Saturday, September 30, 2017

Sophia Gholz's "The Importance of Style" and a Rate Your Story PRIZE!

Sophia Gholz works for the wonderful Rate Your Story! I know many of you reading this have tried out (or at least heard about) Rate Your Story. There is so much that a person needs to know before they are able to adequately judge a story. Sophia's journey lead her on a path that to help her understand style. This is a very important post for those working on your final images and your portfolios! Thank you so much for being here Sophia.

Look for a PRIZE at the end of this post!

The Importance of Style
by Sophia Gholz

I once owned and operated an artist’s agency out of Manhattan. As an agent, I represented fashion photographs, fashion stylists, creative directors and set designers. Though I didn’t work with writers or illustrators then, my experience within the photography industry taught me many things that I would later apply to the literary world. One of the most important tools I learned, was the importance of an artist’s style.

When I worked with my artists in developing and editing their portfolios, it was their style that we always sought to showcase. Not every image or page had to be the same, but there had to be a common thread that tied it all together: a favored color palette, a loved choice of composition, a preferred mood, and so on. I knew my artists could do anything and everything. But, as an agent, I needed a style to sell to editors and advertisers—something special to each artist that our clients would come to them for specifically. So, as we poured over pages of portfolios, we’d chuck aside anything that didn’t fit within that artist’s aesthetic. There were often disagreements—it’s hard to kill your darlings—but a cohesive portfolio was the most important goal.

Whether you’re a writer, an illustrator, or both, keeping your style in mind is essential as you develop your portfolio or package to approach agents and editors. Look at some of your favorite illustrators and writers. Do they have a style that you can pinpoint? Some strong illustrator examples might be: Dan Santat, Jon Klassen and Salina Yoon. As for authors, look at Tara Lazar, Mo Willems or Jane Yolen. As you read their books, you should be able to hear their style through their voice in each story.

When I first began writing for children, I didn’t think about the application of style as a picture book author. I assumed that I could writer anything in any style I chose and that it was only illustrators that had to worry about cohesiveness. But as I began submitting to agents, I quickly discovered how wrong I was. I would send in a manuscript, receive exciting feedback and a request to view more work…and then a rejection. This process happened over and over again. Agents loved my manuscripts separately, but not together. I could not understand it. Then one agent finally responded with: “Although I love your work, your manuscripts are a bit disparate”. It was like I’d been hit over the head with a bat. Of course! An agent liked the style of one manuscript, but disliked the style of the others. If an agent was requesting one type of work, they expected to see similar work. Now this might seem obvious to others, but to a newcomer (like I was then) I’d just assumed I could do it all.

I stopped submitting then and picked a manuscript that I felt best fit my natural voice—a style I wanted to use for other stories—and focused on writing new material. It took me an agonizing amount of time, but I did it. When I came out of my writing cave almost two years later, I had a stack of strong manuscripts at the ready. Within a few months, I was winning contests and a couple months after that, I was signed with an agent. Will my other stories ever see the light of day? Maybe. Maybe not. But you have to start somewhere and the best place to begin is with a strong voice or style that is unique and true to you.

Author bio:

Sophia Gholz is a 2017 recipient of a Florida SCBWI Rising Kite Award. She is the owner and managing editor for, an online service for writers. In addition, she works as a creative copywriter and has written and edited for television. Sophia is an active member of both the Florida Writer's Association and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

For more about Sophia, visit: or find her on Twitter @sophiagholz.

Rate Your Story is an online critique service where writers receive feedback from published authors. For more about Rate Your Story, visit their website, stop by the RYS Facebook page or find RYS on Twitter @rateyourstory.


Sophia is giving out a Rate Your Story Speed Pass to be used on or before December 31st, 2017.*

In order to win this prize you must:

1. Finish your dummy this month.
2. Comment on this post and let Sophia how much you liked her post!

*A RYS Speedpass includes a manuscript rating plus comments.
Note: Comments do not include line edits.
For more information on Rate Your Story, Speed Passes or Submission Guidelines, click here:

Friday, September 29, 2017

Writing Guru Katie Davis and a PRIZE from Sharon Chriscoe!

When I first met Katie Davis she bought me a coffee and a cookie. It was a wonderful cup of coffee but the cookie was plastic. Katie made the coffee shop owner apologize. I never did get a cookie that day. That's exactly what will happen the day I meet Katie Davis! (Look at Katie's picture--she obviously thinks it's funny).

