Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 26, 2017


Author/Illustrator Barbara DiLorenzo has agreed to give away a copy of her first picture book that she wrote and illustrated, RENATO AND THE LION. If you would like to win a copy, please leave a comment, reblog, tweet, or talk about A BAND OF BABIES on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you did to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Check back to discover the winner.


The touching, magical story of a boy in a war-torn country and the stone lion that rescues him.

Renato loves his home in Florence, Italy. He loves playing with his friends in the Piazza della Signoria. He loves walking home by the beautiful buildings and fountains with his father in the evenings. And he especially loves the stone lion who seems to smile at him from a pedestal in the piazza. The lion makes him feel safe.

But one day his father tells him that their family must leave. Their country is at war, and they will be safer in America. Renato can only think of his lion. Who will keep him safe?

With luminous watercolor paintings, Barbara DiLorenzo captures the beauty of Florence in this heartwarming and ultimately magical picture book.


The idea for my debut book, RENATO AND THE LION (Viking, 2017) began over a decade ago, on a family trip in 2006. We were visiting Italian family in Treviso, and decided to take a detour to Florence. Our 3-year old son was not amused by my constant push to visit the Florentine museums. However, when we visited the Bargello, a museum containing mostly sculptures, something magical happened. Near the courtyard where two white lions stand guard by a doorway, my little son wholeheartedly believed that one of them was alive. I watched through the lens of my camera as he reacted to the statue. He was scared, but his father encouraged him to approach the lion. His face showed concern as he stepped closer to the lion. After a few minutes, he bravely walked all the way up to the lion, and gave it a hug. (I know touching the sculptures is not a good practice, but in this case, a brief hug seemed magical). This interaction haunted me for some time, and I began to draw a boy character with a stone lion, come to life.

However, try as I might, I could not force a plot on these two. The characters were sweet, but I sensed a darkness to the story that would have to bring the lion to life to give hope to the boy. But I couldn’t quite get the story to work. I even tried to write a novel, but after 80,000 words, I decided the plot had gotten way out of hand. I needed to return to the essence of a boy and his lion. Around this time, I came across a documentary, called THE RAPE OF EUROPA, about the protection of artworks in World War II Europe. Normally when I work, I listen to documentaries more than watch them. But thankfully at just the right moment, I looked up to see the photo of Michelangelo’s DAVID encased in bricks–and the image haunted me. I wondered how despite the fear of being bombed, Italian citizens worked together to thoroughly protect their artistic treasures. And suddenly I had my plot!

Though I suddenly knew the story for Renato and his lion, I now had to grapple with the World War II aspect. How could I make this a picture book for young readers? I thought maybe it would be a better graphic novel, and attempted that angle. None of my ideas were committed to paper until I decided to enter the 2014 Bologna Book Fair Silent Book Contest. The parameters allowed for any age audience, and up to 50 pages. Without constrictions of 32-pages or a young audience, I drew my book. It took a solid month, but I was so proud of the results. The funny thing is that the first version was written without much research at all–and is not that different from the final version which benefitted from a year of additional research (including another trip to Florence–paid for from my book advance).

While in the creative throes of making the book for Bologna, I had an email exchange with Denise Cronin, an art director at Viking. We had met at a NJ SCBWI event at Princeton in the fall, and I thought she would be a great speaker for the Children’s Book Illustrators Group. She declined, but remembered meeting me, and offered that I could email her a sample of what I was working on. I took a photo of my wall, with 50 pages of my book in development. I’m not sure she could see much detail, but she could tell something was happening. I was excited when she asked me to send the pdf to her when it was done. So I sent one to Bologna, and one to Denise. While it didn’t win anything in the Bologna contest, it did strike a chord with Denise. She responded saying she liked it, and wanted to show it to the editor, Tracy Gates. I celebrated this moment, certain it was a small win before a fall. But the next email was positive. She said that the editor enjoyed the dummy, but had just left for vacation. I again celebrated this win before what I was certain would be a fall. After this point, there was a lot of back and forth, a meeting with the Viking team, a few other publishers in the mix after my agent submitted it, and my hopes started to soar. However, it was another 5 months before RENATO AND THE LION was acquired by Viking. I was sure that it would be passed over, until I got the call in August of 2014 from my agent. I couldn’t believe that I had sold my first book! I was ready to start work immediately.

But one thing that may or may not be normal for big publishers, we ended up delaying everything by a year. I kept offering to send sketches to meet my March 2015 deadline, but everyone told me to hold off. By August, when the final art should have been due, I lost heart when I felt we had made no progress at all. I thought they had second thoughts on the book, and would let me go. In reality, I’m sure that there is so much I don’t know about their timetable and book lists, and the delay probably had nothing at all to do with me. I decided to regroup, and travel to Florence for research purposes, using the first part of my book advance. I stayed in Florence for ten days, and learned more about the history than in all of my research stateside. I had been frequenting the Princeton University libraries, and was proud of what I had uncovered. But there is no substitute for walking down a street and meeting a bookseller that was the same age in 1944 as the protagonist. I hired a translator to help me interview him, and it was phenomenal. I sketched the statues, and walked through the center of the city until I knew it cold. That amount of research helped me feel confident about where my characters were placed in the illustrations. For example, when the lion steps off his pedestal, I wanted him to circle around the Palazzo Vecchio before jumping up to the roof of the Vasari corridor. The reason? I just kind of wanted him to walk down the Via dei Leoni, where the lions used to walk in the 13th century in Florence. Those details were fun for me to add.

After I did my research, and returned home, life got in the way for a few months. My personal life was in upheaval, and I felt a bit untethered to everything familiar. At the moment when I had the hardest time finding my bearings, my editor, Tracy, popped up on my radar ready to begin work on our book. Suddenly, RENATO AND THE LION was in full swing, which kept me focused on art and less overwhelmed by the changes in my life. The deadline was tough for the final art, but in retrospect, if I was given a year to make final art, the illustrations would have been so overworked and stiff. I know not every angle is perfect in the book, but to me, there is a freshness to the way I was working that makes the story feel like it’s in motion. Still, I could keep working on this book forever. I’m certain there is still more research out there to be uncovered, or illustrations to refine. I wonder if other authors and illustrators ever feel like they are truly finished with their work.

Now that the book is out there in the wider world, I hope readers can enjoy the story first and foremost–and if hungry for more information, visit for additional commentary on the history and Easter Eggs that I placed throughout the pages.


Barbara DiLorenzo is the author and illustrator of RENATO AND THE LION (Viking, 6/20/17) and QUINCY (Little Bee Books, 2/8/18). She earned her BFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, and spent a year painting with Mary Beth McKenzie at the Art Students League of New York. In 2014 she received the Dorothy Markinko Scholarship Award from the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. She is a signature member in the New England Watercolor Society as well as the Society of Illustrators. Currently she teaches at the Arts Council of Princeton, and is co-president of the Children’s Book Illustrators Group of New York. Barbara lives in Hopewell, New Jersey with her wonderful family–who constantly inspire new stories.

