How Pictures Work

Picture This, a book by Molly Bang was a recent discovery! Nicknamed the “Strunk and White of Visual Literacy,” Molly’s book celebrates its 20th year anniversary. I wondered why I had not read this book until now?

The illustrations are cut from construction paper, using a limited palette, focusing on reducing elements to their most basic shapes. She shows the importance of our emotional response to shape and color, brilliantly proving that we respond more to color than shape. A lot of what you read in her book is intuitive information for an artist, but by embracing the principals you can consciously use them as tools in your work. The book includes exercises in the back to be used in a group setting or for your own practice.

I got out the construction paper and set out to apply her principals to a current book project.  This book project is a graphic novel with an embedded story within a story. For this reason, the book is already tightly designed in the storyboarding phase. Already committed to four different background colors in the book’s design, I had to create four worlds for them to share but keep them connected in a relationship, in a sequence.

The images below represent the storyteller (an elder and her granddaughter) as they appear in the story. The goal of the cut paper exercise was to optimize the emotional impact in the composition using only shapes. Molly says, if one cannot solve the most basic issue in a picture first, which is the emotion, then no matter how detailed and colorful and beautiful you can render, there will be something missing.

1. These two figures are different in shape and size, the larger one closer to viewer (engages us), rounder and softer (approachable) and seated (stable) on the page. There is a connection between the two figures through the color black, they are somehow the same or connected. The child is of a different color, angular (not as approachable), off in the distance (removed), on the move (tension) and facing away from the elder (not engaged).

2. Now the figures are facing each other (engaged), the child on left now (new perspective) stepping up closer to reach the elder (the child has an interest now).

3. The two characters are on the same plane now, (on the “same level” or agreement) facing toward each other (engaged), child stays on left (comfortable in her place with the elder).

4. The figures are now the closest, united in the story and trust, as the child holds her position on the left, and heads lean toward each other.

I knew these principals to be true instinctively, yet I don’t know how conscious I was when sketching the figures into their composition. I was focusing on telling a story visually through the illustrations-maybe caught up in the details. After reading Molly’s book, I am convinced that the emotion of the composition is the most basic and important part of what I am trying to say. There should be something evident in the pictures, even without words or details. I used these rough guides for placement in the final sketches for the book in progress. I will post the sketches and the final watercolor illustrations to see how well it worked. Deadline is coming up.





My Girls

These are my storybook girl characters based on fairy tales, my daughter, myself and little girls everywhere who are smart, love adventure, can think for themselves and not afraid to take chances. In my new stories, boys are the main characters. I hope to introduce you to them soon.Snow CinderMaia and Damia

Alaska's Sleeping BeautySleepingAlyeska





Celebrate Curiosity!

When my kids were still little, we lived up on a mountaintop where the wind could blow over one hundred miles per hour! Here they are wind surfing on the deck. On those nights, it was pretty hard to fall asleep with all of the excitement of the wind. We camped out on the floor in the back room where we felt safer tucked into the side of the mountain. The idea for the book. “It’s Only the Wind” grew from those sleepless nights.

Here is a page from the first dummy created years ago. The book went through many stages of acceptance, getting published, but not published, and utter limbo until finally…through the right timing, perseverance and luck…

it evolved into a real book…scheduled for release October 2017!

Here you can see a sneak preview and the evolution of ideas leading to this first double spread where the kids leap right out of bed into the adventure of the wind.

Celebrate curiosity and wild imagination. Embrace the unknown. Trust that Mama knows the answers, and that Mother Nature has a plan. Remember the playfulness of childhood and honor the wisdom that comes with time.Pre-order the book at Amazon, It’s Only the Wind

Once Upon A Time…


Once upon a time is why we read stories to kids. It is not just for entertainment, or to teach the love of reading, or to simply teach them what they need to know, it is most of all to give children a gift – the power of their own imagination. When you transport them to wonderland or to never-never land, they see that anything is possible. You plant a seed to grow the ability to create something from nothing, and hope that they never ever forget this as they grow up and wonder about the world.

Wonder is connected to fear. I think Baba Yaga said this. Fairy tales always have danger. Fear is a place to begin wonder, trust that it can lead you to the story of your life with all of its magic, dark shadows, and wondrous things waiting for you.

“Will, love, and imagination are magic powers that everyone possesses; and whoever knows how to develop them to their fullest extent is a magician.”   

– W. Somerset Maugham

slide show


Click to watch a slide show on WHY WE NEED FAIRY TALES




Book Covers

Never judge a book by its cover. Were you given this tidbit of advice as a kid? Me, too. It’s true in life but not in the print world.  A cover is what draws people in to a book, more than not. Even when it comes to packaging at the grocery store, I know better than to be “green-washed” but, like a crow attracted to sparkly things, or a bug to light, I am drawn to good design, stunning use of color and imagery that pulls at me.

I recently dove into my studio with a Spring cleaning, downsizing frenzy. I found some things that made me smile, a bunch of stuff to throw away and some things to ponder. Here is a progression of book cover sketches showing how we arrived at the final concept. I say, “we” because it really is a team of people that put a book together.

In this first sketch, I placed myself on a misty Payne’s Grey kind of waterfront dock chopping off the heads of a pile of fresh salmon. Very Alaskan. Note the fish hook for the letter “C.”

