Sunday, November 1, 2015

Resources, Resources, Resources

I told one of my friends from Smart Dummies that I'd give her a list of free resources. Of course I got so busy that I didn't put these together until just now. I can't be selfish, so I'm sharing them with all of you as well!

These are all places that I love going for my own information. The only programs I've not used much are Krita and Inkscape (though they both look like sophisticated programs). The 12x12 is not a free resource, but it is worth mentioning. They also have scholarships for this event.

I was given a few other resources on Smart Dummies to add, but I need to check them out first. I like to know what I'm telling other people to read. Feel free to send me links to any other great resources!

Resource list:

Friday, October 30, 2015

An Interview With Jennyann Carthern

I've known Jennyann for almost two years now. We met in the 12 x 12 (12 picture books in 12 months). Jennyann is never short of ideas and this keeps her very busy with her art. Though Jennyann is busy, she always makes the time to support to other Illustrators.

Jennyann has been working hard on some fantastic projects over the years. In late 2014 she got the idea for "Monster Chores" coloring book that I worked on her with. Monster Chores is a collaboration of 13 illustrators and is filled with lots of fun monster illustrations to color. You can download the book free here:

Jennyann has a lot of big projects going on this year. She's got a Bookplate creation project for Etsy (link is for the Patreon page), a her Painting Black Faces Project, and she's also creating some course material for teachers and afterschool programs!


Dani: Why Children's Literature?

Jennyann: I love children’s literature because it’s magical, and engaging. It ignites the unknown realms of our imagination, where almost any idea, creature, or creation can be told.

Dani: What are the main projects you are working on right now?

Jennyann: I’m not currently working on a specific children’s book right now. However the main projects I am working on are creating bookplates. Which are fancy illustrated labels that you glue in the front pages of your favorite books. I’m planning to sell them on Etsy. My store will be opening real soon, in a matter of weeks. I’ve also created a special page on Patreon to offer a limited edition set of bookplates to Patrons only each month.

Other projects include my Painting Black Faces Project, in which I’m collecting photos of African American youth in K-5th grade. I want to create a picture book of portraits, that I’m painting of them. This is in service to more diversity in picture books and more students loving the skin their in.

Then last I’m creating some course material for teachers and afterschool programs to bring more art into their classrooms and programs, along with courses for adults who just want to have fun with art.

There are a whole lot of other projects too, just not ready to release the hounds yet.

Dani: Finish the following thoughts:

Painting is...whimsical, dreamy, and inviting .

I focus on joy.

Dani: What's special about your work?

Jennyann: My work makes people happy. It’s engaging, a whole lot of fun, and it’s a journey worth taking.

Dani: What is your ultimate goal?

Jennyann: My ultimate goal is to live my life with purpose while making a living doing what I love. I want set up better life experiences for myself and my family. I want to impact others to live the life they want. Regardless of their circumstances. It just takes a yes, then a whole lot of learning, mistakes, and work. It’s possible.

I think that’s why I also love children’s literature. It’s always full of possibilities. As some of us grow older, we just stop believing. I’ve never stopped. I just kept going, even after falling a gazillion times, and if I fall again. As long as I can look up. I’ll kept getting up. I just know that all the work I’ve put in will pay me back one day. So if I stop, or refuse to keep going. It won’t ever get the chance to do that.


My Patreon Page to become a Patron:





My New Etsy Store/Coming Soon:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Smart Dummies Survey - One Last Prize!

Thank you all one last time for participating in Smart Dummies!

Here is a survey I'd like you to fill out if you have time. Please send all answers to daniduckart(@) (remove parenthesis) with the subject "Smart Dummies Survey". You can also comment below or catch me on Facebook if that's easier. To bribe you to do this I will be sending out a hand-painted greeting card to one random participant. If I have time I may send out a few other prizes! If you did participate in the event, but did not get a chance to sign up you are still eligible to win.

Feel free to answer as many of these questions as you like. Please be candid. Don't be afraid to hurt my feelings. Please answer at least 3 of these questions to be entered to win! I will be picking a winner from the entrants on November 14.

1. What did you like about Smart Dummies?

2. What did you not like?

3. Who would you like to see doing a guest post next year?

4. Would you like to write a guest post next year?*

5. Did you finish your dummy? (If yes, skip question 6).

6. If you did not finish your dummy
      A. How far did you get?
      B. What got in the way of completion?

7. What would you like to see changed for next year?

8, What kinds of prizes would you like to see next year?

9. Do you have a prize you would like to donate for next year's event?

*I'm mostly looking for published Writers/Illustrators to post, however there may be other posting opportunities surrounding the event.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Even More Winners!

