Sunday, November 9, 2014

Meet My Character Blog Hop

Last week I was tagged by the terrific illustrator and equally nice person, Alison Lyne, in the Meet My Character Blog Hop. Now that I'm IT let me tell you about big, white, fluffy ball of trouble. She's not the main character but she does make the story more interesting:

What is the name of your character?
Daisy. She's a rambunctious labradoodle that loves Grandpa, Little Brother and broccoli casserole.

When and where is the story set?
In Grandma Mable's house, around a large, formal family dinner.

What should we know about the character?
She loves broccoli casserole…. and doesn't like being kept away from the family excitement. Also her tail juuuusst skims the table….

What messes with her life?
The gate behind which Grandma and Grandpa put her is a frustration. Fortunately an obliging child comes along to let her out…. so that she can get closer to the broccoli casserole

What is the personal goal of the character?
Get more broccoli casserole. Also stand on hind legs and lick Grandpa.

Where can we read more about the character?
Daisy appears with her entire family in The Little Kids Table written by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle, available soon from Sleeping Bear Press!

Here's a couple of her illustrations in progress:

Next week I'll tag the lovely and talented Meridth Gimbel. 

Meridth earned a BFA in illustration from BYU where she had the great good fortune to intern with Brad Holland and Brett Helquist. Currently an SCBWI member in Southern California Meridth loves anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered. You can check out Meridth's portfolio here and her blog here.

And thanks again to Alison Lyne for the tag! Read about Alison's character here and be sure to check out her portfolio, blog, and books!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Granbery Elementary's 3rd Grade Classes Learn About What An Illustrator Does

Last week I visited Ms. Davis and Ms. Hill's 3rd grade classes at Granbery Elementary to talk about what an illustrator does. I'm just tickled pink that 3rd graders have this as part of their curriculum. I'm equally happy that the book they read, What Do Illustrators Do by Eileen Christelow, does not cover how much caffeine illustrators consume. They'll find that out sometime in art school.

So while we didn't talk about coffee and Mountain Dew, we DID talk about how illustrators are special because they tell stories with pictures. I showed them how I use expression and point of view to do this. Then they got to work on their own illustrations from Jack and the Beanstalk. 

First they wrote down what details stood out to them in the story and then they sketched out the scene. They were VERY involved in their drawings! This is my favorite part of school visits. I walked around and watched 36 separate illustrations of the same scene emerge. At the end all the kids wanted to share their scene and they very generously let me take their drawings to share on my blog. Here they all are laid out on the floor of my studio:

When I had a chance to look at all the pieces together I noticed that there were similar themes in approach. Some of the kids went whole-hog for showing the entire huge Giant:
I just love these giant Giants and their word balloons.

Check out the fantastic minimalist leaves on the bean stalk.

This illustrator doubled down - not only a huge Giant
but also giant sized furniture.

Great detail and styling on this Giant.

Others chose to imply the Giant's size by showing only his feet or legs:

I actually love the expressions on this one -
zoom in to see Jack's completely freaked out face,
which is in great contrast to the uber happy sun.

This hairy warty foot screams Giant. 

It took me a second of staring at the fascinating geometric patterns
in this Giant's lair before I realized the point of view is actually overhead!
Here the Giant enters from the top and Jack runs away toward the viewer.

Still others focused on the relationship between Jack and the beanstalk itself:

With this one we talked about how the action in a picture book
usually proceeds from left to right. UNLESS you want to stop
the action and get the reader's attention….
like say when a giant is chasing the main character.

Jack truly looks outmatched in this piece with both the giant
and the beanstalk towering over him.
I can just hear him squeaking out "help!"

In the end I told them there's no wrong way to illustrate the scene… one of the great things about being an illustrator is that you are never wrong! It's all about your own interpretation of the story.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Doodles from the 2014 Midsouth SCBWI Conference

My complete recap of the 2014 Conference is over at Once Upon A Sketch. The conference also got some great coverage in Publishers Weekly and of course there's the conference blog.