Then I simplified the sketch a bit, getting rid of the pier and the dock, put Cinderella on the beach, made the town recede into the landscape and beefed up the font.

Then applied colored pencil accenting the rubber gloves and the word Alaska. Looking back I can imagine how a children’s book editor would be horrified at the dangerous knife wielding woman and the piercing hook even with the nice glinting shine creating the dot on the “I.” Too Alaskan!

While editing the text, I discovered that I really wanted my Alaskan Cinderella to be a princess of salmon, so opted for a girly princess look.

Then I tried the beautiful carousel.

Back in fishing coveralls and boots.

I liked this layout, but as an Alaskan princess, it seemed just right for her to wear a sparkly dress and XtraTufs!

We had finally arrived at the right cover. Here it is finished – in watercolor. Remembering that Paynes Grey feeling I started with, the misty Southeast Alaska feel,  I added a touch of it to all of the colors in my palette for the book.

Book design and font by Stewart A. Williams with Sasquatch Books.


Read these great articles on book cover design:

Cover Story:The Night Ocean, A Novel by Paul La Farge

11 Tips for Successfully Working With A Cover Designer

Another article with GREAT cover designs!

Golden Books

75th Anniversary of Little Golden Books!

As a child I was dazzled by the gold foil spine on the little hard cover books that fit just right in your hands. What I didn’t know was that this was only part of the legacy of Little Golden Books. Back in 1942 the company produced quality picture books and made them accessible and affordable. The little books had durable covers with pages that were stitched, not stapled.They were sold in everyday locations, grocery stores and news stands for 25 cents a piece, compared to the average price of a book $3 – $4 dollars, which would be almost $30 – $40 today.

In my experience as a parent I bought durable Matchbox cars at the grocery store, one at at time for under a dollar for my young son. It was an affordable treat to own these well-made colorful cars and trucks of all tyypes. He ended up with a story for each vehicle until he had an entire collection to pass on to his younger brother years later.

I have a vivid childhood memory of the Three Little Kittens who lost their mittens. But my sisters and I loved Chicken Little because our mom could not read through the whole book without laughing and laughing!

My kid’s favorite Little Golden Book was The Poky Little Puppy (the best seller of all times!),  but my favorite read-a-loud was The Little Red Hen.


What’s Cookin’


I am working on the 2nd Edition of “Tastes Like Home”, a collection of recipes from my family and friends, just in time for Christmas. The project began so my kids could have a place to find an old favorite recipe like Grama’s Funnel Cakes — does anybody make those anymore (?) or Donora Pirogies.  This edition has expanded entrees and includes a section on Sourdough! I included meals that you might find if you went to my sister’s house, VIVA ITALIA! and my other sister’s house, DINNER ON THE RANCH.



Look for tips, including How to Cut an Avocado, How to Keep Cilantro Fresh and Marinade Rules (from my sister, cattle rancher and trained chef)!

Here is one of my favorite recipes.

Bon appétit!


Economy of Shape

In response to Martha Pfanschmidt’s blog/Georgia:

I am also a fan of Georgia O’Keefe and strive for an economy of shape in my own work. I believe that to appreciate a shape is to reduce its form, not to oversimplify but to seek its essence. But with Georgia and another painter of her day, Emily Carr, there is more than a love of form and shape that they share.

They both study nature, but something most compelling in their work is the sense of volume, a sensual energy that inhabits the shapes.img_1310


Georgia’s palette is clean and filled with New Mexican sunlight where Emily’s colors are muted, painted with mists of the BC rain forests. When I moved from Colorado, my sun-filled palette of primary color was immediately influenced by the saturated cloudy hues of the Pacific Northwest. It took awhile for me to embrace subtle tones that seemed almost void of color. I took a watercolor class in Seattle where we painted color value squares from one to ten. The most intriguing were the first two in the series with almost zero pigment. How to make a color with as little pigment as possible? It was a good study.

 Georgia and Emily were both pioneers of their day, and moved toward the abstract as they matured as painters.



Here are two contemporary painters that I admire that work in a similar style, lovers of nature and masters of energetic volume – also an American and a Canadian.


Lisa Gilley


Gillian Gandossi


Martha Pfanschmidt says, “I aspire over the next years to work towards that economy of form and shape, and to convey through my art, as Georgia did, how to fill a space in a beautiful way.” I will also strive for this in hopes of achieving my own energetic sense of volume. May we all heed the words of Emily Carr, “be careful that you do not write or paint anything that is not your own, that you don’t know in your own soul.”


Illustrating with Fabric

I’ve taught workshops for children and adults on how to make illustrated collage books from hand-painted papers. The stories were invented from the process.collageHere is one I worked on in Sitka, AK with students at the library. Click on the image below to see the whole book.

collage workshop

I also used this collage technique of hand-painted watercolor papers to illustrate a book called Northern Lights A-Z.swan page A-ZMy latest art project is making Crankies with fabric using a collage technique. Here is a section from the Farewell Angelina Crankie.on the rooftops Please check back for Crankie videos –coming soon!

Meanwhile, the gears are turning…I’m thinking about what it might be like to illustrate a book using fabric!