Friday, June 30, 2006

Looking ahead

Create a map
Put a dot on it
Locate where something happened.

Create a map
Put a dot on it
Locate where something happened.

Create a map
Put a dot on it
Locate where something happened.

My boss is officially gone.
This sums up my work life.

Oh, and there's the pie, bar, and feverline charts, too.

Now, create a map
Put a dot on it
Locate where something happened...


This is a screenshot of my computer desktop. All those little dots are files that need to be put away, or deleted. My desktop is almost as messy as my actual studio, right now. As you can see, busy weekend ahead.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Moving ahead on the pop-up book

I spoke with the art director for Z, a pop-up novelty book, and now I'm feeling much better about it. Quick backstory: Last November, I was contracted to illustrate the book. I provided thumbnail sketches to be used for discussion with a paper engineer. Then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Then I asked questions. Then my agent* asked questions. Then my deadline for final art passed in May. Then I waited some more. Then I got real worried. Turns out, the engineer's been sleeping for the past 7 months, so he/she's been put on permanent bed rest. I've been given the official go ahead to create final art — without sketches even! Let's get this done already! or this won't make a fall '07 publish date.

The deadline for final art has been pushed back until late August, which normally would be like performing a magic trick. But there is a ray of hope. I was selected to illustrate this book based upon some car icons I created with licensing in mind. The art is digital, a simple Adobe Illustrator style, and most of the vehicles already exist on my computer. Each page will feature a single vehicle, with very little environment, mostly white space. So, in all honesty, this book will take no time. I'll be careful not to say it too loud, 'cause I don't want to inadvertently make any promises I can't keep. But I do anticipate having this wrapped up in less than two weeks — if that! Now, shhh!

Another not so little tidbit: The art director said, because I was so patient, that if I had any ideas to propose for "gimmicky" novelty books, she'd be willing to pitch it to the powers that be. And my mind is blank.

*Suzanne, my product licensing agent worked up this deal.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Doesn't 'out-of-print' mean out of print? Maybe not. It's my understanding that THE LEGEND OF THE VALENTINE went out of print earlier this year; The author and I purchased the remainder of the stock at a buck per book. I have a closet full of 'em. But, flipping through the publisher's 2006-'07 catalog — fresh from my mailbox — I just I just discovered the book still on sale. I'm confused. Happier than my previous post, but confused.

Rant kind of day

This blog is all about my highs and lows. Today, or at least right at this second, I'm experiencing a low. Real low. So, step away if you don't like reading that kinda stuff.

I just finished an illustration. I spent all morning working on it. I was in the process of saving it as an .eps. I was going to upload it to my .mac account. I was going to call my customer and let them know that the art is ready for download. Then I was going to move on to creating cute little cars, and trucks, and trains for Zoom. But I got a program error, and my computer crashed, and the file is corrupted. I lost everything that I've spent the last six hours working on. And I don't feel like spending another six hours working on it again — this was an extra, over and beyond kind of thing. Sigh.

On another note. I just received my new, full color Zondervan catalog in the mail. This is the only publisher I know of who produces a full-color catalog. It's so exciting to see all the new Christian children's titles — even though mine ain't in there. It went out of print earlier this year. Sigh.

On one more note, it's my wedding anniverary — 11, 12, or possibly even 13 years — I'll have to do some quick math.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Thinking about my grandfather

This weekend, my thoughts are with my grandfather. Last night, back home in Des Moines, he received an emergency surgery. Afterwards, he had a problem with bleeding, and blood pressure, or something. I think he's fine now, though he didn't sound very well when I spoke to him this afternoon. I'm not sure of his age — 90, I'm thinking. But he may be as young as 80. Not too many black men live to experience that number of years.

Among other things, my grandfather survived running away from home at a very young age. The story goes, he stowed away on a train from Kansas City, and ended up in Des Moines where he began a new life, away from an alcoholic household. Later in life, after his families house burnt down, he rebuilt it — ground up — with his own hands. He's a three-time cancer survivor, and lived through a horrific auto/trailer accident, which killed my grandmother. He remained strong in faith through all that life had to throw at him.

