Tom Sawyer

When I was in second grade (or so) my mom read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain to my sister and me. 
I remember thinking, "Wow! This has to be the funniest book ever written!" I LOVED it.

Every night I'd beg my mom to read "More! More!"
Meanwhile my sister would say "Enough! Enough!"

And that pretty much still sums up the difference between my sister and me when it comes to reading.

Anyway, here's an illustration I made for the annual SCBWI Tomie dePaola award competition. I'd been working at a few mid-grade illustrations to add to my portfolio anyway and when I saw the Tomie dePaola theme this year included Tom Sawyer, I couldn't resist.

Oh ya, also, if you happen to be in Missouri, do you know you can visit many of the real places from Mark Twain's books? Mom took me there as a kid, soon after we read Tom Sawyer, because I became such a fan. Those caves are awesome! And there really is a fence.

Pat on the Back for me

Picture Book Idea Month (an idea a day for a month) really feeds my muse. Last year by the end of November I was rolling with a new mid-grade fiction novel and had ideas swarming me that led to some of my favorite work I did last year. My muse went nuts with the freedom to brainstorm.

This year, again, I feel pumped and energetic after the months' exercise. In fact this year I feel like the entire process has completely busted up a block I had building in my work over the past few months (sadly neglecting follow-through on some of my favorite projects from last year even). What is it about the concept of coming up with an idea every day that frees my muse so much?

I think it's the idea of brainstorming. Not letting the inner critic shut down my muse before she gets going. Or more to the point, shutting up the perfectionist within.

That pesky perfectionist always wants to please everybody when it comes to follow-through time. And that can be downright counter-productive. But the problem is figuring out how to balance the free-flow of ideas with the careful editor within. And so the dance goes on.

Anyway, cheers to anyone else who took on the PiBoIdMo challenge (or nanowrimo for that matter). I wish you all kinds of good energy in your efforts of following-through on all your fantastic new ideas.

Fishy sketches

I've been a little unplugged this fall (there's something gloriously refreshing about breaks from status updates and constant digital input). But it's high time I check in to my trusty old blog and say hi to the wider world. Hi wider world! Nice to see you!
 Speaking of places where we unplug...
 My husband's maternal family has a little cabin on the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec, right over the border from Upstate New York.  We call the place "Camp Carpenter," or just: Camp. I LOVE camp. My husband grew up fishing and boating and swimming there. And now my son Oscar and I get to join in the fun.

 I'm happy to say that this summer when we took Oscar there (he hadn't been in a few years — ya know, due to a little two-year excursion to Asia...), Oscar LOVED it.
And Oscar's favorite part of camp, hand's down, was fishing.
And while we were there I had a little spark of inspiration for a picture book fishing story that now has been nagging me for a few months. Especially because I told Oscar about it and he keeps asking me about it (he really liked fishing).
 So here I am in November (with a happy full journal of PiBoIdMo ideas) kind of obsessing over this one little spark from the summer.
 So I've been writing a drawing a bunch this month with fishy stuff on the brain and I thought I'd share.
 It's kind of the perfect focus when you are feeling a little prone toward unplugginess.
 So these are all just super rough sketches I'm doing to get ideas for how the characters in the dummy will look.
 I hope everyone out there in the wider world had a lovely thanksgiving (or fall, if you aren't in the U.S.A.!).
 We had a very eventful November in our little corner of the universe: I got a new nephew (melt melt heart; something about newborn babies just makes you think everything about the world is beautiful).
And cheers to anyone else who participated in PiBoIdMo! Hope your fishing trip for ideas was a huge sucess!

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.

Adventures, not even in Asia

My blog has been a bit quiet the past few months as I'm (still) settling into home after living in Asia for two years, shaving my dear old studio down (from using two rooms to using just one), introverting as I deal and...

Taking adventures in my own backyard.

 It's normal for an expat to have some trouble getting his or her head on straight after re-entry into one's homeland.

 Things can be a bit strange and overwhelming, even while they are also familiar and lovely. Sometimes there are cringe moments, confusion, and grumpy faces as mommy forces everyone to deal as she re-organizes EVERYTHING in EVERY room because this is a new time and everything should be new and clean and fresh and organized (dream on)! But memory has it that it took forever when we got to Malaysia too... Anyhow...

