A Picture Book Review of SHE LEADS



Written by June Smalls

Illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara

No. of Pages : 32

Ages 3-8

As a member of On The Scene in 19 (a group of debut picture book, chapter book and middle grade authors publishing in 2019/2020), I am literally surrounded by the wonderful work of these creative authors.

SHE LEADS is a poignant picture book written by June Smalls and illustrated by by Yumi Shimokawara, about a matriarchal elephant society.

Inspiring text and striking illustrations follow the empowering journey of an elephant matriarch as she leads her family through the wilds of Africa. June Smalls offers fun facts in this moving, lyrical story about African elephants along with a powerful message about real girl power that will encourage young girls to be the trailblazers of their generation. SHE LEADS offers an incredible story and an unforgettable tribute to the strength of a true leader.

This is a stunning book with educational facts and notes on female empowerment. Readers can enjoy the spare text, or delve into the facts about elephants provided in smaller print sprinkled throughout.

Illustrator Saturday – Laurie Smollett Kutscera

Laurie Smollett Kutscera’s passion for children’s book illustration and writing began at an early age. Childhood memories of The Little Prince, the Peter Rabbit series, and Nancy Ekholm Burkert’s intricate pen work in Snow White, transported her to another world. Today, Laurie continues to work towards creating that magic and spirit in her own work.

She lives on the north shore of Long Island with her husband and very loyal rescue doggie, Cody. She is a member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge and The Children’s Book Academy, and continues to attend workshops and conferences for both writing and illustration.


After working up several sketches, I select one that best suits the format. For this project, I was asked to illustrate the cover of a newsletter that included a masthead and text in a box on the left side of the illustration. I scan the drawing into Photoshop, clean it up and print it on the backside of Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Gray charcoal paper. The tooth is not as pronounced on the backside so the color lays better.

I begin by scumbling color into specific areas of the drawing then paint over it with turpenoid. This melts the pastel into the paper — when it dries you have an interesting underpainting to work with.

I begin building color relationships and highlights throughout the illustration.


If I find areas where the color relationships aren’t working, I can repaint in turpenoid and start again once it has dried. This prevents reworked areas from getting muddy.

I add finer details with pastel pencils.

The finished pastel is scanned into Photoshop where I add a few additional details, highlights and a touch of brightness.


Interview with Laurie Smollett Kutscera

How long have you been illustrating?

For about 35 years. Somewhere in the middle I stopped for a while to launch a new business with my husband.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

In the mid 1980’s, I designed and illustrated a poster for The Children’s Free Opera of NY. The production was designed for a younger audience and was based on Commedia dell’arte (17th century Italian comedic theatre). After researching Scaramouche and Punchinello, I decided on a traditional yet whimsical approach that would appeal to kids, a brightly colored linoleum cut of the main character dressed in 17th century attire, perched on a skateboard.

Did you choose to attend Queens College.

I did- but for all the wrong reasons! I wanted to attend a university close to home. I knew Queens College had an excellent Fine Arts Department—what I didn’t know was how this decision would profoundly affect my life.

What type of classes were your favorites?

Calligraphy was one of my favorites. I studied illuminated manuscripts and practiced alphabets ranging from Italic and Copperplate to Gothic to Uncial. The classes were taught by Don Kunz, an outstanding calligrapher, painter and Zen Buddhist, who stressed the importance of proper posture and breathing while writing. I also had the great fortune of mentoring with Professor Marvin Bileck, Caldicott recipient of Rain Makes Applesauce. He taught drawing, children’s book illustration, printmaking, and a marvelous course called The Art of the Book, where I learned to hand-bind books. My final project in college was a French fold, hand-bound book of calligraphy and linoleum prints of Aesop’s Fables.

Did art school help you get illustrating work when you graduated?

Queens College did not have a placement program, however, my calligraphy classes played a huge role in getting my foot in the door of many companies. I would do certificates and awards for organizations such as the New York Philharmonic and the Modern Language Association. Once I established myself, I was introduced to other areas within the company that needed illustration and graphic work. My career took off when I began designing posters, brochures and book jackets.

What type of illustrating did you do when you were first starting out?

I did spot illustrations for several publishing and theatre companies in pen and ink, watercolor, linoleum cuts and scratchboard. 

What type of products did you design for the toy industry?

Oh gosh, I designed several doll collections and a variety of stuffed animals. My illustrations were sent to China where all the prototypes and final products were made. They were sold at Macy’s and various gift shops throughout the US. It was quite a thrill to see all my furry friends and dolls dressed in their nautical outfits and ballerina skirts come to life!