I'm at a loss for what exactly to pray for. A long life? He's had that. Good health? He's in extremely good health for a man his age. Peace of mind? One doesn't live 80-plus years without relative peace of mind.

Being some 900 miles away, I'm feeling helpless. But I find peace in thinking of him, and all he's done for our family. Regardless of what happens, I'm thankful for the years we've had with him. And I'm hoping, praying, for a few more.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Devas T.'s Online Store!

This morning, I found a few minutes to open my online store. For now, I'm offering images from My Peepz, a property that I've been developing for the past couple years. My Peepz are a hip-hop-ish group of characters, with an appeal to African Americans teens (tweeners) in particular. I used an image from the upcoming 2007 12-month calendar, which is in production as I type this post. It will go on sale later this year with Shades Of Color.

I have a gad of images that I can use to create merchandise. This will be a piece-by-piece project, one that will grow as I find pockets of time to add products. This, by no means, will replace my licensing products. In fact, some items may need to be removed from shelves as I acquire licencees for particular designs. My product licensing agent and I are still seeking product manufacturers who are committed to partnering their high-quality products with my designs. But in the meantime, ain't no sense in these images sitting on my computer when I can earn a buck or two here and there.

Currently, I'm using CafePress's free service (free is relative) which doesn't offer many options in store design presentation. But, if I find any value in this, I'll upgrade to the paid account, then do some window dressing. I was a little weary about the whole thing at first, worried about uploading my hi-res art for someone to...well, steal. But I called a few other artist who use the service, and everyone gave the service high marks, in terms of security, as well as quality of products.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Blogging illustration

This is an illustration that I created for a story about new fathers who blog their new found daddy-hood. I was happy with how it turned out, though, admittedly, I had to be pushed. My original sketch is below. The AD felt it too stagnant; I felt it was fine, but created a new sketch. Reluctantly. Glad I gave it another try.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Manuscript in the mailbox

Just received a new manuscript for consideration. It's too early to give away any details, but I can say this: It's written by an author I've worked with before; It would publish with a house I've recently published with; The subject/genre is one I've previously tackled. And, so far, I'm digging the story, and writing style. Now, I just gotta consider my already complicated schedule.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Since I've been having writers block, I decided to use one of Susan Taylor Brown's writing prompts. Here it is:

The fight

I was not the type of kid who could fight. But where I lacked brawn, I made up for in sheer craziness. When danger cornered me, dirty words became my defense mechanism. I defended myself with four-letter words, and threats of what would happen should I get my hands on the poor soul who threatened me. I scared my foes, leaving them to think I was a straight-up, out-of-my-mind lunatic. I played crazy because nobody messed with crazy people. Bullies dished out beatings, but crazy folks might kill you.

I think that's why Andre jumped me the way he did. He was scared.

Our mother's had been best of friends since early childhood, so, of course, we were paired together from birth — born one day apart. Andre and I weren't particularly close, but because of the relationship between our mothers, we became good friends. Our families went to the same church. We were first on each other's birthday lists. We both worked together for my grandfather, an entrepreneur, who ran a small building maintenance company. As Andre and I got older, we grew apart. He was heavily into sports; I was artsy. He liked rock music; I liked funk. He sang in glee club; I thought glee club was for geeks. We just didn't mix.

We were about 11-years old when the fight happened. I was visiting an aunt, who lived across an alley from Andre's family. Loris, one of my cousins, and I sat outside on a stoop listening to Earth, Wind and Fire on an 8-track. That's when her best friend, Lyda storms up, telling me that Andre was waiting for me in the alley, wanted to fight. I had no idea why, but the reason didn't matter — I was in the company of two girls. If Andre wanted to fight, there'd be a fight, or at least a standoff that would give me a chance to spout off at the mouth. My plan was simple: I'd scare him away with the best of my trash talk. I put on my armor — the dirtiest words I could think of — and headed up the hill to the back alley. Once there, I started firing my weapons. "Where's the mu%@$er? He wants to fight?— well bring it on, I'm kicking his @$$," I said, standing beneath the overhang of my aunt's garage. The girls looked frightened. My tactic was working, I thought.

