• Art

    Christmas Kitten

    I usually don’t do holiday things so early, so you’ll have to forgive me with this one. My toddler was watching a Christmas kitten video. One of those where kittens play and instrumental Christmas music runs in the background. If you want you can wait until December to watch the video. I don’t have a book review for this week so I thought this would be a fun replacement. 

    I’ll be finishing up this illustration as a Patreon exclusive! Go to https://www.patreon.com/SmartDummies to see more. I will be updating Patreon exclusive videos and images there. Before I did this video I had an image and the process didn’t get recorded. I will be posting that image as a Patreon exclusive as well!

  • Course

    All About the Craft & Business of Illustrating Children’s Books

    I’ve talked about the Craft & Business of Illustrating Children’s Books several times, but I always felt like I had more to say. It wasn’t until now that I figured out just what I wanted to other people to know about the course. (Video is embedded below or you can go here:  https://youtu.be/TBcMlOHDsDk)

    This video highlights areas like the Facebook group, critique groups, webinars, the course itself, private critiques and golden tickets. There is also a section at the end that talks about putting your best foot forward in this class. Much of the info in putting your best foot forward is going to be useful information for any class!

    After doing the audio for this I filmed myself coloring a drawing. I may change this into a presentation later, but wanted to get this out before the scholarships applications closed! I am sick in this video, so I’m sorry if any of this comes through on the video.

    You can get a diversity scholarship for this course. There isn’t much time left! November 20th is the new extended date. There were not enough people who applied, so please take advantage of these. There aren’t many people applying so here is your chance to take advantage of this great scholarship! https://childrensbookacademy.teachable.com/p/rlpcscholarships

    Ready to just sign up for the course? Go here and make all your kidlit illustration dreams come true: https://childrensbookacademy.teachable.com/p/the-craft-business-of-illustrating-children-s-picture-books

  • Art,  Smart Dummies

    Art Process and Thumbnails

    Before I show you some process posts I’m going to start with a poll I posted on social media. This was a question asked by Tara Santoro (@JerseyGirlDraws on twitter).

    This is pretty reflective of the people I’ve spoken to. Most believe thumbnails are essential. There are a few that think they aren’t important. 

    Brian McLachlan (@McLachlanBrian on twitter) said as a response, “Once you’ve done enough layouts you don’t need to thumbnail everything.” Which makes sense! 

    There are some of you that hate thumbnails and think it’s silly to use them. I think not using them may be a harder path, but that path is up to you! 

    Initial thumbnails should take you no more than a few seconds on each one. It’s just to figure out proportion and where things go. More than a couple seconds makes it stressful. Too much detail in thumbnails can be stressful. Keep them simple, and if you want to do detailed thumbnails do that after!

    Some Final Art Resources

    Here are some resources you may want to look into before creating your final art! In fine art the idea is to make a beautiful piece that will last a long time. With kidlit your final art doesn’t necessarily have to last a long time (it does help, though). It does have to look good. Instead of giving you a bunch of resources for fine artists or illustrators, I’m going to show you some art projects that are mostly for kids that may inspire or inform your own art! 

    Want to find a process in your medium? Just go to Pinterest or YouTube and type in your art medium and then “projects”. You can add “for kids” if you want to find easier projects.

    Watercolor Techniques: https://www.projectswithkids.com/watercolor-techniques-for-kids/

    Blending Colored Pencils: https://www.mybluprint.com/article/blend-your-way-to-smooth-colored-pencils

    Scraping Painting with Oil Pastels: http://krokotak.com/2019/06/scraping-painting-with-oil-pastel/

    Acrylic Painting with a Fork: https://www.projectswithkids.com/palm-tree-fork-painting-for-kids/

    Painted Collage Art: https://layers-of-learning.com/painted-collage-art/

    Torn Collage Art: http://www.onecolorfulday.com/free-printable-night-sky-collage/


  • Books

    Review of Sun by Alison Oliver

    Sun by Alison Oliver

    Sun by Alison Oliver is such a warm and whimsical book. I’d like to say that I came across it in a direct effort to find beautiful picture books for kids. Instead I did a random search for 2019 picture books at my library and this was one of the books I found! I feel so lucky to have found this book at my library. 



    Sketch practice after Alison Oliver

    Sun loves soccer. He seems to eat, breathe and (of course) play soccer. He has an emptiness in his life and doesn’t know what to fill it with. Sun goes on a journey of self discovery and meets with Fox (who is actually a fox). Fox shows Sun a playfully magical world that he will never forget.