Barbara is represented by Rachel Orr of the Prospect Agency. Visit her portfolio at

Thank you Barbara for sharing your book and journey with us. It is a beautiful book.
Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 25, 2017

2017 Retreat for Poets – Highlights Foundation

A Retreat for Poets 2017 | August 27 – August 31, 2017
A gathering for writers who enjoy playing with rhythm, rhyme, and the poetic form.

Join Eileen Spinelli, author of When You Are Happy and numerous other poetry collections, for a poet’s retreat in the woods.

You will begin each day with a short writing exercise, followed by hours of individual writing time.

In the evenings, you will gather again to share work and discuss the craft of writing poetry.

There will be time to talk about wordplay, word choice, writing process, and how to find ideas.


When You Are Happy

by Eileen Spinelli

When you are lonely,
I will show up
on your doorstep
with my heart in
a basket.

I will whisper
“I love you”
until your loneliness
grows wings
and flies off
like a silken bird.

Special guest Kathleen Hayes will offer a few points about how poetry fits into today’s marketplace. This retreat serves all poets, writing for any audience.

392 Boyds Mills Road
Milanville, PA 18443
PH 877-288-3410

Please mail all correspondence to our office:
814 Court Street, Honesdale, PA 18431

Here is the link to register:

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 24, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Rebecca Thornburgh

When I was seven, I announced at the dinner table that when I grew up, I was going to be a bookmaker. Everybody laughed. But ever since I can remember, making books — creating stories and pictures — was what I wanted to do.

So, now that I’m more or less a grownup, I’m more or less a bookmaker. I’ve been illustrating children’s books (and other stuff for children) full-time since 1996. My very first book, Celtic Designs, was published when I was 21, and it’s now in its seventh printing! I’ve illustrated over a hundred books — a whole bunch of early readers, a number of board books for very small people, and a nice little clump of picturebooks. Some of my favorites are Lewis the Librarian, and The Shelf Elf and The Shelf Elf Helps Out! My newest books are a series about a little boy and his toy monkey — the Rufus and Ryan series.

I really like to draw fairies and dragons and strange little creatures, but I also draw a lot of regular kids doing normal things like going on field trips. When I can get away with it, I like to stick little weird things into my pictures, even the normal ones. Check out my “What I Drew in Church This Week” blog for some of my random drawings. For more fairies, visit my “A Fairy Painting A Day” blog.

I grew up in a sweet little town hugged by the mountains in western Pennsylvania, called Hollidaysburg. (Home of the Slinky, in case you didn’t know.) My sister and I were famous as Serious Readers: teachers were always stopping us in the hallway to recommend some new series of books (“Already read ’em,” we’d sigh.) I’m pretty sure we read every single book in the children’s section of the library. When I wasn’t reading, I was drawing: little mice dressed up in quaint outfits, trees with faces and twiggy fingers, dancing bugs — usually in soft, thick pencil on spongy yellow lined tablet paper.

I studied fine art at Bryn Mawr College. In a tiny studio with a little arched green door, I created etchings with zinc plates, but of course the subject matter was pretty much the same. After graduating I went to work for Hallmark Cards, but my particular job didn’t allow me to do any artwork — this turned out to be Not Much Fun — so I soon left the lovely Land of the Greeting Card. Then there was a bizarre (but fairly brief) career swerve — I went to the extremely intense Wharton School of Business for an MBA degree, and worked for a while in advertising as a business-type person. But I kept on drawing — goblins appeared on marketing reports and dancing carrots on spreadsheets. The arrival of a baby inspired me to paint a wacky rabbit-filled world on her nursery walls –my favorite scene was “Imperative Park” which featured little signs saying “Walk,” “Sit,” “Eat,” “Smell” (the flowers.) On seeing this room, my ol’ college pal, the wise and also world famous illustrator R.W. Alley, ventured the opinion that it looked as if I might want to be doing some illustrating instead of writing marketing strategies. He was right, of course. So it was back to silly pictures for me. Since then, I’ve been living happily ever after!

The first thing I do is to read the manuscript of the story — the manuscript is the story just typed on a piece of paper. I read it over and over again. I spend a lot of time thinking about the story, usually when I’m folding laundry or walking the dog or driving to the grocery store.
Sometimes I draw character studies. They’re not fancy, but they help me remember what all the kids look like and what they’re wearing. I give them all names, too!  These are the kids in Frosty the Snowman.

When I was working on Ms. Broomstick’s School for Witches, I did these drawings to figure out what the little witch Pandora and her teacher, Ms. Broomstick, would look like.

I also use my sketchook to do a bunch of sketches of scenes or situations that I think might work for the story. Some end up in the book, some don’t. Here are some sketches of scenes for Frosty.

The next step is tiny drawings called “thumbnails” drawn on a “book map,” which shows every page in the book. This helps me to see how the pictures work across the entire book. Here are some of the thumbnails for Ms. Broomstick.

After the thumbnail sketches, I do a better sketch for each spread. This sketch is “tighter” — as opposed to the rough, scribbly, loose thumbnail sketches — and drawn to the exact size of the book’s pages. I have to leave room on each page for the words! I used to paste in a photocopy of the type, but now I use Photoshop! These sketches are what I send to the publisher. The editor and the art director look at the sketches. They know that the picture I paint for the book will follow this sketch. Sometimes they ask me to make changes in the sketch, sometimes not.
This is a sketch for one of the spreads in Ms. Broomstick.

Look at the printed page below and see if you think the finished picture looks like the sketch. The only difference is that I painted little faces on the brooms!

For the final paintings, I use watercolor paints and paint on fine paper made especially for watercolor. I “stretch” the watercolor paper by wetting it and then taping it to a masonite board. I use wonderful brushes with lovely fine points — some are giant, for painting big washes of color, and some are teeny-tiny, for adding eyelashes to a mouse!

Sometimes I do a practice painting, or study, to work out the colors and painting style I’ll use for the finished picture. Here’s my study for the cover of “Ms. Broomstick.” You can see that I didn’t put in all the details, or even paint very carefully. (Check out Pandora’s goofy-looking face, for example.) Since this is just practice, I don’t need to make it perfect! See how the study compares to the finished painting below, and then to the actual printed book cover.

And that’s the story!


How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing pictures since I was old enough to hold a crayon, but I’ve been illustrating professionally for over twenty years. My first book, Celtic Designs, was published when I was 22.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

I think it was in high school. I did a lot of calligraphy then for award certificates and wedding invitations, but I also did illustrated ads for the local newspaper.

Did you go to school for art?

I went to Bryn Mawr College, which is a small liberal arts school for women. I was the one and only fine art major in my graduating class.

What type of job did you get after you graduated?

