all of the time - even to the YMCA.  Yes, even a balance-challenged person like me can peddle a bike and sketch at the same time.  Eat and sketch...drink wine and sketch...enjoy coffee and sketch...get the picture?  I have not mastered sleep and sketch...I like my sleep! The point is, I take my favorite pencil and sketchbook with me to sketch my ideas.  Sometimes my sketches do start on my iPad Pro, but it’s not the same experience.  My first choice is paper.

Take a picture

Next in my process is taking a phone picture of my sketch. Using Airdrop makes it super-easy! I deliver it right to my iMac - or iPad Pro if I’m not in my studio. I try to upload several sketches and ideas at one time so it's done (and I don't forget!).

Refine the sketch

I am a messy sketcher 90% of the time.  My daughter called them "fuzzy" when she was little. Sometimes my characters are disjointed and need to be “stitched” together. On my iPad Pro, I use Procreate, Adobe Sketch and Sketchbook.  On my iMac, it’s Photoshop or Illustrator.  I have an older Intuos tablet and use an ancient...vintage...old Cintiq for all of my work.

As you see in the image below, the sketch started rough and was cleaned up (very little) in Photoshop.

Practice with traditional (digital) style

For this illustration, I wanted to keep it loose so I chose a pencil outline and digital watercolor brushes (I used a variety by Kyle T. Webster).

I added the background first, and followed with coloring the fur and details.  I also added shadow and highlight layers. (Details below)

Keep practicing, keep going

I would like to be better with digital watercolor so I practice.  And practice some more. There are like 4 million digital watercolor brushes to choose from.  It’s truly mind blowing...and confusing.  I’m currently working to build a small library of the brushes I use the most.  Working with acrylics and gouache are also on my “do it better” list.

Whatever it is that you want to learn, and do it well, requires practice. Keeping a traditional element to my digital illustration process is important to me.  After all, who doesn’t love the smell of an open box of crayons that are inviting you to come play?!

Keep the conversation going...

If you come from a traditional art background, and you have crossed over to digital media, what do you do for the “tactile” connections, such as with paper, fiber or fabric? 

Leave your comments below :D

Pencil Sketch • Phone Picture • Upload to iMac and Stitch Together

Digital Pencil Outline - Multiply Layer

Digital Watercolor Background Added

Color, Shading and Highlights Added Last.


OOOWLoween and Fall Favorites...

Zombie owls...why not?!  My imagination is running wild with #Inktober and book ideas!  

There is a certain magic that begins this time of year.  I absolutely LOVE it! After the busyness of summer, fall is an invitation to slow down.  I don't know about you, but I'm ready to slow down a bit. Life has been a little too fast this year!

Here are a few of my favorite things to do in fall ya'll... 

Take a drive. The colors and scents of the fall season are intoxicating.  Pack a lunch, pick a trail and go hiking.  Don't forget to take pictures to share with friends and family.

Use the oven. Nothing says fall like the smell of pumpkin pie, cooked apples, cinnamon...getting hungry yet?  Choose something to bake and share it with a neighbor.  Not only will your kitchen be warm, but you'll warm hearts, as well.

Pull out your favorite sweaters.  Put away summer and bring out warmer clothing.  A chill in the air means snuggling up in our favorite sweaters...or cuddling up a little closer to those we love.  I like the cuddling part myself...

Go for a walk.  A crisp fall night is a good time for a walk.  The smell of fireplaces fill the air with memories.  A cup of hot chocolate always tastes better after a walk, too!  Don't forget the marshmallows.

Go wine tasting.  Pick a winery that's nestled in fall colors and enjoy your company while sitting in awe of God's perfect scenery.

Simply light a favorite candle and enjoy a cup of coffee.  Sit still and connect with God.
Be grateful. Give thanks. Count your blessings one by one.  Sketch or write whatever is on your heart.

No matter what you choose to do, relax.  Slow down and watch the leaves fall....
you can always rake them later.

Splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Psalm 96:6


Jot Downs - SCBWI Carolinas Conference - Part 2

  Step forward into the unknown and assume it will be brilliant.

~ Grey's Anatomy

Camille Andros, author of picture book Charlotte the Scientist is Squished, hosted a workshop on How to Write a Picture Book Agents & Editors Can't Say No [to].  I was only able to attend the last part, but I wrote a few notes I will find helpful in the months to come - including the opening quote.

Successful picture books have three things in common:
  1. Rhythm (Read it out loud.  What does it sound like?)
  2. Repetition (Allows the child to participate in the story)
  3. Rule of Threes (Three attempts to solve a problem and the last one works)
And while I didn't get to write this part down exactly as Camille said it, the gist of it is very plain.  No one is going to send me an invitation to write a book, to put the ideas in my head on paper, etc.  I need to show up and do the work.  A quote from Stephen Kings book, On Writing, says it best - 

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.

That book, by the way, was recommended more than once this weekend.  I'm expecting my copy to arrive tomorrow.


You are the BOSS...

The following jot downs pertain to your business...yes, YOUR business.  You are the BOSS OF YOU!  The truth is, MOST illustrators and writers - even the famous ones, hold outside jobs in addition to doing that creative thing they love.  We become adept at juggling.  We find a rhythm that works...until life happens.  It's okay.  Get up. Dust yourself off and keep on going.  You'll find that rhythm again. I promise.


