Just how long does it take to make a picture book?

People sometimes want to know: Just how long does it take to make a picture book?


And the answer, of course, is “it depends.”

How long it will take to create and publish a picture book depends, of course, on what you consider the start and the finish. If you start with that moment when you first had a little flash of recognition that you might have an idea that could be a picture book, and end with the day you see your idea as a glorious hard-cover, full-color picture book in your neighborhood bookstore—that might take as long as ten years. It did for me. It might take longer!

If you are both the author and the illustrator, it also depends on all of this: how long it takes to go from idea to story; how many times you are willing to write the same idea in different ways; how many times you are willing to share it with your critique group, at conferences, with teachers, with wise people, with your family, with friends, with publishing professionals; how many bad sketches you are willing to make; how many dummies you put together; how courageous you are; who you know; how the economy is doing; how patient you are; if you have an agent; how hard you work; how willing you are to scrap it all and start over; how many unpredictable bombs life throws your way; how determined you are to have your idea published!

Then, if after all of that, you are lucky enough to get your foot in the door, and actually sell your idea to a publisher, it depends on who your editor is, who your art director is, how long it takes to get the story details right, how long it takes to create the art, how long it takes to fix the art, how long it takes to get the cover right. And then it takes at least another year, because your book has to be proofed, and approved, transmitted overseas to be printed, and then it has to make its slow, leisurely way back to your favorite bookstore on the slow boat from China—literally.

Is it worth it? Totally. Take it from me, it's worth every short minute.

This particular book is really my first born, the one I learned on, even though it is the second to be published. It’s been a long journey to this day. Thanks go out to a million people who had anything to do with this book being published. But the following people played a direct role in making my dream come true, whether they know it or not: Patti Lee Gauch, SCBWI Western Washington, Margaret Nevinski, Dawn Simon, SCBWI Don Freeman Committee, Michael Stearns, Elizabeth Parisi, SCBWI International, Grace Maccarone, Holly McGhee, Elena Giaovinazzo, Kate Fletcher, Heather McGee, Kevan Attebury, Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Wendy Wahman, Ben Clanton, and my patient and supportive family. 

Today is the release day for I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard. It takes a village, a team, a family, and a lot of good friends to make a picture book! Thank you all so much!

Me, in a museum...?

It's crazy but true!

From October 11-February 22, my picture book art will be featured in an exhibit of children’s book creators at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, including the amazing art of Julie Paschkis, Woodleigh Marx Hubbard, and Nikki McClure. Visitors will be treated to an unusual peak behind-the-scenes of picture book making, seeing up-close the stops and starts that each artist experiences on their way to creating beautiful books for children.

You'll will see some things of mine that have never before been seen in public---woo woo! Like this early study for Two Speckled Eggs:

EGGS study.jpg

There will some parties, and some gallery talks and some workshops, and you'll just have to check back here in the near future for all of the juicy details about those sorts of things.

I hope you'll make it to our lovely museum to see this unusual exhibit. It never costs a thing to visit the Bainbridge Island Art Museum.

Take a minute to read this wonderful post about the exhibit by Julie Paschkis, on the blog Books Around the Table, by clicking here.


Welcome to The Writing Process: an Author/Illustrator Blog Tour!

Oh hello. Welcome to the Writing Process Author/Illustrator Tour!

I’ve tried to tidy up a little around the house and studio, but you may as well know--I put more effort into my children’s books than I do into housekeeping, so…just ignore the dog-hair dust bunnies, and those spiders over there are just part of the fabric of the place, literally.

You are here because I was tagged to join the The Writing Process Blog Tour by my good friend and critique partner Elizabeth Rose Stanton, who you will know as the creator of the amazing Henny. A big thanks to her for passing the baton to me. It's always good to have a reason to tidy up!


Beth and I have a crazy amount of stuff in common, including these three things: we both have degrees in architecture, we are both married to architects, and we both assign human-qualities to our favorite white chickens! 

This is my late hen, Alice, passing on dangerous secrets to Hedgehog, shortly before being eaten by the bandit, Racoon.

This is my late hen, Alice, passing on dangerous secrets to Hedgehog, shortly before being eaten by the bandit, Racoon.

On to the tour!

What am I currently working on?

I just launched my first book as an author and an illustrator, which is really over-the-moon exciting!! It's published by Candlewick, a fact which causes me to pinch myself on a daily basis. 

TWO SPECKLED EGGS has been quietly promoting itself while I finish up the final art for the next book of mine that Candlewick is willing to publish, which I will tell you about in a minute. TWO SPECKLED EGGS is above all a friendship book, but it is also a birthday book, and it’s a teeny bit autobiographical. It is about a girl named Ginger, whose long anticipated birthday party goes awry, as they often do. The day is saved by Lyla Browning, the one girl Ginger didn’t even want to invite in the first place.

I hope to hit the road this summer and do some real promoting of this book! A few story-times here and there, and some school visits in the fall, reading TWO SPECKLED EGGS to willing listeners.

If you happen to see this book out in the world, send me a photo! Or better yet, buy it, and send me a photo! 

