Perfect Pages: Please Bring Balloons


Book: Please Bring Balloons 

Author/Illustrator: Lindsay Ward

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers

Published: 2013

This book was picked up at my recent trip to the bookstore, where I--naturally--walked out with more books then I was supposed to buy. The beautifully lush cover with the spot gloss treatment immediately caught my eye and there was something appealing about the interplay between paint, drawing, and mixed media collage that I couldn't resist. Throughout the book there are many interesting uses of the collage element that can captivate the eye through many readings: math equations, bits of graph paper, postal odds and ends, and to greatest effect, the barely visible maps that reinforce location and story.  

Lindsay's quirky color palette is evident in the spread below and she uses the balloons throughout the story as a playful and whimsical counterpoint to whites and blues. These balloons graphically dance across the pages while providing a surprisingly buoyant anchor-point until we reach the cusp of the story. When the balloons disappear from the pages, we know we have been transported into a new world full of different and just as colorful surprises.

The biggest delight for me was when I looked through the sketchbook on Lindsay's website and discovered the picture book dummy for the book, which made me realize that I missed a crucial part of the book on first read: a double gatefold that reveals a most magical spread! But I can't tell you what is on the spread. You'll just have to open the book and discover it for yourself.

Playful colors, graphic images, paint and delicate linework make this book fun

Playful colors, graphic images, paint and delicate linework make this book fun

DesignerCon booth 422

DesignerCon starts tomorrow! If you're in the Pasedena neighborhood, come check it out. Tickets are $5/day, presale, or $7/day at the door. Stop by my booth and say hi! 

Nightengail Art: booth 422

Don't forget to swing by the booths of some of my friends while you are there: 

Patrick Ballesteros: booth 330

Diana Levin Art: booth 429



Just in time for the show, I've added new art to my illustration gallery: Sad Menagerie, Frolicking Foxes,  and The Visitor . I will have prints of all three of these pieces at the show. 

Mini illustration: Ferret Found

I challenged myself with organic shapes, a limited palette (8 colors), and a surface I've been exploring recently, MDF, and I'm pretty pleased with the results! What do you think?


Karl Gnass' Landscape Sketch Comp

Karl's landscape sketch comp is probably my favorite workshop each year. There's something about the changing seasons (spring and fall) and being out in nature painting with other people that's just relaxing and fun, even when the artwork isn't always cooperating. I try to push myself to focus on something new each time I go, and this year was composition and value. I did notice that I'm more comfortable and confident with my painting when I have an underdrawing then when I try to draw with paint.  

My favorite piece was done on an MDF art panel (medium density fiberboard, which i definitely will be exploring more in my illustration work, since I like how it handles paint and I find I am more confident with a surface that won't easily tear and is not bright white.


tree trunk with no underdrawing

tree trunk with no underdrawing

landscape scene on MDF

landscape scene on MDF

Portfolio Panic

I have been absent from my website/social media for the majority of this month. That's because I'm trying to focus on updates to my portfolio as much as possible right now, in preparation for the SCBWI Summer Conference.

I was lucky enough to win a portfolio review from art director Giuseppe Castellano at the end of May. He had some really useful things to say regarding my portfolio, all of which I agreed with but which also put me in a state of an emotional roller coaster. Some of the many thoughts that went through my head at the start of the month included, "He likes my character designs!", "I have a lot of work ahead!", "Why did I put THAT into my portfolio?", "I'll show him!", "He's totally right, what was I doing there?!", "Two months before the conference is not enough time!", "EEEEK!"

After panicking...then panicking again, I took a step back to try and break my portfolio update down into manageable chunks and take them one step at a time.

Step 1: Analyze missing elements

Some of the improvements that were requested included more work, children/people, more complex illustrations, and more attention to surface textures. 

One of the most important things I felt he mentioned was the lack of STORY in my pieces. I have lots of cute animals, but they just sit there, staring at you. What are they doing? Why are doing it? How do people become emotionally involved in my characters? 