The next voice I heard was Andre's, and it came from the sky. As I looked up, he came flying down on top of me like a dive bomb from an airplane. He had been waiting, perched high above on the roof. The force of his 140-pound body — 40-pounds heavier than mine — knocked me to the ground. Everything went dark as my body slammed — face first — into the gravel beneath me. He came to rest spread eagle on my back, pummeling me. His fists slammed into the back of my head like lightening, driving my face further into the sharp rocks, broken glass, and gravel. My skin tore, and when I briefly opened my eyes, I saw my own blood. My ears burned from the friction of each punch. My body went weak, not only out of fear, but from having had the air knocked clean out of me.

As fast as it all happened, it ended. Andre jumped up and darted home through the alley, Lyda chasing behind him. I lay there, crying, too ashamed to look up at my cousin, who surly was staring at me. The fact that I cried hurt worse than the beating itself.

I didn't learn until later that the fight came as the result of a lie, something that Lyda had fabricated. And no explanation was offered as to why she told the lie on me. Andre and I made up, but remained distant from that day on.

If I could retell the story, the only thing I would change is the cry. The beating taught me that sharp tongues will get you nowhere, particularly when you are about to get the snot beat out of you — that it's smart to use good words to exercise diplomacy. The cry, however, for some reason, has haunted me every since that day.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Illustrating, writing, partying, grandpa-ing

I haven't blogged in a few days because...well, frankly, nothing's going on. I finished the frog painting (multi, multi, multi revisions expected). My other projects are on hold, and have been for months. I won't rehash my fears about that situation, the problem is obvious.

My writing life has slowed considerably. I have several picture books cooking, but for whatever reason, when I try to put them on paper, nothing happens. I'm hoping this is just a phase. Maybe, I'll tackle revising 'Bill'.

Received a very cool invite from children's author, Coleen Salley. The soiree will he hosted, next weekend, at her French Quarter condo, and will be attended by authors and illustrators (no editors, or publicists!). I'd love to attend, but with an already overbooked summer schedule, I'm afraid I'll have to miss her cheese grits, bourbon milk punch, and biscuits. Wish I could be there.

Last year, most of my reading involved YA; This year, it's been picture books. I'm starving for adult characters with grown people problems. So, I've started working my way through a pile of books I've been meaning to read. On the adult side, I enjoy historical fiction. In addition, I love rags to riches stories, particularly those of African American men who overcome great odds — Malcolm X; Makes Me Wanna Holler; Finding Fish (don't judge this book by the awful movie); Manchild in the Promised Land, and anything Richard Wright — are among my favorites. I also enjoy Christian inspirational, men's interests. Currently, I'm reading 90 Minutes in Heaven, by Don Piper. Eh?! I'll explain later.

Life at my full-time gig may take on a drastic change. The hours I currently work give me a huge block of time at home. During those hours, I illustrate books, do school visits, write. My boss, however, is leaving. He has been very supportive of my outside endeavors, allowing me to flex my work scheduld around my freelance business, something that isn't popular with everyone. I have no idea if an interim manager, or a new graphics editor would would be as open.

What most unsettles me, is the thought that my position would turn more towards street reporting, creating complex city maps, charts, numbers, and diagrams. These things make my brain spin, but are typical responsibilities for graphic reporters. I'm an all-out art guy. I was paralyzed the last time I had to attend a lively press conference, competiting with TV reporters and cameras — that's just not me. My boss knows that, and has tailored my position to fit my artistic aptitudes and strengths. Maybe I'm just feeling anxious because of the change.

As of today, I've been officially a grandpa for one year.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More books! Do I need more?

Yesterday, I attended a book sale, as mentioned in an earlier post. I hadn't planned to go, wasn't in the mood. So many books, no organization, piled Helter-Skelter throughout a small conference room.

The energy level at these sales are high, reminiscent of a shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving. People rush in, stuff their bags, then proceed to squeeze, push, bump, knock, snatch, trip and hoard books with such rudeness, it takes the patience of steel to remain professional. Yesterday, for many reasons, my patience was thin. So when I entered the building, and saw the comotion, I went straight to my desk. Toward the end of the day, however, I changed my mind. It being late in the afternoon, 30-minutes before the sale would close down, I figured the room would be mostly empty. My assumptions were right. I was alone...for about 5 minutes. Everyone must have had the same idea as me, because, before long, I found myself in the center of a mob. Turns out, an email had been sent, announcing the final sale — $1dollar per hardcover, 50-cent per softcover. It was Christmas in June.

