My Illustrations for the Children’s Book “A Grand Slam Birthday”

Now that the Phillies are in the World Series, it’s definitely time to write about a new kids’ book by my friend, author Chrysa Smith, and illustrated by me – A Grand Slam Birthday. Chrysa brings back the lead character from her book The Upside-Down Gardener, Dory Oslo, for a delightful story that makes a perfect birthday party gift for youngsters – or a holiday gift, since that season is coming up too!

Chrysa describes the plot like this: When Dory Oslo arrives at her cousin’s birthday party, nobody looks like they’re having too much fun. In fact, the kids are lined up against the wall. But Dory turns up the excitement once again as her cousin opens her gift and finds something that turns the party inside-out and into something quite unexpected—and FUN! Dory, her cousin Izzy, and their friends learn a thing or two about having fun, trying new things, and having confidence in yourself.

In illustrating Grand Slam Birthday I started with pencil sketching the whole book as usual, for example these double-page spreads :

Once Chrysa suggested adjustments to the sketches, I transferred the revised drawings to illustration board and started drawing and painting finished artwork with acrylic paint washes. Because of the birthday party theme and the surprise gift involved, it made for some colorful pages:

As you may have guessed, an impromptu baseball game figures into this story – Dory after all is a tomboy! It’s a fun story that also helps kids think differently about trying something they may think they’re “not good at.”

You can order A Grand Slam Birthday online from Chrysa HERE – and if your child’s school would like to have Chrysa do an author visit (in person or through zoom), she has some great programs that help teach and inspire the kids to write on their own. Send Chrysa a message to inquire about how she can spark the imagination in your students! You can also meet her in person, selling this and her other books, at the Warminster Kris Kringle Holiday Market this coming Saturday, Nov 5 from 9:00 AM – 12:30 PM, at 300 Veterans Way, Warminster, PA.

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.


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

Sketch of a little girl

For a possible children’s book – don’t know her name yet, but she posed very sweetly for a photo in a cold, far away European city. This is painted with watercolor on heavy cold-press watercolor paper.


My illustrations for the delightful new “Adventures of the Poodle Posse” children’s book

pp5vmmcoveryellowfrontI’m delighted to announce another book in my collaboration with author Chrysa Smith – this makes five in the series – who writes for kids about the fun shenanigans of a family of poodles.

The latest book is a Christmas story, A Very Merry Mixed-Up Christmas, and it follows our bunch of excited poodles through a possible threat to the holiday (when Elfluenza strikes the North Pole), and an unexpected and delightful present for the posse. There are also fun activities after the story including a hidden picture and a Canine Countdown to Christmas.  The book is perfect for young readers from second grade on (and dog lovers of all ages).

pp5wp1Chrysa’s Poodle Posse series has been awarded a silver Mom’s Choice Award, top pick on Amazon’s Children’s Bookshelf and an endorsement from The Dove Foundation for excellence in family-friendly media. Reviews have been heralded as ‘awesome’ and ‘engaging.’ She is available for author visits to schools and organizations, where in addition to storytelling she teaches the children writing, comprehension and observation skills. Information on buying the book and Chrysa’s author visits is on her site at .

pp5wp2I have a lot of fun illustrating Chrysa’s stories, where the poodles behave like regular dogs while their owner, Mrs. Flout, is around, but become real characters when they are left on their own. Other books in the series are built around other seasons and holidays – a beach story, a Halloween story, even a Groundhog Day story! The poodles all have their distinct personalities – Woody is the oldest and wisest, Archie is a sweet rescue dog, Daisy likes the finer things in a dog’s life (like her tiara), Bobby is a whirlwind of activity.  I highly recommend these fun books, there are sweet hidden lessons in these bouncy stories, and kids will take them happily from the Posse.


