When the Subway is Beautiful

I collected these mosaic pictures last time I was in Singapore.
They were all on a wall in a subway station.
 I like pausing for public art.
 It's right there to take for granted every single commuting day.
 Like the huge old Banyan trees I pass in the park daily.
 Rich with color and texture and life.
 Making my life better at the boundaries of my vision, even when I don't stop to notice.
  But when I do stop to notice...
Those colors are even more sweet.

I dare you.
This year:
If you don't already,
Stop and notice little bits of color in your peripheral vision.

Success can be measured in goals set and met
(a New Year's sort of thing, no?).
But it also can be measured in moments noticed and treasured.
And no one controls the success of the latter but you.

Christmas in Mall-Asia

I present to you: Christmas pictures from Malaysia (no I'm not in Malaysia right now, I took these before I traveled home-home to Bellingham for the holidays).
 Even though Malaysia is primarily a Muslim country (with sizable Buddhist and Hindi populations too), Malaysia is also a shopping mall culture.
 We lovingly call it, Mall-Asia.
 So naturally they love Christmas decorations.
 The malls go ALL OUT decorating with beautiful twinkling fake snow (even though it's most likely over 90 degrees outside). The decorations went up weeks before they would have at home. November was full of Christmas. 
These next two photos are from Malaysia's next-door neighbor, Singapore, a place that also loves shopping malls.
Yes, those Christmas trees are hanging upside down from the ceiling!
Please note that even in my son's school, where treats we bring must be halal, there were Christmas decorations up everywhere. There was even a cute little tree in his class room.

Cheers to a great holiday, religious for me, festive for others. I, for one, am happy to share the joy.
I'm wishing joy to you, wherever and whoever you are, this holiday week.

Seeing things in a new light

 "One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."
-Henry Miller
 "The world is full of abundance and opportunity, but far too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car... a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel. They expect little and as a result they get little."-Ben Sweetland

Collecting Shooting Stars

 A torn edge of a brochure taped over a found child's drawing with a scribble of what I was thankful for that day.
 I love looking back at my old journals, with their cluttered and messy pages.
 The practice of writing (and drawing and taping or gluing stuff) in a journal has helped me seek adventures that are worthy of recording. And to notice little things in the grass or colors overhead.
 While I've been traveling so much this year, I've found a lot of the photos I take are these sorts of snippets. Colorful bits and pieces I'm happy I didn't walk past -- but stopped to notice.
I took all of these photos in November. I think I was subconsciously collecting shooting stars. 
 Not a bad thing to collect, and a happy thing to collect on accident.
My photos are an unconventional sort of journal (my favorite kind). They aren't professional or serious, they are just pauses to notice small moments. Each on their own aren't very special, but altogether they kind of tell a story. Just like a journal.

Do you keep any unconventional journals? 
I'd love to hear about them.

P.S. This week I'm GOING HOME, as in BELLINGHAM, WASHINGTON home. In fact by the time this post goes up, I'll probably just be arriving. Blessing to all who are traveling this season -- whether it be home or away from home. I hope you collect many amazing moments.

I've put up a few posts in advance of being gone, so the blog won't shut down while I'm away. Enjoy!

