Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Calm Before the Smart Dummies

Hi Everyone, sorry I'm posting this so late at night. Long day. We'll be sending out the the critique groups messages soon!

Your goal is to finish at least 24 pages of a dummy in the next 31 days. This year Smart Dummies will end on October 1st. Extra time for everyone, YAY! You pace yourself for Smart Dummies, so here is some guidelines to where you should be each day. I will put these at the end of the post on these days, so you don't forget.

Day 1: Doodle a lot
Day 2: Create Thumbnails
Day 4: Have character designs for all characters
Day 13: Finish loose drawings for each of your pages/spreads.
Day 14: Step back (several feet) and analyse your drawings.
Day 27: Have your finished spreads done.
Days 28-31: Use your remaining days to polish your finish spreads. Erase stray lines, or trace the drawings so they look clean
What do you need to do now?

Read all the posts on this blog. Please, comment when you can! Smart Dummies Guests work hard on their posts, and commenting is like giving them a great big "thank you" appreciation hug.

Join Smart Dummies!

Also join my blog's email list so you don't miss out on the posts! Make sure your name shows up after you register. Check the file below to make sure I have you registered:

I will try to answer all the questions I see. You are welcome to send me a PM or post in the Facebook Group!


Remember to sign up to go to Picture Book Summit! It starts just after Smart Dummies ends. It is an awesome writer's conference that you can go to in your own home. You can go in your P.J.s, how awesome is that? Super awesome!

Find out more here:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Warm, Fuzzy, Thank You! Also a Bit About Agents.

I didn't want to put these two together, but I want to leave tomorrow's post for all the last minute reminders!

First off a great big


to all the lovely ladies who have been helping me out with Planning Smart Dummies this year.

The Smart Dummy team includes:

Leila A Nabih

Sussu Leclerc

Phyllis Cherry 

Sarah LuAnn Perkins

Danette Byatt

These lovely ladies have helped me put together Smart Dummies this year. Things were very rocky for me this year, and they were all great support. Some things didn't happen this year, but with their help more great things will come next year. Thanks to these ladies I'll have a solid plan going into next year, and the event will be even better with their help!

Also another


to everyone who creates posts for the event, bought me a coffee, or otherwise helped me out. You all are absolutely fantastic.



Honestly, this was meant to be a Facebook video, but I ended up with a sinus infection today and I've decided to forgo that thought!  

In the Facebook Group Lauren Soloy asked:

"A lot of agents don't list how to submit dummies in their submission guidelines, but do say that they are open to author-illustrators. What do you do when that happens?"

This is honestly a case of doing a lot of research and hoping for the best. If the Agent has illustration and writing guidelines, chances are you can submit your work that way. For example if the Agent says you can attach a few images onto your email, then they likely won't mind a .pdf of your manuscript as long as it's small. If they also say to paste the text into your email, don't send them a .doc file, just follow the directions. 

Many of the Agents I've sent work to have wanted a link to a .pdf. I often store my .pdf work in dropbox.

Some Tips:
  • Always follow submission guidelines to a "T". This is not the time to break the rules
  • Some Agents/Editors don't like links in their emails, and will send these emails to their junk folder 
  • Put the Agent/Editor's email address into the address field LAST! This way you won't accidently send a half-baked submission package to them. If they have a submission box on their website, fill out the required fields LAST. 
  • Don't take my word for it! Research, research, research. Creating a submission is too important to take the advice of just one person. 
  • Keep your files small. Your .PDF should be under 5 mbs in size! 

The most important thing is to make sure your work is ready and your cover letter is compelling. There are some excellent courses out there to help out with that:

Check out  Elizabeth O' Dulemba's blog for great information
Also Kidlit 411 for the most comprehensive resources on the web.

Mira Reisberg Illustrating Children's Books is open for registration. The course runs September 25th-October 30th. This is a wonderful "full-on everything to do with picture book illustration extravaganza" course Scholarships are availible for the course here until September 5th: 

Mark G. Mitchell has Group Guest Critiques. It's a great way to get your work critiqued by some of the leading professionals in the industry. You also get some great advice from these professionals in the monthly webinar. I absolutely love Mark's emails I've learned so much from him, so be sure to visit his page and sign up for his emails here:

Arree Chung just put out a new picture book illustration course. I took his course this past summer and it was absolutely wonderful! So much great information.

