Everett Scholastic Art Awards Keynote

The photo I've started this post with is from my high school senior yearbook. I chose it because last night I had the amazing honor of delivering the keynote to the Scholastic Art Awards for high school students in grades 7-12 of Snohomish County at the Historic Everett Theater.

I was so happy to be in that beautiful 1901 building with hundreds of teenage artists and their parents. Now that I know even more about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards I want everyone to know what a wonderful organization this is that champions and aids budding artists and writers. I wish there was something like that when I was in high school.

Now without further ado I want to share my keynote.

Good evening. First of all, I want to congratulate all of you for being here. You are part of the great tribe of ARTISTS and it is truly a wonderful tribe to belong to.

Secondly, I want to thank Nancy Bell for asking me to speak to you. Most artists are introverts and I am no exception. I love to be alone. I love to be alone so much that I moved to Lummi Island up near Bellingham. Just about the only thing that will get me off Lummi Island is a good sale on art supplies or a chance to be around other artists. As artists we can inspire and energize each other. I hope that I will be able to do that for you.

I'll start with who I am today, and then I'll go back to how I got here. Right now I identify as a children's book author and illustrator. My books have been in print starting twenty-four years ago with "THE NIGHT I FOLLOWED THE DOG."
At this point I've got more than twenty books in print. One of them is a board book I created called "PEEK-A WHO?"that has sold well over one million copies. Lately, I've been writing poetry and collaborating with other illustrators. I'm also starting to work on graphic novels. I've been making a living as an artist for my entire career, which includes the time before my books were published.

How did I get here?

We are all on our own journeys. Mine wasn't easy. It started with two parents who were both artists, which helped because they knew I was an artist from when I was only a few years old. But my
parents were both mentally ill, and my father ran off with my brother's first grade teacher when I was eleven.

I've worked since I was eleven. I started babysitting. Then in high school I worked in clothing stores. I drew all the time, too. I started seriously keeping a journal in high school. I drew, I wrote, I made cartoons. I got in trouble for doodling during most of my classes. I'll never forget when my eleventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Sherman (I'm still friends with her, by the way.) came over to my desk and saw I was drawing her, and she said, "you could have made me look younger."

My art teachers in high school- mostly Mr. Gangemi- were my heroes, and my refuge. I never fit into any groups in high school. I was "that weird artist girl." I had two other girlfriends who were artistic. One of them, my long-time best friend, Judy, became a documentary filmmaker and a writer/director/producer in Los Angeles. My other friend gave up on art. Her parents pushed her away.

Don't let that happen to you! Follow your dreams. As hard as it was, I followed mine. My mom was my biggest champion. We could not afford college. At the very last minute my father was forced to pay. I was accepted into Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts, and I became an illustration major. I worked all through college as a waitress, and I did caricatures in the mall to make money, too.

When I was in art school, in freshman year they made you take all of the basic core classes like General Drawing, Figure Drawing, Art History and Design. I was in a hurry to get into the real world, but all of this was so important. The only thing that troubled me was what my Design instructor said. He was a sculptor named Stephen Carlson. My class had a lot of women students and he told us that "it will be easier for the women because they could just marry rich husbands and do their art."

That made me so angry. That is not how to be an artist. Not only did I not marry a rich man, for years I supported my husband and my three stepsons. I am proof that you can make a living as an artist.

And your art can take you places you never imagined possible. For example: in 1998 my book "WHEN PIGASSO MET MOOTISSE" came out. I told the story of the rivalry between the artists Picasso and Matisse, but I turned them into a pig and a bull. This book has been translated into the most languages of any of my books, and it is in museum gift shops around the world- and I was invited to speak in schools in Normandy, France. On my way home, I took the train to Paris and there I met a big fan of my book: Georges Matisse, who is the great-grandson of Henri Matisse. He controls the heritage of the Matisse art estate. He loves my book and has given it to all of the Matisse family members. I gave him the portrait I painted of Henri Matisse in the book. It's still on his fireplace mantel.

Georges emails me whenever there is a new Matisse or Picasso and Matisse exhibit. There is one this summer in Nice, France, and I'm hoping to go see it.

I've also had two books optioned for feature film: THE NIGHT I FOLLOWED THE DOG, and ROMEOW & DROOLIET. Additionally, I worked on a project with DreamWorks Animation for two years. None of the projects went all the way through- that happens in Hollywood- but I got to keep the option money, and I was treated to some great trips to Los Angeles where I got to see many animation studios.

Speaking of animation: back in high school and art school, all that existed was hand-drawn or painted cell animation and stop-motion animation. I started making flip movies when I was little. I made a stop-motion animation when I was eleven using a Super 8 movie camera in my elementary school. There were no computers!

