Thursday, December 30, 2010


Its December 30, 2010. Kimberlee and I are both caught up with the usual year's end and holiday season distractions. Family, children home all day on midwinter vacation, Christmas aftermath, work related year's end projects. Working from home when family is also home all day is daunting. One may close the door to one's studio but everyone knows the artist /writer is in residence. Doorbells, telephones, the pressing concerns of family members, such as:

1. When are we eating?

2.What are we having?

3. Can't we have something else?

4. Where are my jeans (shirt, flashlight -you name it) We are supposed to know by some sort of feminine telepathy where everything is at any given moment...and to then go get it for them because, of course, the questioner has 'already looked there.'

5. 2 many treats = heavy duty pastry+ cookie binging = serious sugar/carb overload.

6. Loving family members and visiting friends want us to 'take a break' and join the fun.

7. Cooking cooking cooking

8. Shopping for groceries

9. Cooking cooking cooking

10. Laundry and more laundry. Time spent outdoors in melting snow and rain means muddy wet clothes.

11. Finally, Kimberlee and I love creating but we need a break too, and this is a good time of year to take it!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Beatrice Gets Her Wings Day 3

At right you see the art as it looks right now, at the end of the day. A layer of pigment has been applied to each wing segment. Im using the following pigments:

1. Sennelier's Aquarelle Extra Fine

2. Winsor & Newton

3. Dr. Ph. Martin's Hydrus Fine Art Liquid Watercolor

4. Danial Smith Extra Fine Watercolors

And these brushes:

Blick Master Natural Pure Squirrel Round #8
Winsor & Newtons Artist's Kolinsky Sable Round #5

First fill in the small area with water, then flood in a drop of dense pigment at one end. This color flows the puddle and depending on the pigment, may or may not plume. While its still wet float in a different color at the opposite end, and allow them to flow together. If a stain is forming around the shape but isn't desired, gently apply a small, dry natural hair brush in order to wick excess liquid and color right out. In this instance the stains are desirable and I'm deliberately creating them as a way of delineating the veins outlining each segment. Areas that should stay white are simply painted around. After the entire wing area dried I used a wet brush to float in a pale wash of cerulean, applying lightly and avoiding contact with the paper surface - this way the first layer of color is not disturbed. Note that in the larger wings, this wash has been brought right over some of the areas that were initially left white.

Colors used in the wings include: burnt umber, burnt sienna, alizarin, French ultramarine deep, Winsor & Newton's neutral tint gray, and yellow ochre and thalo green and blue.

Just for fun I began painting in a few of the violet and pink wild flowers that will eventually cover part of the background.

Beatrice Gets Her Wings Day 2

This is how the painting looked yesterday, late afternoon, when my indoor lighting began to alter. The late afternoon light is shining through the blinds at right. I use studio lighting that mimics daylight, but when working with the cool colors find it best to work in the same block of hours every day, to maintain a similar degree of intensity. This holds most true when working with ultramarine and thalo blues or greens. If painting in the evening its apparent the following day exactly what areas I was working on the evening prior. Values are too intense and the blues/greens are over saturated.

As you can see, the body is considerably narrower. To keep the colors bright and clear I'm not using washes. Instead, I paint in small section by section, as if piecing together a stained glass window. Every now and then I stand back and evaluate; modification may be needed. If one wing was too large or oddly shaped, this is the time to balance and adapt.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Something to Strive For

I know well enough not to end in a preposition, but I just found this blurb on the Cybils (see the blurb at the bottom right of the blog) and think it is a good goal for us to set. I really want to produce something of quality, that is a child's favorite book, something they learn from, want to read over and over, something with a message that resonates within them about it. One of my favorites is The Lorax. I thought how could people be so blind to pollute, to take away and not beautiful our world. And now it seems there is nothing that can stop that path. We are destroying the rain forests at a phenomenal speed. We seed clouds for our benefit. What are we doing to Mother Earth. There is no Lorax to speak for the Earth. What will it become for our children? Days of wearing 200SPF? I still think that maybe my true path is to go be the Lorax and speak for the Earth. 

Anyway, we'd love to hear from you. What is one of your favorite books of all times from your childhood? And what impact has it had on you? 

From Jacket Flap: Now in their fifth year, the Cybils are the Internet's first literary awards. The public nominates their favorite children's books. Then groups of bloggers get to work. First, a nominating committee reads ALL the titles in a given category. After nearly two arduous months, this committee winnows the nominees to five finalists. A second committee of bloggers considers the shortlist and, after much debate, chooses the best of the best for 2010.