I kept thinking of Pascal Campion's work, which always triggers an emotional response and always tells some kind of story, no matter how simple or how complex the illustration.   

Step 2: Play up strengths

I know my strengths lie with fun and silly characters, so I chose this as my starting point for the overhaul. I have a number of stories that are in my head and in my sketchbook, but nothing felt right yet. I tried a series of fox images and kept reworking them to the point that friends commented, "STILL working on foxes?" I still like the foxes, but I got their point. I put them aside. 

I kept coming back to a giraffe piece that I did, which I always loved the drawing, but I felt the painting was both overworked and underdeveloped at the same time. The character is spot-on but there is no background, he's weirdly fuzzy in a bad way, and I don't know what i was thinking with the placement of the shadows and highlights on the lower right. 


I created a story for him, I gave him a makeover, friends, and a setting. Humorous things will happen; antics will ensue.

Step 3: Work

I've been sketching furiously, working out compositions and character placement so the scenes can work alone and flow with one another. At this point I have 5 pieces in various stages from preliminary sketches to full compositions with tonal values roughed in. I have a month until the conference and plan to be working hard the whole month. 5 pieces = portfolio overhaul, but I want to be sure that the pieces are quality and not rushed. If they are not ready for this conference, I will be ok with that, because I want to give the story the time it deserves. It's worth it. 


Perfect Pages: Up Above and Down Below

Book: Up Above and Down Below

Author/Illustrator: Paloma Valdivia

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Published: 2009; translation: 2011

I found this charming book earlier this year at a bookstore in Santa Cruz. The quirky simplicity of the illustrations and the page layout throughout the book is what appealed to me. That, and the giraffe. So naturally, the perfect pages in the book for me were when I found the giraffe again and realized he was paired with an elephant! What could be better? 

This book uses the concept of two "worlds" to show diversity--the above world and the below world. While the worlds dynamically mirror each other, they are still each unique and different--as unique and different as a giraffe and elephant. Even the placement of the typography is a mirror in a way, with text falling both above and below the central line. Rich in texture, rich in story, rich in simplicity--this is a fun read.


Long Beach Comic Expo Recap

I had a very busy week immediately following the comic expo, so I'm just now getting to my recap of the event. In short, it was GREAT!

We got there at 8 am and it took the whole 2 hours to unpack the car, move stuff inside and set up the table to my liking. There were a few things i would do differently next time:

  • no holders for the business cards, because people just knocked them over anyway. 
  • making sure I have prints of any original art I brought with me. I had prints of one, but not of another that people were particularly interested in.
  • pen and paper signup sheet for my newsletter. I had QR codes, but not many people seemed interested in them.
  • rearranging things on the table so I wasn't blocking my view of the traffic as much.

Things I got right, whether accidentally or intentionally:

  • having prints and buttons. People who did respond to my work responded very well AND wished I had more. Prints and buttons did the best for me.
  • having original art that was on my table instead of behind me...AND putting an impromptu spotlight on the piece with a mini flashlight. So many people stopped to get a look at the art because the lighting made the focal point glow. 
  • doing quick sketches, once I got comfortable drawing in front of people. my first couple of sketches were a bit shaky and hesitant, but then I got into the flow of things and it got easier as the day progressed.

I had a spot right at the entrance in the direct flow of traffic, so I got a lot of people walking by my booth. Because it was a comic expo and my art is not entirely comic-like, I wasn't expecting an overwhelming number of people stopping at my table. Still, I had a fairly steady flow of visitors, and everyone responded well to my art. Multiple people even asked if I had a book available. (the answer is: soon, I hope!)

To everyone who stopped to talk to me, thank you! I wrote down all your requests for different animals and they will appear sooner or later in my art. 

Next stop: SCBWI Summer Conference and entering the portfolio showcase! Time to polish my portfolio.

1-3   Con-Volution   San Francisco
9-10   DesignerCon   Pasedena

Me at my table. On the white crate sat an ipad with a rotating portfolio of my work.

Me at my table. On the white crate sat an ipad with a rotating portfolio of my work.

