Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tiny Clay Pots

This weekend, I had a little party.  I wanted to give out some kind of party favor and I found this great tutorial for tiny polymer clay pots on Pinterest.

You know I had to jazz them up a bit though, right?  So I added little faces.

The plant store had one succulent plant left, so I bought it and took some clippings to plant.  Will they take to the new soil?  I dunno.  I'm horrible with plants.  But they look cute for now!

These were fun and easy to make.  The biggest cost is probably the clay (which isn't that big of a cost.)  I'm thinking these would make great teacher presents at holiday time or the end of the year.

Click the tutorial to make your own.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #37: Trust Your Gut

One of the trickier things to do when you're a writer, illustrator, or any kind of artist is deciding when to listen to criticism and when to follow your gut.

In general, I would say always follow your gut.  Your gut is the part deep inside you that knows what's what.  When you head is confused, your gut is not.  It's your compass, basically.

I love the story of author/illustrator Ian Falconer, create of Olivia.

When he first submitted Olivia to publishers, they LOVED the art (who could blame them) but not the story.  They wanted Mr. Falconer to allow someone else to write a story for his character.  He didn't go for it.  He sat on the book.  A few years later, he was contacted by an editor at Simon and Schuster who admired his illustration work in The New Yorker and he took Olivia there.

He followed his gut and it paid off.

But there's also the example of film director M. Night Shyamalam.  He was riding a wave of hits with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs.  He gave his script Lady in the Water to some producers he had worked with before, and neither of them liked it.  They saw all sorts of issues.  But did he listen? No.  Was that movie a super flop?  Sure was!  He followed his gut and it did not pay off.

Now, I'm not blaming him really.  He believed in his vision.  He listened to his gut.  Unlike Shakira's hips, sometimes the gut lies, or rather, sometimes the gut has different tastes then everyone else.

Remember last week when I showed you the three different samples of the cat illustration I was working on?  Well, there's a story there.  Here's the short version.

I was asked to create some illos for a story.  A sort of illustration audition.  In my eagerness I whipped out three styles and sent them off right away.

As I was waiting to hear back from my agent about what the author thought, I started to feel icky about one of the styles - I'll call it, the Commercial style.  I preferred the Bold/Simple style and I hoped they would pick that one.

Nope.  The author liked the Commercial style best.  D'oh!  So I worked up a dummy and did a two-page spread in the commercial style.  I did my best and it looked good and professional, but I didn't love it.

Usually, when I finish an illo - I love it.  Or if I don't love it, I fix it until I love it.

Because my gut was uneasy about the situation, I made a choice.  I would create the same scene in the style I preferred and submit both of them.

So I did.  And I LOVED the second one.  I explained to my agent that the first one didn't sing to me, and the second one was more ME and I felt like it was a better style for the manuscript.  We agreed to just send in the Bold/Simple style.

Will I get the gig?  Who knows.

But even if I don't, I learned a couple things:

One, as an artist, I'm always going to produce better work if my head, heart, and gut are all on the same page.  And Two, don't rush yourself.  If I'd given myself just one day to sit with the three samples I made, I would have never sent the commercial sample at all.  I would have realized that it wasn't a style I wanted to work in and no one would have seen it but me.

Now, all of this is not to say that you should not listen to other people's opinions about your work.  I think it's super important to have a network of people who's opinions you trust to give you feedback. But you usually know when it's feedback you agree with or feedback that makes you feel icky.    The gut knows a good point when it hears one.

So believe in your work, trust your gut, and fingers crossed that you'll be an Ian Falconer and not M. Night Shyamalan.*

*No disrespect to Mr. Shyamalan.  I LOVE The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Hi guys -

I wanted to tell you all about a really fun event I'm doing in November.   It's SCBWI's Inside Story Event at The Odyssey Bookstop in South Hadley, MA on Sunday, November 3rd.

Here's the official blurb:
The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, in conjunction with First Book, is launching its first international "Inside Story" event at select independent bookstores this November. The pilot program will launch in twelve cities. It has two purposes: to provide an opportunity for young readers, teachers, librarians, and children's book lovers to become acquainted with new releases, and to build traffic and sales for independent bookstores. A group of authors and illustrators will have a brief time to share the "inside story" behind their 2012 or 2013 publications and support independent bookstores.
Basically, a bunch of authors will get a bit of time to share the inside story of how we came up with our book.  I'm going to be talking about the birth of MONKEY ONO.