The book I am finishing up for Candlewick right now is called I DEFINITELY WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS BENSON’S BLACKBOARD, (or STAR as we call it when we are in a hurry). It is about a day-dreamy child called Rose, who just can’t get on the same page with her rather teacherly teacher.

They do eventually find common ground, but not until Rose has a day or two that would send most of us back to bed. If you happened to be in my second grade class at Blueberry Hill Elementary School, you might know which teacher inspired this tale.

Here are some of Rose's (tidier, more focused) classmates:

I wish I could show you more from I DEFINITELY WILL NEVER GET A STAR ON MRS BENSON'S BLACKBOARD, but it is all super top-secret, guarded by three-headed dogs. Unless you come to my house--then I could show it to you, and we could have cake and tea, while the three-headed dogs loll around in the sun. STAR is due out just about a year from now, so keep an eye out for it during the spring or summer of 2015.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is such a hard question. I see that Mike Curato also thinks it is a hard question. Hmm, well… I think my work is somewhat different because I am utterly untrained in the area of writing for children, and illustrating for children. Sometimes I feel I am just swinging my pencil with my eyes closed, hoping the ideas hit the paper and not the wall. Not really-- I mean I went to college. And I got a masters degree in architecture. So I have practiced writing and drawing from time to time. But creating books for children is not writing papers on the French Revolution, nor is it drawing window framing details. So when I am really banging my head against the wall because I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-doing, I remind myself that my lack of training means that my work is fresh, and unique, and all mine.

Why do I write what I write?

My favorite stories to write are the ones that spring pretty directly from an emotional memory from my childhood. I’ll remember a time when I felt that I was the victim or the perpetrator of an injustice, and just how that felt at age four or five or six or seven--and then I have a story. The more I access memories of my childhood, the more I have access to them—just last week I woke up with a vivid memory from a challenging time in my family when I was very, very young. It’s now at the top of my list of future book ideas.

How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?

I can’t really say how my writing process works, because it is still a mystery to me. I just write whenever I can, and especially when a not-ignorable idea pops into my head.

And I am growing as an illustrator, so each project is just a little different from the last.

But, once I am really excited about a story, and I have fleshed out the text for a bit, then I start doodling and pretty quickly hash out images for various scenes on rolls of architectural tracing paper (cheap, plentiful, and not at all intimidating). I tear it off and mound it up, and before you know it I am on my way with a sketch dummy!

My desk, in the early stages of my new work-in-progress. Exciting, huh?

My desk, in the early stages of my new work-in-progress. Exciting, huh?

My final art process for these first books has been a somewhat complicated and labor-intensive combination of traditional drawing and painting, and digital collage. And I do it this way out of fear. Yep. Here it is—I am fearful of committing to a final composition that is not 100% changeable. And glue dries hard and fast and is not at all flexible. So I do all of my collage-ing in Photoshop, which allows me to change everything (almost) right up until the minute I have to commit to making it a PDF that I can send to my book designer. (Ha! There, I named my fear publicly, now maybe it will go away.) Sometimes I do have to go back to the very beginning, and redraw and rescan and repaint and rescan and recollage, but mostly I have total flexibility in this process, and I like it that way. (But, I think my current, secret, work-in-progress may be different, which I guess makes sense, but different in a different way, if you know what I mean) Sometimes I add in photographs or collaged textures that I have created or found on the internet (only the ones that are available for download without copyright!).

Okay, well, my time is up, and you have other blogs to visit, so I’ll let you go.

Next up on your tour are Sarah Dillard and Laurie Thompson .

Sarah is the creator of the recently released EXTRAORDINARY WARREN--A SUPER CHICKEN,

which is about the funniest, most optimistic chicken you will ever meet. Sarah and I know one another from an author/illustrator retreat that we like to go to in the middle of the winter in Vermont. She's got a sense of humor a lot like Warren's.

Laurie is the creator of the very soon to be released (September, 2014) BE A CHANGE MAKER-HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS 

and two exciting non-fiction picture books: Emmanuel’s Dream , and My Dog Is the Best, both launching in 2015 (January and May, respectively). Laurie and I are a part of the cohort that calls itself The Advisory Committee of the Western Washington SCBWI, and we’ve known one another for quite some time. 

Enjoy the rest of the tour, and come back to visit any time!

Five Questions (Plus One) from Candlewick, and answers from me!

Um. Yes, it's me!

This very short video is a from a series, called Five Questions (Plus One), that Candlewick is doing with some of their authors and illustrators. They asked me five surprise questions (plus one), and I answered them! 

I think I like public speaking better than video speaking. But I also think the good people at Candlewick did their best to make me look at least presentable. 

It's Almost Book Launch Time!


It's a long journey from dream to publication, but the day has almost arrived! Two Speckled Eggs, the first book that I have both written and Illustrated, goes on sale on April 22, 2014!

If you are in the Seattle area, come have some cake with me at Secret Garden Books in Ballard on April 22, at 7 pm, or Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island, on April 27 at 3 pm. 

I'll be very happy to see you!

More elephanta.

