A wonderfully messy thing to do

My friend stopped by to pick something up and caught a picture of me in my studio in messy collage focus mode this morning. Working on some art revisions for a WIP. I love stepping back and noticing the clutter and chaos around both me and my tunnel vision. Maybe lots of creative play looks like clutter and chaos. That’s my happy thought for the morning.


Campground Famous

My Aunt Jackie and Uncle Gary asked if they could put my art on their camper. If you happen to be camping in the upper mid-west look out for Auntie and Uncle Moose. I'm totally going to be campground famous.


More art with kids: Class Collaboration Collages

It’s been a happy discovery of the last few years to learn that I have a quiet super power in helping kids love and make art. What a happy super power! For this today I am grateful.


These two collages are class collaborative projects I made with kids. The first collage is made from radial designs created by the 1st-3rd graders who I regularly taught art to this past fall (I went back last month to make this piece with them for their school’s auction). The second collage is made from geometric designs created by 4th-6th graders at the same school (I team taught with their regular art teacher for this project).


I love how each kid’s personality comes out a bit in their individual contribution and how all the pieces come together into a colorful and lively finished whole. I love how pulling the pieces together felt a little like pulling the kids together into creative play. But most of all I just love making art with kids.


Sometimes I go to the bookstore having already spent my book budget for the month. I do this because I cannot resist bookstores. Whenever this happens I find myself wondering, why oh why am I doing this to myself? I know I'm going to buy a book—probably more than one. And perhaps even one of those books will NOT even be a picture book. And then not only am I being bad with my budget I'm also going to want to read that long non-picture-book book RIGHT NOW! Only inevitably I will already have a stack as big as my leg (or possibly larger) of non-picture-book books I want to read RIGHT NOW. Also, didn't I just do this, like last week? Yes, I have a problem. I can't help it. I LOVE BOOKS!

So what, you may be asking, does this have to do with the title of this post—Storystorm? Storystorm is this thing in picture book land where picture book writers gather (virtually) over on Tara Lazar's blog and support one another as we each come up with a picture book idea for every day during an entire month. I have no idea how many years I've participated in Storystorm (used to be called PIBOIDMO). I will not go back and look because that will make me feel like I am getting old too fast. Let's just say it's many. And the practice has not only helped me come up with many fun ideas during the month it takes place, it also has taught me to cultivate ideas all year long. And it has to do with my enormously large pile of to-read books because just like books, I have WAY TOO MANY IDEAS!

But joking aside, I actually like having too many books and too many ideas. The abundance of these things matters. I've heard it said that you only need one good idea. Sure. And I suppose I'm supposed to feel satisfied with one book too?

I make my best work when I throw my perfectionism out the window and aim for quantity over quality. Yes, I want quality—but I find that it comes only from vigorous practice. And that vigorous practice only comes from a spirit of quantity. Quantity helps me achieve quality.

This is true especially with ideas. The more ideas I come up with, the more I find the ideas to be interesting. It never fails.

So here's my annual cheers to another month of brainstorming ideas with Storystorm! And while I'm at it I'll raise my glass to brainstorming of all kinds—where quantity cultivates quality. And also I'll raise my glass to the giant mountains of books that are waiting to be read, in my house, in my library, and in my local bookstore. Is there anything better?

Cheers to abundant possibility!


What can I do and how can I best love?

God it's been a hard week in the U.S. What happened in Charlottesville last weekend is so wrong on so many levels it hurts. It's not okay.

Maybe it's too personal but I can't help but keep thinking of my grandfathers who fought in WWII and what they fought for. I especially think of my Grandpa Archie who left behind a journal/photo album with his war experiences. My own dad died when I was three and Grandpa Archie was in many ways the closest thing I had to a dad for most of my childhood.

He was an amateur photographer and carried a camera during the war and his photos from the war are haunting. The stories he left behind are haunting too, although sometimes it's telling how little he says (he was not one to be really emotive). He landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-day. He helped liberate a concentration camp (the photos of that are...the worst).

He was a farmer so he knew how to drive without headlights. He often got pulled from his tank to drive around "brass" in the dark. At one point in the war when he was off driving around brass, his tank was bombed and all his buddies died. His parents back home both died while he was gone.

My Grandpa took me to France and Germany when I was 10 to see where he fought. I won't ever forget the feeling of standing on the beach with him, listening to his stories, feeling full of wonder that such a beautiful place had once been full of so much bloodshed. Anyway the trip and the stories made quite an impression on 10-year-old me. My grandpa went through Hell. So did the world.

And this past weekend when I saw the photos and videos of men imitating the visuals of lynch mobs, carrying nazi flags, and chanting Nazi slogans—I was horrified. I couldn't help but think of my grandfather and how he fought against Nazis and everything they stood for.

God help us all.

Even though I've posted it before, I thought I'd post this illustration again.

I've been thinking about the best ways I can live into the words in this art.

"Yes we can!" — What can I do?

"Love thy neighbor." — How can I best love?

