Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween 2014

It's that time of year again: doggy dress-up day!  

In case you've forgotten, my favorite Halloween tradition is cramming my dog, Penny, into a ridiculous costume.  Remember Dragon Penny?  Or Hula Penny?

Well, say hello to...


I seriously have the best dog in the world.  In addition to patiently indulging my need to put googly eyes on top of her head, Penny is a delight on Halloween.  Our trick-or-treat night took place last night, and she was sooooooo excited.

Her tail is a frantically-wagging blur in 90% of the pictures I took and once I got her into her costume, she stood in our kitchen and whined at our front door for at least fifteen minutes.  Since it was "nice" outside (according to my husband; I thought it was freezing), we sat outside with Penny so she could greet everyone.  The neighborhood reactions were the best, from a two-year-old princess who gaped at her like she was a unicorn, to a much-too-old-to-be-trick-or-treating terrifying clown/ape/hobo thing who exclaimed, "Awww!  That's so cute!" and pet her on the head.  And while not everyone guessed that she was a frog, Penny didn't mind being called "Oscar the Grouch" a few times.

Despite the fact that Penny couldn't see (again), this has been her favorite costume by far.  Even my husband thought it was utterly bizarre how excited she'd get every time I went near the outfit all during October.  Apparently, our Cavapoo secretly wishes she was a little green amphibian.

Penny says, "I also wish I could see!  Ribbit!"

Happy Halloween!

I hope you have a fun-filled day brimming with candy, pumpkin lattes, and a never-ending parade of adorable costume-clad pets and kids!   

Monday, October 27, 2014

COSCBWI Meeting October 2014: Chapter Endings

The October COSCBWI Writer Meeting was all about chapter endings.  Writers spend so much time crafting perfect beginnings, but it's equally important to learn how to write engaging endings.  
Regional Advisor, Linda Miller, explained that there are many techniques writers can use to keep readers eagerly turning the page at every chapter ending.  Some of these methods include incorporating cliffhangers, revealing a secret, raising a question, and heightening the action.  It's important to avoid being a tease, though.  No reader wants to face a cliffhanger at the end of EVERY chapter, or have a big action scene constantly sliced in two.  (That's just mean!)  But on the flip side, wrapping up every chapter with a pretty little bow on top is just boring.  (And you don't want your reader ready to catch some zzz's at the end of each chapter!)  The trick is to balance the different tactics across your novel and think about which one complements each scene.  This is where critique partners and beta readers can come in handy, letting you know where they felt inclined to put the book down, and where they inhaled the story and read until 2:00 AM.  Finding the perfect balance can take practice, but it is well worth it to craft a winning manuscript!
Linda also talked about how chapters seem to be getting smaller and smaller all the time.  If you notice a chapter in your own manuscript that seems to be running long, you can spice things up by splitting the scene.  Likewise, if your chapter is too short, you may need to beef it up in order for the reader to feel fulfilled about the scene.  She recommends reading lots of books in your genre and age group to get a feel for common chapter lengths and chapter ending techniques.  What keeps you turning the page when you read a book?  Odds are, the same things that keep you engaged will keep your reader turning pages, too.
Following the presentation, Linda led a group critique where COSCBWI members brought in chapter endings from their own manuscripts.  After reading aloud each sample, we talked about which techniques the writer used and if they could make their ending even more engaging.  It definitely got the wheels of revision turning for everyone!
Lastly, Linda reminded everyone that there will be no COSCBWI Writer or Illustrator meeting at the Tremont Library in November.  Instead, members can take part in a field trip on November 2nd to the Columbus Museum of Art to see, "Imagine!  The Art of the Picture Book."  The exhibit ends in just a few weeks, so this will be one of the last chances to see it.  The tour begins at 1:00 PM.  This event is free and for members only.  Please email to RSVP or ask any questions.  
If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, please visit or "like" the group on Facebook.  I'll be at the museum exhibit this upcoming weekend and hope to see you there!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fall Illustrating Frenzy

After many weeks of hard work, I'm very happy to say that my fall illustrating frenzy is now complete!  It's been a busy art-filled season with a big array of projects.  So here's a rundown of what I've been up to:

Every fall I look forward to attending the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference up in Cleveland.  This is the first year I was brave enough to sign up for both an Illustrator Intensive and a Portfolio Review with an art director.

For the Illustrator Intensive, we were assigned a picture book manuscript and asked to create a double-page spread for any scene that inspired us.  The scene I picked was about a little boy who imagined dinosaurs waiting to walk him to the park.  I've never drawn dinosaurs before and had an absolute blast creating this illustration.  (Especially that little T-Rex guy.   I just want to hug him!)

Preparing my portfolio was a teensy bit stressful, but an awesome learning experience.  I decided to finish a few extra illustrations to round out my art selection, including a silly fruit bat I started back in July as part of my Animal Sketch Project...

...And a black and grey illustration of a sad puppy.

The black and grey puppy was actually inspired by a story I wrote in third grade called Tippy.  It was about a family called the 50's (yes, their last name was a number, and always spelled with an apostrophe "s") and their dog, Tippy, who gets lost then has to find her way back home.  As you can tell, it was pretty epic.  I've wanted to do a "Draw This Again" meme for a while now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.  So, ta-da!

I think I improved just a bit over the past 20 years.  ;)

The art director had a lot of encouraging things to say about both my Illustrator Intensive piece and my portfolio, and his feedback was so helpful.  The conference definitely left me feeling inspired!