Julie Hedlund has a wonderful course (openings are rare, so sign up for her mail list to get updates) that tells you all the things you need to know when submitting your manuscript. She usually has a webinar just before the course opens, so you can ask questions before you purchase. I have this course so feel free to ask me questions as well!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Crash Course in Creating Art

Here's another crash course for you! These techniques will take time to master, but the basics of them should give you some of the basics you need to get going with creating your dummies. If you want to buy books for this I'd suggest buying an Ed Emberly drawing book (orange is one of my favorites, but they are all good. Also that one is out of print, so more expensive.) Ed Emberley shows you how to use simple shapes to draw absolutely anything! The other book would be a Cartooning book. One of the most important part of a cartooning book would be drawing emotions, so if you can't pick up a cartooning book look up "cartoon emotions" in your search engine.

Everything you see here took less than 10 minutes to do. It's pretty basic. I'll try to explain in detail how I created each one. It may take a bit of work to get good at these, but I've tried to put together techniques that are fairly easy to pick up!

Ink Painting

Supplies I Used: Mixed Media Paper, India Ink, Paintbrush and a Micron Pen.

Before finishing the inking I stopped myself so you can see parts
of the image before I finished.
I didn't really draw much on this picture. I started by putting a few drops (that's really all you need) of ink into a small container (a clean yogurt cup would work for this). The darkest areas were created by dripping ink onto the paper. I mixed a tiny bit of water into the ink and put a few big brushstrokes down. I then got a new brush with water and dripped that onto my paper to make the lighter areas. Most of the light areas were created by adding water on top of my ink. I took a Micron ink pen and outlined the whole drawing. I added a head for the figure on the right. Most of the images were just traced.

The Good: It's pretty easy to manipulate the ink. The water makes it easy to get different levels of shading. Great for making organic backgrounds

The Bad: Ink is really hard to control. You can lighten it if you are fast enough, but you can't erase. It may be hard to create a consistent character with this technique. It's a bit more expensive for the supplies.

Torn Paper

Supplies Needed: Black and White Construction Paper, Micron Pen, White colored pencil, Elmers Glue,  A hard surface (such as cardboard) to prevent curling of the paper.

As you can see the paper I used is wrinkled, but for instructional purposes this is good! You can see why it's best to not to glue your images onto paper. I just tore up a couple sheets of construction paper to create these images below. This is more about imagination and arranging the images creatively. You may find it easier to use several colors of construction paper rather than just black and white. I tore these freehand. You can also fold the paper first and use a ruler to make straighter edges.

The Good: These don't take a long time to create. Tearing up the paper only took a few seconds. It's a lot of fun putting the images together. Very cheap to make your initial images. (Will want to make sure you have acid free construction paper for color images).

The Bad: Again, it may be hard to create a character or characters that you can repeat over and over again in your images. A breeze may send your pieces flying. Small pieces are difficult to work with.

Cut Paper 

Supplies needed: Colored paper (Construction Paper works),  Glue (Elmer's), Pen (optional), Cardboard (optional), Mixed Media Paper/Construction paper (on which to glue your pieces), Scissors or exacto knife (or both), Cutting mat (if using knife)

Draw a bunch of shapes on paper and cut them out. Circles, squares, triangles, ovals, ect are all great. Also cut some organic pieces so you can play around with your looks.

 All of this paper was left over from when I made some monster greeting cards. I even had a character that was all glued together and now has nowhere to go. I made cardboard patterns of all my characters so I could easily remake them again. It's best to use an exacto knife to cut on cardboard.

The Good: It's easy to create characters that can be repeated throughout your work. The paper is easy to manipulate and place.

The Bad: It can be a bit tough getting these from the draft stage to the final stage because you have to glue things down in the end. Small pieces can be hard to work with, and a breeze can easily ruin a lot of hard work. (Take pictures with a camera if this is a constant problem).

Drawing With Shapes

Supplies needed: paper (copy or sketch) and pencil.

So many of you say you can't draw but I'm sure most of you can draw basic shapes. If you can, try using different shapes to create a character. In the drawing I used basic shapes to create all these images. In some places I separated the shapes so you could see which ones I used. You could literally do your entire book using different shape people. You do not have to be able to draw a straight line to create these images. Most illustrators can't draw a perfectly straight line even with a ruler (I can't).

The Good: This is by far the most versatile and inexpensive. Can be used with any of the above techniques.

The Bad: it may be difficult for some to draw this way.

So how did I do? I'm sorry that I didn't have time to show you each of the steps. There are a lot of tutorials on these on the internet so if you are having trouble you may want to look there. If you have any questions please let me know!

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Crash Course in All Things Art

I've been wanting for years to design a course to help make it easier for people to learn art. Unfortunately I didn't have time to set anything up, and I didn't want to rush making a half-baked course. So what do I do? I make a half-baked post about art!

