Sunday, March 31, 2013

Where have they laid Him?

From Tell Me the Story of Jesus,
by V. Gilbert Beers and Cheri Bladholm

Wishing you and yours a Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Illustrator Therese Cilia

The Queen of Hearts she made some tarts,
Courtesy Therese Cilia
This week's featured artist is Therese Cilia. Her thriving business at Strawberry Snail showcases her delightful pen and ink watercolors.  Therese's style is light and whimsical, reminiscent of  Master illustrator Quentin Blake.
Check out her portfolio or buy a print from her Etsy shop.
I can't wait to see her work in picture book or chapter book format.
I expect it won't be long before she attracts the notice of publishers here, or in her native Canada.

Friday, March 29, 2013

PPBF: Daddy, Could I Have an Elephant?

Today's pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday

Daddy Could I Have an Elephant?,
Written by Jake Wolf ,
Illustrated by Marylin Hafner
Daddy, Could I Have An Elephant?
Written by Jake Wolf and Illustrated by Marylin Hafner

Greenwillow Books, 1996, Fiction, ages 4-8, word count 327

Pets, Animals, Imagination, Responsibility

"Daddy," said Tony, "I need a pet."
"You do?" said his father.
"Yes," said Tony.
"What kind?" said his father.
"Could I have an elephant?" said Tony.

So begins the dialogue between father and son. Tony wants a pet, but nothing ordinary will do.  His father patiently asks common sense questions about taking care of exotic animals in a city apartment.  Undeterred, Tony's answers become more and more imaginative.

What I Love:
There are plenty of books about kids who want outrageous pets.  I like this one for its wordless beginning and ending.  I love the relationship between father and son in this book: the dad is subtly teaching his son how to think through a problem.  Each time I read this as an adult, I suspect Dad has a plan in the back of his mind and is just stalling for time.  My 8 year-old reader loves the comic backstory that is added by the illustrator - an extension of the text the author wrote.

1. Take a trip to the local pet store, or better yet, a shelter.  Kids can visit and volunteer at an animal rescue center.  They have plenty of information on what it takes to care for a pet.
2. While you're at it, why not organize a drive to collect donations for your town's animal shelter.  They are always in need of food, toys,  towels, newspapers, and other supplies.  Check with the front desk to see what they need most.
3. Older readers will enjoy making origami elephants or a host of other animals available online.

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday for March 29, 2013.
Thanks to Susanna Leonard Hill 

Looking for books with similar themes?  I like Tight TimesTeacher's Pets, The Trouble With Elephants, Children Make Terrible Pets, or If I Had a Dragon.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Babybug Illustrator Interviews

Babybug, from the Cricket Magazine Group, is full of wonderful art and ideas.  But who knew Babybug's blog is too?  Illustrator Carolyn Flores did!  She introduced me to the monthly illustrator interview.  Each month, Babybug blog delves into the creative process of their cover artists.

Babybug, March 2013

The March issue of the magazine features some colorful mice by artist Laura Susan Thomas.  Incidentally, this issue also contains a poem  beautifully illustrated by Bookish Ambition fan favorite Beth Bogert.  Grab a copy to share with your favorite toddler.
Thanks Carolyn!

Beth Bogert,
Canta, Rana, Canta,
 illustrations by Carolyn Dee Flores

Art by Laura Susan Thomas for Ladybug Magazine

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Writing Fears: The Vision

The Lucy Variations,
by Sara Zarr
YA author Sara Zarr writes about the revision of The Lucy Variations.  She shares some vulnerable thoughts, trying to convince herself that "Yes, I succeeded in writing this book by completely making friends with the idea that I might have a massive failure on my hands."

I was struck by her view of the vision for her writing, and think it is easily applied to all of what I do as a maker of children's books.