My brother-in-law got married the same weekend as the conference, and my new sister-in-law asked me to create some illustrations and signs for their big day.  I created signs for their cake pop table and candy buffet--which were both just as delicious as they sound!

The next project was my illustration for the COSCBWI 2nd Annual Member Exhibition.  The event is in the same vein as last year's (when I drew the piece with the mice and mushrooms), only this time the writers did their portion of the project first.  I was assigned a middle grade jacket copy written by fellow COSCBWI member, Kristy Boyce.  My job was to create a cover illustration to go with her hypothetical novel.  I would love to illustrate my own middle grade manuscripts someday, so this was great practice!

We were asked to first create an illustration without words.

And the second step was to superimpose the title and author credit over our art.

Both versions will hang in the final gallery alongside Kristy's jacket copy.

I've never done a project quite like this before, and I had a great time playing around with fonts and adding my own embellishments.  The focus on a human character also made me really step out of my comfort zone.  Drawing more humans is one area of my portfolio that I've wanted to plump up since I'm much more comfortable drawing fuzzy critters.  My little sister was a huge help, letting me borrow her for a reference photo shoot.  (And she was a good sport, too, posing in full winter-gear in 90 degree weather!)

Following the exhibition piece was a goofy monkey illustration for a conference thank you card.  Finding a printer that won't chew up card stock is driving me bananas, but the bananas themselves were fun to draw!

Lastly, my hubby and I painted our big, fat, stupid deck.  It may look nice at first glance, but don't be fooled; it's ginormous and dumb and poorly crafted, with a bagillion rails and annoying lattice work all along the bottom.  We've spent more time fixing it over the past six years than everything inside our house combined--which explains why all of our canned goods are currently on our counter and not in our broken lazy Susan.   I realize this isn't a real art project, but it took 18+ hours and involved using paintbrushes, so I'm counting it.

Next time it needs repairs, we're hiring professionals.  Or burning it down.

And that's everything!  Now you know why this blog has been filled with the sound of cricket chirping since August!  ;)

On a personal, sappy note, the past few weeks have made me realize how awesome people are.  I couldn't have done all this frantic illustrating and met all these deadlines without the help of many people including: a co-worker who likes me enough to go home in the middle of the day to bring me cutting supplies; a sister who had the perfect knapsack and football-sized M&M for reference photos (and oodles of patience for her finicky photographer); another sister who has scrapbooking supplies galore and remembers to pack her camera when I forget mine; a third sister who kept me laughing on the phone at 2:00 in the morning; a stranger who let me commandeer her phone so I could keep time for the art director during the Illustrator Intensive; a puppy who gives me snuggles and kisses whenever I need them (hey, if deck painting counts as an art project, she counts as a person); and a husband who always loves and supports me, even when I drag him out of bed in the middle of the night to help me cut mat board.    

Now it's time for a nap (and maybe a Netflix marathon), then on to new projects!  

Note: "Draw this Again" meme template was created by Bampire on deviantArt.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October 2014: COSCBWI Illustrator Meeting with David Cuccia

The October COSCBWI Illustrator Meeting featured author-illustrator David Cuccia.  Cuccia is the author of There's a Crazy Dog Under the Palace! and the upcoming sequel, Who Ate the Gelato?  He talked to COSCBWI members about the process of writing and illustrating his first book and his experience with indie publishing.
Cuccia's books are unique in the fact that they are published in both English and Italian.  The inspiration for There's a Crazy Dog Under the Palace! came from an Italian tongue-twister, and the main character is based off his beloved dog, Jasmine.  Cuccia knew he wanted to write a book that featured topics near and dear to his heart, that children would have fun reading, and that would help bring some good to the world.  There's a Crazy Dog Under the Palace! does all three.   
Ever since he was young, Cuccia said he loved drawing.  He followed a career in illustrating and decided one day that he wanted to try his hand at children's books.  The writing process was a new challenge, but he had a great time crafting the characters and story.  He showed us his beautiful, original pencil illustrations which he takes into Photoshop and adds a bit of color.  He said that he loves capturing the expressive nature of animals while staying true to their realistic features.  The result is a charming illustration style that appeals to both children and adults.  (And it definitely appeals to animal-lovers like myself!)
Cuccia pursued the indie route to publish his first book.  He explained that there are many things he loves about indie publishing, from his flexibility and control of the story and characters, to being able to write about things that are important to him rather than focusing on what will sell big.  Indie publishing allows him to tell the story the best it can be, in the way the story wants to be told.  On the flip side, he talked about many of the challenges he's had to overcome, from dealing with printing flubs to figuring out how to make his book visible to the public.  He emphasized the importance of promotion--online, in person, and anywhere he can get someone's attention.  Cuccia especially enjoys taking his work straight to young readers with school visits.  At every event, he always makes sure to tie in messages about homeless animals and second chances, and encourages kids to support their local shelters.  While it started off small, his readership and support is steadily growing.  He explained how important it is to stay in the eye of the public, so he's working very hard to finish Who Ate the Gelato?--and then start more books in the series!  
Cuccia hoped that his experience will inspire more writers and illustrators to pursue their publishing goals.  Indie publishing is hard work but very rewarding, and he's enjoying every moment of it.  He said that the most important thing is to think about who you are writing for and why, and be sure to have fun, too!
You can find out more about Cuccia and his books at  I wish him the best of luck with his adorable stories!     
If you would like to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit or "like" the group on Facebook.  I hope to see you at the next meeting!  
Note: Cover image is from where you can purchase a hardcover copy of There's a Crazy Dog Under the Palace!