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

Pictures from The Last Bookstore in LA

I had a FABULOUS time at the recent SCBWI conference in L.A. I loved the new location, I took away great thoughts for my work, I got to see muppets in action (!) and I was nominated for the Sue Alexander award.

I've been busy busy busy fixing some work. Sometimes I need a break from the Internet when I'm hard at work/play (am I the only one that feels like the Internet can be an echo chamber?). But I felt like it was long past time I at least posted these pics

Isn't this bookstore amazing? Their art section was my favorite. Although they had a stellar comics section too.

Cheers to a playful and promising summer's last few weeks.

A day of fun at the Eric Carle Exhibit, Tacoma Art Museum

Pardon the lack of posts the last few months. I've been busy getting ready for baby #2 (could be any day now!) as well as catching up on some personal projects after I put in such a push with my illustration work over the spring. 

But I thought I'd check in and post some pictures from a fun day I spent down at the Tacoma Art Museum a few weeks ago. I went to see their latest Eric Carle exhibit and also partake in a fun afternoon of collage with other Eric Carle fans.
 We made our own paste papers in an upper work room of the museum.

 It was a jolly fun time of paint and messes. I felt like I was my son's age again! Fun!
 Here's the two collages I made. The paper we glued on wasn't taped down or stretched so the collages desperately warped (I suspected they would while making them), but it was still a fun exercise in play.
I hope you are getting some play in this summer too.
Happy Summer!

Whew! A whirlwind month of new work

A couple months ago I set an ambitious goal to try to nearly remake my entire portfolio for the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrator's conference here in Washington State.  (Which was last weekend; it was FANTASTIC as usual!)

The last few weeks I have been working all kinds of crazy hours to meet my personal goal (which is why I haven't posted in awhile).

And I'm proud to say...

I did it!

I'll try to post some fun process pictures in the upcoming few weeks.

Meanwhile you can check out my updated portfolio here on my website.

This week I'm taking a deep breath and catching up with regular life. But I'm looking forward to sorting out what my next big goal will be too.

Cheers to working hard and making fun new art!

Workshop with Nikki McClure

I've followed Nikki McClure's art since the early 2000's when I stumbled upon her paper-cut work on (one of my favorite early indie craft web sites). Paper-cuts always catch my eye, but Nikki's work especially did so because of its intimacy and heart. Her pieces capture the warm lovely feelings of everyday beauty and relationships. She has a nearly spiritual way of elevating the ordinary through her images that appeals to me. Well that, and it is paper art.

Over the years I've sought out and bought a couple of Nikki's annual self-published calendars and I smiled wide when I saw that she had broken into children's illustration a few years back.
So I was thrilled this past fall when I got an email from the Bellevue Art Museum advertising her then forthcoming (and now nearly over! quick rush to Bellevue this weekend!) exhibit. I immediately went to the Bellevue Art Museum's website to see if they had any special events. They did. In early December I attended a great lecture and slide show and then a couple of weeks ago I attended an all-day paper-cutting workshop that Nikki McClure instructed!
Watching another artist at work always helps me gain invaluable insights into new ways I can approach my own work.
Nikki McClure's workshop was certainly no exception.
 The day was just the right mix of instruction and play.
 I cut this fish as a warm-up exercise.
 I've always favored using a scissors to a knife in my own collages, but after using a knife that tightened at the bottom (as opposed to where you grip the knife) I felt liberated.
 Who knew such a thing existed? Um... Can I just say sometimes you don't even know that you should be looking for something?
 We can get stuck in ruts and used to working on things our own way with our own methods. I have so long ago rejected using a knife that it had never occurred to me I maybe had never tried using the right knife. Looking outside our usual perspectives can be so, so, valuable.
 I've had some ideas for my collage (for a LOOOONG time) that involve a paper-cut aspect and this workshop has helped me break through the technical side of my ideas so I can make them reality. Cheers for shaking things up.
 I've been playing over the last week. I'll post pictures soon. Meanwhile, here's the piece I made during the workshop (using a drawing from a memory).
 And here's me with Nikki!
Thanks Nikki McClure, wherever you are, for your fabulous workshop, for the inspiration, and for the lovely art you bring into this world! Cheers everybody! Go check out Nikki's work.