Katie's Brain Burps Podcast was absolutely wonderful (I'm sorry to see it go!) You can listen to old podcasts here! Her new podcast Writing for Children is here! Katie and her husband have taken over the Institute for Writers and the Institute of Children's Literature! Her book Kindergarten Rocks is the book in the photo. Katie is one of the organizers of the Picture Book Summit and awesome at-home writer's conference. Today is the last day to sign up! Hopefully I've done a good job of sharing this elsewhere, so if you are joining you aren't doing this in a rush! You can also sign up for their free Top 10 Tips download here:

Look for a PRIZE at the end of this post!


Dani: What is the most important thing you learned from hosting the Brain Burps Podcast?

Katie: Maybe not surprisingly, the most important thing I learned is related to writing on a regular basis. How? Muscle memory. Sitting down week after week to record the show made me better and better. Same goes for writing. Keep at it, keep doing it, every day, week after week, and you'll improve. Gotta get that butt in the chair!

Dani: How did you get involved with the Institute of Writers/ Institute of Children's Literature?

Katie: I was on faculty at a Highlights Founders Workshop and heard it was closing after almost 50 years of teaching. I know so many writers who learned through the school and subsequently got published, I thought it was a tragedy for it to close! I talked to my husband about it, and we set out to learn more. The thing that pushed us over the edge into taking it over is that there is no other writing school like it out there, even though there are so many now. You get a one-to-one instructor (like having your own editor!), and the content-rich courses are approved by the Office of Higher Education, and you can get college credits.

Dani: What are some of the things that those involved in kidlit should know?

Katie: Take your craft seriously. Make sure that people from whom you're learning really know their stuff, and have legit street cred. Stick with it if you love it. Read, read, read traditionally published books, especially in the genre in which you want to publish - whether you plan on traditional or self-publishing.

Dani:  How have all the things you do inform your own work?

Katie: Everything gives me ideas. I read an article in the NYT about an Irish road crew who refused to take down a tree in order to build the road because the tree was rumored to be a fairy lair. I wrote The Curse of Addy McMahon, a middle grade novel about a girl who blames all her bad luck on an Irish grandad who may have done just that. When my daughter graduated kindergarten she said, "Kindergarten rocks!" And that sparked my biggest selling picture book, Kindergarten Rocks! I am a complete dentalphobe (!), so I wrote Mabel the Tooth Fairy and How She Got Her Job.You just need to keep your mind open to everything you do. What's in the world around you? What impassions you?

Dani: Tell us a little bit about the Picture Book Summit that's coming up.

Katie: If you want to write, or are writing picture books, you are not going to want to miss this. It's going to be amazing!

If you attend you'll get the opportunity to submit to a bunch of the agents and editors who have participated in our pre-recorded interviews. I love these sessions because although editors and agents have different questions from each other, we ask the same questions to each group, so you get to hear many different takes on the same issue.

We have the best of the best: legendary author/illustrator Tomie dePaola (talk about your life informing your work!), the New York Times best-selling author Carole Boston Weatherford, whose book's have received three Caldecott Honor Medals, multiple Coretta Scott King awards and honors, two NAACP Image Awards...I could go on. And for our wrap-up keynote, Adam Rex, whose bio sends me into giggles every time: "Adam Rex wrote and/or illustrated all the books you like including the New York Times bestselling Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, the New York Times bestselling School’s First Day of School, and also a number of titles about which the New York Times has been strangely coy."

We also have workshops, and our unique, oddball feature, we dance––it IS an all-day, online conference so we decided to make it fun and get everyone moving during breaks. Yes, it's all online! That's one of the key things about Picture Book Summit. It's a jam-packed, one day conference (always the first Saturday in October). No planes to take, hotel stays, and no rubber chicken meals in order to attend.

I feel so, so lucky to be in this business. You need to work hard, study, and not give up. Persistence is key, and a thick skin. Revision, passion, and love of the written word will take you through rejections and the harder days ... at least it has for me. (That, and those dark chocolate covered caramels with sea salt––but that's a whole other story.) Whether you come to Picture Book Summit, attend the Institute of Children's Literature, or learn on your own, study the craft. Work hard at it. It's worth it.

Dani: Do you have any other words of wisdom to share?

Katie: Whether you come to Picture Book Summit, attend the Institute of Children's Literature, or learn on your own, study the craft. Work hard at it. It's worth it. Remember you've chosen a tough but lovely business to be in. Oh, yes. It's a business, please do remember that, too-lots of folks seem to forget since it's so much fun.  