I spent the first year after college doing the art for the Celtic Designs book (I can’t BELIEVE it took me a year to do that one book — I could do it now in about a month!), but then I moved to Kansas City, Missouri to work for Hallmark Cards. My position was called “Design Coordinator.” I didn’t create art, but was responsible for coming up with product ideas. That job lasted only a year — I really missed doing artwork of my own! My career took a weird little swerve in my late 20s — I got an MBA degree from the Wharton School, and worked in advertising and marketing consulting for a few years. The best thing about having that degree was that I taught a course in business for artists at Moore College of Art and Design here in Philadelphia. It was incredibly exciting to be able to empower women artists with a background in business management. But of course I missed doing art, so I left the business world and went back to art full-time.

What do you think influenced your style?

Definitely Arthur Rackham and other late 19th/early 20th century illustrators like Edmund Dulac and Heath Robinson. Also Jessie Willcox Smith. And I’m a HUGE fan of Trina Schart Hyman.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

When I was seven years old, I announced at the dinner table that I was going to be a BOOKMAKER when I grew up. (Obviously I didn’t know exactly what a bookmaker really was…)

How did your first book, Celtic Designs, come your way?

The very accomplished and uber-talented author/illustrator R. W. Alley (who does the Paddington Bear series, among many other books) is a college friend. His father was on a plane with the publisher of Stemmer House Books, and she mentioned to him that she was looking for someone to do the art for a book on Celtic designs for her international design library series. I had done a ginormous, fully illustrated research paper on Celtic illumination in college, and so Bob very kindly recommended me to the publisher. I did two more books for that series — “Art Nouveau Abstract Designs” and “Pennsylvania Dutch Designs.” Believe it or not, they’re all still in print.

What was the first picture book you illustrated?

I did a series of four board books called “The Cuddly Beasties” — on numbers, colors, shapes, and the alphabet.

How did that come your way?

I met the art director for the publisher at a children’s book conference, and she liked the “beasties” in my portfolio.

How many Rufus and Ryan books have you illustrated in that series?

There are three: Rufus and Ryan Go to Church, Rufus and Ryan Celebrate Easter, and Rufus and Ryan Say Their Prayers. I was a little disappointed that the series ended without a Christmas book — that would have been such fun to do.

I see that you had over dozen books come out in 2014. Was that hard to accomplish?

My busiest year was actually in 2008. That year I did finished art for TWENTY-NINE books, AND I painted a nine-foot fiberglass polar bear bench, filled with tiny little scenes. And yes, it was totally crazy — I think it was something well over a thousand illustrations — and I worked about 18 hours a day for ten months. I did the finished art for one 32-page book in a single day!

Is Take a Walk Johnny your latest book?

Yes. It was a great project with a really nice publisher — and I did the paintings while on vacation in Mexico. Ocean breezes and watercolor — total bliss!

How many books have you illustrated with Candy Cane Press?

Oh golly — a lot! I think ten? I love working with them.

I see that you have illustrated a few alphabet letter books with Child’s World. Are they an educational publisher? Do you plan to do the whole alphabet?

Yes, The Child’s World publishes for the school and library market — they make lovely books. The “Sound Box” books do cover the entire alphabet — the series was 26 books altogether. (These were part of my very busy year in 2008.) I’ve also done three other fun books for them.

Are you open to illustrating self-published picture books from writers you don’t know?

I’m open to it, but the process is very different than working with mainstream publishers, because generally the author needs a lot of advice about how to produce a book. I’ve had a lot of inquiries, and I offer as much guidance as I can before we get started.

Have you illustrated any book covers?

Well, kind of? I designed a book cover using photography, not illustration, for a guy who found me on LinkedIn.

Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s picture book?

I’m actually working on writing picture books right now! I’ve written and illustrated three dummies so far — one’s in need of serious revision, one’s kind of midway along, and I’m actively trying to sell the third one. I’m also about to start a MFA program in Creative Writing for Children at Hamline University, so I know I’ll be doing a ton of writing. I’m also interested in writing middle grade fiction.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

No, but I’d love to! My “writing” process always starts with the pictures — the text comes later, so in a way my first drafts are wordless.

Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you? How did you meet and how long have they represented you?

I had a rep (actually three different agencies, but the same people) for about 15 years — we met (again) through my wonderful friend Bob Alley! It was a great relationship, and they got me a ton of work — I have them to thank for almost all of the books I’ve been lucky enough to have illustrated, along with a huge range of other kinds of assignments — posters, teaching materials, games. I decided to go it alone about five years ago when I wanted to get serious about my own writing. (And the first thing I did was write a novel — a murder mystery!)

Have you ever illustrated anything for a children’s magazine?

I was honored to be able to illustrate a cover for High Five! magazine a few years ago, and I’ve illustrated for Spider Magazine as well.

Have you ever considered illustrating a graphic novel?

Oh yeah! Kind of an intimidating prospect, though — I have so much respect for people who have the vision and skills to take on creating a complex work like that. But it sure would be fun to try!

What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

Since I went out on my own without representation, I’ve been using my web site and social media. Former clients have stayed in touch, and one of my former agents has offered me a few projects, too.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I’m TOTALLY devoted to watercolor. Pen and ink is a close second. Sometimes both.

Has that changed over time?

When I was making art in college, I was actually afraid of color. I didn’t know how to use color media, and I was terrified of making choices about what color to put where. I worked exclusively with a crow quill pen and ink (and I also made etching prints). In the first year or so with my rep, my assignments were also in black line, so I was “safe” from having to try color — eeek. Then I had the opportunity to do paintings for a CD-Rom game for a very prominent author/illustrator; he literally taught me how to paint, from doing color studies to stretching watercolor paper, mixing colors, and painting washes and glazes. And now nothing makes me happier than to be immersed in a giant watercolor painting project.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

Yes, we live in a wonderful 150 year old, eight-bedroom house, so I actually have two studios — one is my ‘acoustic’ studio, where the only technology is my light box, and the other is my ‘electric’ studio, where I have my computer and Wacom tablet. I’m also totally spoiled because I have a small and extremely adorable outdoor studio called the “playhouse” where I write and illustrate in warm weather. I love working outdoors.

What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

The truth is it’s probably my endless cups of coffee. And audio books to listen to while I’m working.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I try to draw as much as possible. I like to do stream-of-consciousness scribbling in my sketchbooks, and I also work on figure drawing via a great website: Now, of course, I’m spending time writing as well.

Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

Photo reference is essential! Bicycles, helicopters, wheelbarrows, horses and cows, Mt. Rushmore, Alabama, cats, elephants — who can remember what all these things look like? I do a limited amount of my own photography, but mostly search for images on the internet. I try to “see” things accurately through reference, but then draw them in a way that’s within my own style.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely. It’s made looking for reference material a squillion times easier — need to draw a pileated woodpecker or a wombat? Just Google it! And now social media is THE way to do self-promotion — I use Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Tumblr not so much. Also, because of social media, I now have a ton of kid lit friends to share info and news with. Working in a studio can be a tad lonely, so the internet connects me to a community of great people who’re doing the same thing. Of course, you have to be pretty disciplined about spending too much time playing on Facebook…

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop to do rough sketches and composition — I love how you can rework a layout SO easily by drawing the various elements of the picture on different layers, and then just redrawing, moving things around, and tweaking until the composition is right. I also scan my tight sketches into Photoshop, turn the pencil line into a light raw umber color, and then print the sketch out onto watercolor paper for painting.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

Yes, I have a Wacom Cintiq which I totally LOVE — it’s what I use to work in Photoshop.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Of course! First, I just want to be able to continue to do this work that I love, but right now I’m working very hard toward being able to sell a picture book I’ve both written and illustrated.

What are you working on now?

One of my favorite projects is a picture book I wrote and illustrated called Sunnyside Up, about a day in the life of Humpty Dumpty. It’s now in its tenth revision, after having lots of reviews by writer friends, editors and agents. It’s a pretty funny story, and of course it’s about a great character, so I’m about to rework it (again!) in order to submit to publishers. And then of course there’s grad school starting in three weeks — I’ll be workshopping Sunnyside Up there.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

Oh boy — this could be a loooong answer! Well, I’m totally addicted to sketchbooks (so I have shelves full of them now.) I make my own, with a spiral coil binding machine I begged for on my birthday. I make a new sketchbook for each new project — this (mostly) keeps my ideas organized. And I glue in scraps of pictures and other weird things for inspiration. I also carry a ‘generic’ sketchbook with me everywhere, because you never know when you’ll have a minute to draw, right? I love this quote: “An artist is a sketchbook with a person attached.”

Next I have to say that that printing a final sketch directly onto the painting surface saves EONS of time. I used to transfer a sketch from tracing paper to w/c paper via a light box, which took forever, and the transferred drawing was never as good as the sketch. So now I have a high quality, wide-format printer (an Epson R2000) to print out my final drawings onto 140-lb cold press Arches watercolor paper — these photo quality printers are fairly expensive, but SO worth it.

Okay, one more thing — Kolinsky sable brushes for water color painting! I buy Winsor Newton for the teeny tiny sizes like 00 and 000, but I’ve found that Raphael series 8404 are great and much less expensive for bigger sizes like 4 and 6.

35. Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator? I just finished a fantastic book called “Grit” by Angela Duckworth. Her very well-respected research concludes that EFFORT is the single most important determining factor in success. So my advice is first to read that book (!) and second to follow its message: never give up — keep working and working and working. Because it’s not about talent. Duckworth demonstrates that effort is what makes the difference. Plus, I really believe that publishing shouldn’t be the goal; beginners should be passionate about their creative process. Doing the work is what’s important; getting published will follow.

Thank you Rebecca for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Rebecca’s work, you can visit her at her website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Rebecca. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Many of you will remember Allison Wortche, since she attended many of the NJSCBWI events during my 10 years as Regional Advisor. Allison is a very good editor and a very nice person. When Allison contacted me about her new company Allison Wortche Editorial Services, I asked her to be our guest editor this month and critique four of our first pages. I was happy to introduce her to everyone – especially since many of you ask for my advice on finding someone to help you polish your manuscript for publication.


Allison Wortche is a freelance editor with over twelve years of experience in children’s publishing. As a senior editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House, Allison acquired and edited picture books and middle-grade and YA novels. She worked with bestselling and award-winning authors including Jennifer Niven, Cath Crowley, Amy Timberlake, Deborah Hopkinson, Jean Reagan, Barb Rosenstock, Jen Bryant, and Il Sung Na. The books Allison edited in her years at Knopf garnered over 50 starred reviews and included New York Times bestsellers, a Caldecott Honor Book, a Newbery Honor Book, Edgar Award winners, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book, ALA Notables, and YALSA BFYAs.

Allison is also the author of Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine, illustrated by Patrice Barton. She graduated summa cum laude from the College of William and Mary with a BA in English and Psychology. She lives in New York with her husband, three-year-old, and new baby.

Allison has recently launched Allison Wortche Editorial Services. With her knowledge of the children’s marketplace and publishing process, she offers editorial and creative guidance to authors of picture books through YA. She loves words, characters, and stories—and she loves working with writers to help strengthen their manuscripts. For more information, please contact her at

Here is Part Two of my interview with Allison:

How do you charge? Time – page amount – pre-fixed price?

Fees are agreed upon at the start of each job and determined by the length and scope of the project. I charge $400 for a full picture book edit and around $2,000 for a full novel edit (adjusted based on page count). For each manuscript, I provide a detailed editorial letter with clear suggestions for revision, as well as close line edits using Track Changes. Also included is a brief follow-up phone call or email exchange to give writers the opportunity to ask questions about the edits and industry, brainstorm ideas, etc.

Is a follow-up look at the manuscript part of the price?
A follow-up look isn’t part of the price, but I am happy to review revisions for a significantly reduced fee.

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

I see many picture books that feel didactic rather than story/character-driven, as well as rhyming picture books in which the word choice and overall storytelling feel forced. In novels, I often come across dialogue that feels unnatural, secondary characters that are underdeveloped, and uneven pacing. This isn’t a “mistake,” but as an acquiring editor, I often had to pass on submissions that felt too familiar—just not quite fresh enough, and too similar to what’s already out there in the crowded and competitive marketplace.

Is a phone consultation something you do?

I have not been doing initial phone consultations but as mentioned, I do offer follow-up phone calls.

How long do you take to read a manuscript novel and get back to the writer?

It depends on how many projects I have on my desk, and I am upfront about the time frame. My goal is 2 weeks for picture books and 4 weeks for novels.

How many books at Knopf did you have full responsibility for editing?

I was the editor of about 55 lovely books in my years at Knopf.

Are you working on developing a website for your new business?

Yes, I’m hoping to have it up and running this summer.

Are you still writing picture books?

I am! I have a few projects in the works now, so fingers crossed.… 



In the subject line, please write “June 2017  Critique” and paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page). REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED!

Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page. Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.
PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: June 22nd.
RESULTS: June 30th.

Please only submit one first page a month, but do try again if your first page wasn’t one of the pages randomly picked. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 22, 2017


Let’s celebrate like the kids in this illustration by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne for the people in this weeks Kudo post. Chantelle and Burgen were featured on Illustrator Saturday. Check it out if you missed it.

Congratulations to Dr. Mira Reisberg of the Children’s Book Academy. She was recently-hired as editor and art director at Clear Fork Publishing’s children’s imprint Spork. This is great news for all the writers and illustrators who have taken her online courses and for those going to sign up. She has been hired to take Spork to the next level of publishing. Here is the link for the picture book online course happening in July. Tomorrow is the last day to apply for a scholarship. June 26th is the last day to take advantage of the $70 discount off registration.