Other picture book writers attending are:
Diane deGroat, Corinne Demas, Deborah Freedman, Jannie Ho, Sandra Horning, Jane Kohuth, Jason Lefebvre, Richard Michelson, and Hazel Mitchell.  We have the "stage" from 1 - 3 pm.

If you're into Middle Grade books and Young Adult, then come at 3pm and get the scoop from:
Stacy DeKeyser, Christine Brodien-Jones, Erin Dionne, Natasha Lowe, Jennifer Ann Mann, Rebecca Rupp, Chris Tebbetts, Kathryn Burak.

I'm really excited to participate.  I even think I'll bring some original art to show.

For more info, go here or here.

And here's the deets:

Sunday, Nov. 3rd
starts at 1PM
Odyssey Bookshop
9 College Street
South Hadley, MA 01075

Hope to see you there!


Monday, October 21, 2013

Picture Book Workshop # 36: Illustration Styles

Hi all!

I'm going to be busy today - actually I've been busy all weekend.  My agent is submitting a writing piece from one of his other clients and he wants some art samples from me to go with it.  There's no guarantee, of course, that the editor that picks up the manuscript will like my art for it, but we're trying to get me some illo gigs, so this is like an art audition.

On Saturday, I spend the day trying out different styles for the characters.  Here's the Cat.

The first one is watercolor with line drawing over it.  The second is collage with thick black outlines.  The third is a more anthropomorphic style with watercolor and pencil shading.  Three yellow cats, very different looks.

Once upon a time, an illustrator would want to pinpoint their style.  For example, everyone knows what Eric Carle's art looks like.  That's why my first four book are collage.  I was collage girl!  But recently, that rule seems to be bending.  Now, editors and art directors don't seem to care as much if you do one medium, as long as whatever you do, you do it very, very well.

Whenever I think of an artist who can do different styles, I think of Chris Raschka.

Here are a couple scenes from his Caldecott winning book THE HELLO, GOOD-BYE WINDOW.


They're pretty loose, right.  The colors almost look like they've been finger-painted on and then there's a small bit of line to define things.  There's also a lot going on in the background.

Now look at an illustration from his book, YO!  YES?

The art in the figures is much more clearly defined and the background is merely suggested.

Here's the book NO, DAVID!  by David Shannon.  He styled his figured to look more like how a child would draw them to get kids in the mindset of this naughty little character.


It's elegant.  Compare the children's faces.  One has dots for eyes and the other stares off with despair and longing.  Look at the shading.  One has a gloppy, rough texture and the other has clearly defined shapes with soft shadows.

I'm not saying one's better than the other, but the different styles suit the different stories better and they are both by the same illustrator.

Once upon a time, you tried to master one style, but it seems like nowadays, it's better if you can be the master of many.  So I'm spending my day trying to master another style and - finger crossed - maybe it will get me a gig.

Thanks so much or stopping in!  Have a lovely Monday!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Book Recommendation Bookmarks

Remember when you used to go into a video store and they'd have a section of staff recommendations?  I loved that!  I always love when someone recommends something to me.  If I know them well and know their tastes are similar to mine, then it's likely I'll like it too.
So when students at the school library ask me for book recommendations, I got the idea to make bookmarks that they could fill out and recommend great books to one another.

Will they do it?  Will it be a huge flop?

I haven't the foggiest idea.

But I've made them, and I'm putting them out into the world - free of charge - because I love books and I want kids to be excited about finding new, awesome stories to read.

If you can copy it from the blog - great.  Otherwise both the color and black-and-white versions are available in my Teachers Pay Store.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween Costume: ROADKILL

I must confess: I very much enjoy making my son's Halloween costumes.  Every year that he wants a store bought costume, a little part of me dies.  So, come Autumn, when I ask him what he wants to be, I try to play it cool.  But inside I'm hoping it will be something fantastic and original and not available at iParty.

Magoo was undecided for awhile.  Then I came across a great squirrel costume.  (From Night Fall publicity shots.) 

From NIGHT FALL HARTFORD 2012.  Not my photograph or my costume.
Magoo liked it, but he suggested that the squirrel be dead with X's across the eyes.


And I did!  I finished yesterday.  Here's how it looks on the dressmaker dummy.

