Sunday, June 30, 2013

COSCBWI Meeting June 2013: Liz Coley Author Visit

This month’s COSCBWI meeting featured YA author, Liz Coley.  Liz’s novel, Pretty Girl 13, was just released in March 2013.  Like many other authors, Liz’s path to publication was no walk in the park, and she started writing in 2000 before earning her first book deal in 2011.  Liz loves sharing her writing knowledge, and she has a great four-step cycle to help writers make their work shine before submission.

Some of the points she discussed included:

1) Story
-Does you story start and end well?  Does your first page and chapter hook the reader, and is the end satisfying?  Is there a strong story arc?  If your answer is "no" to any of these questions, you may need to work on your plot and characterization to tell the story in a more effective way.

2) Color
-Did you use enough words to paint your story?  Once the plot is solid, you need to make sure your writing is interesting and engaging.  You don’t want your story to be a laundry list of plot points.  (For example: Joey went to the store to buy eggs.  He forgot his money.  A nice lady offered to buy them for him.  Joey was happy.  The end.  BORING!)

-Look for places where you can integrate descriptions (people, places, etc.), and add in dialogue tags and beats that will bring life to your writing.

3) Texture
-Now that you have enough words, did you use the best ones?

-Check for any overuse of adverbs (sadly, happily, angrily, etc.), and replace with stronger verbs.  (“She said meanly,” can be rewritten as, “She growled/snarled/snapped/etc.”)

-Cut your “waffle words”—those non-committal words that make writing weak.  These include words like almost, nearly, tried, began, etc.  (For example, “She began to walk,” can just be, “She walked.”)

-Don't forget to check for any other words you may overuse.  (I'm often guilty of overusing "looked!")

4)  Mechanics
-Now that your writing shines, did you get the grammar, spelling, and punctuation right?  (You don’t want to send any work to agents or editors that is full of mistakes!)

-If you aren’t skilled at self-editing, ask a trusted friend or colleague to proofread it.  Reading your work out loud will also help you catch more errors.

Liz said that once you complete this cycle, your work should be squeaky clean!  But sometimes, changing your work during one step (like the story) can result in other changes that you’ll need to make to your manuscript.  Don’t be afraid to wash, rinse, and repeat this cycle!

After Liz’s presentation, she answered group questions and talked a bit about her writing process.  (She also showed the collection of foreign book covers for Pretty Girl 13.  They were fascinating!)  Now, the group members are ready to get back to their manuscripts and apply Liz’s revision cycle!  

You can find out more about Liz and her books at  If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, you can check out the website at or “like” the group on Facebook.  I hope to see you at the July meeting!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Artistic Experiment

This is just something goofy that I wanted to share with you.  Remember the sand pony I posted a few days ago from my trip to Hilton Head?

Well, my first week back in town has been rather chaotic due to several things that are beyond my control.  I've been feeling stressed, and happened to have that pony piece up in Photoshop.  Ponies make me happy, so I started tweaking it.  After a few minutes, I thought, "Hmmm...I wonder how this would look with color?"  And the next thing I knew...


I had Twilight Sparkle at the beach!

Now, I know her anatomy is wonky and the style is all wrong (I did scribble this in the sand, after all), but I think this is hooves-down the most fun I've ever had with an art piece.  It's simple and silly and rough around the edges, but I rather like the end result of this combination of mediums.  (And since it wasn't planned and nit-picked to death, I ended more relaxed than when I'd started!)

But the biggest surprise of all was that the piece just felt like me.

I honestly hadn't set out to achieve anything with that original sand scribble, but now I feel like I've stumbled on something kind of cool.  Unfortunately, Ohio isn't the ideal place for pursuing a beach-based medium, but I think I'd like to keep exploring this technique in the future.  If nothing else, at least it'll bring a smile to my face.  :)

So what do you think?  Is this a neat, new style, or does it look like something a five-year-old made?  (I suppose my inner child will be pleased with either answer!)

Now, I just wish I'd thought to make more sand doodles while I was still at the beach!

Note: Twilight Sparkle and My Little Pony are (c) Hasbro.  The photograph and art were done by me.  And yes, I think the "Friendship is Magic" series is delightful. You should watch it. ;)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Back from the Beach!

After a week of fun in the sun, I am back home in Ohio!  (And just a wee bit crispy.)  I had a nice, relaxing time in Hilton Head and thoroughly enjoyed walking along the beach and watching the waves.  (We even saw a few dolphins off shore!)


Highlights of the week included eating the best baby back ribs EVER, slurping delicious gelato, nomming on peanut butter fudge, and gorging myself on a pirate buffet.  (Um, the food may have been my favorite part of the trip!)

Of course, no beach vacation is complete without some sand pictures!  While the sand wasn't ideal for scribbling, I did draw a bubbly seahorse...


...and my favorite cartoon pony!

My little little pony...

Now, I'm all rested and ready to get back to blogging!  (Although I certainly wouldn't mind eating another pirate buffet...)

Note: All art and photos are (c) me, Kathryn Powers.  Twilight Sparkle (the pony) is (c) Hasbro.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Beach Bound!