This fella, along with several other of my elephant monotypes, is hanging at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts gallery this month.

arrival 150.jpg

People ask me, "So, do you have a thing for elephants?" And I think they want me to say, "Why yes, the elephant is my totem animal, and I see it as symbolic of the threshold between...." well, you know what I mean. But really...

1_Studio Elephant.jpg

I just have a thing for this guy, who is the model for all of my elephant monotypes, which are really just about making marks with printing ink on a plate and sending it through the press. Really. This little elephant must have been carved by someone who loves elephants the same way I do. I picked him up in a shop filled with well-curated junk--my favorite!

Here are a couple more of my elephants:

I think they all look like they are on the move. Aren't we all?

Beatrice Alemagna

I really love her work, and so I was tickled to come across this very sweet little video about the making of her book What is a Child. Worth a peek, especially if you are an illustrator and love to see how others do it! True inspiration.

Moody Pachyderms


Every now and then I find my way to the printmaking studio of my friend Wendy Orville, and I spend my time making stuff like this. Cathartic messy wonderful monotype printmaking! A small collection of my moody pachyderms will be on display at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery during the month of March, along with the work of several other talented printmakers, including my talented friends Karen Cornell and Tracy Lang. Opening festivities are this coming Friday March 7, 6-8. Stop by and have a look!

How to Use Shrek As a Model for a Laughing Teacher

Okay, this will be quick. But it's  good lesson.

A few minutes ago, I was working on a drawing that features a lot of laughing people, including a teacher.  I was really unhappy with the way the teacher's body language looked. (I find adult body language somewhat harder to capture than kids'.) So, on a whim, I grabbed my copy of William Steig's Shrek, flipped through the many pages of expressive body language that Shrek uses, and voila! I found a laughing Shrek. Just what I needed to improve my own sketch of a laughing teacher. Better, yes?

Keep your mentors at your side at all times, people!

Body language study.jpg

Spend a Little, Get a Lot

Sometimes you have to spend a little to get a lot. That is what I tell myself every time I fork over the dough to attend another children's literature conference or a retreat. And the investment is always worth it, although the return is often completely unmeasurable. A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of a warm and wonderful retreat for published authors and illustrators, and yes, I did have to fork over a little dough to attend, AND, I spent my birthday weekend away from my loving family. 

And it was worth every penny, and almost every loving complaint about my absence. Over that far too short weekend, I gained camraderie, insight, pounds (yes-the food was excellent), new titles for my to-be-read list, friends, contacts, resources, skills, and confidence. Some of these gains are measurable (unfortunately in the case of pounds) and some are not. But I am richer for all of them. And grateful. And inspired. And freshly aware of what makes my writer engine hum-which is probably the most valuable insight I could have gained. 

I also came home with a few small but HUGE new skills in photoshop and wonderful insights into digital painting, as taught to us by the very talented Christopher Denise. Just a few clicks of the mouse on his big monitor, and whole new worlds opened up to we who were watching.

Anyway, here's a little sketch experiment using one of my simple and almost dumb new photoshop skills.

MG girl.img131.jpg

And here is the wonderful book recommended to me by a wacky Brit that I know, Hazel Mitchell. I am not an absolute beginner, but I have taught myself what I know, and that is not much. So it is wonderful to have incredibly useful new vocabulary and tools at my finger tips! Feels almost like it was written just for me, not quite a luddite, but a sort of reluctant adopter. Now less reluctant!

New Website-a work in progress!

If you have visited here in the past, you can see now that I have switched things up a little! A little spring cleaning, I guess. I consider this website a work in progress, especially as I learn to use squarespace.com. If you've got tips and hints for me, I'd love to hear them. Meanwhile, have a look around, and check back from time to time to see things improve!

cleaning up.jpg

Happy New Year's Birds

Not sure what my ongoing fascination with birds is all about.

My perceptive son made the comment that perhaps I should channel this fascination into a picture book project. Just might try that on for size.

Usually these are tiny advent birds, for my own children's advent calendar. This year they are bigger New Year's birds. (I did still make tiny advent paintings, just not birds.)

Great Blue Heron

Quail (and yes she is wearing pearls, because they go with her hat)



And here are some of the little tiny paintings I made to fit into the tiny little pockets of my children's advent calendar. These are just about 1 1/4" by 1 1/4". My children are now teenagers, and they still love these little surprises.

Happy New Year, all!




Here is a book I love.

It is called Jane, the fox & me, written by Fanny Britt, and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.

It is beautiful in so many ways. It is visually arresting, first of all. Most of the images are moody, highly textured, almost black and white with lots left to the imagination. 

The words are spare and the voice is accurate--an adolescent girl struggling with changed friendships, a changing body, a fragile self-image. A wonderful book and a loving mother are her anchors.

And, you will see, the story ends well. In full color. Just beautiful.


More exciting new book news: my upcoming picture book TWO SPECKLED EGGS is on the "What's New" page of the Candlewick Press Spring/Summer 2014 Catalog, which you can browse at your leisure here. What a thrill to see the cover image there, and in such great company! Thanks Candlewick!!