Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Goodbye 2016

8 months! Has it really been 8 months since my last rambling? Wait, just one post in 2016? Nah, that can't be. Hmmm, the date says it's true. I guess I better get it together and post something worthwhile. 

Here goes nothing. 

Hopefully not too much of nothing, maybe with splashes of something.

I am trying to think what has happened that is worthwhile, if anything, in this time span. Lets see, I completed several new books in the Puppy Pirates series written by Erin Soderbergh Downing. They, Penguin Random House, announced two additional books so the total will be 8. That is very exciting! Another Freddy the Frogcaster book - written by Janice Dean, was released and book number six being worked on at the moment and will be hitting the shelves later this year. Also, a weather app from Freddy is came out last year and is available at the app store. Freddy was also named the official mascot of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Yeah, I had to look that one up.

My wonderful agent, Danielle Smith, has gone solo and opened her own agency called Lupine Grove Creative. I am so excited to be with her on this new adventure and think good things are coming our way. She has a couple of dummies of mine out on submission, fingers crossed. We are revising an older one so hopefully that will be ready by the end of January. I need to tweak some copy, tighten up a few sketches, and then do some sample spreads.  Plus we are working on other ideas that are rattling around my noggin'. I am really enjoying the writing experience with each thing we do. It still makes me nervous and full of self doubt but I am getting there. Word by word.

Those two words that haunt many of us.

Self doubt.

Self doubt is something I dealt with quite a bit during the past year, along with a large splash of depression. I usually go through a small patch of it every year but nothing like this in the past. It is something we creatives rarely talk about in public. Get us in a small gathering, probably at a bar, and we will open up to each other about those two dreaded words. Before I go any further, this is not about fishing for compliments. I think most of us in the creative arts have a hard time with compliments. I know I do. I get all awkward and embarrassed, my words stumble out, clumped together, usually coming out all mushy. Huh, it sounds like me asking a girl to dance with me in high school. It is not that I do not appreciate them, I do, and it makes me feel like I did something right, but the feeling is usually short lived and Mr. Self Doubt waltzs through the door.

I have no idea what really triggers this feeling. It usually comes out of nowhere and smacks you in the head like a swarm of Frisbees. Maybe a bad drawing triggers it, or a dry spell without any new ideas. I know some friends get it when they see others doing so well while their career is on hold. What could trigger my self doubt is seeing a large body of work that I know could be better. I am happy with an illustration or book for about 5 minutes before I start the dissection process. This drives my wife nuts. She thinks everything is great but does not understand the inner turmoil we go through when creating. It is a blessing and curse. Nothing is good enough. We know we will never create that piece, story, book, song, etc. that will be our masterpiece. At least that is the way I feel. 

The carrot is always out of reach.

So how does one conquer this feeling? I really do not know. It can ebb and flow. Sometimes I try to push through it, casting the feeling aside, showing it who is king, trying not to be the court jester.  

Other ways to get over it is to take a break. Get away from the drawing table. 

Watch a movie. 


Listen to new music. 

Stay off social media.

Let me repeat that one. Stay. Off. Social. Media.

I found staying off social media for a long period of time really helped me, especially with the depression part. I used that time to experiment. Create some new pieces. During this time, I rediscovered my love for traditional painting. I mixed the tactile feeling of touching real paper, mixing paint, and applying with a brush. There is something about having paint and pencil on your hands, and clothes, at the end of the day that makes one feel like they have done something creative. I am not ditching the computer, I still love working on one, but working traditional helps keep me away from social media for long periods of time. I get lost in the painting process.

Writing is also becoming very therapeutic. Letting the words representing my feelings. One goal for 2017 is to start a journal in which I can write in by hand, again, getting away from the computer. It will be interesting to read them years from now, seeing where I went while sorting through life.

What will 2017 bring? I have no idea. All I know is that I will not let self doubt and depression cripple me like it did last year. I will use it to light the flame and fuel the fire.

I will also be more proactive with this blog. Once a year is way too long to be absent.

So, now it is time to sign off from the web for the day and break out some paints or a notepad for writing. May 2017 bring you much happiness, laughter, and success as your dreams come through.


