Starry Night, the Obvious Forgery

We recently moved to a house all our own. This is a luxury to be sure, and one I never dreamed of being able to afford. One of the freedoms it has allowed me is adorning (or possibly besmirching) the walls with whatever paint I choose. My son (age 4) suggested this mural for his new room. It’s not precisely true to the original… but my family are all sci-fi/fantasy fans so the additions seemed quite appropriate.

Painting a Van Gogh inspired sky-scape was one of my first encounters with the impressionist painters. Marcia Demkovich, my first formal art teacher, assigned us this piece to copy. I was entranced by the elegant swirls of wind and light, as familiar to me as my own breath, capturing the grandeur of the dark sky on a summer night. Growing up in the Indiana Dunes, on the shore of Lake Michigan where the wind was unceasing, it resonated with my experience of star-gazing. I loved the assignment and was proud of my work (a new experience for me). It has been dear to my heart ever since. I’ll dig up the original to share with you when I finally unpack my portfolios.

What are your favorite paintings? What makes them special to you? Share a story and the painting in the comments.

Refreshing the Website!

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 12.03.09 AM.pngIt’s a work in progress, but little by little, my online portfolio is getting the facelift it needs. Updated artwork, then styling and restructuring. Of course the bulk of the effort on my part goes into creating the artwork to fill out the site. My webmaster (also known as my talented husband) makes sure the updates are in place and helps with the styling and design aspects of website design and maintenance which fall well outside my wheelhouse.

Here’s how it looks now:

What does your portfolio look like? Share a link in the comments below!

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?