Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Beginnings of a Picture Book

Welcome to my series about the Picture Book Process!
Note: To start at the beginning of the series, please visit this post: Why Picture Books?

Today, I want to talk about beginnings.

You dived into sources of inspiration and you came up with an idea and a direction for your picture book.

Now what?

Beginning a picture book is often difficult. You stare at a blank page, not sure what to draw or write. What's the voice going to be like? What colors should I use? Should the writing be minimal and poetic? Should it be lyrical and loquacious? Should it be in first or third person? Should, should should. . ahhh!

One of my critique group members, Angela, once gave me some sage advice that she read in the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott:

It was: Write that sh**ty first draft!
You're going to be writing many drafts afterward, so don't worry about mistakes, grammar or punctuation. Don't worry about perfect anatomy and a defined style. Just create. . and embrace the fact that your first draft is not going to be your best work. That will come in the 10th, 14th, 20th draft.

For me, I learned a trick from Kathryn Otoshi. It's called POST-ITS!
This is the entire book of Good Day/Bad Day on five pages of normal printer paper. I've found many advantages to laying out my story using Post-Its: 
  • Post-Its force you to work small, so you don't labor over details.
  • If a line/image isn't to your liking, you can easily replace the post-it with a new one, without disrupting the page order.
  • You can rearrange pages to help with the pacing of your book.
  • You can see the flow and rhythm of your picture book at a glance. Are you devoting too little time to the climax? Are you spending too much time introducing your character? These are all questions that can be answered when you look at your story from a bird's eye view.

If you don't draw, no worries. Just lay out the text. The Post-Its force you to make room for the illustrations. If your entire post-it is full of text, it probably means you've written too much. 
For instance, this page:

 Eventually became this:

For that first spread, I wanted to give the faces space and size so the different emotions made an impact. Too much text would have lessened the effect.

By the way, if you need extra help organizing your thoughts on post-its, my friend Rachelle's Storyboard Sticky Jots leaves space for text, images, and labels. How handy is that?

So there you go.
Use post-its, scribble in your sketchbook, type away. Just write that sh**ty first draft.
You may realize that a picture book may not be the best form for your story but hey, you'll never know until you begin.

For my next post, I'll be talking about Feedback and Critique Groups. Until then, happy writing/drawing!

Monday, July 29, 2013


Welcome to my series about the Picture Book Process!
Note: To start at the beginning of the series, please visit this post: Why Picture Books?

Today I want to talk about Inspiration.

Inspiration - in most cases- does not come from thin air.

Inspiration usually comes from many sources. 
These sources are often little moments or emotions that you catch during the day. Maybe it's a piece of artwork, a film, a poem, a song that you experience. Maybe it's a person you meet who you respect and/or loath. Maybe it's watching a kid battling with the elements to finish that gosh darn sand castle.

These snippets of sources simmer. . and simmer. . and simmer. Until they slowly meld into an idea. . .
an idea for a picture book.

That's inspiration.

I'm currently working on a book called Good Day/Bad Day. 

The inspiration for this story came from many sources. Here are a few:
Morose Molly Rose
This is an image I drew many years ago. . .it expresses the "I don't care" feeling that often takes over many of us in life. As an example, think of Maurice Sendak's Pierre:
Yup, that's the feeling.
Morose Molly Rose became a poem, which then became a picture book that never quite hit the mark for me. So I put her story away. . but her character stayed with me as I wrote and created other books.

Troubled Kids
I've worked in elementary education for about 10 years: as an educator, learning designer, consultant, and writer. I have come across many the troubled kid and on more than one occasion, these kids would just say straight out: 

"Ms. Charlotte, I'm having a bad day."
They were always correct in their observations. 

The worst was seeing these kids turn a not so good day into a horrible one. They'd start off in a sullen mood, and then, through actions and decisions of their very own, end the day completely frustrated, angry, and sad. By then, emotions were out of control, people were hurt, and the pain of helping them repair the havoc they created was always hard to bear. I wanted to write a story to help kids take charge of their bad days. . .and turn them into something more positive.

So those are just two sample sources of inspiration for my book Good Day/Bad Day 

How do you get inspired? Is it working with kids? Is it immersing yourself in different forms of art (film, paintings, books, performance)? Is it getting your hands dirty with clay or just taking a long shower to relax those creative muscles?

Harvest from your resources and let them simmer simmer simmer. Before you know it, inspiration will hit and you'll have a picture book idea. A direction!  

Next up: The Beginnings of a Picture Book (i.e., how I turn inspiration into words and pictures)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Why Picture Books?

