STORYSTORM 2019! Brainstorm, Play, and Ideas

Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm! Play, play, play! Ideas, ideas, ideas!


These three core creative values pretty much sum up the heart of my creative process. They also sum up Picture Book Author Tara Lazar’s annual Storystorm Challenge, which I’ve participated in for many years.


The Storystorm challenge (used to be called PIBOIDMO—picture book idea month) is a challenge on Tara’s blog where participants agree to come up with a new picture book idea every day for 30 days in a month. 30 ideas! In a month! Seems crazy at first. But no. It’s great. 

Because where do I get my best ideas? Out of a pile of terrible ideas. It’s true. Basically I get my best ideas by coming up with lots and lots of ideas, putting every idea into the pile, and then later worrying about whether they are any good or not. And that same basic concept has now extended into so many aspects of my creative process that I feel it somehow captures the entire spirit of writing and art for me.

My Bureau of Fearless Ideas shirt and my Field Guide To Fearless Ideas poster, both purchased at the  Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company  in Seattle, a storefront for the  Bureau of Fearless Ideas , a non-profit writing and tutoring center for kids.

My Bureau of Fearless Ideas shirt and my Field Guide To Fearless Ideas poster, both purchased at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company in Seattle, a storefront for the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a non-profit writing and tutoring center for kids.

So in the spirit of fearless ideas, here I am this past week wearing my Bureau Of Fearless Ideas shirt next to my Field Guide To Fearless Ideas poster, (purchased here, more info in the caption). And why am I wearing my BFI* shirt? Because STORYSTORM = FEARLESS IDEAS! And it’s that time of year. I’ve just finished up 2019’s challenge and I’m celebrating all the ways ideas, brainstorming, and play make my art better.

This past year I signed a contract for my first PB after working at it a looooong time. And THE ELEPHANT HIDE-AND-SEEK HANDBOOK (scheduled for release from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in 2020) was definitely born from this process.

So cheers to fearless ideas and fearless brainstorming! And a big shout-out and thank you to Tara for all she’s done for the writing and illustrating community over many years!


The bumper sticker on my car. Bought it at  Wild Play  zipline course on Vancouver Island, BC. Pertains to art and writing too.

The bumper sticker on my car. Bought it at Wild Play zipline course on Vancouver Island, BC. Pertains to art and writing too.

*BFI = Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a real place. It’s a tutoring center for kids. But they also have cool shirts and posters. And in Seattle they have a Space Travel Supply Company. So that’s awesome.

Meditative drawing

I posted this on Facebook but thought it might be nice to post here too


A combination of too much chai yesterday afternoon paired with anxiety from reading way too much about the Paris attacks before bedtime left me wide awake in the middle of the night last night. 

Usually if this happens I get up and write in my journal or read a book or do some yoga and I can manage to go to sleep again. 

I don't often draw when I wake in the night because my inner critic rages at the midnight hour (unless I've stayed up in a manic obsession over a specific project). But I've been teaching art this fall and I showed the kids I teach how to draw Indian Rangolis a few weeks ago. Turns out Indian Rangolis are pretty therapeutic to draw when my brain is in overdrive. 

It felt like a quiet rebellion to use my anxiety as an excuse to focus on beauty for beauty's sake while I cozied up to the stove in my studio. Here are my prayers for Paris and the world, drawn mostly in the anxious hours of the early morning, myself like so many: striving in the face of fear to turn toward the light. 


l add that I've had a lot of requests for coloring sheets.

Good idea. The

se aren't great pictures because they are just s

napped with the scanner app on my phone but I'll put some up so

on for anyone i



I love November. And not just because of Thanksgiving (which is my favorite holiday). The last few years I've participated in Picture Book Idea Month over on Tara Lazar's blog. If you haven't heard of it before, the idea is that you write a picture book idea down for every day in November. I love the brainstorming. I love the discipline and deadline. I love the play that comes out with my later ideas. I love it all.

And best of all...
This year I've already written two new picture books as a result of PiBoIdMo. Woo hoo!

Cheers to anyone else who took the challenge.

