Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'm revved! And so is my newest book!

This past Friday, I received copies of Zoom, a pop-up novelty book I illustrated for HarperCollins. Twenty-four books arrived in three large, heavy boxes. Each book is a whopping 2-inches thick, with pages that a young reader can dial, pull, push and feel. My favorite spread is at the end. It flips opens to four-times the size of the book, displaying all of the vehicles used throughout, in one long scene.

The illustrations are digital, using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. GV was the official paper engineer on the project, but I was pleased that many of the novelty features proposed by me were used in the final product. Maybe I can add paper engineer to my resume, too? Well, maybe not.

At some point, I still plan to show all of the many cover designs the art director and I proposed before we settled on the above.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Potty humor Saturday (sorry)

This afternoon, I dropped my wife off at her office before I went to the library. She had a few minor tasks to finish at work, and since her office is so close to the library, we rode together. When I asked my son if he wanted to go to work with his mommy or come to the library with me, I breathed a sigh of relief when he said, "I wanna go with mommy."

It's not that I don't enjoy spending time with my son, I do. But I was going to the library to do some research for The Brown Bookshelf, and I only had an hour to be there. I didn't want to spend one-third of my time walking back and forth, taking my son to the pottie. He does fine when he's at home, but when he's out in public it seems that he never gets his potty business taken care of in one session. It usually takes two, sometimes three in an hour.

At the library, I sat down at a computer terminal and began my search. I was looking for books written by the twelve picture book finalists for 28 Days Later. A young mother walked up and sat at a terminal to my right, her young son clutching at her side. No sooner than she began her search, her son whispers into her ear, loud enough for me to hear: "Mommy, I gotta go to the potty." The young mother groaned, agonized and mumbled something angrily under her breath. I chuckled to myself, wondering how many times she'd already taken him to the bathroom. She grabbed her son by the hand, and they briskly walked away. They never returned.

I checked out no less than 15 books and returned to pick up my wife and son. Then I called to let her know that I was downstairs waiting. She had finished her work and said that she would be down in a couple minutes. Her couple of minutes turned into almost 15, as I sat there reading the picture books I'd checked out. When they finally got into the car, my wife says that, as they were leaving the building, my son had to go to the bathroom. Again. I chuckled.


I'm still reading the book Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris. The book is written as a series of humorous essays. The problem is that I'm not finding most of these essays very funny. There are a few gems though, which is what keeps me reading. In one chapter, the author describes an experience where he is attending an afternoon dinner with his sister at the home of a friend. He excuses himself from the table to use the restroom where, in the toilet, he discovers the biggest turd he'd ever seen. Over the next 15 to 20 minutes, he becomes completely consumed with trying to get rid of this turd, so that he won't get blamed for having left it there. Oh, this is so funny, I laughed till I cried — I do the same thing! I could totally relate.

If I discover an awful smell, or worse yet, someone's unflushed leftovers in a public restroom (or my home even), I'm compelled to leave immediately, or get rid of their evidence so that I won't get blamed should someone enter behind me. The best humorous writing, I think, connects with a reader's everyday human experiences. I gotta remember that as I approach my writing in the year to come.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I finished my sketches! Again.

This morning, I finished a third round of revisions for Ron, a picture book. I'm thankful for my editor's and art director's diligence.

Originally, they were drawn to the style I used for the book Black All Around! But I felt the story and subject matter demanded something less...cartoony. This story is more serious and heart-felt, not whimsical. So I slipped on my Magic Kadir Nelson Drawing Goggles, and I tried to emulate his more figurative style. I submitted a test painting along with my finished sketches and waited for a response, half expecting a rejection. I mean, it wasn't what they'd asked for. Their comments were numerous and didn't include the words, I love it! I love it! I love it! I was overwhelmed. I panicked, thinking they hated my sketches. I decided to re-sketch the entire book using the original style they'd asked for, completely changing most of the compositions.

I re-submitted my sketches and was surprised by their response — they loved my original sketches! "We were expecting one thing," my editor said. "But you gave us something even better. You out-did yourself, why did you change?" I didn't explain my need for copious praise.

I didn't mind making more revisions — even extensive revisions — but I really did not want to completely re-sketch this book, so we compromised by using my second set of sketches, while adding back the more figurative look of the first.

