Wednesday, December 31, 2014


 This image was originally created in 2014, probably in the dog days of August, for a High Five magazine cover. I decided to play around with some new type today for a New Year's greeting and this is what resulted.  Thanks to Kelly Cunningham for this chill assignment. Despite my sarcastic exterior, I have the pure (snowy white in fact!) heart of an innocent child and love doing these High Five covers.
 Assignments like these make me glad illustration is how I make a living.  This one also made me long for that hill where my three sisters and I tobogganed with my Mom and Dad as kids.
 I'm also looking forward to creating more books in 2015, especially picture books.
 So brace yourself, it's going to be a great ride!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Winter Solstice

 Time out to honor the longest night and the increasing light. Light in the darkness, lightness of spirit, and the promise of light in longer days.  What began as a small doodle turned out to be my card this year.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Leaving Hidden Pictures

   That's a pun. I don't know if I will be doing any more of these, but the art director will not be; so it may be my last one! I post this with much gratitude to Highlights for allowing me to create this for their Hidden Pictures puzzle books. While you are waiting for that pie to bake, grab your kid and immerse yourself in the memory of jumping in a pile of autumn leaves. ( beats snow any time). And try to find the 5 hidden sailboats! Happy Thanksgiving! My next post will be about the book I've been illustrating so stay tuned!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pajama Party!

Such a busy few months ! Could not turn down this offer from Hal Leonard for a sheet music cover for the wee ones. Songs about getting ready for bed! Sounds wonderful... "is there a monster under my bed?" they sing in unison...  I can almost hear  them.  My sketch:

 ...and the finished piece.

Just in time for cuddling up and recovering from my killer cold ( a little human interest there to  make my post captivating.)  Let's see, what else?  I  kidnapped my neighbor's kids and made them pose for me for this piece. That's how I caught this cold. No, not really. Thanks to my artist friend Sheree Boyd for providing use of her red plaid. She really did.  Goodnight!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dealing With Bullies

  I've been working on illustrations for a fun but also serious guidebook for dealing with bullies... "superhero style"! 
  Here are some of the sketches. It will be published by the nice folks at Red Chair Press. I did not author it. September and October will be busy months as I do the finishes!
  This week I will be prepping for the SCBWI conference in town here on Friday and Saturday.  I'm excited as I am making more progress on the road to  authoring and illustrating my own book, and I always leave the conferences inspired. 

Zack is a kid just like you... except when he dons his DIY superhero outfit.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Come On In! We Have Hot Chocolate!

A recent cover for the February 2015 issue of High Five. 

 I  start with a pencil drawing and add photoshop color, which makes it easy to adjust colors if needed.


The finished cover.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bullies Beware and Hot Chocolate

 I just had to post a few of these sketches for a new reader for Red Chair Press. The character is an anti-bully hero who teaches other kids how to fight bullies the right way.  I love creating characters for books and following the thread of a story. I will post more soon!  

I'm also working on a rather challenging cover for High Five.... only challenging because of the  limited space. I especially love creating woodland animal characters. The initial sketch with all the extra graphic elements ghosted (me vs. the barcode = barcode :1, me: 0):

Monday, July 28, 2014

Aspen Groves

 This last assignment for Ranger Rick was a challenge I heartily accepted and I knew I had to find the time to talk about it, even though blogging seems to have taken a back seat to actually doing the work. A way back seat, like in the old station wagons.  I've been too busy driving and not looking back at where I've been. 
  Aspen groves are a unique ecosystem.  Because of climate change,they are dying from drought, disease and insect attacks in some areas. Read about it here . They are found widely all over the country.  The leaves flutter or "tremble" in the breeze because of their unique structure. (The stems are flat instead of round.) They are a special place where many different kinds of animals  can find food. Hence the writer Ellen Horowitz metaphorically named this 4 page story "Aspen Grove Grocery".
 My first surprise was that I would be merging my art with a photo on the first spread.   I've not attempted that technique with this level of complexity before.  The photo and my sketch:

  My second surprise was that I would be depicting some predators. Maybe it was to much reality for me, so I tried to interject some humor by giving shopping bags to some of the  prey (eco-chic of course). Hey, if they have to run they might as well look good doing it. The signs would accommodate more copy and interesting facts, like "Fresh Veggies": after a wildfire, new shoots and stems quickly sprout and become food for deer, elk, moose and rabbits.