Some Nursery Rhyme Illustrations

Here are some new nursery rhyme illustrations (black and white!) I finished this last week just in time for the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators conference in Los Angeles this coming weekend.

Can you figure out which three popular nursery rhymes I've drawn below? (Click on each image to see a larger version).

If you'll be in Los Angeles look out for me and say hi! I'd love to chat.

Also, for anyone who might be interested, I just updated my online portfolio. Take a peek. Feel free to send me feedback if something comes to mind.

I look forward to catching up with all the rest of my blogesphere friends when I return from L.A. I hope wherever you are you are having a great week!

Wish Granted: Working like a maniac to meet a deadline

Just as my studio started to resemble a happy working space last week (finally!) I got my wish for a crazy deadline. HOORAY! The deadline is for the illustrator intensive I'm participating in for the L.A. SCBWI conference. I somehow missed the memo about the assignment when I signed up. I think the website said something like, "details to be announced later," in my defense.
Anyway, I'm working on a new thumbnail dummy for a story of mine about a goose.
In just one week (last Friday to this one), I have filled up nearly two sketchbooks with drawings, drawings, drawings.
And I'm loving every crazy minute of it.
I made a goal a couple of years ago to work toward being able to draw faster. I'd say that goal is met.

And if I seriously get a rough dummy finished in less than ten days (as I'm on track to) I so am going to jump up and down. Especially because, even though the dummy isn't perfect, I LIKE IT! It's a good start! YAY!

Anyway, I love a good challenge to rise to. BRING IT ON! THANK YOU FOR LISTENING UNIVERSE!

On a side note I was telling a friend this story yesterday and she laughed and said in a teasing way, "Yay! I'm stressed!" I got a tickle out of that one. The thing is, I know it sounds totally cheesy, but I don't feel stressed. I feel determined. I can do this. I WANTED a crazy deadline, and I got one. Be careful what you wish for! You might just get it!

Cheers to anyone else out there who is taking some butt-in-chair time to get lots done. Don't forget to walk up and down the stairs every hour or so. Or get a walk in at some point during the day. Butt-in-chair may be good for getting lots done, but it's not so good for one's actual butt. But I digress... Gotta go get back to work.

Balancing goals with serendipity

How do we remain open to serendipity while still aiming at concrete goals? It's a pull back and forth, like a yoga pose, I suppose.

The day my husband came home from work 2 and a half years ago and said that he'd been offered a two-year position in Malaysia, my heart did a flip. Many thoughts went through my head.

Thoughts like, "

Wait, what? Huh? Malaysia? Do I even know exactly where Malaysia is? Near Thailand, right? Oh God, isn't it hot there? I know so little about Malaysia. That's embarrassing! Super embarrassing! How can I move somewhere I know so little about? WHAT THE HECK???


Petronas Towers with birds and a morning moon

It was totally out of the blue for me.

I was on a path, after all. We were on a path. Here. In Bellingham. Weren't we?

For myself, I felt like my artwork and writing were improving, I was getting lots of positive response, I felt closer to being able to better share my art. I felt entrenched in several networks that I loved. It seemed crazy to up and leave.

My husband loved racing his bike here, we had plans for my son for preschool. We owned a house. We were on a path!


Other thoughts went through my head too.


Is this really happening? We could travel a bunch, couldn't we? I'd get to see so many places in SE Asia.  I'd get to meet so many interesting new people. I could bury myself in my work when I wasn't traveling and just sort of retreat, couldn't I? Hmm... tempting. My son could be exposed to different cultures and languages when he's young enough for it to sink in deep. My husband could do something super cool with his work after supporting me for so long with my pipe-dreams. What a crazy opportunity, no? How can I say no when such a fantastic and fascinating opportunity comes my way?"

I couldn't.

We couldn't.

So I, we, said yes.

And I'll never regret that we did so.

The last few years I've grown and changed and seen so many interesting places and learned so many interesting things. My art has grown and changed. My son has grown and changed. My husband has. Our lives are richer, thicker with memory, more full of heart, because of our time in Asia.

But it did sort of mess up the PLAN. And now we are home. And I'm swimming in boxes and ideas.

Here's what my studio looks like right now...sigh.

Where do I go from here? How, exactly, has my work changed? What do I do with those changes? How has my family changed? How do I balance my feelings about previous goals not being met with my delight over serendipitous growth?