Confused? Understandably. But there's one more thing: They didn't want me to change or revise my sample painting to match the rest of the book. "We like that painting! Don't touch it!"

I'm not sure how I'm gonna work this one out. I'll probably go ahead and revise it to match the rest of the book, and submit both paintings. Let them choose. But I think they'll agree in the end that Ron on page 6 needs to look the same kid on the other 31 pages.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

War weary

For the past few weeks, a war's been fought between my mind and my heart. My mind leads the charge while my heart fights back. The conflict is taking it's toll on me. My heart races uncontrollably, I break out in cold sweats.

For awhile, I thought my symptoms were the side effect of statins recently prescribed. But after a conversation with my pharmacist, I've learned that my symptoms are not caused by the Crestor I've been taking for high cholesterol, but from anxiety. "What's going on in your life that's making you feel anxious?" she asked. I didn't mention my career situation.

Did I make the right decision, going from full-time to part-time employment, at almost half the salary? My heart says yes; It cheers me on, walks in courage. But my mind says, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

My mind tells me that I'm going to lose my home. It says that I'll have to pull my son out of the private Christian school he loves, and where he excels. Says that my son will no longer be able to participate in the paid Karate lessons, another area where he excels. "The decision was all about you and what you wanted!" my mind screams. "But what about your family?" My mind is a coward, telling me that I've let my family down. That keeps me awake at night.

As a father, I teach my children to build their minds and then to "go with what you know." I warn them about following their hearts, that paths led by emotion — feelings — can be destructive. And here I am letting my heart take control of my destiny.

My illustration business has grown far beyond what I'd ever imagined when I began 20-plus years ago. My mind knows that. But my mind also knows that I just lost an opportunity to illustrate two popup books (heavy salary). In addition, the months of December through February are traditionally slow. My mind is afraid but my heart stands confident.

As far as my job at the paper, I will excel as a part-time graphics reporter in the condensed time that I spend there. I plan to produce more and better work than I ever did as a full-time employee. I have to, or else risk becoming an invisible Sunday-through-Tuesday guy, who does nothing more than clean up behind everyone else. That's not my style. I have so much to offer, and I'm so psyched after a recent visit from Graphics Editor extraordinaire, Charles Apple. That's the goal I've set for myself, and failing at goals is out of my character.

And I will excel as a part-time entrepreneur, illustrating for children's publishing. But the war continues between my mind and my heart, and I'm ready for a cease fire.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

It's 9 a.m. Christmas morning, and my son is still in bed sleep. He is excited about the holiday, last night he practically bounced off the walls in anticipation. But not so excited this morning that he'd interrupt his sleep pattern in order to put me and the wife out of our misery and wake his sleepy-head up.

The wife and I are pacing the floor, paving a trail from our bed to the bathroom hoping he will hear us scuttling about and get up. This is our ritual with him every Christmas morning. Doesn't he know he's supposed to be up at the crack of dawn, bugging us to get out of bed and open gifts?

Excuse me now, I'm gonna go pave my trail a little louder, stomp on the floor and bump the walls, see if I can't make some inconspicuous noise. Or maybe I'll be outright conspicuous and tickle him in his armpits — the ultimate ticklish spot — until he gets my hint and wakes up. I'm ready to open gifts.

Merry Christmas to you

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas shopping finalized

As of this second, I'm officially done with my Christmas shopping. Yes, I braved the mall. I remember a time when malls were my preferred place to hang out. My friends and I would meet up there and do... absolutely nothing. Malls energized me. Now, they simply zap my energy.

For the past six hours, my son and I went Christmas shopping for my wife. I've already bought her a couple of other gifts, but I wanted one last special thing: a Coach purse.

Back when we were dating, my wife sported several of these $300 to $600.00 purses. Always freaked me out when she showed up on a date with a new one because I knew how much the purses cost, and I wanted her to be my wife. It wasn't so much that I couldn't afford a Coach — I could if I had to. It just seemed impractical to carry such an expensive accessory at a time when the both of us were still living at home with our mommas, unable to afford getting our own places. Well, she married me and our life has pretty much dictated the kind of purse she can carry — not a Coach, but something most likely purchased at Target.