Follow Katie:




One lucky winner will win An Autographed Copy of "Race Car Dreams" illustrated by Dave Mottram and written by Sharon Chriscoe and Swag! Sharon Chriscoe donated this prize!  Visit Sharon's Website here:

To win this prize you must have completed your dummy this month.

Let Katie know how much you liked her post below, and let Sharon Chriscoe know how much you love her prize!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Evelyn B. Christensen, Lady of Logic and a PRIZE!

I absolutely adore Evelyn B. Christensen's work. One thing you may not know about me is that I was homeschooled. Evelyn's books are the kind I wish I had to learn from when I was young. She has a wonderful gift in making learning fun! Be sure to check out Evelyn's webpage for sample puzzles you can print and solve also be sure to visit her store at this link: ( to see all of the lovely books Evelyn has created!

Be sure to check the end of this post for a PRIZE!


Hi to all you wonderful illustrators! I’ll admit I was a little intimidated by Dani’s request that I provide a post for Smart Dummies. I don’t claim to be an illustrator and am in awe of those of you who are.

A bit about my background. A former teacher, I love to create resources to make learning fun. I’ve authored, or co-authored, forty-four puzzle books published by educational publishers. I actually did create the drawings for eight of those. But my illustrations were just simple line drawings, without color or background, so I still don’t consider myself an illustrator. I also have created the covers, and any needed illustrations, for the puzzle books I’ve self-published on Teachers Pay Teachers.

I’ve had one picture book published, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky, by Sterling Children’s Books. Kent Culotta was the illustrator for it and I think he did a great job. I’m sure that illustrators appreciate the fact that, in general, authors don’t get to have any input in the illustration process. However, this book, although it’s fiction, is intended to provide information about Kentucky. Since Kent didn’t live in Kentucky, my editor wanted me to check his sketches and his final art for accuracy. I tried to stick to just factual feedback. I did say, in an aside to my editor, that I wasn’t a fan of Kent’s noses, but that I understood that was his artistic style and I wasn’t suggesting that they ask him to change it. I’m just saying this to remind you that, no matter how wonderful your art is, not everybody is going to like every aspect of it. People simply have different tastes. So if you’ve not gotten positive responses from agents or editors, don’t get discouraged. Maybe your style just isn’t the style for those particular agents and editors. Please keep trying.

I do want to mention a couple of publication avenues you may want to consider, if you haven’t already.

  • Educational publishers. Many authors and illustrators have found that it’s easier to break into publishing with the education market than with the trade market. These are usually work-for-hire contracts. Some pay better than others. Once you get in with a publisher, they may offer you repeat assignments. If you’re interested in this type of work, I maintain a list on my website of Educational Markets.
  • Children’s magazines. These will generally not pay as well as books, but if you’re unpublished, this can be a way to build your resume. Also, if you’re wanting to reach children with your work, some magazines have a bigger readership than you’ll get with some picture books. If you’re interested in illustrating for children’s magazines, I offer a free ezine, published quarterly, on my website and maintain a list of children’s magazines with links to their submission guidelines.

A bit more about my own illustration journey. Recently, I decided that I wanted to self-publish one of my picture books for my grandchildren. Since I obviously wanted to do more than simple black and white line drawings, I signed up for a graphics design course. (In Kentucky you can take free university courses when you reach 65. Yay!) It turned out my instructor was the grown-up kid who’d lived next door to us when my kids were little. Yay! Since I was auditing the course, he let me work on whatever project I wanted, which, of course, was illustrating my picture book. I’m not quite finished with my project, but what working on it has taught me is that illustrating picture books is not easy. My respect for all of you who do it has grown tremendously!

Dani asked if I could donate a prize. I’m offering to two lucky people the choice of any of my books on my Teachers Pay Teachers site. Many of the books posted there were originally published by traditional publishers, but had gone out of print. When the winners let me know their choice, I’ll email them a pdf file of the book. (So, you’ll need to have the ability to open a pdf file on your computer.)

Best wishes with your Smart Dummies challenge!