For me, the highlights of the SCBWI conference I attended two weeks ago — just over a day before our movers dropped off our container full of boxes from Malaysia (whew! It's been a busy month for me) — were hearing Melissa Sweet's keynote and also attending her playful collage workshop. She is one of my favorite illustrators. She incorporates collage in such serendipitous ways in her books. Yet the stories (in pictures) are certainly planned out. They have to be to get from the beginning to the end.

I made this collage during Melissa's workshop. The quote is from Picasso.

If you've never seen Melissa's work, do check it out (plus she's as nice as she is talented). My favorite two books of hers are

Balloons Over Broadway

(which she also wrote, about the man who designed the first puppet balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade) and

A River Of Words

, by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet (an inventive picture book biography about William Carlos Williams). In both she uses collage in this serendipitous, spontaneous way, while still completely following a story arc in a clearly planned out way.

I love this about her work. I'd love to do this more in my own work. Balance the playful, unplanned serendipity with a carefully thought-through vision.

I suppose it's the yoga pose I'm in now. The pull back and forth between the spontaneous and the planned. The visioning and the surprises.

Here's to the journey.

Superhero Photo class, and pictures in Cambodia

From an assignment in Andrea's Superhero Photo Class.

One of my favorite bloggers, Andrea Scher, recently decided to offer a playful online photo course.

I couldn't resist.

It just sounded so fun. And so low-key. And there was no concrete reason to take it other than fun.

 I have this habit of taking a crazy amount of pictures. I look for color, shape, light. But it's all just playful.

Sort of an extension of my excessive journaling habit I guess.

Red-shirted girl in the distance

Anyway, the class exceeded my expectations.  It was fun. Super fun. Superhero fun! 
 There were no goals to make serious art, just an opportunity to play and share (and do photo treasure hunts!) with other like-minded playful (mostly) amateur photographers.
My mother and my son holding hands

The class also happened to overlap with my family's trip to Cambodia last week.

For once on a trip, I wasn't feeling guilty about how many stupid pictures I was taking, and worrying over looking like some sort of camera-happy Hawaiian-shirted stereo-type of an American abroad.

Instead I embraced my practice as a way of appreciating the moment. I was no more obtrusive with my pictures than I've ever been (Let's just say the overly shy girl isn't one to walk around with a camera dangling from her neck, She leaves that to the real pros, like my uncle, or to the bolder amateurs, or to the tourists riding big buses).

Anyway, If anyone out there likes to take pictures, especially in a playful way, I highly recommend Andrea's course.

One of the surprising highlights for me was the group flickr pool, where we shared photos and commented on each others pieces. It was so fun to participate in the exchange!
Plus it hardly took anytime. Maybe 10 minutes any day I felt like checking in. Yet I still gained a lot. 

Andrea will be offering another class soon, I believe. I hope, if you like to play with pictures, you'll join her.
And um... Cambodia?
Blue umbrellas at Angkor Wat
Ya, well, WOW!
Trees draping over mossy textured ruins,

 bicycles, bicycles, bicycles,

And some of the most amazing sites in the world.

Some dreams fall in your lap like an apple dropping from a tree. Other dreams you yank and yank and yank at the door, but it just won't open. Both have their place in my life. And I'm happy to say that while I keep yanking at the door of my biggest dream (and dang that door can frustrate me), I'm at least eating my apples. 

What I personally took away from the Illustrator Intensive in L.A.

Last week I posted some highlights from the amazing Illustrator Intensive at the 2011 SCBWI Conference in L.A. It's been a few weeks since the Intensive -- a good amount of time to offer a small bit of perspective on what I took away from the day, personally. I’m getting a bit more personal and reflecting on...

5-minute drawing.
Things I took away from the Illustrator Intensive in L.A. regarding my own work and art:

-WOW! (Did I say this already?)

-A feeling of needing to stay true to who I am, individually, as my own artist self. Insecurities are part of what make every artist grow, but so too are my own individual approaches to how I work. I feel proud and psyched for how I work and for my work in general; and I want to take better ownership in my individuality, while also always aiming towards growth and improvement in my work.
Imperfect daily play drawing.
- A feeling of excitement to come back to my studio and play. I'm the sort of person that thrives with semi-spiritual daily practices. I journal regularly (and write things I'm grateful for everyday), I do yoga daily, and of course I draw and make art regularly. I've tried before to start a DAILY drawing practice (quick 5 minute drawings), but haven't figured out a way to connect with the DAILY part of it on a level that made it sustainable. I've always been too critical of the outcomes. Or too serious about it or something. It seems rather obvious to say me now, but I think viewing the exercise as play, and well, not exercise, is the key I've been looking for (Isn't it funny how some AHA things are so obvious?). My art is often best when I don't take myself too seriously. A daily practice of drawing play  = very appealing and (at least so far) fulfilling.

