Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter: Survivor-Style

The Easter Bunny somehow knew that Magoo has been watching a lot of Survivor lately, and created a number of Survivor-style challenges for Magoo to master before leading him to his Easter basket.

First Magoo had to stack blocks up to the mantle.  But he only had so many blocks, so he couldn't build a strong base.  That took a few tries, but he did it.   Then he had to balance a bowl on his head while he moved three Easter eggs from the dining room to the living room.

The final challenge had to do with bouncing discs off the arena wall before landing them on the center circle.

Magoo emerged as the SOLE SURVIVOR and discovered his prize!

Then we voted Mike off.  "The tribe has spoken."  ;)


Friday, March 29, 2013

Shiny New Webpage


The new webpage is finally up!  It actually would have been up about a month ago but Mike's computer died, so he had to custom order a new one and we had to wait for it.

Then, because we used a WordPress template, after Mike set it up, I added most of the content myself.  That was also time consuming, but it means I know how to do it now and can update my pages independently.  Not bugging my husband = happy marriage.

The old page was pretty cool, but it was static.  I couldn't easily update anything.

Now if I do some cool illustration work I can put it on the ART PAGE.

Or I can add videos to the VIDEO page or mazes and coloring sheets to the EXTRAS page.

SOOOOOO much more fun - and responsive!  So it should look good on a computer, tablet, or Smartphone. 

Go check it out at

I hope you like it!

And I hope you all have a lovely Easter holiday weekend.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hipstamatic Gallery: Spring is Coming

This was taken a week ago.   Can you believe it?
All the snow is gone now and we're seeing some signs of Spring poking through - finally!

Have you seen the cover of Martha Stewart Living this month?  It features a basket of white and brown eggs with red line decorations.  Gorgeous and inspiring!


Awesome?  Right?

I went to Michael Craft store and found some lovely white wooden eggs and painted some red designs.

In retrospect, I probably could have gotten smaller details if I had used a red Sharpie marker, but I'm still pleased with how they turned out.  They class up the joint!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #8: Creating Characters That Pop

In the last Picture Book Workshop, we analyzed some popular characters.  Now we need to apply those lessons to crafting your own characters that pop.

So let's say you have a story about a child who wants a cookie.  The cookie jar is on top of the refrigerator which is out of reach.

The first thing you want to ask yourself is Why should the reader care?

If it's more of a plot story, one where the plot takes the focus over the individual character like most Dr. Suess books or Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, then the answer comes from a reason given in the plot.  The child worked really hard all day to earn a cookie, but Mom forgot to reward him/her.
That sort of thing.

But that might not even be important if you create a character that people are drawn to.  Then the reader will care about the child getting a cookie because the reader cares about the child.

In Monkey Ono, Monkey Ono really wants to go to the beach.  He's dying for a beach day.  I don't say why.  I don't build a big back story about what will happen if he doesn't get a beach day.  Monkey Ono is a big character and he wants it so badly, that if the reader cares about Monkey Ono, they will care if he gets his beach day.  They want it for him.

So how do you create a character like that?  Someone (or something) that the reader cares for and goes on a journey with?


What's fun about your character?  Is he/she zesty?  Funny?  Smiles a lot? 

Toad, in Frog and Toad, is kind of cranky, but he's also kind of funny.  But I'm not sure Toad would work alone.  Toad works because Frog is there too.  They balance each other out like The Odd Couple.  I could probably do a whole other post on character pairs, but let's stick to single characters, shall we?

Let's go back to Olivia.

Olivia has a big imagination.  A big voice.  She's very confident.  She's looking to make a statement.

I find these things appealing in a character. 

If you look at a character like Amelia Bedelia, she's likeable because she is always trying to do the right thing.  Because she's so literal, she often gets it wrong.  But she's tenacious.  She doesn't give up.

And this brings me to the next thing you want when creating a character that pops: flaws.

Nobody is perfect.  Perfection is boring and people can't relate to it.  People love a good character flaw.

Olivia is a little over-the-top.  Amelia Bedelia is too literal and misunderstands a lot of what people say.  Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes.  Obviously Indiana Jones isn't a picture book character - but he's such a GREAT character and the whole snake thing really adds to his appeal.

