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coloring page tuesdays, news and events, blog book tours, reviews, illustration and promotion, and general weirdness from a children's book author/illustrator.
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1. Francelia Butler Conference

Every year at Hollins University, students put on the Francelia Butler conference to celebrate the woman who made the world take children's books seriously. It's a one-day conference with visiting scholars, academic and creative readings by students, and this year - the first awarding of the Margaret Wise Brown Award for Best Picture Book, which went to Phil Bildner for MARVELOUS CORNELIUS.

Although my favorite part of his acceptance speech was when he shared this fabulous graphic: Teach/Learn. I always say teaching is learning!
Each year a theme is chosen to decorate the conference. This year's theme was "Stranger at the Door" - which led to some wildly creative decorations. Teachers - pay attention!


The Hogwarts door was especially creative - just some cardboard squares and VOILA!

Doors were everywhere!
Even the podium was decorated as a door - to a Hobbit Hole!
Each year there's an auction to raise money for future events. I snagged an original linocut by Ashley Wolff - woot! (Not a print - the actual linocut!)

And each year I listen to the speakers while I draw custom thank-you and congratulations notes for friends, faculty, and students. Here are some of this year's batch.
You may see some of these again as coloring pages...
     Even nicer this year was the more conscious inclusion of our illustrators. Awards were given and the gallery show was impressive. We are so proud of our students here at Hollins. They do a great job!

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2. VIDEO: David Zinn

I love these public art pieces by David Zinn! Go have a gander - click the image to watch on YouTube.

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3. More horses at Hollins

One of the highlights of having my friends Vicky and Aliya visit me at Hollins, was sharing the horses with them. The barn sits at the high point of the University - with the most amazing view.

We first went by on Friday to pet fuzzy noses out in the field...
and in the stable. Aliya and Vicky were able to get up close and personal with Tucker.

Then we went back on Saturday. This time, I pulled Holiday out of his stall and they actually got to brush him. I've shared with you how much I love grooming horses. (I could care less about riding them.) It was so nice to be able to share my personal form of meditation with my friends!

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4. Friday Linky List - 22 July 2016

From GalleyCat: The Fascinating Work Habits of 18 Famous Writers

From Muddy Colors: Textures and Hands

From DesignContest: 5 Must Watch TED Talks for Designers

From Publishing Perspectives: 30,000-Euro Global Illustration Award Debuts at Frankfurt Book Fair

From Illusalon: Global Illustration Award

From The Federation of Children's Book Groups: Guest post from Steven Lenton: Becoming a picture book illustrator

From 99U: Why Every Creative Needs to Be a Great Storyteller

From Muddy Colors: Why All Storytellers Should Tell Children's Stories

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5. Faculty Catch Up: Ashley Wolff

Ashley Wolff teaches Creating Picture Books for Children here at Hollins University in the MFA in Writing and Illustrating Children's Books and Certificate in Children's Book Illustration programs. And I'm happy to share she had a new book come out this year while we were apart - IN THE CANYON written by Liz Garton Scanlon. Today, Ashley dropped by to share her creative journey with us...


Welcome to the Grand Canyon
by Ashley Wolff
​     One the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World”
      It’s about 270 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep, Its walls contain rock layers that reveal a timeline of Earth’s history.
     To make In The Canyon as good as it could be, I had to explore the Grand Canyon. I took my excellent and intrepid little sister and in we went!
​ from RIM to RIVER…
​ and back!
      The main character of In the Canyon, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, speaks in the 1st person voice. She begins her narration like this:
​ “Here’s a map, some boots, a pack, a walking stick, a sandy track.”
​ I always enjoy working with a model and I found a lovely girl in San Francisco named Willa.
I spent a few hours with Willa taking pictures, and then used those to draw from while illustrating the book.
     She gazes at the reader from the jacket, inviting you to join her In the Canyon.
      As soon as you dip below the rim of the canyon you enter a vast, deep bowl that has no direct route to the bottom. The trails are constantly zig zagging down the steep walls. Occasionally you can spy the river, way down deep.
      My sister Peri, seen from a few switchbacks above, with many more to go. The Colorado river, bright green, is crossed by 2 bridges. One is visible here.
      ​If it is a cool spring morning on the rim, it is full, hot summer at river level. Along the way are blooming cacti and yucca, birds, lizards and curious squirrels.
      ​I can't get enough shots of the blossoming Beavertails.
​ “Here’s a footstep, dusty red, another one and more ahead.”
      Signs like this one are a regular sight. To do this rim to river to rim hike one must be very fit and prepared for a lot of heat and exertion.
      Some people choose to travel by mule. Mules are chosen from Tennessee and Missouri. They are used for pack supplies to Phantom Ranch and pack mail out of the canyon and later promoted to trail mules.
      I used a photo of a family, gathered under an overhang, as inspiration for this illustration.