Even more winners today! I will be getting in touch with everyone over the next week. If you want to send me a pre-emptive email please feel free. Use the subject Smart Dummies Prize (so I don't lose it) and email daniduckart(@) 

And the Winner of the

Sussu Leclerc 

Thank you all for participating! I will be having a survey soon about the event, so I can improve things for next year!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

More Winners!

I have a slight problem with one of our big winners Meaning I have to make an adjustment. The big prize winner, Meridth Gimbel, is already in a critique group with Mary Uhles. While Mary will be giving her friend a portfolio review, she has asked me to choose another person!

The new (or second) winner of a Portfolio review by the wonderful Mary Reaves Uhles is:

Marla Lesage

Since Meridth already had access to the prize awarded she will  receive Two Girls Want a Puppy from Maple Lam

More Winners because giving out prizes is fun!

I'll announce the final winners tomorrow! 

The prizes may be subject to eligibility rules found in earlier posts (ie Some prizes can only be sent to the US. I believe I double checked everything thoroughly, but if for some reason someone is not eligible for a prize I'll send them something fun through letter mail.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Reminder for #PBPITCH and Some Winners!

Before I announce any winners I want to remind you all about #pbpitch that's happening October 15th. For more information on this event look here: You can also search #pbpitch on Twitter to see past pitches (and what was favorited).

Since I'm a sharing person I'm going to share with you a link to help you get the most out of your pitch. I followed the instructions and got my first favorite ever on a pitch party during the last event.

PJ McIlvaine uploaded a wonderful guide to pitching Picture Books on the Kidlit 411 group. If you aren't a member of this Facebook Group you must join!

I'm not going to post all of the winners today. I have chosen most (if not all) of the winners already. The next two days will be devoted to winner announcements! 


Winner of the Dummy Critique 

Dyann Joyce

Friday, October 9, 2015

Quilling in Style with Stacy S. Jensen -- Plus a WINNER!

I asked Stacy Jensen on my blog today because I happened to catch this wonderful post of hers just before Smart Dummies began:  In this post she created beautiful work just using paper. Stacy doesn't see herself as a visual artist, but maybe she should reconsider this view. I could see illustrations like these in books!

Stacy is a wonderful Writer and a lot of fun. I think if she wanted to she could also be an Illustrator with this fun quilling style. I thought that her style could help you see another way of crafting your art. Whether you use this style for inspiration, illustration or just to relax I'm sure you'll be tempted to try this style. It looks like a lot of fun!


I write short picture book manuscripts.

My efforts to curl paper caught Dani Duck's eye, if you are wondering why a writer is among the guest bloggers.

I began quilling a couple years. I discovered quilling, as a portable craft I could take to a neighborhood meeting. I discovered this craft on Pinterest — not at the age of 12 like most people I know.
Thanks to the Internet, books and online groups, I've taught myself a variety of techniques and have an assortment of tools to crimp, coil, and pinch my paper strips into shape. I also have a large glue collection.

While quilling takes some time away from my writing, I find it feeds into my writing too.
I often put down my quilling to make a note for a new story idea or a story-in-progress.
I've used quilling over the last year to "illustrate" an image for a challenge:
I stretched myself really large in June when I participated in Susanna Leonard Hill's illustrator contest. I created a scene for the "Discovery" theme. ( It's a bit cliché with the large eye looking down into the grass. But it pushed me. I had a deadline and pushed myself to use new techniques.

When another friend asked me to participate in a #SpreadPoetryonFacebook challenge, I picked up my paper strips and glue. I created four projects for Emily Dickinson poems.


3- And another challenge to write a poem about Punxsutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill, resulted in two quilled images and a video. (

Dummies aren't really required for my one-panel projects, but I do create sketches for my work.
Dummies are part of my picture book revision process. They are more word based. I create doodles too. Since I write short, a dummy will often help me find mistakes in my writer logic.
I've researched a lot of quilling artists. While I haven't found one yet in a picture book, I have found several really cool paper artists.

Here are a few paper artist links for inspiration:
  • Yulia Brodskaya
  • Denise Fleming (
  • Brittani Rose Gothard. (
  • Marina Adamova (

Thanks for letting me to join you for the Smart Dummies Challenge.

Bio: Stacy S. Jensen writes picture books, eats chocolate, designs websites and quills paper. She lives in Colorado with her family.

Today I'm going to announce the Portfolio Review kindly donated by Mary Reaves Uhles! If you haven't read her post yet, you need to. Mary has excellent Time Management Tips you need to know!