She says:

It wasn’t until I read over the final page proofs for Lucy that I felt satisfied. It wasn’t perfect, but I felt: I did it. Though nothing ever matches the vision and the vision always changes, I wrote the book I wanted to write and didn’t think I could. And in that moment I knew that no matter what anyone else would think of the book down the line, I’d accomplished something deeply important to me. When people ask what’s the best thing about being a writer,that’s what I can never articulate. It’s a feeling of personal triumph. It’s a battle you fought, against all of your worst fears and insecurities and predictions of doom and homelessness and blacklisting and having to flee the country. Only know how close you came to not doing it, to running away, to intentionally getting your hands caught in industrial machinery so you’d have an excuse for missing a deadline . . . Maybe this isn’t true for all writers . . .But fear–even to the point of feeling hopeless–isn’t a sign we should stop doing the hard thing . . .

We move forward and through, and the rewards in that act alone are immeasurable. I’m at that stage I always come to in the writing process of savoring that, for these last few weeks while the book is mostly mine, then soon I will happily turn it over to you–because that is the completion of the satisfaction, wanting, hoping, to move others with what moved me or them making unexpected connections completely apart from my vision–and then see what’s next.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Five Steps to Fearless Creativity

These five steps are adapted from Dan, at

Sometimes I'm Afraid,
by Maribeth Boelts and Cheri Bladholm
1. Take a risk.  Or I might say, experiment.  I took the advice of a friend, and the gift certificate I received for my birthday, and headed to the art supply store.  I bought materials I don't use and don't feel comfortable with.  I also chose supplies that had an immediacy so I wouldn't procrastinate.  No one will ever see that stuff, but the experimentation has reintroduced fun and decreased the stress in my other illustration projects.

2. Document successes.  Last February I started keeping a journal of accomplishments toward my goal of a fulfilling art career.  It's to-the-point, takes a minute or less to write, and gives me the sense of moving forward, even when my current project is a little stalled.

3. Analyze failures.  If you fail, make a list of reasons why so you can focus on improving those things one at a time.  I might start researching a way to improve one thing, but in my daily sketching, work to improve something different.   I don't want too many doubts paralyzing me before I begin the next project.

I Will Not Be Afraid,
by Michelle Medlock Adams
and Jeremy Tugeau
4.  Diversify.  My art professors poo-pooed illustrators who did murals, commissions, and t-shirts.  But I've always admired artists who aren't afraid to try something new (see #1).  The 21st century is the perfect place to spread your artistic wings.  Almost any creative endeavor can have a positive impact on your work.

5. Commit.  Join a critique group.  Enter a contest.  Set some deadlines.  When you commit, you force yourself to see it through.  And yes, you might fail.  See above.  Learn.  Move forward.

These steps can just as easily be applied to writing.
Next week I plan to share some advice on fighting fear from a writer's perspective.

Check my previous posts on this topic: Advice from illustrator Greg Pizzoli, designer Martin Glaser, and others.
Thanks to all who shared this information with other struggling artists.  The sense of community gives me greater courage.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Never Give Up

"The only difference between a published author and an unpublished author, is the published one didn't give up."

-Mark Twain
Free bookplate from My Home Library
Art by Posy Simmonds

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fresh Talent Marcela Staudenmaier

Courtesy Marcela Staudenmaier
Today's Fresh Talent is getting lots of attention.  Marcela Staudenmaier is a recent graduate of the RISD Continuing Education Children's Illustration Program.
Her varied portfolio has been recognized with numerous awards.
This ballerina piece caught my attention for it's style as well as it's whimsy.
Marcela has  a world of possibilities ahead of her,  but I suspect many of her future projects will involve collage. You can view more of her figural illustration here.
Readers of Bookish Ambition will know I'm a sucker for paper sculpture.  I hope you enjoy getting to know work as much as I have.
Marcela Staudenmaier for Spoonflower

Friday, March 15, 2013

PB 300 March Update

Here are a few of the picture book titles I've been reading this month.

