Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gone fishing

Well, actually I went fishing yesterday, but...

Today, I finished all of the inside illustrations for Ron! All 16 paintings. I finished the requested revisions (which really made a big difference — thanks Sara). I fixed inconsistencies. I'm done, and it feels so good.

In addition, I approved the back flap copy, which will read simply:
Rose Blue had a long career as a writer, teacher, scriptwriter and lyricist. Ms. Blue died in 2004.

Corinne Naden has worked as an editor and journalist and has written many books for children. She lives in Westchester, New York.

Don Tate is the award-winning illustrator of Summer Sun Risin’ by W. Nikola Lisa. He lives in Austin, Texas with his family. Visit his website and blog at

(I may request that they include the book Sure As Sunrise because it's a Texas Bluebonnet recipient, so it will be familiar to many a Texas librarian).

I also submitted a new catalog photo, which likely will print with the back flap copy, too. Vainglorious as I am, I took the photo myself. I set up two studio lights in the bathroom, set my wife's clothes hamper on the bathroom sink in front of the mirror — camera head level — then set my camera's timer to give me 10 seconds to smile and strike a pose. Inventive of me, huh?

Last but not least, Jason, the book designer, combined several of my inside paintings into one image to propose a brilliant cover concept (which I don't have permission to share, so I'll wait). I'll begin working the cover immediately, with a goal of finishing it it two weeks, preferably less (because I badly need a small, immediate-paying freelance project).

Then it's on to Duke and Effa.

Friday, May 30, 2008

It's been a long week

School's out. Summer camp won't begin for another week. So, it's been me and my son, all week long. Groan.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A shout-out to Paula

I want to send a shout-out, and kind thoughts, to my friend and colleague, Paula, who is recovering from an accident. For awhile, she will be missing from the Brown Bookshelf, and we will miss her contributions. In the meantime, feel free to send her your well-wishes (at her blog).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Back on track

Last Friday I was derailed, and when I said it, I was not joking. After I read the email, which contained revisions for my final paintings (that weren't finished yet), I laid my brushes down, and didn't touch them for three days. It was like running a 26-mile marathon, and then having an extra five miles added to the race at the finish line. I just needed to lay down and rest — mentally and physically — before I could continue on. Today, I'm back on track.

Problem is, I quite literally laid my brushes down. And now they're dried out. So I'll have to make a trip to the art supply store before I can continue to work. So, actually, I'm only almost back on track.

In addition to sleep, I revised a picture book manuscript I'd written earlier this year. I'll share it with my crit group later this week, work it some more, and then it's off to my agent. Wish me luck.

I'm reading a book called What is the What. I'm enjoying the story; I appreciate learning about other cultures, in this case the Sudanese. But the author uses a form of punctuation new to me, and it's throwing me off a bit. For dialog he, he doesn't use quote marks. He precedes dialog with long dashes:

—So who cut off his hand? I asked.

—The police.

—At the hospital?

—He said there were two police...

I tend to use a lot of long dashes in my own writing — right or wrong — so all these dialog dashes are throwing me for a loop.

So writers, what's up with the long dashes? Cultural thing?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Derailed on Friday

My book was due to the publisher today. But because of the holiday, they requested it be delivered on next Wednesday. Great! Bought me an extra couple of days, allowed me to work at a slower, more relaxed (relaxed is relative) pace. I appreciated that turn of events.

But then this morning, before I began putting final touches on the last painting, I received a large batch of revision requests in my email box. And that derailed me.

I put my brushes away; I'm not painting today. My son got a new skateboard. I think I'm going skateboarding.

The good thing about all of this is, it put me in cranky enough a mood, that I'm gonna call a certain educational publisher (and artist agent) and demand payment for a project I completed and billed for in January. It's been almost five months and I've been real nice about it. Up till now.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thanks for your input

The other day, I solicited your opinion on one of my illustrations. Your input — along with my wife's — really helped. For whatever reason, I felt like I needed to break up the large brown hardwood floor area in the painting, so I'd considered doing something creative with lighting. But that didn't quite work, and that wasn't the problem anyway.