Can't wait for PiBoIdMo

The last few Novembers I've participated in Tara Lazar's fantastic picture book writers' event: PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). And Yep, I signed up again.

What is it? It's the picture book writers' answer to National Novel Writing Month: Write a picture book idea every day for the month of November. That's it! Oh, and also Tara keeps a fantastic blog full of encouragement and success stories and whatnot that adds a sort of group support aspect to the individual challenge.

I can't tell you how much I've gained each of the last few Novembers from stretching my brainstorming muscle enough to come up with 30 ideas, day after day after day, all in a row.

For one, I've gotten a fair amount of picture books written that otherwise wouldn't have come to light. Last year I even wrote an entire novel (still revising) that spawned from one of the "picture book" ideas. Also, and not to be underestimated, I've realized how brainstorming does really bring out the best in my ideas. Sometimes my first idea is so exciting that I just want to run with it. But when I push myself to think more — to go for a 2nd, then third, and even maybe a 30th idea — I'm forced to think in fresh ways that lend excitement to my work.

This year PiBoIdMo comes at the perfect time for me. I'm just (finally) really getting back into my groove. I can't wait to fill up that idea journal.

If you are interested in participating too, register here.

Recent Art: Peacock juggling next to a fruit stand

This piece turned out to be one of my favorites that I've made in awhile (you can click on it to see a larger version).
Not only because I think it turned out well, but because of how I was inspired to make it.
 It started over a second breakfast of egg hoppers and banana fritters in Ella, Sri Lanka.
The view from the cafe I was eating in was of this fruit stand:
And these tuk tuks:
I could also see this tidy little fish stand from where I sat:
I already had drawn my peahen princess (see last Monday's post) and I had, just the day before, seen so many animals, including lots of wild peacocks.
 (the porcupines I actually saw several days later)
But while I was sitting there eating I kept thinking about using that fruit stand as a setting in an illustration.
I couldn't shake it. I decided I needed pictures of the fruit.
I didn't want to be overly touristy, but I really wanted those pictures.
So I went over to the fruit stand (pretending I wasn't shy), and asked the guys running it about their fruit and if I could photograph it. They gave me a wood apple (later I found out that wood apples make really great jam) and of course they were very nice about letting me photograph all their fruit.
Right from the get go I pictured the same peacock I had drawn before (see last week's post), only this time he would be juggling fruit next to the fruit stand. So when I finally got around to making the drawing I naturally needed some reference for juggling. So I took a video of myself juggling (I recorded this using a widescreen setting on my camera and tipped the camera so the video would be portrait shaped; I cropped the video to download it here):
Then using a process I'd used before to get reference photos with good action in them, I  picked out a frame from the video to use as a reference when I drew my peacock juggling. 
 Here's the final drawing:
And here's the final collage, again:
Here are some close ups of the final piece:
 It's easier to get a sense of the piece as collage with the close-ups.
Another thing I like about this piece is that I focused on making some parts pop forward (the peacock) and some parts meld into the background more (the elephant). 
 This is a challenge in collage, but one I love and one I find very satisfying to work on. I've been playing with it much more since I participated in the SCBWI Nevada mentor program and I'm pleased with how it played out in this piece.
 Plus I like this piece because there's a tuk-tuk in the illustration.
We love tuk-tuks around here.

Immersing myself in a new world

 I love the feeling of jumping into a new book and discovering a very specific new setting.
 Maybe it's just a completely different angle or view of an otherwise familiar setting,
 Or maybe it's a new world altogether, 
 But when I find it, I'm a traveler exploring vast unknowns.
 (And Lord only knows how much I love to travel).
 I see things from new perspectives,
 understand my own perspectives better,
 and best of all,
 I have grand adventures.
 Novelists talk about creating unique new worlds, even out of the familiar.
 But picture books do this too.
 Often in the illustrations.
 Maybe it's with a color palette that matches a theme or mood.
 Or maybe it's with composition, or view point.
Whatever the twist of magic, it's one of my favorite considerations when I'm making any kind of new art.
But the biggest reward is when I'm able to share that unique point of view, or new world. 
Especially with the newest of explorers.