    This story is so sweet and beautiful. The friendship between Sun and Fox is an interesting one. Fox brings out Sun’s creative side. Maybe Fox is supposed to be Sun’s creative side personified. Fox allows Sun to experience things that he missed in life while having a life totally devoted to soccer. It’s good not to get too focused on one thing, because there are so many wonderful things to experience in life!


    The images in this book are absolutely breathtaking. Inside the book it says “The illustrations for this book were executed in watercolor, brush pen, charcoal and collage and assembled digitally.” I love that it didn’t just say “mixed media”. I always love finding out what medium the artist used! In this case Alison used many!

    I love the warmth of this book. It is like the colors were taken from the sun! The colors are vivid and feel like a great big hug. The brush strokes that Alison makes in this book are nothing less than gorgeous. It makes the images feel like so much movement is happening. 

    Buy the Book

    My toddler was shocked with the beauty of this book

    Alison Oliver’s Website: http://pure-sugar.com/

    More about the book: https://pure-sugar.com/sun/

    If you can’t afford to buy this book consider leaving a review or requesting your library buy this book!

  • Art,  Smart Dummies

    Simple Character Design

    Are you ready for character design? Just grab some paper and a pencil (or have your computer program on standby and let’s get sketching! The video shows how I might do a page to figure out a character. There is lots of different techniques. 

    Full Video

    Quick Video (no sound)

    Character face designs
    Images I drew for the Smart Dummies video see link above.
  • Art,  Smart Dummies

    Weekend Activities

    Many of you may be on vacation this weekend and that’s great. Though Smart Dummies officially starts on September 1st there will be no official activities planned until September 3rd. Sunday I will have a schedule up for the week and we’ll officially start Tuesday from the beginning. If you want to work ahead, that’s fine! If you are gone this weekend, don’t worry. I’m going over everything again starting September 3rd.

    This Weekend's Project

    You can work on anything you’d like this weekend (or nothing at all). If you already have your character(s) figured out you can either work on Full Character Drawings (pages 10-11) or Thumbnails (pages 18-19). We will be going over all of this later so don’t worry about getting behind.

    Full Character Drawings or Thumbnails?

    I think it comes down to personal preference for order of creation at this point. I’ve heard both ways from professionals and in illustration classes!

    Full Character Drawings/Turnarounds: The lines on this page are to make sure you keep everything in line. Make sure that all the facial features line up. Alternatively you can get some graph paper and use that to plan out your character drawings.

    Thumbnails: If you are doing thumbnails only spend a minute or two drawing each one. They don’t even have to look like anything but scribbles. You can always make tighter thumbnails later.

    Weekend Reading

    Here is a great post from Rachel Armington about Trim Sizes:

     https://rachelarmington.com/publishing/trim-sizes-for-picture-books/ If you have time this weekend take a look! It’s good to have your picture book size in mind when you start on your book. It’s also necessary to know your images should be set up before you start on your finals. I’ll be referencing this post several times throughout the event, because layout is so important throughout this whole Dummy making process.

    It’s necessary to know your images should be set up before you start on your finals. I’ll be referencing this post several times throughout the event, because layout is important throughout this whole Dummy making process.

    I had one project for a client where I didn’t know the sizes of the images. I was lead to believe the images were 8″x 8″ when they were 6″x 9″ which is a huge difference! I was able to fix the problem in time. If you are working on your project you decide the size. In general I’d suggest the images be 8″x10″ (and 10″x 8″ is also a possibility, but not as common) because that’s the industry standard and most likely how your book will be published. This is a standard for picture books and some graphic novels. I’ll get back to you on more page sizes for other books later!

    If you haven’t already sign up for Smart Dummies here: https://www.daniduck.com/register-for-smart-dummies-2019/ This page has everything you need! Sign up, grab a booklet, sign up for emails and get the badge! Be sure to contact me if you have any problems! 

  • Art,  Smart Dummies

    A Little Warm-Up

    My schedule for this month has completely gone out the door. There will be more of a schedule for the full Smart Dummies event. Starting Sunday I’ll be posting a schedule for everything we are working on this month. If you want to get your dummy done in a month you can follow the Smart Dummies Regular schedule on page 4 of your planner.

    Let’s start warming-up our drawing skills by making some shape doodles. Just pick a shape (circles, triangles, square, oval ect.) Give the shape eyes, noses and mouths. You can just start with faces, but weird bodies are okay too. 

    If you can get a design for your main character designed before you start Smart Dummies you’ll be off to a great start. Fill up pages 7-9 with some doodling and try to figure out what you want your character(s) to look like. If you feel like moving on in your booklet or skipping around then do so! Creating a dummy is not a one size fits all situation.