Let's revisit our little cookie loving child.  Oh, let's just say it's a girl, Suzy.  Suzy has a very good work ethic.  She does her chores.  Maybe she's very neat and likes lists.  Maybe the last thing on her to-do list is EAT COOKIE.  Suzy has been left with a babysitter who won't give her a cookie until after dinner, but Suzy cannot rest until she crosses the last thing off her list - her cookie.  The cookie she earned.  Suzy plans to stack a ladder on a stool on a chair to reach the cookie, but Suzy has a flaw.  She is clumsy. 

Just by fleshing out the character a bit, we have a much richer story.

Suzy has good traits.  Suzy has a flaw.  I also threw a quirk in there too - Suzy likes lists.  That can be a re-occurring theme throughout the story.  She can make a list for every new plan to get the cookies.
Quirks are important too.  Don't forget to give your character some quirks.

And by quirks, what I really mean, are adding little details that only that characters does.  Maybe it's a behavior quirk like making lists.  Maybe it's a verbal quirk like a ninja shouting YAHOO!  Maybe it's an adventurer who never leaves his hat behind.  (See, I'm back to Indiana Jones.  I just love that guy.)

 Of course, there are so many things you can do to bring your characters to life, but if you start out with LIKEABILITY, FLAWS, and QUIRKS, you are well on your way.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Collection of Sushi

Collection of Sushi            March 2013            J. C. Phillipps

A few days ago, it occurred to me that I only had about 2 months to create a frame and entire show for my Newintgon Library show in June.

Oops.  That's not a lot of time.  I need to get my paint on!

I had some time yesterday, so I added another piece to my COLLECTIONS collection.  A Collection of Sushi.


Today I am off to The Eric Carle Museum for a program on converting picture books into lessons for the classroom.  This should be good for helping me create teachers guides and maybe work on author visit programs that appeal to the Common Core Standards.  At least that's what I'm hoping to get out of it.

We shall see.

And even if that doesn't pan out, The Eric Carle Museum is a LOVELY place to spend the day.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Where's the Clip Art?

You may be asking,  Hey Julie, what ever happened to your budding clip art business?  Did you drop it like your digital photography lessons?

Whereas I did completely fall off the map on my digital photography self-improvement (thank you, Hipstamatic for making things look cool!) I have, in fact, kept up with the clip art.

The only thing that changed was instead of selling it on Etsy, I only sell it on Teachers Pay Teachers, now.

And I shouldn't even say "sell" because I offer quite a lot of the smaller sets for free.

Here's what happened.  I put some collections up on Etsy and I put some collections up on Teachers Pay Teachers and I had a little race.  Etsy was off to a quick lead, but then it stalled out.  I sold nada in December & January.  TPT took a little while, but now I sell pretty steadily - which is not to say a lot.

If there is big money in clip art, I have missed the boat on that.

But that's OK.  A couple months ago I changed my mindset.  It occured to me that teachers are an awesome market for my picture books.  Teachers love books and K-2 teachers love picture books!
So I made some free Monkey Ono worksheets and activities to go along with the book. 

But before people would ever see those, I had to develop a steady following of fans on TPT.  And you know how you do that?  FREEBIES!  (Well, quality work and freebies!)

So now my routine is basically, make a set to sell, then make a set to give away, sell, give, sell, give.  I currently have nine sets of free clip art in my store.  And you know what, I'm so much happier this way.

I LOVE giving this stuff away!  And I love giving it to teachers who are so appreciative!

So if you're an educator, get a free Teachers Pay Teachers account and go on over and check it out.  I'm known as NinjaWoman and my store is here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chicago Trip: The Personal Side

Be forewarned.  This post is about hanging out with my friend Staci in Chicago.  It is a good post for my mother or college friends or anyone who wants to see what I do in my free time.  It is not a good professional post and has nothing to do with any creative endeavors.

So yeah.  I went to Chicago to visit one of my besties, Staci, and her family.

Here's Staci:

But let's start with food talk, shall we?