New Art: Choo Choo!

I'm having some problems with my scanner so I'm not able to post a great image of this piece as it looks finished yet.
But while I'm problem solving with my scanner issues I thought I'd post pictures of my latest art sample anyway.
Here's some close-ups of the detailed bits while I was working on them.
Choo choo!
P.S. Bonus! Before this post went up, I beat my scanner demons (for the most part) and got at least a semi-good scan made:

(Still missing the folks back home who I could pay to make a good scan for me though...)

Alligators eating licorice in a canoe: NEW ART

Here's an art piece I finished in December but hadn't put up on my blog yet.
 I made it for a friend of mine to give to his niece for Christmas.
The blank black rectangle was left so he could attach a story they had written together.
 It occurred to me I've posted a few slide show-like things with my illustrations, showing how I use my drawings as templates, but I've never just posted a bunch of pictures in a row, for those for whom video posts are difficult to access.
  As you can see from the pictures, my basic process is that I use a drawing to cut out my papers,
 and then I assemble the papers like a puzzle, using another printout of my drawing as a template.
 The papers are often tiny tiny tiny, so I use a surgical tweezers when I puzzle everything together.
I use PVA glue and a Chinese calligraphy brush as my glue brush (the only kind of brush I've found that works repeatedly for glue without needing constant replacement).
 I did marble that paper on my own, too. Check out this link for more on that.

PiBoIdMo a success!

Pictured here: my current idea journal before I started filling it.
Almost forgot to give myself a pat on the back for completing Picture Book Idea Month. Yes, I wrote down a picture book idea everyday for the entire month of November.

It was a delightful experience. I learned that I love brainstorming, that good ideas often do come after I've flushed through the first 5 to 10 starts and that I need not treat ideas so preciously -- rather it's great to spout them out! For me, quantity does bring quality in the case of ideas.

Be bold!
If anyone out there also participated and would be interested in trading a sort of idea-critique, please consider yourself invited to contact me! I'd love to have outside thoughts on which ideas others think are most interesting. I can't wait to at least share them with my critique group. (Keeping my fingers crossed that we can meet over the holidays when I'm home).

So I'm sending happy branistorming thoughts out in the world today. I hope you catch some of them.


While I'm not going to be able to finish my lofty goal of completing 10 collage illustration samples this month (the following are just drawings),
I'm happy that I feel I've made progress on my main goal: to try to ditch some of the perfectionist in me and speed up.
Obviously I didn't speed up enough to finish.
But, it's a process. Bit by bit. Right?
Plus I'm psyched that I actually like the pieces I'm working on. I kind of didn't expect to because I was going more for quantity, not quality (hard to ditch that perfectionist entirely though). 

My favorite of these drawings is probably the tea party. For that one I challenged myself to try to make some sort of illustration for/about/honoring Malaysia.
While I won't finish these illustrations this month (I'll be in Singapore when this post goes up, tagging along with my husband on a business trip. Who knew I'd get the chance to go to Singapore this month?), I'll look forward to finishing them in the upcoming weeks.
Just thought I'd post the drawings for now.

Keep on keepin' on, everybody!

Mining For Ideas

I've always thought my best illustration samples have come from my dummies. Or from stories I've written. If I know a character well, I draw the character better. The character seems more real, because the character is more real to me. This makes total sense. Plus my heart's in it more. When we put our heart into our work, our work is stronger.

And yet...

This summer I decided that takes too long. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love making dummies (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE -- I'd rather make dummies than anything else). But dummies take a looooong time to finish. And if I keep relying on my best artwork coming mostly from my writing and my dummies -- well, I think I may just morph into a glacier or something.

If I'm actually going to ever come out behind my studio door and promote my work regularly enough to sell one of those dummies I love making so much, I've got to use my problem solving skills to figure out a way to produce more satisfying RANDOM samples that I can use for self-promotion.

Enter PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month -- where I'm writing a new picture book idea down everyday), and my Golden Coffee Cup goal (I'm trying to make an unprecedented 10 whole collage samples in one freaking month -- not sure I'll make it, but at least I'll wind up with something better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick). It turns out these two playful crazy spirit-of-NaNoWriMo-things go well together.