      ​“Now here’s a tiny slice of shade, a yummy lunch, some lemonade. And a lizard, still as sand, his head all speckled, body tan.”
      ​Finally, we're at river level, where the deep shade around Phantom Ranch is most welcoming. Time to recharge and load up on water and salty snacks for the hike back out. Peri and I made it back to the rim by nightfall, a 16 mile roundtrip.
      ​But the child in In the Canyon is luckier. She gets to spend the night, camping by the river.
      “Here’s the dark and here’s the shine, and here’s the moon—it’s like it’s mine. To tuck inside me way down deep, Grand and wild, mine to keep."
      I'll come back to the Canyon someday, no doubt with enough overconfidence to descend to the bottom and back in one day as I did with Peri.
      After all, I have what it takes: "a map, some boots, a pack, a walking stick, a sandy track.”

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6. Annual Cookout

Every summer at Hollins, we go visit the woman who made our MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating program a possibility - Nancy Dahlstrom - former head of the Art Department at Hollins. She's since retired to her sweet Virginia country house surrounded by gardens and her extremely elaborate print studio. Its a joy to visit her little piece of Eden. Here she is sharing an etching with us.

After we oohed and aahed and learned in Nancy's studio, we moved the party to the back porch where we shucked corn and grilled chicken and vegetables for dinner, then had watermelon for desert. Ashley Wolff got this photo of me in perfect summertime mode.
The back porch is the perfect place to hang out and enjoy Nancy's beautiful garden
and the local critters.
Here we are - Ashley, Nancy, Me, Vicky and Aliya.
The sun started to set while we ate.
Before it got dark, we piled into Nancy's Gator and rode to the top of the mountain.
Nancy had bush-hogged the mountain so that the grass was walkable. It also meant we could see deer, and scream at the skunk we quickly u-turned away from. (He was running from us too!) Vicky and Aliya climbed up into the tree fort, where the view was even more amazing.
We caught fireflies, spit watermelon seeds, and generally had a marvelous evening. I love our annual cookouts at Nancy's and how nice to share it with friends!

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7. Coloring Page Tuesday - Princely Cow

     When you're the youngest brother among princes, you tend to get the leftovers when it comes to gallant steeds...
I've been playing with some color studies of my own lately. The one on the left has a sepia base wash, and the one on the right was straight color - both colored with watercolor pencils.
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

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8. Friends Come to Visit!

I have felt so loved this past weekend! My dear friend Vicky Alvear Shecter drove all the way up from Atlanta to see me while I'm in the US. Her daughter, Aliya, joined her and we have been having such a marvelous time - I have to share!
     They arrived late Thursday, so we went to "Hollywoods" for dinner. Friday, I arranged a Meet n' Greet for our Hollins students and faculty to meet Vicky and ask her questions about her books, history and creative non-fiction and historical fiction. She drew a crowd!

That evening we saw the new Ghost Busters - fun. Saturday, we went to downtown Roanoke to hang out at the farmer's market and wander about - a weekend ritual.
There are all sorts of hidden treasures in Roanoke, like the fish tanks (Aliya's blue hair matched perfectly)...
and the rooftop deck with a fabulous view of this adorable city in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here we are: Mark Braught, Candice Ransom, Me, Aliya and Vicky.
There's even a coi pond up there!
I had fun picking out clothes for my friends in my fave clothing shop - La De Da. One of the downtown stores has the friendliest boxer on the planet, Rutger. He loved Aliya.
That evening we went to a cookout - more on that soon!

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9. VIDEO: David Bowie

I love these words of wisdom from David Bowie. Click the image to watch on YouTube.

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10. Charles Vess at Hollins

We are a lucky bunch to call Charles Vess a friend. The illustrious illustrator has stopped by Hollins to share his work with our students for several summers now. My treat was the night before... Our faculty critique group had our regular get-together and Charles shared drawings from a new super-secret project. It was a nice gathering of who's who in children's lit. From the left, that's Ruth Sanderson, Mark Braught, Ashley Wolff, Hillary Homzie, Charles, and Rhonda Brock-Servais.

The next day, Charles spoke with our students. First, he shared the secret project - the drawings were amazing.
Then he shared images from a not so secret upcoming project.

And a slideshow with artwork from a poetry collection he's doing. He's a busy guy!
And we are so lucky that he shares his work with us. So inspiring!

