Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What’s News with Me: You Are Not a Cat…

…and neither am I, but they are really fun to draw.

I just finished the first round of sketches for You Are Not a Cat, the first picture book by Sharon G. Flake to be published by Boyds-Mills Press. Best known for her multiple award-winning young adult novels such as The Skin I’m In, Money Hungry, and Begging for Change, Sharon is a real superstar in the world of children’s literature. So as exasperated as this little cat might look, it’s no reflection on my current mood—I’m having a great time.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Making of a Cover: The Wrong Side of the Bed

Legendary librarian, teacher, and children’s book advocate John Schu (aka @MrSchuReads in the twittersphere) was kind enough to unveil the front cover of The Wrong Side of the Bed on his blog the other day. Written by Lisa M. Bakos and illustrated by yours truly, the book is scheduled for release by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on March 8, 2016.

It’s been a long time in the making. In fact, next week marks two years since I was first approached about illustrating Lisa’s hilarious text. As anyone in publishing knows, that’s just how things go sometimes. But hip, hip, hooray!—today I turned in the last bit of art for the book, the endpapers.

Anyway, I’m thrilled to have the chance to show off the front cover, and since you’ll have to wait a bit longer for a view of the interiors, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a bit of the cover-making process.

first thumbnail sketches

The first challenge was fitting all ten characters in the story onto the jacket. As you can see above, I tried a couple of variations, with the main character surrounded by, or next to the rowdy group of animals with whom she contends. But none of these really seemed to convey enough mayhem. (One note: even though the sketch on the lower right didn’t make it as a cover, I used a similar arrangement for the endpapers.)

For the second round of sketches, my fabulous Art Director, Cecilia Yung thought that a bed should be used as a component coming in between the main character and the animals—to literally show her on the wrong side of the bed. I had been worried that such a static element might be too dull, but I tried it anyway. Here’s what I came up with, and I even worked it up into several finished variations. We thought we were there, but...

from the second round of sketches
a color finish
It turned out, this worked much better as a black and white sketch than a full-color illustration. So it was back to the drawing board. Our book designer, Annie Ericsson had the brilliant idea of using the bed as a graphic element, rather than making it too realistic. In this option, she suggested hiding the main character under the blankets, thus accentuating the craziness of the animals, who could be peaking over the top.

I loved the idea, and ran with it. As you can see in the first sketch below, on the left side—which would have been the back of the jacket—I pushed things a little too far with the farting penguins (note the dazed and repulsed hippopotamus). As all good art directors do, Cecilia reined me in just a tiny bit. That’s what you see in the final sketch, and in the finished cover.

jacket sketch, third round

final jacket sketch
The Wrong Side of the Bed hits bookshelves in March, but it’s currently available for pre-order through the Penguin Random House website. Thanks for reading, if you made it this far!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Summery Summary

Since my last update to this page, I was on the brink of finishing a year-long marathon of picture book painting. Today I’m happy to report, it’s pretty much done. 

Zora’s Zucchini comes out first, this August, just in time for the bounty from your own garden. I’ve added a new section to my website, where you can get a few peeks at the illustrations. The image above, of Zora’s neighborhood, is one of my favorites.

Zora is also available for pre-order, if you are so inclined.  

Today, I spent the better part of my day looking over proofs for A Big Surprise for Little Card, due out in February 2016. The designer geek in me is thrilled that this will be my first book printed on uncoated stock. Thanks Candlewick!

Now it’s onto the next project—I’ve started sketching a picture book written by the great Sharon G. Flake, to be published by Boyds-Mills Press late next year. But more on that in a future post. 

Next week I begin my month-long teaching gig at the School of Visual Art Summer Residency in Illustration. It was such a rewarding experience last year, and I hope to share some of my students’ work here in the coming weeks.

Happy Summer to you!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What’s News with Me . . .

It’s been a busy spring at my drawing board, which explains the silence on this page. Here are a few of the things that I have brewing…

Once again, I’ll be teaching illustration at the School of Visual Arts Summer Residency in June. There’s still time to apply, if you are making summer plans, and would like to study with a great group of industry professionals (led by the venerable Viktor Koen) while exploring New York City. For more information, click here.

Simple Machines received a terrific review from Booklist. Here’s a favorite tidbit: “The charming illustrations, featuring children, adults, and even a cat, enhance the impact of the message by depicting a small community going about their lives and using simple machines to make work easier.” You can order Simple Machines here.
Cue the confetti drop! The final art for A Big Surprise for Little Card by Charise Harper is done! I’m really excited about this book, due out in spring 2016 from World Rat Day publisher, Candlewick Press. What a pleasure it was working with Charise, art director Ann Stott, and editor Mary Lee Donovan.

Also due out in spring 2016, is The Wrong Side of the Bed, by Lisa M. Bakos, to be published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, with pictures by me. It’s a hilarious story about a thoroughly bad day, with an equally hilarious resolution. When I turn in the art, I’m certain I’ll be doing something like this guy here.

And last, but not least—due out this fall will be Zora’s Zucchini, my second collaboration with Sylvia’s Spinach author Katherine Pryor, to be published by Readers to Eaters. It has been a long, dreary winter in New York City this year, so having some bright summer colors on my desk is kind of nice. Also, a good reminder to eat my veggies.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I’m very happy to announce that SIMPLE MACHINES has been named a Junior Library Guild Selection. Now if I could just find the other pin I received for THINGS THAT FLOAT… I could fashion myself a fine set of earrings.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Simple Machines — now available

Did you know that your teeth are wedges? Or that a screw is just an inclined plane wrapped around a straight metal nail? Until I started working on this project, I hadn’t given it much thought. But, wow!

The second collaboration between the prolific David A. Adler and me is now available. SIMPLE MACHINES explains the workings of wedges, wheels, levers, pulleys in our everyday lives, and how they make little tasks easier.

As with our award-winning THINGS THAT FLOAT AND THINGS THAT DON’T, I created a simple visual story that takes place behind the scenes of the main text. Below are a few of my favorite images, and detail of a character who doesn’t play much of a role other than to amuse me.

Thanks again to the lovely folks at Holiday House for creating this fun and rewarding partnership of words and pictures.