Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bruh Rabbit earns his keep

Today, I received a check from SF (my former lit agent) for SURE AS SUNRISE: STORIES OF BRUH RABBIT AND HIS WALKIN' TALKIN' FRIENDS. After three years, it's earned out the advance! HM advanced a fair amount on this title, so I'm especially happy to have earned it out. The royalty wasn't much, less than $60.00 minus commission. Still, when the next editor or art director considering me for a book asks for my recent royalty statements, I'll be proud to whip this one out.

For this, I am appreciative to so many people — teachers, librarians, students, friends, family — who supported this book. But especially, I thank Texas librarians who graced this title with the Texas Bluebonnet Award (2006-07 Master List). That honor, along with the Aesop Accolade, is what helped get the word out about this great book.

Of all the milestones in the life of a book — advance, completion of art, release date, mentions in prominent journals, awards, so on — earning back the advance is one of the most gratifying aspects to me. Receiving a royalty statement with an unearned balance makes me squirm. Leaves me feeling like I've reneged on a loan (even though an advance isn't a loan, but payment for hard work).

Earning out an advance comes with little to no fanfare. No congratulatory letter like when you receive a nice review or win an award. Just a royalty report and a check. On second thought, a check — even a small one — is better than a worthless ole congratulatory letter any day.

Friday, June 29, 2007


Completing this book, brings a mixed-bag of feelings and a new set of problems. For one, I'm free! I won't be tied to my easel this weekend. Problem is, I don't quite know what to do with myself next.

After finishing the last illustration, I wandered around the house like lost puppy trying to find his way home. Finally, with nothing to do, I washed dishes.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Counting down...

I am about two hours away! from completely! finishing all 17 paintings for this book!

My neck hurts. My back hurts. I smell funny. I need a haircut.

Edit to original post: I re-illustrated the cover image. There's something about Enkelin's hair in my original illustration that is completely wrong. The hard lines in her hair, I think. I need to study and practice painting Caucasian hair, clouds, and dead people.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Blue skies. More blue skies. And more blue skies

My boss let me have two days off from work this week so that I could focus on finishing my book. But today, my first day off, has been completely unproductive. I've just spent the past 5 hours painting a solid blue sky and a headless woman.

First, I painted the sky a cool blue. Then I realized that it needed to be the same sky as in the previous scene, which is rainy with dark gray clouds. I painted the sky dark, like the previous scene, but I didn't like it. I felt like the book needed to end on a higher note. I lightened the sky and added clouds — bright, sun-drenched clouds! Yes! But, too happy for the scene and too drastic a change from the previous scene. So, painted the whole background sort of a dark purple-ish, blue-ish pink. Twilight after the storm. I didn't like that either, so, I painted the sky a solid blue. But no, too flat. I added a lighter shade of blue at the horizon line. Perfect. Now, I need to change the sky in the previous scene to match.

Next, I painted the main character in the foreground, kneeling at a grave site, then I returned to working the sky. Again. As I painted, I held a very large #10 flat brush, full with paint. I adjusted my easel, and it slipped and dropped two inches. My brush, fully loaded with sky blue, fell against my painting and completely decapitated Enkelin, the main character. Now, after 8 hours of work, I have a simple blue sky and a headless woman kneeling at a grave stone. Sigh.

I hope this evening goes better.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mission accomplished!

Almost. I've finished all the illustrations for my recent book. Well, sort of. I've finished all but one. I still have one revision to deal with.

The text on this last page is abstruse. You ever read a passage in the Old Testament, King James version of the Bible that reads absolutely beautifully, but leaves you scratching your head as to it's meaning? That's what my last spread feels like. The text is beautifully written, however the meaning will differ from reader to reader. I'd prefer to go with something in general, a generic image that sums of the total feel of the book. The author and publisher prefer a surreal, conclusion, one with a numinous quality. I'm struggling. I'm really, really struggling. And, because of my impending deadline, I'm at the point where I'm feeling like I need to give up my struggle for understanding, and simply do what's asked. Kinda like how things work in Old Testament, King James, huh?

Regardless, I have until Thursday to figure this out, painted and finished. That will leave two days for tying together any inconsistencies. Then, I can truly say, 'Mission accomplished!'

I hope that didn't come across negative. It is a wonderful book. I'm just trying to sum up my day-to-day experiences honestly — highs, lows, struggles and successes.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Got my cow's butt

Is it obvious I don't have time to write anything for this blog?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cow's butt needed

No, seriously, I need one. My next painting involves several cows walking toward a barn, Enkelin walks behind them. From the vantage point I've chosen to draw from, the cows are walking away from the reader. Only their butts are seen.

I've found many images of cows — cow heads with long horns, wide angle side views and way too many udder shots. But no photos from behind (no pun intended).

So, I call the wife who's out shopping. Just so happens, she's near a teacher supply store. "While you're out, can you pick me up a cow?" I ask her. T knows that I'm way beyond weird, she's been married to me for a long time (14 years next week). She knows that when I say I need a cow, I really do need a cow. In this case, a cow's butt.

"I found your cow," she says, calling me back. She'd found a miniature plastic cow at the teacher supply store.