Instead of rewriting my notes here (when you can find those fabulous details at the places above,) I'm just going to show off some character sketches for a work-in-progress I did while listening to the speakers.

Also I won a little award again. At this point saying I was honored with the top illustration prize two years in a row feels a little like bragging. But it's my blog so I'm gonna;) This year the conference gave an honorable mention as well to my friend and fellow Nashville illustrator, Cat York.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Summer Blog Tour plus…. meet the family in The Little Kid's Table!

Wow summer is almost done and it seems I've been everywhere but on my blog. To start here's a few guest posts and interviews I did over the summer:

I was profiled on Kid Lit 411. Ya'll this is a terrific site for readers, creators, and lovers of children's literature. I was interviewed by the talented Sylvia Liu, who curates the illustrator's sections.

In May and June I contributed my regular columns to Once Upon A and Word
Both Once Upon a Sketch columns focused on best practices for illustrators. In May I discussed how to deal with a difficult client. In June I wrote about the difference between sampling for a client or working on spec. These are both issues that aspiring illustrators will encounter.

While Once Upon A Sketch is about hardcore, practical advise for illustrators, Word Disco is my fun dance floor. In July I wrote about my summer reading list.

Finally last week, I kicked off Telaina Muir's DOT Drawing Challenge with this post about art, love and fear.

So go catch up on reading and come back when you want to see my characters for The Little Kid's Table….

What's that? Let's see them now? Ok you twisted my arm… BUT I'm going to introduce them in batches. First here's the family portrait:

The family members are Grandma Mable, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, Aunt Nancy and Uncle Bob, Uncle Fred, cousins, Little Brother, Daisy the dog and MC (main character.) Whew, this is a lot of people to keep up with but I decided to create my own backstories for all of them. And because most modern families are colorful these days, The Little Kid's Table has a lot of diversity around it. Here's some more family groups.

Grandma Mable is bringing out the pie… and the real fun is going to start

This is a proposed page layout for one of the final spreads:

Kind of like casting for a movie, determining who each character is as a person helped me illustrate how they would react in a different scene. In this book most of the action takes place in one area - the dining room at Grandma Mable's house. The drama had to be heightened through the characters' personalities. Next week I'll post about building their individual personalities and backstories. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

Thanks Renee Gian over Word Disco who tagged me in this blog hop about My Writing Process. Here's my answers:

What am I working on now?
I'm working on a few different story ideas, three of which involve the relationships between kids and their pets. I didn't actually set out to write about kids and animals but I've started to see the child/pet relationship as a wonderful microcosm of every relationship a child has… and is therefore chock full of funny stuff. This may have everything to do with our family's recent acquisition of a fat back cat.

In my illustrating life I'm working on character sketches for my first trade picture book, The Little Kid's Table, written by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle published by Sleeping Bear Press. It's wacky rhyming book about a family dinner and, interestingly enough, has both of my favorite things to write about - family relationships and pets!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I like to think it differs due to my voice. I love to show children and their animal counterparts as obstinate, imaginative, selfish creatures - in a funny way. I think children are underestimated when adults only think of them as sweet or innocent.

Why do I write what I do?
If it feels like I can make something funny or generate pathos then I try to write it down. I don't have any high ideals about teaching kids anything. I'd just like to be able to make the reader see a little bit of themselves in the characters and have that vision make them smile.

How does my writing process work?
I'll hit upon an idea and gnaw over it in my brain for several days to months. Then I write a first draft in longhand in my idea notebook. I do edit as I go. Often the writing exercise itself causes the idea to form better. I don't erase, I just scratch out lines I don't like. When I get a good longhand version then I type it and read it out loud. I make adjustments from there depending on how the language flows. If illustration notes are necessary I'll add them. After a few rounds of this I send it to my critique partners. I don't regularly read out loud to my family but I will occasionally read something just to see how my kids react to a particular line or bit of language. One thing I've started doing while I'm in the early revision process is try to write a single sentence that describes the story arc. This has really helped me focus on the essential elements in the story.

