Tiny, Little Decisions

Close up of a freckled girl with wide blue eyes looking at an enlarged honey bee gathering pollen in light pink flowers.

Artists make a thousand little decisions every moment they are creating. 

My first draft of this illustration was too huge. It was, in fact, enormous. My decision to get close up was okay, but the magnification was gratuitous (the paper was 18×24). At the suggestion of a skilled colleague, I pulled back a bit.

My next sketch was closer to the feeling I wanted. The eyes are wide in surprise or perhaps awe. But the mouth was too dark near the bee. The girl almost looks like she’s kissing it instead of observing from a distance. I needed to pull back on the contrast in the girl’s face to bring the bee forward.

Though my experience is with traditional media, I thought I’d give digital coloration a shot with this pencil drawing. I would be able to pull back the contrast in the girl’s face to make the bee more of the focus. I liked it. A lot. 

But then I painted the drawing with watercolor and thought the result was much more appealing. Now the digitally colorized image looked flat to me. The girl’s face in the watercolor was more contoured and I absolutely fell in love with the color pencil freckles I added. But there was something about that digital image that still pulled everything together.

After discussing it with my colleague, we decided that the gold color wash in the digital image was an art decision that made the composition more cohesive. This could be applied to the watercolor as well. I used a photo Filter Layer in Photoshop to give the whole image a unified glow and I increased the contrast in the features of the girl’s face with the Photoshop Burn Tool. Now she was more the focus of the image but without diminishing the importance of the bee. 

The end result made me very happy. I just love that freckly little face.

Deep Thoughts: The Hero of Your own Story

You know that book you love? Remember that evil character in it that you really despise? Do they think they are the bad character? No. They do not see themselves as the heartless tyrant, the slinking coward, the greedy manipulator, the guilt-ridden critic, or even the plucky sidekick. Everyone is the HERO of their own story!

No one has an objective view of their own narrative. When you analyze your own story, be sure to do it honestly. Maybe you are the plucky sidekick. What’s wrong with that? Everyone loves that character! Just be sure you’re not those other characters who think they are noble or brave with a “high and lonely calling,” but everyone reading the story properly can see that they are just the pits! Don’t be that one.

Likewise, when creating a story, your antagonist should not be aware that they are wicked. They need to think they are in someway righteous, doing what they do for “the greater good” and believing that the end justifies the means. Those are the most evil (and believable) characters. A sliver of truth deceiving them into believing the lie that they are virtuous.

Also, don’t be that character.

Sketch to Finish

I set out to paint a boy at the beach that just noticed an unfortunate change in the weather. Here is the sketch I started with.

Sketches are rendered loosely and I often like them better than the finished product. There is just more life and movement in the line. This one is no exception. I love his fat little hands. But his jaw is a little too square and head a bit small for the age I was shooting for.

Here’s the final painting:

In this image, the boy’s face is rounder and a bit larger making him look younger. I am disappointed that his chubby toddler hands didn’t translate from the sketch, but I’m happy with the sky. I also think the boy looks a bit more surprised at the change in the weather. That’s what happens when you’re having so much fun!

What Eric Fan thinks of Penguin Set’s Sail

“I’ve always loved penguins, and sea voyages, and I loved this book! A delightfully illustrated wordless story that says a lot with a little: the value of curiosity over complacency, the joy of travel and the friendships we forge along the way; how new experiences enrich and change us, so that when we finally return home we’re not quite the same person (or penguin) we were before we left.”

—Eric Fan

Eric Fan is an award-winning author/illustrator. He and his brother Terry have illustrated a number of enchanting books, including Ocean Meets Sky. I’m so honored that a creator of such magical stories thinks well of something I’ve made.

Ocean Meets Sky is everything that I’ve yearned for in a picture book since I was a kid. Finn, the main character, goes on a fantastic oceanic journey after the loss of his grandfather, a seasoned sailor. The illustrations are dreamy, especially the image of Finn sailing at night above his giant fish-companion and several enormous glowing jellyfish. My dad was a shell-collector, sub-mariner, and teller of tall tales. The whole book brought back good memories of him. 

