Friday, February 28, 2014

Little Mermaid

I just found out that my cousin is having a baby girl in July.  Normally, I would want to knit a baby sweater or blanket, but July babies don't need a sweater.  (I know, I know, I could knit it a 6-mo-old winter sweater, but I like my baby gifts to be a little more immediate.)

That's where Pinterest came in.

Ah, Pinterest.  If there's is one time-suck that I am particularly vulnerable to, it's you.  But I came across some really fun needlework projects and when I saw some dolls, I HAD to make one too.

Because I'm dealing with a baby and not a little girl, I wanted to keep everything simple.  So I didn't include any little parts (like beads or buttons) that could be ripped off and swallowed.

I present my simple little mermaid.  She's for the baby, but ten bucks says she'll be intercepted by the big sister.  :)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Picture Book Spotlight: TEA PARTY RULES

Hi guys!

I'm starting a new feature today called Picture Book Spotlight.  I'd been wanting to do something that simple focuses on picture books, like, sharing them with you so you know what's out there.  For awhile I had grand visions of shooting videos, but realistically that would take too much time, I fear.  Then I'd feel pressure, then I wouldn't do it, then I'd feel guilt.  Ug.  It occurred to me that many books have videos already, so I plan to blog about a fabulous picture book, show a bit of art, tell you why I think it's great, then show a trailer.  Badda boom, badda bing!

I'm shining my very first spotlight on the brand-spankin'-new winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award, TEA PARTY RULES by Ame Dyckman and K. G. Campbell.

TEA PARTY RULES starts off when a cutie little cub smells something delicious.

That special something is a plate of cookies nicely sitting atop of dainty table all laid out for a tea party.  Cub is ready to mow down when a little girl comes out.   Quickly, Cub shoves the Teddy Bear (who was clearly an invited guest, btw) out of its seat and takes its place.  (I LOVE the vacant eyes Cub takes on, and the slighty psycho look of the little girl.)

From that point on, Cub is subjected to a number of live-bear humiliations, all so that he can score some sweet, sweet cookies at the end.

This book is fabulous because:

- I love Cub's clear objective: Cookies!

- I love that the girl has slighty crazy eyes.  You'd think a wild bear might not worry about a little girl, but you don't want to push this girl over the edge.  There's no telling what she'd do!

- I love the cat.  The cat has nothing to do with the main story, but I always love when an illustrator injects a bit of a B-story into the pictures.  I think the cat is a little concerned that there's a live bear in the house at first, but soon the girl has dressed them both up in pearls and hats, Cub and Cat are like partners in misery.

- The text is loaded with charm and the soft, colored pencil illustrations bring it to life beautifully.

Here's a very cute trailer:

You might look at this book and think, girl book, but it has bears, cookies, and lots of humor.  So if you have a boy or tom-boy at home that isn't immediately turned off by the sight of pink, I bet they'd really enjoy TEA PARTY RULES.  And if you have a tea party kid at home, then heck, this book is a home run!

HUGE CONGRATS to both Ame Dykeman for winning the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award and illustrator K. G. Campbell for winning the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor!  WOO HOO!

TEA PARTY RULES is available wherever books are sold!  I have my copy.  Do you have yours?

Thanks so much for stopping in.  I hope you enjoyed the first PICTURE BOOK SPOTLIGHT.  Writers and Illustrators, if you have a book you'd like me to feature, send me an email at

Happy Monday Everyone!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Silent Reading

Silent Reading           2014           j. c. phillipps
I've been teaching a private watercolor student over at the West Hartford Art League and it's been good way to get me back into watercolor painting.

I've had this photograph of a girl reading in my archives for awhile and I pulled it out to teach skin tone, shading, hair, and clothing.

It's been a fun painting for me.  The textures all came out the way I wanted and I LOVE the indigo blue against the browns and ochres. 

I debated putting any sort of background in behind her head, but then I thought a little color would her define her profile and the painting needed something vertical to to lead the eye up. 

All in all, I'm pleased.  And I'm surprised to discover that the girl actually looks a lot like my cousin's daughter.  :)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kids' Reading Series (of Art): Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk           2014         j. c. phillipps

I have an art show coming up in June.  For the longest time I thought I'd so a series of animals in sweaters, but I couldn't figure out how I wanted them to look.  I tried printing sweater patterns onto paper and I even knit a mini red pullover for a cow - but I didn't love it.  I barely liked it.  So I moved on.