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11. Friday Linky List - 15 July 2016

From The Itch of Writing: Filtering: HD For Your Writing (On show vs. tell)

From Muddy Colors: ICON Illustration Convention - GREAT article!

From 99U: Do You Have to Be a Jerk to Be Successful?

From BrainPickings.org: A Short Guide to a Happy Life: Anna Quindlen on Work, Joy, and How to Live Rather Than Exist

From Will Terry: How To Break Into Children's Book Illustration - click the image to go watch on Youtube.



From MIT Technology Review: Data Mining Reveals the Six Basic Emotional Arcs of Storytelling

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12. Faculty Catch Up: Candice Ransom

I have news from our most prolific Professor and author here at Hollins University. Candice Ransom has published over 130 books and she has more coming out this year. I'm thrilled to have her drop by to talk about these new books and her creative process.


Have (Orange) Notebook Will Travel
Candice Ransom

      I once believed nothing was harder than writing a picture book. Writing picture books is a cakewalk compared to beginning readers. Kids don’t have to read picture books, just enjoy them. Beginning readers are designed for newly-independent readers who have graduated from phonics texts. Levels vary according to publishers, but usually include an early level for pre-readers and/or kindergarteners.  
      The kindergarten readers have very short texts and are splashed with cheerful illustrations. They look easy to write.  Fun, even! I’ve written three Level 1 books for the Step into Reading imprint of Random House. I’d love to brag I dash these fripperies off in a day or so, but my orange notebook would be quick to report the fib.
      My orange spiral notebook is used exclusively for writing level 1 readers. It’s battered because I drag it everywhere. Sometimes I throw it across the room. The orange notebook knows I will pick it up with a sigh and go back to the difficult line giving me fits.
      My first Level 1 ideas were rejected for being too sophisticated, such as the canine etiquette guide written by fleas. Gradually I understood this audience needs stories about their world.
     I finally got it right with Pumpkin Day (2015). The story, about a pumpkin-picking family, employs rhyme and rhythm and has a narrative arc. The 113 words were carefully chosen and discarded, revised and reworked, page after scribbled page, as evidenced in the orange notebook.   
      Apple Picking Day, out July 26, follows Pumpkin Day. Same family on a different fall adventure. This story was even harder because there was no story. After you’ve picked pumpkins, what surprises await picking apples? Plus I had to use the same rhyme and rhythm scheme as in Pumpkin Day.
      No metaphors, my editor warned. And no contractions. While I wasn’t given a word list, I relied on common sense.  The stanza “Over mountains/cross a bridge/apple orchard/on the ridge” contained “mountains,” “bridge,” and “ridge.” I loved the image of the family’s little yellow car motoring through the countryside, but the stanza was too hard. The published version reads, “Over hill tops,/big and small./I see apples./Hello, fall!”
       Tooth Fairy Night will be out in February 2017 to coincide with Dental Month. Draft pages in the orange notebook are littered with marginal lists of simple end rhymes, like stay, away, day, play. Words that seem ridiculously easy to us fill the youngest readers with pleasure and satisfaction.
      I actually love writing these little stories. The orange notebook often sits on the kitchen counter while I fix dinner. I’ll mutter lines or try out rhymes while stirring spaghetti. If I’m riding in the car, my trusty notebook rests on my lap like a puppy.  
      When I was asked recently to write three more Level 1 “Day” books, I was glad my orange notebook came with me to Hollins. Right now I’m fiddling with “Snow Day.” My orange notebook already has lists of simple rhyming words and a tiny little outline. Outside it’s 92 degrees. In the orange notebook, it’s 30 degrees and snow is piled up high.

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13. Making Macquettes at Hollins

This summer I'm teaching Picture Book Design in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating and Certificate in Children's Book Illustration programs at Hollins University. I've got a great group of students this year - all so talented and dedicated to working hard. It's been an honor to walk them through various exercises, ideas, and experiments. Recently we studied the advantages of working with macquettes.
     These are small clay models which can really help when it comes to creating depth, perspective and value studies in one's compositions.
     My students really threw themselves into the project:





It also makes critique time an absolute joy for me - like Christmas morning to see what they've all created! Typically, their drawing skills leap in bounds after they've had time working with lighting and taking photos of their macquettes!

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14. Coloring Page Tuesday - Baby Reads

     Babies are born readers! (Even if they only chew on books to start.)
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

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15. Walking at Hollins

I've said it before but I never tire of it. One of my favorite things about teaching at Hollins University is my morning walks. This campus, deep in the Blue Ridge mountains of Appalachian Virginia, are absolutely gorgeous.