In our case, for re-entry at least, there's also the fact that we love, love, love the northwest. And that can just obliterate all the meddlesome tedious details of how long it takes to move back home.

I mean, how could you not love this place?

View of Bellingham-ish area from Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island

 And we've traveled a lot. We knew re-entry would take forever. 

And now we also have a new perspective on travel in our own backyard.

I loved all the magic and adventure we found and experienced while living in Asia. It was fantastic. It was life-changing.

Even in small ways. Like when we got home, noticing the magic in our own backyard a little more acutely than we maybe did before.

No kidding, this is what I saw just a little over a week ago:


 Right after my reminiscing here on seeing them in Australia. Here's my smile after watching the whales for an hour or so:

It was magic in my own backyard that I'd never experienced before I'd left. Kind of a concrete version of what I've been bringing on home from my travels.

A Few Awesome Picture Books that deal with the joy of adventure and maybe even the joy of coming home:

Toot and Puddle

by Holly Hobbie

Snail and The Whale

by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

A Penguin Story

by Antoinette Portis

Flyaway Katie

by Polly Dunbar

Four of my favorite books. If you like adventures you will probably like these books too.

Please note:

I'm still here. I'm still squeezing in time to make art here and there and enjoying these two goofy guys:

My blogging habit will squeeze back in too. It will.

Diving in

As I contemplate how exactly to tackle the month since my last post there's a bumper car ride of inner thoughts banging around in my head...

Is it too late to post about the SCBWI conference? How do I share the delight of overnight train rides with my son this past month or watching him swim and read for the first time even though it has nothing to do with my art? Wasn't it nice to be traveling this last month somewhere with little to no phone service let alone internet connection? Fishing, kayaking, swimming under the stars, reading reading reading. Reading in a tree house. What wonders that all did for my muse! Do I share anything about all the picture books one can write while just adventuring? I think I'm transitioned now, is that interesting to post about? Probably not. Oh wait! I saw some amazing art in Chicago last month I should share about. Gosh I was all over the map — literally – last month. Or what about my studio, have I put pictures up yet? Ugh! I hate when I neglect practices that I love. Neglect leads to overwhelm. I love journaling on the internet. Who cares about all these inner thoughts. Just dive in.

Bump, bang, crash! Wait! Aren't bumper car rides fun? Yes, but I'm over this inner thought ride that comes from neglecting a cherished practice.

Just dive in.

Like a whale.
A whale?

Yes. A whale.

Exactly one year ago, on the 10th anniversary of one of the scariest days in my home nation's history during my lifetime, I spent 40 minutes with 2 whales in Albany, Western Australia. I know I know. I already posted about it. But it's on my mind today.

The day was magical.



Like a visit from the muse. A long and lovely and magical visit with my muse. A magical visit that has stayed with me and become a part of me. And I'm thinking about it today because it's Sept. 11.

I like wiping all the bumper car thoughts away with the memory of those whales. I like the idea of just diving in.

I think I'll print out one of these pictures and put it on my studio wall as I dive into my new goals for this new school year (Yep, I'm on a school-year schedule now. My little one just started Kindergarten).

How about you? Maybe there's something small you can do to cultivate a little magic in your life or work right now?
Or maybe it's time to just dive in.

Either way, I hope your school year is off to a magical start.

End of the summer greetings

Greetings from upstate New York, where I'm currently visiting family and taking some much needed R&R after months of moving and transition stress and a couple of weekends of exciting adventures in L.A. at the SCBWI conference and in Indiana for a wedding and in Chicago to catch a train. (Did I really squeeze that all into a sentence?)

Of course I had good intentions to post about the conference right away and about my other adventures right away but technical difficulties have sapped my motivation to be so timely, so I won't be this time. Instead I'll just say happy end-of-the-summer to anyone who might be stopping by here.

I hope you are enjoying the last weeks of summer as I am and I'll look forward to catching up when I'm back to my big computer and can figure out what's up and down with my pictures enough to put up real posts again.


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!

Bookshelves bookshelves bookshelves

Show and tell time.

These are my family's new bookshelves:


I LOVE them. 

