Bills! Bills! Bills!

I recently painted the cover art for another fun book by author James Miller, whose previous book, The Book of Jims, I also illustrated. This one is another compendium of historical figures having the same first name, William or Bill. Bill’s! Bills! Bills! is the title.

I started with a very rough pencil sketch of the Bills to be shown on the cover – William Tell, Buffalo Bill Cody, William the Conqueror, William Shakespeare, William Penn and Bill Clinton.

Jim also asked me to include a red-billed toucan, a spoonbill and maybe a hen, along with some dollar bills and cable bills, so I worked those into the drawing and tightened it up a bit by tracing it in felt tip pen.

I then made a rough color sketch, coloring in a scan of the drawing and placing the text.

I consulted with Jim on some details of the drawing & text and painted a finished illustration to drop into the design. He’s awaiting publication now. I think Bills! Bills! Bills! will be a fun & interesting read – especially to other Bills – but also for anyone who likes quips and quirks of history. 

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 3

(To read Part 1 and 2 of this process click HERE and HERE.)

After I did rough color sketches for Laurie Nowlan’s entire book, I started transferring the drawings to illustration board and painting. I use prismacolor pencils to outline my characters and acrylic paint, thinned with water to the level of a wash, to paint the colors. You can get nice vibrant hues using acrylics, which brightened up the autumn pages at the beginning of the book.

This story follows two brother robins as they go on a southern migration to Florida, the twists and turns they encounter along the way, and how they help each other as siblings. They encounter a nasty storm, which knocks the younger brother, Robbie, for a loop.

The older brother, Ben, has trouble with one of his wings, and suddenly little Robbie is the sibling that has to look out for his older brother.

Robbie steels himself and finds the strength to get both himself and his brother out of danger.

And to see the sunny conclusion of the story, you’ll have to get the book!

Since the cover art is so critical to the appeal of a children’s book, the author and I went through several sketches of the cover illustration before we settled on the right scene and feel for it. We wanted Robbie alone on the cover, but did not want to give away too much of the climax of the story.

I envisioned Robbie swooping through the stormclouds with a determined, serious expression; and after discussion with Laurie we tried a more cheerful look and we both liked it better.

I did a color sketch and added some lightning to create a little more excitement –

and then painted the finished art.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 1

I recently completed illustrating a new children’s picture book, written by Laurie Nowlan, Robbie to the Rescue! It’s a lovely story about brother robins and how they help each other through the younger brother’s first southern migration. I think it’s a very good sibling story, with lots of touches that happen between real brothers and sisters, so many children will relate to it.

I first spoke at length with the author about how she imagined the characters and the flow of the story. Laurie is a retired teacher and has been writing for a long time so she had already given this much thought. I di some black and white and color sketches of the brother birds and more or less used them as my prototypes when developing the page art – although you’ll see some colors changed.

With the author’s suggestions I laid out the text and drew pencil sketches for each double page spread. I drew a very loose pagination, which just helps me visualize a variety of page setups before I design, like this –

Then I drew pencils of each spread like these samples.

I’ll explain the next steps in the process in my next post.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

Free Coloring Book for Children

Last year I created some artwork for Mike DeSantis’ CPA website and in the process Mike introduced the idea of using a little cartoon of his dog as a friendly mascot for the business. Mike had used “Bart the dog” as a fun part of his business before, telling long-time clients that Bart helped around the office – he even gave Bart a phone extension on the menu!

After the pandemic hit, Mike searched for an idea that could honor the workers in healthcare and also help children through a worrisome time in their young lives. In thinking about the Bart cartoons on his website, he came up with the idea of a coloring book for youngsters that would teach safety tips on staying germ-free during flu season. The book, called “Keep the Germs Away,” is dedicated to all the doctors, nurses, hospital workers and first responders who risk their lives on the front lines to help others, and I drew the illustrations.

Mike has donated 100 copies of the book to Doylestown Hospital’s Children’s Village. Each coloring page has a simple suggestion supporting good hygiene for children, and features Bart the Dog, the friendly mascot of DeSantis & Co., P.C. The director of Children’s Village, Teri Windisch, said of the gift, “Our kids and families loved the “Keep Germs Away” coloring book from Mike. What a great way to reinforce what they have learned during this tough time!”  The coloring book is also available to anyone for free download from Mike’s website www.descpa.biz and he’s allowed me to put it on my site too, free on this page HERE. So get out your markers and sharpen up your pencils!

Neshaminy Journal Spring/Summer 2021

Neshaminy Journal has its newest issue out – it’s the magazine produced jointly by the Bucks County Writers Workshop and the Doylestown Historical Society. This issue includes some great articles, all related to the history and culture of Bucks County, a place with a long association with writers, musicians, artists and theater people.

Among the local creators featured in this edition are Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, who studied in Doylestown under Oscar Hammerstein II; Pearl Buck, Nobel prize-winning author of The Good Earth; poet-novelist of the Harlem Renaissance Jean Toomer; Eric Knight, author of the classic tales of Lassie; and painter, teacher and writer Robert Beck, whose oil paintings chronicle our area’s beauty and its people. There is also original poetry in this issue and several illustrations by yours truly.