Sorry I've been remiss about updating. As always, along with a few projects, I've been busy illustrating, writing, reading, discussing, and celebrating picture books. . .weeee!

For awhile now, I've been wanting to use this blog to talk more thoroughly about how much I've learned, experienced, and grown during my adventures in the picture book world. Thus, this will not be a normal blog post. I want to take you on a journey and like many good journeys, this one begins with a pretty big (and long!) step.

So here's that first step: Why Picture Books?

Mac Barnett , a well known picture book author, has said that picture books are a form, not a genre. The sky's the limit when it comes to what you can express within the pages of a picture book. However, he stresses that picture books are a marriage of images and words. In a good picture book, the words cannot tell the entire story and neither can the images. It is a combination of the two that creates the magic of visual storytelling.

So Why Picture Books? My critique group, the Picturesques, recently discussed this. . why do we choose this form to share our stories? Why do we keep writing/drawing/creating, despite all the hurdles one must surpass to get published in the picture book world?

The answer is different for everyone, but this is mine: the form of picture books allows me to share those universal and emotional truths that can be understood by anyone, at any age. Great picture books grow with you. . .their meanings change as you solidify into the person you're meant to be. Here are a few books that, to this day, affect me greatly and deeply:

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Oh my, how this book moves me with its simple black and white drawings. As a child, I remember thinking that the tree was "very nice." Now, as an adult, I see this book as the ultimate example of true unconditional love. My fellow Picturesques member, Ben Peterson, is equally moved by this book, but in a different way . . .the one-sided relationship bothers him greatly and the unappreciative boy/man irks him to no end. Over 50 years later, and this book still makes children and adults react in so many different ways. Bravo, Silverstein. Bravo.

One by Kathryn Otoshi
I have heard Kathryn Otoshi speak at the Book Passage Children's Writers/Illustrators Conference for many years. She is always so generous in sharing her craft. . and fine craftmanship is what it took to create her internationally acclaimed, "One." No faces or names are needed for anyone to connect with the characters in this book. The issues of bullying, acceptance, and validation are all folded into a beautifully illustrated, minimalist story. Each word counts. Each color counts. Every person counts. See what she did there? ;)

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
I've had this book on my shelf for over a decade and it still helps me through tough creative blocks. This character-driven story centers on Vashti, who doesn't believe she can draw. . .until a teacher shows her that even dots can become beautiful works of art. In the end, Vashti returns the favor and encourages another kid to become an artist too. The universal truth here is that art, in essence, is self expression. Everyone has a voice that can and should be heard. Art helps amplify and distill that voice. Whenever I feel like my writing/drawing is not good enough. .I return to The Dot. The book reminds me to just throw judgement out the window and focus on CREATING!

I want to create picture books like these.
The ones that still move you, when you're well past childhood. The ones that make you think, feel, and learn. One day, I'll get it just right. . until then, I keep dreaming and I keep honing my craft!

In conclusion, if you're thinking of writing/illustrating a picture book for the very first time, really ask yourself the question:

Why Picture Books? 
What moves you and what do you want to share with this form? What will keep you going when you run into bumps along the path to publishing a picture book? (trust me, there will be bumps).

Take your time.
Think it through. 
Study the picture books you love. 
It's well worth the journey. 

Once you have your answers, I promise, you'll be able to tackle picture books with renewed focus and intent.

Phew. That was one long-winded entry. My next entry, about inspirations, will be shorter. . I promise :)

Monday, June 3, 2013


This little boy from my first illustrated picture book looks in the refrigerator and finds something very sweet and cold on a hot summer day!

Speaking of which, A Moment in Time won the Reader Views Literary Awards for Best Children's Book. Part of the award was our very own video trailer for the book which you can see below:

Sorry I haven't posted recently. I've been busy working on a few projects, such as writing curriculum for Disney English and illustrating another picture book (which will hopefully be out by the end of the year).

Until next time, I want to recommend checking out the Sendak exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

The museum has a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge, a delicious cafe, and very inspiring artwork. My critique group, the Picturesques, attended a panel there called "Stealing from Sendak" and the illustrators on the panel were so generous with their insights and experiences! They made me realize how much Sendak revolutionized the concept of a picture book for entire generations: from nudity to honestly frightening characters. I was proud to wear my Night Kitchen shirt that day :).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

wild + jungle

Only wild men can tackle wild animals. . crikey, that jaguar's close!

In case you want to place this battle in a different setting, here's a free coloring page:
In other news, I made a little coloring page for the Lake Oswego Arbor Day art contest, so if you're in the Portland area, your kids could be famous!  Click on the image below for the entry form.
Lastly, I made a little illustration for my friend Melissa's wedding last year.  It was such a personal and touching ceremony.  She was featured in Style Me Pretty.  Click on the image below to learn about her story!