The story ideas I'm coming up with kinda mostly suck (even though they're really fun to come up with, and some have surprising potential). But they are mostly coming from things or people I already know well enough to make samples for. Which, it turns out, is very helpful for my random sample goal.

For example, when I was in Virginia City last year, a ghost visited my room! No joke. She opened the shades one evening after I am positive I closed them (go ahead and be skeptical those who must, but know that I stick my tongue out at you). So one of my story ideas, and subsequent illustration samples-in-progress, involves a cowboy and some ghosts. And a location that's haunted me for the past year.

Who knows if I'll be able to make ghosts with collage. But I'm certain I'll have fun trying. 

(Hey, P.S., This is just the "drawing," for the collage, in case you were wondering. I haven't made the actual collage yet. I normally piece my drawings together in Photoshop -- it feels more like collage, you know?)

New samples and a newbie Malaysian expat's story of trying to figure out how to get them scanned

When I finished these art samples last month I needed to make copies. I also wanted to get them scanned so I could put them up online and have art samples printed when need be. It seems like a rather straightforward problem. But without the businesses I'd learned to know and trust back home, I didn't know where to go.

Now I realize that this sounds like a very straight-forward problem. Finding something as simple as a color copy center that makes adequate good-quality color copies is something I take for granted at home. But I'm here to say that the yellow pages and small business websites don't exist everywhere in the world to the same extent as they do in the United States. Nor do quality-color-copy centers and it takes awhile to develop any sort of social network of people to find places word-of-mouth.

So after finishing my art, trying my best to ask the people I do know here where to go, and searching the Internet for some kind of clue, I headed out to pound the pavement in search of adequate copies.

People were so nice throughout my search. But I'm a misfit in a foreign land. I was bound to bump into some culture shock.

For example, in one of the many color copy centers I tried, I watched the head manager cut 13x19 paper down with a razor, a straight-edge and a cutting mat to prepare some 11x17 card stock for the color copier. I guess I simply took for granted that a copy center would own a paper-cutter. Or 11 x17 paper. I wondered if the other places I'd been at earlier in the day had done the same thing and I just hadn't noticed. The manager was super generous with his time, and so, so kind and patient (he gets an A for customer service). But I still was shocked. And I'm not exaggerating when I say that this place was the best I found that particular day (I think it was the 5th shop I visited). 

Eventually I temporarily gave up and decided to haul my art over the ocean to make copies this time since I was going home anyway. I'd still have to face the problem of finding copies, but I'd face it later.

So I made copies when I was home in Bellingham, but sadly, the business I used to scan my art had decided to fold while I was away. I was left scan-less.

When I got back to Malaysia, I knew I had to face my problem. On a whim I decided to fuss around with piecing together my own scan from my semi-crappy scanner in my studio. I have tried this many many times, but always opt for different routes because collage is rather hard to scan well. Colors don't always turn out right, it's also easy to loose the sense that something has a bit of texture if the scanner is bad.

After spending most of a day with fierce determination, I think I managed to futz together something that works. Alleluia. And even though the first image took the whole day, the last image only took me half an hour. It's not as good of a scan as the pros did for me back home, but man, I am so so so psyched to have been able to do this myself.

I get that cliche -- necessity is the mother of invention.

Anyway, I'm happy to finally share these samples with the world! Hooray!

Also, I'm fishing for comments a bit to know whether this sort of story of my life as an expat is of interest to anyone or not. I've been trying to figure out ways to mix some of the flavor of expat life in with my art blog, so I'm experimenting here. If this bores you, please let me know. Like say "Kjersten, for Pete's sake -- just post sketches or something, we don't care about all this!" I can take the heat.

