July 21, 2018

house from above
House from above, late 90s (watercolor and colored pencil on cold-presses illustration board)

In a previous blog I wrote that I sometimes have very vivid dreams about houses—walking through the different rooms in each night’s very distinct structure. This house was never the stuff of an actual dream. It is a compilation of little clapboard coated farm-style houses I used to drive past when we lived in Paso Robles. I remember wanting to create the most luxurious color possible for this “dreamy” house and landscape. My goal was to saturate the cold pressed illustration board with deep color and suggested 3-D texture from watercolor and Prismacolor pencils. Also, I was intrigued with the idea of looking at my farmhouse fantasy from above, as if seeing it in a dream (a kind of bird’s eye view). I remember getting some of my son’s wooden blocks and stacking them into a kind of two story house. That way I could use the three-dimensional model as a reference to get the angle I wanted while sketching. Once I got the pencil sketch down I scrubbed in the dark shadow colors with Prismacolor colored pencil—starting with indigo blue for the spots in deepest and darkest shadow. Next came a layer of diluted watercolor color, then more Prismacolor and then a layer of watercolor. I did this over and over, with layer upon layer of waxy colored pencil then watercolor. I don’t remember how many layers of pigment are here, but there are a lot. To help speed up the process I used a small hand held hair dryer to dry the watercolor so I could add the colored pencil—a trick I learned a while ago from another scientific illustrator. But even though the hair dryer helped to dry the paint more quickly it definitely took a long time to layer the colored pencil and watercolor. This is because I applied the various pigments while looking through a hand lens so I could look closely at the surface of the illustration board—ensuring the most complete and even color coverage. It was quite a process.

I liked this house so much that when it was finished I had it framed and hung it up in my bedroom. (Later a friend saw it, bought it and now it hangs on his hall wall.) Just about the time I was working on the house, I got an idea for a children’s picture book, where such a structure featured heavily in the narrative. From beginning to end, I worked on the art and a picture book idea from the late 90s to early 2000s.

white house from above1
Farm house from above, late 90s (watercolor and colored pencil on cold press illustration board)

Writing a picture book

In a previous post (August 2017) I have mentioned that I worked as a writer/editor of math and science textbooks, as well as teacher resource materials. That kind of publishing is known as “Educational Publishing.” But there was a kind of publishing that I was dying to be part of, and that is known as “Trade Publishing.” Trade publishing is really what most people think of when looking at books for a general audience, with some specifically targeted to adults and the rest for the juvenile market. I even belonged to a couple writing groups—one that met in Cambria once a week, focusing on trade books (mostly novels) for adults and a “Kiddie Writer’s” group that met once a month. I only went to couple of the meetings in Cambria. At that time my son was pretty little and it was hard for me to get away once a week and drive the 30 miles (60 miles round trip) to Cambria from Paso Robles. But for some reason the Kiddie Writer’s group just worked for me. Maybe it’s because they met only once a month or maybe it’s because I just had a better “vibe” with those women. Whatever the actual “long ago” reason I became a regular at Kiddie Writer’s. I remember very clearly the first meeting I attended. It was in Paso Robles at Juddi Morris’s house—just a mile or two from me. Juddi was known mostly for her non-fiction books. Some of those titles include: “At Home with the Presidents,” “The Harvey Girls: The Women Who Civilized the West,” “Tending the Fire: The Story of Maria Martinez” and “Route 66, the Main Street of America.” A couple of the writers also did non-fiction, but most wrote fiction for various trade publications. It was fun to learn about the different kinds of fiction that could be considered when writing for children (e.g. young adult novels, chapter books and picture books, not to mention short stories and poetry that could be written for children’s magazines.) But with that first meeting at Juddi Morris’s house I was hooked.

So, while I was a full-time mom of a very active boy I made a living writing/editing educational material. But, also during that same time I squeezed in time to write and illustrate picture books, often with my son as the main character. When I initially came up with the idea for this post I thought I might list some of the titles of some of my books, but decided it would be too depressing as not one of my picture book stories ever got published. I had a couple serious “picture book” nibbles, but nothing ever came of it. (I just remembered that I did share a piece of art and page-by-page text of a picture book idea called “Penguins Count” August 26, 2017. And I did write and illustrate stories for the parents of young children in a local magazine, so it wasn’t all that dismal.)

However, I decided to share one other picture book story here and as you can see this second piece of art (rough sketch) is taken directly from my original dream house at the start of this post. I added some characters (living things) to the farm and turned it into the opening pages (called a spread) of a story about a boy and his mom that move to a farm/vineyard with the mom’s parents. The characters you see here include: the mom and her young son (sitting on the swing on the front porch), blackbirds (on the roof), some goats (in a pen), a couple hens (scratching for seeds in the yard) and a patch of sunflowers (at the back of the house). It was so fun to look back at the art and story I had envisioned.

So, I decided this story isn’t going to end here. Oh no! With my recent renewed vigor and interest in this story, I scanned all the thumbnails (small black and white sketches) for the whole story and plan to publish it in my next post. Stay tuned…

Another Special Kiddie Writer Friend

There were a number of Kiddie Writers, besides Juddi Morris, that I got to know over the years. And it was always fun to catch up with what all those wonderful writers were working on every time we saw each other. But there was one writer who truly became one of my most treasured friends, and that was Lori Fisher Peelen. I think our friendship started out because we were creative moms with busy young boys at home. She had a son the same age as mine, and was expecting her third boy when we first met. I think we enjoyed the stories we wrote and shared at Kiddie Writers, but we also really liked spending time together, just talking. And you know someone is a good and treasured friend when you can talk about everything—the good and bad, and everything in between. We certainly did that as we shared our dreams, along with big concerns and some tears, but we also shared a lot of laughter. So, now it’s time to remember all of her wonderful writing and say that I recently found out that Lori has had a book published. It is called “Big Fish Dreams,” and it’s illustrated by Consie Powell.

Lori, it’s so hard to believe our young boys have grown up, but not hard to believe they have grown into nice young men. Congratulations on your book. So happy for you. Some dreams do come true!


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