I will admit, I'm a little self-conscious about posting food pics.  There seems to be a big food-pic backlash these days, and I can understand why.  A lot of people take pictures of their food.  Maybe they want  to tantalize someone from afar?  I dunno.  I take food shots when I want to blog about the food or share a recipe or show off some beautiful food.

Here's some beautiful food:

Come on - this is gorgeous, right?  This is culinary art.  And OH SO GOOD.  We had sushi at Union Sushi and Barbeque Bar in Chicago on Friday between my presentations at the school.  YUM
and adventurous.

This is Kangaroo.

Now I know this might be upsetting to some folks and honestly, I'm not an adventurous eater.  But when I saw kangaroo on the menu I thought, I would totally try that.  It jumped out at me, so to speak.  And you know what.  YUM again!

That said, it was very similar to beef, so I don't know that I'll be chowing down on too many 'roos when I can just eat a moo.  (Note: Clearly I'm not a vegetarian.)  They also had alligator, which I was curious about, but I thought one new animal at a time.  Pace yourself, Julie.  Pace yourself.

After we got home from school, it was lady pedicure time. 

Miss A and me getting pedicures.

 I don't really understand people who don't like pedicures.  Maybe they have a hang up about people touching their feet.  Maybe they're super ticklish.  Maybe they got a nasty toe infection once and are completely turned off.  Who knows!  I LOVE them! 

I only get two or three a year, but man o man, they are sooo nice.  You sit in a massage chair, your feet soak in a hot tub, and someone makes your toes look pretty while you catch up on fashion and jumk TV with girlie magazines!  It's awesome!

(It's a bit of a bummer that it's still so cold outside.  I can't show off my pretty, pretty toes!)

(This shot has nothing to do with the post, but I thought it turned out good.)

On Saturday night, we went to see Second City.  I love comedy improv.  So funny when it's done well.  We had been at a French restaurant b/f the show and we not prompt getting there, so the seats were not the best, but it was still very, very funny.  (Even when viewed behind a woman with large, bushy blonde hair.)

I had seen a show yeeeeears ago which I'm pretty sure Steve Carrell was in it.  This time I kept the Playbill to see if anyone shows up on Saturday Night Live next season.  That Second City is pretty good about casting funny folk.  (Sorry, no Second City photos and describing comedy improv is just kind of sad. So I'll stop here.)

There was also some shopping, a movie, and hanging out.  Staci has two lovely children and is an amazing cook, so we had a good time just holing up in the dining room.

Thanks so much to Staci for having me out and not letting me lift a finger.  I was pampered!
Now it's back to the grindstone: cranking out books, hanging with my boys, and thinking about cleaning my house.  It's a pretty good grindstone.  ;)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chicago: Monkeys & Leprechauns

Last Thursday I flew out to Chicago (view from airplane, above) with two goals:
1. Visit my dear friend, Staci.
2. Do an author visit at the Catherine Cook School.

(I'll show pics from my visit with Staci next post for those of you who may want to see exciting photos of me hanging out with my my friend and her family.  It'll all be very TMZ!)

Friday morning, the plan was to drop Staci's kids off at school, then grab a coffee, then do my first presentation at 9:30.  But, as we were heading into school, there was a fatal car accident on Lakeshore Drive - which is one of the main roads into Chicago.   It put the lock in gridlock.  We took the back roads in, but so did nearly everyone else.  So what is usually a 15 minute drive into school, took over an hour. 

But we made it in time!

This was my first official Monkey Ono presentation and the second graders did a great job with it!

Thanks so much to the Catherine Cook School for having me in and the wonderful pre-schoolers and 2nd graders that welcomed me and asked me wonderful questions!!!

Since I was busy packing for my presentation, I completely forgot it was St. Patrick's Day weekend.  And something else I didn't know: Chicago is mobbed for St. Patrick's Day.

While we were driving around Saturday (which is the day they had the parade) every single pub had a crowd of 20-40 people waiting outside and many of said people were dressed like this:

There was a crazy amount of good Irish will (or happy beer goggles) out in the streets.  And there was even this guy:

It was a very fun trip; a little business & a little pleasure. And a few nutty Leprechauns too!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In the Works

It's seems to be feast or famine with me and the blog posts - huh?