When did you decide to illustrate children’s books?

I entered college with visions of being a fashion illustrator. But when I meet Professor Bileck, I began to appreciate the art of children’s book illustration. The endless possibilities of how illustration and text can work together opened up a whole new world for me.

Was Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows your first picture book?


How did you get that job?

My dear friends Marietta Abrams Brill, a brilliant writer, and her husband Peter, a talented artist and curator at the Museum of the American Indian in NYC, spent their honeymoon camping out in the southwest. Sitting around a fire, they wove this beautiful tale about a young, fearless girl and the strange shadows that haunted her cliff dwelling tribe. Marietta and Peter returned from their trip and handed me their story. I started working on sketches in a variety of mediums, colored pencil, linoleum, pastel. Eventually we all agreed the earthy, textural qualities of the medium fit the story best. I had never worked in pastel, so I did a lot of playing before I actually started the illustrations.

Once the dummy was completed, we snail mailed 5 or 6 off to a variety of publishers we thought were a good fit. Soon after, Rizolli Books in NY offered us a contract. (This was back in 1993 when you could not only collaborate, but easily send your project off to an editor, unsolicited!)

What inspired you to write MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON by Blue Whale Press

I was sitting in a movie theatre watching the first 007 with Daniel Craig— Casino Royale. As the opening credits appeared, these large playing cards jumped on the screen. There was something very appealing about their graphic nature. I kept staring at them, asking myself, what if they were real people? What kind of personalities would they have? What type of adventures might they have encountered? The next morning, I jumped out of bed and began writing about a cast of unusual characters that would find their way into Alexander Finn’s heart! 

I know it is a middle grade book, but did you add illustrations, since you are an illustrator?

Actually, I began illustrating MISADVENTURES while I worked on the manuscript. In a sense, it was a collaboration—working back and forth, fine tuning the illustrations while I wrote, adding details to the story while I drew.

At first, I did all the illustrations in color, but after speaking with an editor at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in NYC, she explained most publishers preferred black and white illustrations for middle grade novels. So, I went back to my studio, took all the images into Photoshop and changed them to grayscale. To my surprise, removing the color gave them more of a mysterious, moody quality.

Once the manuscript was ready to submit, back in 2012, I planned to include the black and white illustrations, but then I kept hearing editors prefer to find their own illustrators. At that point I thought, OK, maybe it’s best to hold off on sending illustrations until I found a home for the manuscript. So, I tucked all the artwork away.

A few years later, editors and agents were requesting middle grade novels by author illustrators. So, I pulled all the illustrations back out and started subbing again. I guess the old adage is true— timing really is everything!

Would you like to write and illustrate a book?

That is my ultimate goal. I currently have a few projects I’m finishing up dummies for.  I also have a few manuscripts I’m hoping will speak to me— so I know how to proceed with the illustrations!

Have you ever been published by a US publisher?

Yes, Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows was published by Rizolli’s Children’s Division and distributed by St. Martin’s Press in NY.

 Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who and how long have you been with them? If not, would you be willing to consider representation?

I don’t have an artist rep at the moment and yes, I would love to work with someone that feels strongly about my work.

Do you do freelance illustrating full time?

No. I divide my time between illustrating and writing and our seasonal business.

Have you done any book covers for novels?

I’ve designed several book covers for MacMillan and Simon and Schuster that were graphic in nature, not illustrated.

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

It would depend on the project. Time is so precious right now— especially because I’m trying to focus on getting both my writing and illustration work published.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

While my work has evolved over the years and the medium has shifted, my influences (while a bit eclectic) have always remained constant. I love the primitive, earthy qualities of Gaugin’s paintings. I try to bring an earthy essence into all of my pastel work. I also love the lyrical intricacies of Persian Art. These detailed works have inspired the many patterns and textures I incorporate in my own illustrations.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

I’ve designed for McGraw Hill and the Modern Language Association.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

No. I haven’t approached them as of yet.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Now THAT would be fun! Thank you for planting the seed!

What do you think is your biggest success?

I’m hoping to update the answer to this question once MISADVENTURE’S OF A MAGICIAN’S SON, is released—but for now, I would say- when Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows was published––that was pretty huge. The book(s) were displayed in the windows of Barnes and Noble across NYC and Long Island. This was followed by an offer of representation by Marilyn Marlow at Curtis Brown. That was kind of amazing!

What is your favorite medium to use?

