Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dreams Do Come True-A Journey

Dreams do come true. How do I know? Well, let me tell you. After working on a picture book idea for  two and a half years, countless revisions, rewrites, sketches, character studies, etc. my little story is going to be published. Faraway Friends, published by Sky Pony Press, will hit the book shelves in April of 2015! It all seems so surreal. 

This journey started with a simple sketch. This one in fact. It was a quick doodle I did out of the blue.  No real rhyme nor reason, just pencil to paper. Debbie Ohi saw the sketch and said I needed to write a story for it. Me? Write a story? You must be kidding. I cannot write a complete sentence much less a story. A few more folks started saying the same thing,"Write the damn story!" One even threatened to write it if I did not. "Okay! Okay! Okay! I will give it a shot." So I sat down one evening and started writing. No sense of direction or structure. After a few hours, I had something down on paper. I read it to my wife. She basically said that it wasn't very good. Hmmm, I guess I better get a clue on the basics of writing a story. 

After chatting with many people who are real writers, Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books came up many times. So I bought a copy. 

And begin to read it.

Study it.

Learn it.

Get it.

I saw my errors. And there were MANY!

With new paper in hand, I rewrote the story and shelved it for a few days. 

Read it aloud.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Shelved it again for a few weeks.

Read it again.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Now it was ready for fresh eyes. I asked some writing friends and a few illustrators to critique the story. They were a tremendous help. Their fresh eyes saw fresh mistakes. Another round of edits.

This lump of clay was starting to take shape.

I was ready for the dummy phase.

Sketch. Erase. Sketch. Erase. Curse. Rip up. Fresh paper. Curse again.

Rinse. Repeat.

I looked up from my drawing table a few months later and had a dummy. It was then that I went back to the words and saw more flaws and mistakes. 

Read it aloud. Read it to my wife.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Shelved it again for a few weeks.

A-ha! Epiphany!

What I learned at this point was that my method to doing my own stories was to work out the visuals first and the let the words flow, pulling it all together. You can teach an old dog a new trick.

What happened next was the extra-locomotive in the train. Pushing, gaining steam in this little engine that could. I landed an agent.

Jodell Sadler was a godsend. She worked with me on the wording and flow of the dummy. We did several variations of the story and layout.

Again, time to:

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Sketch. Erase. Sketch. Erase. 

Rinse. Repeat.

Faraway Friends was shown to our newly formed critique group. Lots of good feedback and comments. I then knew the dummy were ready.

The dummy was sent out into the world with no training wheels. It wobbled here and there with some rejections, but then it gathered its balance. Picking up speed. One publisher was interested. And then another called.  


This is crazy!

©2014 Russ Cox

A contract was sent. It was from Sky Pony Press. Julie Matysik, the editor, wanted it on their list for 2015. 



Now it is time to deliver.

It is easy to toss in the towel and give up. It is part of human nature. But sometimes you must have faith in what you are doing, you don't stop believing (cue Journey now).

The journey is not over (every pun intended). It really has just begun (do not cue The Carpenters). The past two and a half years were the qualifying races before the main event. Now it is a race to the finish. September will be here in a heartbeat.

The silly doodle that leapt onto the paper one evening will now be printed, bound, and hopefully read to a child. Dreams do come true.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 -The Year For Family

"The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege." ~ Charles Kuralt
After getting through the holidays and a busy start to 2014, it dawned on me that I have not posted an update on my blog in three months. The last post was about our trip to Italy. Since then, a lot has happened professionally and in my personal life. I thought about writing about those events but it is a new year so time start fresh. As I started writing for this post, I had to rush to Tennessee last week for my uncle's funeral. His death has made me realize what is the most important thing in life, family. The few days that I was there, we laughed, hugged, told stories, remembered, visited, and let bygones be bygones. It has been ages since we were all together. I missed my other two uncle's funerals, my wife told me I needed to get down there this time and it would be good for me to be around everyone. "You need good dose of Tennessee!" is what she said. Since moving to Maine, or Southern Canada as some family members refer to Maine, it has been harder for my wife and I to get back to our childhood homes to visit. As we get older, the importance of family reunions, visits, and special events such as weddings and graduations is magnified. We need to enjoy each others company and discard any past drama or spats. None of us will know when the phone will ring with not-so-happy news. Or when we will be subject of such news. I will miss my Uncle Eddie. He was a good person with a kind heart and would do anything for you without asking for anything in return. His last good deed was to bring us all together to celebrate his life and our family.

