Friday, August 26, 2011


After reading my explanation of the steps I went through to create the art for the pin-on button, several of you asked, "How did you transfer the sketch to the watercolor paper?"   There are actually quite a few ways this transfer can be made, from completely mechanized methods all the way down to totally manual processes (after all, artists have always had to transfer sketches to working surfaces, long before our modern technological age).  I will demonstrate here the method I almost always use these days. This was the final sketch for the button, combining the little figure and the necessary text:
My next step was to scan this sketch into my computer, and print it out on transparent film:
I then set up my light box:
A light box (or light table) is just what it sounds: a box with a top of either transparent glass or acrylic; or frosted glass or acrylic.  Inside the box, beneath the glass/acrylic surface, are fluorescent light bulbs. 
When the light box is turned on,it generates an intense bright light through its transparent surface.  The brightness is demonstrated in this photo---although I took the photo in broad daylight, and the light box is situated exactly where it was in the previous photo, the camera has to turn the surroundings nearly black to demonstrate the difference of degree in lightness.  (Or at least, that's how I've had to do it---I'm not yet facile with my digital cameras!)
I lay the piece of printed film on the surface of the light box, and then lay a piece of 90 pound watercolor paper over the film.  90 pound paper is a moderately lightweight paper.  This enables the printed sketch to show through it well enough that I can trace it lightly onto the paper with a soft pencil.  In this photo, the printed sketch does not appear as distinctly as it does in real life.  In any case, I do not need to make a perfect, identical copy of the sketch.  I have learned from experience that it is very important that I be, in a sense, creating the finished art for the first time.  If I am slavishly "copying" the sketch, the finished art will be lifeless.  
And so, once again---finished art for a pin-on button!

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Though I have not talked much about Bink and his story in recent blogs, I've continued working on his manuscript.  At the end of each working day, I print out a copy of the revised text.  Even if I've changed only a few words, or the order of a few paragraphs, the fresh copy represents "work accomplished" to me.  (Remember, writing is the "mostly invisible" process.  I spend so much time looking out the window, doing laundry, or taking aimless walks while wrestling with recalcitrant words, that every tangible proof of "work accomplished" is golden.)  By now I've gone through at least a ream of paper, perhaps even two.  A pleasantly impressive and comforting stack on my desk---though still to be added to.  I've worked out thoroughly the sequence of episodes, and pretty much all the nitty gritty details of the plot.  Since plot has always been my bete noir, it feels as though the most difficult part of this manuscript is behind me.  Now I am refining dialogue, making sure that each character is saying exactly the right words---words that will be both true to the speaker's personality, and a step forward in the right direction for the story.  At the same time, I am always pruning, especially when working with dialogue.  Like my narrators, my characters usually repeat themselves liberally, with slight variations, day after day.  I have learned to write down every single word of their conversation, even if it seems to me that surely, this particular comment has been made before.  So much easier to remove the extraneous comments later on, rather than trying to cajole a character into speech for a necessary quote at a time when he (or she)---rudely interrupted, perhaps, from a nap---deeply resents my intrusion, and clams  up entirely.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Whether I am creating an illustration for the page of a book, or---as in this case---the art for a pin-on button, I follow the same steps.  I begin with what we call a template, or a mechanical---essentially a same-size diagram or pattern, showing the size and shape into which the finished art must fit.
For the button, the template was round, and 2 3/4 inches in diameter.
I next began making sketches in pencil on a transparent, vellum-type tracing paper.  The transparency allows me to easily lay a new piece of paper over a sketch and trace the parts I want to keep, while changing the parts I don't like.  It also allows me to combine different sketched elements at a later stage.  My first little seated figure was this human child.
I next tried several doggy figures.  This button will be for children, and the doggy figure won out over the human figure without much resistance on my part.
I next made a rough sketch for the placement of the text for the button on a separate piece of transparent paper.
By laying the two separate transparent sketches over each other, it was easy to position them in relation to each other as I wanted, and to create a third, combined sketch for the text and image.
I transferred this sketch with pencil to the watercolor paper I had chosen for the final art, and then executed the black lines and text with india ink right on top of the pencil transfer.  (Notice that I tweaked the relative positions of text-cum-figure yet again.)
I let the ink drawing dry overnight, as I always do, to make sure the india ink (which contains shellac) will be thoroughly hard and dry before applying any water media over it.  The next day, I erased the pencil lines.  
I then scanned the ink drawing, and printed out several copies on cheap paper.  I used these copies to experiment with the button's color scheme.  After several trials I arrived at an arrangement that I liked.
Before working on the final art, I always experiment with my chosen media combos on a piece of the same paper I'm using for the final.  This is to make sure that my combos are completely compatible with each other.  I had thought I would use markers for some of the color, to get some good bright saturation, but...oops!  Although the markers had worked fine in my color experiments made on print-outs of the drawing, they caused the india ink line of the final art to "run", creating small rivulets of grayish wash.  Since I had experimented on scrap paper---NOT on the finished ink drawing!---there was no problem.  I made a quick trip to the art supply store, then came back to my studio to experiment with the various markers and colored inks I had picked up.  
The Chartpak yellow worked fine.  It did not affect the black ink line, and it gave me the nice bright color I wanted for the background.  Because I had ironed out all the kinks in my color sketches, the remaing color work on the final art fell easily into place. 
And what will the button be used for?  A teacher-friend of mine runs a summer reading program for her school here in the Phoenix area.  Each year she plans a special celebratory event at the beginning of school for all the children who have participated in the program.  This year she invited me to help with the celebration, and I happily agreed.  I will give a short presentation to the children; they will each get a pin-on button with the picture I created; and they will finish with an ice-cream party.  A lovely way to end a summer of reading!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


