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!


Love These Books!

Second Wind, Kind of a Trippy Love Story by Matt McConville, sequel to It’s Just the Wind, Kind of a Sailing Story is available!

I designed both covers using watercolor and digital painting. See back cover below, read about my friend Matt, click the link to buy and please, let me know what you think.

Buy them here.


In this sequel only Jacks and Frank—owner and captain of the good boat Valkyrie—continue the voyage. Through sun and storms and visits with dolphins and sneaky, insistent apparitions, Jacks slips and slides as he continues on his improbable journey. They enter the dreamscape world of the Bahamas, where old bathtubs and tires are guideposts to a small island where Jacks finds that—although he’s never been there before—he’s clearly been expected. And he’s either running late for his own surprise party . . . or he’s right on time. Second Wind, Kind of a Trippy Love Story holds a promise of magic, not the rabbits-in-hats stuff, but the kind that allows a peek through the veil. The kind that is a flash of recognition in the corner of your eye or a shiver up your spine. The kind where love lives. In that place where the heart and soul intersect, the shimmering realm between dreams and reason. And that place? Its name? Some call it hope—some call it home.


Crankie Paint Job

img_1130The unfinished wooden crankie box made its first debut but it needed a paint job.


I had an idea…crankie-design-sketch

First I painted the box with random patterns of color.first-layer

Then began to paint black over the colors to reveal my design.img_1388img_1391

Here is the finished paint job with curtain up.img_1454

Curtain down.img_1455

The new box made an appearance at the Chimacum Farmer’s Market featuring The Fox in the Henhouse (by Jack Dwyer), Wind and Rain, and Farewell Angelina (by Bob Dylan).fullsizerender2

img_1103 fullsizerender2-copy



A Crankie?

Crankie TheatreYou are in for a real treat if you do not know about Crankies. I ordered a traveling Crankie from Louis Leger and took it to Alaska City Folk Arts Camp in Anchorage to make Crankies with young artists and musicians.

They are a type of moving panorama, a story put to song, an old homespun folk art made with paper or fabric that delights all ages.
As a book illustrator, I couldn’t wait to draw a story in one long continuous picture instead of individual pages.

Crankie in progress

Check out thecrankiefactory, a website by Sue Truman for a full description, history and gallery of Crankies!!


Crankie The End
Photos and video of Crankies are coming soon!


Happy Mother’s Day!

My mom with me in California

My mom with me  1960

Grandma with Jack

My mom (Grandma) with her grandson 1990

All moms should instill a sense of magic and wonder in their children generation after generation!
I know what magic looks like. Thanks, Mom!

“I know what magic looks like. You see that magic and you want to be part of it again and again,” comes from our friend, Bill Dentzel, fifth generation carousel maker.  Dentzel Carousel Company