The winner of Mary's Portfolio Review is:

Meridth Gimbel

Congratulations Meredith! I'll contact you shortly about your prize (if you don't contact me first).  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Don't Forget to Sign the Oath - Plus Some WINNERS

Starting tomorrow I'm going to start drawing names for prizes! Be sure to sign the Smart Dummies Oath if you haven't already: If you completed a strong draft (2nd draft or better) on your dummy this month you've won and need to sign the oath!
Remember that you need to comment on Mira's Photoshop Course (and have a finished dummy) to win that prize.

Tomorrow I have Stacy S. Jensen on my blog. She'll be talking about an art style she uses for relaxation. There will be a big prize winner on this post!

And because I can't wait until tomorrow here are some WINNERS! I have 3 sets of cards to give out that were donated by Stephen Maquignon. For the most part there will be only one prize per person. Since I'm not sure if everyone has signed the oath I'm going to make an exception (so don't think if you win this prize you can't win one of the big prizes). Winners are chosen through


Danielle Dufayet 

Sussu Leclerc

Danette Byatt 

Be sure to send me a mailing address so I can send you these wonderful postcards!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Laying Out Your Final

It's often confusing for illustrators in how to set up their illustrations for publication. If you are creating an illustration for your portfolio or for a gallery you don't need to know this information. If you are working in a traditional medium this is vital to know. I've done several of my own layouts, but I still attempted to fact check this. I was very irritated to find very little easily accessible information about page layouts for books! Let me know if you notice any mistakes.

I color coded this chart. It is for a 8 x 10 picture book.

Yellow = Handling Area
Red = Bleed
Blue = Gutter
Green lines = Crop Marks

The areas that are red, blue and white will be filled with your image.

Masking area -- This is 2" so printers don't get your work smudgy. Mask this area off with masking tape. I recommend using cheap tissue paper on anything the tape didn't cover (including the back). Often the bottom of this area will be 3" instead of 2".

Bleed - This goes 1/4" into your 2" border. Your image needs to go out into this area. The bleed will be trimmed off your final book. You need the bleed on this (and anything you are printing) so that your image goes to the edge of the pages. Do not place text any closer than 1/4 inch to the bleeds.

Gutter - Unlike the bleed this 1/2" area will not be cut from your work. Do not put anything important in this area! In a picture book this area will likely not be seen (or seen well) because the inside of the picture is bound here. 

Crop Marks - This is where the printer will cut your image. This will be marked in black ink when you send out your final images. 

Measure your image carefully when laying out your image. A #2 mechanical pencil works well for lay out work. Draw your lines lightly. The image below shows more clearly where you need to make your pencil marks. Make them on the solid lines (edge of the bleed area) and down the middle. The only areas that need black ink are the crop marks, and that's only if the image is going to print.

If any of this is confusing please let me know! If you are color blind and can't properly see the above images, please let me know and I'll send you a black and white version.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Final Steps for Your Dummy

With the Smart Dummies event the idea is to get a submission ready dummy, but there are a few other things you should probably have before submitting to a publisher. If I missed something, please let me know. This is just a brief list!

1. Final Images - Editors, Art Directors and Agents like to see 2-3 finished spreads (4-6 pages finished). Spreads being the consecutive pages you see when a book is open. Generally these are done in color. There are a few artists that work in black and white. This can be incorporated directly into your dummy. I will talk more about this later. 

2. The Portfolio - Before you get hired, Editors and Agents are going to want to see what you've done in the past. The amount of images you need for this varies depending who you ask. You should have at least 12-15 images to get your portfolio started. This will go as a link if you send an email.

Because we live in a digital age you will want to have your portfolio online. Make sure you have your contact information on your website! Patricia had some wonderful tips for creating your website portfolio earlier this month: You don't have to pay an arm and a leg for your website to start. Using a free website creator like weebly is perfectly acceptable (that's the first service I used).

3. A Cover Letter - You should work to craft a good cover letter to go along with your dummy. Always address your letter to a specific person. You should have a brief introduction (Who you are and why you are sending this dummy). The pitch that describes your story. And your qualifications for writing this book including education, related professional information, and any publications where your work has appeared. 

4. Your Manuscript - You will have the entire text of your manuscript in your dummy, but Editors and Agents will want your manuscript. If you have a wordless book, don't worry about the manuscript. At this point Picture Book manuscripts should be 500 words or less. 

5. Don't Work in a Bubble - This isn't something you put in a dummy, but more of something to make your work stronger. If you are the only one to see your work before sending it out, then you will be missing out on some valuable advice. I strongly suggest joining a critique group or doing a dummy trade with someone you trust.

Be sure to check the full guidelines of an Agent or Editor before you send anything out! Not following guidelines is a huge reason why people get their stories rejected! 