Rachel Brooks has joined Book Ends Literary as agent, moving her client list with her. Previously she was at the L. Perkins Agency.

Michael Strother will join Little, Brown Children’s as editor on June 26. Most recently, he was an editor at Harlequin Teen.

Allison Remcheck has been promoted to associate agent for Stimola Literary Studio representing middle-grade and YA fiction.

Writers House is closing its London office, and managing director of Writers House UK Angharad Kowal has left the company as a consequence. Peggy Boulos Smith joined Writers House in New York as UK rights director, representing adult clients, and director of children’s subsidiary rights Cecilia de la Campa is handling the UK children’s business. Smith was previously global rights director at the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Meredith Miller has joined United Talent Agency as an agent and will direct their foreign rights department. Previously, she was associate director of foreign rights at Trident Media Group, where she worked for 6 years.

Erin Young has been promoted to agent at Dystel, Goderich and Bourret.

Lauren Plude has joined Montlake Romance imprint as acquisitions editor. Most recently she was a freelance editor.

Nick Amphlett has been promoted to associate editor at William Morrow.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 21, 2017

Book Giveaway: A Band of Babies

Author Carole Gerber has agreed to give away a copy of her new picture book, A BAND OF BABIES. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus gave it excellent reviews. Amazon selected it as a June Best Book of the Month for children. 

If you would like to win a copy, please leave a comment, reblog, tweet, or talk about A BAND OF BABIES on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you did to share the good news, so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Check back to discover the winner


New York Times bestselling illustrator Jane Dyer teams up with award-winning author Carole Gerber to lead a band of marching babies all through town.

It was just an ordinary day at play group until Benny arrived. With flute in hand and drums in tow, Benny’s love of music inspires the babies to get up and put on a show. Toot! Toot! Whee! Benny and his band of babies are a sight to see!

With rhythmic text from veteran author Carole Gerber and lively illustrations from bestselling artist Jane Dyer, this musical journey will have readers of all ages snapping their fingers and tapping their toes!


This “new” book’s journey began so long ago that I had to refresh my memory by re-reading the ancient emails from Maria Modugno, who was then at HarperCollins. Despite the fact that it took nearly seven years to be published, the submission/acceptance/contract dance went very quickly.

After much “noodling” and rewriting, I submitted a manuscript told in verse about babies with musical instruments who ran amok and went on a “shopping spree” in a grocery store. The idea sprang from using the word “band” to designate a group (i.e., “a band of brothers”) and “band” to describe a group playing instruments. I began the story with this: “Thumpa-thump. Toot! Toot! Whee!/Babies on a shopping spree.”

Kelly Sonnack, who was my agent at that time, submitted the manuscript on August 20, 2010. Maria Modugno read it immediately but rejected it and had her editorial assistant, Annie Stone, send an email five days later. Gasp! Such speed is almost unheard of in publishing. Here was her response:

Thank you for forwarding Carole Gerber’s Band of Babies. Maria and I both read the manuscript, and it was a pleasure to read—the playful language and clever use of alliteration and rhyme works very well in this text. Unfortunately, we find that picture books don’t tend to do well in today’s difficult market unless they have a true narrative arc to them. We’d love to see this again if Gerber develops the story further; in the meantime, we wish you the best of luck in finding the right home for this book.   When my agent forwarded on the rejection, I could have taken it as a “nice and speedy no.” Instead, I followed up on the suggestion that it needed “a true narrative arc.” To me, this meant an introduction that put the babies’ actions into context. In other words, what motivated them to do what they did? (Duh! Why didn’t I think of this on my own?!)

I read Annie Stone’s kindly-composed rejection about an hour before my husband and I were scheduled to leave for dinner with friends. Then I reread my manuscript and –  in a flash – knew exactly what was missing. In the hour before we left, I “invented” baby Benny and made him the instigator of the action that unfolded and also wove him into the ending. Here are the first two spreads I wrote that evening:

The next morning, I sent the revision to my agent. Kelly loved the revision and immediately sent it back to HarperCollins with this message:
Carole’s taken your suggestions to heart and put together a revision of BAND OF BABIES that has a much stronger narrative arc (and a new leader of the band – Baby Benny!). I’m submitting this revision to you and Maria exclusively in the hopes that it’s a match.

A few days later, Maria Modugno responded directly to my agent.

Kelly, We’re really happy with this revision.  (It’s always a relief to get a revised text that is actually better instead of worse thanks to editorial comments.)  I’d like to bring this to an Editorial meeting with an eye towards Acquisitions.  OK with you?  Maria

No further revisions were requested, which is minor miracle!  Acquisitions approved the manuscript and we received a “deal memo” dated October 13, 2010.  I received and signed a contract from HarperCollins on November 30, 2010 and the deal was announced in Publishers Marketplace on December 14, 2010.  Jane Dyer was named as illustrator. The process went so quickly and smoothly – including the full payment of an excellent advance –  that we expected the book to be published in 2012. (Picture books usually take two years for illustration and production.)

However, in 2012, Maria Modugno left her job as VP and editorial director at HarperCollins to join Random House as editorial director of picture books and Golden Books for Young Readers Group.  The schedule for Jane Dyer, an amazing and popular illustrator, was booked up by Random House and other publishers.

My book at HarperCollins became what is known as “an orphan.” Meantime, my agent and I had an amicable parting of the ways. The manuscript languished until the fall of 2013, when my now-former agent contacted Alexandra Cooper, a new editor at HarperCollins who had inherited my manuscript. She estimated that, because of Jane Dyer’s full schedule, A BAND OF BABIES, would be out in 2016 – or possibly in spring 2017. The actual pub date was June 6, 2017.

Despite the long wait, I could not be happier with Benny and his little band, or more grateful to all who had a hand in bringing A Band of Babies into the world. My thanks to Kelly Sonnack for selling it, to Maria Mondugno for buying it, to Jane Dyer for illustrating it beautifully, and to HarperCollins editors Alexandra Cooper and Alyssa Miele for shepherding it through publication.


Carole Gerber is a poet and children’s author living in Powell, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. She has written 16 picture books, two chapter books, and more than 100 elementary reading and science books for a variety of publishers. Most of her picture books are told in verse. A former teacher and journalist, she holds a B.S. in English Education and an M.A. in journalism from Ohio State.

Winter Trees (Charlesbridge, 2008) received a John Burroughs Nature Writing Award and was selected in 2009 as an Outstanding Trade Book by the CBC and NSTA. Leaf Jumpers (Charlesbridge, 2006) was commended by the NSTA and was selected for Just Read! the Florida Summer Reading List in 2009. Other awards include the Great Lakes Booksellers Pick of the List for Arctic Dreams (Charlesbridge) and a Parent Council Award of Excellence for Hush! A Gaelic Lullaby.