-Listening to the artists share details about their tools and what they use to draw or paint inspired me to buy a few new drawing tools when I got home (art stores aren't quite the same in KL, which has added to the fun). We'll see how the play influences my art.

More daily play in drawing.
-Umm... Something I can let go of. YAY! I have been entirely too paranoid in the past that I work too slowly. I think this is a classic case of my inner critic going overboard. Sure my finished collages don't take 5 minutes, but I realize my habits are completely within the realm of normal after hearing the artists saying how long their finished pieces take them. I usually take 2-3 days with an average collage, with the rare detailed specimen taking a day or two extra or a day less. I thought that made me a slow-poke. I believe I thought that because I envied people who finished paintings in an hour. The thing I should always keep in mind when my inner critic blasts me for the time I spend on a piece: I NEVER EVER miss external deadlines (and only miss internal ones -- sometimes -- because I purposefully challenge myself to aim for the impossible). After the illustrator intensive in L.A., I've realized that being paranoid that I work too slowly is a paranoia I need to put to rest. (Now... under-submitting or being slow to submit my work because I'm a perfectionist -- that is something I aim at improving on. Because I am way too slow to submit my work… and I know it).

So far my daily play sketchbook features a lot of Oscar.
-There's a bit of a determined tigress in me when it comes to my art; and I repress her too often. I feel inspired to let her loose more. I think this is a good thing. I believe I rather look like and come across as a mild-mannered-but-quirky librarian, but that librarian within has also a fire in her belly, and I'd like it to show in my work more. I guess what I'm trying to say in an awkward sort of way is that the artists at the illustrator intensive have inspired me to be braver. To tap into my own emotions more when I make my art. To be brave enough to share more of those emotions in my work. Cheers to that!

I’d love to hear what others gained, personally, from the day, if there’s anyone out there who was there who is reading this. Please share in the comments!

L.A. SCBWI Conference Illustrator Intensive Highlights PART 2

CONTINUED from Monday...
This is a continuation of the last post I put up featuring highlights from the 2011 L.A. SCBWI Conference Illustrator Intensive. If you missed PART 1, please read that first. 
 The fourth presentation:
 -He said growing as an artist helps him grow spiritually. Without that, life feels kind of empty. He said art is a window to one's spirit -- the hope is that others will feel what he feels when he makes it.
 - If you put love into your art, love will come out of it.

- A good painting is feeling the spirit when you make it, a great painting is when you transfer that to the viewer.

-His talk inspired me on a spiritual level. After watching and listening to him I felt a little window open in my head for how I can be braver in my own work. Amen for that.
The fifth presentation:

-She did a demonstration of her pulp painting technique, which I was especially happy to see in person being that I'm a paper maker too (I don't do pulp painting, but I make a lot of the paper in my collages). For those interested, Denise has a detailed youtube video about how she works here (skip ahead to about the 10 minute mark to see her working in her studio).

-She uses a series of cut-out foam stencils that she fills with pulp using squeeze bottles.

-She buys ready-beaten pulp from twinrocker paper-making suppliers (I use the same company to buy my pigments but I beat my own pulp -- but not in the technically proper fashion as the twinrocker folks do. I use the low-tech approach: a kitchen blender, which has pluses and minuses I'm well aware of).

 - When she makes paper with kids in schools she uses embroidery hoops as the moulds and deckles and sometimes has them use cookie cutters for the stencils.

-Denise is a funny and spirited artist. I will forever be in the Denise Fleming fan club after she generously offered all-night critiques complete with loads of laughs and insight at the Weekend in The Woods Retreat in Washington State several years ago. So it was especially fun to get to see her creating her work in person at the illustrator intensive.
 The sixth presentation:

-One of my favorite things he said was: "The artist's duty is not to surprise the viewer but to surprise himself."