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Smart Dummies Prizes!

Before I get into the prizes I want to make sure everyone knows I made a mistake on Diandra Mae's Post: I somehow missed half the post and could not get it to re-send to your email. So sorry about that!

Please Comment on the prizes you want to show love to the people who have generously donated prizes. Mira's Photoshop course will only go to people who comment on the post! I had planned to make commenting required for all prizes, but that will make things unnecessarily complicated. I will use to choose the prizes in a week (or so) from now.

Commenting on other posts in the event is also fantatic. It helps the people who have donated their time to Smart Dummies. This will also help me in making an even better event next year!

I will also be following up the event with a survey. Anyone who participated can fill out the survey and be entered to win a thank you prize from me!

Prizes for Smart Dummy Winners: 

Two Girls Want a Puppy - Maple Lam

Prizes for Smart Dummy Entrants/Winners:

* Must have a US mailing address to win this prize.

The Smart Dummies Oath!

Here it is! The winner's oath. If you completed 24-30 pages (or 12-15 spreads) CONGRATULATIONS are in order. You have completed the Smart Dummies challenge! Your images just need to be black and white. The images can all be done in pencil.

You do not need to send me anything this year. We are on the honor's system. You MUST SIGN this oath in order to be eligible for most prizes and have signed up at the beginning of the event. Please comment on the posts of the prizes you want! I'll post the links for all prizes in the next post today so you don't need to search.

The Smart Dummies Oath: 

I do solemnly swear that I have completed the Smart Dummies challenge. I have at least 24 pages (or 12 spreads) completed for my Picture Book Dummy. I understand that lying about this only hurts me and will leave me subject to a death by killer dust bunnies.* I will continue working on turning this dummy into an awesome picture book.

*Killer dust bunnies may or may not be a complete and utter myth.

That's it! You have about a week until I start drawing prizes. Thank you all for being a part of this event! Even if you didn't win this event know that you are a winner for just attempting a dummy. This is just one challenge. Stay in the Smart Dummies Facebook group so you can keep learning about dummies all year long!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Dream Maker: Anna Todaro and a Prize!

Anna Todaro is just a magical Artist and Illustrator. Anna's canvas varies on the job. She does face painting and as you can see she does a wonderful job! I feel as though her work comes from a beautiful fairy dream. When Anna takes what she does on faces and puts them into a picture book something magical happens. The beauty Anna puts on people's faces comes to life in her books.

Anna Todaro's books are "Everyone Hoops but me..." and "Silly Face". You can get both of her books in her shop: Anna is a Self-Published Author/Illustrator.

Be sure to check out the bottom of this post for a prize!


Dani: How does face painting relate to your work in picture books?

Anna: I have been doing art fairs and independent art shows since 2004 and I love the work of creating an art booth with a world of my own making with books from that world and face painting for folks to get into costume. To answer your question, I must make sure that you know that I am an art fair artist. There are a lot of authors out there trying to promote their stories. While I would love to find the right manager or agent or publisher, not having one makes things much more difficult. Because I am a facepainter and because I do fairs, it helps me get my self published books out there where most other venues seem out of reach.

Dani: What are some of the surprises or hurdles you have to go through in self publishing?

Anna: Self publishing means you do not have a team. You are making the book yourself, words, editing, layout, cost of printing, promoting, researching. It's extremely hard. You also will find it much harder for anyone to take you seriously. Most contests are for published authors. A lot of the events for SCBWI are only for published authors (PALS). It is also hard to find a reviewer unless you want to pay hundreds of dollars for a vanity one. You need your book reviewed if you want it to end up at the library. It also needs to be hard cover for the library. The biggest hurdle for me is distribution. I sold out all three shops carrying SillyFace last month and am still in the process of trying to get over to restock them. I have thought about Amazon print on demand, researching and setting that up will also be all on me.

Dani: Tell us the best thing about self publishing your books.

Anna: You have complete control over your baby. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I suppose you also keep 100% of the profits if there are any...

Dani: What would you like other Authors and Illustrators to know if they are thinking about self publishing?

Anna: It is extremely hard to be self published. You are completely on your own.

Dani: How do you go through the process of making a book?

Anna: Me personally? Or in general? For me, it's about staying focused and organized. I write the story first. That part is easy. Next, I come up with character drawings. This process could take years. The hardest part is taking that step where I say, "ok, this is what this character is going to look like." I then photograph all of the paintings and edit them in photoshop. Sometimes I write my own lettering and scan it in, sometimes I just use a computer font like Courier New. Then I send it in to the printer and I wait and hope.