Follow Evelyn:




Evelyn is giving away one (your choice) of the puzzle books and resources she have posted on Evelyn's Teachers Pay Teachers site! She'll send you a .pdf of the book of your choice --

To win this prize you must:

Comment below and tell Evelyn how much you like her post! 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Betsy Bird's "How My Jobs Have Influenced My Own Writing"

Betsy Bird is such a character. Her blog is a lot of fun and has so much great kidlit information. She also does everything with a bit of humor. And sometimes she You can visit her blog here:      If reading is too much for you (ha, ha) then you can watch her at fuse8 tv here: If you can't bother to watch something you can also listen to her podcast (with Kate) here: If you can't be bothered to even listen then go to bed. You are tired and I don't want any grumpy people to read my blog. 😜

Betsy also has books. "Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever." just came out back in May. It was written by various authors and edited by our very own Betsy Bird.  "Wild Things: Acts of Michief in Children's Literature" by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta. "Giant Dance Party" Illustrated by Brandon Dorman

How My Jobs Have Influenced My Own Writing
By Betsy Bird

My daughter is six. She is wise in the ways of the world (or so she tells me). Still, I’m grateful that once in a while she’ll ask for some clarification on a point or two. The other day she sat me down and wanted to know precisely what my chosen profession was when I was her age.

“Honestly,” I said, “I wanted to be a writer.”

“And now you are,” she said with a smile. It was so strange how she put it, and something about the ease with which she summed up my life made me want to qualify everything.

“Yes . . . but I wasn’t for a long time.” I explained that I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid but when I got older I honestly thought it wasn’t a practical profession. How do you pay the water bill as a writer? The gas bill? The electric? It wasn’t that I didn’t know writers who made a living that way. My own aunt penned YA literature before there even was a YA literary market, after all. I just had a hard time conceiving it as a reality. So I put that dream aside. Buried it deep. Let it rest.

And to a certain extent, I credit my drive to hold onto the jobs I have now to that rest period. If I’d spent my college career obsessed with being the Next Great American Novelist I would have driven myself mad. Instead, by letting my dream slumber and snore, my desire to write had to emerge in other ways. I started blogging, sometimes daily, to get my voice out into the world. I modeled my reviews on those in the New York Times, later getting the chance to write a couple for the Times myself. I wrote blog posts for my workplaces and penned articles for periodicals.

But I still got a normal 9 to 5 job. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably the thing that influenced my writing the most. As a children’s librarian I found myself with a front row seat to the most fascinating show in the world: children’s opinions. Do enough preschool storytimes and work enough children’s reference desks and you’ll begin to understand children’s books in entirely new ways. There is no substitute for dealing directly with children.

I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if it weren’t for those jobs that actually make me money. I’ve been fantastically lucky in my chosen professions. Thanks to them, I’ll never run out of ideas, never run out of inspiration, never run out of new things to try. My answer when people ask me to explain how my jobs have influenced my writing? Without my jobs there wouldn’t be any writing. And that’s a pretty lucky thing to finally realize.


Follow Betsy:

Fuse TV:

Smart Tip: Use your remaining days to polish your drafts up a bit. Erase stray lines, or use a light board to re-draw the image.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Juana "La Princesa" Martinez-Neal and a PRIZE!

When I was looking at Juana's portfolio/webpage I keep thinking "I have seen this woman's work before, but where?" I looked at my copy of the 2013 September/October SCBWI Bulletin and I remembered! It's like looking back at a now famous actor that played a bit role in a movie you loved. Not that Juana has ever had a bit role. She was actually born with the drawing of that Bulletin cover in her hands. I guess some people are just destined for greatness!

"La Madre Goose: Nursery Rhymes for los Ninos" Written by Susan Middleton Elya. Her newest book "La Princesa and the Pea" (also by Susan) just came out on September 5th!


Dani: Your work for "La Princesa and the Pea" is beautiful. Was it tough coming up with a fresh look for an old tale?

Juana: I don’t think it was difficult but I wanted to create something different and mine, so I spent a lot of time thinking before I got started sketching.

As soon as I know I will be working on a manuscript, I immediately start trying to figure out how I will make this particular project unique and different. I can spend weeks or months thinking on and off. Some ideas will come and I will discard them fast. Some will stay in my head, and I will keep polishing them until I feel ready because that’s the way I will approach that particular book.

I have no doubts that I overthink my approach for each book.

Dani: What or who inspires you to create such vibrant colors and lively characters?

Juana: I love indigenous clothing and weavings from Peru. I do because my parents did, too. I grew up surrounded by them. I think their colors come to me subconsciously when I work.

“La Princesa and the Pea” is especially colorful because I was inspired by the people from the village of Huilloq in Cusco (Southern Peru). I love that area because of the location, the size of the population, and their clothing which use lots of rich reds and oranges with intricate weaved patterns and designs.

