Sharing Play at Dumas Bay SCBWI Illustrators retreat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From a walk I took in the garden at Dumas Bay

From a walk I took in the garden at Dumas Bay

When it's not okay to be quiet

Oh God. What have we done, America?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

My art at the convention center

On Saturday I finally got a chance to see Western Washington SCBWI's illustrator show at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Here are a few pictures for show and tell.

I loved seeing my Alligator Brothers piece there.

Saturday was the day we gathered for the family Draw-Along, inviting the community to bring their kids and come make art with the illustrators.

I brought a cut-paper exercise that I've with my art students at the Montessori school where I've been teaching art. 

Here's a picture of the mess we made at my table. Fun day!

Meet the illustrators and come to our Family Draw-Along

If you are in Seattle this Saturday stop by the Washington State Convention Center anytime from 12:00 - 2:00 pm for a family Draw-Along with children's illustrators from Washington State. Bring the kids! (although you don't have to). Materials will be provided. It's the perfect time to check out the SCBWI Illustrator art show in the same space, up through Sept 29th (the poster says the 30th but that's wrong. It ends the 29th). I hope I see you there!

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.

Prints on Etsy

I finally bought a printer that allows me to make fine art prints. Yay! I hope to add more every now and then but there are a few for sale now in my etsy shop. I'll have cards posted soon too.

This is making me wonder if it isn't time to start planning for some craft shows again before too long...

Back on the bike!

I posted this on facebook but thought I'd post here too.

Starry Starry Ride...

This week I'm celebrating the magic of getting back in the saddle after a setback. I cut this collage out before

my bike crash

last summer. Needless to say, I had no desire to finish it after my crash.

But this past week I decided to follow through. I glued it to mark the week I finally got the courage to get back on my bike (a little over a week ago now).

Cheers to getting up and trying again after a crash.

Tom Sawyer

Another new illustration done in my new style.

New illustration in color

I have fond memories of my mom reading Tom Sawyer aloud to me when I was in third grade. She even took me to Hannibal, MO to visit during a Mark Twain festival. I liked visiting the caves.

Here it is in black and white

Yesterday in the grocery store parking lot

I don't often write personal essays, but journaling about my day yesterday* I wrote this regarding my struggles with pavement (or maybe I should say anxiety) since my bike crash last summer and decided I might share what I wrote here. It's off-topic from my usual blog posts but I'm attempting to be braver sharing my art with the wider world and for whatever it's worth I thought posting this might be a small act of such bravery.  If that interests you, read on. Otherwise I encourage you to skip this post. 

Even while leaning on the grocery cart as if it were a walker, the elderly stranger looked like she'd topple. My mom and I were walking out of the grocery store, pushing my stroller full of my son and our groceries, on our way home when we saw the old woman. She moved glacier slow, the cart her crutch, her feet shuffling like a wind-up toy losing its wind. I motioned to my mom to take the stroller from me and I offered to help the old woman.

She was glad to let me put her groceries in her car. I stayed with her as she pushed the cart to her car door, tip-toeing with determination. She was grateful for my company, she said so, but I sensed hesitation in how she kept pausing and testing her grip on the cart, as if she wanted to let it go. It was clear she wanted to be able to do this herself. I felt for her. I wanted to respect her autonomy. Maybe she did usually do this herself. But then again, it was also clear something wasn't right. She looked off-center and a touch distant. Maybe it was a health episode?  Maybe she'd worn herself out shopping?

So I stood nearby after I unloaded her cart. And when she finally did let go of the cart it was like watching a cliffhanger letting go of a cliff. The old woman tipped, her hips swayed, her knees buckled. I lurched forward with both hands and latched on to her arm. She kept falling, I didn't have a solid hold on her and I tipped with her, at least partially. But she fell, my awkward catch at least softening the contact with the asphalt.

She was shaken, embarrassed. So was I. But she wasn't broken, at least I hoped not. My mom and I got her up and into her car. I stood next to her with her car door open and asked if she was okay. She looked at her arm. It was bruised. Probably from me grabbing it. She seemed rattled, but said, "I'm okay." Then she looked at her hand. "I'm bleeding," she stammered. And she was bleeding; it was a big cut, right on the butt of her paper-thin palm. Her hand shook.

My mom gave us some tissues and went to find a store clerk to help us. The old woman glanced at me, and looked down. "Thank you," she mumbled.  I asked if I could call anyone. She said she lived in an assisted living center not far away, but she'd be fine. She didn't want an ambulance. Her eyes knotted. I asked if she was in pain and she said she'd be okay. But I knew the pain was something different.

She was ashamed.

I recognized the look in her eyes, simultaneously grateful and horrified I'd gone through this experience with her. Or maybe that was just how I felt. I knew I wasn't only speaking to her when I pressed the clean tissues into her bleeding hand and knelt down with her, she in her car and I next to her on the asphalt and said, "You aren't alone. Lots of people fall. I've fallen. Look at this scar."

I pointed at my chin, at the place where I'd crashed into the pavement after flying over my handlebars on my bike just months before. The scar: the physical reminder of the accident that still replays in my head over and over and over during moments of weakness and vulnerability, the epicenter of my own mental issues with pavement.

The elderly woman looked at my chin. It was the first time she really turned and looked at me and she was looking right at my ugliest most unreasonably shameful spot. I traced the long red line of the scar.

"I got it only a few months ago falling myself," I said. "Someone else helped me get up afterward too." I added.

I thought not only of the two men who picked me up bleeding off the side of the road those months before, but of the paramedics at the fire station they took me to, and the emergency room doctor with the gentle hands who threaded my chin back together, and the friends who'd helped with my kids while I recovered from the accompanying concussion, and the friends and my husband who encouraged me to seek help when the anxiety and flashbacks and headaches overwhelmed me months later, and of my therapist who'd offered me relief just hours before.

"It takes a village," I said to the old woman who now sat bleeding and defeated at her steering wheel.

She nodded and half-smiled. I thought I saw her even raise an eyebrow. "It takes a village," she agreed."

I gave her my blessings as the store manager and a few clerks surrounded her and took over helping her. The asphalt was still hard under my feet as my mom, my son, and I walked away. But the sun was warm, the birds were chirping. And I was, at long last, moving forward.

*Please note that I re-wrote the intro to this essay a few days after I posted. Why? Because I didn't like the old one.

Starry Night

New Piece (after revision)

I've been trying out my new technique with some old pieces I liked in the past as an exercise in revision. Here's an example. Above is the new piece. Below is the old version (a poster I agreed to make for a Christmas event quite a few years ago).  When I get to compare two pieces like this, it makes me want to pat myself on the back and believe in progress. This is probably a sign that I need a humbling critique to put me back in my place. (Only kidding. Sometimes it's nice to check one's critic at the door and just appreciate progress even if there's always more progress to be had.) Onward!

Old piece (before revision)


I'm still working hard at updating my portfolio using my new collage technique where I collage straight into photoshop. It's been fun; I love the process of using all I've learned about collage and drawing over the last many years and putting them together in this new way.

Sometimes I've run into bumps but I love the process of brainstorming to smooth out the bumps.

I've also been doing some unrelated paper quilt collages. I'll post a few before long.

Meanwhile here's a "new" illustration. This time I used an old drawing but gave it color. It may be hard to tell and I'm not sure if it really matters, but pretty much all the color in this image is scanned from paper (why I still call it collage).