The start of the sketches I worked on throughout the day. Once I started drawing the fox, I got people really excited about my sketches and I drew many more animals. These are all drawn on MDF squares that were very fun to work on.

The start of the sketches I worked on throughout the day. Once I started drawing the fox, I got people really excited about my sketches and I drew many more animals. These are all drawn on MDF squares that were very fun to work on.

Finished fox sketch that went to a new home.

Finished fox sketch that went to a new home.

Jellyfish sketch that went to a new home. The child who received this had a big smile and his father thought he was more excited about this than the toy they also bought him that day. That was definitely the highlight of the day for me.

Jellyfish sketch that went to a new home. The child who received this had a big smile and his father thought he was more excited about this than the toy they also bought him that day. That was definitely the highlight of the day for me.

dog that went to a new home. 

dog that went to a new home. 

fox that went to a new home. 

fox that went to a new home. 

tiger that went to a new home.

tiger that went to a new home.

A life-sized, working, robotic Wall-e. Definitely my favorite character of the day, although there were some great costumes there.

A life-sized, working, robotic Wall-e. Definitely my favorite character of the day, although there were some great costumes there.

Evolution of a story: part 1

I am not a writer. But that doesn't mean I don't have stories to tell. I think visually and oftentimes what helps me the most in drawing my characters is thinking up a story for them. I have one bad habit, though: I have a tendency to keep adding more and more characters until the next thing I know is that I'm overwhelmed by everything and don't know where to start. Then the project gets put on hold. And lingers, unfinished.

I decided to create a story based on a single word: "hi." I wanted this word to be expressive, showing a range of emotion and to allow me to use my love of typography as part of the illustration as well as the writing. I wrote no other words--writing is scary. Instead I created a character who was created by me being silly: While driving mountain passes with my husband we would often pass people bicycling. I would point them out to my husband, but "bicyclists" does not roll off the tongue smoothly. "Basilisk" flows a bit smoother. I kept saying it. "Bicyclists, basilisk." Without realizing it, I had created my character. 

What do basilisks do? Turn people into stone. How does he make friends? He doesn't. Unless...

I had a story.

I sat down and started to draw, giving myself a hard deadline for completion. After a bit of a piecemeal process of creating these characters, I digitally composited them into a comic format, creating my very first finished story. Its a little clunky, it needs some help, and maybe some more details, but it's more than I had a month ago.


Later this week, a good friend who has worked in animation is going to help me pick apart this comic and offer suggestions for ways to turn this into a better story. A 10-minute talk already helped me think about things with a new light. Not everyone knows mythological characters as well as I apparently do, so I may need to add additional textual queues. But that won't be writing, that will be editing. After all, writing is scary.

Things will change. I'm sure I will get frustrated along the way and want to give up. But I see potential, if I take it slowly. It will be just like designing a book cover: set up comps, elicit feedback, revise, put it away for a bit, come back to it, scratch plan A and go to plan B, elicit feedback, revise until it's final. I can do that.  

Technical difficulties

I took the image I just posted today down for a 5 minute fix, and now the Internet problems we are experiencing right now are making me unable to repost it. Sigh. It will be up again soon.

New(ish) art and my first Society6 print: To the Rescue!

I've posted my very first digital piece to my portfolio gallery! I debuted this piece back in November at Con-Volution, but wasn't entirely satisfied with a few things. After shelving it for a couple of months, I brought it back out, made the needed tweaks, and it's ready for the world.

I enjoyed painting digitally, and I find that I tend to be a bit looser when I work this way. I already have my second digital piece in the works, but since it has 42 characters instead of 2, it might take a bit of time. :)

I've also decided to use this piece to launch my Society6 page. I will slowly be adding more pieces to this site so check back soon to see some of my favorite pieces appearing in the near future.

Long Beach Comic Expo preparations

LBCE is just 2 weekends away! How time flies!! The buttons have arrived, the greeting cards are ordered, and I still need to figure out what prints I'm going to be bringing.