On the book, la Reina and el Príncipe are inspired on the people from Huilloq, while la Princesa was inspired on the people from the Colca Canyon in Arequipa. Colors, materials and patterns are very different for both groups. I thought the contrast would give attractive patterns to the book.

When it comes to characters and their personalities, I try to make each person I draw someone who I know in real life. By doing that, I can foresee what type of reaction or expression he or she would have under certain circumstances because I know them.

Dani: Are there any big challenges you have as an illustrator?

Juana: I think the biggest challenges are the ones we give ourselves. My biggest challenge is trying to make each book mine and different from the previous ones. It does pay off once we get to hold the books in our hands and share them with others.

Dani:What's it like writing (and illustrating) your own book after illustrating other people's stories?

Juana: I feel it is easier to work on my own books, and that it is not at the same time.

I love the freedom and the possibilities that come with having a book that is completely mine. At the same time, I could struggle with too many choices and possibilities. Luckily I have a great critique partner, an agent, and a wonderful editor to help me along the way. That was the case when I was working on “Alma and How She Got Her Name/Alma y cómo obtuvo su hombre” (Candlewick Press).The book will be released on April 10, 2018. I can not wait until the book is out, and I hear from readers!

You can see a short Q&A about “Alma” and the exclusive cover reveal at this post at All The Wonders -

Dani: Do you have any trade secrets you can share with us?

Experiment! I think that’s the only way to stay excited, and look forward to working on a new piece or book. Try different techniques, get lost in the process, get frustrated when things are not quite like you thought they would look, but keep going. Give yourself a pat on the back for trying this new way of expressing yourself, incorporate that in your technique. And once you are happy with what you have, start experimenting again! Be fearless!

Follow Juana:

Twitter: @juanamartinez
Instagram: @juanamartinezn



Juana is giving one lucky winner a copy of "La Princesa and the Pea"
written by Susan Middleton Elya.

If you want to win this book just comment on the post below!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Kitty Cat Lover Shearry Malone

Shearry Malone is a self proclaimed kitty cat lover. I can't help but instantly like someone who loves cats! I heard about Shearry from Tara Lazar's blog you can read her awesome story here: After reading the article I HAD to see her website (you should check it out too). Shearry creates such adorably fun images. These cute little hamsters are new images!

The two Alfie books Shearry has illustrated come out soon. You can pre-order "Absolutely Alfie and the Furry Purry Secret" and "Absolutely Alfie and the First Week Friends" written by Sally Warner, now!


Dani: Who is your hero?

Shearry: My hero would have to be my grandfather. Luke Shearry. I was named after him and he was a much beloved man. He had a long career as a minister but also had a creative side, working with his hands, building and remodeling homes. He was a constant source of support for me personally and artistically, always full of wise grandfatherly advice and also purchased a few of my early paintings (which I would've gladly given free of charge). To me, a hero is a true role model in your life and he was always a glowing example of that in mine.

Dani: How was the submission process for Absolutely Alphie? Did you have specific passages you needed to illustrate, or did you read the story and choose what to illustrate?

Shearry: For Absolutely Alfie, I was sent an initial manuscript, that may or may not have been the final fully edited version. I read through it and tried to come up with a few good cover ideas first. The cover images are always the first hurdle. After that, I tend to re-read the manuscript more thoroughly and decide for myself which images to draw that best sum up the gist of each chapter. Those rough drafts are sent over for review and eventually, descriptive notes about what should stay and what should go arrive and the cycle repeats until everyone is happy!

Dani: I hear a lot of great things about the CATugeau Artist Agency, but why did you choose that agency in particular?

Shearry: Choosing The CATugeau Artist Agency wound up being a really easy decision for me. I had a couple of offers for representation when I started out, and while they all seemed like wonderful agencies, they all felt a bit too large and impersonal for me. I was concerned with being lost in the shuffle. CATugeau not only felt warmer to me, but also came with extremely experienced and well connected agents. After just a few short conversations, I felt right at home and like I could ask a million questions, which I had at the time, without feeling like such a rookie. It's been a wonderful choice so far.

Dani: What is the hardest thing for you being an illustrator?

Shearry: The hardest thing for me being an illustrator has been getting images out of my head and onto actual paper. I get bogged down, overthinking how I want a finalized image to look, and realize that I haven't even put pen to paper! What I've learned to do is to scribble down whatever pops in there and stop expecting perfection in the rough draft phase! I think of it like taking a test in school. If you get stumped on a question, make a note of it and finish answering everything else! I'm always surprised how many of those scribbles turn into finalized pieces in the end!