-David demonstrated drawing loosly and fast and encouraged artists to practice drawing fast and from life, often. Try 1 minute, 2 minute and 5 minute timed drawings, just like you may have done in art school -- only keep up the practice.

-He learned to keep things lively by copying famous works of people who he admires.
 -Many of the picture books he has illustrated are written by his wife, Sarah Stewart. He said his philosophy of life can be the opposite of Sarah's and there's something beautiful about melding the two opposite philosophies of life into the same works.

-Prefers drawing in a really classical sense. 

-Another favorite quote: "Drawing is like breathing."
 The seventh presentation:

-He draws from photos and keeps a large library of favorite nature pictures for reference.

-He said that if his personal life feels rocky, he sometimes uses the drawing as a security blanket and a place to go.
 -He never spends more than 3 days on an image (but it could be 10-hour-days if he's working really intensely).

-If he gets stuck he tries changing around his palette, changing around his subject, or sometimes it's a deadline that gets him unstuck.

-When he draws he doesn't worry about a light source, he just worries about where he wants your eye to go.


Yes! It was a day of WOW! I gained many personal insights that I started to write into this post but decided were better saved for their own post (maybe next week? Can I stretch things out that long?).

Thank you to all the illustrators and those who organized the event. It was a truly remarkable day.

If you're interested check back next week and I'll post my personal take-aways. Cheers!

L.A. SCBWI Conference Illustrator Intensive Highlights PART 1

My notes from the day: I remember stuff better when I take notes.
As I mentioned last week when I returned to Malaysia, the Illustrator Intensive at this year's L.A. SCBWI conference was an unforgettable experience.

It's always great to get a chance to hear artists talk about their work. But you're able to enter an entire other dimension when you get to see artists actually do their work. The day was bursting with interesting and delightful tidbits on how these legends of children's illustration do what they do.

I loved each and every presentation of the day and I loved seeing them all in a row too. No two people work exactly the same and it was fascinating to compare similarities and differences in such a short space of time.

I thought I'd share a few memorable moments from each presentation. And because the day was so rich, I think I'll stretch this into 2 blog posts. Stay tuned later in the week for PART 2.

The first presentation: 

-Paul shared many great details about how he works, the brushes he uses (cheap ones), the paints, how he does an under-painting, etc.

-My favorite thing he shared was during the Q & A at the end of the day though, when Paul answered a question about technique versus inspiration. He said artists often start detailed and tighter with their style and move toward a looser style as they mature, but he said that when he was younger he remembered looking at many artists' works who had done that and hoped that never happened to him. He never wanted to give up the more detailed fine work. Such an interesting insight behind his style.

The second presentation: 

 -To achieve the subtle and beautiful colors in her drawings she sometimes does dozens and dozens of washes with watercolor , building up colors really slowly.

-Often if something is wrong with a painting, she won't realize it's wrong until it's 100% finished. She will look at the piece and think, "Do I love it?" and if the answer is no, she then often starts over.

-She feels that it's essential to make the foundation of the book --the story, the drawings -- as best as they can be. The technique for painting doesn't matter if the foundation isn't strong.
 The third presentation:
- He uses many different types of media and loves to experiment. For the demonstration, he painted in egg tempura.

- He likes to play a lot with his work, he treats new projects like new adventures. He does small abstracts to practice and play. He finds that new mediums free him up. He said he has a throw-your-hat-over-the-fence attitude about new mediums. You just have to go for it, all in.

 - I was very inspired by his love of play in his work and how he tries new mediums. It reminded me of how I feel when I dive into a new travel adventure and learn a bit more about the world and life by letting go of the familiar.

- I also loved how he confessed that sometimes experiments are a total failure. But then he learns what doesn't work. That's how I feel about travel adventures too -- not every adventure turns out wonderfully, but you never get to reach beyond if you don't try. That's the way adventure works.

So you get a glimpse of the WOW I experienced during the illustrator intensive. And the highlights aren't even over yet!

Illustrator Intensive Highlights: TO BE CONTINUED (Probably Thursday)...

UPDATE (8/25/11): I added links to the artists' websites so anyone who is interested can easily check out their work or browse their books. Enjoy!

SCBWI L.A. Conference Highlights

After spending a delightful and whirlwind couple of weeks back in the U.S.A., both for a visit home to Bellingham, Washington, and for the SCBWI international conference in L.A., I'm now back "home" to my studio in Malaysia, feeling energized and ready to get back to my art. But I've also got some things to share here, starting with...