I tried keeping this blog for more of my professional news and events with a sprinkle of personal stuff. For 2014 and beyond, I want add more personal events and general thoughts. Some will have photos while others will be just words or musings. Thanks for following the past few years and I hope you stick around a bit longer.


Friday, October 4, 2013

56 Things That I Learned While Traveling Through Italy

All photos © 2013 Russ Cox

This posting is about the things I saw, observed, and learned during my two weeks vacationing in Italy. There is really no order to this list. I am sure that I missed some items. If you have something to add, please add it to the comments section.

1-Italy is everything you see and hear about. Absolutely beautiful!
2-The Colosseum is MASSIVE!
3-It is fun to get lost in the small side streets and alleyways. You find the true gems in the those areas.

4-Vatican City is worth the trip.
5-Get your tickets in advance for the Vatican Museums! We are so glad we did to avoid the massive lines.
6-The Sistine Chapel will bring a tear to any artist or art lovers eyes. It is worth the trip alone.
7-The smaller galleries and museum house some of the best works of art you will ever see.

8-The Italian people do not smile a lot but are when you ask them for help, they light up and are extremely friendly.
9-Wear good walking or hiking shoes if you plan on seeing the sites by foot. The cobblestone roads and sidewalks can be brutal.
10-Small cars, scooters, and bikes are the preferred vehicles for travel in Italy. You do not see many large cars, trucks, or SUVs. 

11-Skateboards are a rarity.
12-Many Italians have tattoos but we did not see any tattoo parlors.
13-Chuck Taylors are the sneaker of choice and are very expensive.

14-Public transportation is a good way to get around. We never had any problems navigating our way from place to place.
15-Graffiti is a major problem throughout the country.

16-Many people do not talk in public due to being on their mp3 players or cell phones.
17-We had our best and worst meal in Bologna.
18-Watching a bike race from a cafe is quite enjoyable.
19-Water spigots are all over the cities and towns. The water is quite tasty.

20-You want to photograph everything you see but many times you must let the history and beauty soak in.
21-Staying in people's homes is a wonderful way to find out about the best places to eat and those hidden spots that are off the beaten path. We used Homestay and Airbnb to book our rooms.

22-The people we stayed with were all first class, fun, and treated us very well. Better than a hotel!
23-Peroni is now one of my favorite beers.
24-The wine is to die for and CHEAP!!!

25-Bologna is the food capital of Italy. The markets are packed with fresh cured meats, cheeses, fish, and produce. The smell is heavenly.
26-Traveling from destination to destination by train was perfect for us. We got to see more of the country that way.
27-The Italians use the honor system quite a bit for their public transportation and no one checks you for tickets.

28-Italian design, especially interior design, is just as amazing as you have read about or seen in books.
29-When in Florence, visit the leather school Scuola del Cuoio. It is almost impossible to the leave the gift shop without something handmade. I added a wallet and sketchbook to my stack of personal gifts.
30-The outdoor markets are worth a stroll through.
31-Venice is lovely but a headache to navigate. Although it is nice to get lost amongst the canals.

32-American music is big there. We heard very little Italian music except for the street performers.
33-September is warm but not too hot. We were told that July and August can be brutal as far as the heat.
34-I want a Smartcar! And a Vespa!
35-We saw many dogs but very few cats.
36-Packing light was a bonus. We traveled with backpacks.

37-The toilets in Italy have a squarish shape to them.
38-Just about every bathroom has a bidet. Now my wife wants one in our bathroom.
39-Every McDonalds was packed. I guess you can eat only so much fine food before craving some grease.