Dani: Do you have any advice for those working on their dummies this month?

Shearry: I would advise that you really stick with whatever your God-given style/palette is. Don't follow trends and the right art director and project will find you. I'd also say that it's important to have a website displaying more of your work, not a tumblr etc, but an actual website if you haven't taken that step. It shows that you're taking your craft seriously and are willing to put a little money behind it. If an AD likes your dummy, they may want to see more and you want to have that readily available for them! Other than that, just keep going and believing in yourself! I didn't get my foot in the door until my mid 30's, so it's never too late to achieve your dreams!


Follow Shearry:

Shearry's Agent CATugeau:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Traci Van Wagoner "Draw What You Know and Know More by Drawing" and a PRIZE from Bryony Supper

Traci Van Wagoner's work is absolutely amazing. Her work isn't beautiful just by chance. Traci spends a lot of time researching her subjects before drawing. Recently Traci has spent a lot of her time researching the illustrations she's creating for "Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life" written by Joan Schoettler. Like Traci, Ruth's art is amazing. I can't wait to see what happens when you put the two of these artists together!

Traci has so many books she's illustrated since I first had her on my blog. She's been part of a whole series of books: "Booker T. Bear Let’s Go Series" Presented by The Library Store, written by Jen Miller, and illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner and Kurt Keller. Her newest book: Rest in Peace RaShawnWritten by Ronnie Sidney II came out in April 2017!

Draw What You Know and Know More by Drawing
By Traci Van Wagoner
All writers hear over and over, write what you know. The same goes for illustrators. And here’s a fine conundrum for you:

Draw what you know not just what you see, but to truly know something, you've got to draw it.

That's where research comes in. If any of you are like me, you’re going, “ugh, not research. I just want to draw.”

I’ve always been like, I don’t want to have to be tied down to reference and research. I want to draw things from of my imagination. Great. But I couldn’t do that when I first started drawing. I didn’t know enough. Until you’ve drawn enough things, places, people, kids, animals, settings, lighting, shadows, and whatever else you want to include in your art, you need to do some reference research, then draw from that reference AND from real life until you know what you’re drawing inside-out and upside-down. Draw the same object or setting in a variety of lighting and conditions, from a bird’s eye view, from a worm’s eye view until you know it.

“First you draw what you see. Next, you draw what you know, and only then will you know what it is that you see.”

~ Robert Beverly Hale

I had an illustrator teacher at Utah State University who told us (in a loud voice) during critiques (this happened often) that you can’t just draw what you see, ‘I copied it from my scrap,’ is not a good enough excuse. He’d then tear the piece off the wall and stomp on it. Yep, true story. If you copy exactly from scrap/reference, it won’t look right, cameras change things — wide angle lenses, things get distorted etc. If you know what you’re drawing you can use piece of reference as a starting point to inspire your imagination and draw something uniquely yours.

Once you know what you’re seeing (in reality or imagination), all the research becomes worth it and you get to have fun. This is when you’ll be able to add your own flair and style and really bring your story to life and produce something that will create an emotional response in your viewers.

And talk about emotional responses, I’m gone-to the-moon happy to have google and other online searching capabilities. Every day I thank the digital miracle workers who brought us the digital research age. It is much, much easier than the days of trekking to the library and drawing from books there, checking books out and carrying huge stacks home, making photocopies, subscribing to all kinds of magazines, and clipping out images and putting them into file cabinets of labeled reference. Tons and tons of that. All pretty much pointless now. But I digress…

With every project I finish, I’ve drawn many more things that I now know and will be able to draw easier in the future and thus be able to coax those images out of my imagination. Now I can often times, especially on my own projects which are not so tied to reality and painting realistically, solidify a scene in my head much easier and more fully. When I finally put pencil to paper, or finger to painting in Procreate on my iPad, I have an image pretty much fully formed in my head, so I know what I’m drawing.

The moral of the story, draw, draw, draw, until you know everything you want to draw. And then do some more research, looking, examining, noticing, and drawing. Every detail of the world can bring delight when you draw it and get to know it.

And one last thing to remember, there’s research and then there’s wasting time. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in procrastination, but the only way to get a dummy book done is to put in the hard work. When you realize that you’re mostly looking at pretty pictures and cool artwork created by others, because we all know Pinterest and scrolling can be hypnotic, then shut out the digital world, put your butt in the chair, and get to drawing.