Sometimes there's a lot going on, but none of it seems particularly blog-worthy.

Here's a bit of it:

I've finished the illos for the new book.  I'm now in the note stages:  move this tree over an inch, change this wallpaper, this squirrel looks like a cat - that kind of thing.  When that's done, I'll move onto the glue stage.  I'll hope for nice weather b/c I like to do that on the sun porch so I can open the screen door.  Spray glue = toxic.

I've been developing a picture book project which an editor likes, but thinks it's more of an early reader story.  And wants three stories in one book, ala Bink & Gollie.  So I have to rework that a bit.
Early reader is a new place for me.  I think of myself as an illustrator who writes, so extra words can be tricky.  But Bink & Gollie has great visuals, so it's a good example for me to follow.  Or rather, learn from.

Now that I have finished the mass of the collage illos for project #1, I could afford some time to clean the studio.  It was in DESPERATE need of it.

And finally, I've preparing for the accountant for next week.  Taxes!  Sometimes I am boggled by the amount of receipts and paperwork one is supposed to make sense of.  There's just too much of it!  I won't go into all the rig-a-ma-role of being a self-employed artist and the headache it causes, but I will say I have a kick-butt accountant who helps me with all of it.

Have a great Thursday everyone!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #7: Analyzing Popular Characters

Today, let's talk about CHARACTER.

These days, the bread and butter in picture books seems to be from character driven series.*  Think Fancy Nancy or Captain Underpants.  When kids identify with a character, they'll want to follow that character into all kinds of situations.

*When I say bread and butter, I really mean if you're an author and you create a successful series - that is very, very good for you.  There are plenty of one-off stories that do just fine, like Where the Wild Things Are or Goodnight, Moon.

I can't speak of Fancy Nancy because I've only read one of them.  I have a son, so I'm much more familiar with Captain Underpants.  But I did make a list of the popular picture book characters I know:
Charlie & Lola (who I LOVE)
Elephant & Piggie (who I also LOVE)
The Pigeon
Curious George
Scaredy Squirrel
Frog and Toad
Winnie the Pooh.

And yes, I know that there are many, many more - especially older ones like Babar, Madeline, and the Bernstein Bears - but I don't have any of those books at home so I can't refer to them.

Let's see what makes them tick:

Olivia is very dramatic.  I think what works about Olivia is that she has a big imagination and creates drama where there is none.  For example, in Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer, most of the story has to do with Olivia telling her class at school how she saved the circus.  The scenes that are illustrated are from her imagination.  But they are so real, that it's almost as she believes them herself.

I think what makes Curious George (by H. A. Rey) work was that he was just like a kid, really.  He was very curious about this new world he was in.  He never meant any harm, but because he didn't know the rules of his world, he often got into trouble.  I think a young reader can really relate to that.  (Also, it's a successful bonus that George is a monkey, so you can suspend your worry a bit.  If he was a child getting into all the mischief I think it would have twisted a few knickers.)

Elephant and Piggie (by Mo Willems) are great too, because they explore any problem with two different dynamics.  Elephant is more cautious and worrisome.  Piggie is fun-loving and impulsive.  But not always - they play off each other in a lovely way, and their characters shine through like the affection they have for one another.

If I had to try to pinpoint what it is about popular characters that makes them so popular, I would say they take some aspect of childhood - like imagination or curiosity - and enhance it in their characters.  They go to 11. 

In Wink, the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed, I took the idea of a kid saying "Look at me!" and made it this characters core goal.  He didn't need to be noticed a little bit.  It drove him!  The one time he was being stealthy, he had a crisis of being.  Why live if I'm not being noticed!  In life - that kid would need therapy.  But it's awesome in a picture book.

We'll talk more next week about crafting your characters in a way that makes them stand out, but for now, just think about your favorite picture book characters and what it is about them that appeals to you.

Friday, March 8, 2013


I used my super technological method of writing names on slips of paper and drawing one from a bowl and the winner is CHI!  Congrats!!!

BIG THANKS to all who left a comment.  I wish I could send you all books - I really do.  Thanks so much for checking and being supportive and putting good vibes out into the world.  It means  TON to me, truly!