I had envisioned a black tire tread, but it didn't show up on the dark grey, so I went with metallic.  It's visible and reflective now.  Style and safety - can't beat that for a kid walking around in the dark!

There are X's on the eyes - as requested.  We debated adding blood and guts, but Magoo is happy with it the way it is.  It's a more elegant death for this little rodent who Magoo has named Bucky.

Construction notes:
The head was made from poster board, which I then paper mache'd for strength, and then painted.  I bought the clothes from Salvation Army and stamped them with fabric paint.  The tail was made by cutting strips of paper and taping them onto a wire tail form.


Dead Squirrel costume!

I'll take more pictures once Magoo models it for me.  Hope all your Halloween preparations are coming along!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #35: CRIME & PUNISHMENT

Happy Columbus Day, Picture Book Writers!

I've been working on a story with a nasty little protagonist.  He's kinda like Plankton from Sponge Bob in that he has very ill intentions, but he's very small and inconsequential so he's not really threatening.

Still, he's a bad guy, so how does that work in picture books?  Based on my research, it's OK to have a naughty protagonist as long as they are punished and the punishment fits the crime.

See, the issue I had was that I killed him off at the end of the book.  I thought it was hilarious, but my crit group thought it was too harsh.  After all, he hadn't killed anyone.  (I know what you're thinking, you're thinking, Julie, what kind of picture book is this?!  All I can say is it sounds much worse than it is.)


Ammi-Joan Paquette (one of my group members and a fabulous author) recommended a book called UGLY FISH by Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon.

In UGLY FISH, a nasty little fish lives all alone in his fish tank.  Whenever a new fish is introduced to the tank...

... Ugly Fish chases the new fish around and then eats them.  Yup - he eats them!

After a while, Ugly Fish gets lonely all by himself.  He realizes that he had more fun when there was another fish in the tank to chase.  So when a new, big fish comes around, Ugly Fish is delighted.  It's going to be different this time!  And it is, because the Big Fish chases Ugly Fish around and eventually eats him.

The End.

Death, in this case, works because Ugly Fish was also eating his temporary companions.  Ugly Fish's punishment was exactly equal to the crime he committed.

Another example is Caldecott Award winning THIS HAT IS NOT MINE by Jon Klassen.

The story begins ...

Ah, a thief!

Throughout the book the little fish goes on to brag about how well he stole the hat from the big, sleeping fish, and how much better the hat looks on him, and how he's totally going to get away with it.  (Add hubris to the list of sins.)

Well, as you may be able to imagine, the big fish wakes up and goes after the little fish and catches up to him in a thick patch of seaweed.  The big fish emerges from the seaweed with his hat and the little fish never emerges.

It's kind of brilliant, really, because the fate of the little fish is unexplained.  Maybe the big fish tied him up in the seaweed?  Maybe he ate him?  It's up to the reader to decide based on their own scale of justice.  

So, if I kill off my character and all he's done is annoy people, then the punishment is too harsh.  I have to lighten it up.  I have to balance the protagonist's crime with the consequences that follow equally in order to pull off a successful anti-hero story.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Night Fall 2013

Last night Magoo and I got out for a little community culture.  There was an amazing outdoor performance called Night Fall.  They preformed it at Pope Park in Hartford, CT against a small pond. (Which was nice for the end of the performance. More on that later.)  This being our first year, we weren't exactly sure where to sit.  We were a little off to the side which meant that our view was blocked by speakers (boo) but we were ont he side that all the wonderful creatures entered from, so we got a first peek (yay!)

Here's the Great Blue Heron.

And the Water Goddess.

 There was still light when the performance started at 6pm, but night fell quickly.

I didn't get a lot of fabulous shots as it was dark.  I should have taken my Sony Cyber Shot instead of my iPod - but oh well.  Basically, it was an hour long performance filled with giant puppets, song, and dance.  Night fall is the brain child of artist Anne Cubberly, who, I believe, designed all the puppets.

Having some background in puppetry, I'm always amazed but the construction.  Each of the skeletons (below) are operated by one person.  It's hard to see, I know, but the heads of the puppeteers are below the pelvis.  They use sticks to operate the arms and the skeleton's feet are attached to their shoes.

The grand finale was the entrance of the Winter Solstice puppet.   In construction, she was similar to the Water Goddess, however, Winster Solstice was illuminated from within whoch made her SO FREAKIN' COOL to see against the black sky and reflective pond.   Gorgeous!