I love working in pastel. I’ve also been playing with watercolors and my new Ipad Pro, Apple Pencil and Procreate.

Has that changed over time?

Yes. Early on I worked in scratchboard, linoleum cuts and watercolors. As time went on, I shifted to colored pencil and Photoshop when an Art Director I workshopped with suggested I try another medium that gave me the outcome I was looking for without having to rework so heavily in Photoshop.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

When an idea hits, I make room in my schedule to work out the rough details. I keep weekends and evenings available for following through on ideas, writing and illustrating. In the winter months, I have more time to devote to my artwork and writing. This might be the reason I love snow so much!

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Absolutely.  For example, Alex, my main character in MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIANS SON, does quite a number of card tricks. I knew very little about this form of magic and needed to find someone really adept in this area. While the internet offered helpful information—I felt strongly that I needed a one-on-one experience. When I discovered a dear friend’s son was quite the card trick aficionado, I met with him and picked his brain on numerous occasions. He performed shuffles and fans and cuts while I scribbled notes and took lots of photographs. I also shot video that I watched over and over —this really helped me translate the energy of each trick onto the written page.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, absolutely! Online writing forums and contests have been invaluable tools. In fact, it was an online opportunity that led me to signing with Blue Whale Press. And just recently, an online contest provided several requests for my work from a number of agents and editors.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Yes. When I’m working in pastel, I often scan the finished piece into Photoshop to adjust highlights and shadows and maybe add a few finer details.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

I have a tablet connected to my desktop computer- which I use mainly for end-of-illustration detail work, not really drawing. However, this past Christmas, I received the IPad Pro and Apple Pencil.  I think I stopped breathing watching those first few You Tube Demos! The possibilities are endless!

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

My goal is to publish quality picture books that I’ve both written and illustrated. I’ve come across some exquisitely designed books, with gorgeous fonts and illustrated endpapers that make my heart skip a beat. That’s where I hope my work to ends up someday. And if by chance someone decides to make a musical out of Misadventures…well that would be just fine too!

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two projects at the moment. One is a more painterly series of illustrations for a poem I wrote about a girl that paints her room in a southwestern landscape and ends up on an adventure through the Painted Desert. The other is more whimsical in nature about an anxious lizard whose favorite toy is stolen.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

For those who write: Read, read, read!

Become a part of the writing community: Join SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, #50 Precious Words Contest, Tara Lazar’s Story Storm, The Children’s Book Academy- these are all wonderful resources to help strengthen your writing skills.

Work on your craft (try not to focus on the goal of getting published.) In the end, your work will flourish and editors and agents will be more likely to take notice.

For Illustrators:

Create a great website with a range of work that includes color and black and white images. Instagram is also a great resource for getting your work out there.  And yes, postcard mailings are still an excellent way to promote your work. (Tip: Try to send out mailings appropriately themed just before holidays and seasonal events such as Halloween, Ground Hog Day, Spring, Fall and Winter.)

Get involved in online contests. Don’t be afraid to take chances. Be inspired by other artists but don’t make the mistake of following trends too closely. Your work should be as individual as you are. Bring your spirit into everything you create and you will not only find success, but satisfaction too!

Thank you Laurie for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Laurie’s work, you can visit her at: Website: https://lauriesmollettkutscera.com/

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Laurie. I am sure she’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you Laurie for the interview. What amazing illustrations. They are so detailed and focused. Love them. Penny


    • Thank you Penny. I’m so glad you enjoyed them.


  2. What lovely work! I love the unmitigated joy of the giraffe hug illustration. Thanks for an interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It was based on a photo of a friends daughter. I was so inspired by the joy on her face I had no choice!

      Liked by 1 person


My Interview with #On The Scene In 19!

An Interview with Author Laurie Smollett Kutscera

It’s always exciting when an opportunity to be interviewed arises, especially when you have a middle grade novel debuting in the Fall! Big thanks to #ONTHESCENEIN19

Please meet our very own adventurer, Laurie Smollett Kutscera.
If you don’t find her sailing the high seas then she is probably
writing and illustrating her next masterpiece. It’s only fitting her
debut middle grade novel is titled, MISADVENTURES OF A
Please join us in congratulating Laurie on
her book which will be released in the Fall of this year. Thanks
for sharing your adventures with us!

What would you like readers to know about you?

