Thursday, August 11, 2016

Building Your Picture Book Community

As the saying goes, it takes a village. The same can be said when it comes to crafting the perfect picture book. Thus, it’s worth taking the time and care to build and nurture a personal picture book community.

A picture book community can be any shape or size. It can be an intimate gathering of close friends or an online forum of writers/illustrators from around the world. It can be a place where you gain feedback on your personal projects or a place where people discuss industry trends. 

Whatever the form, a community of like-minded picture books lovers will inspire, encourage, and push you towards artistic success!

Here are a few tips on how to start and nurture your own picture book community:


Many have asked, “How do I form a critique group or get more involved in my picture book community?” Try attending your regional SCBWI events. They have many intimate gatherings where you can connect with like-minded authors/illustrators. Your local college or bookstore may also offer writing or illustration classes, where you can collaborate with picture book lovers, too. If you want to branch out even further, try attending one of the larger children’s book conferences in your area. At first, the number of attendees may be intimidating, but it’s a good way to quickly broaden your connections!

Taking Initiative

When you attend events, be prepared! Bring plenty of business cards and exchange contact information with people you meet. After each event, take the time to follow up with your contacts and build your network from there! Once you have built a list of contacts, take initiative. Organize a casual gathering at your local bookstore or coffee shop. There, you can chat and learn about each other’s personal picture book goals. Are you starting out and learning about the picture book industry? Are you a seasoned author/illustrator who wants to hone your craft with career professionals? Do you want to self-publish or work on submitting your work to agents/publishers? If you find that your goals are similarly aligned, then perhaps you’ve just found members for your own picture book community!


The best way to build momentum is to stay consistent. Set up a consistent time and place where your group will meet. Perhaps it’s the first Saturday of every month at your local library. Perhaps it’s once a week at a group member’s house. By establishing a routine, your group can plan and make time for each meeting. It also helps foster commitment to your group and your craft.

Receiving Feedback

When asking for feedback from your group, be specific. Depending on where you are in your process, too much feedback may become confusing or intimidating. Let your group know what you’re working on and what kind of feedback you’d like. Are you stuck on a plot point and asking for a no holds barred brainstorm? Are you fine tuning your manuscript and asking them to recommend minor tweaks? The more you inform your group, the better they will be at providing the feedback that you need.

Giving Feedback

The sandwich method (positive -> constructive -> positive) is a great structure to use when giving feedback to your fellow group members. It will encourage and help them grow at the same time. Once again, be specific. If you don’t like a passage or design, explain why. It will inform how they revise and improve their work. Above all, be kind. Sharing your work is a very personal and intimate process. Think about how you would like to receive feedback, and provide feedback to others in a similar manner.

Field Trips

Sometimes, it’s inspiring and fun to go on field trips with your picture book community! Grab your notebooks/sketchbooks and visit a local museum. Check out the zoo, a hiking trail, or a play. Contact local publishers and ask for a tour. By going on field trips, your group will begin to share experiences and form stronger connections. You’ll start referring to your shared experiences when giving feedback to each other.  Furthermore, these experiences will bring inspiration and energy to your picture book process.

Establishing Goals

It’s important to establish goals and milestones with your critique group or community. Share your progress with them and identify what you hope to accomplish each week or month. Stay connected via a Facebook group or forum, where people can ask specific questions about their work or share informative articles. By sharing these goals and milestones, you become more accountable and thus, are more likely to achieve them!

As you can see, there are many strategies and methods you can use to help build and nurture a personal picture book community. It takes commitment and care, but the benefits are boundless!

If you're in the SF Bay Area and want to expand your personal picture book community, check out Picture Book Surgery. I host these events with my friend Diana Toledano. They're fun and a great way to meet fellow picture book lovers. Hope to see you there!

Note: All images were acquired from Pixabay, a great Public Domain resource!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Siblings and Sandcastles

Perhaps it's not always the best idea to build sandcastles with your siblings! I made this illustration for a workshop in Oakland and I had a lot of fun creating the story line.

For the workshop, I also created a model sheet of the two characters to figure out their anatomy:

You might recognize the girl from my "Sisters" series. I've really enjoyed exploring the many facets of her personality and have honed the look of her features over time :).