Please note all the picture book shelves. And the face-out picture book rack on the wall to the left of the shelves. I am a proud picture book hoarder. I feel that this is a very fine thing. I have a five-year-old afterall (or maybe, yes, that 's just an excuse...).

Also! These awesome bookshelves do not stand alone.

How about some bookshelves just for all our handmade journals and photo albums?

Are two shelves too many? How about three? How about one for the wall? Face out!

Or maybe four?

Aren't these shelves AWESOME?

They are like half-tables stacked on top of one another.


Now, how about some handmade shelves by yours truly (and my crafty sister):

Patchwork bookshelves for the nook at the top of my stairs.

 Because every crafty lady should try DECOUPAGE at some point.

 Here's the shelves right after I hung them, before I filled them up. My son helped me. He loves helping mommy with projects.

 As long as said projects don't involve trips to the craft store.

Is it embarrassing to realize that this little list does not include the bookshelves in my studio? Or my bedroom? or the one downstairs for cookbooks? I mean, is that too many? Too many bookshelves?


In fact, how about I just add pictures of those shelves too. Why not?

Studio shelves, complete with flying pig light

Cookbooks under the T.V. Wouldn't we rather be reading anyway?

This one houses journals I'm still filling.


"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves."
-Anna Quindlen (from an article in the NYT)

Alright. Enough already. Go read a book.

Still Juggling

Juggling, juggling, juggling...


What's the biggest and most significant difference between these two pictures.

If you answered that one cast is on the left wrist and the other is on the right wrist, you answered correctly.

Yes. My child fell off a slide at school exactly one week after getting the cast off his left wrist and in doing so he broke his right wrist.

At least these things heal fast. Cast number 2 came off yesterday. NO. MORE. CASTS. PLEASE.


Settling back into home. Still. My current project has been condensing my studio from two rooms to one. It's looking good. Pictures coming soon. I promise.


Thank God.
I'm still an artist.

What's the cure for blogger's block? Just sit down and put something up, Kjersten! Like how about an illustration. Yes, that will do.

Here's a new illustration sample I've made to go with my new dummy that I (YES!) finished putting together in less than 2 weeks. CHEERS TO A HARD GOAL MET despite juggling numerous balls at once.

And how about I make a public goal of getting back on track with posting every week. That'd be a nice ball to add into the juggling mix because it seems that I've dropped it a bit lately.


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.

Wish granted: the story of a small curve-ball deadline and a custom order

Regular readers of my blog may remember a wish I asked of the universe a few weeks ago on my blog: "Someone throw a curve-ball deadline at me, will you?"
Well, one of my husband and I's longest-time friends from Bellingham answered that call...
At least in a small way.
This is that story.
*Cue dramatic music.* 
It was to be a weekend away from home without our kid (Thanks Mom!).
My husband and I headed over the mountains to Mazama, WA, where one of our best friends from Bellingham was getting married. I had never ridden the entire way over the pass on highway 20, through the North Cascades Park (I usually head that way in the winter, when the pass is closed). The drive was beautiful. I was in awe of my own home state and feeling very in love with being home.
The wedding was set on a ranch near where my husband and I like to go cross country skiing in the winter. I loved the rustic homey feel of our friends' wedding site. I loved the relaxed feel of everything. I loved the views!

As the sun went down on Friday before the wedding I took in a deep breath and felt happy to be outside without anything to do but breathe and talk with nice people and eat s'mores (lots of people at home have been complaining about our June-uary cold weather, but after living in Malaysia I'm still not over the fact that I can be outside and not break into a sweat when the sun is out, or for that matter when it's not out too).
Over the camp fire that night, the groom said something to me about how he wished he had gotten me to make their guest book, but they hadn't wanted to bug me as I was unpacking and settling back into being home. I asked if they had a guest book. He said no, they never got around to getting one...


Curveball deadline (albeit small) wish granted?

I offered to make something the next morning.

"Really?" He said.

Why the heck not?
So the next morning my retreat to Mazama became: SURVIVOR CRAFT CHALLENGE! MAKE A BOOK IN 5 (ish)  HOURS OR LESS WITH ZERO SUPPLIES!
I loved all the ways my friends decorated for their wedding; isn't this sign great?
And I was all over it.
I felt like someone had gifted me with a surprise treasure hunt or something.