I love a good adventure! So, it would probably be when my husband and I, (after deciding to host charters on our boat in Tortola and St. Johns,) embarked on a four-week cruise from New York City to the Virgin Islands through the Intracoastal Waterway. We made stops in Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, Edisto, Hilton Head, and Amelia Island. The wildlife was astounding: dolphins, manatees, turtles, and even wild boars! Once we got to Fort Lauderdale, we loaded the yacht on a transport vessel the length of a football field. (It was like being in a very large dry bathtub! The only way we could see out was to climb up on top of the pilot house.) For several days, we sailed along Cuba’s coastline. It was lush and forbidden and absolutely breathtaking! We were actually close enough to land to get TV reception. Cuba had 2 choices back in 2000- the local news or the Beverly Hillbilly’s…in Spanish of course!

What other jobs or careers have you worked in prior to becoming an author?

Oh goodness…I was an administrative assistant for the March of Dimes. I hand-set type and printed ephemera on 19thcentury platen presses at the South Street Seaport Museum’s Bowne Shoppe, (until I got my hand stuck in a press…ouch!) After college, I became a freelance graphic designer with clients both in publishing and the entertainment industry. And for a while, I worked in NYC’s Toy Industry designing lots of crazy characters and plush animals.

If you could tell your younger writing-self anything what would it be?

This is such an intriguing question. As I get older—or should I say, as I become more chronologically empowered—I keep adding to the list. But, I think I would tell my younger writing-self, “Just keep at it! Get out of your own way and don’t listen to the negative voices in your head. Your life will be filled with so many marvelous experiences—so much larger than the little world you’re in now.”

Did you always want to be a writer?

Well, I really loved writing short stories and poems as a child, and was encouraged by my teachers, but I never felt I had the right stuff! Writing papers was a struggle for me. Trying to organize my thoughts in a cohesive way was pure torture. I’d stare at my words, scribbled and crossed out and not be able to pull it all together. Added to that, I was not a great reader. The words jumped around the page and I would easily lose my focus (I could not get through Ethan Frome to save my life!)

To this day, I am grateful to my best friend in high school who was an avid reader. She turned me on to science fiction. A subject I found fascinating! (No offense to Ms. Wharton) I went from not reading at all—to reading Isaac Asimov and the Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka!

So, the answer would be NO! The thought of being a writer never entered my mind. Not until I got older and got a Mac—with Word. That’s when the world opened up for me. I began writing seriously in 2005 and haven’t looked back!

Where do you find your ideas?

I’m a visual person. Often, it’s a photograph or a painting that inspires me. As an author/illustrator, there are times I’ll work on a drawing and the story follows. Recently, I created a series of sketches of these large playful lizards, not knowing who or what would become of them. A few weeks later I was trying to come up with an idea for Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge, and a story about a nervous reptile popped into my head. Having those visuals helped me hone in on Everett, my main character, and his awful plight.
While working on MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON, I wallpapered my studio with sketches of every character in the book! Throughout the writing and editing process, I’d revert back to the drawings to help strengthen each character, add details and build on Alex’s world. I will also add that the text aided in strengthening the illustrations as well. It truly became a collaboration between text and art.

Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge, Vivian Kirkland’s #50 Precious Word Contest and Tara Lazar’s Story Storm Challenge have also been extremely helpful in stirring my creative juices: I have several finished picture book manuscripts and a plethora of ideas I’m preparing to jump into with the encouragement of these wonderful online forums.

Where were you when inspiration struck for your story?

I was sitting in a movie theatre with my husband watching the first 007 with Daniel Craig— Casino Royale. As the opening credits appeared, these large playing cards jumped on the screen. I was totally mesmerized—there was something very appealing about their graphic nature. I asked myself, what if they were real people? What kind of personalities would they have? What type of adventures might they have encountered? That’s where it all started. The next morning, I jumped out of bed and began writing about a cast of unusual characters that would find their way into Alexander Finn’s heart!

To learn more about MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON, and view the exciting roster of beautifully written and illustrated picture books due for release in 2019, please visit BlueWhalePress.com.

Vivian Kirkfield’s #50 Precious Word Challenge is Back!

It’s that time of year!

Vivian Kirkfield’s #50 Precious Words Challenge has truly become an annual “EVENT”.

The challenge, inspired to honor the birthday of Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, is a marvelous opportunity to craft a complete story for children 12 and under with a beginning, middle, and end. The key is to use 50 words or less! Sounds like fun, right?

All the entries are posted under the comments of her blog post. The contest is open until March 6th at 11:59 PM- and if you are so inspired- write a story and submit it. You can read all the entries while you’re there! I have to say, there are some spectacular one’s this year.

