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20130119-214914.jpgWelp, here we are… back at square one for the “breakfast” page. I already completed this page for a previous version of my book but it was… well… terrible. Seriously terrible. I can’t even believe that I let a possible publisher of this book see it. I even tried to “fix” it in Photoshop – but it was still awful. It was after that whole debacle that I vowed never to alter anything material in my images. I still correct for white balance and that stuff, but I won’t change the actual image.
20130119-215029.jpgAnyway, I knew I’d have to revisit this page and the time has come. I need to hold myself to higher standards. Be intentional. The power of these illustrations are found within the details. Do. Better.


How do I begin a new spread? Carefully. If I do the work up front, and if I’m patient in planning/sketching the rest of the image just falls into place.

20130119-215040-e1358654728386At first, I just threw down a few rough placement sketches. What do I want the composition of this page to look like? Where are my white, grey, and black areas (blur your eyes and look for light, medium, and dark figures in composition)? What is the main point of this page and how can my illustration reinforce it? Etc., etc., etc.

This page asks the reader to face taste and tactile issues that a person with an autism, sensory processing, or anxiety disorder might frequently encounter. The main character is at breakfast with his family, and I want the focus to be on him and his slight disgust with his food options – while everyone else seems to be perfectly happy.

I never get into detailed sketches because I know what I want the characters to look like, but I will (as you can see) throw a few general sketches out and make lists. For example, I know I want the main character to wear his usual red shirt, while the other family members will wear calming colors from the cool color family (purples, blues, greens).

After the sketches are finished, I set up a mock scene and use paint bottles to mark where the characters will go.

20130119-215102.jpgNext… Start making those models! Tonight, I just make the rough figure for the little sister – who currently resembles an uncooked turkey. Whoops!

bn2I’m a parent.  Of a two-year-old.  You can gather that I read a lot of picture books… but I’m guilty.  Most of the time, I don’t really pay attention to the book.  Usually, I’m more focused on how to present the story… or how I can connect her life to the story… or how I’m going to get more caffeine right after the story.  But I don’t pay attention to the actual book.  My job as a parent – just fine.  My job as an aspiring author/illustrator – not the best.

So what’s a fine lady like myself supposed to do?  Yep.  Research.  And, thankfully, I love reading picture books. Here’s my fun little system:

I always read the words first without paying attention to the pictures.  Always. How is the rhythm? What words were chosen so carefully and why? How do they make me feel?  After that comes my favorite part.

Picture time. This time through, I only look at the pictures.  No words. How does the illustrator tell the story?  What style does she use?  Why?  What did she add to make the story better?  How do the images make me feel?  Does the image layout change throughout the book?  Why or why not?  Next up… one more read through studying the words and pictures on each page together.  What was expressed (or not expressed) with intention?

It should be noted, my friends, that it’s also important to study only high-quality (typically, award-winning) picture books… my daughter’s 18 Dora-episode-based paperbacks aren’t usually in my stack.  Just sayin’.

These were just a few of my fav’s from tonight’s little session: the delicate and beautiful A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead… a visually stunning The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce… the playful A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka… and the light-hearted Blackout by John Rocco.  I highly recommend all of them.

Excuse me while I go ugly-cry out of jealousy.  Juuust kidding – Goodnight, Friends!

Marching Band Final

Whew.  Done.  This spread (to cover 2 pages) is made up of 2 pictures… one of the band and another of the main character.  Text might go in the bottom black space.  I’m still trying to imagine what style of text would look best… maybe handwritten Times New Roman?  What do you guys think?


Lighting? Ugh.  I’m not the most patient person when it comes to lighting.  The final image could have been complete about two weeks ago if I knew how to light effectively… but I don’t.  This style of illustration is very dependent (at least for me) upon trial and error and, actually, that’s something I really enjoy about the process.  Lighting, however, is one thing that I know very little about.  I’ve tried many things but, finally, figured out that I needed a light tent.  I chose to make one out of my daughter’s old sun tent (meant to keep little babies out of the sun)… cut out old fabric… replace with a fabric shower liner via a hot glue gun and… POW! Light tent!

Light tents allow the light you shine upon the models to bounce, over and over again, off of the walls of the tent.  The tent will ensure that the light is distributed evenly and that shadows are kept to a minimum.  It is perfect for my type of illustration.

Additionally, because my illustrations are so “character-based” I tend to use very simple backgrounds.  For this image, I chose to use an infinite white background.  This look is conceived by using white cloth (or paper in this case) at the base of the model and allowing it to move gradually upward behind the model.

photo (2)

To be used on the right side of the full-spread page.


To be used on the left side of the full-page spread.

I’ve been working hard to make a tiny marching band that will be following my main character.  This page will touch on how people with Autism/SPD/Anxiety can be very sensitive to noises… even the lightest sound could sound loud and alarming.  The band uniforms are made out of old maternity clothes, paint, pins, and feathers.


Cymbals made out of spray painted suction cups.


Bass drum from an almond can, beading springs/pins, clay and paint.


Drum on, Drummer.

trombone material

A trombone out of wire, a suction cup from our shower, a straw, clay, and spray paint.

trombone player

Finished trombone and his player.

mc band

Getting ready to shoot the main character for the right side of the image. He can’t hear me.

mc head

Meet the main character (without paint)

Well, here we go… I guess I should start from the beginning, huh?

Meet the main character!  He’s a typical, fun-loving 6-ish year-old boy.  His body is made out of wire, tin foil (to fill him out a little bit) and clay.  His outfit is made out of old maternity clothes and my daughter’s jeggings.  After I sculpt his head, neck, and extremities, I paint him with acrylic paint.  The same process is used for all of the other characters that will appear in STOP! 

I’m not going to lie to you… he looks a bit like my bald 8-month-old daughter if she were to wear a wig consistent with the hair of a young boy.  Don’t worry, I checked with her and it’s fine.


The main character… each expression/image gets a new head.