40-Pointing at items on a menu because you cannot speak Italian, with your pinky up, still makes you classy.
41-Sparkling or still water is served with every meal.

42-Except for Rome, the cities are very clean. And Rome was not that bad.
43-The people drive like madmen and would give New Yorkers a run for their money. I enjoyed it!
44-Italian are stunningly beautiful, especially the older women.
45-Italian men have a classy dress style that I wish I could pull off. Maybe I could if I wore clothing that did not have a band name on the front or Levi's on the tag.
46-Lots of bands play Bologna. Radiohead and the Damned just played there.

47-After walking so much during the day, Odoreaters only last for short amount of time. 
48-I was the palest person in the whole country.
49-You do not see billboards.
50-Phone and electrical lines are buried.

51-Cinque Terra is beautiful. The grouping of the 5 towns on the side of a mountain, overlooking the ocean, is striking.
52-Walking up the hill to San Luca in Bologna is quite a hike. We saw people jogging it and thought they were nuts.
53-Coming down the hill was a breeze!

54-We did not get to the Uffizi Gallery or to see David due them being sold out. Buy tickets ahead of time!
55- I am glad my wife kept a journal, because I would forget a lot of the trip.
56-Celebrating 25 years of marriage in Italy with the amazing and wonderful Lynn was the best part of the whole trip.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Been Two Months Since I Looked At You (Sorry, Barenaked Ladies)

Geez, I just realized that it has been almost two months since I last posted. Where has the summer gone? Here in Maine, we have begun our preparation for winter with the stacking of firewood, getting the snowblower ready, putting gardens to bed, watching the leaves start to fall, and the bringing out the warmer clothes from their hibernation. I am ready for the cooler air but my wife has not embraced the coming cold. Of course she wears a sweater during the summer.

In the last few months, a lot of things have happened here in Otis Land. I started doing illustration work for A&E which has been a blast. My good friend, Ilene Block, is the creative director there so that is my "in". I also in the final stages of a new book with Islandport Press. We are working together on Lynn Plourde's new Christmas book. Once it is in print production, I can reveal more. During this chaos, I managed to just finish up the fifth installment for an ongoing app with Nine22 Media. There is talk of book project after the new year. I also squeezed a quick illustration for Peter Reynolds Dot Day and was on the Celebri-Dot page. Check out the blog and see the other wonderful illustrations that were submitted. Katie Davis has listed us on her blog as well.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids and Capstone Publishing

In late August, I had two books that I illustrated come out. The first one is Whatever Says Mark (yeah I know the one on the right), written by Terry Collins and published by Capstone, is about a boy who never uses punctuation until he has help with a special teacher. It can be purchased at Amazon.

Freddy the Frogcaster, written by Janice Dean (Yes, Janice Dean of Fox News Weather fame), was with Regnery Kids. The story revolves around a little frog with the ability to forecast the weather. He can much better than the local weather celebrity. The book also has some basic weather terms in the back so it doubles as an educational book. Recently it was featured on the Today Show with Hoda and Kathie Lee. Amazon has it available for purchase. Below is how the book and characters came to life.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids 

We started out doing character studies of the main character, Freddy. Regnery Kids liked one of the designs and had a few tweaks. I took the character and sketched with different expressions to make sure his overall facial features would work with the various emotions the story needed. I played around with a missing tooth or a gap but that was nixed.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids 

The next step was to storyboard the entire book. The publisher provided me with some notes but let me play with the layout of the illustrations. They placed the copy in my storyboard to see how it work with the illustrations.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids 

Regnery Kids needed the cover art completed right away for their catalog so we jumped into designing it. The above thumbnails were sent for approval. They selected the sketch with the arrow.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids 

We kicked around the idea of adding a border with weather symbols but nixed it due to some production nightmares that could arise.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids

This is the final version with the type in place. I painted this in Painter, using multiple layers for easy changes and color tweaking. Since Painter does not use the CMYK color option, I had to take each final illustration into Photoshop to tweak the colors and change them from RGB to CMYK. With the greens, the color did shift but I was able to get them back to their original values and chroma with some tweaking.

