Patreon Beginnings

horse and person work in progressOn the recommendation of a fellow illustrator, I’ve started a Patreon page. You can follow me there for free to see more of my recent work in progress. Kid’s Book Painter Patreon! Thank you for your support!


Learning from the Best

Frog in Musketeer ClothingThe Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI) and Illustrators put on a fantastic conference this past weekend. (If you haven’t herd of them and you’re an illustrator or author of children’s books, take 5 minutes and give yourself a professional gift!) SCBWI Regions

I’ve come away with some wonderful learning. Much of it I’ll have to digest and unpack over the next few months, but here’s one very important tip from Tim McCanna.

Practice Your Craft!

Set aside time every day. If you’re an author, write every day. If you’re an illustrator, draw every day. Put time into story creation regularly. Check out resources like the 12×12 Challenge or Story Storm to find a community of support for this important creative brainstorming.

That’s all for today! Go, practice your craft!


Making the Most of Author Bling

Post Card ELE.pngThis week I’ve been designing bookmarks, cards, coloring pages, and animal figures for the children’s book series It’s A Jungle Out There… Arm Them With Virtues. I’m preparing for a book signing next week at a neighborhood picnic in the park. Since I’m working on this pretty much full time for the next few days, I figured I’d share a few thoughts about designing “author bling” so that it is both useful to your target audience and meets the requirements of good advertising.

  1. Include the TITLE of your book ON EVERYTHING. This might sound really basic, but it’s surprising how often this simple detail is overlooked or forgotten.
  2. Create a unified look and feel – make sure your graphic design work on your bling matches the look and feel of your book.
  3. This one is probably the most important: Create bling that is useful to your audience!
    • Fridge magnets (strong ones!)
    • Bookmarks
    • Coloring pages
    • Shirts (expensive, but if you make them beautiful, it’s worth it!)
    • Mugs
    • Post Cards (Take the time to design these according to USPS specifications so that they can actually be mailed.)
    • Calendars
    • Posters with useful information related to the subject of your book
  4. Make sure that all printed material includes a smart URL to purchase the book. (e.g. Awesome Kindness: A Story of Friendship can be found at
  5. In addition to a link to buy the book, including a link to your blog or website is also a good idea. (e.g.
  6. To engage smart phone users, QR codes are also a good option. You can generate them for free online. (e.g. Jungle Kings can be found by scanning the image below using a QR code reader app on your smart phone.)

Above all, make sure that your bling highlights the best features of your book. If your book is educational, make sure your bling is too. If it’s funny or quirky, make sure your bling is playful and humorous.

Best of luck to you!


Game on! Illustrating Tabletop Games for Children, Families, and Gamers.

Chimeric Games logo

This week has been dedicated to playtesting a bunch of new games for Chimeric Games with the development team. While I enjoy inventing and playing tabletop games immensely, my role in our company is mainly asset development (i.e. illustration). The games we are currently testing are all in the alpha stage, without game art on most of the assets, but playing through them is one of the best ways to get inspired about the art!

Our recent playtests have run through three primarily untried games, Xenophobia, RimWar, and Crowns.


Xenophobia is a exploration and problem solving game set on a long-lost military space ship. The derelict has been offline for a while and some of the systems need repair before you can pull the data off the mainframe and determine what occurred… but this silently drifting ship may not be as abandoned as we assumed! This cooperative game has a unique twist. If you choose, a traitor mechanic can be put in play to increase the competitive aspects of the game.


RimWar is a 4x game (“4x” stands for “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”). Set on the very edges of known space, this tile placement exploration game provides fiercely competitive game play with diverse and nuanced strategies for achieving victory. Players explore planets, battle for resources, develop new technology, and defend their colonies as they gain victory points to earn prestige in the eyes of the Core Planetary Alliance.


Crowns, a political intrigue game of medieval lords and ladies, is in an earlier stage of development so we are still working out the details of the rules and mechanics. Always on the brink of costly and potentially devastating war, the players build their houses of cards, expanding their royal bloodline, court, army, and holdings until their opponents have no option but to pledge fealty. Houses rise and fall as fickle alliances form and fail. This card game has some real promise as an easy-to-learn political strategy game with multiple roads to victory.

As we play I make notes about the illustrations that will be needed. I note where icons can take the place of wordy explanations on cards, which assets will require unique backings or physical identifiers (e.g. multiple card or tile decks), and where expressive illustrations can take a front seat in making the game visually attractive.

I’ll post updates as we develop these (and other) Chimeric Games.