No, I'm not 40, but SCBWI is.
...Kjersten's highlights from the SCBWI 40th Anniversary conference in Los Angeles:
(PLEASE NOTE: Last week I was invited to put up an illustrator guest post on the YA Muses blog. Some of the highlights I posted there are repeated here. I point this out only for clarity sake and also to invite any Y.A. writer friends to check out the YA Muses blog as it's a good one.) 

1. The Portfolio Show:
It seems like it would be impossible to be a children's book illustrator or aspiring illustrator and not be in awe of the work and heart  poured into the nearly 190 portfolios that were on display during Saturday night's portfolio show. It was a joy to participate in and a joy to have a chance to browse through so many of my peers' works.

2. Salley Mavor's workshop, The Joys and Challenges of Dimensional Illustration:

It was great to meet you, Salley Mavor!
While I don't work in three-dimensional art (I work in collage), I'm fascinated by Salley's embroidered fabric relief technique. Seeing the slides and videos of her craftsmanship at work was a rare and special treat. Her workshop resonated with me, maybe because of the heart she showed, maybe because of the crafty side of her medium or maybe because I saw a bit of my own journey in how she has told stories through an unusual art medium that feels close to her heart. I also loved Salley's Golden Kite acceptance speech. Her book A Pocketful of Posies is a true masterpiece, please check it out if you haven't already.

3. The keynote interview with Judy Blume:
A scrappy doodle of Judy Blume I made during the conference.
There was a surprise at the conference. A huge surprise. Lin Oliver, Executive Director of SCBWI International, interviewed JUDY BLUME! One of my favorite things Judy said was, "It's determination as well as any kind of talent that's going to get you there." Also I loved her closing answer to a question about what she'd like her legacy to be. She said she can't think too much about legacy as she writes but she thinks that perhaps on her tombstone she'd like the words, "Are you there God? It's me Judy." 

Gary Paulsen giving his keynote address.
4. Gary Paulsen's Keynote:
I could listen to that man tell stories all day. He told of a librarian that introduced him to books as a child, he told hair-raising stories of life-or-death wilderness situations from the tundras of Alaska and from the woods of Northern Minnesota. He spoke in a voice authentic and true to who he is. It's hard to imagine that he could have been holding back in that talk; his voice was his and his alone, raw and real and I'm grateful he shared it and his stories with us.

4. The Illustrator Intensive:
Denise Fleming making a pulp painting.
Monday was an entire day of WOW. It was a day I think few illustrators who were present will ever forget. We watched legends of our field, Paul O. Zelinsky, Marla Frazee, Richard Jesse Watson, Kadir Nelson, Denise Fleming, David Small and Jerry Pinkney, demonstrate their craft. They shared bits of their inspirations, their hearts,their joys and their weaknesses. It was the rarest of amazing moments -- to be present while artists were at work and to have a peek-a-boo view into genius.

I'll post more pictures from the Illustrator Intensive along with a few tidbits that have resonated with me from that particular day in another post next week.

Thanks to all the great folks who put on the conference and contributed in a myriad of ways to make the weekend so fabulous for all of us attendees. It was also great to see so many of my fellow writers and illustrators there and I look forward to when our paths cross again!

Going home!

Just for a visit, but still exciting.
Plus I'll be in L.A. for the upcoming SCBWI international conference. I can't wait to share my new portfolio there. It's been so fun to work on!

I'm looking forward to a fun action-packed trip. See you soon, Mount Baker!

Book To The Future: SCBWI WWA Annual Conference

The Western Washington chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has recently opened registration for their annual conference that takes place this year on April 16th and 17th in Redmond Washington. I have attended the conference every year (save last year when I was already living in Malaysia) and can't recommend the conference highly enough for writers, illustrators, or even teachers or librarians passionate about children's literature. This year's conference sounds like it has great speakers lined up: 5 editors, 4 agents, an art director and some fabulous key note speakers including author Holly Black, author Emily Jenkins E. Lockhart, author/illustrator Dan Santat, and author Deborah Wiles.