Though the selection was picked over, there were still hundreds of books. For myself, I picked up Edward Sorel: Literary Lives, and The Embrace of a Father. For the wife, I found T.D Jakes, Momma Made the Difference, as well as a copy of the infamous de-shelved, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. Ok, admittedly, the book is plagiarized. But, we haven't read the books the author "borrowed" from, so we wouldn't know the difference anyway. I also spotted a copy of Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid. Since I know the author, I had the impulse to point, yell and wave "Hey, this is a good book, and the author reads my blog!" I elected to exercised self control, however. I paid 7-bucks for 7 new books. Cool, what a deal!

As I stood in line to pay for my books, I noticed a young African American lady had purchased Red Polka Dot; I couldn't resist. "That's a good book; I know the author; He lives in Austin; He's African American; It's an Essence bestseller," I informed her, my face sliced up from an earlier shaving accident. She just looked at me without saying a word.

I can be such a dweeb.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tree frog: step 3, details

Photoshop allowed for better color and value judgements. After importing my digital photo, I decided that the moon value was too bright, coming forward, when I wanted it to recede. So, I used cool, dark colors to make it fade into the background. I also added highlights to the moon crest. I didn't want the crest to overpower the frog, as on the previous t-shirt design. Once the colors worked, I used the image from my computer as a guide for my actual painting. I have two hours to finish this up, and I still want to get in at least a 3-mile run. So, back to work.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Monday, June 12, 2006

Tree frog: step 1

Every so often, my full-time gig holds a book sale. They receive books from publishers hoping for media publicity. Employees purchase the books for dimes on the dollar, and there are literally thousands to choose from. Last time, I bought the book FROGS: INSIDE THEIR REMARKABLE WORLD, for something like $2-bucks. Someone wondered why I'd want a 174-page coffee table book about tree frogs. Well, because I never know what I'm going to be asked to illustrate. The book came in handy. Actually, I purchased several books on obscure topics. And I've used them all.

No time for blogging, so I'll just post a step-by-step kind of thing for the next few days.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bye-bye T-ball!

Today was the last day for T-ball, this season. I’ve always wondered why it’s called T-ball. The instrument used doesn’t look like a T; It looks like a capital “I”. Why don’t they call it I-ball? Anyway, I digress.

I’m pleased that K and I are able to do this together, and that he enjoys it. I remember doing the T-ball thing with my dad. I hated it. I really did. I went along because…well, do we ever give our children a choice in these matters? In addition, I sensed how important it was to my dad that I play, and that I play well. When I didn’t, and attending my games proved too embarrassing, he lost interest. So, he attended Bs games instead, because he was really good at everything athletic. Guess I shouldn’t complain; I’m guilty of wanting K to do well on the field, too. I get embarrassed when he’s picking dandelions, instead of watching the batter. I flinch when he swings, hitting the “T” instead of the ball — 4 times in a row. *gritting my teeth * We’re all guilty of this — aren’t we? Anyway, I digress again.

Today, we ended the season with a picnic in the park, trophies were handed out, good-byes were said. It was a great group of parents.

Next week we start basketball, and swimming, in addition to science, art, and gymnastic camps. Actually, I think K and I both need a break. But, well, anyway.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Revisions! Round #2!

Received comments/suggestions from my editor (I can officially consider L my editor, now.) We've been polishing 'B', a manuscript I wrote last year, to perfection. I'm very pleased with the feedback I’ve received. More than anything, the changes will tighten, smooth, clarify.

I've heard stories from other first-time authors who felt their manuscripts so manipulated, the final product was no longer their work at all. Not so, in this case! They are allowing my voice to show through loud and clear.

Many questions have been raised, things that can be clarified in an author's note. I’m happy to say, I know my subject so well, that I can pretty much answer the questions without further research, though I will spend the time double checking my facts. So, in this second round of revisions, I plan to write an author’s note. I hadn't before, because I felt the need to focus on telling the story, then address unanswered questions later, once I knew what questions needed clarification.