There were also some boats who brought fire across the pond and set a tribute aflame. 

The whole thing was very well managed and absolutely beautiful.  I'm so glad I was able to attend.

Big Thanks to Anne Cubberly and all the people who made that happen.  It was very special!

(If you want to see some shots from last year's Night Fall, taken by professionals, and some video, go here.  And if you're in the Hartford area, try to catch it next year.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nine Faces & Pinterest

Nine Faces                       2013                       j. c. phillipps

This is my latest piece, Nine Faces.  I totally ripped the idea off of something I saw on Pinterest.

I have a deep love/hate relationship with Pinterest.  One one hand, I LOVE all the fabulous art I find there.  I have a whole board called Awesome Art by Others, where I put anything that I love.  So, as you can imagine, it's a big board.  But there are times when I am so overwhelmed by the awesomeness of others, it makes my skills seem insignificant.  That's when I hate Pinterest.

But then I see something that inspires me.  I see an idea and I think I want to do something like that!  And I love Pinterest again.  Then I find that I can spend a lot of time jumping from board to board, pin to pin, and I've eaten away my valuable time.  Then I hate Pinterest again!

It's a teeter-totter of emotions, people.

I saw a piece that was similar to this in that it was a collection of circular faces.  That artist did different faces and a different color scheme and they painted the faces whereas I used pen & ink.  But that thing that appealed to me was the use of simple shapes.  I LOVE simple shapes.  I LOVE when there is a giant canvas only of circles, but the colors and the arrangement make is special.  It's the kind of thing that seems easy to produce, but actually not so much.

I'm also really into line work these days.  I've always loved Edward Gorey, who's still the king of line work as far as I'm concerned.  I want to improve mine, so you might be seeing more pieces like this: simple shapes.  Basic watercolor.  Complicated line work.

But then again, I might see something else on Pinterest and go another way completely!

FYI - This piece will be at OPEN STUDIO HARTFORD, Nov 16 &17, 2013.  I'll be on the THIRD FLOOR!!!!

Thanks for stopping in!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #34: The Business of Writing

Hi Picture Book Writers (and non-writers too!)

I had the great pleasure of spending time with the fabulous picture book author Alexis O'Neill yesterday afternoon at the Windsor Free Library, where she generously spent two hours educating a room full of writers on school author visits.

It was a fast two hours, people, partly because there was a lot to get through and partly because Alexis is a super-knowledgable, entertaining, and a high-energy speaker.  (Also, there were cookies.  Mmmmm.)

If you can see from the board, we took a poll on the kinds of things we most wanted to know and Alexis focused on that.  Here are some of the most common topics of interest:

   Getting gigs
   Setting fees
   Creating Assemblies
   Selling books
   Dealing with contracts
   Travel expenses
   Preparing the school staff for a visit
   Seeming too commercial

I took a ton of notes and got a lot of great ideas for myself, as well as ideas for Picture Book Workshop.  So if you'll bear with me for a few weeks, I'll be talking about school visits.

One of the early points Alexis made was that it is not uncommon for authors to be asked to do free author visits.  I may have mentioned a similar mindset (in another post) referring to artists.  People are simply not uncomfortable asking for free things from creative people.  I doubt very much that a school would ask a dentist do come in and do free fillings, or LENSCRAFTERS to give kids free glasses, but authors get asked to do free visits all the time.

Now, I don't want to seem like a miser.  Most schools are not overflowing with cash.  I don't really blame them for trying to get an author in on the cheap, but I can guarantee that other school presenters get paid.  Mr. Math Wizard gets paid.  The drum squad from Cambodia gets paid.  And if Mr. Math Wizard and the drummers get paid, then you should too, because you are a writing professional, and a school visit is a business transaction.

One of the things Alexis said was, "There's always money to be found for things of value."

If a school values having you in, they will pay you.

The trick for us authors is asking for it.  I think many of us are quiet and polite.  It's difficult to negotiate.  It seems rude.  Also, we don't always know what's the norm.  What do author's get paid for a school visit?

FYI, in Connecticut, $500 - $1000 is the normal range.

Now, does that mean that you never do a freebie?  You never widdle down your cost?

Of course not.  There are exceptions.  I offer my services to my son's school for free.  The kid has been going there since he was three years old and it's been a marvelous school for him.  Free author visits is my way of saying Thank You to my son's school.  But guess what?  He won't be there next year.  Next year the gravy train ends.   Next year, I won't be a Mom-who's-also-an-author, I'll be a Writing Professional.