These are questions that don't go away and that I don't have perfect answers for. But I feel like they are questions I need to keep living into, with everything I do right now.

How can I promote diversity more? How can I help foster understanding? How can I stand up to hate more? How can I stand up to racism more? How can I own my own room for growth more? Where can I be a better listener, learner, teacher? Where in my life, every day, can I ensure that my grandfather would be proud?

So these are the questions I ask myself this week and going forward.

You do not have to wear a uniform to fight for what's right.

Kid's Art Walk

I've been hard at work on a few projects I'm very excited about. There are so many things I could post about! But for now here's a picture from the Kid's Art Walk here in Bellingham which took place during the month of May.

I helped the students from this class make the Chinese Dragons you see in the window. The kids were studying China and I'd learned a lot about Chinese Dragons when I lived in Asia so I taught them some about what I'd learned and we made these puppets. It was such a fun project!

The Story Of My Grandfather Who Immigrated to America with a Mangled Hand

One of my favorite family stories involves one of my great grandfathers who immigrated from Sweden with a mangled hand and landed on Ellis island in the early 1900s. People with deformities had a hard time passing inspection at Ellis Island. They were usually detained for extra scrutiny when they arrived but often they were also sent back to their countries of origin.

Although my great-grandfather had lost most of his fingers on his dominant hand in a farming accident in Sweden, he still had most of his thumb and a large pinky stump that consisted of what remained of his other fingers sewn together. He got by fairly well because he could still grab and hold on to things on account of still having his thumb and another finger (of sorts) to make a clasping motion.

And that is how he also managed to hold his hat the day he went through inspection on Ellis Island. So no one noticed his deformity—his hat covered it. He passed inspection without a hitch. After he was through and outside waiting for the boat that would help him travel onward into America where he'd become a hard-working farmer, he sat next to another Swede and they got to talking. The other Swede was surprised my grandfather had made it through with his hand (by this time his hat was back on his head since he was outside). My grandfather hadn't understood about the inspections.

And he was mortified. He could not accept that he might have tricked his way into America. So can you guess what he did?

 The Great Hall on Ellis Island as it looks now.

The Great Hall on Ellis Island as it looks now.

He went back into inspection. He wanted to be legit. He was honest to a fault. At least that's how the story goes.

The officials who'd already processed him waved him away like a pesky fly. And so he became an American.

I thought of this story as I read all the history and walked the great hall of Ellis Island last month when I was in NYC for an SCBWI conference. And also as I walked under Lady Liberty and her torch the same day I visited Ellis Island. Mine isn't the only family with immigrant tales of honesty and a will to do hard work for a better life.

I also thought of modern-day immigrants and how they likely share similar stories to my own with different details from a newer time. I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of common threads at heart.

NOTE: I originally posted this story on facebook, this is mostly a repeat of that post. Also I've since learned from my aunt that my Grandfather did end up having to pay a fine. I wonder if I'm missing any more of the story?

Making art with kids

I've said it before on my blog: sometimes when you are busy with the very things that are interesting to blog about, you are too busy to bother blogging. So I've had a full last few months! I have a few posts I'd like to put up soon but how about I start with sharing this collage I made with kids because it's close to my heart.

The last couple years I've been teaching art to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders at a local Montessori school here in Bellingham, once a week for a few months a year. A few days ago I finished glueing together this paper quilt made from collage squares all the kids made. I've been a bit of an accidental art teacher but honestly it's become one of my favorite and most rewarding things that I do. I'm so grateful that I get to make art regularly with kids (at least during the months I'm teaching). This piece is for the school's fund-raising auction. I'm pretty psyched at how it turned out. But mostly I like that each square makes me think of each kid who made it and that makes me smile.

Goals for the new year

The last few years I’ve written my year-end review and new year goal setting inside this journal.

I always start the year’s end/begin ritual by making a year-end collage with ticket-stubs, playbills, kid-drawings, and whatever other debris made it’s way into my box of interesting bits I save just for this occasion. 

Then I look back on the previous year and reflect on challenges I met, places I fell short, and accomplishments I can celebrate. From there I look toward the new year with new goals and a new orientation of my compass.

It’s a joy to spend time in this book. The pages are chunky, uneven, colorful, and playful. I made them that way on purpose. They match my house, my family, my life.

Keeping my year-end review and New Year’s goals in the same place for several years has opened my eyes to certain patterns. And new patterns pop out at me every year. Last year I noticed that focusing on play whenever I feel stuck literally has ALWAYS paid off. Noticing that and using that knowledge moving forward made my coming year better. It made my work better too.

This year I noticed in looking back that whenever I’ve chosen to face the stuff that’s hard and made a conscious effort to point my ship into headwinds, and then actually gone into those headwinds, I’ve strengthened the boat.

So this year I’m heading into the headwinds for 2017. I’m facing parts of my work that are hard for me. I’m taking on some personal challenges like heading to New York for the SCBWI conference in February, and planning a dummy and drawing challenge for myself in the months after. Hopefully I’ll be dipping my toe back into the world of craft shows before long too.