Chi, I'll send you an email promptly.

In th meantime, I need to shovel.  We have a snow day here, people.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Happy Book Day, Monkey Ono!

Today MONKEY ONO is released into the wild, I mean world!

If you pre-ordered the book, (THANK YOU) it will probably arrive today.*

I hope you and the kiddos in your life enjoy Monkey Ono!  I certainly enjoyed making it.

Happy Book Day, Monkey Ono!

*FYI There is also a Kindle Edition of Monkey Ono.  You can have that today if you want, for sure!


Don't forget I'm holding a MONKEY ONO GIVEAWAY!

If you haven't commented on either of the previous posts to win, leave a comment here.  Today is the last day.  When I wake up tomorrow morning, I'm going to announce a winner.

The Prizes:
A signed copy of MONKEY ONO
A signed copy of one of my WINK the NINJA books
A pack of Monkey Ono GREETING CARDS

Thanks to all who have entered so far and GOOD LUCK!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Monkey Ono Reviews

They say that all reviews are good reviews - but I still prefer plain ol' good reviews.

Fortunately MONKEY ONO has received some lovely reviews.

Publisher's Weekly said, "Phillipps’s cut-paper collages—embellished with watercolor, crayon, and stitching—convey energy, movement, and frustration in a way that few artists working in this medium can match."

Wasn't that nice?  I think so!  For the full review click here.

Kirkus said, "They [listeners] will identify with Monkey Ono's enthusiasm and learn a thing or two about creativity and cooperation."

I hope so!  For the full review, click here.

Booklist said, "There is so much irrepressible energy in this book, from the Mr. Bill-esque wail of "Oh noooo!" each time a plan fails, to the cheery thumbs up Monkey Ono gives to Java before flushing himself down the toilet.  Phillipps' cut-paper collages are wonderfully expressive and beautifully layered; the flat pages can barely contain them."

I went a little long on that one because I don't have a link.  (And I love it when people say nice things about my work.)

Okay.  Enough.  I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking, That's just great Julie, but how can I get my hands on a copy of that fabulous book?!

Well, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post (or the previous post, or tomorrow's post) and you're entered in my MONKEY ONO GIVEAWAY where you can win:

A signed copy of highly praised MONKEY ONO
A signed copy of one of my WINK THE NINJA books (your choice)
A pack of MONKEY ONO greeting cards

Just leave a comment and a way for me to contact you and you're entered!

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


You know, I've been so busy with working on the new book and learning new social media outlets, like Twitter, and constructing a new webpage and blah, blah, blah, and I almost forgot...


Well, I have to do a giveaway.  I just gotta!

So here's the deal, peeps.  Leave a comment on this post - or tomorrow's - or Thursday's - b/c I'll be running this contest for a few days.  And I'll pick a winner.

What's the prize? 
A signed copy of MONKEY ONO
A signed copy of ONE of the NINJA books - your choice
A pack of Monkey Ono GREETING CARDS
some BOOKMARKS!  (For those of you who still read paper books.)

So just leave a comment with your name and some means of contacting you, like an email.  I'll draw a name on Friday, March 8th!

Thanks so much for checking in with me day to day and all your comments and support!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #6: Message

A few years ago I pitched an idea to my editor about a picture book called Adventures of a Gluten-Free Kid.  It was a modern fairytale about one of the kids who lived in the shoe. (You know the Old lady who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn't know what to do.  That one.) Since the kid was gluten-free, his mother made his breakfast last.  He had some time to kill so he went outside and met the Gingerbread Man who was on the run.  The Gingerbread Man was scared that the kid was going to eat him, but the kid assured him that he wouldn't because he was on a gluten-free diet.  So the kid and the Gingerbread Man did something fun instead.   I had more story to pitch, but my editor stopped me.

"It's a message book," she said.  "It's hard to sell a message book."

At first I didn't really get it.  I know a TON of people who have kids with some sort of dietary issue.  It seemed perfect.  But, when you stop and crunch the numbers, in a class of twenty kids - how many are gluten-free?  One.  Maybe two. 