Also, one of my favortite things offered at the Western Washington conference, something not offered at most other conferences, is the dummy critique. So often writer/illustrators aren't given the chance to have dummies critiqued by industry pros at these conferences and it's a shame! Dummies are a lot of work; making them and critiquing them has helped me develop my own visual storytelling skills more than any other task. So I love that SCBWI WWA offers the rare chance to have have a dummy critiqued. Also for illustrators, there's a cool portfolio show with prizes. So, I think, the conference is an especially great opportunity for illustrators.

In fact, I think highly enough of the conference that I had decided last year that this was going to be the one conference I trekked over the ocean to attend this year -- I think the conference is that good. Alas though, it turns out I had to make a very hard choice. My 10th wedding anniversary is on the 14th of April, and I decided I'd probably regret not celebrating with my hubby (we are planning something really cool so I won't be bummed I missed the conference). So, if you go, take notes! Share a few tidbits! I'll enjoy reading about your learning from afar.


Did you know there's an online children's writer's conference happening this week? And that it's free? It's called WriteOnCon and it's being put on by a bunch of kid-lit bloggers.

I registered and am happy to say that they are keeping all the sessions archived so you can pick and choose what looks interesting to you after the fact if you don't have time to follow stuff as it happens (or if you live in a time zone that makes following things live, 12 time zones away difficult).

I just thought I'd give it a little shout out in case you're a writer, you'd be interested, and you hadn't heard about it.

Heart and Soul

I really do like to photograph things. But for some reason I have a hard time taking posed-smiley-faced or party pictures. They just aren't me. Even though I do enjoy looking at such pictures when others take them (and thank goodness others do take them). Anyway, I laughed at myself when I downloaded the pictures from my trip home. There were very few pictures of either the old or new friends I hung out with over my time home. Oops! Unless you count this sort of picture:
It's a bird's-eye-view of the Heart and Soul dance that took place at the L.A. conference that I took from my hotel room before I headed down to the party myself. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a wallflower. I went to the dance. It was a blast! I even dressed up. I made a t-shirt with this design on it:
It's for "Heart and Sol." Get it? If not, don't worry, you aren't alone. But I liked my take. I liked the anatomical heart earrings I ordered from Etsy too. And actually, I kinda like my bird's-eye-view picture. Even if I can't recognize anyone I know in it. Well that is, I can't recognize anyone but myself -- this is exactly the kind of photo I would take. If I were less clumsy I also may have tried capturing people moving a bunch on the dance floor -- in other words they would have been blurry. But as it was I chose to leave my camera in my room. Sometimes it's best to dance like no one's watching.

"If the children ask, 'What color is God?'..."

"...You can choose whatever color you want. That's why I illustrated the hands here all colors."
--Ashley Bryan, speaking today about an illustration in his book, All Things Bright And Beautiful.

I'm in Los Angeles, California, at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Conference. And to be quite frank, the main reason I knew I had to come was because one of my favorite illustrators of all time, Ashley Bryan, 87, would be here.
I remember when his book, Let It Shine, came out a couple of years ago. I checked it out from the library, along with the enormous stack of picture books I usually check out (how I've missed this ritual in Malaysia!) and one afternoon I opened it to read while my nearly one-year-old baby, Oscar, napped in my lap.

It's a book of three African American Spirituals, all songs I, myself, regularly sang in church growing up. And Ashley's art opened something inside me up that first time I read it -- just like a real, spiritual hymn does, when it's sung from the heart. I remember crying there on the spot, sitting in our rocking storytime chair, cradling my precious little Oscar. I read the book over and over, several times in a row. And I sang the songs the pictures illustrate. Thinking about that moment now, I'm reminded of one of my favorite poems, by the 14th century poet, Hafiz, Dropping Keys.

Dropping Keys
by Hafiz

The small man
Builds cages for everyone

While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the

To me it felt, and still feels, that Ashley Bryan's illustrations in that book are like the keys. They unlock and open something beautiful inside.

So that brings us back to today. Today also gifted me with a bit of magic. I spent an hour listening to Ashley Bryan talk about creating art. Eyes can tell you so much about a person. Ashley has the kind of eyes that dance. They are alive. (It might be my new biggest dream -- should I be so lucky -- to have my eyes do the same thing when I'm his age).