Trying Batik

 I finally tried Batik!
 I went to the craft complex near my condo with some out of town guests and we spent "Craft Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, trying our hands at one of SE Asia's favorite art forms.
 The basics: you draw an image with wax, paint over it, and then melt the wax to allow the cloth below to stand out.
 Actually we drew with pencil first, onto silk, then drew with wax.
 Although the women operating the batik booth at the craft complex were willing to do the wax part for us, I tried my hand at it with the Labyrinth I made. It was really fun, even if my hand was a bit shaky and inexperienced with the wax tool. On my second piece I decided to let the ladies help since my second piece was pretty detailed (plus those ladies were so fun to watch!).
 I used part of one of my drawings from last month, the train engine, since I thought it might something I could hang on my son's wall (he loves trains).
 I had so much fun!
 I realized too, that I'm not really as slow as I always say I am at working -- it's just my usual medium, collage, is slow. I was lightning fast at Batik (I made two pieces while everyone else made one and I probably could have made a third).
 If I were a painter, I think I'd be faster. I realize that collage just takes longer. I'm okay with that. It's the medium I dream in, it's close to my heart and it's what I know best. So be it if I'm slower than I'd be in another medium (And I'm still working at making it faster).
 I should have handled the train engineer differently in Batik to make the white outlines work better, I think the engine looked better before the wax was melted. All in all it was a fun experiment, though.
I'm definitely going to try to learn more about Batik while I'm in Malaysia. I think I'll take a more in-depth class sometime in the next few months. I'm thinking it would be cool to use some batik techniques on paper for my collages. At the very least it would be a fun take-home from my two years in Malaysia.

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.

When the window you're tugging at won't open

Some windows seem impossible to open. Even when they're not, it's as though they are painted shut. We tug and tug and tug and tug and the window just won't open. We feel trapped -- no air -- why won't this darn window open? These windows are important to us to open for one reason or another. The breeze from behind calls out to us by name. And so we tug on, and the struggle is beautiful in it's own stubborn way.
I have one of those windows. It's a dream. I want to be a writer-illustrator. I love the work so much, but it’s challenging to find a good way of sharing my work. So I tug on.

Then there are other windows that swing open with hardly a fuss. They clunk open without much effort. The breeze comes in and fills us with life without our even trying. These windows can be easy to take for granted. When they are noticed though, their breezes are so refreshing; they offer a jolt of energy. It’s strength for the journey.

I’ve a few of these windows too. I was putting together my annual holiday card the other day, choosing pictures from the past year that would be fun to share. The obvious struck me: I've had a crazy year of unexpected opportunities. This year I've traveled by boat through the Panama Canal, ridden an elephant through a jungle in Thailand, witnessed the grandiosity of a World Expo in Shanghai, traveled on a colorful floral bike trickshaw in Melaka, visited countless artist studios in Bali, and lived with a view of one of the tallest buildings in the world outside my window. And I've done all this with a three-year-old in tow. Wow! Wow! Wow! Don't get me wrong, it hasn't been easy to be an ex-pat, but I have also had amazing opportunities that feel a bit like they landed in my lap, and for that I'm deeply grateful.

It’s important to keep tugging at difficult dreams that call us by name. Essential. Apathy for one’s dreams is not a desirable quality in my opinion. But neither are jealousy or bitterness – both attitudes that can set in without taking the time to appreciate a larger picture.

Without looking around a bit, occasionally looking past the tunnel vision that comes with beloved goals, and cultivating a grateful heart, we sometimes don’t notice the fresh air of another wonderful window, open right in front of us. Maybe it's an opportunity that landed right on our laps, a loved one's continued support, or an adventure we had not even known we could take.

I don't dwell on this, or write about it to invoke guilt in myself or others, but as a sincere offering of gratitude for the good in life. For me, I've found that cultivating a grateful heart is the number one thing that eases the hardships that are a natural part of any journey that requires endurance.

While we struggle for some important change or discovery or accomplishment, we also often have the opportunity to breathe, should we accept it. And that's a beautiful thing to remember.

I won’t quit tugging at that big dream, as I said: it has my name on it, true as true. But I’m so, so, so grateful that another dream I wasn’t even trying for came true this year.

Look around. What blessings aren’t you noticing? They might even be obvious if you look for them. They might be right in front of you.

Have you looked?

Do so.

Then go back to tugging at whatever window needs tugging, hopefully a little refreshed.

Let the craft season begin!