For now, I don't plan to jump right in. I have two other stories that I want to develop further. Plus, L will be a speaker at SCBWI later this summer, and I don't want to create any pressure, or expectations that might prove awkward when we cross paths. I'll submit my revisions after the conference.

Now, I'm off to paint a frog!

Is it just me, or has Blogger been a bug-a-boo this week?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Manuscript mess

I'm not sure how I allowed this to happen. But, somewhere in the midst of revising, cutting, chopping, and rebuilding, my manuscript, I accidently chopped out about 20 years of my subject's life. And I sent the manuscript to the editor in this condition. This 20 years is one of the most important aspects of the story.

I first noticed the missing scene when my critique partner read the story aloud. I made a mental note to fix it; I didn't. I noticed the missing scene, once again, when one of my workshop critique partners questioned it. I made a mental note to fix it. Anastasia noticed it, too. But, I was so busy in the midst of the workshop, and making final adjustments on a licensing project, that I overlooked putting the scene back in.

It all came flooding back to me today, while in the shower. The realization hit me while I wore a head full of shampoo, and nothing else. Immediately, I jumped out of the shower, to check my 'sent mail' box from two months ago, but could not find the email. Finally, I shot off an email to the editor, asking her if she noticed an important omission. I felt completely stupid — not because I had possibly deleted a critical scene from the story — that's easily fixable — but because I found myself standing naked at my computer with a head full of shampoo, dripping water all over my key board, that ain't been acting right lately anyway. It would have been one of those it's-not-what-it-looks-like moments, had the wife come home, walked in. Anyway, the editor returned my email. And, yes, I had left the scene out. Dang.

Lesson learned: Have the wife read my manuscripts before I submit them to any editor. If anyone can spot a problem with anything, she can. And, next time, put my clothes on before I approach any computer.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I received some very, VERY encouraging news today concerning one of my manuscripts. The editor says, and I'm paraphrasing: you've made good progress...editorial meeting...a couple more rounds to shape things up...this is a good thing...not out of the ordinary.

Also, an author friend gave me some good leads on agents!

Ha!— I feel better now.

Watercolors revisited

It's been about 12 years since I've used watercolors. I don't know why I stopped using the medium; I absolutely love them.

Above, I'm working an illustration for the debut of GO! a new Scholastic children's health magazine. I wanted to try something different, so I pulled out the old watercolor tubes. Most of them were dried up, so I had to buy new ones. I settled for student grade, though, honestly, I couldn't tell the difference.

What I like about this medium is how quickly I can work a painting. I started and finished this painting in one day. Had I used oils, or acrylics, it would have taken me three.

I'm curious if the folks at Paraclete would mind if I paint the upcoming Walter Wangerin Jr. book in water colors. They selected me as the illustrator based upon my work in SUMMER SUN RISIN', which was done in oil and acrylic. But, because of the time crunch, and my desire to try something new, I'm leaning toward using water colors. This would be my first picture book to be illustrated in this medium.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Do I have idiot written across my forehead?

Two weeks ago, I decided to start the process of shopping my stories around. I figured, I have three finished manuscripts, all strong enough that I felt confident in showing them. But the thought of finding an editor/publisher/agent is daunting, so before starting the process, I decided to begin with a few personal contacts. I typed up a few email notes, keeping it casual. I didn't plead too much, but just enough to let them know I was serious about writing as well as illustrating. I mean, why not; what's the worst thing anyone could say but "no". I've been illustrating for over 23 years, I'm all too familiar with "no".

What I'm not familiar with, and what I didn't anticipate, is a complete non-reply. That just plain stings. Com'mon, say it with me, all in sync: Devas T., you are an idiot.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Library of Congress webcasts

Got a minute? No? An hour? Good. Check out the Library of Congress' webcasts of selected authors from the National Book Festival. Already seen it? Well, probably so; I'm kinda late. Regardless, I just spent the last hour watching a presentation given by Christopher Paul Curtis. What an inspiring speaker.