But most important to me is that I’m working at letting go of my own perfectionism in order to share my work more.

In other words I’m owning it.  Headwinds and all.

This is who I am.



Sharing Play at Dumas Bay SCBWI Illustrators retreat

This past weekend, illustrators from around Washington and Oregon gathered to retreat, play, and learn on the water in Dumas Bay, Washington, and I was among them. We were honored and thrilled to have illustrators Christian Robinson and Catia Chien guide us in our play. What a line up!

Indulge me a minute while I express how giddy I personally was to sign up for this retreat. I am a huge, huge, dinosaur-sized, Christian Robinson Fan. When I pour over his collages I feel the same joy and wonder as I did when I was a child pouring over THE SNOWY DAY and other books by Ezra Jack Keats, my childhood favorite author. And at the same time Christian's work is fresh and modern in a way that offers me joy in the here and now too. Plus it doesn't hurt that LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET (illustrated by Christian and written by Matt de la Peña) is probably my son Lars's favorite book.

Lars, who is 3-years-old, takes the bus in the morning several times a week with Daddy. He is especially excited when his favorite bus, the purple one, is the one that picks him up at the curb. You should see the light in his eyes. But even when it's just the regular bus he loves to climb on and sit by the window and talk about all the noises and people and moments on the bus. LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET is called THE Bus Book in our house even though we have several other bus books. Lars likes to close his little eyes the same time the main character, CJ, does. He closes his eyes and listens to the music, wherever the music is in his heart.

So this past weekend I got to go to Dumas Bay and connect with the music in my own heart. And I got to share that experience with many other illustrators. And I also got to learn from Catia Chien, whose work I was less familiar with ahead of the retreat with but now am excited to love.

I gained insights about my own work and practices as I always do at SCBWI events but the thing that probably will stick with me most was just the realization that no matter what happens externally in the world or my own life, I am an artist and I will always make art. That is the music in my own heart. I don't mean to make it sound like a new commitment, rather a quiet acknowledgement of the obvious and what is already there at a time when so many things in the greater world feel uncertain.

We children's book creators will continue to do this thing because it's what we do. And we will do it with heart and passion and even when we take years to get published, or never are published at all, or are banned, or make mistakes, or whatever, we collectively will keep working to make the world brighter and better through books.

Many thanks to my local SCBWI chapter volunteers, especially Tina Hoggatt, for all the work you did putting this retreat together. And many thanks to Catia and Christian for sharing your light with the world and with us this past weekend.

 From a walk I took in the garden at Dumas Bay

From a walk I took in the garden at Dumas Bay

When it's not okay to be quiet

Oh God. What have we done, America?

Yesterday America voted for a bully to be our new president. And today much of the world is in a state of shock and anxiety. Deer caught in headlights is the image that comes to mind.

I've been struggling with what to say but at the same time my heart fiercely feels that this is a time where it's unacceptable to be quiet. And that's the main thing that comes back to me, over and over. This is a time where it's unacceptable to be quiet.

My little blog and website combined make only a teeny, tiny corner of the universe. But, like I said, I'm overwhelmed today with the feeling that now is one of those times that it's not okay for even teeny, tiny corners of the universe to be quiet.

I feel heartbreak that my country has made this outrageous and dangerous choice. I feel anger toward people I know who I suspect may have supported this choice for America. I feel bigger heartbreak for people I know who have been the target of hate in this election. And I feel shame, so much shame, for not speaking up or doing more.

I know we all need to be brave. I know we have work to do. Lots. I will fight along others so this doesn't define my country forever. Just like when I try to find a good first line of a picture book, I will brainstorm ways I can immediately make the world brighter. 

But I also mourn. And because this is my little corner of the universe I'm saying so here. What happened yesterday in America breaks my heart. And the first step I'm taking to making the world brighter is to challenge you, who've happened upon my little corner of the universe, to find a way to make the world brighter too. And for love's sake, please speak up when it's unacceptable to be quiet.


It's an all caps kind of day here in Kjersten's studio —HIP HIP HOORAY!


Because my manuscript HOW TO BUILD A ROCKETSHIP IN 10 EASY STEPS is the official winner of the 2016 Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Most Promising Picture Book Award! HAPPY DANCE! HAPPY DANCE! Maybe just this once I can even get away with TOO MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!

Attending SCBWI events over the many years I've been a member has been like unofficial graduate-level training, only with friends and sometimes cookies.

Thank you to the editor who nominated me and to all who were involved in choosing this piece for recognition. I'm honored and excited to receive this award and I can't wait to get going on the dummy for this piece. This boost means the world to me. Thank you for everything SCBWI!

Here's a screen shot from SCBWI's announcement:

 Saving the screen shot for posterity.  Also so whenever I feel discouraged I can look back and take this as a nudge to keep going.

Saving the screen shot for posterity.  Also so whenever I feel discouraged I can look back and take this as a nudge to keep going.