©2013 Russ Cox | Regnery Kids

Once the color was done and the overall color theme established, I enlarged the storyboards and did a tighter version of each page. Once approved, they were dropped into Painter where they were rendered in color. Again, the finals were brought into Photoshop to be converted to CMYK. I think Painter needs to provide the CMYK option to avoid the color shifts that happen when using RGB.

That pretty much wraps up the Freddy book. We will begin the sequel in a few months, once I am finished with my latest book.

As far as my own book, my agents and I are tweaking another round of storyboards before we begin the dummy process. I think my agents, Jodell and Loretta, are wonderful. They have pushed me very hard in getting this story to a point where they are ready for submitting it to publishers. My evenings and nights will be doing a very tight dummy and a spread, along with character studies. But first, I will take a break for a couple of weeks. Look for a post upon my return. All I can say about it for now is "ciao".

"I always try to treat the book itself as the artwork. I don't want you to stop while you're reading one of my books and say, 'Oh! What a gorgeous illustration!' I want you to stop at the end of the book and say, 'This is a good book.” Chris Raschka

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Annual Monhegan Trip

©2013 Russ Cox

As summer flies by and the heat stifles us here in Maine, I ventured down into the coolness of the basement to post an update. Maine is not known for its 90 + degree weather so I think most of us are looking forward to fall. Dare I say it? Maybe even some snow would be good right now. I know, I know, too soon but it would feel good.

Since my last post, I have been keeping busy with many different projects. Currently on my "to do" list is a children's puzzle, a book for Islandport Press, some characters for A&E, the 5th installment for an ongoing app series, plus many other goodies. Plus I have another book waiting for me when the madness ends. While working on these fun-filled projects, I am still writing my own stories, trying to get them to a point to where my agent can submit to various publishing houses. We are close with one of them so fingers crossed when it is finally sent out the door. I am excited, nervous, anxious, scared, and just about every other emotion one can think of. The feeling is almost like sending your grown children out into the world. Almost. 

Here are some current images from my sketchbook. I am still trying to find some time to work in it late in the evenings or as a morning warmup. Many of the above sketches were created while on vacation. Yeah, I squeezed a vacation into the past month. And I know, is it vacation if you draw and paint the whole time. For artist, it is the perfect time to do so.

Speaking of said vacation, I did my annual trip to Monhegan Island with a group of artist. There was a group of about 25 artist, scattered among three houses. We had our usual 7 crazies at The Field House. It is a fun, very talented group who get along so well. After a long day of painting and drawing, we gather at various houses in the evening for dinner, drinks, and games plus a critique of the days work if we feel inclined. Clyde, the seagull, was back for his annual visit as well. We kept him well fed as he entertained us in the evenings with his song and dance. It was a very relaxing, peaceful week with no pressures of doing anything. Lots of naps did take place during the heat of the day and after lunch. The island is such a diverse place to walk and hike. You get a bit of everything from forests to cliffs to a village to peaceful areas of a cove. If you never been there, it should be on your must visit list, even for just a day.

©2013 Russ Cox

The above paintings were quick plein air studies. Two were done at Lobster Cove and the third at Pebble Beach. We had three days of rain so we sketched and hired a model for a figurative session. There are a number of artist studios on the island including Alison Hill and Don Stone. Don and I share a love for the banjo so we got to hang out a bit and chat about old-time music. We did not get a chance to play some music this year, but we will make up for it next year. Don looked through my sketchbook and loved it. He had many nice things to say about it which made my week. He was a cartoonist before becoming a world renown painter. If you are not familiar with Don's work, go to

Well it is time to get back into the work groove. Lynn and I are planning a trip to Italy in September which we are looking forward to seeing. It will be our 25th anniversary. Italy is the perfect place to celebrate it. 

I will report back soon with an update, until then, enjoy this quote.

"An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way." ~ Charles Bukowski 

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