Follow Anna:

Anna Todaro

Websites and Blog




One lucky winner of Smart Dummies will win a big prize pack from Renee Kurilla! Renee has kindly donated "Be Aware!: My Tips for Personal Safety", "Move Your Body!: My Exercise Tips" and "Keep Calm!: My Stress-busting Tips". Please comment on this post so I know you want these books! These books can only be shipped to a US address.

Rene is a wonderful Illustrator with a massive list of books she's Illustrated. Her wonderful illustration work can be seen in Orangutanka: A Story in Poems written by Margarita Engle. Coming soon is Burkley the Terrible Sleeper written by Mitchell Sharamat available for pre-order now!

Visit Renee's Website:

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Smart Tips for Smart Dummies from Cyndi (Kung Pow) Marko and a Prize!

Note: This post was updated at 8:30pm PST (To the tune of the Chicken Dance thanks to DH). Half the post was missing. It has now been updated!

It's so nice to have Cyndi Marko back on my blog! If you missed the first post check it out. Cyndi Marko is one of the members of the SCBWI Canada West Illustrators. She has a wonderful chapter book series called "Kung Pow Chicken". Her series is much like a picture book in the amount of pictures she uses to create her books. If you are interested in Cyndi's books go to your local book store or check out the link here!

Be sure to check the bottom of this post for a prize!


Smart Tips for Smart Dummies!

I’ve learned a lot about creating dummies since I first started writing and illustrating books for kids eight years ago. Back then it took me six or seven months to make a dummy. Now I can complete a forty-page dummy, complete with covers, endpapers, and color samples, in about a week. No, I didn’t make a deal with the devil (but I am open to it if he’s got something awesome to offer, just saying); I simply drew so much that over time I got pretty good and pretty fast at it.

I’ve compiled some tips I hope will help you to create smart dummies!


I write picture books spread by spread. I have even created a picture book template in Scrivener that is separated into sixteen spreads. (I use a 40 page format that has 32 interior pages as well as front matter and front and back endpapers.) This helps me make the most of pacing and page turns. As a picture book writer, page turns are your friend! Think of some of your favorite picture books. How have they used page turns to add suspense, humor, or drama to the story? You can learn to do this, too! (If you’d like to see more about how I use Scrivener to write picture books, you can see my template and process here: )

I also see the pictures in my head as I write. I make a lot of illustration notes for myself in the manuscript. (I remove most of them later on if I need to send the text to a crit partner or my agent, and only leave the ones that are needed to make sense of the text. If I send a text document with a dummy I remove all of them.)


If you don’t write in spreads like I do, make sure you know your spreads BEFORE you begin sketching. The easiest way for me is to print off the ms and divide the text up using pencil to mark spreads.

But even being as prepared as possible, sometimes adjustments to spreads need to be made mid-dummy as the story and sketches evolve. Be flexible! (and know that changes are imminent once an agent or editor becomes involved!)


I like to do a page or two of character sketches before I start the dummy. Once I have a character design I’m happy with, I draw them from a few different angles. Have you ever drawn a character that looked great in frontal view, and then realized they didn’t work in ¾ or profile? Yeah, me too. Also, make sure you can draw your character consistently each time. This skill takes practice. I used to find this challenging, but after drawing the characters from my KPC books several hundred thousand times *twitches*, I can do this easily now.

As I mentioned above, I use a lot of illustration notes. Sometimes these are to illustrate the words I’ve written, and sometimes these are to illustrate the words I DIDN’T write. Let your story be fluid and evolve. As I sketch, I make changes to the text. Sometimes I find a line of text has become redundant and I’ll remove it. Sometimes an illustration means I can remove descriptions from the text. And sometimes I find adding a line enhances what the illustration is showing. Let the art and text work together.


Before starting your dummy, decide how many pages you think it will be. There are several formats for picture books. The most common are 24, 32, and 40 pages. (See how they are multiples of eight? That has to do with how printed pages are folded and cut.)

When designing your compositions, be mindful of where the gutter lies. Try not to put anything important in the gutter, like faces or important objects. (The gutter is the space on either side of where two pages are joined.) Also, leave plenty of room on the page to place the text. This might sound like obvious advice, but trust me, it isn’t! (Says the lady who has made this mistake a time or two.)


I like to use a lot of variety in my dummies. If the scenes are all from the same angle, with the characters the same size, the dummy risks being boring and predictable. But variation needs to be deliberate and purposeful! For example, if your character feels sad and alone in a scene, showing them from a great distance in a sparse background helps to illustrate isolation.

I have a standard view I use throughout that acts as sort of a visual normal or a starting point. From there I zoom in for a close up, zoom out to tiny silhouettes, look down from bird’s eye view, look up from worm’s eye view, but I always come back to visual normal. Think of yourself as a director and you get to tell the camera where to go…er, what shots to take!