Thanksgiving usually ushers in a season of I-can't-help-but-get-crafty time for me. The holiday itself often ends up being a bit of a crafty day itself. This year's Thanksgiving was no exception, even though my crafty sister wasn't around to egg me on. My son, Oscar, and I ushered in the craft season together by making an awesome paper train "book" that he's now obsessed with.
We also had to be a bit crafty with our Turkey this year. We couldn't find one. My husband made a delicious chicken (you can see it cooking in the oven below and then fully prepared in the second picture below).
But I so wanted a turkey. I know it's a bit silly when your hubby is willing to make something that looks as good (and tastes as good as it looks) as this:
But there's also something to be said for comfort food when you're oceans away from home. So after I mentioned on facebook that I couldn't find a turkey, some KL friends came to the rescue and told us about a hotel that made fully prepared Thanksgiving dinners. Luckily we had three hungry American back-packer friends staying with us to help eat all that food!

So my Thanksgiving wishes came true last week. I got my crafty time, and my Turkey.

Woods in the Books

When I was in Singapore last week I stumbled upon a happy little bookstore called "Woods In The Books."
It was a picture book store, carrying what they called "picture books for all ages," meaning they carried lots of visual novels, graphic novels and arty journals in addition to picture books.
 The store was so lovingly curated, from the books, to the music playing in the background, to the art on the walls and exhibit in the back. Just knowing such a place exists makes me so, so, so happy. You can bet I spent a lot of time treasure hunting there. I also read some new picture books I'd been anxious to read but hadn't found in Malaysia yet (too bad my son slept through the whole experience, I think he would have liked browsing there too). I left with a very happy bag full of books and a skip in my step.
When I first moved to Malaysia I was rather cynical about the picture book market here. But I've started to realize that even though there isn't as much of a market for picture books as where I'm from, there actually is huge potential for growth here. And after being here a while, my very unscientific intuition tells me the probability for that growth actually happening seems pretty real. Just seeing what exists in a more developed market that's relatively local, like Singapore, is refreshing evidence. So there's a little dose of hope for you all today. It's not only Malaysia, either. Much of SE Asia is developing fast. Perhaps the market for picture books will develop and grow along with it.

Keep on keepin' on, with gratitude

This is my son with a book I helped him make.

Sometimes it's hard to keep working when you hear sad news. I feel like there's been lots of sad news in publishing lately, especially relating to picture books. I literally yelled, "NO," when I heard tricycle press would soon be no more. But bad stuff happens. To endure it, you've got to find your own sparks of joy. Really. You have to.

Just think, a hundred years ago there were barely any picture books at all. (And none with glossy colorful collage illustrations!) Now there are hundreds of new picture books that come out -- and indeed, even in this economy, still come out -- every year. What a beautiful and wonderful collective accomplishment.  Whenever I think on it it, I feel overwhelmingly grateful.

He was so proud, he even bound it!
And on that note,  I want to say thank you to everyone who keeps the embers glowing at the hearth, despite bad news sometimes. Children's books are important. Even little wanna-bes like me do our part to work at giving kids the best books and art we can offer, and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing to do so.
"No woman should be shamefaced in attempting through her work to give back to the world a portion of its lost heart."
 -Louise Bogan, poet
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


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!

The Beautiful Unfamiliar

 "Nothing is so awesomely unfamiliar as the familiar that discloses itself at the end of a journey." -Cynthia Ozick
 "There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." -From Hamlet by Shakespeare.*
*Please note I first found this quote (even though, of course I'm familiar with Hamlet) when I saw that it was Joni Sensel's favorite quote on a blog interview she did awhile back for writer, Angelina Hansen. It's such a perfect quote for the books she writes too. Thanks for alerting me to the great Shakespeare quote, Joni. It's now one of my favorites, too.

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?)

A week-long random round-up of cool links and miscellany: ETSY crafty goodness

It's seems there's lots of random links, blogs and bits of good news from friends I've been longing to share lately. Too many for one blog post. So I made a week's worth. Enjoy!

Last but not least, for Christmas shoppers, DON'T FORGET ABOUT ETSY! Those not in the know -- it's the most awesome handmade marketplace ever.