    You want to be able to draw your same character over and over again. Once you figure out what you want to draw, then draw that character over and over again. You may want to try different poses, but not until you are comfortable with your character.

    Check out your library (and your personal picture book collection if you have one). look for books that have simple drawings. I’ll list some here so you can see how easy you can go.

    Ed Emberly’s books have simple characters created with simple shapes or thumbprints. He has a whole set of drawing books that show how to draw anything using simple shapes. If you can find any of these books at your library do pick them up! His website is http://www.edemberley.com there you can see some of his work and get a few tutorials. You can also do an internet search to find out more!

    Shel Silverstein has a lovely collection of picture books. Many of them just with line drawings. One of the most simple of these is The Missing Piece which features a Pac-Man like character as the main character. 

    Aree Chung’s “Mixed: A Colorful Story is another story that’s made with simple shapes and flat coloring.

  • Art,  Smart Dummies

    Planning Out Your Pages

    Note: I will not be doing a book review this week (and possibly next week) because I have several things I want to get ready for Smart Dummies this year! Interested in a critique group this year? https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5MCFDBL (Survey closes September 5th and is on a first come first served basis).

    Before you start planning out your pages, I’m going to refer you to Marla Lesage’s post about Picture book Length: https://marlalesage.com/2019/08/12/picture-books-length-layout/ It’s important to know how long you want to make your story before you separate it out. This is for picture books, but a lot of the books you will be writing will use one of these templates. Creating a longer book? Make sure that the number of pages that you are creating are divisible by 8. 

    This year I’m doing Cinderella. I will be using the Cinderella published by George Routledge and Sons as an example. You can read the story here in many formats: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/23303

    While I will always strongly suggest that you have a fully finished text before you start planning out pages. Sometimes you wont have that text because you are working on a wordless book or you just work better visually. If this is you then you might want write down the important plot points and then separate these into pages and spreads.

    A spread is 2 pages put together. When you have a book open in front of you those two pages are a spread.

    Important Plot Points for Cinderella

    The numbers by the plot points indicate the number of spreads I’d use for each of these plot points.




        1. Cinderella’s father remarries. (1/2 spread)
        2. Cinderella’s step mother and sisters are mean to her. (1/2 spread)
        3. The prince announces there will be a ball so he can find a wife. (1 spread)
        4. Cinderella told she’s not allowed to go to the ball which upsets her. (1 spread)
        5. Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother appears and gives her everything she needs for the ball (Cinderella must be back by midnight). (2 spreads)
        6. Cinderella meets the prince at the first ball. Because she’s so punctual  getting home the Fairy Godmother is happy to let her go to the next ball. (1.5 spreads)
        7. The princess (Cinderella) at the ball is mysterious and everyone talks about her. (1.5 spreads)
        8. Cinderella falls in love with the prince at the second ball. (1 spread)
        9. Cinderella forgets about the time and rushes out of the ball at the last minute leaving her glass slipper. (1.5 spreads)
        10. Cinderella comes back in rags with only one glass slipper. (1/2 spreads)
        11. The prince looks for Cinderella with the one lost slipper. (1 spread)
        12. The slipper fits and Cinderella has the other slipper. (1.5 spreads)
        13. The prince and Cinderella live happily ever after. (1/2 spread)



    This version differs a bit from the Disney version. You can already start to see how you can break down this story into 14.5 spreads and 13 plot points. I have the number of spreads I would use in the right hand column to show you how this story would be divided 

    If you have a manuscript you can write the pages/spreads directly on your manuscript. You can also go to page 18 of your booklet and write 3-4 words under each thumbnail describing the scene you are creating. This will help you visually plot things out. For some pages you are going to want to use 2 pages (or a full-spread) for creating your image. Make sure those two pages are next to each other in your thumbnails. 

  • Art,  Course,  Smart Dummies

    Who’s in for Marks and Splashes?

    For those who are following my drama today I was unable to get onto my website to make a post about editing. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’ll be saving that post for tomorrow. Today I have EXCITING NEWS about Mark Mitchell’s course. I just heard about it a few hours ago, so I just had to post!

    Mark Mitchell’s “Make Your Marks and Splashes” course is starting up soon! I was signed up for the Children’s Book Academy “The Craft and Business of Illustrating Picture Books” when this class started last year, and was unable to attend. This year will be different! I will be taking Mark’s class this year. I’m so excited. Here’s the link: https://illustratechildrensbooks.com/childrens-book-illustration-school-fall-2019/?affiliate=daniduck


    I’m a bit embarrassed that I forgot about taking (or talking about) Mark’s class. Apparently Mark forgot to get the word out about the class, so he’s giving us all kinds of bonus material if we sign up by Saturday August 24th! (Now I’m kind of glad I forgot because there are so many bonuses now!)