Thank you Vivian, I’m thrilled to be a part of this contest and community!


Owl’s Song


A chill fills the air.

I lay in bed, hopeful she will appear.



Moths flutter.

Cicadas whisper.

Leaves rustle.



Her playful call swirls into the pale moonlight.



The sweet song echoes.


I close my eyes and drift away.

Together, we soar above the pungent pines.


Twas' A Busy Year!

YES, yes, I know, it’s been a while—but in my defense, its been such a hectic few months, I just didn’t have a moment to put my thoughts together in a coherent manner!

It has certainly been an exciting year on the kid-lit front. It all started with Vivian Kirkland’s 50 Precious Word Challenge. A challenge you say?  I was so in. I wrote a little diddy and fell into a world or beautiful writers. And that Vivian!  Wowza!  She is not only a marvelous children’s book writer Pippa’s Passover Plate, and Sweet Dreams, Sarah, just to name a few—but she is a lovely human being, who took the time to respond to every single entry!

I also joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge, and ended up writing several picture book manuscripts – two of which are out on submission and are being considered by various publishing houses!

Julie’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge has encouraged thousands of picture book writers to get their stories out of their heads and onto the page. My personal experience has been outstanding. Through this online forum, I’ve met so many talented writers and illustrators who are generous with their time, suggestions and feedback. The critiques have been spot-on and the webinars informative. The spirit of this creative community cannot be emphasized enough. They are supportive and encouraging and if you are serious about writing picture books I strongly recommend you consider joining this thriving organization.

I should mention, Julie Hedlund is a remarkably talented children’s book author, (My Love For You Is The Sun). She along with Emma Walton Hamilton (NY Times bestselling author of, among other titles with her mother Julie Andrews, The Very Fairy Princess series) also offer the Complete Guide to Picture Book Submissions. These two articulate, award-winning picture book authors developed a cohesive, step by step program to help you not only polish your query letters—but help them stand out in what has become a highly competitive field.

I also received a very special gift from my husband for my birthday-The Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books presented by the marvelous Dr. Mira Reisberg founder of The Children’s Book Academy. This was such a rewarding 6 week online course filled with weekly assignments, webinars with editors, agents and author/illustrators. Critique groups and feedback are also part of the workshops. Another great community of authors and illustrators I’m proud to be a part of. Dr. Reisberg is warm and engaging, and incredibly passionate. She offers a variety of online courses including: Writing Wonderful Character Driven Picture Books, The Hero’s Journey, Rock Your Writing With Scrivner, and Middle Grade Mastery!!

Speaking of middle grade, I am delighted to finally share that my novel, MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON is due to be released in Fall 2019 by Blue Whale Press. This project is near and dear to my heart and has been in the works for ten years! I am thrilled to be working with such a dynamic team— and am over the moon that Blue Whale Press has agreed to let me do the illustrations for the book cover and interior. (See below, more on this later…)

So, there you have it. I’m happy to finally have time to report back and share some of these golden nuggets with all of you. I promise to return soon with more workshop tips and online adventures. Until then…be kind, be creative, and follow your passions!

Wishing you all a very Happy Holiday Season!


50 Words or Less Writing Challenge!

I’m always up for a challenge, so when I discovered children’s author Vivian Kirkfield’s blog Picture Books Help Kids Soar and her 50 Precious Words contest, it immediately appealed to me. The challenge–as you would have guessed by the title–is to write a complete story (for children) in 50 words or less. Interesting, right? Well, I’m up to my elbows in pastel, but I had to “take off the latex gloves” and give it a whirl. Here goes!


Anita’s Palette

Anita-Alexa awoke with a plan,

Paint her room umber, orange and tan.

Turquoise above bright as a stone,

Cactus her guide as she journeyed alone.


Flora, fauna and bramble so lush,

Silver the moon, scarlet the dusk.

Anita-Alexa let out a yawn,

Where prairie dogs whispered and guarded the dawn.


If you’re a children’s book writer, this is a wonderful opportunity to play with words and hone your writing skills.  For more information check out Vivian’s blog: https://viviankirkfield.com/2017/02/15/50-precious-words-writing-challenge-is-almost-here/

Pastel: Going Full Circle


If you’ve ever worked in pastel you know you can never have enough space to work!

The good news: I recently received some cool art supplies for Christmas! Blue Earth pastels in warm and cool violets and neutrals, a wood box to organize them by value, a sturdy clip-on daylight lamp, and an assortment of delicious papers to experiment with.