I also vary the type of illustrations I use. I like to mix things up with spots (an object or character with no background), scenes-for lack of better terminology (an object or character with a background that is surrounded by white page), and bleeds (where the illustration fills the entire page.) I also like to incorporate at least two full spreads if I can (a single illustration that fills both pages of a spread, also known as a double-page spread.)


I keep an illustration journal. When I do a color sample for a dummy (and as I worked through the KPC books), I write down what color I used for each aspect of the illustration. Don’t rely on your brain to remember this information! I have a special notebook I keep on my work table and the only information I write in it is colors used for projects.

I also buy lots of those plastic palettes from the dollar store for my tube watercolors. I use a different one(s) for each project. I write the name of the color on each color well, and the project name on the back. When not in use I stack them (when the paints are dry), put the cover on the top one, and wrap an elastic around them. They are ready for use when you come back to that project later on. There are many ways to keep organized to maintain consistency as you work on color. Do whatever works for you!

SMART TIP: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE (hint: it’s not kids!)

Well okay, yes, *grumbles* we write picture books for kids. BUT we make dummies for agents and editors. Sell your work by helping them see the big picture. The more your dummy looks like a real book, the more agents and editors will be able to picture it on bookstore shelves. The more professional your dummy looks, the more professional they will think you are! (so far I’ve hoodwinked my amazing agent and at least a couple of savvy editors!)

I include front and back covers, I write (hopefully) clever back cover copy. I include creative endpapers. I make use of typography. I create copyright/dedication and title pages. The announcement from my latest sale actually borrows a phrase to describe the book that I wrote as a funny dedication!

Having a design background definitely helps when designing a picture book, but it’s a learnable skill. Look at lots of picture books and study their design. Read design books. (I recommend this one, The Non-designers Design Book by Robin Williams: )

Once acquired, an art director or designer will design the cover and title, pick the fonts, and design the interior layout. The editor will likely write the cover copy. But at the submitting stage it’s all about presentation. Make yours the best you can make it.


Learning to write and illustrate well enough for publication is hard. Twice as hard as doing either of those things separately. Be patient with yourself as you learn your craft and don’t feel pressured to send queries before you think you are ready. (I waited four years!) And have fun!

Follow Cyndi:




One lucky entrant to the Smart Dummies challenge will receive a book from the Freddy Frogcaster series. Kindly donated by the Illustrator Russ Cox!  Series written by Janice Dean. Please comment below so I know you want this book!

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Lovely Lisa (Lionheart) Cinar and a Prize!

I met Lisa Cinar at the SCBWI Canada West conference last year. She had a fantastic intensive workshop for the Illustrators. I don't think I've ever worked that hard in two hours, but I learned and did more in that time that I had that entire week! If you need to hire someone for a workshop or presentation then she is the person to hire.

Lisa is educator at Emily Carr University (Vancouver BC) for both Writing and Illustrating picture books. She both wrote and illustrated Paulina P.(for Petersen) and The Day It All Blew Away which won the BC Book Prize!

She has lots of great samples of her work on her website, plus some fun coloring pages. If you haven't seen Lisa's Shop "Draw Me a Lion" then you have to go! It's a lot of fun to explore. While you're at it-- buy me a Lion!

Check the end of this interview for a great prize from Russ Cox!


Dani: How did you get started in Picture Books?

Lisa: I was always drawn to beautifully illustrated books since as far back as I can remember. Not just books either, I was just a big fan of any images that I really liked from when I was a little kid to now being a 'grown up', whatever that means. I remember taking a class taught by the talented Celia King at Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design in Book Art Media. We made books that were one-of-a-kind art objects and learned different binding techniques, but we also briefly talked about publishing. Celia was a great teacher and I think it was in her class that I realized that I had always been drawn to picture books and that I wanted to try making one.

After I graduated school I wrote & illustrated my first picture book and then showed it to her for advise how to go about the publishing process. She suggested I look at books that I love and check out who publishes them. I did that and then I submitted my dummy book. When the publisher I had sent it to got back to me I was above the moon!

Dani: What is the most important thing you've learned in the PB industry?

Lisa: Determination! I think it's really easy for people to get discouraged because there is a lot of rejection in this field. The important thing is to realize that just because you haven't heard back from a publisher or art director doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't interested in your work. There are so many other factors to consider such as the timing of your submission in their publishing cycle, the fact that publishers only publish so many books a year and also something really obvious but easily forgotten... They are super busy people. They might just not have the time to shoot you an email back. Just dust yourself off, and try again. Get some thick skin! ;)

Dani: Has teaching changed how you approach Picture Books?