After reading your responses, and after looking at my original sketches, I realized that my biggest problem was cropping. Originally I'd planned to crop in tight, but later added more image to allow the designer some play room, in case he didn't want Ron's ear to fall in the gutter. But expanding the image also took away from the focus. When I crop in as originally planned, the large floor becomes less of an issue. Plus, I forgot, I'd already addressed the flat floor area by adding the rug, not a part of my original sketch (hope my publisher won't mind these little unplanned additions).

Thanks again!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The coveted Oscar

I stirred in the pew each time they called a child's name, happy for those who received an Oscar, an end-of-the-year trophy, awarded to the school's top performers. I listened for my son's name.

"Will I get an Oscar?" my son had asked earlier that morning, on the way to school.

"I don't know, man." I said. "Regardless, you've done your best this year. I'm proud of you." My son didn't respond to my Father Knows Best moment. He wanted a trophy.

One by one, a child would step forward to accept his or her Oscar for the A,B Honor Roll. I grew antsy as the number of trophies thinned. I couldn't recall my son bringing home a C all year long. Heck, he hadn't received a B or a C since entering the school two years ago. He's an A student.

As the last few names were called off, my son's eyes grew as big as quarters. He fidgeted with his shirt and swayed from side to side. He bit the inside of his lip, a nervous habit he must have inherited from me. To reassure him of the pride I felt regardless, I stood up, lifted my camera and took a few pictures. He forced a grin through cheeks stiff as cardboard.

I couldn't see my wife from where I stood, but I knew she was thinking about our nightly rituals, supervising my son's homework — 100 math problems, 15 minutes of reading, Bible verse memorization (King James), worksheets and more worksheets and more worksheets. If he wouldn't receive an Oscar, surely my wife and I would.

The last name was called, and my son wasn't included. I felt sick. I knew how hard he worked. I knew he deserved an Oscar. Maybe my wife or I had forgotten to sign and return one of a thousand notes his teacher had sent home. Maybe I didn't get in my required parent training hours (I didn't). Maybe this was my fault, I thought. I'm so busy.

I scanned the pews for other proud parents. And I made unjustified excuses. Many of these people are stay-at-home mommies and daddies, I rationalized. I work, and so does my wife. We can't stay at home and scrapbook and pay this tuition.

And then I got angry. I removed the camera from around my neck, the strap was beginning to strangle me. No one – other than my wife and I — probably even noticed that my son didn't receive an Oscar. In their minds, I assumed, he's an African American male. He's not supposed to receive an Oscar. After all, the ceremony was about academics, not basketball or break-dancing. Stupid . . . stupid, I know. I scolded myself for my vicious thoughts and for playing the race card.

The ceremony continued on, and my son's teacher, who was presenting the Oscars, sat down. Then another teacher took the stage. "And now we present our A students," she announced. "We present this award to the following children, who have maintained an A or an A+ average throughout the entire year."

My son's eyes lit up again. So did mine.

When they called his name, he floated through the air, as though on a magic carpet, and accepted his Oscar with such enthusiam, the performance deserved an aplause in and of itself.

Pictured above is his Oscar, but he received two trophies that day. One for his grades, the other for his memorization work. He gave one trophy to me, the other to my wife . . . and gave her a dollar to boot for "being such a good mom."

For those of you who followed my Super Secret personal, semi anonymous blog, I'm considering ginning it up again. My blog here has been getting off topic — with posts like this — since I let the other go dark.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Help! I need your opinion

I'd appreciate your opinion. I'm having trouble with one of my paintings. So I took a digital photo (which explains the ripples) and played around with it in Photoshop. But I still can't figure out which one works better. Don't diss me now. Writers and illustrators, a brotha needs your opinion. In case you can't tell the difference, on Example B, I've added lighting to the floor, to make look like the child is reading under, maybe, a lamp. I won't rework the actual painting until Thursday. Thanks in advance.

Example A:

Example B:

Monday, May 19, 2008

National Marrow Donor Awareness Campaign

These are my nieces, three of the bravest girls you'll ever meet. Their story is extraordinary. If you have a minute, check it out.