Because I'm usually fitting writing around illustration projects and family activities I keep project folders made up for every active idea. My project folders have a typed or handwritten draft, pencils, erasers, and notes from my critique group if I have them. Then when I know I've got 45 minutes waiting on a gymnastics lesson or 15 minutes in the school pick-up line I grab some project folders on the way out the door. I always try to write at night in bed as usually that's the one time I'm not bombarded by a million other thoughts. I'm a big believer in the subconscious mind solving problems so if I'm trying to wrestle down a plot point I'll usually think about it as I'm driving or falling asleep. Many times within a few days of doing this a solution will pop into my head!

Now for the next two players in My Writing Process I'm going to tag two extremely talented writers, illustrators and friends, Amanda Driscoll and Meridth Gimbel! Check out their answers and their fabulous work on their blogs by May 12th!

Amanda Driscoll is a graphic designer who, after having children, rediscovered her love of picture books and found her true passion. From her home near Louisville, Kentucky, she writes, illustrates, designs, and dreams up book ideas while walking her dogs. She is represented by Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio. Her debut picture book, DUNCAN THE STORY DRAGON, will be released in Spring 2015 from Knopf.   

Meridth Gimbel earned a BFA in illustration from BYU where she had the great good fortune to intern with Brad Holland and Brett Helquist. Currently an SCBWI member in Southern California Meridth love anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered. See her work on her blog at

The Moment I'd Been Working For

On the afternoon of March 20th I was sitting in traffic happily planning my packing strategy for the beach vacation we were leaving for the next day. Out of the blue, I got the urge to check my email. I hardly ever check email behind the wheel but this time I did. As I scrolled through the list of senders one name stood out. I looked at it and thought, "mmm how do I know that name?" Then I read the first line of the email: "Dear Ms. Uhles, I am the senior designer for Sleeping Bear Press and we have a manuscript we think your work would be perfect for…."

My ears started ringing. Everything else faded to stillness except for the phone in my hand. Traffic started to inch forward. I clicked on the email. Somehow I managed not to drive into a guardrail as I skimmed the message.

There it was, my first offer to illustrate a trade picture book.

Behind that moment lies a patchwork of years of learning and hours of work, all of it held together by one tiny thread of faith that eventually my art, my vision, my characters, my imagination would be seen as trade quality. For this post I considered writing more about starting over and over again after rejections to numerous to count*. But that gets pretty maudlin. Let's just say for the record it's been a long and winding road as I wrote here, here and especially here.

Instead let's talk about the fun stuff!

The name of the book is The Little Kid's Table, by Mary Ann McCabe Reihle. In this wacky rhyming story when the family gathers for a big celebratory meal, those sitting at the kid's table may not eat a lot of broccoli casserole but they do have the best ideas about what to do with spoons and a Labradoodle. As is usual with trade publishing I'm working with the editors and art directors and will have little contact with the author.

Why am I excited about trade when I've already illustrated books for educational and religious publishers? Well for starters I didn't dream about doing art for those books when I was kid. I dreamed about making books like the ones in my mom's library. And this time its my vision that gets to bring the story to life, not a preordained set of curriculum. Plus I get almost a whole year to work on it! I get to make up what I think the characters should look like! I get to put into practice all the stuff I've learned about about story-telling over 32 pages. I'll introduce the characters little by little on the blog as they are approved. For now I'll leave you with a photo of something that makes me very happy. Yes that IS my name in purple ink:

*ps. also for the record, I did keep that maudlin blog about the years of rejection. I hope this book will be the beginning of many trade books to come and I never, ever, want to take it for granted. If someday off in the future I'm whining about some tiny problem related to, oh say, my 10th trade book I plan to keep that blog around for some long term perspective. No matter what problems may arise, I'm very very very lucky to make my living this way.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reading at the 2014 Book'em Read Me Day

Last month I was invited to read Beyond The Grave during Book'em's Read Me Day at Cockrill Elementary, in conjunction with the Nashville Rotary Club. Book'em is an organization that promotes literacy through big and small efforts such as giving books to kids, schools and libraries as well as organizing readers to visit lower income schools to share their love of reading.