No one will send you an invitation...

So, no one is going to send you an invitation to live your dream.  You have a part in making your dream happen.  For illustrators, one piece of the pie is called a POSTCARD.  I can hear you through the Google bots...don't groan.  DO.  

Laurent Linn suggested sending out 3 - 4 postcards a year with these tips:
  1. Vary the postcard content each time
  2. Make sure your website is on your postcard
Your website IS your portfolio.  Laurent said that, when he looks at a site, it's not necessary to label your art (i.e. education, mass market, etc.).  However, it is helpful to have your art grouped by "styles".  If you have several styles that you do well, such as watercolor, cartoon, etc., arrange your website according to the style.

Postcards can and will get your work noticed.  This past weekend I learned of a postcard success story.  One of our illustrators was contracted to do a picture book based on a postcard she had sent a year earlier.  Sometimes it takes a while so be patient.

If you are in the SCBWI Carolinas region, we have a "Four Out The Door" postcard initiative.  Send me a jpeg of your postcard and I'll put it on our Carolinas region postcard gallery website.

Get your postcard designs ready!  Next blog post will be tips on building a mailing list, research and submissions.  Until then, do what you do best....YOU DO YOU!


25th Anniversary Conference of SCBWI Carolinas (NC & SC) Part 1

Stories give us more to be human beings with.

~ Gary Schmidt, author 


The 25th Anniversary conference of the SCBWI Carolinas region was RED HOT with an all-star faculty line up.  They, along with over 200 attendees, set the Crowne Plaza Hotel ablaze with newly found purpose and passion.  Still buzzing from the energy I received at the LA SCBWI Conference, I am having a hard time containing the heart fire that filled me up over the weekend.

This post highlights the events that encouraged me and I hope they will do the same for you, too. 

Laurent Linn, Art Director for Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers and Paula Wiseman Books, taught an illustrator intensive, Bringing Your Characters to Life.  He also taught a workshop on Trade Illustration vs. Mass Market.  The following are [my] main takeaways from each:
  • A character needs PURPOSE.
  • Ask yourself - What is the purpose of what I am illustrating/writing. What is the purpose of the book?
  • Don't compare yourself.  No one else is doing what YOU are doing.
  • Create a character that people care about because that character will stay with you.
  • Picture books are "controlled" content that allows children to explore the world in a safe way.
  • Everything is part of the character:  light and shadow, clothing, background. For example, a tree, or cloud, can be drawn with emotional characteristics.
  • Color is part of the character. Use color to connect character to rest of scene.
  • Emotions can show through hair, clothes, posture, etc.
  • The main character tells you how to feel through eyes, facial expression, body language.
  • Clothing/costume - what does it say about your character?
  • Stay away from cliché gestures.
  • Social Media - no one should feel obligated to share their work on social media. Ask yourself - what is the purpose of your social media platform.
  • Your website is your portfolio.
  • Animals - anthropomorphic - the sky is the limit on marketability.
  • Understand your audience.
  • Books for young children - Use sparse backgrounds.  Characters are prominent.
  • Examples of character driven books: I'm Bored by Debbie Ridpath Ohi; Little Cloud and Lady Wind by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison, illustrated by Sean Qualls
  • (Side note:  Read the book On Writing by Stephen King)

Gary Schmidt, two-time winner of the Newbery Honor and a Prinz Honor winner, opened the conference with an inspirational keynote.  The following are a few highlights from his talk:
  • There are 91 million functionally illiterate people in the United States.
  • 40% of schools have no librarian.
  • We know the damage - the effects - of certain situations - and we accept it anyway.
  • His uncle wrote for the children's TV show Captain Kangaroo.
  • The story of Elisha and Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-19).
  • Books show the complexity of our world.
  • Books show us empathy and teach us about other people.
  • All art should ask hard questions. What's the matter? What can I do?
  • Show up despite the brokenness of this world.

There are many more photos and notes to share. For now, I will leave you with my best takeaways...I know my purpose.  I found my direction.  I have a super power that can inspire a child's world.  I can choose to create joy where there is none. I can create characters and write stories that bring empathy into a broken world. I can use my God given gifts to serve others. And no matter how difficult the journey gets, I will show up anyway.

Keep creating.  
Keep showing up. 
Keep doing what you do best...YOU!


Flannel Moose Café...something creative is always brewing!

Flannel Moose Café is my new blog that covers everything creative, including illustration, writing and design.  The tag line, "Something creative is always brewing!" is a catchphrase that describes...well...me!

The idea behind Flannel Moose Café has been brewing for a few years. The bigger picture has been simmering much longer and, hopefully, will be ready soon.

Rather than wait and deliver something in a tidy package (because that's no fun), I am inviting you in to the creative process while I unpack my ideas.

To tell you the truth, it's been a rather busier than normal summer.  Conferences, travel, deadlines...and here it is, the "almost" end of summer.  Nothing really artistically romantic to report, but there have been intentional moments, like those at the SCBWI LA Conference.  Significant snapshots that I will carry for years to come.

Enough about me.  I want to hear about you!  Pull up a chair and I'll grab us a cup of coffee (or whatever your preference).

Tell me about your summer takeaways in the comment section below!