Finding Your Illustration Style

This is a horse:

horse rough

This style would be suited for a setting like this one:


Which is fine for a story, as long as the style is consistent throughout.

Of course, this is also a horse:

Marwari_lighter copyBut this horse would look out of place in a story illustrated in the style above. Both are my work, but the styles are very different.

Sometimes the text of a story defines the physical appearance of a character, (e.g. she was a big woman with smiling eyes…) but it rarely indicates the style in which the illustrations should be executed. Finding a style that suits your skills and helps tell the story is a learning process that can take years or decades. It often feels like I’m still looking for mine.

Most author/illustrators focus on perfecting a single style of illustration. This makes their books easily recognizable at first glance. Patricia Polacco‘s books, for example, all have the same style of illustration. So do all the books by Jan Brett or Tomie dePaola.

Sometimes, especially in cases of an illustrator working for multiple authors, an artist may work in multiple styles, using different approaches and mediums (e.g. watercolors as opposed to digital media) to create a different look and feel according to the tone of text they are illustrating.

For the book Jungle Kings by Nancy Murphy and Mary Jo Sterling, I chose a digital medium, Adobe Photoshop. Stylistically, I used bold, black lines and bright colors for the characters, on a vibrant background without strong outlines. This style seemed to suit the exuberant characters. It was also a conscious choice to appeal to younger readers by using bright colors to add interest and bold lines to highlight facial expressions. JKpage09

So, how do you find your style? The short answer is: make a LOT of art.

But here are a few other strategies:

  • Look at lots of art, note which styles you like and try to identify what you like about them.
  • Experiment with new mediums. Never tried oil pastels? Give them a try. Maybe you’ll hit on the medium you love.
  • Think outside the box. Artists work with all kinds of crazy materials. Cloth and irons, nails and string, strong coffee and a paint brush…
  • Explore drawing the same animal or character in as many different styles as you can.
  • Read more children’s books. Make note of the illustrations that are emotionally engaging. What makes them stand out for you?
  • Remember that as long as your style is consistent, it doesn’t really matter what style you use.

What’s your style of illustration? Share a comment below with your style or an illustration style that you admire.

Books illustrated by Cora Hays:

Awesome Kindness Cover_sm

Jungle Kings Layout


Inspiration and Reference Material


Finding reference material can often feel challenge while respecting copyright laws and intellectual property rights.  So I spend lots of time behind my camera collecting reference material for my illustrations.

These are some of the animal species we saw on our last trip up north!

  • Snowshoe hare
  • Red squirrel
  • White-tailed deer
  • Least chipmunk
  • Blue jay
  • Gray jay
  • Turkey vulture
  • Trumpeter swan
  • Mallard duck
  • Broadwing hawk
  • Downey woodpecker
  • Piliated woodpecker
  • Red-breasted nuthatch
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Purple finch
  • Goldfinch
  • White-throated sparrow
  • White crowned sparrow
  • Chipping sparrow
  • Harris sparrow (my first sighting of this species!!!)
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • American robin
  • Rose-breasted grossbeak
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Ruffed grouse
  • Wild turkey
  • Ruby-throated hummingbird

What animals do you commonly see around your home?

6 + Tips for Getting Book Reviews

book reviews.pngSo you wrote and published a book? Next step: Get some reviews! (Hopefully positive ones!)

Without at least 10 reviews on Amazon, most folks won’t be interested in buying the product. That said, soliciting book reviews for a newly published book is a delicate process. I’m on the upward swing of the learning curve as we speak, but I’ve had some pretty fantastic feedback so far. Here’s some of the tricks I’ve picked up.

  1. Use your network – ask your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, dog-walkers…
  2. Offer free copies of the book to reviewers!
  3. Make it easy: In your emails/messages include the link to the pages where you need reviews posted
  4. Follow up review requests and gifted books in a couple weeks with a tactful reminder (e.g. what did you think of the book?)
  5. Although it’s definitely not ethical to ask for a good review, asking people to leave a review if they liked the book is perfectly reasonable
  6. Work the social media groups – Facebook offers some fantastic groups of writers, business entrepreneurs, work-from-home parents, illustrators, etc.

Through groups like the above mentioned I’ve found professional reviewers as well as willing individuals to write reviews in exchange for free books.

Here are some of the wonderful reviewers who have helped me out so far with my children’s books Jungle Kings and Awesome Kindness: A Story of Friendship

Most of all, while you are seeking reviews, keep writing and drawing! That next book is just waiting for you to put it out there.