We're happy that Madison's transplant was successful. And were happy that a donor was found for Olivia, too. We're sad she'll have to miss Disneyland next month. We'll plan something next year.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday tidbits

I've had a very productive week at home, completing paintings for Little Ron on a Big Mission. That's great, but it also means I've been away from my main gig at the newspaper. That worries me.

I love my career as a children's book illustrator, but I need my job at the newspaper. Although I've had a very fulfilling week, there's something creepy about about being away from the paper for so long — particularly at a time when newspapers have been laying off their editorial departments. I'm told art departments go first.

I'm off work again tomorrow. Then I'll work two days before I'm off again for the week. I love my new schedule, but I worry about how much of an impact I can make in the few hours I am there. According to my boss at the time (two years ago), I was the MVP of our department. Now, I wonder if they even notice me at all.

By the end of this day, I will have completed Little Ron. Almost. The paintings are finished, but over the next few days, I'll need to fix inconsistencies and rework a few of the lesser successful paintings. Then there is the cover.

At Dutton — and possibly others, too — they ask that the cover concept be left until last. Once the art has been scanned and laid out with the text, we'll brainstorm ideas for the cover and any other spot art that may be needed.


In the last few weeks, I've received negative feedback from several parents about my son's school. My son attends a private Christian school, that some — parents of children who don't attend the school — accuse of being too hard on children. They say the school expects too much and pushes children too hard. "They're like little reading machines over there," someone recently said to me, while another person compared the school to the military, because of the high level of discipline. But I ask, what is wrong with having high expectations of children? Especially when these children always meet or exceed expectations? And what is wrong with a classroom that has very few discipline problems?

The administrators at the school compare children's brains to muscles — the harder they are worked, the bigger and stronger they get. I think this is great.

I have three children; two are grown. I've tried it the other way. It didn't work as well.


I received the sad news that my high school sweetheart and prom date died recently in a car accident. I'm stunned. And what's ironic is that I received the news from another high school sweetheart, both of whom had recently contacted me through MySpace.

Friday, May 16, 2008

5 Things I Wish I Learned In School

Amy of Bowllan's Blog tagged me with 5 Things I Wish I Learned In School. Considering that I only paid attention to art-related classes, I wish I'd learned everything else.

But that would be too easy an answer to the tag.

Patience is something that can't be taught. It's something you learn over time. I haven't learned this virtue. Standing in line. Waiting in traffic. My wife being late. Ahhh! I'm much too impatient.

I wish I'd attended an illustration school, maybe in New York. I've done pretty well for a self-trained illustrator. But sometimes I wonder where I'd be if I'd had formal training in the publishing city.

Life would be so much easier if I had a better grasp on my finances. It's not too late to learn, but now I'm too busy. In home economics, I wish they'd taught more about family finances, and less about making dashikis and pancakes.

I love watching political pundits battle it out on television. And I enjoy reading political blogs and cartoons. But don't ask me how government works. It wasn't until last year that I'd even heard of the term super delegate. I wish I'd learned more about civics and government. Same thing?

Books were introduced to me in grade school, of course. But I didn't notice them until way after I graduated high school. I wish I'd discovered Richard Wright or Langston Hughes or Gordon Parks when I was in grade school.

If you have something you wish you'd have learned in school, consider yourself tagged.

Completely unrelated, so I understand if you don't have time to look. Excuse a proud dad. If you stick with the whole thing — about 3 minutes — you can see my son's new trick he performs over and over and over...


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Painting in the dark; don't try this at home

This morning I awoke to storm warnings. While on the drive to my son's school, I could see dark clouds approaching from the south. Nickel-size hail was forecast, so I hurried home to clear the garage so I could park inside. That stole about an hour of my time. No sooner than I closed the garage door behind me, the storm hit. I got my brushes, turned off my computer and started to paint.

Thunder shook the house, lightening struck outside my window, and no sooner than I laid paint to paper, the electricity went out. I grabbed my camping flashlight and continued to paint. Once the storm passed, I painted to the light coming from the window.