"I can't think of anyone I admire who isn't fueled by self-doubt. It's an essential ingredient. It's the grit in the oyster." ~ Richard Eyre

Monday, May 30, 2016

Blog Tour Special: Wendy Martin Art

Hello strangers,
It has been a while since I've posted something on here. Life has been very busy with various projects, events, and the every day chores. I promise to post something very soon but for now, I would like to introduce Wendy Martin. She is an illustrator who I've become friends with the past few years. We met on the Thursday night #kidlitart chats on Twitter. She is an amazing artist and such a kind person. I will step back and let Wendy take you on a tour of her studio. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Wendy!

I live and work in a tiny, little house, so space is at a premium.
My studio is a long thin room that goes the length of the East side of the house. It’s about 8 feet wide by 20 feet long. 

The first thing you see upon entering the room is my drafting table.

The cat gets chased off if there is a painting in progress, but now he’s enjoying the morning sunbeam and getting black and white fur everywhere.

To the right of the drafting table is my printer and some filing cabinets.

Continuing to the right is a corner desk where my computer lives about 2/3rds of the time.
Sometimes I relocate it to the living room coffee table and sit on the floor to work.

The computer desk hugs the two walls at the corner of the room. On one wall is a bulletin board and a steel cage rack with tools hanging from it. (Not shown)
On the adjoining wall are all my awards and certificates. Also, some art from friends. Continuing to the right along that wall is a table with an extremely heavy light box. I got it from a printer I used to work for. They were going to trash it, so I grabbed it. That was before I started working digitally and only had a small size printer.

On the wall behind the light box, I have samples of my art hanging for when I do Skype school visits. 
Along this wall is also an old dresser full of things for making prints and sewing projects.
Behind that, you can catch a glimpse of the door way we entered the room from. On the other side of the door way is another cabinet. I keep packing materials and more art supplies in there, as well as back-up CDs from before I had a backup drive and Time Machine on my computer. So. Much. Easier.
I have so many books. There are book shelves in nearly every room of the house. Here is a glimpse of some shelves of one of them. It is the room adjacent to the studio.

As you can see, I’ve packed a lot of stuff into a very small space. I’m pretty organized when I’m not in the middle of the creation of picture book art. Then everything goes to pieces while I become myopic on meeting the deadline for the art. There will be drying paintings on every available flat surface while I work assembly-line style to get the art done on time.

Check out my newest picture book, released this week. “The Story Circle/El cĂ­rculo de cuentos” by Diane Gonzales Bertrand; a bilingual picture book about how a classroom of children deal with the loss of all their books after a flood destroys the classroom.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Day After (A Post Conference Wrap Up)

I am not sure how to start this post. I thought about it while flying back and had some ideas. I should have written it then. Live and learn. 

So what do I write about? 

The conference? 

My experiences? 

What I've learned? 

The people? 

Geez, I could write about all of that for days.

Okay, lets give it a shot. No promises that this will not be a rambling mess since the jet lag has really hit me hard today. Note to myself: I need more than 3 hours sleep before I return home. I blame the kid in the room above mine for bouncing a damn ball. Hurray for hotel security. Hopefully they did not have to rough up him or her too bad. Maybe the ball went to the big dog park in the sky.

See, I told you that rambling was a possibility. Let me try to start this again.

Deep breath.


Now begin.

The day after returning home is filled with dirty laundry, puffy red eyes, a million thoughts, and a lifetime of new memories. The SCBWI LA Conference was my first national conference in over three years and my first one in LA. I've heard many stories about how great it was. Better than New York? C'mon, really? I don't think it is fair to compare them. I've love them both for different reasons. Some people think the weather is better for the LA shindig. Myself being a cold weather person, could argue for the cold streets of New York. I might be the only one arguing this point. I do live in Maine so what do you expect. The West coast was not as warm as I thought it would be. As a bonus, I did not return home with a sunburn. 

Why am I talking about the weather? 

See, ramblings.

Was this conference's experience something new and special? Yes, it was. I will not go into depth on the speakers and breakout sessions. I will give high praises to Dan Santat, Mem Fox, Molly Idle, and Kwame Alexander (that is how you give a speech!). Their workshops and keynotes were topnotch, well worth the trip alone. If you get a chance to see them or attend a workshop, please do so, You will not be disappointed. Just hearing Dan talk about his dedication to the art of creating books, Mem reading to everyone, Molly's poetic approach to visual character movement, Adam Rex moving from books to movies, and Kwame saying we all are going to experience great things, was enough to fill 100 notebooks. 