So the point of this little post is to value yourself as a professional, know that it's OK to ask for money for your services, and that people who value you and your talents will pay you for them.  And those who aren't willing to do so, aren't really worth your time and effort.  But always be polite in your refusal, because someone who "doesn't have the funds" on Monday, might be able to find them by Friday if they want you bad enough. :)

PS.  I want to give another shout out to ALEXIS O' NEILL.   Thank you so much!  I also want to let you know that her new book is out, THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS.

The book is the fictional story of a boy who wins a kite flying contest on the first bridge from Canada to USA.  (The bridge part is real.)  The reviews are great and it looks like a fabulous way to get kids interested in a historical event; a little fiction mixed with history is a lovely thing.  Check it out!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Poolside Sweater and Photo Technology

Hello Blog Peeps!

Some of you know that I knit, but I haven't posted any knitting lately and that's because it took a very long time to finish this sweater.

You know those people who knit a sweater in a week.  That's not me.  I'm sloooooow.  I'm the Sloth of Knitting!  But it's cool.  It's a leisure activity for me, something I do when I chat with my friend Heather on the weekends (who also knits and got me knitting.)  Sometimes I pick up the needles if I'm watching a show on TV that does not requite my full attention.  But I'm not a crazy dedicated knitting machine and this pattern had some lace work in it, so I was extra slow.

But it's done.

If you knit, it's called the POOLSIDE SWEATER and the details can be found here on my Ravelry page.

But I also want to share with you what I went through to get this photo.

I have three cameras.  My iPod.  My compact Canon PowerShot.  And my larger Sony Cyber Shot with the fancy lens.

Whenever I model my knitwear, I like to take the photos myself so I don't feel like a loser posing for someone else.  I love a self-timer.  Well, my Canon used to have a self-timer but I could not find this feature on my new camera.  Now, it could just be that I took a stupid pill that day, but for the most part, I am not stupid and I knew what I was looking for.  I just couldn't find it on that camera.

I pulled out my Sony, but it needed batteries.

All that was lest was the iPod.  As luck would have it, I already had an iPod adaptable mount for my tripod.  Check it out.  But I needed a self-timer app.  I uploaded AUTOCAMERA.  Autocamera is awesome for two reasons:  one, you can adjust the time you need to get into position, and two, you can program it to take up to 10 shots while you're posing away.

Apart from cutting my head off the shots (which I'm cool with b/c it's about the sweater) the app, iPod, and iPod holder all did great.  Shot accomplished!

In other news:

I had a great Picture Book 101 Presentation in the lovely town of Litchfield, CT on Wednesday.  Thanks so much to the folks at the Oliver Wolcott Library for having me out!  Thanks to my GPS system for getting me home on the dark country roads (even though you took me some wonky way.)

Magoo has picked a Halloween costume!  He's going as Roadkill!

Me: Here's a cool picture of a squirrel costume.  Do you want to be a squirrel?
Magoo:  Yeah - we can put crosses on it's eyes like it's dead!

Okay.  Roadkill it is.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bounty of Colors

My mother came to visit this weekend, and one of the things we did was visit the gorgeous gardens at Elizabeth Park.  I know the trees here in New England are beginning to show off their autumn colors, but the flower gardens were vibrant!  Indulge me in a wee color tour?

I coaxed Magoo into posing by some red beauties.

I have a ton of photos, but I thought I'd limit it to four.

On a technological note, if you enjoy taking pictures with your iPhone, there's a lovely photo enhancement app that I've been using called SNAPSEED.  You can crop, enhance colors, push the contrast, add funky texture, and play with the focus.  It's super fun and I've been having a blast with it.

On a writerly note, I'll be at the OLIVER WOLCOTT LIBRARY in Litchfield, CT tonight at 7pm to do my Picture Book 101 presentation.  I'm not looking forward to the rush hour drive, but I AM looking forward to meeting all the potential children's book writers in the Litchfield area and sharing some knowledge.  It's FREE!

In conjunction with the event, they did a lovely article in the Register Citizen about me here.  (For some reason it looks like I am wearing freaky white eyeliner in my publicity photo?!)

Thanks so much for stopping in.  I hope you find some beautiful bursts of color wherever you are today!