I recommend Neshaminy for everyone who has a connection to beautiful Bucks County. There are some fascinating aspects and stories to the people who have contributed and still contribute to its arts and history, and the writers involved here know how to spin wonderful tales. I enjoyed reading every one of them and learned a lot of Bucks County history that I didn’t know!

Neshaminy will soon be in book stores and can be ordered online by clicking HERE.

Magazine Illustrations

The Bucks County Historical Society together with the Bucks County Writers Workshop publishes a literary journal, called Neshaminy, twice a year and I contribute a few illustrations to each issue. All the articles deal somehow with events or places in this county, or with people who had a brush with Bucks County history.

In this issue there is an article about Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck, whose home is located in Perkasie. She lived much of her youth in China as the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, eventually writing richly detailed and moving novels of peasant life in rural China. When she moved to Perkasie she continued her prodigious writing and left a legacy of intercultural education and humanitarian aid, especially to orphans in Asia.

I drew the elegant Mrs. Buck seated at her writing desk. I used reference photos of her and the interior of her writing office to sketch out this original illustration.

I then drew it all in prisma pencil and used ink wash over the pencil for the finished art.

I’ll write about other pieces for this issue tomorrow.

Icon of Poodlehood

I’ve illustrated six children’s books for author Chrysa Smith’s Adventures of the Poodle Posse series, a string of stories that details the wags and whimsy involved in raising a bunch of very personable pooches. While each book focuses on one or two poodles who wander into the saga, the one constant character is Mrs. Flout, the bouncy lady whom the dogs have ‘adopted’ as their mom.

Chrysa visits schools to read her books and promote reading and writing to youngsters, and often for Catholic Schools Week and Read Across America Week she is busy traveling and presenting. She delightedly receives quite a few hand-drawn pictures from the kids of her poodle pals, but this past week’s surprise was unique: one particular teacher dressed up as Mrs. Flout (whose hair is uncannily similar in texture to a poodle’s) and sent Chrysa a photo –

I think when you start having people dress up as the characters in your books, you have really done something special. Congratulations, Chrysa! Mrs. Flout is now an official Icon of Poodlehood.

Chrysa’s books have all received the Mom’s Choice Award, which honors excellence in family-friendly media. If you know some youngsters who love fun stories and especially if they love dogs, please take a look at Chrysa’s selection of fun books on her site HERE.

Illustrating the Maasai

Almost ten years ago I illustrated the African folktale The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel for the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project. I learned much about the work of MCEP in doing this book, an organization that helps to build wells in Kenya and pay for education of women and children. I helped frame the actual story, which involves all animal characters, by suggesting we start the story by showing a common Maasai family tradition: the grandmother gathering the grandchildren under an acacia tree to tell stories. A friend of mine asked me to make this cover illustration into a notecard for her. I’ve just added it to my Etsy line of illustrated cards, and it can be seen and ordered here.

This is pack of 8 notecards (blank inside) and 8 ivory envelopes. Printed on the back of the notecard is a description of the scene: “The artwork shows the Rift Valley of Kenya, a region of many Maasai villages. A grandmother making bead jewelry while seated on a cowhide tells her grandchildren a folk tale in the shade of an acacia tree. An enkaji – a home made of mud and sticks – is behind them. A father and son herd goats in the background, and behind them is a fence of acacia branches, which encircles the villages to keep wild animals from entering.” When I drew the illustrations for this book I had the kind cooperation of several Maasai visitors who explained specific cultural details in the drawing, so the scene is authentic.

The 8 cards (same illustration on each) in this pack are 5 1/2″ wide by 4 1/4″ high, which is a typical ‘invitation’ size notecard, taking regular first class postage. The cardstock is made from partially recycled paper and the cards are printed in the USA.

If you would like a notecard of this sort customized by me to include your personal message or a custom-drawn illustration, please contact me through my Contact page to discuss your ideas and my illustration fees.

I am happy to say that The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel is in schools and libraries in Maasailand, and is especially useful because the story is written in both English and Swahili. The book is available for purchase, with proceeds going to MCEP, here.

Illustration for a YA Book Cover

A recent commission of mine was to make illustrations for a novel written by a middle school student. The student has ADHD and is also a gifted and eager writer. He writes insightfully about fitting in with middle school culture.

After reading some chapters and poems that comprise the book I decided to create a sketch for one poem that is set under a tree – its theme seemed to encompass the message of the book. I thought it could be used inside the book as a page illustration with the poem, and perhaps could be used for the cover as well.

I designed my rough pencil sketch looking down from above the main character under the tree, so it would work on a page and also with the title if needed. I hand-lettered the title with ink and brush.

The family of the author liked the image and wanted it for the cover, but thought some extra middle schoolers should be added. I drew a circle of friends separately –

and dropped them into the tree scene.

Then I colored the art digitally and reversed out the text – the finished book cover is below.

Devour a Book

Today, March 5, 2020, is World Book Day. I have a card for that!

If you buy a lot of books as gifts because you know kids & adults who love to read, you might want to have a pack of my ‘For Someone Who Devours Books’ so you can tuck a funny notecard into their gift package. My notecards are available in my Etsy shop HERE.

While you’re at it, take time to sit down and start reading a book yourself today! The last one I read was the children’s book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, a charming read for kids and grown-ups, and I’m in the middle of a book about Ernest Shepard, who illustrated A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books, also a delightful journey.