This conference was special for a different reason.

For the first time, I really got a feeling where I am in my children's book career. No longer new at this, maybe not a seasoned veteran, but major strides have been made in the three years. I have a book out that I wrote and illustrated which I am very proud of. No one would have guessed that three years ago. There are many who work so hard to do this and will never experience the feeling of their own book. Everyone should have that joy at least once. 

Now I am illustrating books for big publishers and earn a living from doing so. Again, I wish everyone who wants to do this could make a living doing so. Oh god, did this come across as bragging? I hope not. If so, I am sorry. 

While talking with Danielle, we discussed that I have more stories to tell and need to get them out. Hopefully on the printed page, with pictures  I would have never thought while attending my first conference that I would be writing as well as illustrating. It is a new territory for me to explore and learn. And so exciting! It is a new passion that holds hands with the illustration part of the process. That is what the conference can do. It can introduce you to new things and take you down paths that one has never explored or never thought of exploring. It is not about just being published, money, fame, etc., it is about finding another undiscovered voice. Your true voice, passion, and desires. The other things may come, but if not, and your are happy doing something you love, you already won. 

Making strides.

Reaching goals. 

Moving beyond boundaries.

Take in what you've learned, who you have talk to, listen to what is being said, mix it up in a beaker, and see what happens. Maybe when you attend your next conference, you can see the strides that were made.

I would like to end this post with some gushing about Danielle for a moment. It is really important to have people in your corner, helping you move along the path you desire. It is more of a like two like minded people with a common goal than a client/agent relationship. I was so excited to get to meet Danielle and the rest of Red Fox (hi Karen and Abi) in person. I cannot speak highly enough on how wonderful and welcoming they have been to me. You feel like you have known each other for a long time. Thank you for having me as part of the team.

The dryer just dinged, so it is time to fold some laundry while thinking of new story ideas.

*Please forgive any typos and grammatical errors. It is hard to type with puffy eyes.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I just realized that it has been three months since my last post. Where did that time go? It seems like a few days ago we had over three feet of snow on the ground here in Maine. Now it is sunny and warm. The windows are open and a breeze comes drifting in, teasing me to go outside.

During this three month absence, a few things have happened. Danielle Smith (Red Fox Literary), my new agent, and I have been doing a focused mailing of a promo booklet that we put together. We have sent out around a 100 of them. Danielle is such a treat to work with and I look forward doing a ton of books with her. I am one lucky person.

The other BIG THING is that my book Faraway Friends (Sky Pony Press) has been launched into to the universe. This is my first book that I wrote and illustrated. So now I have the title of "author" added to my name. This is a bit surreal.

"I did not earn this title." I tell myself every day.

"One book does make an author." Is another one that crosses my mind. It is like one nail does not make a house.

"Is the book good enough for me to earn the right to use 'author'." I dunno.

"Am I sham?" Probably.

I reached out to a well-known author and asked her for an opinion. Her response was eye opening but warm. I was told to "Embrace it. Grow into the title. We are giving names at birth that become part of us, I should feel the same way with 'author'."

This made me smile. I am learning to feel comfortable with "author/illustrator" being attached to my name.

Now I am writing more, learning the craft, experimenting with words like I would with a paint and brush. Embracing the new title.

It is still a bit surreal.

"When you're writing a book, with people in it as opposed to animals, it is no good having people who are ordinary, because they are not going to interest your readers at all. Every writer in the world has to use the characters that have something interesting about them, and this is even more true in children's books." ~ Roald Dahl

"I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done." ~ Steven Wright

Monday, February 9, 2015

Starting Off On The Right Foot

2015 has started off with a bang. Two weeks ago, I signed with Danielle Smith at Red Fox Literary. I am still buzzing with excitement and full of energy from this news. Am I dreaming? No one better pinch me!

After the opening "Hi Russ", I knew she was the person I wanted to help guide my career into the direction I envision it. Sometimes you just know. Danielle and I connected right away. She got me, and I, her. Her warmth, humor, and knowledge was everything, and then some, that I heard about her. 

Where do I sign?

We chatted for an hour before she asked me if I wanted to be part of her team. I told her since she was at the top of my list, I would need about a half of second to decide. 