Also, I checked out Floyd Cooper, who inspired me with some great ideas for my summer presentations at Austin Public Libraries — my first one, Tuesday June 5th, Carver Branch. Floyd has the children make a scribble on a large sketch pad. Then he creates a drawing from it. Normally, I do caricatures, which goes over well, but takes about 5 to 8 minutes per child. That's an hour to your typical 7-year-old.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

My Hibiscus Tree: a gift from a librarian

I met Ms. E*, a librarian, few years ago, while visiting a school library in Dallas. She epitomized southern belle — feminine, polite, hospitable — Texas drawl. She’s one librarian I’ll never forget. She went over and beyond to make sure I had everything I needed for the visit. She thoroughly prepared the children for my arrival by having them read my books. The visit went off without a hitch — storytelling, drawing demonstrations, prizes. I finished my presentation to an uproarious encore from about 50 third-grade students.

Ms. E. thanked me, helped carry my presentation materials to the car, kissed my baby son (because of shyness, school visits used to be a family affair), then presented me with...a tree. If I remember correctly, it was a Confederate Rose Hibiscus tree. At the time, it was nothing more than a frail leaf with a bent stem. It was planted in a Dixie cup, which, actually, was more substantial than the plant itself.

"No thanks." I thought to myself. "The honorarium will do just fine." Besides that, I don't have a green thumb. I manage to kill my grass every spring, so I had no idea what to do with a tree — especially a sickly runt of a sapling. It was a 3-hour drive back to Austin; the tree was stepped on once, knocked over several times, and eventually forfeited it's dirt to the floor of my rental car. But, somehow, it survived.

As the story went, if I’m recalling it accurately, Ms. E’s father had planted a Confederate Rose Hibiscus tree in his back yard, and it grew into a glorious neighborhood landmark. The father had recently passed away, so, as a way of keeping her father’s memory alive, somehow, she bred (is that the right word) a couple dozen saplings from the original tree, and was passing them out to the students that day.

I’ll admit, once I got home, all I wanted to do was throw this thing away. But, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I did the next best thing, I ignored it. I left it sitting on my porch. Eventually, the wind blew it into a corner, exposing it’s roots. I felt bad, sat it up, and forgot about it again. One day, I grabbed a spoon, a bag of potting soil, the half dead sapling, and carried everything out to the side of the house. There, I dug a small hole and planted this so-called tree. The grass towered high above it!

I fully expected this thing to die because, not only do I lack a green thumb, but I'm really not a yard person. The tree probably never tasted any water until it rained — and it doesn’t rain much in Texas. But, the tree didn’t die — and, in fact, two years later, was taller than me. Late one November, it blossomed the most beautiful pink softball-sized roses I've ever seen. I couldn’t figure out how it’s tiny little branches could support such huge blossoms. I was so thrilled that I actually started opening the shades on that side of the house, so all who visited could see my Hibiscus tree. But, one season following that beautiful bloom, the tree died. For the next couple years, its skeleton stuck up out the ground, a monument to my lack of gardening skills.

Last week, I decided it was finally time to dig the tree up, and trash it’s remains. But, as I approached it, I noticed it’s once grey stem, was dotted with green buds, and a few completely open leaves. You can't see them very well in the picture above, but this Confederate Rose Hibiscus tree is determined not to be beat, yet again by a Yankee!

So, I guess it worked — Ms. E’s plans to keep her father’s memory alive, because every time I see this tree, I think of him.

* I don’t remember her name.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Writing for a waning audience?

As far as writing a children's picture book, I'm starting to wonder if I'm a dime short, and a dollar too late. Word has it, all over children's literature blogs, that picture books are on the decline. As an employee of the newspaper media, I know newspapers are too. People's reading habits aren't like they used to be.

Less people are reading newspapers; newsrooms are laying off staff all over the country. Less people are reading books. Libraries — public and school — seem to be struggling. I know locally, many libraries are open less hours. One school I visited lately, had no full time librarian at all — teachers alternated.

Now, thing is, I hear that students are entering journalism more than ever before. And SCBWI conferences are getting bigger each year. So, although it appears that less people are reading, more people are wanting to write things for people to read.

Something to ponder.