I’d like to think that Penguin and Finn from Eric’s book will meet on the open waters someday. I believe they’d be friends.

Little Mouse Finds a Friend by Jeni Leidenfrost and Jessica Linn Evans

Here is a simply lovely review of Little Mouse Finds A Friend.

The Picture Book Review

[Review Copy Courtesy of Jovial Press]

Little Mouse Cover

Here’s a sweet picture book about a small mouse that finds and adopts a caterpillar as a pet. Little Mouse Finds a Friend‘s characters are charming, it is beautifully illustrated, and the factual information is memorable and interesting.

pg6 From Little Mouse Finds a Friend by Jeni Leidenfrost and Jessica Linn Evans. Image Courtesy of Jessica Linn Evans.

We meet Little Mouse one day as he is getting ready to head outside and play. No one else in his family is interested in joining him, so he heads off by himself. After meeting up with a friend and admiring his friend’s pet ladybug, he literally stumbles upon an ideal pet for himself: a caterpillar.

pg10-11spread From Little Mouse Finds a Friend by Jeni Leidenfrost and Jessica Linn Evans. Image Courtesy of Jessica Linn Evans.

It’s at this point in the story that you’ll find, for…

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Story time and drawing demo at Auntie’s Bookstore

Author Jeni Leidenfrost and I had a blast during Story Time at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane on Saturday. Our time started off with Jeni reading Little Mouse Finds a Friend to a wide age range of readers. Jeni also introduced the Braille versions* of Little Mouse and some of the young readers got a chance to touch and see what Braille feels like under their fingers.

After the reading, we passed out paper, crayons, and clipboards provided by Auntie’s. Then I began to demonstrate how to draw Little Mouse with several easy shapes, like a lemon (for his head) and a moon (for his mouth). The finished drawing went to one of the readers and I drew another one for a little pre-reader who came to Story Time for her birthday treat.

It was such a delightful morning. Auntie’s is a wonderful place for children to learn to love reading!

*The full Braille version, with descriptions of the illustrations, are now available on Amazon!


Making picture books more accessible

The more children that can enjoy picture books the better. Right?

I’m so pleased to have illustrated two books that are involved in making picture books accessible to more children.

Little Mouse Finds A Friend is a mix of story and science and follows the life cycle of the Atlas moth. The author, Jeni Leidenfrost, has created audio descriptive readings for the visually impaired to be able to enjoy the illustrations. There are also Braille books available with the descriptive reading text. There are over 1.3 million visually impaired people in the U.S. This is perhaps the first time this resource has been made available to parents and children with this special need.

Solar The Polar is a story about the friendship between a snowboarding polar bear and a paraplegic adaptive sit-skier. This story is about snow safety and enjoying life with a disability. Author, Kim Constantinesco, is the Editor-in-Cheif of Purpose 2 Play, telling inspiring sports stories of athletes overcoming obstacles. The publisher, MacLaren Cochrane Publishing, is making Solar The Polar available in both a regular font and a special dyslexic font making it easier to read for children with dyslexia.

If you haven’t got all your Christmas shopping done, make sure you pick up one of the books by these fantastic authors!

Little Mouse goes to Haiti

My friend Ryan goes to Haiti on a regular basis to an island that does not have electricity or running water and helps the children and animals there. She travels down and gives the children and livestock immunization shots and has been instrumental in helping build a school on the island. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The Haitians rely heavily on their livestock to accomplish daily tasks. A 90 lb. donkey will carry 120 lbs. of water up hill from the river to the village. The saddles used on these donkeys are very primitive and most of the donkeys have terrible saddle sores that often get infected. Ryan treats the wounds and helps to guard the animals against infection. She is an incredible lady!

She always takes down care packages to the children donated by local philanthropists. And this year she also took copies of Little Mouse Finds A Friend to share with the children. So Little Mouse has gone international and I couldn’t be happier about where he’s landed. Thank you Ryan for all you do.

And Little Mouse thanks you too!