The Book of Jonah,
by Peter Spier
Teacher's Pets,
by Dayle Ann Dodds
and Marylin Hafner

Drawing Lessons
from a Bear,
by David McPhail
Owl Moon,
by Jane Yolen
and John Schoenherr
Dragon Dancing,
by Carole Lexa Schaefer
and Pierr Morgan

The Trouble With Elephants,
by Chris Riddell

Thursday, March 14, 2013

IF: Yesterday

Image copyright Joanne Roberts
I've been experimenting with marker sketches.  They always start out okay, but I'm never as happy with the finished product.  It's times like these I wish I had Photoshop.
For better or worse, here's my illustration for "Yesterday" at Illustration Friday.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fighting Failure

Artist's Block
In a follow-up to yesterday's post, here are some thoughts on fighting fear and failure:

From Winston Churchill via Wilson Williams Jr.-
"Success is not final,  failure is not fatal:  It is the courage to continue that counts."

From Milton Glaser via Jodi Chamberlain:
Personal  development is antithetical to professional success.  In other words, to grow artistically, you have to practice, experiment, and fail.  To become more successful (ie get more clients) you have to have a consistent record of not failing.
Accept failure as part of the process of growth.  Learning to overcome will give you the tools to be a consistent professional.
His video interview is a must watch. He packs a lot into a 7 minute speech.

From Samantha Bennett:
"Think of it this way: the voices in your head are trying to keep you safe. They don’t want you to put yourself in a vulnerable position. They try to scare you into inaction by telling you that no one will care about your work. Or worse, that people will judge you harshly.  But art is about making yourself vulnerable."

Since there's plenty to chew on here, I'll save the artist's step-by-step guide to overcoming paralyzing fears for next Wednesday.  Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Advice from Greg Pizzoli

"Make a ton of work. 
If you keep making stuff, and don’t obsess over failures, 
you’ll end up getting better. 
It’s inevitable if you make enough."

Greg Pizzoli's first picture book
The Watermelon Seed
Illustrator Greg Pizzoli's book, The Watermelon Seed, is set for a May 2013 release. I wasn't familiar with his work before, but Greg's graphic style appeals to my love of printmaking. I clipped this bit of advice from Juana Martinez-Neal's November interview.

Make stuff.  It sounds obvious, but is invaluable to those of us who become paralyzed by our inner critic.  Make stuff.  Terrible stuff.  It's okay.  In fact, it's often necessary.
An illustrator friend swears by her practice of drawing on cheap printer paper because it has a low-pressure, disposable vibe.  The same goes for painting.  Many artists feel a sense of freedom from painting on a printout of their original sketches, knowing they can print it again if the watercolor goes awry.  I suppose many digital artists must feel that way too.
This Green Dragon print
has an Ed Emberley quality
in the best sense.
"Don't obsess over failures."  Easy to say, but it is often a fight for me to move forward.  It comes down to a definition of failure, doesn't it?  I never think my children's projects are failures.  So why do I judge my own work that way?

What tricks do you use to keep moving, to conquer fear, to discipline your artistic life?

Nice Cream print,
available on Etsy

Thank-yous to Juana Martinez-Neal whose work I love, love, LOVE.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Big Book

"You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me."
-C. S. Lewis

Bookplate artwork by Evelia Designs

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Illustrator Val Jones

Artwork courtesy Val Jones, illustrator
Val Jones has been a working artist for many years.  Val is featured here because she is relatively new to the field of children's books and because I wanted to be one of the first to introduce you to her work.  The truth is, it won't be long before Val is seeing her own picture books published.  Just remember, you saw her here first.

The playfulness of Val's work inspires me.  She is able to accomplish the challenging task of keeping the looseness of her sketches right through to the finished illustrations.  Her characters tell a story.  Her design experience informs her work, giving it a finished quality and consistency which many newbies lack.

We wish her all the best in her publishing endeavors.

Do you know of an illustrator you'd like to see featured on Fresh Talent Saturday?  Send me an e-mail.  I love discovering new faces.