If you want to try your hand at adding some color to this sad sandcastle scene, here's a free coloring page as well!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Results: Arbor Day Coloring Contest

Hi all,

Sorry for the long hiatus. I've been writing and illustrating up a storm :) I thought I'd share the results of the Arbor Day Coloring Contest:
First Place: Mahdy Muratov, 2nd Grade

2nd Place: Megan Tian, 2nd Grade

3rd Place: Memphis Gray, 3rd Place
I love how everyone took a unique approach to coloring the scene. I also enjoyed the creative details (sunglasses, stars, shading). As promised, I sent each winner some goodies:

The first place winner got an original drawing:

Congratulations again to all the winners and I hope everyone had a great Arbor Day :) Once again, if you'd like to try your hand at coloring your own version, here's a blank version of the coloring page:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

GIVEAWAY + Lake Oswego Arbor Day Coloring Contest

Lake Oswego is celebrating their 25th year as a Tree City USA. In celebration of Arbor Day, they commissioned me to design a coloring page for their annual art contest.

I'd also like to leave this contest open to my readers. Print out the coloring page above, color it any way you'd like, and share your work of art in the comments below. At the end of April, I'll select a winner and send an envelope full of goodies to you :).

For inspiration, here were last year's winners:

Aren't they amazing? Here's a close up of some their wonderful coloring skills:

So get to it! Celebrate Arbor Day with some coloring and we'll see who gets the prize at the end of the month!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Silly McGilly Visits Schools!

Silly McGilly has been very busy indeed as St. Patrick's Day approaches.

He visited several schools in Bayonne, New Jersey and it's safe to say that the students and faculty embraced Silly with open arms :)
Coloring pages from the Silly McGilly website were put to good use!

Kids created their own renditions of Silly :)

This wall was jazzed up with a giant pot of gold and some very handsome construction paper dolls.
Miss DeSimone, a teacher for 40 years, received a special t-shirt from Silly at Midtown Community School.

In her class, Silly McGilly got to meet the Cat in the Hat. I'm so jealous!
These images are the main reason why I love-love-love creating picture books. You get to see your characters come to life in the hearts of little ones. You get to see them practice and embrace creative storytelling. It makes all the hard work worth it in my book :).

This is great stuff and I have to give a shout out to the publishers for spreading Silly's cheer! You can see what else Silly's been up to on his Facebook FanPage.

Remember, if you join in the Silly fun, just email me your purchase order and I will mail you a personalized sketch. Here's an example:
Also, if you have any Silly McGilly art to share, please let me know and I'll make sure to write a post. You can find worksheets and activities at for inspiration.

Until next post, Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 3, 2014

FREE Giveaway + More Silly News!

Hi all,

Just checking in with more Silly McGilly news.

First of all, you have a chance to win your own Silly McGilly doll and book from the fabulous blogger Miss Kindergarten's giveaway contest:

There's one day left in the giveaway, so be sure to enter soon :).

Secondly, Real Simple Online has featured Silly McGilly on their website too!

I love seeing Silly's adorable spirit being shared by so many people. The publishers deserve a big shout-out for wonderful PR power!

I hope you can join me in celebrating this Patrick's Day tradition with your loved ones as well. Remember, if you email me your purchase order for a Silly McGilly book, I will mail you a personalized sketch.

Until next post, luck and laughter to all of you!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Silly McGilly: My Illustration Process

Hi all,

I thought I'd share a bit of my process in creating the illustrations for Silly McGilly.
Here is a spread where Silly celebrates St. Patrick's Day at a Leprechaun Hooley. As you can see, it takes a lot of passes to create a finished illustration. Let's start at the beginning!

First, I received the manuscript from the authors, which was basically the text of the story with suggested page breaks.

I printed out the manuscript and read it several times. The whimsical text of this story gave me a lot of inspiration, so as I read, I began doodling possible image and composition ideas for each page. Once I had at least a few ideas for each spread, I started storyboarding the book with rough sketches:
As you can see, the sketches were mostly undefined. I was mainly trying to figure out how the text and images would interact with each other. Once these sketches were approved by the publisher, I moved onto a more detailed pencil work of the Hooley scene:
The final pencil lines became a pretty accurate blueprint for the next stages of illustration work. In Photoshop, I added red lines to accommodate for cropping, bleeds, and the page gutter. When I liked where everything was placed, I moved onto hand-inking the lines.
Finally, I scanned in the inked lines and added color in Photoshop, with a pastel-like brush:

Then voila: a rousing, musical, and fun-filled Leprechaun Hooley scene!

I hope this brought some insight into how Silly McGilly was created :). St. Patrick's Day is coming soon, so click on the link to get a Silly McGilly of your very own! Remember, if you message me with your order of a book, I will send you a free Silly sketch as a thank you gift.