I had already noticed the sort of details and style of the wedding. Rustic. Lots of burlap. Some splashes of color.
And the wedding invitation had had a tandem bike on it.
Yep, this was the alter. So pretty!
I gave myself two hours the next morning to gather whatever I could find in the nearby small (very small) towns of Winthrop and Twisp.
One touristy tea-towel souvenir (with some bikes on it) later, and I had my idea. 
The bride said a lot of these ideas for decoration were from Pinterest. I heart Pinterest.
Using a sketchbook and razor I bought at the only kind-of art supply store around, twine from the general store, and a couple of pretties from the farmer's market (a hand-blown glass bead and a little paper flowerette), I cut, dissected, taped, sewed and put together this last minute guest book:
Here's the guest book I made!
Voila! Crafty challenge met! So fun! Thanks universe (and Stacy) for granting my wish for a curve-ball art deadline, even if it was small. Plus it was fun because I've been out of practice in making guestbooks since letting go of craft shows when my son was born.

Anyway universe, I'll take more challenges like that please. Small or large, whichever.
Because that was super FUN!
Plus it was a super fun wedding. I got to wear pink cowboy boots.
And see a snake eat a mouse (okay, that was kind of gross and I assure you it was not part of the planned activities).
Sigh. Weddings always make me happy.
there was a hoe-down in the barn with a real band and a full moon! Can't beat that.
Of course the drive home wasn't bad either.

My hubby enjoyed it in his way.
And I enjoyed it my way.
(If you've never turned the volume up full blast with one of your favorite bands — in my case this time it was The Wailin' Jennys — when driving through a beautiful mountain pass all by yourself and singing along no matter how much your voice sucks, well then, you should).

Yay for crafty retreats, weddings and the Pacific northwest! It's good to be home.

Weavers in Laos

In our last months living in Malaysia, my family and I squeezed in every second of travel we could possibly squeeze in. It all went by so fast and everything was so busy that sometimes I'd visit some amazing new place or country and not even make a peep about it here on my blog, or on facebook, or even to best friends. 

Now that I'm home and things are *starting* to feel a little more normal in life (what's normal? I'm kind of glad it escapes me), all our travels can seem like some sort of crazy dream. Like, wait, was I really in Laos just a few months ago?


And maybe it's not too late to share some neglected cool stuff from there and elsewhere in my last few months of living abroad.

I wanted to go to Vientiane, Laos, because I had read about Laotian weaving...
I have a thing for weaving.
Maybe because my aunt is a textile designer and as a kid I always looked up to her (she was a real artist! Wow! Could I be like her someday?).
Or maybe because of the texture. Or the implicit warmth in the medium. Or maybe it's because textiles are just so beautiful.
Anyway, my work-in-progress novel has a grandmother character who is a weaver and who also spins thread so it was lucky serendipity that I got to watch some weavers in action while I was working on writing a book that included their craft.
The weaving studio I visited in Laos is owned by an American woman, Carol Cassidy, who hires local weavers and designs pieces for selling abroad and in her gallery. She is working to keep some of the more traditional methods of weaving and ikat alive.
Woman weaving an ikat piece.
What's ikat? AWESOME is what it is! It's a kind of weaving where the threads are tied in tight bunches before they are dyed. The dye doesn't color the parts of the threads that are tied so that after you remove the threads, whatever color was underneath remains the color it was. A beautiful pattern reveals itself when the threads are later woven into cloth.
Ikat thread bundles, tied and ready for dying
Ms. Cassidy, the owner of the studio, was there when we visited.
Ikat thread getting ready to go on a loom
She showed us around and said it was fine to take pictures and watch.
It was one of my favorite craft experiences I had while living in SE Asia.
Ms. Cassidy was a delightful host and her enthusiasm and passion for her studio and work brought a smile to my face.
Oh my gosh, COLOR!
Also, as a side note, if you ever get the chance to eat Laotian food, do! It's delicious.
Lucky for me, while I wanted to go to Laos to check out some weaving, my husband wanted to go for the food. He took a cooking class. Yum!
And our son? Well, there was good stuff for Oscar in Vientiane too.