This year, knowing that she needs a new purse, I thought I'd surprise her by getting a Coach. Surely they make them for every budget, maybe even on a sliding scale according to size. I'd simply buy my wife a really tiny Coach, something large enough to carry a cell phone and a pack of chewing gum, while large enough to carry the coveted brand name. My wife likes small purses anyway.

Boy was I wrong. The only thing Coach I could buy for under $100 is, maybe, a keychain — the leather Coach logo would probably cost extra. I settled for a $70.00 Sak. I'm so bummed.

FYI: My wife doesn't read this blog, so no spoilers here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Running on empty

What a busy, crazy, supposed to be time off before Christmas, week this has been for me. Here's a recap:

Revisions for Ron, a picture book I'm illustrating for Dial, are ongoing, but I do have approval to begin painting on most of the book. Problem is, it's Christmas now, and I ain't got no money to spend on paint. I need to get the wife a gift, maybe three. Painting will be on hold until after the holidays.

I sent several inquiries to the heads of the visual communications department at ACC. I'd like to teach maybe once or twice a week — Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, maybe even an illustration course. I was shocked, however, to discover how much the commercial art curriculum has changed since I was in school. No more airbrush courses! No production art, at least not with amberlith, exacto blades and hot wax. Many, if not most, of the classes now involve computer animation of some type — 2D, 3D. Yikes!

Earlier this week, I did quite a bit of research for The Brown Bookshelf. We've been busy making author selections for our 28-Days initiative in February. I never realized before, but other than illustrators who've crossed over, there aren't many African American male authors writing picture books. Julius Lester, Jabari Asim, Gavin Curtis. Is that it? Kevin Lewis. Can you name any more?

I refinanced my home at a lower interest rate. Did it mostly through email. Didn't lower my mortgage payment as much as I'd hoped.

I could easily list a dozen more things I accomplished, but thinking about them makes me even more tired than I already am.

And to top my week off, I just had to get ignorant with an abusive telemarketer who's called me no less than 10 times today. And I've hung up on him, mid-sentence, nine times!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Our gingerbread house

Underneath this mass of tightly-wrapped, aluminum foil, is a fully decorated gingerbread house. The wife and I, and our son, built it last night and decorated it with frosting and all types of candy. It's actually pretty cool, if you could see it. But you can't because my son eventually wants to eat it, and he has this thing about the possibility of "getting germs." Serious, both he and my wife do, except with my wife, it's less about getting germs and more about freshness. She won't eat it if it gets stale.

I think we should go ahead and unwrap it. It's supposed to be looked at and eaten later, dusty and stale. That's what gingerbread houses are for.

My son isn't gonna eat it anyway, and neither is his mom. When he came home from school tonight and walked into the kitchen, he said that he could smell gingerbread and that "Mommy must not have wrapped it very well." In his mind, it's infested with germ, not edible. And his mom isn't gonna eat it either. After sitting out all night, it's not fresh anymore. In the meantime, it sits out on our kitchen table, wrapped up tight for no one to see...or eat. 'Cause I can't eat it either, now on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I'm so buried with Brown Bookshelf business, I don't know when I'll have time to come up for air. Probably sometime tomorrow. After all the time I've spent on research, I'm left with one thought: In the age of the internet (free web space), I can't believe the number of authors who still haven't established a basic web presence. I've had conversations with authors who are completely freaked out at the thought of blogging, and I can kind of understand that (kinda). But what's wrong with having a website (did I say free) that offers a biography and book listing?

As Bill Cosby would say, "Come on people!"

Saturday, December 15, 2007

More scrapbook art

This is the newest kit added to my digital scrapbook store, Angel Divas. It's a small kit — 7 pieces — but I've been so busy I haven't had much time to create any new art. September through December is the best (most lucrative) time-period for digital clip art downloads, I'm told. Unfortunately I lost out this year having added only this one kit. See my entire line of digital scrapbook art at Daisie Company.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Today I sent a copy of I AM MY GRANDPA'S ENKELIN to my son's teacher, a gift to his classroom. My son attends a private Christian school, so this book — a Christian title — makes a perfect addition to the classroom. I plan to give a copy to the library as well.

On the copyright page, my dedication reads as follows (omitting the name of the school): To the students, teachers, parents, and administrators of Xxxxxxxxxx Christian School.