The campus is like a snow globe - without the snow. I can't stop staring at it, especially as Tinker Mountain keeps us all in her care.
In fact, several of us make morning walks our daily ritual. Here's Ashley Wolff coming over the hill.
From the top of this hill you can see the vultures, who love to sit atop the church steeple and dry their wings in the mornings. Sometimes they can look rather ominous.
And sometimes they leave treasures to find. I gave this feather to Candice Ransom - one of our accomplished Professors who happens to adore buzzards (her license plate reads "bzzrd").
I've been spending a lot of time in the library this year, researching my PhD proposal. Don't you feel sorry for me?
Just up the hill from the church and the library is a haven for groundhogs. Can you see this one? I've named them all 'George' in honor of Bugs Bunny: "I will love him, and hug him, and call him George." Oh, how I wish I could!
I often also spot deer, rabbits, muskrats, and birds, birds, birds! Swooping sparrows, robins, and blue birds, who flash their colors seemingly just for me.
     Past the main entrance, the road runs along the path of a gently gurgling stream.
There, I often spot herons - great blues, greens, and night herons. Here is our great blue heron getting his breakfast.
Past that the road curves around...
to the soccer field.
But just beyond the soccer field, we come to the big hill, which we call 'The Widow Maker.' Can you see why? It will give you a work out!
The reward is the stables at the top...
where I always stop to rub fuzzy noses. Sometimes I even stop to groom a horse or two - it's my meditation.
Truly, these are some of the luckiest horses on the planet and I'm lucky to spend time with them.
Their view is one of the best on campus and I am lucky indeed to share it with them every morning.

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16. Cece Bell and Tom Angleberger at Hollins

Each summer we have amazing speakers come in to talk to our students. This year so far we've had John Rocco (PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF), Tom Angleberger (ORAGAMI YODA), and Cece Bell (EL DEAFO), who spoke specifically to our illustrators about proudly simplifying one's illustration style - a highly relevant topic right now.

She mentioned that Mo Willems says, "I like to create characters that a child reader can learn to draw." Indeed, they make for extremely successful and appealing characters for kids!
     That said, we were all still in awe by the genius behind Cece's seemingly simple style. It's one of the hardest styles to pull off successfully, and wow, she does it!

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17. VIDEO: Beetles redone...

This is a lovely animation of a Beetles classic - enjoy! (Click the image to watch on Youtube.)

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18. Mono Printing at Hollins

The lucky students in Ruth Sanderson's Media class here at Hollins University have been experimenting with mono printing. This is a different method than what I learned in Edinburgh - more tight and controlled. The results have been amazing. And the students have an amazing print lab to work in. I want to be in Ruth's class!




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19. Mark Braught's Pastel Workshop

Earlier this week our newest Professor, Mark Braught gave a demo on working with pastels - his favorite medium. Mark decided to honor our most famous graduate and did a portrait of Margaret Wise Brown, author of GOODNIGHT MOON.
     He began with the underdrawing. It's charcoal with an acrylic wash over the top. He said he never likes to work on white.

Here are his supplies.
The class was glued to his process as he built up layer after layer of COLOR! It was so funny watching all the cameras - our students were fascinated. I was too! I had no idea you used so much pastel on one piece!
Mark layered and scrubbed and mixed the colors right there on the paper. He used a bristol which can hold up to the abuse.
The workshop lasted for just 1 1/2 hours, and yet, Mark was able to turn this beautiful portrait around!
He did tweak it some more after the workshop ended, but it was an impressive accomplishment in that short window. And now the program has a treasure to keep in its permanent collection of Margaret Wise Brown memorabilia - fantastic!

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20. VIDEO: Loretta and Willie

This gives me chill bumps - two classic musicians together in their golden years. Fabulous! Click the image to go listen.

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21. Happy 4th of July!

It's raining here, but that hasn't stopped two days of fireworks already! If you do end up stuck indoors today, don't forget I have bunches of Independence Day coloring pages for you to enjoy. Click the image to go to the full collection.

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22. Coloring Page Tuesdays - Allez! Allez! Allez!