Carole Gerber enjoys visiting schools through the Greater Columbus Arts Council Artists-in-Schools program. To learn more about her books – she has several new ones in the works – please visit her web site:

Thank you Carole for sharing your book and journey with us. It looks like a gorgeous book.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 20, 2017



On the third Tuesday Christina or Christy Ewers Tugeau of the Catugeau Artist Agency will answer questions and talk about things illustrators need to know to further their career. It could be a question about an illustration you are working on, too. Please email your questions to me and put ASK CAT in the subject box.


Here’s Chris:The first question from Kary is about whether it is ‘best’ to seek an artist rep over a literary agent as children’s book illustrator who does NOT market as an author/illustrator.

This is an interesting question today actually and one that many artists probably wonder about…and artist/illustrators too!  Over the last decade particularly there has been a big move into the ARTIST area from LITERARY agencies who hadn’t previously done so much with author/illustrators and certainly not with illustrators alone!   It was and is not their expertise!  Contacts do however over lap in this children’s visual picture book industry, and they are seeing the same editors with their artist groupings.  Hopefully they just add the ADs into their contacts!  We at CATugeau Agency are ARTIST reps, but for years we have presented and have sold several author/illustrated books from our agency group to various types of publishing clients.  We have always (22 years!) taken dummies to NYC every visit to show to editors and ADs.  It’s definitely part of what we offer.  My partner has a degree in English, and I had a minor in Lit and major in Art, and we read and study loads of ms, books and art on going.  I do not consider myself a LIT AGENT however.  It has to do more with the set up for ‘rights’ management in some cases.  Contracts are very similar however so that is not enough of a  distinction.  And I don’t consider Lit agencies ART AGENTS either if they are not trained for the visual management and feedback artists often require.  I think however we all LEARN by doing and it’s a difficult answer to give generally.

I think each author and each illustrator needs to feel right and comfortable with the agency’s expertise for THEIR needs  particularly. It’s hard to get into an agency to begin with. There is limited space if the agency is to have the time do the job they should hope to do for each artist and/or author.  If you are not an author however, it would seem to make more sense to be with an ARTIST AGENCY as that is their expertise and knowledge and perhaps better fits your needs.

Kary also asked if there are artist reps that crossover into the editorial/commercial market.  And the answer is easy…YES!  The bigger agencies all have several reps who each have their differing areas of interest and connections. They may have a children’s market sub-agency even.  You can see this in some of the Source Books (like Directory of Illustration) on-line and get ideas for who these agencies are.  Some of the artists do lots of crossover work with different reps within the agency too.  You’d have to ask the artists to know how well this works.  Our agency only searches for projects within the Children’s Publishing Market, trade and mass books, games, and educational books and materials.  But we get calls from editorial, licensing, surface design, and other markets occasionally and we’ll handle those. We do not solicit in those markets normally however due to lack of time mostly.  Larger agencies will have more people handling these other industries.  Smaller agencies are generally more approachable and responsive to each artist (as needed and wished for) but do not have the broader scope of ‘crossover’ markets.  Again, it’s knowing YOUR needs and wants and letting that guide your agency choice. It should feel good, encouraging, safe and vital….like a family in business together!


Christina A. Tugeau Artist Agency LLC is the first mother/daughter agency in the business! A trained artist herself with a BA in Fine Art, Chris Tugeau has been in the children’s illustration industry for over 25 years. Since opening her own agency in 1994, Chris has enjoyed representing many talented artists, and has been an active part of the illustration community; writing and presenting for SCBWI regions around the country. She is also the author of SCBWI Illustrator Guidelines. A veteran artist and rep, Chris is an advocate for ethical fairness and the bright future of children’s publishing. She’s also a mother of 3, a grandmother to 8, and best friend to husband, Bill.

Chris and Christy, Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer questions and helping everyone trying to build their careers in the children’s publishing industry. Please help keep this column going by sending in your questions.

Thank you Chris and Christy for more great answers.


Hope this illustration by CONSTANZE VON KITZING: will inspire everyone to send in a question to Chris and Christy. Constanze was featured on Illustrator Saturday January 26, 2013. Take a look.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 19, 2017

Agent Susan Hawk: Likes and Dislikes

Susan Hawk


Susan has worked in children’s books for over twenty-five years. She comes to Upstart Crow from the Bent Agency, and her clients include Alison Oliver, illustrator of the bestselling Baby Lit board books and the forthcoming picture book Moon; Ruth Spiro, author of the Baby Loves Science board book series; Marcie Colleen, author of the Super Happy Party Bears chapter book series and the forthcoming picture books Love, Triangle and The Adventure of the Penguinaut; Lisa Tyre, whose debut middle-grade novel, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, was a BEA Buzz Book title; Sarah Lariviere, whose middle-grade novel The Bad Kid is an 2017 Edgar Award Nominee; and Rachael Allen, author of the YA novels 17 First Kisses and The Revenge Playbook.

She represents books for children: Picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult, along with some non-fiction for children and teens too. She is committed to building a diverse list of books and authors, and welcomes submission in this area.

She looks for books that make her feel something. Grab me by the heart and don’t let go. Complex, layered, flawed and lively characters are irresistible to her. She loves writing that acknowledges and explores the way humans can hold opposing feeling-sometimes lot of them-all at one time.

Plot is equally important. I want to be drawn deeply into your story – even if it isn’t an adventure, I want to feel like I’m on the edge if my seat, waiting to see what will happen next. Humor is key. I like smart, witty, humor (not so much gross-out humor),. Even if your book isn’t meant to be a knee slapper, a bit of something funny feels like real life to me.

I want writing that’s sharp, focused, thoughtful and inventive. I’m a sucker for bittersweet and soulful. Literary or commercial, high concept or character-driven, I want to be surprised by your book.

Character driven projects are Susan’s favorite. She is omnivorous when it come to genre, and loves reading mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, humor, boy books, historical contemporary – you name it!

In picture books, she’s looking particularly for author-illustrators, succinct but expressive texts, and indelible characters.

The non-fiction she’s drawn to relates to kid’s daily lives and their concerns with the world.

How to Submit to Susan Hawk

  • Submit a QUERY and TWENTY PAGES of your manuscript to
  • Please put your query and sample in the body of the email. We will not open emailed attachments.
  • Author/illustrators: NB—Please include a link to your online portfolio and/or to your downloadable dummy. (Thank you!)

If your submission is received by our system, an automated response will be emailed to you.

Upstart Crow runs a nearly paper-free office (or that’s what we aim for, anyway), and trust that we are serious when we tell you: we do not accept hard copy submissions via the US mail. We consider only electronic submissions. Mailed submissions will be thrown unread into the recycle bin.