It was the first time I've ever been part of an event like that and, wow, was it a fancy affair. I had a great time. It was Book'em's 25th anniversary and the Rotary Club's 100th Anniversary so there were over 70 different readers on hand to spend the morning sharing books with Cockrill's 500 students. Plus I actually got to meet a REAL ballerina, the ONLY female marine in the state of Tennessee and even the mayor! (though note, when I told the Fry and Sprout about this they were only impressed with the fact that there was also birthday cake.)

Before we got down to the nitty gritty of reading there was a big assembly in the gym. I managed to snag a seat almost directly behind the podium and thus had a terrific view of the kid's responses to all the speakers. One of the things I love about kids, and one of the reasons I create books for them, is that they are so often not impressed with grown-ups that they are supposed to be impressed by. So it was quite amusing to watch the front row scrabble over a paper Cat in the Hat hat instead of applaud admiringly at The First Lady of Tennessee's speech. As a whole though, the kids at Cockrill Elementary were a very well behaved audience and my particular classroom was politely riveted as I read some scary parts of Beyond The Grave and explained how it was illustrated.

Here's a few pictures from my day:

After I read Beyond the Grave, I showed the kids how I did the illustrations.
They thought it was funny how each piece can be upside down or sideways
on my paper depending on how I put it on the scanner.

My fantastic audience, Ms. Wheeler's second grade class.
They made us penguin themed thank you cards!

I was very happy to see my good friend Jessica Young's
picture book, My Blue Is Happy, as one of the chosen ones!

The real ballerina from the Nashville Ballet.
Notice the famous birthday cake in the background;)

Oh just chillin' with Mayor Dean
waiting for the program to start. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

This week over on Once Upon A Sketch

I've posted the first of my two part interview with Susan Eaddy, clay illustrator and the Illustration Coordinator for the SCBWI Midsouth region. Susan is always generous with her time and advice. Her videos are just fun to watch and make me want to have a go at iMovie. Go check it out.

Also from my continued reading assignment for 2014 here's my fave picture books from the past month:

Sometimes I Forget You're A Robot by Sam Brown - very sweet story about getting what you want. I especially loved the plaintive "beep beeps" of the Robot as he tries to show the main character what he CAN do.

The Twins' Blanket by Hyewon Yum - A great story about learning to share. I especially love how Hyewon Yum manages to capture the different personalities of each twin in very little text.

The Block Mess Monster by Betsy Howie, illustrated by C.B. Decker - the illustrations really knock this story out of the park as Becker shows extravagant expression on the part of the child, the mom, and the blocks who don't want to be put away.

Friday, March 14, 2014

SCBWI Midsouth Sweeps the Bologna Illustration Gallery

I'm ecstatic to announce that one of my illustrations (and the header of my blog no less;) is a finalist for the 2014 SCBWI Illustration Gallery at the Bologna Book Fair in Bologna, Italy at the end of this month.

Here's the piece, it was created for the illustrator's intensive class at the 2013 Midsouth Conference. When I went to Kinkos to get a print made for the regional PAL showcase the guy behind the counter made an off-hand comment that it reminded him of Where the Wild Things Are.

WHAT! did that guy just compare my work to Maurice Sendak?!?

Alright let's settle down and keep things in perspective here….

At the Book Fair, a winner and four runners-up will be chosen. To be honest, that'd be great but to me the real value is being nominated as a finalist at all. My work will be displayed at one of the most prestigious event in the world for children's books.

Making this whole announcement even better is the fact that FOUR other Midsouth illustrators, and good friends of mine, are also finalists! Tennessee and Kentucky are growin' a mighty fine crop o' illustrators down here in the Midsouth! I share congratulations with Susan Eaddy, Kris Sexton, and Cheryl Mendenhall. Here's a look at the finalist round-up, click through to see all their fabulous artwork.