Lisa: Yes, I definitely think so! I have been teaching for five years now and having had the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for picture books with other like minded folks has nourished my love for the medium even more. I hope to inspire my students, but my students also inspire me. It's great that w

Also breaking down aspects of the creative process of creating a dummy book for my class really makes me understand my own processes even more than before. On the other hand I always stress in my class that while people's end results (ie. a physical dummy book) might look very much the same in terms of it's layout etc, everyone's creative process will vary. So far every time I have approached a story or book project the process has been slightly different. I think that realizing that this is a normal part of the process and in fact an important part of making each book unique is a great thing to have under your wing, instead of second doubting yourself for never being able to stick to a 'more regimented how-to-manual' so to speak.

Dani: What is the biggest challenge you find your students have with creating Dummies or Illustrations?

Lisa: I think the biggest challenge most students have is a mental hurdle vs a technical one. I see a lot people approach picture books assignments in a stereotypical 'kid-style'. I try to stress in my classes that instead of making illustrations that you think 'look like picture book illustrations for kids' you should just focus on making beautiful illustrations that you enjoy creating and looking at. I think that if you try to develop a 'kid-style' before you have actually developed a personal style of any sorts to start with, it can look forced. In order to achieve this I try to get them to have fun with the assignments. If you aren't having fun creating the illustrations try a different medium, scale, character or subject matter and start over. The love you have for your work shines through! Sounds cheesy but I really believe it's true!

Dani: Do you have any tips for those finishing up their Dummies?


A) Yes! Be PROUD! It's hard work to make and finish a dummy book from scratch and stay committed! Make someone buy you a drink! You deserve it! :)

B) Be smart about who you send it to! Do your research on publishers and don't just blindly send it out. Look at and closely follow their submission guidelines. Every publishers is slightly different.

C) This is probably the most obvious sounding advise, but having followed up with a lot of my students I know that it's also the BEST advise I am going to give you! It's simply this: Don't forget to actually SUBMIT your dummy book! So many times once all the work has been done and the course is over, students start to second guess themselves. "What if it's not good enough"? "What if they don't like it?" "What if I never hear back?". Sure, there is always a chance you don't hear back, but the only way you're guaranteed to never hear back is if you never send it in the first place! So your chances are really muuuuuch better if you do;)

Make yourself a submission deadline in your calendar and then make that friend who bought you a drink for making a dummy book buy you another one for mailing it;) Best of luck to all of you and have fun!


All Illustrations in this blog post were created lovingly by THE Lisa Cinar!

Follow Lisa:

Blog Lisa Created for Her Illustration Class:
Lisa's Shop: "Draw Me a Lion" 
Lisa's Books:



One lucky winner of Smart Dummies will receive two SIGNED books in Puppy Pirates Series Illustrated and donated by Russ Cox! (Written by Erin Soderberg Downing. These can only be mailed in the US. Please comment on this post so I know you want these books!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Magnificent, Marvelous and Methodical Maple Lam and a Prize!

Maple Lam has both moody styles and fun styles in her portfolio, but no matter the coloring her work is all fun! Mapel has received several awards for her work. It's really no surprise she's won these awards, her work is so cute and beautiful. Maple Lam is here today to show her process on making promotional postcards. This will help those of you who are now thinking about creating final images to go along with your dummy artwork (this is not required for finishing Smart Dummies).

Be sure to check the bottom of this post to see how you can win this book!


My Promotional Postcard Process

By Maple Lam

I like to think of postcard promo as a Kodak moment: What is the story? What is happening? How can I construct that moment in an interesting composition within the postcard size constraint?

First, I search for an ideal Kodak moment through doodles.

My thumbnails are tiny and at times illegible to others, but the composition slowly takes shape. Once I land on something, I use it as a base for the draft.

The draft help me refine the composition. Here, I added a gated archway in the composition to break the forced perspective wall and to highlight the fox character at the bottom – a theatre trick I learned through Tomie dePaola's brilliant artwork.
I then redraw the piece on watercolor paper and start coloring my final artwork.

Sometimes I do additional color studies. For this piece, I dived straight into final with a pretty clear vision in my head how the color should look like. (Sometimes I screw up too when I do this without color studies, and I will have to start over by redrawing the piece on a new sheet of watercolor paper.)
Aaaaand here is the final artwork.

I hope you have fun constructing your postcard promos too!