When the electricity finally came back on, I realized that painting in the dark doesn't work so well. My colors were way off, bright like neon. So, it was back to the saturated rag, and reworking my colors, that were glowing in the dark. Sigh.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Workin' hard, but the end is near

"Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life." I think it was Confucius who said that.

Confucius is a damn lie.

I love, love, love illustrating children's books. But I'm working hard, hard, hard. I started painting Ron, a picture book for Dutton, this past January. And four months later, I'm down to the final four. The art is due to my publisher by the 25th (I've been granted a week extension.). The last few weeks are always the most stressful.

I feel really good about how the illustrations have turned out. At least today I do. Last week, I was depressed, thinking they were a total failure. They seemed too dark. The color pallet all wrong. The paper texture too rough. I wallowed in self pity, ashamed.

But that all changed. I continued to work them. Fixed problems. Adjusted colors. I shared them with a coworker, an artist who also uses the grasalies under painting technique. He liked the paintings just fine. And in a better lighting situation — the newsroom is better lit than my studio — they look completely different to me. They sing!

The colors are rich. My color pallet works. The paper texture is still a bit too rough for my taste, and the surface way too shiny (a result of glazing), but nothing a final coat of matte varnish won't fix (I'm using alkyds, so I'm hoping it will be OK to varnish immediately).

So I'm happy. Tired, achy, in bad need of next month's Disney vacation. But I'm happy.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My son and I tackle voice

Yes, okay, I said I wouldn't have time to blog this week. And I don't. But that statement went bust the day after I made it.

Last night, my son and I sat down to read a book together, one of several submissions sent for review at the Brown Bookshelf. I really enjoyed the story, as did he. But the language used in the book bothered him.

Throughout the story, the author used words like ain't, gonna and whadd'ya. He also used apostrophes to shorten words: Burnin,' fryin,' 'cause, 'ol.

Dialog included phrases like Whatcha makin' and Whaddya wanna make?

We couldn't get past a couple paragraphs without him interrupting our reading to correct the author's grammar or the character's English.

Halfway through the book, he asked me why the author was "talking like that."

Dang! Can't we just read the story?

I commended him on his good use of language, but also reminded him that he doesn't always speak perfect English himself. I explained to him that some people do use words like ain't and got and gonna, and that those people — like his dad — appreciate seeing their imperfect language used the literature they read. It's called voice, I told him. And it helps to define a character's personality, background, culture, while sometimes possibly helping the reader relate to that character.

He didn't seem understand (he was more interested in being right), so I decided to shelve that topic for another day.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Happy dancin' again

Because of the industry I work for, I can no longer discuss certain topics. I can't say why I'm happy dancing. But I'm dancing, N.C. :)

Meez 3D avatar avatars games

Monday, May 05, 2008

Painting to the Duke

I won't spend much time blogging this week. I'm taking the next four days off from work, hunkering down and painting, painting, painting. I'm in the final stretch of finishing up Little Ron on a Big Mission, a picture book for Dutton. I'm down to two weeks.

In preparation, however, to put me in the mood for my next book, Duke, I've turned off the talk shows. No Rush. No Boortz. I've unplugged CNN. And I'm playing a lot of this in the background:

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fearless writers and illustrators get silly at TLA

"Writers of the Purple Page"

Award winning writer/cartoonist/speaker David Davis visits TLA Dallas 2008 and interviews his writer illustrator friends, and talks a bit about his tenth humorous picture book, Texas Aesop's Fables.

I'm included in there somewhere, suffering from stage fright when he turned his camera on me. Check us out.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day! I'm stressed!

My kitchen has amassed a population of unwashed dishes, a crowd so large and raucous, neither my wife or I have had the nerve to challenge them.

Globs of dirty laundry snake a path from our bedroom upstairs to the laundry room below. Soiled socks mix with clean t-shirts. Dark colors mix with light. Camp gear, books, batteries, homework, tennis shoes, puzzle pieces everywhere.

My wife and I both are way too busy.

But that's only a portion of my stress. Today is May 1st. My publisher has requested to have the final paintings for Ron in May. For me, that means May 31. For them, that probably means today.

Dirty dishes. Unwashed laundry. 18 unfinished paintings. And no sleep. **exhale**

I'm stressed.