Since I write and illustrate books, I often find inspiration in children's literature.  I saw a cool illustration on Pinterest with a person reading a book and a tree sprung from their head filled with the characters of the story.  Loved it, but I didn't really think the tree would spring organically from me, so I'm going with the classic imagination bubble.

I thought about putting the title of the story on the cover of the book, but I think it's a little more fun to make the viewer analyze the characters and come up with the story on their own, don't you.

For a little while I also thought I might paint the boy, book, and background in black and white and only have the imagination in color.  I still think that would look cool, but I plan to have a thick white mat around this so I wanted it to be bright with color.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out and am happy to be on track with this new series.  It's going to be on a wall near the children's room in the Simsbury Library, so I think it will fit in well.

In other news...

No snow today - yay!

We are getting a touch of freezing rain - boo.

But it's going to warm up soon - YAY!

Thanks for stopping in and stay warm.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

President's Day Ski Fun!

This weekend we skipped up to Woodstock, Vermont to visit with family and have a little wintery fun.

Every year we ski at Suicide Six.  It's a nasty name, isn't it?  But it's really a very nice, cozy ski resort.  Two lifts and a J-bar.  That's it.  It's easy to find your companions if you go down different paths.  And, they have a run called the Easy Mile, which I really, really like.  You know why?  Cause it's easy and long.

I can ski.  But I'm not a fast, mogul, challenge, thrill-seeking skiier.  I'm a la, la, la enjoy-myself,  low-fear of injury skiier.  Magoo is more like me.  He's not one of these kids flying down the mountain.  He does not want to go to the hospital.  But, because he skis so rarely, I think it's a nerve-wracking experience for him unless he's eased into it with ski school.

This year we didn't do ski school.  He didn't NEED it, but I think it would have been a good idea, mentally.  He was fine on the bunny hill, but once we went to the Easy Mile, it was snow plow city with almost no use of the space.  And, because it's long, I think it was hard for him to be nervous for that long at a time.  He actually did better on the shorter, yet more-challenging hill.

Another bonus of ski school is it gives Mike and I a chance to ski together without having to worry about Magoo.  Which is nice.  Because when Magoo is with us, I usually ski behind him and I focus so much on him and shouting encouragements to him that I don't really experience the mountain for myself.

I did get one solo run in.  So I got my la la's out.

Behind the condo where we stayed, there was a hill of fresh snow.  And it was deep too!  (It's not the fun walking through 18" deep snow. Jiminy - the work out!)  We were getting a good path cut into it, when Magoo informed me that he had a TON of snow in his boots.  Well, we can't have that.  So we made our way back inside to dry his tootsies off.

Later we ventured into town to do a little shopping at my favorite Woodstock store, UNICORN!

We ended up departing a day early because it was supposed to snow at home, right now in fact, and it is surely snowing.  Thick, wet flakes are falling beautifully onto the already white surface. 

It's pretty, but I'm looking forward to the patch of warm weather coming later in the week.

Hope you all had a nice President's Day weekend!

Thanks for stopping in!

Friday, February 14, 2014

My Snowy Valentine

Yesterday's big snow storm dropped another 9 or so inches on us and it left us with such a mess on the roads that they went ahead and cancelled school today as well.  Guess who's stuck with a batch of ninja Valentines? 

But today is a gorgeous day!  It's warm (39 degrees).  The sun is shining.  Things are thawing a bit.  Good times.

Naturally, we headed out to do some sledding.

It wasn't the best sled snow, though.  Too thick and crusty.  It was like cutting a path through styrofoam.

But it's good to be outside on a day like today, to feel the sun on your face and breath the fresh air.
And it's good to get a light sweat going as you walk up the hill, stomping out a path in the foot of snow.  So I'm calling it a win!

Happy Valentine's Day to all you love bugs out there!  I wish you chocolate and kisses and warmth!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

DIY: Ninja Valentines

Happy (almost) Valentine's Day!

We're having another snow day up here in the Northeast, which means that Magoo had time to finish his Valentines for school tomorrow.  (If there will be school.  I think there will be.)

These were easy to make (with a little help from me) and cute enough for Valentines but cool enough for a boy to give.  Wanna whip some up?  Here's what you'll need.