Juggling act

As May is winding down, I realize I have been a bit neglectful of my happy little blog. Well, that's not exactly the truth. The truth is, I've been getting my life back in order after our move across the ocean! It's exciting and fun and busy. Things are starting to come together a bit around here (soon I'll have pictures of my new library dining room! And colorful staircase!). Basically, I've been unpacking; both my literal baggage from living abroad and also my experiences of the last two years.

Well there's all that and I've been on extra Mom duty. We had a little calamity here...
Oscar's fine. It's nothing much. It will heal good and fast and strong. But this is all just to say, I've been busy being a mom too. It's not only the repatriation issues and broken bones that I've been wrestling with. There's also kindergarten (Oscar will start this fall). I've been trying to figure out our options for kindergarten and I've been visiting schools and calling other parents to ask questions, on and on.

Wait, what was that?

I hear a inner voice.

Is it a critic?

Or maybe it's just myself acknowledging myself.
Hi self.
"Kjersten, this blog is for your art. For your passion, vocation, and calling. This blog is not a mommy blog. What the heck are you writing right now?"

Well, I've had to set myself aside a bit this past month.

*She waves her head at herself in disgust and stares herself in the mirror and wags a finger at her own face: "I thought you were committed to your dream too! You have to take care of yourself, too!"*

But... Doesn't it suck to be hard on yourself either way? To feel guilty to work...

 (There isn't a current pressing deadline with my work after all — I've often been wishing there was — and meanwhile there IS a lot of pressing personal deadlines with getting things in order outside of my art right now)

...and at the same time to feel guilty about not working more?

(How are you ever going to be a real artist if you don't make time to work, even when other things are pressing?)

And now I might feel guilty that I'm being hard on myself.
And now I might feel guilty that I feel guilty.
Ugh. Now I'm just annoying myself.

Does this struggle back and forth sound familiar to anyone else?
If this sort of struggle never happens to you, bless you. I admire your ability to shake off the guilt and always know how to prioritize.

It is a well known fact that mommas sometimes have to juggle. We do. It happens. It's a clear suspect in why sometimes our careers lag behind those of our male counterparts.

No, no, no, you may say. It doesn't have to be that way. But.

Isn't it often the truth?
We can even see it ourselves.
It makes us mad.
Normally at ourselves.

And yet,
would I have it another way?
I'm not sure.
I don't think so.
I love being a mom.
But I'm an artist too.

Just saying...
That's what's on my plate right now.

All that and...
I've set aside June to finish my studio and get back to work!
It's haunting me that I completed two black and white pieces of art right in the thick of the worst of the chaos (because I wanted to make a deadline) and I liked them.  That means I was capable of meeting a deadline even if I had all that other stuff on my plate. I'm wishing I had more of those sorts of deadlines! Someone throw a curve-ball deadline at me, will you? I'm anxious for another challenge of that sort. I can't believe I'm writing that!

I read a line in a newspaper the other day that seems related just now somehow. The woman in the article was telling a story and one line of it stuck out to me. She said: "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I was up for the job."
I feel that way about my art. About my commitment.
My muse is chomping at the bit.

And so the juggling act goes on.

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.

Clearing out the clutter

Whew! The sun has come out around Bellingham lately and luckily I'm feeling a bit more in rhythm than since my last post. 

I'm still hectic getting my house and studio back together and the movers haven't arrived yet (tuesday they come). But!

I prevailed. I finished two samples for the upcoming SCBWI conference in the Seattle area this weekend while at the same time juggling the massive amounts of stuff I have had to do to get the house ready for the movers to arrive.

Because I had no equipment and was thinking it was time to add some black and white to my portfolio (after months of working on improving my black and white drawings), I did the pieces in black and white.

I was aiming for two illustrations from Cinderella with a 1920's twist.
I've always thought it would be fun to dance the Charleston. Too bad I'm a terrible dancer...

In the last three weeks I've cleared truckloads (literally) of junk and clutter from my house.  It feels good to purge. It also feels in alignment with the work I've been doing for my portfolio for the conference while I've been finishing these pieces. I've been focusing on clearing out anything unnecessary so my favorite stuff can shine.