Hooray for summer!  I loooooove this season, and am one of those weird people whose happiness goes up with the heat index.  While I adore the sun, the flowers, and the fact that I don't have to wear earmuffs anymore, summer is especially awesome because it's the official vacation season!
That being said, I'm off to Hilton Head for the next week!  (Woohoo!)  
I'm very excited to exchange my office and computer screen for an ocean view and flip flops.  (I'm also excited to sit my butt down and relax for once!)  And since five of us will be crammed into a Honda CRV the whole way there, I just won't have room to take my laptop and "To Do" list with me!  Oh, darn...  ;) 
I hope you all have a nice week, and I'll see you when I'm happily sunburned!
Note:  The sand pic was drawn and photographed by me, Kathryn Powers.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

COSCBWI June 2013 Illustrator Meeting: Postcards Part IV

This month's COSCBWI Illustrator Meeting was both informative AND fun!  The meeting started with group critiques of WIP and finished postcard pieces.  (If you're just tuning in to the COSCBWI postcard project, you can find summaries on the multi-month process here, here, and here, as well as my own final project here.)  It was so wonderful to see how everyone's pieces are coming along!  The group has such a wide variety of talents, and all the illustrations are so unique and beautiful.  (I must say, it's been quite inspiring to see the different artistic processes of everyone over the past few months, too!)
As we wrap up this project, Illustrator Coordinator, Nikki Boetger, introduced the group to a new project: the COSCBWI Member Exhibition!  The premise of this exhibition is to have both COSCBWI illustrators AND writers create works interpreting the theme of, "Open a Book to Find the Road Less Traveled."  It's also a collaborative project.  Artists will first create an illustration, which will be posted online for all members to see.  The writers will then choose one of the illustrations and write either a brief story OR jacket copy for it.  The illustrations and writing pieces will be displayed at Amy Clark Photography Studio on November 2, 2013, for the Gallery Hop in the Short North, and then move to a second gallery exhibition in January 2014 at Ohio University Lancaster.  (More information will be given on this exciting project at the upcoming COSCBWI meeting on June 26, or you can check out the flier below!)  
With this announcement, COSCBWI illustrators can now start brainstorming and sketching their ideas for the gallery project as they complete their illustrator postcards!  Nikki asked for members to bring their finished postcards to the next meeting, as well as postcard mailing lists AND questions/ideas for the gallery project!  (The gallery pieces are due for illustrators on August 5, so we better get sketching!)
The meeting wasn't all business, though!  While Nikki talked about the gallery, we did a fun rapid-sketch activity.  Nikki passed out short prompts and gave everyone 30 minutes for drawing.  Each sentence entailed the writing elements illustrators face when considering a page of a writer's manuscript.  (Mainly a noun, verb, adjective, and tone.)  My prompt was, "Way up high atop the sailboat mast is the pirate's grim flag."
Tentacles says, "Arg!"
I just couldn't help drawing Tentacles from my own middle grade manuscript, Pirate Ferret!  (The prompt was too perfect!)  Everyone's sketches were just adorable, and the room was filled with laughter at the silly prompts and different interpretations.
You can find out more about COSCBWI at  The next Illustrator Meeting will be on July 10.  Be sure to bring your finished postcard AND gallery piece ideas!  I hope to see you there!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Slow and Steady...

Today I get to show you what I've been working on for the past few months...
My COSCBWI Postcard!
If you've been following my posts on the monthly COSCBWI Illustrator Meetings, then you'll remember that members are currently involved in a project to create illustrator postcards.  (You can find the posts herehere, and here.)  We went through research, sketch, and critique stages to create a final illustration that fit the theme of "Favorite Fables, Fairy Tales, and Nursery Rhymes."  After much thought, planning, and painting, here is my final piece!
As you can see, I chose Aesop's fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare," for my subject.  But you may notice it's very different from the concept sketch I posted in April
And oddly, it's not even the story I was planning on illustrating!  (The cow jumping over the moon was actually my favorite sketch!)
So how did I end up with my final illustration? 
Critique feedback from the other COSCBWI illustrators encouraged me to pursue "The Tortoise and the Hare" sketch based on the movement, expressions, and use of background.  The cow sketch was also encouraged, based on the expression and humor.  This resulted in much fence-sitting on my part for both sketches!  
Shortly after the group critique, I went to the SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference.  While there, I attended the AWESOME "Illustration First Look" session where industry professionals discussed what they look for in art samples.  Some of their most important criteria included expression, movement, uniqueness, and whether the illustration told a story. (And boy did they emphasize the storytelling aspect!)
This made me take a closer look at my sketches and ideas.  Thinking back to my COSCBWI feedback, it was clear "The Tortoise and the Hare" displayed the most elements from that list.  But while the sketch had movement and expression, it wasn't very unique and didn't tell much of a story.  I knew I could do better, so I went back to the drawing board!
And so, I endeavored to put my own spin on the classic fable.  I choose to illustrate the end of the story, leaving the middle part to the viewer's imagination.  Whereas in the true fable, the hare gets over-confident and naps (thus losing the race to the tortoise), this bunny clearly had a bit of an accident due to his recklessness.  (And probably involving a cactus!)  Instead of using his advantage to win the race, this tortoise stops to help the hare.  The grateful hare cheers his new friend on as the tortoise carries them across the finish line together, thus giving my piece the title of "Victory."
This piece was soooooo much fun to create and a great learning experience.  (And it gave me the chance to practice painting my least favorite object: rocks!)   Above all, this project made me really think about what elements go into a true illustration, and how to tell a story with just an image.  I hope I accomplished that with this piece.  I still haven't decided if I'll turn it into a physical postcard to send to agents and publishing houses, but it feels good to have another piece for my portfolio!   
And now you know what's been keeping me busy the past few weeks!  Time to move on to my next illustration project...  (And yes, I may just finish up that little cow piece in the future, too!)
Note: All art pieces in this post are (c) me, Kathryn Powers.  Please do not use them without my permission.  Thank you!