Here are more wonderful blog posts on promo postcards:

• Art Director Giuseppe Castellano, on the importance of postcards:

• Author-illustrator Jen Betton, on Self-Promotion: &

Hope you enjoy reading my process


Maple Lam loves creating characters and constructing worlds around them. When she is not illustrating or writing children's book, she is either reading books in a local Los Angeles library, or playing badminton with good friends. You can check out more of Maple's work via her website at You can also find her on Twitter at @MapleLam and Instagram at @MapleLam.

Maple’s latest illustrated picture book, TWO GIRLS WANT A PUPPY, published by HarperCollins Children’s Book, is now available at all major booksellers!



Barnes and Nobles:



One lucky winner will receive a copy of "Two Girls and a Puppy" by Evie and Ryan Cordell and Illustrated by Maple Lam! You must complete your dummy in order to win.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Julie Hedlund 12x the Awesome and 12x the Fun. Plus a Prize!

Julie Hedlund is a fantastic writer too inspired to stick with a regular day job. Out of her need to create she has made some fabulous books. Recently she has started a fabulous course (I've taken it so feel free to ask me questions) for picture book submissions here and her course for Making Money as a Writer here. There are also a number of other great courses here.

One of the biggest picture book events (if not the biggest) came from her beautiful mind. The 12x12 is a yearly challenge to create 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. This is the third year I've competed in the challenge and I love every minute! Registration for this year is done, but you can sign up here so you can be sure to know the second registration is open! I love all that Julie has done for this event. It keeps me going with my career. Not only is Julie inspiring, but she actually cares about helping other writers to succeed.

Be sure to look at the end of this post for an awesome prize from Russ Cox!



First, I have to say that as an "author exclusively" (a term Stacy Jensen came up with recently as an alternative to the negative sounding, "author only"), I have so much admiration and awe for you author/illustrators. Knowing precisely how difficult it is to get the words of a story "just right," I can't even imagine the pressure of being responsible for both the words and the pictures.

Picture book authors are often told to leave room for the illustrations to tell at least half of the story. As a result, I've tried to think more and more visually over the years. But recently, I had what Oprah would call an "Aha moment."

At a conference, just this very weekend, I read one of my picture book manuscripts at a roundtable session and found it was almost impossible because the second half had only three words. It's true in this case that the illustrations carry most of the story, but when I tried to read it aloud, it had no rhythm at all. I found myself droning on "explaining" what happens. I know now I need to (GASP) add words to keep the rhythm consistent and to make it fun to read aloud!!

Remember that any time there are wordless spreads in your manuscript, the reader either has to trust the child to fill in the story him or herself, OR, more likely, they'll fill in words as they read to make the transition from one part of the story to the next. Some people are more self-conscious about doing this than others. It's important to make sure the wordless spreads are either obvious enough that in the silence the child will "get" what is happening OR that they're theatrical enough that the reader is enabled to fill in those spots by simple ad-libbing or acting out the story.

Take these examples from two of my favorite author/illustrators. The first is from MR. TIGER GOES WILD, by Peter Brown. In this spread, he could have easily left the words out because the picture shows what Mr. Tiger is doing and thinking. But if he had, some of the tension and anticipation would have been lost.

Later, however, when we get to the "centerfold" of the book, it's such a dramatic, funny, even naughty, moment, that words would have taken away the shock value.

The second is from John Rocco's BLACKOUT. The pictures in this spread show the lights going out well enough, but it's so juicy and fun to read, "And the lights... went... out... All of them." It gives me goose bumps every time. I don't think the images alone would have the same impact.

It's a tricky balance, and one I struggle with in reverse by erring on the side of taking words out. As illustrators, however, I think sometimes there's the need to evaluate whether you need to add words back in. At the end of the day, a picture book is a dance between pictures and text. If they are in sync, they sing.

Long story short (ha!), my advice is to read your stories aloud. Even the wordless spreads. Is it easy, or do you need to describe the action or the images in order for the story to be understood and appreciated? If so, you may need to (GASP!), add in a few well-placed words. :-)

Follow Julie:

Julie Hedlund is an award-winning picture book author and founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, which boasts 800+ members. As a "pioneer of publishing," Julie worked with publisher Little Bahalia to fund the publication of her latest book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN (2014). She also published two award-winning and critically-acclaimed storybook apps for the iPad with Little Bahalia. The apps were also published in print under the title, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS (2013).

Julie speaks regularly at industry events, and channels her passion for helping other authors into courses such as How to Make Money as a Writer.  

Julie's Awesome Courses: 

The Complete Picture Book Submissions System:
How to Make Money as a Writer:

Follow Julie:

12x12 Picture Book Challenge:

Julie's Books:

My Love For You is the Sun



Russ Cox is generously giving one lucky winner of the competition a copy of one of his drawings! Please comment on this post to win!