Now everything has changed. Everything is digital and animation is an incredible career option for artists... but I want to tell you this:

You need to draw and paint and use pencils and brushes and paper and canvas! I don't want to be a predictor of doom, but someday the grid may go down. I'm prepared- I built the studio of my dreams on Lummi Island and we put fifteen solar panels on the roof of it... but what I'm saying is that your skills as an artist need to be there for you whether you have Procreate or Photoshop or not.

My mom used to tell me to draw every day- just a little drawing, and write every day- just a little poem. She never lived to see my books get published. She died, poverty-stricken, with no health insurance, from cancer, six days after I turned twenty-four. I call her my Avant-Guardian Angel and I believe she watches over me.
I vowed that I would not be a starving artist. I would be a successful artist- and I know she would be so proud of me now.

I hope you have someone who watches over you- in real life- be it a parent or a friend, or an art teacher- someone who tells you not to give up your dream of being an artist, because it is unbelievably rewarding to be able to support yourself by being creative, by taking nothing but the spark of an idea in your head- and bringing it to life. Not many people can do that- so consider yourselves to be magicians- and wizards- and half-dragon-half-robots- because YOU can draw that and they can't!

And practice, practice, practice.

Get off your devices.

Draw faces.

Draw hands.

Draw out of your imagination.

Go to museums and galleries and look at original art. Get outside and draw in nature- or on a bus- or in a library. Build a portfolio of work you are proud of. They say you are only as good as the worst piece in your portfolio. I don't really believe that.

As an artist, let me tell you, I'm never happy with my work. I am constantly thinking that it sucks. And I'm always trying to learn- to grow- to try new things. I get bored if I do the same style or technique over and over again. And I mess up often. My journals are full of things that didn't work- be it stories or character drawings... but I'm always excited to keep creating and being creative no matter whether no one sees it but me- or it sells a million copies.

My final piece of advice to you is something that I saw on a rug cleaning store in my old neighborhood in Seattle. The sign said: IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF MAKING A MISTAKE YOU WON'T MAKE ANYTHING.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Make lots of them. Keep making them as long as you are making something.

Now go out there and make some art! And keep your dreams alive.

Thank you so much.



On Tuesday, January 23rd "Yellow Kayak" will be launching here in the USA, and on January 22nd in the UK from Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster. It will be my 24th published book, my fourth book as author only, and my second book with wonderful and whimsical illustrator Melissa Castrillon. "Yellow Kayak" is already getting off to a great start with Korean, Russian, Italian and French rights sold.

Every book is an adventure and each journey is unique. I thought I'd share the story behind the story of how "Yellow Kayak" came to life.

The story begins with my yellow kayak. When I first moved to Seattle at the end of 1997 I decided that I wanted to start sea kayaking. I took some classes at the Northwest Outdoor Center and tried out a lot of boats, and in 1999 I bought myself this Current Designs Caribou yellow kayak.

I wanted my husband, Booth to paddle with me, so I tricked him into doing it by buying him a Pygmy Designs marine mahogany Coho kayak kit and after he built his multi-chined beauty, we could paddle together. We started paddling around Seattle, but in 2002 after we bought our Lummi Island cottage, we moved the boats there.

The San Juan Islands are an amazing place to paddle, and we joined neighbors and friends for some great adventures. (Thanks to author/illustrator/neighbor/friend Paul Owen Lewis for these photos, btw.) But the waters in the Salish Sea are fickle. Currents run strong. Reefs lie hidden just below the surface. Tide rips and eddies boil. And winds can come up out of nowhere. So can Orcas, although I was in our skiff, not in my kayak when the Orca whales swam right under us.

The seed for my story, "Yellow Kayak" started when my husband and I went on what was supposed to be a lunch picnic paddle with our island friends, Jeff and Penny. I had checked the tides and currents and I had checked the weather. All was good. All four kayaks took off from our neighborhood beach to paddle about five miles to a rock outcropping in the middle of the channel... Now cue the Gilligan's Island theme.

As we approached the rocks, I could feel the sea swells starting to roll under my kayak. We all made it safely, but then a gale blew up from out of nowhere- in clear, blue skies. The wind was so strong it took my breath away. We were stuck- with no real overnight provisions, and the seas were getting bigger, in fact a 32 foot whale watch boat had to seek shelter at the same time. My husband was making light of the situation, but I was not happy. I felt responsible for our group since I had planned the paddle. I decided to try my cell phone to see if I had a signal.

Normally, I am not happy about cell phones in nature- other than for taking photos, but this time I was praying to the gods of Verizon that someone would answer. I called a neighbor, and luckily their daughter's boyfriend (now husband) was visiting in his Seaswirl Striper fishing boat- and he came to the rescue. It wasn't simple, or easy, but we all made it home, and we had a good story to tell.