    • Four complimentary months of Marks & Splashes Guest Group Critiques, led by top illustrators and other professionals in children’s book publishing. 
    • A vintage interview series I did with 16 children’s book illustrators who work(ed) in traditional water media, several of them well known, like Patricia PolaccoTed andBetsy LewinAshley Wolff, E.B. Lewis, the late Leonard Everett Fisher, and Caldecott Medal winners Jerry PinkneyEmily Arnold McCully and the late Barbara Cooney. The lavishly visual articles, which I completed in my years as a contributing editor of American Artist Watercolor Magazine feature the artists’ drawing steps, research methods, painting processes, thumbnail and dummy page examples and much more.
    • An complimentary semester (Winter 2020) of live group homework huddles with Mark

    On top of these bonuses

    • Going Pro with the Girillustrators video workshop series
    • Cindy Wilder’s Drawing Basics Intensive Video Series
    • Julie’s Story Town – An Epic Look at Storycraft
    • Live Monthly Sessions to get Feedback on Your Work

    This is all on TOP of the Make Your Marks and Splashes course. It is packed FULL of things to help us get our Picture Books done beautifully and quickly. Here are some of my favorite things I want to learn. 

    Creating a Thumbnail in 30 Seconds (it takes me a couple minutes right now)

    Keeping Characters Consistent in Every Page

    How to Navigate My Art Business

    Finding New Strategies for Creating Dummies

    Join Me!

    Do you want to join me? Maybe we could create our own critique group for the class. I would love to get to know more of you better. I will be there so I can give you personal help at any time during the course. You can sign up for the course here: https://illustratechildrensbooks.com/childrens-book-illustration-school-fall-2019/?affiliate=daniduck

    But What About Smart Dummies?

    What we learn in this course is going to directly translate into what we are doing for Smart Dummies, so this course is great if you want a bit of extra help creating your dummy this year. This will not take away from what we are doing in Smart Dummies, but it will inform what I talk about for the Smart Dummies event!

    Didn’t see this soon enough? Join anyway! I was going to join before I knew about any of the bonuses!

    Please let me know if you are joining me for this course! I’ll contact you so we can get the most out of this course.

  • Books,  Smart Dummies,  Uncategorized

    Review of Teach Your Giraffe to Ski

    Inside of my copy of Teach Your Girafee to Ski!

    “Teach Your Giraffe To Ski” is a fantastically fun story about a child teaching their giraffe to ski. The story is written by Viviane Elbee and illustrated by Danni Gowdy. I picked up this copy because Viviane is one of my wonderful critique partners! Unfortunately (or fortunately) she had submitted and had this book accepted before we were in a critique group together! I can not claim to have helped her with this one, but she obviously didn’t need my help, because she wrote a wonderful story! 

    This is one book I’m happy to have on my shelf. I was so excited that my local indie bookstore could get the book in. Since Viviane lives so far away she sent me a lovely bookplate which I love. My kids were so excited to get this book as a gift for Christmas!



    This story is written in the second person. I don’t know that “Teach Your Giraffe to Ski” could have been written as well in a different P.O.V. I’m not sure how many other kids books are written in the second person. The second person usually doesn’t work for most books. It’s  especially hard for picture books to use the third person, but Viviane did a wonderful job writing this book. 

    I love the humor in this book. The illustrations and words meld perfectly together to make this a laugh out loud story! One thing about the story, be sure to read this on a full stomach. All the french fry and pizza talk was making me hungry. Be sure to have lots of french fries and pizza before starting this book! Especially pizza, pizza, pizza. That word is used a lot in this book. 

    My toddler wants you to get this book!


    I love the color scheme in this book. The colors are cool and perfect for a winter scene. I love the beautiful soft colors.

    All the characters have big, beautiful, outlines. It makes the whole story more comical. I also love how Danni makes the images so expansive. I believe that there is a whole wonderful world beyond the confines of this book.

    The expressions on the characters faces are priceless. Especially the poor child’s face who is just trying to get the giraffe to ski. It’s a very big task teaching a giraffe to ski!

    Buy the Book

    Buy the Book: https://vivianeelbee.com/wheretobuytygts.html

    Viviane Elbee’s Website: http://vivianeelbee.com/

    More about the book: http://vivianeelbee.com/teachgiraffetoski.html

    If you can’t afford to buy this book consider leaving a review or requesting your library buy this book!