Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wondering about voice

I'm having trouble figuring out how my characters should talk. For instance, when I was a kid, I would've said something like: "Me and Brian went swimming." Of course, that would've been wrong. The correct way to say it is: "Brian and I went swimming."

Thing is, kids from the hood (or suburbs for that matter) don't always talk like that? When I was a kid, my [black] friends called it 'talking white.' As an adult, I call it using correct English.

So, how can a writer make his character's voice ring true to their culture, lifestyle and experiences — right or wrong — while not promoting bad English?

Any recommendations on the subject of voice would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Someone's hijacked my email address

I know that someone has stolen my AOL email address because today I received a message from myself. And, no, I really wasn't the sender. So if you receive an email from me in the near future, with an offer for 70% off Viagra, please know that Devas T., children's book illustrator, doesn't sell — or use — the stuff.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Art supplies

The art supply scene in Austin is inept. Many times when I've visited art supply stores, they didn't have what I wanted, in the size that I needed, in the quantity that I desired. When I moved from Des Moines, Iowa to Austin, Texas, I thought I'd graduated to a bigger and more sophisticated commercial art community. I didn't.

Earlier this week, I walked into a Hobby Lobby art supply store. I was looking for turpentine and wasn't able to find it, so I asked a sales associate for his help. He was busy sweeping floors, wearing an iPod. "Excuse me!" I said loudly. "Where can I find the turpentine?"

He ignored me, trying to act like he didn't hear my question, so I asked him again, louder, "WHERE CAN I FIND THE TURPENTINE!"

"What's that?" he asked, removing his ear buds, and picking red matter from his teeth with his fingernails. I didn't bother to explain; it was late and the store was getting ready to close.

I approached another sales associate, a very young woman. She gave me a mean look, and scrunched up her face as though I'd requested something profane. "Frupenshine?" she asked, eyebrows pushing up wrinkles into her forehead. "Do you know where we keep the frupenshine?" she asked another associate.

"Turpentine!" I said, returning a mean look. "It's a very basic art supply, stocked at most art supply stores." I couldn't believe these people had never heard of turpentine.

Finally I gave up, cursed the dingwits under my breath and went to the grocery store where I found some turpentine.

The next day, I returned to Hobby Lobby. I needed a tube of sepia water color paint. As I kneeled down to look at the bottom shelf of the water color display, I smelled something fowl. Geez, I think I stink, I thought.

While I continued to rummage through paint tubes, the smell got stronger — poop. I smelled like poop! I was shocked and embarrassed. I'm a vain brotha; I keep myself groomed and clean and smelling halfway decent. It's not like me to smell like the back end of a sick dog. I planned my strategic exit. My goal: Get out of that store without anyone knowing how bad I really smelled.

I turned, headed for a side aisle, and that's when I discovered it — somebody's (or somethings) poop, splat on the floor. Yes, indeed, somebody had pooped, but, no, it wasn't me!

As of today, I'm swearing off Hobby Lobby and shopping online for my art supplies.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Overwhelmed by all this writing

Since the last time I met with my critique partners, I've added six more chapters to my early chapter book. Means that I have a total of 10 (first draft) chapters! Each chapter is about 500 to 900 words. I should be happy. I should be celebrating. But instead I'm all stressed out about it.

This is the most writing I've ever done on one project. Most of my writings have been picture books, essays or blogs — no more than three to four pages. Tonight, I printed my manuscript out; it's more than 40 double-spaced pages! And I'm only about a quarter way finished (I know this probably sounds like too large an early chapter book, but I plan to cut way back).

Reworking a chapter book is going to be a much bigger bear than reworking a 1000-word essay, picture book, blog or cartoon. So the deeper I get into this first draft, the bigger a problem I feel like I'm creating for myself later on down the line, when it comes time to rewrite and revise — nevermind all my grammar issues and creative punctuation.

My writer friends would probably advise me to keep plugging away, to continue writing that first draft without looking back. But I can't. I feel like I need to fix a few things. I mean, my MC's younger brother is a baby in chapter one, a toddler in chapter three, and 7-years old in a later chapter. I can't make up my mind on how old he should be. Shouldn't I at least determine this kid's age before I move on?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Lately it's been difficult to find a beautiful blue sky. For most of the summer, the skies over central Texas have been overcast or rainy. But yesterday's sky was gorgeous! Ice-blue, delicate white clouds. I went outside and took some shots to use as reference for my book, Ron.

Good thing I did. Today, the sky over my home is grey. And with another cold front moving in, it's gonna be that way for some time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lessons of a self-trained artist

Oil paint on watercolor paper doesn't work.

Only cost me two days and $29.00 in wasted art supplies to learn this lesson.

I think gesso may be the answer. I'll soon find out.

Edit to original post: Yes, it was the gesso. That's what I needed all along. Or something else to seal the paper. I should know better. How long have I been doing this? Come to think, why am I using watercolor paper with oils anyway?