"Great!" I knew she'd get my cow!

"It's kind of ugly" she says. "It looks more like a deformed ram."

"I don't care if it's ugly or if it looks like a ram. Does it have a decent butt?


I explained why I was so concerned about the butt. We had a good laugh.

"It comes in a package of nine farm animals, two cows and a bull. You have several butt's to choose from," she says.

Wrong conversation to have in the presence of my son.

"Why's Daddy so interested in everybody's booty?" he asks.

I hope our cow butt joke won't make it to summer camp next week. Or church either.

In other news: My 26-piece, 4th of July scrapbooking art (digital clip art) is available for download today! (scroll down to see the other components)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Two weeks to go!

The good news is that I have two weeks and 5 illustrations left to complete this book. The bad news is that I have two weeks and 5 illustrations left to complete this book. Hopefully, someday I'll look back at the final two weeks of June 2007 and find humor in it. Right now the only thing I find is stress, late nights, early mornings and no workouts. Ug, my biceps feel and jiggle like spaghetti. It's also been two weeks since I had a workout.

The funeral scene turned out well. My 5-year-old son, however, saw the painting this morning and had mixed reactions. "Who is the man? Is he dead? How'd he die? Stop talking about dead people, Dad!" Then he stormed out of my studio.
But raising these kind of questions were the authors intentions exactly.

This book will open doors to discussions about death, not an easy topic to raise otherwise. And I appreciate that the author has encouraged prayer, in words and pictures. This is a Christian book meant for those who don't have a problem with prayer or God or books that teach (preach) values.

Two weeks, counting down!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Signatures, signatures, more signatures. No check.

Before the visit, I send them my contract outlining the details — date, times, length and number of presentations. Payment for services are due on the day of the visit. It says so in the contract. They sign my contract and return it.

A few days later, they send their contract — no less than 15 pages. I read it over, sign and return it.

A few days before the visit, they call. I've omitted a signature. I'm not a convicted felon, so I didn't sign that line. But another line needed a signature. I sign and return the contract.

On the day of the visit, I didn't receive payment.

Couple days following the visit, I'm called back. The paperwork is outdated. They have new contracts. Payment can't be made until the new contracts are signed. I return, sign the new contracts, in person.

No check arrives.

Several weeks later, I receive another call. More signatures are needed. I go back, sign, sign, sign once again.

No check arrives.

Several weeks later, I receive a phone call. They need an initial to go along with one of the signatures that I had scratched out. I go back, initial. At that point, I had more time invested in paperwork, signatures, initials and travel than I did in the two presentations I had given.

Today, I receive a purchase order in the mail, not a check. The amount they have on record to pay me: almost three times the amount I invoiced. Another mistake. Sigh.

Here we go again. They probably need another signature. Or a promissory note, in this case.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fuse #8 to SLJ

Oh my gosh. One of my favorite blogs has moved. Fuse # 8 is now over at at School Library Journal!

That's fantastic, I hope.

Resistant to change, the news threw me me for a loop. When I first heard, I thought: Great, good for her! I'll read her new blog, but I'm still gonna read her old blog, too. But apparently there will be no old blog! She's packing her bags, books, reviews, observations, HMCL, and she's completely moving.

I hope she won't change. What I especially like about Fuse #8 is her unabashed honesty. I mean, she has raised some hot topics — and who else in children's literature blog circles (except for maybe Roger) has been bold enough to address certain topics like she has? Fuse 8 always says it like it is and that is SO refreshing. And she does so without being snarky. Know what I mean?

I was especially honored when she included nobody me in her list of Hot Men of Children's Literature, along with illustrators like Kadir Nelson, Jarrett Krosoczka, Matthew Reinhart, Brian Selznick, Mo Willems, Tony DiTerlizzi and Chris Raschka.

Like Jesse would say, I am somebody!

I'll stop here. This is beginning to sound like an obit. The blog ain't dead, it's just moving. And besides that, I was honored to be included in SLJ, too (here, and here).

I won't let go of the old Fuse #8 blog just yet. Unless, of course, she deletes it. *shudder*

Now, if I could just get rid of that dang ad!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Received my Fall 2007 Paraclete Press catalog in the mail today, which features I AM MY GRANDFATHER'S ENKELIN (I've referred to in the past as FARMER). The art will be complete in two weeks. Yes!

Especially cool was a blurb from Maya Angelou, a fan of the author, Walter Wangerin, Jr.

If it's not too late, I'm going to request that they move my byline to the bottom of the book, in that empty area, leaving Walter's at the top. As is now, I think, the byline is too crowded in the space.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Considering taking a break


I hope my publisher won't read this post, but I think I need to stop painting for a couple of days and do absolutely nothing. I've been working non-stop every waking minute, with the exception of a Tae Bo workout yesterday. My inner voice is telling me that I need a break.

I began working a new painting this morning. So for, it's a disaster. I've been working on it now for about 8 hours, and it's getting worse, not better. Looks like a mishmash of mud and colors that don't belong together.

Mentally, I need a break. Physically, I need to go fishing.