And his words, too, have the sort of spark that's contagious. By the end of the hour session, every person in that room looked more alive, fired-up, and ready to find and share the best of who they are.
Here's a few quotes (perhaps I should say they are as close to the real quote as possible, I tried as best as I could, but I might have missed the exact way he said them a bit):

"The Artist is not a special kind of person. Every person is a special kind of artist."

"Everyone of us is writing to pull something real and true out of ourselves and give it to the world."

"Whenever we start something new, it's good to affirm who we are within, that's why I start with reciting a poem."

"African American spirituals came from people who worked from the break of daylight to nightfall. But they still created. They found a way."

"My editor wanted me to get something written down about my life. So we talked about it. And in that conversation, she asked me, 'How did you persist through all the obstacles, in your life and somehow still manage to do what you do?' and, well, I answered, 'Isn't that the very story of life?' And isn't it? That's what we do as people -- we work to overcome obstacles. Life's about not giving up when you face challenges but plowing through those challenges. It's everyone's story."
Two more things I learned during the session. First, the xerox photos of scissors on the end-pages in Ashley's books are of his mother's embroidery/crochet scissors and his mother's dress-making scissors. He uses those two pairs of scissors to cut out every collage in his books. His mom never let him play with them as a child, but now he plays with them everyday. I LOVE this. So many artists use razors for cut-paper work. I'm with Ashley. I use a scissors. Scissors are a perfect thing.

Second, Ashley said he always carries around his recorder. As in the instrument. Because he never knows when it will be time to play some music. So he played for us. So fun.

I did take pictures from the session, but unfortunately I didn't bring my camera cord so I can't download them! I'll add them later. *UPDATE*: added them! Sorry it took so long.

Tomorrow Ashley will give the ending keynote address for the conference. You can bet that the last poem of the conference hasn't been recited yet.

Colorful Snippets From Singapore

I spent most of last Saturday at the Asian Festival of Children's content in Singapore (the rest of the weekend I spent admiring colorful places -- easy to find in Singapore -- as evidenced from these photos).
I left the festival and Singapore feeling a bit dazed at what a big wide world we live in, with a mind-boggling array of differences in children' s book markets.
I also had many strange moments of seeing things from a different perspective regarding the children's book market back home in the United States.
One speaker, when talking about why small publishers and authors should have promotional materials in English, said something to the effect of, "Everyone thinks the U.S. is the Holy Grail of Children's book markets. Break in there and you can make it anywhere. Then why don't all small publishers and authors have their promo materials in English?"

It was strange to think about challenges some of my colleagues have here compared to those of my colleagues at home.

I'm so used to various speakers moaning and groaning about the state of the market back home that I forget sometimes to remember how wide and big it actually is compared to other markets.
I also had some culture shock moments, like the nervous twitch I had going when one speaker mentioned that art-based picture books have little market in many parts of Asia as many parents are still focused on Education based books.

I tried just now to write about some recent experience with this mindset that would cause such a nervous twitch, but well, the politically correct public blogger who's afraid of closing my mind when it should be open won out and I edited. Let's just say this is something that I'm having a hard time relating to when I encounter it here, not only as an author and artist, but most especially as a mother.
So I had a nervous twitch going through some of the conference. I had many reminders that we are a big world with lots of view points. It's a challenge to keep it all in perspective, be respectful to differences while remaining true to my own heart while working on my own craft (and mothering my son).
But, lest I forget, challenges are the colorful rich stuff of life. And I can appreciate their beauty.

Upcoming conferences I'm going to

I just (finally) figured out how to register and therefore attend part of this weekend's Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore (the Asian Children's Writer and Illustrator Conference is a part of the festival. I'm just going for a day). Singapore! My first trip away from KL. Hooray! I'm excited for the adventure and so thankful for the opportunity. I'll be happy just learning about other writers and illustrators who live in this part of the world. So I'm looking forward to the weekend.

Also, I took the plunge and registered for this summer's SCBWI conference in L.A. YAY! I'm mostly happy that it gives me a deadline. I'm going to get my final art samples finished for my current dummy no matter how many other challenges land on my plate due to moving to a new continent and country in the next few months; I am determined.
Let me know if you're going to L.A. I'll see you there.

P.S. Lest you think I haven't been enjoying art here, not so. Lots of arty inspirations have been distracting me from my own work in a great and also menacing way. I'd post more pictures but then I'd have to spend more time at the computer and not out enjoying life. Still, I won't forget I have a blog (or two). I promise.