     It's time for the Tour de France! 21 days of grueling challenges for 219 dedicated bicyclists pumping it through some of the most beautiful vistas in the world. Gads, I love to watch it and yell at the TV, "Allez! Allez! Allez!" or in English, "Go! Go! Go!!!!"
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

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23. Style Bible Workshop

     Recently I had the opportunity to share some creative brilliance from two of my favorite creators. It all began when Judy Schachner visited Hollins University in 2014. She shared part of her creative process in the making of Dewey Bob Crockett - her new raccoon friend who follows her hit series, Skippyjon Jones. Judy always creates a Character Bible before she ever starts writing a story. Here's the one for Dewey.
     In these bibles she collects images, colors, sketches - everything that might feed into sharing who her character is.
     It was a genius idea, but I didn't see myself making it part of my own creative process.
     Then I went down to Northumberland to have a play date with author/illustrator Julia Patton.
     Julia was doing something with a similar concept, but her creation was called a Style Bible. Her idea is to break up a nice sketch book into the alphabet. Under each letter she includes narrative sketches of things that fall under those letters. For "A" - aardvarks, amoebas, antelopes, ants - you get the idea. But the key phrase is narrative. She tries to make sure that everything she includes has a bigger idea around it - the blossom of a story. So it becomes and ant who, or an ant that...
     She doesn't actually sketch in the bible. She collects sketches from elsewhere and the Style Bible is constantly changing and evolving. The result is that she eventually has a very clear idea of how she draws trees, or telephones, or bears. It's her look, clearly defined.
     Not only can a Style Bible help illustrators find their illustrative voice, it can also spark ideas. Not only does it give you a context for what to draw (if you happen to be stuck - work on your "B's.") Or put two sketches together and see what happens. New relationships emerge, new idea, and a whole lot of streamlining. It can be the first step before creating Character Bibles or book dummies. It becomes your creative brain on the outside.
     In fact, Julia no longer shares a portfolio with potential editors. Now she shares her bible and she's sold quite a few upcoming books as a result.
     Meanwhile, Julia gave me some homework for the summer and I decided to share it with my students at Hollins University.

      I'm making my very own Style Bible this summer. Julia guarantees that by the end of the summer I'll have a clear direction of my stylistic voice as a result. So I'm sketching away, adding to my alphabet, and finding lots of new story ideas along the way. Won't you join me?

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24. Faculty Catch-up: Mark Braught

Over the next few weeks I'll be featuring my fellow faculty here at Hollins University MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating and Certificate in Illustration programs. Today we begin with our newest faculty member, Mark Braught. His latest release is WHOSE SHADOW DO I SEE?
     Mark says, "This book was drawn initially conventionally with pencil, then finished digitally with Photoshop and Sai. There were a lot of thumbnails for composition and content, as well as lighting studies. Light and how it works in a piece is the magic. It sets the stage and is last word in the story behind a narrative piece of art. This is my first journey into the digital world for children's books."
     About his path to publication, Mark shared that, "Initially, I was approached by the author at a literary festival and finally by the publisher that purchased the title. This process occurred over a year's period."
     Before this book was DEAR BABY, I'M WATCHING OVER YOU, with this stunning interior, which will send chills down your spine.

     For this book, he used pastels. You can get a peek into his pastel process via his recent pastel workshop here at Hollins University - CLICK HERE.
     Mark says that, "Creating images that create a story by themselves and bring another dimension to a manuscript in a unique and compelling is a challenge that is very addicting because it is so rewarding."
     Mark has been illustrating picture books for a long time. You may be familiar with P IS FOR PEACH or COSMO'S MOON.
     Mark says that, "The details of my life keep finding their way into the art. Lamps, childhood memorabilia, shoes, haircut of the neighborhood kid add a texture to the story."

     Mark also illustrates other projects outside the children's book industry. A recent project has been watercolor birds, which you can buy in his Etsy Store.
     I asked Mark about his opinion of heart art. He said, "We all see things, but some of us see those same things and see a whole story the rest of us missed. They find mystery, adventure and wonder in everything."
     So what's he doing now? Mark says, "Currently working on an image for a storytelling festival, and a couple of book projects. One, I am Illustrating, and the other I'm author/illustrator. That's about it for the kid's genre."
     Sounds good to me - I look forward to seeing it!

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25. Friday Linky List - 8 July 2016

From The Guardian: Commonwealth short story prize: The Human Phonograph by Jonathan Tel - short story

From The Picture Book Den: Picture book differences between the main bookshop chains in the US and UK - Paeony Lewis

From The Federation of Children's Book Groups: Everything Does Not Happen in English

From Brain Pickings: How to Be a Writer: Hemingway's Advice to Aspiring Authors

From The Art Room Plant: Trouser Book (go make one!)

From The Passive Voice: May 2016 Author Earnings Report: the definitive million-title study of US author earnings

From Electric Lit: Everything You Wanted to Know about Book Sales (But Were Afraid to Ask)

From Marion Dane Bauer: On Being an Aging Children's Writer

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