You are not going to be a master artist overnight. I was in an art gallery the other day. Someone asked the artist how long it took him to create a painting. "Thirty-five years." was his answer. "Thirty-five years and a couple of hours." It does take a long time to master the art of painting. The good news is that your current years of experience in life are applicable in art.

What to Draw:

For those of you creating your images you are going to want to start with a strong story. Here are some helps if you don't have a story:

Okay get your manuscript in hand and separate it into scenes. Every time your environment changes there is a new scene. From there you can divide it even further into different actions and reactions. You need at least 24 pages for Smart Dummies, so divide your manuscript into at least 24 segments.

If you remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood there are some obvious scenes you would want to illustrate. Some of these are: Little Red setting out to see grandma, the wolf impersonating grandma and the woodsman saving grandma and Little Red.

Text is obvious and you don't want to just illustrate what's in the text. Illustration should be more of a bridge between pieces of text. Imagine what happens in between the words to get more ideas of what to draw. Let's do some "what ifs?" to find what else can be drawn. What prompted Little Red to see grandma? What did Little Red do before she left the house? What things did she see (other than the wolf) on the way to Grandma's house? What did Wolf do on the way to Grandma's house? Why doesn't the Wolf just hunt down a rabbit? What did Grandma, Little Red and the Woodsman do after the Wolf was out of the picture? Asking yourself "what if?"should give you lots of ideas of what to draw.

Now that you have an idea what to draw you should work on thumbnails and character design.

Alison's post

Good design is key when you go to create your images. A good drawing can easily go bad if you don't have a good layout. I feel like this article is a good crash course in design: There are also many books that have good information. One of my favorites is the Graphic Design Cookbook This can't be found in most bookstores, but you can find similar books at  your local bookstores.


Alison Kipnis Hertz created a wonderful post about sketching and doodling for Smart Dummies in 2015. You can visit her post and download a template for creating your own thumbnails. 

Basically you want to use these thumbnails to plan out where everything goes in your image. These are made purposely small (around 1 x 1.5") so you don't spend a lot of time planning out the image. You just want to get the basic idea of what's in each picture. You might also want to write out a description of your picture to help you remember all the important elements.

Character Design:

I wrote out a short post about character design in 2015. This will give you some basic ideas of how to create your character and how to make it look the same in every picture. Joy Steuerwald had some lovely character images in her post:

OMG the post is over and I STILL
don't know how to draw!

I will make another post about creating images either tomorrow or Wednesday. I'll give you a few easy (inexpensive) techniques you can use to make nice images.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

How You Can Help Smart Dummies!

Smart Dummies is free and will always be 100% free to join as long as I'm able to run the event. Unfortunately Smart Dummies is not completely free for me to run.

The gift card I give away every year is usually out of my own pocket. This year I was very blessed and many wonderful people bought me a coffee through KoFi! I am using that money to have a bigger gift card this year!

I also put a lot of time into Smart Dummies. I am not complaining because it's worth every minute. I do, however, have limited funds. Your donation will help me not have to decide between working on a commission or working on Smart Dummies. It will also help me to make Smart Dummies an even bigger event next year!

If you want to get some nice swag with the Smart Dummies logo on it be sure to click the link. You are getting good quality items when you buy these.I bought a ceramic mug from Meg Miller's ReviMo a few years ago. That mug has been through the dishwasher a ton of times and is still as beautiful as when I bought it!

You can also buy me a coffee through KoFi

Not everyone can afford to donate money. More importantly than any of these things above I would like you to comment on as many posts as possible during this event! The professionals taking part in this event work hard on their post, and they deserve to get a bit of love for their post. Please comment as much as you can! Thank you!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Preparing for Smart Dummies

Smart Dummies is right around the corner and I want to make sure everyone is prepared. Your goal is to create a dummy in 30 days. It will not be easy so let's make sure you've got everything you need!

What to do before Smart Dummies:
If you don't have a polished story you are going to get into trouble (I've tried it and it doesn't work!). If you are going to do a wordless book, then write out a bit what's happening. Thumbnails are great for wordless, but you want to make sure you know what the thumbnails mean!

If you don't have a story you may want to read this:


This list varies for everyone. You can use whatever supplies you'd like for this project.  I would suggest not spending a lot of money on this. Sav
e your money for the finals! You can choose to do this traditionally or digitally. EXPERIMENT before you start if you aren't used to using a particular medium.