Working With Faulty Design

Below you see my first attempt, traced from our detailed pencil drawing. The butterfly's abdomen is too dark and wide even though its to proportion for this species. Almost at center, the ugly bray blob dominates the space. One way to circumvent this is by rendering the wings as dark or darker, then shading the abdomen in a way that makes it appear smaller than it really is, blending its contours into the wings. Adding an overall pattern or drybrush texture would make good use of the darker areas, like lace placed over a solid color fabric. Another solution might be washing out the darkest pigment until its a midrange tone and when the art is dry, touching up with opaque white or colored pencil. This particular paper, however, is delicate. Its a vintage, handmade sheet with no sizing, which allows pigment to soak right in without puddling. If the area is scrubbed, fibers unravel and the surface will be damaged beyond repair.

Kimberlee and I want this butterfly to be somewhat true to species, which means darkening the wings is not an option, nor is scrubbing the dark area to a lighter value. I opt for cutting my losses and start over with a modified drawing. I've redrawn the wings but modify the body, making it slender and adding curves. This is not anatomically or correct, but when finished, the art will appear believable to the eye. Look to the left of #1: the new butterfly is placed left of the first, blotched attempt for comparison. There's also an actual butterfly that I found in our driveway this summer (already dead) and an assortment of different wing diagrams, etchings and photos.

Painting #2, below, shows the new painting alongside the original pencil drawing. Since taking this photo Ive painted most of the wing area but its now so dark outside (snow is on the way!) that I wont be able to get a good shot. This is a good place to leave off, and the next entry will show the progress and talk about some of the challenges befor us. The colors are coming out BEAUTIFULLY and Ill talk about the brands and pigments selected, the paper choice, and other technical aspects that might interest those of you who share my fondness for watercolor.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beatrice Gets Her Wings

Okay, for some reason that last entry wasn't letting me load the image but this time all went without a hitch!

At left you see the first layer of wash for one of our illustrations. The day was a bit dark, so its not as clear as I'd like but you get the idea. What I noticed is that the Beatrice, our butterfly, had a thorax that was proportionate to her species. That's fine, but in the enlarged image it will attract too much attention, right there in the center of the art. I attempted damage control by experimenting with some pattern work and varying the values but could see that this was not what we wanted. Also, I didn't like the way this watercolor board was taking the pigment. Soooooo, what next? What do you do when that beautiful drawing flops on the watercolor table? You'll see in tomorrow's installment.

Painting the Art

Kimberlee and I have been balancing family, work, and creative endeavors but this doesn't mean we've forgotten about our book! To keep creative energy cooking, we touch base with scheduled conferences that are part business, part everything else. Mutual support is instrumental in staying on task, and a sense of humor. Yesterday I sat down with one of our drawings and began painting. Almost immediately I saw a problem with with the composition. Sometimes a b/w pencil rendering works great, but translating that drawing into 4 colors often requires reassessment of values and design. The final outcome depends on what the artist is striving toward.

Kimberlee and I want imagery that will appeal to younger children: large blocks of of color and within those areas of color, monochromatic pattern. We also plan on hiding some imagery amidst the foliage and in the borders, to keep things interesting. For example, little ants on their way to work, bumble bees, spider webs or caterpillars nibbling leaves. We want a degree of accuracy but the characters need to be personable, too.

After noticing the problem, I decided to continue painting and see if there could be some adjustment using pattern and tone to distract the eye. Theres a photo of the art at this stage but the' image upload' icon is not functioning. Ill take a break for now and try to figure out why it isnt working.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

To Trademark or Not To Trademark

That is the question. So, I have finished up my logo and am planning on trademarking my series of books and logo. I'm wondering...does anyone have experience with this out there and can they tell me, will it be worth it? or not? I have been to the US patent and trademarking web page and read most of what is there. It is not super expensive, but is maybe an expense I don't need to make upfront. Still I feel like it is something that would be worthwhile. Thoughts?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

One Fine Afternoon

So finally the weather in southern Texas has been bearable to go outdoors and enjoy without getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. Today I enjoyed some outdoor time with my daughter and we caught view of and shared some precious moments with this beautiful butterfly. Life moves so fast for us all now and I took simple pleasure for the time we spent to just admire this other being going about its daily routine.