Black construction paper
Paint (I used liquid acrylic)
paint brush
black Sharpie marker
White or Silver marker (to write a note on the back)

This is the stuff that I did:

First, cut some hearts.  I had large paper (11 X 18") so I was able to get 6 hearts per page.  If you have standard 8.5 X 11" you could get 4 hearts or 2 big hearts.

When your hearts are cut, mix some flesh tone paint color.  I used white, a bit of yellow, and a smaller bit of red.  Mix.  Brush color across ninja faces about two times for solid coverage.  Allow 10 minutes to dry.

Then the Valentines were ready for Magoo:

Using a black Sharpie marker, draw eyes on the flesh tone.

On the back side, with a white Jelly Roll pen, write:

To ...

(Then I taped a chocolate on the corner of each one because Magoo is getting a little older and feeling a little silly about handing out Valentines.  It's optional this year in 5th grade, but I thought it'd be nice to do it one final year and I explained that even if kids though Valentines weren't cool, they'd still be psyched to get candy.)

That's it.  Easy-peasy!  And cute!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Yarn Along: Socks for Magoo

Although it's been forever since I participated, I'm joining in the fun of Ginny's Yarn Along today.
I never stopped knitting.  I just stopped recording it.  Honestly, it seems like time flies away from me these days so I'm good if I get 75% of my to-do list accomplish.  But I finished the socks last night, and Wednesday is Yarn Along day, so it all worked out.

The socks are the same pattern I used for my own socks which you can find here.  Except instead of casting on 48 stitches, I cast on 42 (and adjusted the math accordingly.)

The yarn is Universal Yard Classic Shades.  Color: Cedar Forest.  It's not a fancy yarn, but it was very nice to work with and the feature that won me over was that it's machine washable.  They're socks.  They're going to go on stinky boy feet.  I need to be able to wash those puppies.

One skein gave me two socks with only a bit to spare!  (I was getting worried at the end, but it all worked out.)  I even have an extra skein, so I might be knitting Magoo a hat too.

 My book this week is, literally my book, THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC.  Regular readers will know that I wrote and illustrated this book, but for those of you who are here through the blog roll, hey, I wrote and illustrated a picture book.  It comes out with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 8 and I constantly have my nose in it these days as I prepare for author visits and create worksheets for teachers and homeschoolers for my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

It's a sweet little story about a family who go on a picnic.  All sorts of things go wrong and the family pulls together to make the picnic work in the end.  I was inspired by the Richard Scarry books that I used to love as a child.  It seemed like, in those stories, all the fun happened on the journey and not the destination. THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC is a silly, happy, funny family book. (And it got a great review from Kirkus - YAY!)

Too pitchy?  Sorry.

I'm off to prepare for the Nor'easter tomorrow.  I hope you are warm and dry wherever you are and thanks so much for stopping in!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Ta Da! The Book Trailer for THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC

It's finished!  Yay!

I'm pretty happy with the visuals, although I will admit that I had a harder time with sound this time around.  I used SAM animation to make the trailer and I don't 100% know how to adjust the volume on the tracks.  I might try to go in and tinker a bit more before the book comes out in April.  Ideally, I'd like the music to be a bit softer and the voice-over to be a bit louder.  That said, since I only make one of these a year and have to re-learn a bunch of stuff - I'm pretty pleased that I can put it together at all.

I think I'll try to do a few different trailers in different styles.  Stop Motion is fun and works well for my collage books, but there's really a lot I can do on iMovie on my Mac if I sit down and explore it.

I could probably pull off something like this book trailer for TEA REX by Molly Idle:

Sometimes, if you have a book that your publisher is willing to put some (more) money behind, they'll get a spiffy trailer made like this one: STUCK by Oliver Jeffers.

That's the kind of stuff that happens when you're an author/illustrator A-lister.

I think I'm more of a C-lister, so I like to look to authors that do their own trailers like Maggie Steifvater.  She doesn't do picture books, she writes Young Adult, but she makes fabulous book trailers and she even composes and performs the music as well. (BTW, I think she' s an a-lister as well.  She's just so chock full o' artistic talent that she makes trailers too.)

I hope you enjoy these!  There's TONS of book trailers out now.  I'm not 100% sure how much good they do in selling books, but in this day-and-age we authors have to take every opportunity we can to let the world know our book exists.

If you want to help out, I'd love it if people tweeted the trailer.  It can be found on YouTube here and it's available for pre-order here.