A Little Bit About Susan:

Before agenting, Susan worked in the Children’s Marketing departments of Penguin Books for Young Readers, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers and North-South Books, where she managed campaigns for many books and authors including Eric Carle, Mary E Pearson, Richard Peck and Joan Bauer. She’s also been a children’s librarian and bookseller, and spent some time in Dutton Editorial, acquiring select picture book and YA projects for that list.

“I grew up in Washington, DC just a couple blocks from a wonderful children’s bookstore, The Cheshire Cat. Reading had me hooked at an early age, so this was a magical place for me. The minute I could get a job there—at the ripe old age of 13—I did. And ever since, children’s books and publishing have given me both a home and a career.

“After college, I got a job at another bookstore, a brand-new Borders. As a bookseller there, I met a number of publicists, coming from New York with touring authors. The travel, the media and the authors all seemed pretty thrilling to me, so I moved to New York myself, determined to find a job in Publicity. I landed in the Children’s Publicity and Marketing Department at Penguin. This was in the 1990s, when children’s books were becoming a force within publishing houses and it was an exciting time. As much as I loved the new books, I equally adored the opportunity to read more classic backlist titles than I could carry home, and pore over old author files—letters from S.E. Hinton, Ludwig Bemelmans, Robert McCloskey and more!

“Perhaps it was those files (and the possibility of becoming an archivist) that led me to pursue librarianship. And that, in turn, eventually brought me back to Penguin, where I ran the Library Marketing Department and was able to work simultaneously in Dutton Editorial for a brief period. Finally, I began to think about agenting—a place where I could put my passion for kid’s books together with my experiences in marketing, editorial, bookstores, and libraries. I haven’t looked back since taking on my first client in 2010!

“When people ask me about my favorite part of agenting, I say it’s hard to choose just one, because I enjoy the variation so much: the deeply thoughtful work that goes into an edit letter, helping a writer to dig more deeply into her character and story. The strategy, and pleasure, that goes into selling a project, matching it to an editor that I suspect will feel just as strongly about it as I do. Brainstorming new ideas with my clients. Thinking big picture about a client’s career, and the patient process of building that career, together.

“But if I had to pick just one thing, it would be this: I love the moment that I open a query, and find myself pulled completely into a new world, with characters I never want to leave.  I can trace that feeling right back to my own childhood and the thrill of cracking open a new book.  I didn’t know, those years ago, that books would take me on so many different and marvelous journeys—not least of which is the one that brought me here.”

Thank you Susan for being out there helping to bring new authors and books to market.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 18, 2017

Happy Father’s Day – Book Winner

Congratulations to Kim MacPherson for winning PEEP and EGG by Laura Gehl

Please send your address.


Hope you enjoy the illustrations and your day.

Christugeau Dad12

ANA OCHOA –  Represented by CATugeau:


Melissa Iwai – Represented by CATugeau:




HOLLY HATAM – Represented by CATugeau:


Christugeau Dad13

PATRICE BARTON –  Represented by CATugeau:


Christugeau Dad4

NINA MATA – Represented by CATugeau:


Christugeau Dad5

CONSTANZE VON KITZING –  Represented by CATugeau:


Christugeau Dad14

ANN IOSA – Represented by CATugeau:


Christugeau Dad8

IRENE CHAN –  Represented by CATugeau:


Christugeau Dad3

LESLEY BREEN-WITHROW – Represented by CATugeau:



Francesca D’Ottavi – Represented by Chris Wilkinson:


Christugeau Dad7

PRISCILLA BURRIS – Represented by CATugeau:

Christugeau Dad11

SHEARRY MALONE –  Represented by CATugeau:


Christugeau Dad10

KELLY KENNEDY –  Represented by CATugeau:



Susan Batori –  Represented by Good Illustration:


dad walking to school no text

Roger Roth –  www,  Represented by Fiona Kenshole Transatlantic Agency:

MARIA MOLA – Represented by T2 Children’s Illustrators –

happy father's day2015-Kathy

ANA OCHOA –  Represented by CATugeau:

Enjoy your day, Dads!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 17, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Nicole Wong

Nicole Wong was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, with both parents in the arts — her dad was a designer and painter, and her mom was a fashion illustrator and art teacher.  So when she was a kid she never thought of becoming anything except an illustrator. As a girl she drew constantly — including on the walls behind furniture, where her mom would years later find drawings. She received her first freelance illustration job when she was twelve. As she grew up she wanted to learn more, and graduated from RISD with a BFA in illustration. She still takes art classes to explore different media and techniques, like collage, photography, egg tempera painting, and etc. Now, she’s happily a full-time illustrator of magazines, children’s educational, and trade books. She continues to live in Fall River with her husband, Dan Medeiros, our daughter, our sleepy kitty, and two big pups.

Nicole’s Artist Statement:

I once thought I’d make a good anthropologist. I’m a constant observer—nothing is as pleasurable to me as the process of studying, processing, and recording the way people and animals reach out and interact. As an illustrator who loves a good narrative, I collect these details, funny and whimsical notes, and use them as my medium to communicate with and entertain an audience. Animals in particular are wonderful to watch.  Spend enough time following them and you find their hours full of small moments of drama, comedy, intrigue, and wonder—all the stuff of great storytelling. I want my paintings to be like fleeting captured moments taken from a larger whole, little pieces of narrative that imply a wider story. I prefer to paint on a small and intimate scale that reflects the subjects and these moments, using everything from oil to pen and ink to watercolor. The size of the paintings almost asks the audience to lean in closer to see it all, so they can enter the image and imagine the rest of that story themselves.


Here is a sped up video that shows the start of my project. Procreate automatically creates videos that are easy to export and share. The idea was based on my love of old lithograph city maps and you can see the reference I used in the video. The first picture reference in the video was of the 1877 map of my city, Fall River, MA. I really wanted to base my landscape on it, because of my personal connection to it. I grew up with a copy of it in my childhood home and wanted to make a visual nod to the past. Unfortunately I didn’t think the angle of it worked compositionally so instead I took a picture of my city in google maps and based the landscape off of that.

How-to for the Explorers Illustration
This piece is my first digitally created illustration on my iPad with the Procreate app. It’s the beginning of a new journey with digital art and my new portfolio. I’m creating a series of new paintings based on the months and this one is January, so I thought it was appropriate to have with these little explorers in a hot air balloon starting on a journey. Despite it being a new illustration in a new medium, it’s been a painting I’ve had in my head for a long time, but never really worked when I put it to paper in my more traditional watercolor and ink style, but came so easily when creating it in Procreate.







Interview Questions for Nicole Wong
How long have you been illustrating?

About 17 years. I think my first professional job was for New Moon Magazine in 2000.

What were your favorite classes when you studied art at RISD?

There are a lot of classes that I loved and still influence me, even though it been almost 20 years since I graduated, like children’s book illustration and design class with David Macaulay. I always loved art history, especially Northern Renaissance art history. And I loved animation. I still think about the old Czech films I watched in my History of Animation class. I took an animation class and thought about pursuing it, but at the time, I was a very poor student and probably wouldn’t have been able to budget the extra expenses for that major. But I still love watching animation and try to animate my books through its pacing and visual storytelling.

