Monday, October 7, 2019

How to Start First Grade

  Four and a half days without the internet is probably enough to make you want to write a blog post or something when it comes back on, right?  The sheer gratitude of  having  a connection can be an inspiration.
  The weather is turning cooler, kids have already been back at school for a while spreading new virulent strains, and recently the nice people at Random House granted me permission to show some of the final illustrations from my latest book,  a 32 page leveled reader featuring a first grader who struggles to come to terms with his waning popularity when a new girl comes to  school. The title is How to Start First Grade, and it is scheduled for release on 6/9/20.
 I really enjoyed the playground chalk art scenes, drawing kids yelling at each other, (anger is so much fun) and the challenging scenes which required me to draw the backs of kid's heads.
 I have a strong aversion to looking at my work after it is finished. I'm sure I'm not alone in that feeling. I think enough time has passed since I finished these in July and August, that I can look at them; even if it's through slightly parted fingers. 
A postscript: after I wrote this, the electricity went out for a few hours.  But now I'm back, and with a little luck I may actually get a blog post out for Monday morning.

Cover. The blackboard is obsolete, but the bulletin board lives on.
Steve and family and Dad the waiter getting fortified for the first day of school.

All of his friends are happy to see him again.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Good Kid inTraining

  I'm finally taking time to blog about my work again. The holiday season was super busy, mostly with this book. Please visit me on Instagram for more frequent posts. 
  My illustration has usually been geared to a younger audience, but in November I was asked to illustrate a middle grade novel, for One Elm, a new division of Red Chair PressIt's 121 pages with 17 interior illustrations in black and white.
  I've had experience drawing pre-teen girls, for the Period Book and a few others for Bloomsbury.  So illustrating for the 9-13 age group seemed like visiting old friends, except with bikes, boogers and frogs this time, and bunnies to even it all out!  Boys can't be entirely gross, after all. It's a story about how difficult it is for a fourth grade boy named Roosevelt to be good no matter how hard he tries, and ultimately, the lessons he learns about the value of friendship.
  The first step was to create some character sketches, based on their personalities and emotional tenor in the manuscript and a bit of direction ( Roosevelt is white and has glasses, for example).

 The art director suggested that Spaghetti Eddie could look like Eddie Haskell from Leave it to Beaver. Sounded good to me. I tried to keep him from looking older than the other kids, though.

"You look beautiful today, Mrs. Cleaver."

   I did a couple of  tiny thumbnail sketches for the cover.
          A captured frog jumps out of his mouth.

                             Wreaking havoc with rabbits.

                    They chose the second one.  So I went to final art, first as black and white.

Type layout was overlayed to make sure the positioning of the art would be accurate. Adjustments were made on the back cover text to  give the art more space.

Color applied digitally.
Detail of houses (click on picture to enlarge).
Roosevelt's dog has accidentally knocked over Mrs. Crabapple's rabbit hutch. Guess whose fault it is.

                                               Here are a few of the interior illustrations:

Fun with tater tots

Fun with imaginary boogers. Mozart's booger is chewing gum. Who could have done that?

It's impossible to stay out of trouble, no matter how much you want that new bike. Tell that to Principal Esposito.

                                                    That's all for now until the book release!
                                                               Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

How to Start First Grade

  My blog posts have been getting a little sparse!
  It's not for a lack of activity on the illustration front, but maybe it's for a lack of an exciting personal life, I'll admit to that.  I've been spending alot of time on Instagram lately,  so feel free to check out my work there.
Spring and summer always presents me with plenty of household errands encouraged by the light and air opening up the house.  And the front porch is always beckoning!  The roses are in bloom despite not tending them at all.
  But I'll leave the new geraniums sitting there unplanted for one more day, so I can show what I've been up to in the past few weeks.
  This is my 5th reader with Penguin Random House featuring the antics of Steve.  The previous book, How to Start Kindergarten, is available for pre-order here.
  I've just completed the sketches for this 32-page book about entering First Grade, or as Steve puts it, "REAL school." As with any book about school, there are plenty of kids. The one new kid in town that is unintentionally stealing Steve's spotlight is Hanna, a girl from Alaska, who has arrives on a dogsled and has a gold nugget in her pocket.
  I  sometimes provide only one sketch for a cover, but this time I supplied 3.
  I think the chalk drawing scene is my personal choice for the cover.  I'm looking forward to starting the color on these soon! 