Seeds of ideas sit and sometimes lay dormant, and when you aren't even trying to think of them, they can sprout. Quite a few years after our kayak adventure, I was sitting in the ferry line and I started writing "Yellow Kayak" as a poem in my journal.

I wrote it to the rhythm of paddling. Each line was a stroke. This was on July 17, 2007. Then it sat and germinated some more, and finally in 2011 I typed it into a Word doc and called it, "Sea-Story." It was a story about a little girl who goes out for a solo paddle and gets caught in a storm, and she loses her paddle, but gets rescued by Orcas. It was a hero's journey on the sea.

I even did a loose pastel study for it a few years after that.

Then life happened and I had to juggle many things, and I never submitted Sea-Story. Flash forward to 2017: "If I Had A Little Dream," my sweet lullaby book had just come out with debut illustrator Melissa Castrillon, and editor Paula Wiseman wanted another book for Melissa to illustrate. I sent a pile of stories, including "Sea-Story," which I had secretly wanted to illustrate myself, and Paula wanted it. I did some hard thinking and decided that I'd let the story go- we were in the middle of moving out of our Seattle house after twenty years... and I knew Melissa would add different things to the story, which Paula had already decided would be called "Yellow Kayak."

After working as both author and illustrator for twenty-four plus years, I have to admit that this has been a strange experience for me. Not to go into details, but I had to learn to let go of what I thought the story was that I had written. Melissa saw it through her eyes, not mine. I did some soul-searching and realized that my own version of the story, which was with a solo child paddler, was probably not as comforting and perhaps a bit scary. The character that Melissa added obviously made "Yellow Kayak" so much friendlier. And I learned that sometimes there is much to be gained by letting go and seeing where the adventure takes you.

Melissa has brought so much to this story, that now "Yellow Kayak," is not my solo hero's journey, it is ours. I hope it will be yours, too- as once a book comes out- it has a life of its own, and I hope that "Yellow Kayak" paddles into your heart and soul, and you share it with the young adventurers you adore.

With love,


Inktober: a month of pen and ink

October has been converted to "Inktober" for a bunch of years thanks to a guy named Jake Parker who created this art event and offered up a list of prompts to spark imagination.

I have always loved pen and ink and since life has been very tumultuous lately: both my brother and my husband had heart attacks, I've needed a respite into the land of white paper and black lines. I have also been trying to find an editor and publisher who will give me a home as both illustrator and author again. I am from a fine art background and am trained as a professional illustrator... and since I was a child, art and story have been inextricably intertwined, however over the past five years or so, that has unraveled due to some horrendous family crises and I'm longing to tie it all back together...

This playing with concept and art was therapy for me. I hope you enjoy the results. There is one week missing because I was with my brother at the hospital for his open-heart surgery and my husband had a heart attack the night of the surgery. Everyone, including me, is healing now. The drawings are in order and include the word prompts.

This was the point that I stopped for eight days after my husband's heart attack.

The word for this one (Jackson Porcllock) was "filthy."

The prompt for this one was "blind"- I love the blues.


If I Had A Little Dream: Making it Come True

If I Had A Little Dream comes out February 7, 2017

My new book, IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM, written by me  and illustrated by Melissa Castrillon is about to be born. I am very exited about this book for so many reasons, but first I want to tell you how this book, this LITTLE DREAM came to be, came to me, how it happened. I hope you will find the process interesting. 

Let me describe the scene: It is August 24, 2013 and the height of summer on Lummi Island where we live. It has been a rough year for me with my husband almost dying more than one time from heart disease, botched open heart surgery, and a scary emergency room trip after the first surgery, followed by a second surgery. Finally Booth was patched up, albeit scarred and not-quite-whole, but our life was beginning to return to the sweeter things that we loved. 

We both love blackberries, and they grow wild all around our property. For years and years we pick them in August, by the gallon, and I make my famous blackberry jam.
The process of heating the berry and sugar mixture to 220ºf can take a while and I have to be very careful not to let the mixture burn at the bottom or overflow at the top, so I'm constantly monitoring. I get into a certain rhythm when I'm "jamming" and I started writing a song while I was stirring. I've played guitar since I was eight years old, and I've written songs since I was thirteen. I pulled out the orange pad next to the kitchen counter and started writing down the verses as they came to me while I was stirring. 