After a friend/colleague of mine read my blog "My...Brush...With the Law" ( she and I held an email correspondence about it, which I repeat here (edited for length):
          FRIEND:  Wow!!!  College professor!!  Felon harboring ammunition!!  Society of Illustrators!! 
          ME:  The avalanche of good news is really great, isn't it!  (Except for the ammo part, of course...)
          FRIEND:  All really terrific...but I like Ammo Felon best!  If they put you into the Witness Protection Program, please let me know first.
          ME:  OK...
          FRIEND:  Do you think the creep who buried the ammo is going to come back and dig it up?
          ME:  The odd thing is that especially in the first few months after I had moved in here, various people kept coming by "looking for X"...There were two young men who were especially creepy---they looked very respectable, well dressed, etc, but they came by more than once, ostensibly looking for some woman, and one day they actually parked outside my house and sat there for several hours.  I'm at the end of a cul-de-sac---there's no other house they could have been observing.  Stupidly I did not call the police---I was still in my small-town, everything-is-safe mode, where a car parked by your house for several hours meant nothing (except that maybe the driver was out hunting deer...or blackberries).  Later my daughter scolded me; and when I did finally call the non-emergency police (after the two guys had already left) the lady said:  "Don't take any chances.  They might be armed.  If you see them again, call 911 immediately."
          FRIEND:  Wendy.  Your neighborhood life is surpassing your professional life.  Be careful!!!  Dig some more in the backyard (but not at night.)  Join the NRA if necessary.  If you incorporate this into your school presentations, I would think your fees should double!
          ME:  Ha ha...
          FRIEND:  Seriously!  In addition to being a nationally known author/illustrator, when you throw in the additional drama unfolding in your backyard, you will have those third grade boys eating out of your hand!!!!

So.  My new career...True Crime for third-graders?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I am delighted to learn that my book BEDTIME BUNNIES has been chosen for inclusion in this year's annual exhibition "Original Art" (  The exhibition is sponsored by, and held at, the Society of Illustrators in New York City, at 128 East 63rd Street.  This is a competitive show, meaning that books are submitted by publishers, illustrators, or others; the participating books are selected by a jury of illustrators, art directors, and editors.  This year there were 590 entries; 150 of these were chosen for inclusion.  The Society of Illustrators itself is an illustrious organization that was founded in 1901, and has been highly active ever since (  It's a very great pleasure and honor for me to be part of this show.  The opening night will be on October 27, and the show will run from October 26 through December 29.  And the original piece that I have chosen for hanging?
VISIT THE SHOW!  You'll see my original...and 149 other examples of today's best children's book illustration.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Those of you who were in the habit of following Bessie Beetum's Blog may remember her "Day of Demolition" (  At the end of that day, Bessie was surveying the corner of my yard and the small mess that was left there after the removal of the rotted playhouse.
That small mess had remained unchanged (undoubtedly much to Bessie's distress)---until today, when my hired helper arrived at 7:30 am to do a little more cosmetic work on my yard.  Sometime later, there was a knock on my back door.  "Look what I found buried out there," said my helper, holding up a very dirty, plastic...insulated lunch bag, perhaps?
"What in the world?" I said.  
"It's ammo," he said.  He  opened it up.
"Some are for a rifle..." he said, "...but these are for handguns."
I grew up in a pacifist's house.  I'm a pacifist myself.  I raised my children as pacifists.  And besides, I'm a children's book writer and illustrator. I had never seen "ammo" before, much less handled it.  "What do I do with it?" I said.  "Call the police," my helper replied.  I did (and I have to hand it to the dispatcher...she didn't show a quiver of interest, disbelief, or amusement when I described my situation to her).  Before long, a van pulled up in front of my house.
The officer came inside.  I told him that my yard man had found the ammo buried in my back yard.  The officer said, "Did he find any dead bodies?"  (I actually wasn't sure if this was a joke, or a serious question.)  The two of us started chatting, and I discovered that the officer's father had been a professional artist---"and quite a good one," said the officer.
The officer then left with the bag of ammo.  As I fixed my lunch, I thought about the unexpected connections between art and the law...and then I realized that this incident would be perfect for another BINK story...and then I went out to the backyard to look at the scene of the crime (aka the yardman-improved-area).
It was remarkable how much it resembled a newly-filled-in-grave...a grave that someone was perhaps trying to disguise......

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I have just agreed to teach at a new summer graduate program at Hollins University, in Roanoke, Virginia:  The Certificate in Children's Book Illustration ( I am deeply honored to be joining faculty members Ruth Sanderson---and here's a piece of her art:
Ashley Wolff---and here's a piece of her art:
and Barney Saltzberg---with a piece of his art:
Although I've made many presentations, given many mini-workshops and programs, and mentored young artists and authors over the years, teaching this full-semester course---Picture Book Design---will be a new experience for me.  At the same time, much of it will be familiar and beloved ground, as the design of picture books is something that I of course have been practising for more than 50 years.
Hollins University is already host and home to outstanding MFA and MA programs in creative writing and literature, so I am doubly honored to be joining this program.  I'll be posting more about the program as time goes on---but for now, I 'm simply savoring the good news!