Regardless of what I decide to do, this week, I must finish two FARMER paintings, one Scholastic painting, and I accepted a little test project for an educational publisher. That needs to be done this week, too.

And, I stayed up late the last two nights finishing a 4th of July collection for DAISIE (available later this week).


How come ain't nobody paid me lately?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Middle Passage Day

Today is Middle Passage Day. I learned about it through this article. The observance — which honors the millions of Africans who died crossing the Atlantic Ocean during the slave trade — has been going on for the past 18 years. New to me, but I'm all for honoring my ancestors.

Reading the article, I thought about the book by Tom Feelings, The Middle Passage: White Ships/ Black Cargo. This is the ultimate picture book — 80 pages, no words. I love this book. I don't think any other picture book matches the emotion that Feelings captured. With heart-stopping, pen-and-ink and tempra paintings, Feelings chronicles the journey of Africans, captured and brought to America to be enslaved.

It's a great children's book, but definitely not a book for children only. I have two copies (paid $50.00 each, now $75.00). I bought a second one when I thought I'd lost the first. I was afraid the book would go out of print and I wouldn't be able to get another.

In other news: I haven't had time to read. I can't write when I can't read.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Downside up

Sometimes, it helps to work upside down. Problems jump out when viewed upside down or backwards, looking through a mirror — speaking for myself, of course.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


There's never a good time for a family emergency. But right now is especially not good. I hope I'm not having one.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Grouch on overload

For the next three weeks, I'm going to be a grouch. Why? Because I'm on work overload. By July 1, I must complete:

FARMER. So far, I've completed 11 paintings. I have five remaining.

A test painting for a book to publish with Scholastic. Work on the actual book, though, wouldn't begin until next summer, thankfully. Oftentimes, publishers will request a test piece or a character study from an artist or artists. In most cases, I've found that the art director or editor is already sold on a particular artist, but must sell the artist to his or her colleagues. Several artists might test for a book. Sometimes I've won, sometimes I've lost. Regardless, I'm still compensated for the test piece (well, most times). In this case, the publisher is looking for 'very cute.' They were drawn to me from this image illustrated for Read & Rise Magazine.

Mail out a test illustration to Lee & Low Books. Last week, for a couple of days, I put FARMER aside and completed a cover painting for BILL. But I haven't had time to mail it.

Complete at least one or two new scrapbooking designs for DAISIE. I have no idea how I'm going do this, but, as per a recent email from my licensing agent, I need to find a way. Not that she's making any demands, she's just gently encouraging me, looking out for my bottom line, and hers.

Submit a proposal for presenting a workshop on 'Children's Publishing: Words and Pictures' at the 2008 Black Writers Reunion & Conference in Tampa, Florida. Anyone with tips on how to submit a proposal like this, hit me up, please.

I'd like to, but probably won't have time to:

Mail a picture book manuscript to three different publishers. The manuscript is ready. A character study is complete. But no time to write cover letters or study submissions guidelines.

That all said, my right hand told me that he needs a rest. Last time I didn't listen to him, he stopped working for several months. He wouldn't return to work even with the help of Advil, a neurologist and several other contraptions given me by my physical therapist.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

: )

What a way to start the day. A note from an editor:

Hi Don! I just wanted to tell you that ZOOM looks so fabulous. We are all so thrilled with this title. I can't wait to send you a copy! Thank you for all of your hard work.

Look for this HarperFestival title in the winter of 2008! Sorry about the dinky image, I didn't have time to upload a better one.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

SCBWI, the Mermaids, and why I can't go to this year's conference

Get this, Jay, Robin and Eve of Disco Mermaids fame are offering to pay some lucky person's tuition for this summer's SCBWI Conference. Outasightous! And extremely generous, too.

I'd love to enter the contest, but I probably won't attend this year's conference. I had a blast last year, and I'd planned to return this year — winter or summer — it didn't matter. But last year's conference cost me well over $2,000: $400.00 air travel; $425.00 tuition; almost $900.00 (after taxes) for the hotel; couple hundred dollars for food and drinks; couple hundred dollars purchasing books; $8.00 for an electric green colored shirt to wear to the Jade Jubilee party. That was a major hunk of change! Good thing I didn't do any mathematical calculations beforehand 'cause that price tag would have scared me into staying my behind at home.

The conference was worth every penny, though, don't get me wrong. Probably the best time I've had doing anything in a long time. But this year, my family and I aren't taking any vacations. I'd feel awful spending that much time and money on a vacation for myself while leaving them at home.

So, what will I do this summer? Well, I figure the best way to spend time is by knocking out these two books I'm working on, and finishing up the last round of revisions on BILL. I'm gonna keep on keeping on, doing what I do best, and hopefully, when I attend the conference again in the future, I can do so as an author/illustrator faculty member! Maybe that sounds kinda pie-in-the-sky considering I don't have any fancy Caldecott medals — or even a recognizable name for that matter — but I still have enough experiences in the field of children's publishing to offer other artists tips and tricks in a workshop setting.

I'm gonna miss hanging out with the Mermaids and Gregory K and the many other fantastic people I met last summer.

P.S. I reserved time off from work on the first week of August, just in case I change my mind at the last hour --- shhh!