Thursday, April 4, 2013


 Hi all!  Here's a few exploration sketches, just testing out the movement of my little tomboy.

I've been busy getting brush-up anatomy/perspective lessons from my uber-talented and charming friend Claudia.  If you live in the bay area and want some concentrated one-on-one training, she's the gal for you!

Also, I'll be migrating my domain to a different website so I can showcase my portfolio in a more cohesive manner.  If you would like to keep following my blog (which will still be updated regularly), please point your RSS/Reader to this URL:

See you on the other side folks!

Thursday, March 28, 2013


This gal uses brute force when it comes to converting a reluctant swimmer. The boy character actually popped into my sketchbook during jury duty last week as well.  It's amazing how much creative work gets done when you're forced to sit and wait for two solid days lol.

As usual, this illustration comes with a free coloring page!
And speaking of coloring pages. . are you looking for coloring pages for the Easter holiday?  Well, I've got plenty of Hipster Bunny coloring pages right here.  Happy Easter everyone!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

eye glasses

Each pair of hipster bunny's eye glasses comes with a different personality.  Hence, he looks different in the mirror every day.  You see, that's how hipster bunny stays ahead of the trend!

I ended up creating this illustration during four days of jury duty lol.  It was my first time as a juror and I'm glad I went through the experience!  I just wish I got a sticker at the end of the process, much like we do after voting.  I think that would encourage more people to participate because I'm a firm believer of positive reinforcement ;).

And in case you want to try your hand at coloring the different personalities of hipster bunny, here's a free coloring page:
I included the textured background because I think it really adds to the vintage mirror look.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 14, 2013


The word "yesterday" has me thinking back to my Ireland trip in 2011.  To the people there, "yesterday" and 200 years ago are one and the same.  Their roots and culture are still skin deep. . their stories are rich with history. 

For instance, as I was sketching this 400 year old cottage, the people from the pub across the street were able to detail each and every one of its past residents.  One enthusiast even began reciting poetry from a well-known writer who lived there in the 1600s!

Also, I thought I'd share this coloring page, just in time for St. Patrick's Day!  I wonder if those glasses are available somewhere. . I think I'd look pretty hip wearing a pair this weekend ;).

You can see the original illustration here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

And the winner is. . .

And the winner is. . .Rachel!  Congratulations for winning the Hipster Bunny magnet (and also thanks for letting me know who "unknown" is lol).  Thanks to everyone who participated in my very first giveaway.  I hope to have more in the future.  I'll also definitely use the Hipster Bunny ideas for future illustrations!

Rachel, please email me your current address and the magnet will be heading to you soon :).

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


There is so much talent here in New Orleans!  I'm visiting for a wedding and got to sketch this group called the Gregory Agid Quartet at Maison in the Frenchmen jazz district.  This was followed by sipping hot cocoa while walking along the Mississippi River while steam boats and horse drawn carriages passed by.  Such a romantic city at night :)

I hope to share more sketches soon. Until then, don't forget about my Hipster Bunny giveaway!  It ends in a week!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

whisper + GIVEAWAY!

The sisters are back again!  And although they're older, it looks like the eldest is still up to no good. . .whispering scandalous secrets in her little sister's ear.

What could the secret be?  Here's your chance to let your imagination run wild:

Also, I'm announcing my first GIVEAWAY!!  Would you like to have your very own Hipster Bunny magnet?
If you do, just leave a comment describing what youthink Hipster Bunny will be doing for Easter this year.  The deadline is Monday, March 11th, 12pm PST.  I'll reveal the winner in my next entry.  Good luck folks :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I got inspiration from Shaun the Sheep for this illustration.  He's a wooly character that has garnered much admiration from children around the world.

I actually made this drawing for a friend's personal project.  She created an app to play the card game Sheep's Head and needed some artwork.  Here's the final card:
In case you would like to color your own little sheep, here's a free coloring page:
I decided to include the textured paper since it will add dimension to the background that you create.  Use your imagination!  Where else could this sheep be hanging out?  With a flock of farm animals?  In a city?  In space?  Feel free to email me with your creations :).

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Here are two sisters with very different reactions to an oncoming storm.  You might recall this pair from a previous illustration.  I have at least another scenario for the duo to play out which, of course, involves food lol.

Here's a coloring page. . .feel free to use your imagination and draw what the sisters could be staring at through the window:
Also, Happy Valentine's Day :).  Here are two coloring pages that fit the holiday quite nicely as well:

Hope you have fun with friends and loved ones today!