Good luck and have fun drawing… and researching.


Check out my pinterest page ( to see some of the reference research I did for my latest picture book for Pelican Publishing, Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life written by Joan Schoettler for which I just finished the sketches. The book will come out next fall.-----

Follow Traci:

Connect with me online:
Instagram: TraciVWCreations
Twitter: @TraciVanWagoner
Blog: Celebrate the Little Things -



One lucy winner will win copy of "The Inventing Tubes" written by Bryony Supper and illustrated by Julian Bray!

To win this prize:

Let Traci know how much you liked her post and thank Bryony for the chance to win her book!

Bryony Supper
Twitter: @ThePastaKidz

Spaga Spoodle Spo, we're the new Pasta Kidz on the block! Check out our new book, coming from @matadorbooks on 28th November 2016.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Color Commander Shawna Tenney and a PRIZE!

My first visit to Shawna Tenney's website was amazing. I never thought there could be so much color in one little webpage. (I know I've said before that I love bright colors.) Shawna packs so much color and whimsy in her illustrations that you may think that she's magic. To set the record straight: Shawna Tenney is magic. As are all the wonderful professionals that join Smart Dummies (it's a requirement). Shawna is here today to share some of her magic wisdom with all of us!

Of course you could get Shawna's book Brunhilda's Backward's Day from any bookstore, but why not get a signed copy! You can also get "Rosie the Reindeer" written by Chantell Taylor before Christmas! 

I’m excited to be part of the Smart Dummies line up this year! Good luck to you all in your dummy book making endeavors this month!


Dani: What are some of the things you do in the planning stages to create a good composition?

Shawna: I spend a lot of time thinking about the story first, and where I want the main focus of the illustration to be. Then I gather some reference and start making thumbnail drawings.

When I create my thumbnail drawings, I think a lot about how I can use lines, values, color, “camera angles” and texture to draw attention to the main focus of the story in the illustration.

If I am creating a whole dummy book, I have to think about how the whole book will work together. The best way to do this is to lay out the entire book in thumbnail drawings and create a storyboard. I try to vary my illustrations using spots, full pages and full spread illustrations. I need to make sure that the illustrations work in harmony with each other and that they are not fighting against each other.

Dani: The color in your images are quite striking. How did you learn so much about how to use color?

Shawna: Thank you so much! I have always loved color.

My knowledge of color comes from many different sources- my college color theory and oil painting classes, an online color theory class, reading books such as Color and Light by James Gurney and by simply observing other artist’s work. I still feel like there is so much more to learn! But I think it really helped me to learn how to mix colors with traditional paint before learning to paint digitally.

Dani:  You use a lot of digital illustration for your illustrations. What's something that illustrators should keep in mind when using (or first trying) this medium?

Black and White
Shawna: I think it’s important for people to learn how to paint with traditional paint, such as watercolors, gouache, acrylics and/or oil paints first before learning digital painting. Painting traditionally teaches you so much about brush strokes, textures, mixing paints, and how traditional paints vary in hue. This knowledge will help you make better decisions when painting digitally.

Another thing that I think is important for a digital beginners to remember is to be patient with yourself. There is so much to learn about digital painting. If you feel like you don’t know very much, just start anyway. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I started painting digitally after I asked my friend to teach me a few tricks. But it took me many years to learn all the tricks I know now.

Dani: I saw your Maquette Process on your website. How important is this to your illustration process?

Color Study 1
Color Study 2
Shawna: I use a maquette sometimes if I want to see a character or an object all the way around. It really helped me in my book Brunhilda’s Backwards Day when I needed to see my characters in different angles. It also made a little model of Brunhilda’s house, and that helped me draw it from above. This same sort of thing can be done on Google SketchUp. I don’t use maquettes a lot in my process, but when I take the time to make one, it is very helpful.

Dani: What's one thing you would have wanted to know when you first started creating dummies?

Shawna: It’s a great feeling when you work through all those sketches and finish your dummy book. But just because all the sketches are done, it doesn’t mean your dummy book is ready to send to an editor. You are probably still going to have to make many revisions, and maybe even make several dummy books before you are ready to show your dummy book to an editors. It will be hard, and it will be a long process. But it’s important to enjoy the process, and be patient, and keep working until you get it right. It’s also important to try and work out things in the writing/revising and storyboard stages first if you can. It could save you a lot of time and trouble.