Anyway, if you are at the SCBWI conference in Seattle this weekend, I hope to see you there! Otherwise, have a great weekend!

Unsettled back home

Dribbles of icy rain freckle my ungloved hands. I hold up my phone because since I’m in familiar settings again (just moved home to the Northwest USA after two years in SE Asia), I keep forgetting my camera at home. Despite the grey, the clouds, the flat light, there’s a tree here, next to a concrete maze of a drive-through bank. The tree is flowering pink. It’s beautiful. And somehow that’s exactly how it feels to be home. Grey, drizzly, clouded, with hints of spring in the air.

I have so much more I could write. But it’s all too overwhelming. I have a conference coming up and an assignment to finish for it that didn’t come in until after I lost my equipment back in Malaysia. My house is being remodeled. I have culture shock. We had issues with our old tenant that made it so I spent last week hauling stuff to the dump. Blah, blah, blah.

But every night I still count my blessings and write the highlights of my day — little blooms in semi-bad weather, hinting at fairer days that hopefully will arrive soon. And also the practice reminds me to keep things in perspective. Nothing is that bad. Many, many things are really good. It's just cloudy enough that sometimes the good stuff is a little too much in shadow. It takes a bit of effort to remember to look and see and smell the flowers when they aren't shining brilliantly in the sun.

I’ve had a heck of an amazing adventure the last two years. The unsettled feeling of returning is annoying and a little dreary. But I wouldn’t trade my adventures of the past two years for all the settled feelings in the world.

On An Island

I'm clumsily typing this post on my phone, sitting outside Starbucks in Kona, Hawaii, where I have a few more days of easing my way towards home. After leaving KL, my son and I spent a week in Hong Kong with friends, and now we have a week in Hawaii with family (who flew here to meet us). I feel like I'm on an island in more ways than one and I'm really grateful for it.

There's the chaos of moving behind me in KL and the chaos of moving and re-assimilating ahead of me in Bellingham. But I'm taking a break in this beautiful island, enchanted by the landscape that hints at the firey lava bubbling near the surface. I feel mesmerized with the vulnerability of the solid looking rock all around me. And I feel enchanted by the waves that bobble me up and down as I snorkel and see the world from a different perspective.

I'll be back to having regular internet next week, I look forward to rejoining the world then. For now I'll relish the island I'm on.

Magic in the air

My life is in complete flux right now. Change is afoot. Things will soon never be the same.
I feel magic in the air.
Firefly art: a collage I made in the last few weeks of living in Malaysia
Today is my last full day in Malaysia.

There are so many words I could write about it all, about the changes, about the experience, about what's to come, even about just the last few weeks or last few adventures. Heck, I never even mentioned on my blog that I went to Laos!

But for now, I'm just enjoying the last few moments here in this city I've grown to love. Saying good-bye to a few lovely people. Oh, and taking care of all the stuff that one takes care of when one moves (uffda).

What a strange, surprising, turn of life this whole experience has been.

I'll miss this place. But I look forward to going home.
But first...
 *she smiles*
....I have two weeks of adventures that await during the in-between time.

Yay for adventure.

I'm off for Hong Kong tomorrow.

New Art

I've been busy in the studio, making new art and getting a portfolio ready for a conference that takes place not too long after I return to the USA in a few weeks. I always wish I could get more new art done before a conference. I'm also busy, busy, busy, getting ready to move...

It's only a few days before I lose all my studio equipment to a container ship for weeks and weeks. 

Unfortunately all this transition doesn't line up with my drive to make art and work on my novel project.

At least I made this one piece I like last week.

Here it is in color:
 And here it is in black and white:

I really wanted to get some black and white stuff made for my portfolio as I've been working on making it presentable in its own right (not meant just for sketches). But I'm feeling super picky about it, which I think is a good thing. Maybe I won't get it done for this conference. Perhaps the next one.

Meanwhile, I've only two weeks left in Malaysia. I have some adventures planned on the way home. Then, by the end of March, I'll be back in the USA for good.

I just have to get through these bumps with dignity and grace and hopefully a little work done and my relationships all in tact. If anyone else out there is going through any transitions, here's a shout out. I'm rooting for you!