Yes, I still sell journals and photo albums there (although I'm not actively promoting or adding things now). My sister handles shipping from Washington State, so if you're interested you don't have to worry about shipping from Malaysia or anything.

I'd also like to extend a special etsy shout out to a trio of crafty cousins of mine (I come from a very crafty family) who have all started Etsy shops this past year.

Margaret, who has a great sense of design, makes some fun kiddy bean-bags, piggy banks, belts and back-packs. Jennifer makes beaded jewlery (she only has one listing in her shop -- but maybe she'll add more for Christmas?). And Laura makes girly play-clothes and such. Way to go, crafty FAM!

Well, that's it for my round-up. Whew! That was fun. I'll have to do it again sometime.

A week-long random round-up of cool links and miscellany: Katy Longshore

It's seems there's lots of random links, blogs and bits of good news from friends I've been longing to share lately. Too many for one blog post. So I made a week's worth. Enjoy!

Here's a shout out for a friend of mine who I got to know in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program -- Katherine Longshore. Katy is just the sort of person you can't help but root for, and I'm thrilled beyond belief for her books to come. She writes historical fiction.

Here's her news from Publisher's weekly: "Katy Longshore's GILT, the story of teenage Queen, Catherine Howard, told in a vibrant and contemporary voice, the first in a series of novels set in the court of Henry V111, to Kendra Levin at Viking Children's, at auction, in a three-book deal, for publication in Fall 2012, by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management (NA)."

And on that note -- so many friends and acquaintances from that program have been busting a move lately. If I haven't mentioned it before, I'll mention it now. That program is an amazing opportunity;  consider applying next year if you are serious about writing or illustrating for children, especially if you've been at it awhile and you're ready to step things up a notch.

A week-long random round-up of cool links and miscellany: The Art Of Non-Conformity

It's seems there's lots of random links, blogs and bits of good news from friends I've been longing to share lately. Too many for one blog post. So I made a week's worth. Enjoy!

Another Merry Christmas to me: Chris Guillebeau's Art Of Non-Conformity book (already in it's 4th printing after only a few months on shelves) is also waiting to be read in that same Powell's book box at my mother's house that I mentioned yesterday (do you know how horribly expensive international shipping can be? ). His blog has completely inspired me to try to crack some of my own shells lately. I've especially enjoyed a recent series of posts he's put up regarding creating one's own agenda. Brilliant inspirational stuff I highly recommend checking out.


A week-long random round-up of cool links and miscellany: Jesse Joshua Watson

It's seems there's lots of random links, blogs and bits of good news from friends I've been longing to share lately. Too many for one blog post. So I made a week's worth. Enjoy!

Jesse Joshua Watson has thoroughly inspired me with his recent trip to Haiti and his new picture book, "Hope For Haiti," which was recently released, and the blog about said book. He's also posted a cool link on his blog about an organization that will donate free books to kids in Haiti just for checking out an online version of the book. Pretty cool. I can't wait to see my copy of "Hope For Haiti," it's patiently waiting at my mother's house back home (inside a Powells cardboard box with my name on the mailing label). Merry Christmas to me (Yes I'll be back in the U.S. for Christmas).


A week-long random round-up of cool links and miscellany: George Shannon and Nina Laden

It's seems there's lots of random links, blogs and bits of good news from friends I've been longing to share lately. Too many for one blog post. So I made a week's worth. Enjoy!

George Shannon writes some of my favorite read-aloud picture books. He's also one of my favorite people to hear speak about the craft of writing. So lucky for me (and maybe for you), he started a blog a few months ago about the craft of writing. I especially love how he talks about the "sound-track" of picture books.

Also lucky for me (and maybe for you), the amazing Nina Laden, author and illustrator extraordinaire has also recently started a blog.


A little more greatness

I just found out a fun challenge that seems to go with the spirit of November for me: PiBoIdMo. It's picture book idea month -- write a picture book idea every day for the month of November. Check it out on Tara Lazar's blog. I'm in! Fun.