Follow Shawna:




One lucky winner will win a copy of "Brunhilda's Backwards Day"! 

In order to win this prize you must:

Comment on this post and tell Shawna how much you liked her interview.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Winged Wizard Elizabeth Rose Stanton and a PRIZE!

Elizabeth Rose Stanton's work merges beautiful delicate lines with soft, warm, colors. The kinds of characters she creates remind me of cute stuffed animals children cuddle with in bed. Her work in watercolor is absolutely lovely, though she says she hadn't worked in watercolor before her books. Though only two books in, Elizabeth already is making a big name for herself!

Elizabeth's first book "Henny"was released in 2014 and has created a lot of buzz. "Peddles" was just released last year. "Bub" is set to release in January 2018.


Dani: How did you develop your current style of illustration?

First watercolor sketch idea for Henny and her mom

Elizabeth: The “short” answer is that I have been developing my art and working on techniques all along, starting with having been trained as an architect (before computers), and working variously as a portrait and fine artist. All roads, over time, have led to building picture books!

Final painting for Henny and her mom.
The “long” answer is that I actually backed into it! Historically, I worked in pen and ink, gouache, and pastel. But when my art director at Simon & Schuster for Henny asked for a quick sketch to get an idea of color (since the book dummy had been in pencil), for some inexplicable reason I decided to use pencil and watercolor. They loved it! So I felt I had to commit, even though I hadn’t really worked to any degree in traditional watercolor. I have grown inordinately fond of it and I think it’s been a good match up for my stories.

From Henny (Simon & Schuster 2014)

Dani: Which is harder for you, writing or illustration?

Elizabeth: If you ask me this when I’m writing, I will tell you it’s writing. If you ask me when I’m illustrating, I will tell you it’s illustrating. That said, along the way I have had fun with both. I do love wordplay, and when the art is finally done it’s very satisfying.

This spread from Peddles was the most fun I’ve had so far with watercolor. Painting these cowboy boots was a hoot!

From Peddles (Simon & Schuster 2016)

But that’s not to say there aren’t frustrations and challenges. I must have painted ten “starry skies” to get a match up for these consecutive spreads for Peddles:

From Peddles (Simon & Schuster 2016)

From Peddles (Simon & Schuster 2016)

Dani: How do you believe being both a writer and illustrator has influenced your career?

Bub (Simon & Schuster, January 16, 2018)
Elizabeth: I am a late bloomer when it comes to picture books. I have had other careers, and they all have centered on drawing and art. I have a solid liberal arts undergraduate education, and I started out professionally an architect before a segue over to fine art and portraiture while I was raising my kids . . . so all of these things have, in fact, influenced my career as an author and illustrator.

What I know now, though, is if I hadn’t begun this whole adventure with an eye on illustration, I don’t think I would be writing picture books. Wanting to illustrate led me directly to writing for children!

Dani: Do you have any advice for discouraged pre-published people that both write and illustrate?

Elizabeth: Obviously, keep at it! But I also think there is something to be said for not forcing it. Try not to have expectations. We all have advantages and disadvantages, and we all have life experiences that steer us along our roads to storytelling. Put your best out there, but don’t stress too much about it along the way. Don’t give up, and know that if it’s meant to happen, it will. Even if I hadn’t become published, I still think I would be at it. This quote pretty much sums it up for me:

Dani:  Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Elizabeth: Thank you for asking!

My next picture book, BUB will be released this coming January, and is up for pre-order now. And there’s another in the pipeline! Cowie is slated for an early 2020 release, both with Simon & Schuster (Paula Wiseman Books).

Thanks for having me, Dani!

Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Elizabeth Rose Stanton began her picture book writing and illustrating adventure a few years ago, after a brief career as an architect, and long career as a parent and fine artist. Her debut book, Henny, received an ALA Booklist star, and was named as one of the best books of 2014 for children by The New York Public Library. The School Library Journal called her second book, Peddles, “quietly wonderful,” and the illustrations, “a thing of beauty.” Her next picture book, Bub, will be released in January 2018. Elizabeth grew up New York and now lives in Seattle with her husband and a trio of Scottish Fold cats.

Elizabeth is represented by Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary and Media

Follow Elizabeth:



Twitter: @ElizRoseStanton

Instagram: @elizabethrosestanton




One lucky winner will win 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).

In order to win this prize you must..

- Finish your dummy this month!

- Let Elizabeth know how much you liked her post below!