What was the first thing you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

When I was 12 years old, I used to illustrate signs and posters for local businesses.

Do you think art school influenced your style?

Teachers helped students to explore by looking at art and learning its history. Trying new techniques and taking classes in different departments were highly encouraged. Most importantly we learned how to critique our work.

What type of job did you do after you graduated?

I worked at watch display company and designed the spaces in department store cases to hold watches, despite not having any experience or even knowing that people did this for a living. After that, I worked at a greeting card company and really learned about how to work with art directors and how to manage a deadline.

Did RISD help you get illustration work?

Never directly, but its well-known name might have helped influence some employers to hire me.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I always wanted to be an illustrator, but it probably was in college that I really wanted to focus on children’s books.

Was WHY ARE YOU SAD? your first picture book?

Yes, though I was offered this book and “Candy Shop” around the same time. This one was just published first.

How did that publisher find you to offer you the illustration job?

It was from my first mailing. I sent out homemade postcards to publishers that I found in the Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market book.

How many books have you illustrated for Charlesbridge?

I just finished my 4th book with them this week!


Did you sign a contract for more than one book or did they keep coming back to you?

They keep coming back. They’re really great people to work with, so I’m extra thankful!

Do you have an agent? If so who, how long have you been with them and how did you connect?

Yes, I’m represented by Teresa Kietlinski of Bookmark Literary. We met through Etsy, where I have a store to sell artwork. I’ve been with her for almost 5 years, and she’s been fantastic and very supportive. I’m very grateful to have her handle the business details, which I find way less fun.

How many books have you illustrated?

Seventeen trade books and I can’t remember how many educational books. I’ll just say a lot.

Please tell us a little bit about your latest book. What is the title? How did you get the job? How long did it take you to illustrate, etc.

I just finished “Flying Deep” by Michelle Cusolito with Charlesbridge Publishing. It’s about the Human Occupied Vehicle Alvin from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which explores underwater volcanoes and the amazing and strange life that lives around them along the oceans floor. As a big science enthusiast, I was thrilled to research and illustrate this book. I started my rough sketches in December and I just finished up all the paintings this week, so the job took about 6 months.

Have you started to add digital art to your portfolio?

I’m currently in the process of creating an all digital art portfolio. I’m in a reinvention mode. For years, I created ink and watercolor paintings but with the new technology that simulates painting and drawing so well, I’m absolutely in love with the ease of painting digitally. It’s great to be able to work anywhere, and having an undo button is priceless.

Do you do art exhibits to help people see your work?

I have been a part of a few exhibits over the years, but don’t currently have any upcoming exhibits.

Did you illustrate any book covers when you were starting out?

No, I’ve never done a book cover outside of the covers of the children’s books that I’ve illustrated.

Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s picture book?

I’m not much of a writer, but my husband is and we hope to collaborate on some projects in the future.

Would you be open to illustrating a book for an author who wants to self-publish?


Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

I haven’t had a project like that come up, no.

Have you worked with any educational publishers?

I have done a lot of educational illustration in the past that included books and textbooks.

How did you get the illustrating jobs for children’s magazines?

Probably through postcard mailing and email marketing. I used a web-based email marketing company to get lists of art directors and editors to contact.

Do you work full time illustrating books?

Yes, if by “full-time” you mean almost all day every day for months, and then nothing for a while until I get a new project! It’s certainly not 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve mostly worked on about one or two books a year during my career.

Do you have studio in your house?

Yes, it’s a converted attic space on the 3rd floor of my house. It’s mostly full of cat hair and my 4-year-old daughter’s Lego village right now.

Do you try and spend a certain amount of hours every day working on your art?

Right now it’s trying to find a balance between work and motherhood. Let’s say it’s complicated.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Currently, I’m creating everything digitally. Until just recently, I created illustrations with ink and watercolor. I also love to experiment for personal work in lots of mediums, especially in oils.

Do you take pictures or other research before you start a project?

Absolutely. For example, with this latest project “Flying Deep,” I pored over dozens of pictures and video of the Alvin to make sure every detail was as accurate as possible, which is important with science-based books. I also visited the New England Aquarium in Boston and took photos to get a sense of how the animals move underwater and to get how light works underwater, since a lot of the book takes place in the deep ocean with no sunlight and lit only by the Alvin. With every project I always have a lot of reference, and now that I work mainly on the iPad, I can have my reference and the art open on the same screen and in the layers of my drawing program.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Definitely. I met my agent and some clients through Etsy, and it has made it easier to contact art directors and editors.

Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

Minimally lately. I’ve been creating art in Procreate and I mostly use Photoshop only to prepare files for press. In the past when I worked with ink and watercolors, I used to use it much more, to scan in artwork for clients, correct any flaws (and remove any cat hair that got embedded in the paint), and prepare the work for the press.

Do you own or have you ever tried a graphic Drawing Tablet?

I’m creating my illustrations on the  iPad with the pressure sensitive Apple Pencil in a program called Procreate. I’m having so much fun.

Do you think your style has changed over the years? Have your materials changed?

Yes, you’re catching me at a transition point in my career since I’m moving to digital art from ink and watercolor. In the past I’ve done loads of different techniques, like using acrylics, staining paper with teabags, and coating the paintings with different varnishes. I resisted going digital for a long time, because I had tried Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop but they couldn’t replicate the richness I was looking for. So I waited until the technology caught up to a point where I could draw and paint in almost the same way I could with pens and brushes, which Procreate can do. It doesn’t look exactly like watercolor but it has its own unique look while still retaining some traditional qualities.

What do you consider is your biggest success?

I don’t think it’s just one thing. I consider having been able to consistently have books to work on all these years to be a success.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I really want to work on projects with my husband. We have several ideas and some are in the process of being made. I had to take some time away from illustration after my daughter was born and am trying to get more projects off the ground while still balancing my work life and motherhood.

What are you working on now?

After finishing Flying Deep, I’ll be working on another book, Sweet Dreaming, which is also being created digitally. Also I’m working on making pieces for my new digitally created portfolio.

Do you have any material tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tired – A how to tip, etc.

Digital: I use the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, with the Procreate app. Occasionally I use an app called Paper 53 as a sketchbook.
I loved using Rotring rapidographs (which unfortunately aren’t sold in the United States anymore, so I’ve had to import them from Japan) and Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper for my traditional illustration work.
For personal work and when I have the time to oil paint, I love painting on Ampersand Claybord, which is tricky with oil but a beautiful smooth surface.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful illustrator?

I’m not sure I’m wise, just a hard worker. Just keep trying and make your work unique to you.

Thank you Nicole for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Nicole’s work, you can visit her at her website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Nicole. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,

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