I was on a roll... and the verses came out of order, but I just kept writing and watching the blackberries cook.
I even wrote on the back sides, too.
There was time to call out the important words/themes.
And come up with what I wanted to name those themes.
All this while making jam. And I still thought I had written a song. I was thinking that and when Booth walked into the house, I asked him if he wanted to hear my song, and my poor husband, who always has to say "yes" when I ask him to read/listen/look at what I'm writing/singing/drawing said "sure." After I read it, he said, "that's not a song." I replied, a bit sadly, "it isn't?" He said, "it's your next book."

Booth was right. It was a book. Even though I've been writing and illustrating children's books and published for over twenty-two years now, I also know that even if I think it is a book, it doesn't mean that anyone else will think so. But I knew I had to give it a shot. So I figured out the order of the verses. You can see my numbers on the original text. Then I typed up the manuscript. 
I started doing some sketches in my journal, and I did this bigger sketch on tissue paper.
I sent it to my intrepid agent, Laura and asked her what she thought. She loved the text, but for some reason didn't like my sketch. She thought that Renata Liwska who had just illustrated my poetic book, ONCE UPON A MEMORY would be a better illustrator. 

I am professionally trained as an illustrator, btw. I have a BFA in Illustration and my parents were both fine artists, but I do understand that my style doesn't work with everything I write, so I've had to learn to let go and be collaborative. Working with Renata was a fantastic experience. We did ONCE UPON A MEMORY with publisher Little Brown Books for Young Readers, so we submitted it to them. They were interested and made me an offer, but it turned out that the offer was only if Renata could illustrate, and she was "booked" for years. The offer was rescinded. I felt sad and wondered if I should illustrate a full dummy and submit samples... but Laura told me not to do that and that she'd send the book out to other publishers.

To my delight, Paula Wiseman of Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster loved IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM and made me an offer. We talked about illustrators and she suggested a young illustrator from Cambridge, England named Melissa Castrillon and she sent me a link to Melissa's website. I loved Melissa's warm, quirky, almost fine-art drawings, and her color choices were both retro and modern at the same time. I didn't even worry when Paula told me that Melissa had never illustrated a children's book before. She had only done book covers. 

As an artist, I have confidence in other artists. I also know to leave them alone. And I did. I didn't see what Melissa was doing until we got to the proof stages, and when they showed up, I nearly fell over. Here is just one spread:
Melissa's work was astonishing! Each spread was better than the next. This book was going to be a treasure and a dream all rolled together.

Meanwhile, Paula and I were tightening each verse and making sure that each word, like each blackberry in my jam, was perfectly ripe and right. I also had to submit my dedication. At the time the dedication was due, one of my dear friends, Debbie Alvarez, a librarian from Beaverton, Oregon, and then Hong Kong, was dying of cancer. She wrote the fantastic blog, "The Styling Librarian." I'd visited her school in Beaverton many times. I knew that this was going to be her book. 
I wish I could have made Debbie's dreams come true. She fought cancer so valiantly, but cancer won and she died at age 42, leaving behind husband, Doug, and son Declan. 

IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM is a deceptively simple book about naming things. 

If I had a little land,
I would name it THERE.
THERE would be my home,
Be it stormy, be it fair.

It also about wishing for wholesome things that bring joy and grounding to your life.

And it is about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

And it is a lullaby and a bedtime book.

On the dust jacket it says, "Our world is full of possibilities if you look for them. IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM will inspire you to look around you and find the dreams that are waiting just for you."

Right now, more than ever, I think children, and the world needs to find their LITTLE DREAMS. We need comfort in what we have around us and I hope that IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM will be that comfort for little readers everywhere, be it stormy, be it fair.

Thank you all for reading this- and please share the book and this post if you are so inclined.

If I had a little dream, 
I would name it YOU.



An Inktober Graphic Novella

Hi, it's me again. Long time no see. I just can't do all these digital things. There is too much going on in real life. However... Last October I drew or painted an octopus each day not realizing there was something called #Inktober. I started to see it popping up in my Newsfeed on Facebook, yet I started making fun of it this October 1st with this cartoon:
The next day I kept the potato theme going.
By the third day I discovered that there were actual PROMPTS for Inktober.
Then I did the next prompt.
And the next prompt...
After the fifth day, I sat there staring at the list of prompts and I realized it was a story. I've been aiming towards doing graphic novels for a while now. I used to do comics when I was a kid and teenager, but moved away to illustration and children's picture books, but I've always done cartoons in my journal and I love good, old-fashioned pen and ink... 

So I began a journey- a visual journey, using the Inktober prompts. These were all done quickly with a simple pencil sketch and no reference- they are all "out of my imagination." I didn't square things up- I wanted this to be more of a storyboard where the story is the most important part. I hope you like it. 

My Inktober message is to rescue and adopt animals... and to play visually.

Feel free to share this.

With Love,