Also, we shall see if I can get anywhere near getting my mini-story project completed in time to showcase there.

I made a sign out of painted foam core and leftover matte board from old framing projects. I sewed all the elements together with twine! The price tags are cut up bits of scraps that I test colors on when painting. I'm doing what I can to repurpose things to cut down on costs, since I have to frame at least 1 more piece of art.


New art: Gotcha!

I posted a small new piece on my illustration page. I did this piece for another coworker's nursery. It is unofficially a portrait of her two white cats, but mostly, I wanted to have fun drawing a cardboard box.

Lots of longer-term projects in the works, so my posting has been a bit slow. Never fear, because I have more nurseries to decorate. Upcoming nursery challenges will include a nautical theme and an outer space/rocket ship theme. So many nurseries, so little time!

gotcha_framed copy.jpg

Perfect Pages: Exclamation Mark

While I thoroughly enjoyed doing my first book review last month, I've been thinking for a while about a slightly different type of review, centered around the visuals of a picture book based on a single spread, the "perfect pages" of each book that capture the essence of the book. I will do my best not to include spoiler pages.

So I will start with a bang! ...or an exclamation!

Book: Exclamation Mark
Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Published: 2013

There was only one possible choice for me when I read this book. While the entire book is sheer genius in its simplicity of design and complexity of concept, I need not go further than the title page--excuse me, title SPREAD--to find my perfect pages. You can't not love an 18-inch exclamation mark! This is honed simplicity at its finest, and it is carried on through the entire book, to the very last page that you won't want to miss.

The author-illustrator duo uses a make-the-rules/break-the-rules placement of both words and pictures to ensure that the reader vividly experiences exactly what the characters experience as the story grows. This is a story teaching both punctuation and individuality in a boldly visual way. Parents can happily read it to their children knowing that it is educational as well as it is fun!


New art: Chomp!

I've added a new art to my illustration gallery. It was based on a sketch I did back in January that i particularly liked and wanted to see how much further I could push it. It ended up being a very interesting study in technique and style.

Here are the two pieces side-by-side:

original sketch

original sketch

finished illustration

finished illustration

There are definitely elements I love about them both.

Original sketch: graphicly simple. The tugboat registers very distinctly, without any excessive shading/highlighting and the monster is large, but the angle of his face makes his mouth a smile as well as a chomp, so he is friendlier from the get-go. The toned paper offers an interesting take on all the colors, and there is something interesting about the ocean having very distinct marks of color.

Finished illustration: vibrant, dynamic angle, interesting textures. I love the tentacles and I achieved my goal of distinct edges and losing edges in some parts of the sea monster. The glow in the water is very nice as well. I like the sky, but in combination with the water it is VERY blue. The candy was added as a last-minute touch after a suggestion by twitter art friend @CarlShinyama. With the new angle on the mouth, the kraken was looking too scary and this added an amusing, off-the-wall element to the picture that takes it to a new level. My least favorite part would probably be the smoke stack, which is not as boldly black as the original sketch.

Which one is your favorite?

February Faces Recap

February is over! I admit I am breathing a sigh of relief, because trying to figure out WHAT to draw every day while still trying to challenge yourself with things you haven't drawn before for 28 days straight is tough! Don't believe me? Try it next year with me when I do it all again. I'm just glad I chose the shortest month of the year!

This challenge was a great success for me. I have at least 3 projects that I will be developing more as a direct result of these sketches. My favorite, by far, is the crowd of animals that showed up at days 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 14! They feel like ME, they were a lot of fun and I kept wanting to draw more! There were 43 of those animals in total, so with that evolving sketch alone, I exceeded 28 faces in 28 days. I don't feel bad that some days the faces were very quick, or more graphic than drawn, or kinda sloppy. I think that adds to the project, since it's supposed to take you out of your comfort zone anyway. 

If I have to pick a fave that is NOT the menagerie of animals, I think it's the knitting squirrel on day 16. He's cool.

Well over 28 faces in 28 days!

Well over 28 faces in 28 days!