I worry about nature. I worry about our planet. I find it hard to see people not caring about their daily actions. Later in the day when I went to rent a movie I saw someone just leave their soda can by their car door on the ground and get in to leave. Why don't some people take responsibility for their actions? Who must be the parents of this slice of society when they don't seem to care about their actions or the impact to others or the environment? What irks me is that it seems to be quite a few people who just don't seem to care. I certainly don't aspire to be parents for everyone, but I wish I could hold people accountable for things like that. Better yet, I wish to restore that care, that respect, that patience and calm through my writing and reaching out to children and adults reading to children. One of the movies that recently affected me most was WALL-E. I looked at the planet with all that trash on the ground and in orbit around Earth and thought grimly, "This is our fate. And most people don't seem to care."  I wish for my books to bring back to us today what humans and our ancestors have known for a long time but we have forgotten in our race to be the best,  the first, the boss, the richest, the - whatever. That is my goal is to break through to people and to get them to really think about what is right, what is really important, to be the best they can be for each other and for us all. We are a very "connected" society one could say, but I say we are a very disconnected society more than ever before.

So with my extra hour this weekend I hope to get back to my book and finish my logo and potentially submit my series name for trademarking.  What will you do with your extra hour? I hope you find some time to take simple Earthy pleasure in something without littering. :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Butterfly Ladies

Whew! There's far more to butterflies than meets the eye. At left is a photo of wild echanacia growing in the nearby forest preserve, taken earlier this past summer. Even if the final art is stylized or presented in a simplified version, this is where the sketches start - with the real thing.

One of the things Kimberlee and I have been discussing is the question of fact vs fiction. How 'real' should the characters be, and what about their environment, the landscape and background colors, or shifts in season? Seasonal shifts means the backgrounds, colors and plants will be changing as the story progresses. Our target audience will be younger children, so there will be bright colors, interesting details, and characters the readers will enjoy looking at and thinking about.

Ive worked up a detailed pencil and will be setting it to watercolor this week and have been working on faces for the characters. This is the most challenging aspect so far, developing characteristics that will appeal to small readers without looking like cute cartoons. We'd like the art to be somewhat realistic.

The attached link ( ) takes you to the Virtual Museum, a Canadian and Peruvian site geared to children, parents and teachers. Kimberlee and I enjoyed looking through this site and would like to share it with you. There's a section especially for teachers with ideas for games and classroom instruction.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sketches Coming to Life

Helena and I conversed last week and she shared two versions of sketches with me and we opted to go for the more detailed one. That is what I love about her work is all the neat intricate things she ends up putting in the background and foreground. I think it will be most interesting for the children's book.  We are trying to also stay true to the animals and habitats around which the story revolves. So we had much talk and shared research via the internet with each other about ideas for other items in the background and foreground of the pictures as well as basic and general color schemes to go along with the habitats, etc. I hope to get some time soon to play with the formatting of how I will need to submit for self publishing so that I will be ready when the finished art starts coming my way.

I am getting some publishers asking me to write, but it is technical and scientific ones, not children's book authors. I actually think it is more phishing than anything because these publishing houses are ones that are in India or may have local offices but the main one is in India. So I am not really flattered by it. But it would be cool if it were a publisher for a children's book.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Local support

So I heard through Facebook that one of our local libraries is still struggling to recover from hurricane Ike, now 2 years past. And what a great idea they had! Local children's authors got together and held a fundraiser for the library by selling books and donating proceeds to the library.  They had children's activities and so I planned on taking my 2 oldest kids to peruse through the books and choose one to bring home and thought I might be able to meet some more children's authors and pick their brains about how they became published/successful, etc.

One of my boys came down with a fever (such is life) so I only took my oldest to the event. We stopped at every table and talked with the authors and looked at the types of books they had.  We even met one talented woman who is a blind author. I didn't ask too much about her process but mostly my son was wondering how a blind person can write. I think it was a good experience for him to be exposed to the reality that we are not all alike and some of us have challenges in different ways but that we can all still be successful and do what we love. I talked to a few of the authors about their process and one urged me to let go to be a real author and not to worry about the process of the illustrations coming out a certain way to convey the story.  I'm just not ready to do that. I know that I want these books to be fabulous so I selected the illustrator to work with me whom I knew could bring about the desired effects I wanted in the quality of my book series. The author stated that for some of her books the illustrators that her publisher set her up with brought unique qualities to the story and came up with things about which she never would have thought. She recommended I take an intense picture book making class online. I looked it up and will think about it, but for now I just want to create. I looked up her website when I got home and she had a link to Jacket Flap. So I went to check that out. It is a networking source for authors, illustrators, and publishers. You can have an account and post items and look at what certain publishers are looking for, and more. So I have created an account on there. (Kimberlee Prokhorov) Talking with Helena later she stated she has had an account on there for awhile. I can link our blog to my profile and so we can maybe get some more interest in our book and whole process, then again maybe not! :) But I am appreciating the resources it appears to provide. 