Happy Monday Everyone!

Thursday, February 6, 2014


There are many aspects of promoting a picture book that I don't love.  Many of them (contacting blogs, writing press releases) require a marketing mind, and that doesn't come naturally to me.  But I do enjoy making book trailers.  Here's where my love of movies and my theater background get to flex some muscle.

I'm making the book trailer for my latest book, THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC. I set up in my basement this time so I could leave things up and messy since it takes two - to - three days to shoot.  (Above) this is a pic I snapped of me via timer right before the makeshift tripod I had set up fell over.  (It's all high-tech and super classy for me, baby.)

I have wised up on a few things since I shot my last trailer.

One, lighting.  Another benefit of the basement is I have no outside light.  Outside light is constantly changing and it's hard to block it all out.  Down in the basement, I control all the light.  I am the SUN!

Two, clamps.  See that piece of wood sticking up?  That's what holds the camera above the workspace.  I used to tape the camera onto it to keep it steady because I had nothing better for the job.  Now I have clamps!  Clamps allow me to move the camera up and down easily.  I heart clamps.

Three, an arm.  I used to tape the camera right ON the wood which meant I had to shoot right next to the wood (which is a problem if you want something to move down off-screen and it bumps into wood.).  I went to the hardware store and bought an L shaped piece of metal (that I believe was designed to hold window garden boxes) to move the camera out and away from the wood which gives me more flexibility when positioning the workspace.  I have to be careful of the shadow, but apart from that, the whole operation is getting pretty classy.  (Wink, wink.)  And I can hold it onto the wood with a clamp!

I shot the first part yesterday (and it is not easy to co-ordinate a whole family walking across a field.  Who's legs are moving outward?  Who's legs are moving inward?  Which way is the dog's tail wagging?)  But it's done and it looks good.  Now I have to make the people for the other part and finish up.

Fun, fun, fun.  (Really!)

By the way - I should mention that THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC comes out April 8th and is available for pre-order!  So if you have a little person in your life that enjoys fun stories about picnics that go wrong, perhaps you'd like to pre-oder my book today.   (I and my publisher will thank you for it!)

In other news,

If you're in New England, you got hit with a bunch of snow yesterday.  I hope you're all shoveled out and getting back into the groove.  Looks like good sledding to me!

Take care!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Picture Book Workshop: Taking Stock

You know when Cinderella's fairy Godmother shows up and instead of just creating a carriage out of thin air, she uses the pumpkin?  I LOVE that!  I mean, why couldn't she just whip something up out of thin air?  She's a fairy.  She probably could.  But it's more grounded and meaningful because she took stock of her surroundings and used the things that were already there.

I've been working on my wordless (well, there's one word) picture book.  In it, there's a little girl at a pool (with her dad, a dog, and a beach ball added in for backyard flavor) and instead of jumping in the pool, she takes off and goes through a few imaginary scenarios.  At first, I just had the imaginary scenes change with the page turns, trusting that a young reader would go with it, as young readers often do.  But my critique group thought it was too confusing and that I should add some sort of device to show that she was traveling through her imagination.

The truth of the matter is that although I have absolute faith in the young reader, the adults who buy the books do, in fact, need things to be clarified some times.  So I added in a fade-to-white-and-back transition from imaginary scene to imaginary scene.

My agent wanted something even more visible and clear.  We talked about some kind of portal/doorway.  I understood what he meant, but at the same time I didn't want some device that was going to take focus away from the main character's journey.  The story wasn't called THE IMAGINARY DIMENSIONAL PORTAL OF A GIRL. 

Then Scott (my agent, Scott Treimel) suggested the most brilliant thing: use the beach ball.

I had added the beach ball in the third draft to show that it was a back yard pool and not a public pool, but it was never meant to be more than set dressing.  Now, it had a purpose that grounded the "portal" in the girl's world.  When the girl gets anxious about jumping in the water, the beach ball gets agitated too, starts to spins and expand, and then BOOM, it's an escape doorway that leads her through her imagination.  When the journey is over and the girl returns home, the ball slows down, compresses, and PLOP it's a beach ball again.

In the future I might have to delete this post and take credit for the idea myself ;) but for now it's a good reminder for me, that when I need something to happen in a story or an extra prop to advance the plot, I should take stock and see if I can use anything that I have already established in a scene first. 

Thanks so much for stopping in!