Funny. I've only shared my copies of this book with a couple coworkers and my wife, all of whom joked with me about my getting a chance to illustrate Caucasians. A white coworker joked: "Don! They're letting you illustrate white people now!" Lol! I enjoy illustrating African American characters, cars, elephants, corn — everything. Except for maybe spiders.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas play


This post is completely unrelated to children's illustration or literature (as are many of my posts lately). It's probably better suited for my personal blog, but since I put that blog on hold until next spring, I'll have to dump a few things here from time to time. This is my son reciting a portion of his part in last night's Christmas play. My camera would only allow me to record 30 seconds, but his part goes on about another 30 to 45 seconds. Man, this kid has a memory.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Book reviews/reports at The Brown Bookshelf

This past weekend, I finished reading Chess Rumble by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. I plan to post a review on Wednesday at The Brown Bookshelf.

I really enjoyed Chess Rumble. It's well written; the author created an authentic voice. The review will be a friendly endorsement. But I started wondering how I should approach other reviews, books I don't particularly like. Should I be honest and write a negative review? Do I dare question an author's character development, plot, voice? Hm.

I'm not a review journal; I'm an illustrator, so I won't do any of that. The Brown Bookshelf launched in November and has received much attention (Publisher's Weekly, School Library Journal, many, many, many blogs). Hopefully, before our 28-Days campaign in February, it will receive even more attention. I think it would be totally wrong of me to offer unsolicited negative critique of an authors work in such a public way (though I may occasionally do that here on my personal blog), so I won't even go there.

If I like a book, I'll discuss it. If I don't like a book, I'll shut up. I hate it when reviewers write mean things about my work, strangers out of punching range. I won't do the same to others.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

We won!...

...again and again and again! Because of bad sportsmanship on the part of few parents in the past (I hear), they didn't give out placement awards. Had they, we'd have taken first place, no doubt. The extra work I put in yesterday — adding more weight and polishing the axles with graphite lubricant — was time well spent. I realized that watching my son's reaction each time his car screamed through the finish line ahead of everyone else.

Now, I just gotta survive tonight's Christmas party with the wife. I can't dance, especially to jazz music.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pinewood Derby, race day tomorrow

My son's Pinewood Derby car. He painted the flames on the back, mimicking the flames I painted on the front.

My car: The Sharkmobile.

OK, I spent my entire day screwing around with a project my son and I have been working on together for the past month — our Pinewood Derby cars.

This morning, the Cub Scouts held a preliminary weigh-in. Tomorrow's the big race. While us parents set up the track and decorated for race day, the scouts compared cars and anxiously awaited their test runs. Sadly, our cars (my son and I created two — one for me, and one for him) fell far under the 5-ounce target weight. As a result, our cars came in last during the test runs. I wasn't aiming for fast. I was aiming for cool.

After all the time my son and I invested in designing and sawing and sanding and chiseling and painting and detailing, all my son has to say about the experience is, "I don't like this car. It's slow." Sigh.

I'll spare you the details of what I went though today trying to understand the principles of aerodynamics and wind shear and friction, in an attempt to make my son's car heavier and faster. And to irritate me even more, while I slaved away on the cars, my son laid around leisurely, watching cartoons on TV, unconcerned about what his dad was going through trying to make his car not only pretty but fast (I got a legacy to protect).

The actual race is tomorrow (Sunday), after church and before a Christmas party. We have a long day ahead. I'll share results later.

My son and I began by discussing our ideas. He wanted a race car, I wanted something very different like an animal. Together, we drew up several sketches before we settled on a hotrod and a shark. He was my editor and art director. I cut the wood using an electric saw, and we sanded the cars together. We were happy with the results (other than the slowness).

Friday, December 07, 2007

It's official. I'm a part-timer

For the past year, I've been hinting at a career change, and today I received the news that change has finally arrived. As of this coming January (three weeks from now— oh my gosh!), I'll no longer have a full-time job. I'll have two part-time jobs. During part of my week, I'll pursue my children's literary works, and hopefully, boost school visits. During the other part of the week, I'll work part-time at the newspaper, three days per week. I won't have any weekends, but as it is, I don't have weekends anyway.

This morning, I woke up in a panic. By lunch, my nerves hadn't calmed, and my heart was sloshing around so haphazardly, I couldn't even get in a workout. So I shot off an email to my boss and my bosses boss, asking if there was any turning back. As soon as I hit the send button, I was overcome with a tremendous sense of peace. I don't know why. I mean, I didn't really want to turn back and honestly, I knew it was too late to turn back.