Friday, March 8, 2013

PPBF, The Composer Is Dead

Today's pick
The Composer is Dead, by Lemony Snicket
The Composer Is Dead
Written by Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by Carson Ellis
Music by Nathaniel Stookey

HarperCollins Publishers, 2009, Fiction, ages 5 and up

Orchestra, Music, Mystery

"The Composer is Dead.
'Composer' is a word which here means 'a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play.'  This is called composing.
 But last night, the Composer was not muttering.  He was not humming.  He was not moving, or even breathing.
This is called decomposing."

This picture book and accompanying CD were created to introduce young readers to the orchestra, something like Prokofiev did in his time.  The story follows a detective who investigates the death of the Composer.  The listener is introduced to various instruments through text and music.

What I Love:
Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket) is both author and musician.  He brings his personal brand of bizarre to this somewhat educational picture book.  Snicket has a style all his own.  His ironic humor is not lost on his young audience, and is appreciated by adult fans as well.  The accompanying CD includes an instrumental track along with the narrated version, so it can be enjoyed in many ways.  This book is a humorous introduction to orchestral music, musical instruments, and various musical terms.  If you are a fan of The Mysterious Benedict Society series, then you will especially appreciate the familiar illustration style of Carson Ellis.

1. Take your children to experience live orchestral music.  Our local concert series always includes works geared toward young people.  Local colleges are also a great place to go.  Kids can hear the music in a more intimate setting and may have a chance to talk with the musicians.  If you live near a public radio station, as we do, you may have the opportunity to be in the audience for free.  Call your local NPR station and ask.
 Thanks to Mister Make It and Love It
2. Making your own instruments or holding an impromptu jam session are great ways for children to learn to appreciate the different sounds instruments can produce.  Here are a few clever ideas from The Crafty Crow.
3. I remember listening to Holst's The Planets in middle school.  We were supposed to close our eyes and write down each of the different instruments we could hear.  Listening in this way teaches a child to be more aware of the sounds around them.  They can begin to appreciate the complexity of musical composition.

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday for March 8, 2013.
Thanks to Susanna Leonard Hill and to Julie Rowan-Zoch for prompting me to participate.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Good Book Room

"In a good book room you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them."
-Mark Twain

Bookplate of Alexander Winthrop Pope
Courtesy Pratt Institute Libraries

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Emily Thon, Illustrator

Cat portrait by Emily Thon
Today's fresh face is illustrator Emily Thon.  Her flowing folk art style displays fearless use of color and pattern.  The textural quality of her colored pencil work is particularly refreshing in this digital age.

You can usually find her at Illustration Friday.  We look forward to seeing Emily's work as she pursues her publication goals.

Friday, March 1, 2013

PPBF, The Cinder-Eyed Cats

I've decided to jump on the Perfect Picture Book Friday bandwagon.

Today's pick
The Cinder-Eyed Cats, by Eric Rohmann
The Cinder-Eyed Cats
Written and Illustrated by Eric Rohmann

Dragonfly Books, a division of Random House, 1997, Fiction, ages 3-8

Fantasy, Adventure, Imagination, Whimsy
Tigers, Tropics, Sea Creatures

"In Faraway lands,
When twilight falls on fair and wind-swept days,
Cats like velvet shadows move,
Their coal-fire eyes ablaze."

This nearly wordless picture book takes the reader on an adventure in a flying sailboat to a tropical isle populated by magical creatures of land, sand, and sea.

What I Love:
I was first attracted to the stunning illustration style with its lush tropical palette.  At second glance, the spare, lyrical text charmed me.  But my favorite feature of this book is how author/ illustrator Eric Rohmann draws you into his imagination with four wordless double-page spreads.

sand clay
Why not make your own sand creations?
1. Readers can imagine their own animals coming to life.  Draw or paint them, then accent with Elmer's glue and a sprinkling of sand.
2. I've used this fabulous Family Fun concoction to make a moldable play sand that air dries.  Warning: Use an old pot and kiss the non-stick coating goodbye.
3. Celebrate reading with a sandy snack.

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday for March 1, 2013.
Thanks to Susanna Leonard Hill and to Julie Rowan-Zoch for prompting me to participate.

If you love Eric Rohmann, see his newest book here.