  My first step after sketch approval was to draw each animal that would be tucked into the photo of the grove. Pencils and pastels on mi tientes paper. Later I decided to leave out the mouse in the green tote as I felt there was too much activity on that side of the spread.
 I scanned the art, removed the paper background tone and began the merging in photoshop.

  I reduced the bobcat's head from my original drawing and elongated the wolf vertically.   I added graphics on the totes. I added cast shadows.  Before I added the glowing aura around them they were not defined enough from their surroundings, so that turned out to be a good device.

The completed art for the left page.


  The right page was a continuous piece of traditional media art with a bit of digital modification that enabled me to match the colors in the photo .

The completed spread.

  My sketch for the second spread had to accommodate so much text! I did two rounds of this one. I continued the theme of signage and even came up with some words for the little signs like "Sweet Sap","Juicy Roots" and "Good Wood".

The completed second spread.

 This  one needed to have a much lighter and brighter palette because it was so text heavy.  And it needed to reflect the four seasons.  An interesting fact is that each new tree in a grove grows from the roots of the other aspens, making each young tree an identical twin of the original tree. Another thing I had never heard about is the music. If you put your ear right up to an aspen tree on a windy day you will hear tinkling sounds. It's the fluttering of the leaves traveling all the way down through the tree. 

I wonder if the rabbit hears it too.


Friday, March 21, 2014


Click icon on the right to order.

TIred of winter? Giddy at the very thought of spring creeping over your windowsill? Blissed out by the first sounds of birds chirping? Me too. I'm even more excited about celebrating  the arrival of spring with the launch of a new very cute app game, a result of a collaboration with one irrepressible force of nature, Laura Tallardy.

 A professional children's app developer, designer and illustrator, Laura was a pleasure to work with and did all the heavy lifting in getting this project created, tested, and out into the marketplace. I supplied the art for Laura to transform. Lots of photoshopping went into the making of 24 cute and crazy animal scenes. Kids of all ages will be challenged to use their observation skills in finding the differences. It's ideal for kids around 6-8 years.

The app is available for ios, Google, Amazon,Nook, and Nabi platforms and there is a free  ios version available for download here!

It was produced in several languages. Here's a promo for the Finnish version, which makes me smile every time I see the word Kuningaskunta.

A really fun game that also encourages an appreciation of wildlife!

Some more sneak previews of the art:  

 Art was originally created for Ranger Rick Magazine and is reprinted
with the permission of the National Wildlife Federation.
© dpalen 2014

Check out the video preview:

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Good things come to those who hide out."

A recent piece for Ranger Rick magazine (the best magazine ever for kids to learn about animals) about why cats love being in boxes. It's part of their predatory nature.  They have to take their prey by surprise! I thought I would make the box sort of like a real clubhouse to exaggerate this idea. "Welcome, prey!", he's thinking. "You are no match for my cunning ways, and I will pounce on you as soon as you walk by.  So walk already. Why are you just lying there ?  OK, I'll wait for you to cross my threshold. "  

Here's the layout with the illustration in place. Kids get to ask these questions and see their names in print with the answers. How cool is that?

     Later I experimented with a dramatic view. Now we are in our own box looking at him. 
We could all wait forever. Or take a nap.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Tree Hugger and Puffer Fish

For Ranger Rick's April issue.

Sketch in layout.




  The same issue required a little puffer fish with a fascinating story. Underwater photographers had discovered an elaborate design of unknown origin on the seabed similar to a mandala: a geometric, circular structure measuring around 6.5 ft in diameter carved in the sand.

 Just recently underwater cameras showed that the artist was a small puffer fish who, using only his flapping fin, tirelessly worked day and night to carve the circular ridges.  And it turns out he does it all to attract a mate. Watch the video here.  I am always amazed by the natural geometry in artistic efforts of creatures in the wild. It's hard to believe a fish this small would have the capacity and intelligence to create something so symmetrical. The puffer fish is also considered a delicacy, which if prepared correctly, supposedly won't kill you. Its liver and other organs are so toxic they can cause death to the diners that seek their thrills through a kind of gastronomic russian roulette.