Friday, February 21, 2014

So if you want to draw a 1969 Dodge Charger...

… there's a kid at College Grove Elementary that's right there with you.

Last week I was quite honored to be invited to speak at College Grove Elementary about illustrating and books. It was during the school's Read-a-thon and my SCBWI friend, Kristin Tubb, explained it would just a few minutes in the morning in front of the entire school.

ulp, the entire school?

Actually it went wonderfully well and 250 kids turned out to not be as intimidating as I'd imagined. Fortunately another SCBWI friend Stephen Shashkan advised me to prep the teachers that the kids could ask questions, that way they'd have time to think up some good ones. And it worked! The kids all asked incredibly great questions including my favorite from a kid who wanted to know if I could explain to him how to make his picture of a 1969 Dodge Charger look shiny. When I responded that I could tell he'd really been putting effort into his picture he said "yes ma'am if you need to know how to draw a 1969 Dodge Charger I can tell you all about it." So there if you have it, 1969 Dodge Charger fans - your reference guru is in the 4th grade at College Grove Elementary.

Here I am talking about the illustrations in Beyond The Grave

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Favorite Books This Week Plus What I Blogged at Word Disco

True to my New year's Resolution in this post, I've been reading 5 books a week, rating them, and researching the agents who represent. Here are some of my favs so far:

The Santa Trap - Jonathan Emmet and Poly Bernatene, really funny with a satisfying ending

Tornado Slim and The Magic Cowboy Hat - Bryan Langdo, great illustrations

Crankenstein - Samantha Berger and Dan Santat, really funny illustrations that go with snappy story

Carnivores - Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat, this book is funniest book I've read in a while. Great story and great illustrations.

Also over on Word Disco this week I discuss what happens when a sketch for a good idea leads to an existential crisis. It's all part of the job. Read that post here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My New Year's Resolution post has been hijacked by the cold

uh lessee… what can we say about 2014 so far…. IT'S COLD!

Apparently right at the moment the entire North American continent right down to Miami is suffering from a polar vortex that causes terror not unlike this:

It causes weather apps to look like this:

All that being said, instead of my traditional blog about a New Year's Resolution I've been paging through beach house listings… palm trees…. baked oysters… ooooo aaaaaahhhh - Ouch my fingers just froze to the keyboard!

(fingers gripping coffee for warmth) Back to resolutions….a few months ago I read how a particular agent I admire reads five picture books a day no matter what. That struck me as a particularly good goal to have. But five a day is pretty tall order. I know that sounds crazy since I have two small children and we read books all the time but I pretty sure that agent didn't mean she reads the SAME 5 picture books every day. And I'm pretty sure they are not all about princesses and airplanes. So to make this resolution workable I'm reading 5 new picture books a week, preferably published in the last 3 years. For at least 15 years I've been flipping open the cover of every book I see to read who published it. Because of that I have a built in knowledge of which publishers I'd love to work with but connecting projects to agents takes a little more research. So on top of five new books every week, I've decided to create a rating system - ones I love, ones maybe I can learn from, and ones that -ah- don't fall into the first two categories. With the help of this system and Publishers Marketplace I can track which agents work on projects that I admire.

Five books a week, seems pretty easy. Kind of like resolving to listen to more music. But one thing I learned from my 2011 resolution to draw every day is that in order to fit one's dreams into a schedule full of kid work, school work, client work, house work, family time, and taking the occasional shower the dreams need to be bite-sized. Five books a day is definitely chewable.

And I'll start it right after I wrap up in five sleeping bags, de-ice the door, chisel out the car and skate the minivan to the library.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The NEW Once Upon A Sketch is Officially Open

I'm happy to begin 2014 writing on the renewed Once Upon A Sketch blog with my fellow contributors:
Donald Wu
Chris Jones
Norm Grock
Jennifer Zivoin
Jannie Ho.

Each of us bring a different perspective on creating art, especially for children. Check out our first collaborative post, What We Wish We Knew.