Like a tree

"The only way most people recognize their limits is by trespassing on them." -- Tom Morris
Sorry for the lack of posts. I suppose in the last couple of weeks I've dropped into the studio abyss. Or, forgive the cheesiness, the a-bliss? I'm hard at work, nose to the grindstone, with samples for a dummy -- some new collages that are just the right kind of harder-than-heck challenge -- and I'm loving every God-blessed minute of it. Sometimes life is difficult. Just the right kind of difficult.
Hey, on a similar note, I think it's fascinating to hear how long artists spend on any given piece. I know full well that I have many a practical peer who won't spend more than one day on a final piece (I've tried it -- I like it. But. The work I'm doing now calls for something different). I heard from an art director that one artist he knows only spent an hour on an award-winning cover. I've also watched a video of Eric Carle at work whipping out those fun and spirited collages he makes in a similar amount of time. How long does your art take? Are you fast? Or are you slow?

Me? With the work I'm doing now, I'm a bit of a glacier, or a redwood tree, I confess. I just finished a collage that I made while listening to 3 audio books, 11-to-14-hour-long audio books. That's right. Thirty to forty hours. And that doesn't even involve the prep work -- making paper, taking photos for the photo elements, painting the painted parts, drawing. Nope. That only includes cutting everything out and gluing it down. It's a rather embarrassing amount of time that, I'm certain, many people would chastise me over (including my family). But, whatever. It is what it is. I wasn't wasting time or anything. It's just what this particular piece called for (I use a surgical tweezers for small bits -- there were hundreds of small bits in this collage). It is what it is.

Some novelists write an entire draft in November (Nanowrimo anyone?) and others take years to finish a draft (even working constantly). And some of the results of both variety are amazing. And some of the results of both variety suck. It's just the way it is.

What works for you? And have you tried the opposite? What were the results?

Paper Marbling

A couple years ago, at an SCBWI picture book retreat with

Denise Fleming

, I learned a simplified version of paper marbling using shaving cream and food coloring.

This past week (after finally getting my paper-making area set up in my new studio) I put that knowledge to use!

I didn't use food coloring this time. Instead I used the paper-making dyes I use when I dye the paper I make. I did this so I could play with color a bit more.

I needed some "river" paper, which is why I took this on.

These are some photos of the blue versions.

I also made some muddy brown marbled paper too.

I'm so grateful to Denise for teaching me how to do this!

And I can't wait to see how it looks in the collages I'm working on.

Lightning Strikes! (A way of taking good reference photos for action drawings)

Lightning strikes!
I took these pictures using a method that I worked out during the Nevada mentor program last summer. It's a method of taking reference photos for action drawings.
I'd meant to post about this last fall but sometimes blogging has to take the back burner when there's lots going on. So here we are, better late than never.
While I was drawing the sketches for my mentor assignment, I was having a devil of a time capturing the movement of Dorothy tossing the pail of water on the wicked witch of the west.
When I first had the trouble, I tried what I usually have tried. I set my camera up on a shelf with the self-timer on and posed for a reference photo.
But it wasn't working.
Dorothy looked stiff and overly posed when I drew her. No matter how hard I tried.
I was brainstorming with my (patient) husband one night about it and he suggested that instead of photographing, I try videoing myself tossing the pail. So I did.

And I as I watched myself throw the pail I also remembered that I could pluck a single frame of the video out and save it as a picture. So I scrolled through the video, frame by frame, and picked a frame that I thought best caught the action. I used Quicktime pro to do this (if you are interested, type in "creating a still image from a movie" in help. I believe you do need the pro edition of Quicktime to do this but I'm not sure, you may be able to do it in regular Quicktime).
Voila! I had a decent reference photo that wasn't as stiff. By using the reference photo plucked from the video, I was able to draw a Dorothy that captured the action better. Yay!
Now the witches face...
That one was totally posed.
I bet she'd make the same face if she were caught in a thunder storm.

More on Art Reproductions

Before: ...................................... After:

So from my last few posts you can tell I've been fussing with my art reproductions. Collage is a strange medium. Harder to reproduce well than some mediums maybe. I know if I had been passionate about this medium 50 years ago, it probably wouldn't have been realistic to set my sights on illustration.

Anyway, I think my fussing has paid off. Here's my before and after pictures for any others out there who might be geeks about this stuff or want to see the process.