I like using copier paper or paper from an inexpensive sketch pad. If you are using ink or paint to create your images you'll want something much heavier. I'd suggest getting a mixed media pad for these.


You can use any student grade pencils to create your image. Different people like different things. I usually like to have a harder pencil to draw with so often I'll get a 2H pencil. I also love using mechanical pencils to save myself from having to sharpen my pencils to get a sharp point.


If you are doing washes go with india ink. It's fairly inexpensive. You can also use felt tipped pens (they don't work well for washes, though). 

Colored Pencils, Acrylics, Oils, Collage, ect

Generally dummies are black and white. Sometimes it's easier using different mediums to create your images. You might even find using pieces of torn paper to create collage images.

The images you see in this post are images I submitted to a client for a small book project. The goal is to create an image where everything is easily recognizable. The image doesn't have to be polished, but more polishing means more recognizable images.  The bad thing about having an image too polished is that there isn't as much room to adjust the images after. Editors often like having the images to be loose enough that they can suggest changes to an image. Speaking of changes you'll see that my drafts were done at 8x8" and the final book ended up being 6x9"!

If you need any help with preparing, please let me know in the comments below! 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Smart Dummies Critique Groups!

This year things will be a bit different for critique groups. If you want to join a critique group please click the link below and fill out a quick survey. Deadline to complete this survey is September 3rd. After that you will have to find your own critique partners.

Joining a critique group is not required to win Smart Dummies. A critique group, however, will help you achieve this goal. You can find your own critique groups if you'd like instead. You can also use this to add people to your established critique group. Sarah LuAnn Perkins ( and I (Dani Duck) will be putting you into critique groups. If you have any questions please let us know! You can also post questions on the Facebook Group if you think the information will benefit everyone!

Below is a guide for critique group etiquette. The guide and the bulk of the survey above was created by Leila A. Nabih. (So be sure to thank her below!) You can check out Leila's website here:

Critique Group Guide

• Introduce yourself ( name, country or city, writing style, illustration level, age of preferred
target audience, published or unpublished and anything else you think of

• Explain what you hope to achieve with the Smart Dummies Challenge.

• What is your manuscript about ?( Synopsis in 50 words or less)

• Assign an admin for the group: That is someone that will make sure everyone gets
to submit their work in equal number or turns, someone that will be reminding
everyone to post their critiques, and that will make sure everyone remains polite
and constructive throughout the process. It’s usually best if someone volunteers to
take on this extra responsibility. Otherwise, we would recommend that this “facilitator”
person be someone with previous critique group experience.

• Critique Schedule: When you will critique? (everyday so that everyone can get a turn
more often, twice a week, only on the weekends…)

• What you will critique? ( writing or illustration or both)

• How you will share your work? ( in the group as attachments or files or photographs,
or by email , or any other means… )


• A good critique is constructive.

• Be sensitive towards other people’s work.

• The purpose of joining a critique group is to receive not only praise, but also feedback
that will make your work greater than it already is.

• Different perspectives from different people is usually a good way for you to find
out what would represent you and what wouldn’t, whilst challenging you to keep
an open mind about other possible alternatives you might not have thought about.
You don’t have to take everyone’s opinion on board, just listen to what is being
said, and say thank you.

• If you feel like you cannot offer any constructive critique elements, then don’t.

• If someone is being rude or mean or a bully, warn them once, then if they pursue
with their behaviour, remove them from the group ( that would also be the admin’s

• You can leave the group if you don’t feel like you are a match with the other members.

This is an experience that is supposed to be instructive and fun.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Couple Brief Announcements

Just a few things today:

I'll put up a post tomorrow or Monday about critique groups. There will be a survey to help you find the best critique group for you! I just need to iron out a couple of details.

Prize update!

Elizabeth Rose Stanton will be giving copies of Henny and Peddles, one each, signed (and will throw in a copy of Bub, too, if the winner is willing to wait until January).

Ben Clanton  - blank book from and copy of Narwhal

Mira Reisberg will be giving out a free Photoshop course and a separate prize of a Hero's Art Journey course!

I'm going to check my email again this weekend to see if there are any missing prizes. Thank you to everyone who donated!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Registration for Smart Dummies 2017 IS OPEN!

I opened up registration yesterday for Smart Dummies 2017 and just remembered to create a post!
Follow the link below if you want to sign up for Smart Dummies 2017. Replying to this post will NOT register you for Smart Dummies:

There will be a few changes this year for Smart Dummies:

1. Smart Dummies is not limited to Picture Book Dummies this year. Anyone creating a dummy for any kidlit is welcome to join. This includes anything (Board Books-YA). The rules are still 24 pages, so if your book isn't long enough then you'll need more than one!