Second edit: I found the answer to the technique I'm seeking! See, I'm not crazy. There is a technique for using oils on watercolor paper.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


A lot of artists are so in tuned to human anatomy that they can draw from memory. They also know how clothing will fold in response to body position and how lighting will affect folds. That's not me, I struggle with anatomy and folds. But I'm not alone. For every artist who can draw the human form from memory, there are at least two like me who need to draw from reference. With practice, I am getting better.

Lately, I've been studying folds. I know people probably think I'm weird, but when having a conversation with someone, I haven't been looking at their eyes. I've been looking at how their shirt bunches up under their armpits, at what happens to their shirt collar when they turn and look behind them, at how a skirt folds when a woman sits down.

For Ron, first I created quick anatomy studies from memory. Working from memory allow me to loosen up. But then to fine tune my sketches, I used various reference tools. Mostly, I used myself. I'd set the timer on my camera and take photos of myself in the necessary pose. Sometimes, I used Elsa, my nekkid wooden mannequin. Other times, I used a program called Poser. My best models, of course, were my son, K, and Lamar, a kid I hired to do a facial study.

Also, Robert's Snow snow flakes are now available for viewing, here, here and here. My snow flake, You'd Better Duck!, is in the second auction, November 26 - 30th, 2007. Please support this cause.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Countdown to ZOOM!

I found this widget on the HarperCollins website. Zoom: A Book of Things that Go, by Jennifer Frantz, is the first novelty and pop-up book that I've illustrated. Looks like it will publish in January!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mission accomplished. Almost

I finished my sketches for Ron. Well, kinda. I finished everything except the cover, title page and the very last page, 32. The feedback I'll receive from my editor and art director will determine what these pages will be, so I'm going to wait. And one little mistake I made. On spread 28-29, I featured Ron sprawled out on the floor, reading. After rereading the text, he's supposed to be sitting in a chair. I like to sprawl when I read. I'll have to change this sketch next week.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


You should see a brotha now. Bet you didn't know I could do the James Brown and keep my hands steady enough to sketch a picture book. But I can.

And I am!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I'm signing off

Welp, I'm signing off for the week. My sketches for RON are due on Friday. I plan to spend every waking moment over the next five days working on them. Except for tomorrow evening when I have to attend a small group church meeting. And when I go to the doctor to have my thumb looked at. And when I go to have it x-rayed. And when I give my son a bike lesson. And when I'm not working out. Or working on my chapter book. Or preparing for next weekend's marriage conference with the wife. Or writing a synopsis of my SCBWI Houston talk in February. Or making a small revision to a puzzle project for my licensing agent. Or finishing reading the book The Year of the Dog. Other than that, I'll be sketching, so I won't be able to blog.

Unless something really, really, really interesting happens.

I'm proud of my son ... is geting on my nerves

Written Saturday night, 11:45 p.m.: I'm so proud of my son. Recently, he received a $25 Wal-Mart gift card from a friend of the wife's. The card was meant to be used towards school clothes. My son attends a private Christian school, so we are already well stocked with uniforms, and I've already purchased his school supplies.

So, how does he want to spend his money? On books! He actually asked for more books.

I really like this kid.

Written Sunday morning, 8:45 a.m.: My son's getting on my nerves. What does a dad do when he wakes up in the morning, in a bad mood and doesn't feel like getting repeatedly clobbered over the head with a lime green plastic lizard?

Friday, September 07, 2007

A correction and more

I made a mistake in my post yesterday. I said that a NG/MB book would publish in the winter of 2007. It will actually publish in the winter of 2008. My apologies to the author and illustrator, but I had no idea that some catalogs printed so far in advance — in this case, more than a year away.

All the catalogs I received this week were Harper Collins imprints. And I must have received every one except Harper Festival, which is the one catalog I'm especially looking forward to receiving since a book I illustrated — ZOOM! will be in that one.


Because of a rare fluke in my schedule (at my full-time gig), I ended up having next week off — 5 days! I didn't find out until today. That means I get a full 5 days of uninterrupted (except for family) time to finish my sketches for Dial! I was worried about making my deadline by Friday but that shouldn't be a problem now. Whaaaaa-hoooo!


I've been taking one-half-hour breaks at work (off the clock) and working on my chapter book. If you've been reading this blog for anytime, you know that I have several writing projects started but never finished. Most of them are nothing more than an idea written out in a few sentences. My YA verse novel, at this point, is nothing more than 15 to 20 verses. But this chapter book is flowing. I've noticed that the more I write and stick with it, the easier it gets.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Time to learn some art history

Excuse me, but this post is gonna sound a bit Twilight Zone-ish. On Tuesday, I attended a small group meeting hosted by a guy at my church. He's not an artist at all, but he's an art history buff. I got kind of quiet when he started dropping the names of artists I should know about, but don't. I left his house resolved to learn more about artists from the past.