I also spoke with another author whom was self-published and was looking into publishing electronically for e-books. She stated specifically that for picture books the iPad graphics were phenomenal. She recommended  Smashwords.  So I have looked at that too and will consider submitting my books that way too! Exciting! So I continue to explore my options as an author on publishing and networking while waiting for the art to catch up to a point where I can start placing it and formatting it for publishing. I am hoping Helena has opportunity to work on it as I would love to finish this prior to Christmas or at least for spring/Easter time frame.  I know that may be a very ambitious goal for both of us. But if you do not set goals, you will not achieve them. So here's to being ambitious! Cheers!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Getting started on the Art

Our book is going to be for younger readers, and my job as illustrator is creating art that's not only colorful, but something that a child will enjoy. For now we've a basic idea of what we want, and I'm in the beginning stages of sketching the characters and setting. Research is an important aspect of this and the Internet is great for quick sourcing of natural settings, flowers, and the creatures who will be appearing in the book.

Here's a look at my drawing table and the pretty view outside the window. Right now the leaves are turning golden yellow, and just visible across the street are some tall cottonwoods. Soon their leaves will turn golden. Sometimes, in the early hours around 2 to 3 a.m. we are awakened by the yipping and barking of coyote, who make this forest preserve their home. They don't bother anybody and seem to be having fun over there!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Welcome! I'm Helena

I've always wanted to create beautiful books for children, but writing isn't my forte. One day Kimberlee wrote to me, sharing a book idea and wondering id Id be interested in working on it with her. I've been wanting to challenge myself, move in a different directions with my work, especially in ways that would eventually benefit the upcoming generations: families, mothers, and children. Then Kimberlee called.

Kimberlee and I are both mothers. Her family is young and mine are grown, so we've got a good team here: fresh ideas, talent, and most important, a goal that when reached, will benefit many.

You might enjoy following the ups and downs of our journey, and you are invited to jump in and comment, share your own experiences, or simply click in and skim through every now and then!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We're Off and Running!

I shall start from the beginning as there is no greater place to start. About 14 years ago while working at NASA an author contacted me and said she was writing a children's book on the International Space Station. I was working as an instructor for the astronauts and flight controllers at this time. She wanted to learn too and then write a book about it for children in very simple non-technical terms. I agreed to help her. At the same time, I thought to myself I can do that!

A little while later I found a course and took it from the Children's Institute of Literature. I completed that nearly 12 years ago. I got married and had three kids all the while and just recently thought of the kind of books I would want to produce for children. I still do work at NASA, but I don't really want to write about work after work. I do however want to write something to inspire and to teach children. I feel that today some things are getting lost that we need to return to children. So that is what my series will be about. I'm not going to spill all the beans here. After all someone could hijack my very idea. This blog will more so be about our adventure and process because I am going about things a bit different than usual. Why? Just because I want to. Just because I am following my heart and I want things a certain way. I have a certain vision for these books and I want them to at least start off on the right foot aesthetically.

I have purchased these beautiful calendars for the last few years titled,  Call of the Goddess. They are illustrated by a very talented woman by the name of Helena Nelson-Reed. So I thought one day - I really want her to be the one to start on this journey with me and to bring my creation to life. I know that usually you should have something to show before contacting someone, but I was driven to contact her prior to even putting pen to paper. I had the ideas in my head and I wanted this to be a joint venture.  So I did. And I was shocked and thrilled that she was interested in working with me!

Since then I have written my first script. And last week we met (oh I should say also that she is in IL while I am in TX) via phone and computer trading things through email. I saw the first of a few sketches of my characters brought to life and it is so exhilarating!

Now I must say that what we are doing is really viewed by some as all wrong. I, as a writer, am to write and hand over the script to a publisher. Then when I get someone to believe in my vision and like my writing, they go off and choose an illustrator to bring the words to life. I really really didn't want to do things this way. Why can't author and artist agree to work together first and create a masterpiece? So there you have it after about 4 months of conversing and planning we are off the ground and running. We are pushing ourselves to chart new horizons and we thought some of you might like to run with us to see what the future holds.