Ribsy Goes Retro

This fall, HarperCollins Children’s Books will reissue hardcovers of Beverly Cleary’s, Henry Huggins series with forewords by contemporary authors and illustrators. They will speak about the impact of her stories, but the best part is that the books will feature the original illustrations by Louis Darling.

I loved her books!

When Cleary was asked, in what year do your books take place? The only answer she could give was, “In childhood.” The Mouse and the Motorcycle passed the two generation test in our household.  Little did I know as a kid in western Pennsylvania that the author was in Oregon and the scenes portrayed by Louis Darling captured the feel of the Northwest, which would one day become my home. 


The Children’s Book Council asked authors what are “3 Questions You’ve Always Wanted to Answer?” I wondered, when did I know I was an illustrator? When did I make the leap from coloring books to drawing my own pictures, and did those pictures tell a story? I read an article here that suggests that the original coloring books were for adults. As early as the 1600s coloring was an activity to encourage learning.

“…for the practise of the hand doth speedily instruct the minde, and strongly confirme the memory beyond any thing else.” –Henry Peacham’s Compleat Gentleman, 1634

Read the full article here

Coloring books were a great way to occupy a child. Who knew we were developing our minds and our hand eye coordination? I was a dreamy kid. Coloring was something I did to explore my thoughts. I could daydream and color for hours. My relationship to color began with a Christmas set of 72 crayons bearing color names as mysterious as their visual sensation; periwinkle, maize, bittersweet, midnight, mulberry… colors that inhabited other worlds. I would be dazzled and sometimes overwhelmed by color for the rest of my life. In first grade we were given a gigantic piece of paper that covered our desk and some crayons. “Draw something,” said our ancient teacher, Mrs. Hickman. She wore her glasses hanging on a beaded necklace, and a cardigan like Mr. Rogers, yet for some reason she was frightening. I could fill a stack of coloring books, but what should I draw? I was excited and a little daunted. Just then, the chubby girl with the leotards threw up all over the floor – right next to me! Chaos ensued, the janitor came in with his mop contraption, the wild ropey strings twisting and squeezing through the wringer, like my grandma’s forbidden washing machine. Next came the banana-chemical spray that permeated the nostrils of your memory forever. It was almost worse than the barf. I drew a tiny girl in the corner of my paper and filled the page with fantastic swirls and colors of throw up, with chunks and dots to make a decorative pattern. Could you blame me? Mrs. Hickman snatched up my paper, gave me a disgusting look, wrinkled it into a ball and threw it in the trash. I was dumbfounded if not horrified and insulted. Good thing she didn’t ruin my enthusiasm -all I wanted to do was tell a story with pictures.

Spider Moon

V’s of geese honk across the sky, red and yellow striped-legged spiders make webs in the doorways, and the wolf spiders come into the house. These are the signs of fall in the north. Soon the dewy webs will glisten in the tall grass in the early morning. It is the time of the Spider Moon.

We have no word for simultaneous fascination and fear, and yet I think we all have this feeling about spiders. An enormous wolf spider appeared this morning and we fought the urge to squish it, trying instead to capture it in a mason jar to put it back outside. He was too fast and crawled into a tiny crevice by the door. Are you a spider squisher or one who sets them free? Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders is real, deeply rooted in our evolution as a response to a fear of venom. On the more playful side, here are a few favorite spiders from my collection.

Charlotte’s Web (Charlotte is probably the first spider to win our young hearts.)

Anansi the Spider (A Tale from the Ashanti)

The Roly Poly Spider (I love the illustrations in this book!)

Sophie’s Masterpiece (Sophie is an artist who weaves a magnificent gift.)

Sugar Spider (from my cartoon titled Housewife Alert #17)

I Know An Old Lady (who swallowed a spider. It wriggled and wriggled and tickled inside her.)



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.