Illustration for a Children’s Music CD Cover

My friend Steven Piperno and his wife Katie have been writing and performing their delightful songs for kids (and their grownups) for years now, since before their own kids were born.  Their upbeat sing-and-dance-along songs teach good lessons too, and are heavily inspired by the antics of their own kids.  I illustrated the cover of their first CD Are You Ready?  Here We Go! a few years back, and was happy when Steve called to get me to draw something for their second CD Smile.  I first looked at the songlist for this CD and pencil-sketched some ideas for the cover:


The first sketch was for the song If I Had a Farm, the second for I Love Trains, the third for Smile.  Steve went with the third, since we figured we could flip the image and the animal parade could then be continued onto the back cover of the CD.  I roughed out the design, leaving room for the songlist and other info on the back:


I then tightened up the drawing and made a marker color sketch –


– and then transferred the drawing to illustration board and started painting with acrylic washes:


I experimented with some computer-generated color backgrounds to add a little more color. Steven finalized the cover, inserted the extra text, and the CD full of great kids’ music is now available on his site, where you can also hear some of the songs.  I highly recommend it for young children!


An Evening with Renowned Children’s Book Illustrator Charles Santore

fwsantore3I was lucky to be among the people in the upstairs gallery of the Philadelphia Sketch Club who witnessed a magical evening Friday night, wading through lions, crows, mermaids, foxes, Red Coats, cyclones, herons and Patriots.  The Sketch Club graciously shared its venerable and historic Center City home with the Bucks County Illustrators Society, as members of both clubs spent the evening in delighted awe of the extraordinary work and charming commentary of Philadelphia illustrator Charles Santore.

Mr. Santore is certainly one of the most renowned illustrators of classic children’s books today, with titles including The Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, The Wizard of Oz, Paul Revere’s Ride and The Night Before Christmas, among many others.  His art is part of the permanent collections of the Brandywine River Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, as well as many private collections.  He is a winner of the prestigious Hamilton King Award from the New York Society of Illustrators, where his work was recently featured in a solo exhibition, “Exploring the Narrative Picture.”

santorephoto4He compares the creative process of illustrating a story to ‘staging a ballet or visualizing a musical composition,’ designing his pictures to build throughout the book to a grand finale.  The artists and fans who attended this talk, accompanied by a slideshow of his illustrations, saw these processes clearly unfold in the flow of the illustrations for The Wizard of Oz, where all movement in the first half of the book streams left to right, concurrent with the Yellow Brick Road; until the story encounters the Wicked Witch of the West, whose forces move relentlessly right to left.  Mr. Santore explained many instances of the ‘choreography’ of his illustrations, and delighted the audience as he pointed to example after example of his deliberate placement of shadows, gestures and framing of elements in his work for Aesop’s Fables and The Little Mermaid.santorephoto2

Amid the many charming and funny stories of his career, Mr. Santore also shared heartfelt moments that touched many in the audience.  He read aloud the Longfellow poem Paul Revere’s Ride while slides of his illustrations for the book were shown. Since the story takes place through a moonlit night, the images were powerfully composed between light and dark elements: a massive ship’s hulk, the spark from a horse’s hoof, a brilliant moon, a skyward view through the belfry of the Old North Church. Once during his reading he faltered briefly, murmuring, “I’m sorry, it still gets to me.”  His emotion over the bravery in that historic event and the beautiful language of the poem was evident in his voice; his admiration also echoed in the remarkable detail and vitality in his artwork.

santorephoto7Mr. Santore cheerfully stayed after his talk to answer questions, accept congratulations from students and fellow artists, and autograph books. I had bought his Wizard of Oz earlier in the day, and he chatted with me while he signed the title page (he’s left-handed, by the way) and made the book a complete treasure by drawing a little lion there too.  I asked him how he ever imagined and designed that stunning illustration from the perspective of looking up through the belltower of the Church.  “There’s a funny story to that,” he said.  “I called the Old North Church office and told them I was doing this book.  I asked if they had any photo references of inside the belfry.” He paused and made a wry face.  “They wanted ten percent.  Ten percent of the profits on the book, to give me the information. So, I called friends of mine who lived in Boston and asked if they could go to the church’s gift shop and find anything. They found a terrific book with plenty of photos, and they sent it to me.”

Afterwards the audience enjoyed a wonderful dinner together in the dining room of the Sketch Club – a building that since 1860 has served as a meeting place and forum for artists and supporters, counting among its illustrious past members Thomas Eakins, Henry Pitz, Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, N.C. Wyeth and Thomas Anshutz.  The evening concluded with members of America’s oldest club for artists exchanging stories with Bucks County’s newest club for illustrators, where for this evening the topics of conversation revolved around art, books, and the magnificent illustrations of Charles Santore.