Publishers are businesses.  They want to sell books that appeal to more than a small percentage.  They want wide appeal.

OK.  BUT - teachers and parents love when a book has something teachable in it. 

I've taken Wink the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed to a lot of school over the years and I hear again and again how much the teachers love the message of being true to yourself. 

So then I started thinking  
Publishers don't like a message.  Teachers and parents do like a message.  What do I write?

The answer is this (as much as there can be a singular answer to any creative question):  You write a solid story with a good plot that has some surprises, great characters, and maybe a bit of a message underneath.  But the message shouldn't hit anyone over the head or condescend to the reader (see Keeping Your Audience in Mind.)  The message should be like an aftertaste, something that can be brought out of the book, but isn't necessarily what the book is about.

THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen is a story about a small fish that steals a big fish's hat.  The text is all from the point of view of the small fish who is explaining why he did it and why he's going to get away with it.  Unbeknownst to him, the big fish is hot on his trail.

One might say, "I don't want to share a story about stealing."

But, in the end of THIS IS NOT MY HAT, the big fish retrieves his hat and the small fish suffers some consequence that is unknown to the reader because it happens behind dense underwater plants.
The message - if one must have a message - is that if you steal, you will suffer a consequence.

But really, it's just hilarious story.

I don't want to suggest that there aren't places for message books.  Sometimes you want a book that addresses a specific topic like being friends with a kid with a disability or how to talk to your child about death.   There are books like that and there need to be books like that, but you're probably going to find that they've been published by a smaller press. 

So if that's the kind of book you want to write - go for it.  But you'll need to look for other books in that vein and find out where they were published.  Try to sell your book there.

And I also don't want to suggest that big publishers don't want any message at all.  It just can't be the main thing in your story.  I sold Wink because it was about a peppy ninja.  There weren't a lot of ninja books and there certainly weren't many where the ninja was kind of a spaz.  (Wink came a little before Kung Fu Panda.)  And when I wrote Wink, I certainly wasn't thinking, I want to write a book about being true to yourself.  I was thinking, It would be hilarious if this ninja was loud and showed off all the time.

The message grew organically from crafting the best story I could.

Happy writing!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Collection of Tea Cups

Collection of Tea Cups       March  2013         J. C. Phillipps

I found out recently that I had agreed to do an art show in June.  At the time that I had agreed to this, I didn't have a 2013 calendar yet, so the whole thing slipped my mind.  Oops.  I'd better get painting.

I love Pinterest.  I see so many things that inspire me there.  One of the things I see that I love is collections, or studies, of things.  I've seen matchbooks and plants and groupings of animals.  I've seen stylized and realistic.   So I'm jumping on the bandwagon, people!

I've started with tea cups.

Another great thing about Pinterest is that I can type in "tea cups" and all these wonderful photographs of teacups pop up.  Everything above was inspired by a real tea cup (although I usually tweaked the design to suit my needs.)

I'm thinking of doing collections of: socks, pajamas, sheep, butterflies, chairs, hat and anything else I can think of.

If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Today I Design a Living Room...

...not my own and not a real one. 

I'm almost done with the illustrations for my next book, (which I won't announce the title just yet) and I have to do a living room scene.

Most of the book takes place outside, so I've waited to do this living room until the end of the process so I could see what colors I use throughout the rest of the book and I could balance them.  Because if there is a lot of green and blue in the book (and there is a lot of green and blue in the book) it'd be nice to give the viewer a little something different to gaze upon. 

At the same time, the living room colors have to work with the colors in the rest of the book.

Once I settle on the color scheme I have to make texture decisions.  Wallpaper or flat color?  Then, if I do go with with a patterned wallpaper, I have to choose something that fits the personality of the book but is also not-so-busy so you can't read text on top of it.

What I end up doing is making all the pieces that I already know: like the characters in the book.  They already have certain colors that I have to stick with.  So I make all of them.  Then I just play and trade out backgrounds.  Wall after wall.  Floor after floor.  Until I'm happy.

This can be a timely and somewhat frustrating process, but I usually know when I have it right.

So that's what I'm doing today. 

What are you doing?