With my licensing projects and books to illustrate already under contract (four books so far), I'll more than make up for any lost income. When I got into work, I explained that I was OK, and happy with what's been offered to me. And I've been all giddy ever since.

Advanced copy!

Just seconds ago, I received an advanced copy a book I illustrated earlier this year: I AM MY GRANDPA'S ENKELIN, written by Walter Wangerin Jr. In terms of the overall product look, I've never been happier. Paraclete did a fantastic job! The reproduction of my art is right on target. And I especially love how they've taken bits and pieces of my original art to create spot illustrations in various places.

The design and reproduction of a picture book is just as important as the illustrations. Bad font choices or colors that compete with the art can completely mess things up. That wasn't a problem with this book. Bright green end papers fall alongside a pale blue, slightly violet, sky. A chicken — swiped from an interior scene — marches across the dustcover inside. It's beautiful. The overall design not only compliments my illustration work, but elevates it.

And as tacky as this may sound, I must say, my illustrations turned out very nice, too.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

My illustrations in Read and Rise

I received my copy of Read and Rise: The Magazine for Our Children. The magazine is an initiative by the National Urban League and Scholastic, with a goal of helping African American children build reading skills.

The story I illustrated, The Car Show, was written by Wade Hudson. Some other illustrators included in this issue: Pat Cummings; Shane Evans; Leo and Diane Dillon.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Have you elfed yourself yet?

I know I'm probably the last person to discover this little elf yourself tool, and yes, I should be working and not screwing around with internet toys, but I present you my family, elfed. Click here.

Thank you, mom, for keeping me from working too hard today. Here's my mom, too. And my brother and his family.

Edit: I just realized that if you don't have the most recent Flash plugin, Elf yourself won't work.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Children's authors (and 1 illustrator), part 2 of a roundtable discussion

Be sure to check out Part Two: Can You Hear Us, Now?, a virtual roundtable discussion hosted by author Paula Chase-Hyman over at Blogging in Black.

Last month, The Brown Bookshelf team discussed the topic of why some African American children's authors go unnoticed, in a market that produces so few.

This month Paula poses the question: "Traditionally, books for young black readers have stayed within a comfortable box - they teach history lessons or provide inspirational stories of overcoming - are children’s writers of color held to a higher standard than their white counterparts when it comes to content?"

To that question I offered the answer: "No, I don’t believe we are held to a higher standard. However, I do believe that black authors are often put into a box. I can write whatever I want, however, it has a better chance of getting published if it fits inside that box.

Your words, “comfortable box,” are interesting. Let’s open the box and take a look inside. Who are you going to find in there? And who gets to determine what’s comfortable?

Inside, you’ll find agents, editors, editorial boards, sales and marketing teams, booksellers. These are the people who define what’s comfortable. I have to wonder how the ‘comfort box’ would be affected if more people of color were found inside.

I’m not suggesting the publishing industry needs to recruit black people. As a people, we have to care so much about change that we bum-rush the box, and start climbing inside.

I believe it’s possible to break down the barriers of the box, by wrapping our out-of-the-box content with a well-written, compelling story."

Read the discussion in it's entirety at Blogging in Black.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mischief in the boys room

At the time I suppose it seemed to my 6-year-old son a humorous idea. A classmate thought so, too. He followed suit. Together, they had a good laugh.

I chose not to punish my son. His mischievous behavior uncharacteristic. Besides, he'd already paid the ultimate price: a paddling from his teacher.

"Why did you do it?" I asked him later that evening.

"I wasn't thinking, I'm sorry," he said. "Am I in trouble again?"

"No. You were honest. You fessed up. Just don't do it again."

I sent my son to bed and then retrieved the letter he'd written to his mother and me (his teacher made him write it). It read:

Dear mom and dad, I made someone pee on the floor and got a paddling. That was not wise (spelled whise). Dear mom and dad, I made someone pee on the floor and got a paddling. That was not wise. Dear mom and dad,..."

I couldn't have punished my son anyway, not with a straight face. Don't ask me why he told his classmate to pee on the bathroom floor. The better question: Why did the kid do it?

Note: this is now twice in one week that I've used the word pee in a blog post. Enough with the potty humor?