Yesterday when I got to work, a reporter had left several children's publisher catalogs on my desk (they usually throw them away, so I've asked that they give them to me instead). Looking through Greenwillow's winter catalog 2008, I came across OH, BROTHER!, written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Mike Benny. I loved the art and was surprised to discover that the illustrator lives right here in Austin. I was even more surprised when I recognized his picture. I met him a few years ago when I spoke at an SCBWI conference. Mike had attended a workshop I'd given, and he even gave me a poster featuring one of his illustrations to boot!

Immediately I shot off an email to him, and he responded. I won't get into the specifics of the communications that followed (though I hope to someday), but I will say that he inspired me big-time. In his email, he mentioned WPA artists of the 1930s and 40s. Of course, I know very little about WPA artists, so I made a mental note and planned to do some research.

In the mail today, I received an old issue of CA magazine. I'd ordered it online when I discovered that it featured an article about illustrator Loren Long. Reading the article, Loren also mentioned WPA mural artists of the 30s and 40s, artists like Thomas Hart Benton and Ernest Hamlin Baker. DO-DO-DO-DO...DO-DO-DO-DO (sung to the tune of the Twilight Zone). Someone or something is trying to tell me something. Time to visit the library!

It's at times like this that I wish I'd attended an art college, or at least had taken some art history classes. I still can, I guess. But I'm too busy now.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Time is of the essense

Final sketches for Ron are due next week. After that, the wife and I are doing a weekend, church, marriage retreat. This goal is entirely attainable, but it's gonna be stressful on my marriage.

While at the same time I'm trying to finish my sketches for Ron, the wife will be preparing to lead several church functions, including a speech coming up this weekend. She hasn't even begun to prepare for it because she's been so busy keeping our home running — paying the bills, seeing that K gets his homework finished, keeping me fed. With both of us trying to meet such big goals, were gonna be fighting over free time 'cause we got a kid to take care of, and one of us needs to keep him entertained, else he'll tear down the house.

We were both off today for the holiday, so I offered the wife a deal: let me work on Ron until 2 p.m, then we'd do family time until 6, then the evening would be hers to work on her speech. Usually, I'm not one to live by a tight schedule, but I need to make my deadline, and she needs to prepare for her speech, and without a plan, ain't none of that gonna happen. Problem is, my plan didn't work. Family time ran over, so she didn't get her time to prepare.

We have little over a week before the grits hit the fan. I hope we're still speakin' to each other by the time we attend the marriage conference.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Thumb update

My thumb is so messed up. Yesterday, the wife wrapped it thickly with gauze. That prevented me from bending it at the knuckle where it is cut. When I woke up this morning, the pain had let up and I was feeling much better. But I got over confident and removed my bandage.

Actually, it didn't look bad, it just needed some air. You couldn't even see the wound, mixed all in with my wrinkled-up knuckles.

But then at church, I reached down and grabbed my cup of coffee off the floor and — pop! — I bent my thumb, the wound burst open, and blood started gushing again. The pain was excruciating. I probably will have to get some stitches; it's only so long before I'll bend my thumb again and reopen the wound.

Ug. I've got a long week ahead. It's my Wacom hand (though it didn't keep me from writing another 600 more words today on my early chapter book).

Saturday, September 01, 2007

I cut my thumb

I'd planned to blog about my critique meeting this morning with a group of writer friends, but all I can think about right now is my thumb.

This morning, just before the meeting started, I got hungry. The wife and I have been on this lean health food diet and, as a result, I'm always hungry. I decided to make some toast before our meeting.

Normally, I'm not a jam person, but one of the wife's coworkers made some homemade peach jam. When all you've been eating for an entire week is egg whites and legumes, peach jam sounds like a delicacy.

I struggled with the jar trying to open it. It was sealed with a canning lid — a flat metal top and a ring. I removed the ring, but couldn't get the top loose. Since it was getting close to the time I was supposed to meet my writing buddies online, I grew impatient, so I pried the lid open with my newly-grown fingernails (I recently broke my fingernail biting habit). My hand slipped as the top popped off, and the sharp metal top sliced deep into my thumb*, right under the knuckle. It stung; blood gushed all over my hand.

In these situations, I don't panic. I know the drill: rinse with cold water, apply pressure. Looking at the gash, I maybe could have used a stitch or two, but I wasn't up for an emergency room visit on a Saturday. Even less appealing was the thought of what they would charge me, even with insurance. I'd stitch it up myself before I'd sit 9 hours and $800.00 in an emergency room.

With the help of the wife, we wrapped my wound. I finished making my snack just in time to join my writing friends online.

Six hours later, my thumb is throbbing, and hit hurts clear up to my bicep. Ug. Good thing it's my left hand.

Our critique session turned out very productive and helpful, though we are going to need a better method for conducting our meetings. For this first meeting (we've been on hiatus since March) we each met at our computers at a designated time. And then we waited. And waited. And exchanged an email or two, but I was having email problems. Finally, after an hour, JL announced that she was gonna go walk her dog. Lol. Good plan.

Next month, I think we will do a three-way call, or a Yahoo chat. Or maybe even, meet in person. What a thought.

* Please, no panic phone calls or emails from my mom. I'm cut, mom. I'm not dead.