2. I will no longer be randomly putting people in critique groups. This year we are going to try a survey. I'm thinking up questions for it now so it will be posted in a few days.

3. Depending on what happens it may be required to send in your dummies to win (or win certain prizes). This is not guaranteed. We'll see what happens!

4. I've changed the Rafflecopter giveaway this year! I don't know if Amazon is the best person to send business to, so I'm going to open it up to other booksellers/art supply places (winner's choice). You are welcome to choose Amazon if you'd like. Because I've gotten such great help from people donating to Smart Dummies I'm going to use that money in the Rafflecopter this year and up it to $30!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Keep coming back for more updates!

Smart Dummies Extra Links:

Smart Dummies Facebook Group:


Monday, August 7, 2017

Smart Dummies 2017 Participant Badge!

Here is the Smart Dummies 2017 Participant Badge! If you need any customization done on this please let me know. I know that one size does not always fit all. Also I welcome any suggestions!

Please link this to:

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Picture Book Summit 2017!

I keep forgetting to put this up. This is the official press release for the Picture Book Summit 2017! There are great guests and a lot to learn. The best part? You can attend in your pajamas!


Beloved Children's Lit Icon Joins Adam Rex, Carole Boston Weatherford Plus Array of Authors, Editors & Agents for Biggest Online Picture Book Writing Conference Ever 

The lineup for the 3rd annual Picture Book Summit online writing conference, set to take place Saturday, October 7, has been announced. Early Bird registration is now open.

Headlining the event is Tomie dePaola, author of Strega Nona and more than 200 additional children's books. The 2011 recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for lifetime contribution to American children's literature will appear live to provide the opening keynote address.

The live online writing conference, reaching working and aspiring picture book writers across the globe, will feature a full day of keynotes, workshops and panels featuring top authors, editors and agents.

Also providing keynote addresses will be superstar picture book authors Carole Boston Weatherford (multiple Caldecott honoree, author of Freedom in Congo Square, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom and more than 50 additional books for children) and Adam Rex (New York Times bestsellers Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and School’s First Day of School).

Attendees will also enjoy workshops from author Steve Swinburne (Sea Turtle Scientist and Safe in a Storm), Julie Hedlund (My Love for You is the Sun), Greenburger Associates Literary Agent Brenda Bowen and Laura Backes, publisher and founder of Children's Book Insider, the Children's Writing Monthly.

Panel discussions will include a selection of children's publishing's top editors and agents. There will also be networking and submission opportunities for attendees.

The full day's lineup, along with registration information, can be found at

# # # 

Picture Book Summit was founded in 2015 as a collaborative project by the founders of Just Write Children's Books, 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, Institute of Children's Literature and Children's Book Insider, the Children's Writing Monthly.

A portion of the proceeds from this year's event will help restock the library shelves of two disadvantaged schools in Oregon and Connecticut.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

(The Somewhat Unofficial) Smart Dummies Prizes!

List of Smart Dummies Prizes. The final list may vary slightly from this. It was pointed out to me that I made a bit of a mistake on my last post. Those listed under "providing prizes" are people who will be donating a prize, but not posting for the event. There are more than just 3 prizes! The final list of prizes will appear on the sign-up page & hopefully in an updated post. Some prizes aren't identified because I forgot to ask about the details -- sorry!

Arree Chung - Book

Sharon Chriscoe - An Autographed Copy of "Race Car Dreams" and Swag

Bryony Supper - Book

Mark Mitchell -  1 Year Subscription to Guest Group Critiques

Teresa Robeson - Scripta Note Book  (Ruled and Blank Pages) and Fiber Castell Pitt Artist Pen

Becky Fyfe A Copy of "Teapot Tales"

Emmeline Forestal - Portfolio Review

Jennifer Adams - Books "My Little Cities London" and "My Little Cities NY"

Ben Clanton  - Prize

Yvonne Mes - Picture Book Critique

Evelyn  B. Christensen Any of Evelyn's Books from the Teachers Pay Teachers Resource Site

Sophia from Rate Your Story - A Free Speed Pass (1 Time Submission)

Chieu Ahn Urban - A Couple of Signed Books

Jennifer Thermes - "Charles Darwin Around the World" book

Leila Nabih An Adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood"

Susan Eaddy "My Love for you is the Sun", by Julie Hedlund and illustrated by Susan Eaddy and "Poppy’s Best Paper", written by Susan Eaddy and illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet

There may be a few more to come. I will be posting badges in the next couple of days!