Cover #1
Cover #2

Cover #3
  Everyone is glad to see Steve again...
until they set eyes on the new girl Hanna's gold nugget.

          To  regain his fanbase, Steve invents a rocket ship that doubles as his house.  But even his best friend is skeptical.             
Hanna draws her Alaskan house with snow up to the roof, Steve calls her a liar, and the shouting match begins.

And it ends up where all good schoolyard fights end, outside the principal's office.

Monday, March 12, 2018

How to Start Kindergarten

  It won't be on sale until July, but here's a sneak preview of How to Start Kindergarten;  a fun little reader I illustrated for Penguin Random House.  I'll be starting sketches for the next in the series, How NOT to Start First Grade, continuing the antics of Steve as he negotiates, manipulates, and charms his way through school, ultimately learning some lessons in the process.
On the first few days of kindergarten, Steve deals with his emotions and boundaries as he realizes he is being copied in every deed by his new friend, the very same friend he encouraged to " just do what I do:"  Ahhh.... imitation; the sincerest form of flattery. But in this case, it becomes the most annoying thing that could ever happen to a kid. Here are a few of the illustrations from last spring.

first  cover design sketch

"Walk this way!"

 When doing a beginning reader, the illustrator is often dealing with the rule of text on a  white background, for the sake of easier readability.  But for scenes with backgrounds it can be a challenge. As much as I understand the need for the white space, I always have the desire to complete the scene.

" Wait a minute, that's looking like MY tower".

 The teacher has something to announce, but Steve isn't interested.

Steve tells his older brother Will all about his problem and Will listens intently.

  I am definitely going to complete these backgrounds just for my own satisfaction! There are many more illustrations to accompany this adventure, but I'm going to wait until the book release before I post any more.  In the meantime, I'm going to reminisce about the matching dresses my Mom used to sew for my girlfriend and me. 


Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Reading Nook

  A few weeks ago I was asked to illustrate a Highlights Workbook cover; kindergarten level. The original sketch was done for a cover layout, but it ended up as an interior with hidden objects.
cover sketch

A few adjustments were made.  I contained that guinea pig; added book baskets, more books, and 10 objects were hidden. There was some debate between editors, but the fish got to keep his book.

final art

Hidden objects: wooden spoon, ring, comb, fried egg, ruler, drinking straw, lime, waffle, fan, toothbrush.

 Happy reading and finding!

Sunday, January 14, 2018


  For an upcoming  feature on water voles for Ranger Rick magazine,  I was asked to portray "Ratty" or "Rat", one of the characters in The Wind in the Willows.
  I loved that book as a child, and hope to revisit it.
  I looked at many wonderful illustrations, including EH Shepard, Robert Ingpen,  and Inga Moore ( her version is my favorite, although I do not own it; must get).
  Then there is this comprehensive ''best-illustrated'' reference book.
  For those who have not read this classic,  Mole decides go out to the river, and meets Ratty (a water vole), who at this time of year spends all his days in, on and close by the river. Ratty takes Mole for a ride in his rowing boat. They get along well and spend many more days boating, with Ratty teaching Mole the ways of the river.
  Water voles used to be common over all of Great Britain, but  in the 90's began to disappear. People brought American minks to Great Britain to raise them for their fur. Many escaped and were so good at hunting voles for prey, the numbers of voles dropped fast.  More of their habitat was ruined when livestock trampled their banks and ate the plants that the voles needed. Conservation groups are working hard to reestablish their numbers, and hopefully they will not only live on  in the pages of a book!

Look out, Ratty! Rapids ahead!

 I love being able to merge illustration with an actual photo. Great fun!

 Hi; I'm  Ratty, your river guide.

Goodbye, little voles!

Monday, January 1, 2018

New year, new postcards

  It's been a while since I sent out any promo cards.  It's always so hard to decide which images to use. So this time I  guess I let the season and the weather decide. Brutal "polar plunge" temps here in Cleveland, and across much of the country. I wish safety, warmth and cozy dreams for you in the new year.  These brave souls on my cards will be celebrating outside only in the imagination, I'm afraid.
  Oh, except for the penguins. They will be happy.  This one is a work in progress so far... and taken from a riddles piece originally created for Ranger Rick magazine.  We had pancakes this morning, courtesy of Dave. He makes the best pancakes ever.  The key is fruit, walnuts, vanilla, almond extract, cinnamon and a good apron. Flip me one.

postcard in progress

original work

original version for Hal Leonard

original for Highlights