The bad news: (Mostly for my family and friends,) I have temporarily relocated to my kitchen counter where I can spread everything out.

YES!  I’ve gone full circle and am once again working in pastels and I have to say, it’s been a wonderful adventure. This is due in part to my instructor Jane McGraw-Tuebner.  Not only is she an award-winning pastel artist, but also, a former art director I had freelanced for (back when hair mousse was all the rave!) We recently became friends on FB and after all this time, it turns out she lives five minutes from me! Life is certainly full of surprises.

I was so nervous during the first workshop. Terrified I’d fail miserably at pastel 1.01, I had to keep reminding myself, “Wait! You illustrated a picture book in pastel for Rizzoli Publishers!” Still, I was visibly shaken as I slipped that first pair of latex gloves on.

But that all changed very quickly. Jane had me start on a still life in two different styles. One drawing was done in pastel directly on the charcoal paper and the other, I brushed a layer of pastel with turpenoid. (Turpenoid melts the color to the paper, and as you brush it in a painterly fashion, it gives you an interesting surface to work on once it dries.) By the end of the first workshop, I had learned a number of techniques. I couldn’t wait to get back to my studio (Oops! I mean kitchen.) I was anxious to get started on a few illustrations I had originally planned to do in watercolor and colored pencil.


Illustration from “Ravita and the Land of Unknown Shadows,” written by Marietta Abrams and Peter Brill, Rizzoli Publishing


What I love about pastel is that it can be manipulated like paint. It’s very forgiving, which is great because it gives you more flexibility to play, (and make mistakes.) What’s really interesting is that it has a warmth to it— maybe its the texture of the paper, or the velvety quality of the pastel, but for me, it seems to evoke more emotion. Either way, I’m in pastel heaven, playing with colors and textures, experimenting with papers, pushing the limits of what I thought was possible with what will often just magically appear with a simple stroke!

The good news: I’ve been able to incorporate pastel in several picture book projects I’m working on. Stay tuned!

The bad news: I need to expand my studio. (The chef wants his kitchen back!)

If you’d like to see Jane’s incredible pastel work, check out her website at http://janemcgraw-teubner.com


Art and Empathy

Don’t laugh! I grew up in a house with 21 cats, 2 Chinese Pugs, and a lizard I named Queen Elizabeth, (this made perfect sense at the time.)  I used to be able to close my eyes and recite all 21 pussycats by name. Tiger, Smokey Joe, Monkey Doodle, Even, Steven and Odd, were just a few of the kitties who’d spend their days lounging on the living room sofa or hunting through the tall grass of our backyard on one of their afternoon safaris.

I’ve always been an animal person. Growing up around such diverse personalities, I became attuned to their quirky, mysterious ways. I’d spend hours sketching them as they’d perch on the windowsill, or curl up on the floor in that small patch of sunlight that shot through the window.  They were great subjects—up until the moment they suddenly needed to dart down the hallway for no apparent reason.

My friend Bob’s beagle, Ruby was the inspiration behind the illustration of the dog, duck and teddy bear gawking at the array of desserts. Sadly, she just passed away, but in her short life she proved herself to be a most determined pup. I loved Ruby. Never one to accept defeat, she was always, ALWAYS working on a new angle to reach that forbidden cookie sitting on the kitchen counter. I felt her pain.

Ruby was remarkably photogenic, so when Bob sent me a few photos, her dark brown eyes burning their way into my heart, I couldn’t resist drawing her. The sketches inevitably led to more sketches with Ruby and a few accomplices. I began drawing them in different scenarios: hiding under the covers in a thunderstorm, gazing out the window as an ice-cream truck whizzed by. I finally decided on the dessert display. I thought there was something delightful about a table filled with cupcakes, cookies, and a mile-high cake!

For me, it’s so important to connect with whatever I’m drawing. Whether it be a cake, a cat readying to pounce, or the delicate wisp of a dandelion as it floats away —you almost have to become the thing you’re drawing while your pencil glides across the paper.

In college, I had been searching for the perfect piece of Haiku to complete a book of linoleum prints of flowers I was working on. I found one that still resonates all these years later.

The moon’s the same old moon,

The flowers exactly as they were,

Yet I’ve become the thingness

Of all the things I see.

              Shido Bunan (1602-1676)

It’s a marvelous exercise really—whether you draw, write, sing or act. Empathy is as important a tool as your pencil. Consider it an integral part of the creative process.

So draw what you love and become “the thingness” of all the things you see! It might just leave you feeling a little better about yourself, and the world!