"Great! Welcome to Red Fox Literary."

Sound the trumpets! Happy dance time!

We have hit the ground revising my latest picture book dummy. Plus she had me send her some of my story ideas to sort through. 34. Yep, I sent her 34 story ideas. It was the War and Peace of a story list. I kept typing and typing until I was tired. I went back and counted. 34. Not all of them are zingers (thanks Primus) but I figured I would see which ideas, if any, she liked. After review, we have selected a few to get rolling which include some picture books, a chapter book, and a graphic novel. My evenings are going to be filled with "story time" for quite a while. I am looking forward to working with Danielle on these ideas and seeing if any of them land a home. This is going to be a fun journey, and one I hope lasts for many years.

I am very lucky and grateful.

I need to thank a few folks for helping me get to this next phase. They were very important in getting my work in front of Danielle and the folks at Red Fox. Thank you Jennifer Bower, Julie Falatko, and Marty Kelley for being such wonderful friends and making the introductions. I cannot express how touched I am by your support and words of encouragement, but more importantly, for being such great friends.

And now, it is "story time". I am still smiling.

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." ~ Walt Disney

Monday, January 12, 2015

Today ...

It is a bright shiny new year. Full of hope and future happiness, yet unblemished or worn to a nub. Many people have resolutions that they try to follow while others set goals. I am one of those goal oriented folks. I have the usual "write two new picture books plus a chapter book", "work more traditionally", "start developing a school visit song and dance", blah-blah-blah, just like many others in my field. I will not bore you with a long list of those goals but instead I want to talk about "today". I very rarely dwell on the past but do try to learn from it while focusing on the future. So I tend to forget about the now and today. So I will make a list of for today.

Today ...

... I will hum a tune.

... I will take a long shower and get dressed in real clothes. (Freelancers rarely shower or put on clean clothes every day. Pajamas, sweats, or even a robe are our clothes of choice.)

... I will cheer with the excitement when hearing great things that is happening to those that I know, want to know, or just think they are great, inspiring people.

... I will write something no matter what it is, good or bad.

... I will turn off the electronic world and pick up my banjo.

... I will open my sketchbook with pencil/pen in hand and let the lines explore the page.

... I will stay positive.

... I will appreciate the people in my life.

... I will smile, laugh, and be silly.

... I will stop what I am doing to look out the window for a few minutes.

... I will accept a compliment without shame.

... I will fight any self-deprecating thoughts.

... I will spend some time just for me.

... I will be not afraid of failure.

... I will love my family even more than I did yesterday.

And finally,

... I will be happy.

Today is the greatest
Day I've ever known
Can't live for tomorrow
Tomorrow's much too long
~Smashing Pumpkins

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Inktober and Other Bits of News

It looks like time has gotten away from me again. My poor blog has sat idle for a few months as I work on various projects and ignored it. Ia m hoping at the first of the year to get back to a regular monthly post. Weekly is just too ambitious for me.

During the past few months, I nabbed a chapter book series from Penguin Random House. The talented Erin Soderberg wrote the series. I must keep it under wraps on what the series is about for a bit longer. Hopefully I can share some artwork before the holidays kick in. I am working with Ginny Chu who is an absolute delight. We are in the final art phase for book one.

While this is on my drawing table, I am in the middle of the next Freddy the Frogcaster book. This is book three in the series. Freddy encounters a hurricane but is weather senses are on full alert as averts a crisis. This book will be out in the spring, just in time for the hurricane season.

Merry Moosey Christmas (Islandport Press), written by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by me is now out. The book is about Rudolph needing a vacation so asks Mossey to take the lead for the big night only to have it go awry.  Lynn and I are starting our holiday tour for the book. We had a launch at my local library which was packed and a hoot to do. Lynn is so talented and ton of fun! Check the tour schedule for venues that may be in your area. I will share the process for next month's post, I promise.

If this was not enough, I participated in the Inktober Challenge. Jake Parker puts out the challenge every October for artist to do a piece in pen & ink. We share the images on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc. It is so much fun and challenging to come up with something new everyday. I took the weekends off to recharge. 

That is a quick update here in the merry land of Otis. Winter is coming to Maine and I am looking forward to it. We could have our second snowfall tomorrow. YEEEE-HAAAAA! Until next month, I leave with this"

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things." ~ Ray Bradbury

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