We the Kids, We the People

Our school art program culminates in an end-of-year project called the Collaborative Art Piece. Each class works together to create a piece of art that goes on auction at our school’s spring fundraiser. The only requirement is that all students have a hand in the process. This is piece we made for my daughter’s fifth grade class.

You’ve seen this, the original by Shepard Fairey, no doubt.

I took that image, traced it roughly onto a 24×36″ canvas and cut it into a 6×7 grid. At school each kid got a rectangle (there are 32 kids in the class, each kid did at least one, a couple did a few) without knowing what the source image was and filled in their rectangle(s) with pieces of torn magazine paper. All the color choices were theirs, I only marked the outlined sections as warm color, cool color, and dark or light skin tone. We did the whole thing in about an hour, at home I assembled and framed the final piece before returning it to class. We were very pleased with the results.

The piece went on auction yesterday and was purchased for $1400 (the total raised from all 22 classes was just short of $9000). That money will go to the PTA and back into the art program.

Hedgehog Story Miniature Book

Remember that hedgehog story?

I turned it into a miniature book for my daughter to take on a sleep-away camp. It’s printed on an inkjet printer on regular copy paper, hand bound with needle and thread. It has a tiny cover, a tiny spine, and tiny little endpapers. Look how tiny it is.

It’s even got a tiny little ISBN.

More than I wish I could see a hedgehog reading this, I wish I could hand you a copy of this little book. I can’t, but you can download it to your Kindle.


I haven’t made much of anything since November. I keep having false starts. My old hangup of making things important or worthwhile is rearing its familiar head and I’m finding myself paralyzed with intention. Everything seems important now and many ideas are vying for top spot in my mind. It’s been a rough couple of months.

Until two weeks ago. I was doodling and drew this.

That little rock on the cliff instantly became a storyboard.

Which became this



and then this

Not to mention

That’s more than I’ve made maybe in the last half year and I can tell it’s been very good for my mental health. I’m finding the creating to be extremely meditative. The story too, unsurprisingly, is itself a meditation on being.

I’m calling it Tusho.

Book Every Friday: Piggy Story

I couldn’t do a book last Friday as I was packing for camping at the Fully Belly Farm’s Hoes Down Festival where, as it turns out, I got an idea for this week’s book.

Here’s a sketch, with a squirrel doodle in the corner that will probably be next week’s book.



Book Every Friday: How to Read Books to Your Baby

The idea for this week’s book came last night when I was shopping at a local used bookstore. A mom, seemingly at the end of long day, was in there trying to pick a book for her young toddler. I wanted to give the mom some advice on selecting a book but I couldn’t bring myself to.

Anyway, that family was on my mind this morning when I was reading Ounce, Dice, Thrice. An illustration in that book inspired me to paint this baby.



Book Every Friday: School Days

With all my talk about diverse books, I realized, personally, I prefer to write and draw stories about animals and whatnot–anything but talk about myself. But, in case there were any half-Indonesian kids out there looking to relate to a storybook character, I thought I’d write a story about my first days of school from pre-school through elementary.


That’s me running around the kindergarten yard while one of our family’s maids chased me, making sure I ate my lunch.

Here’s me absorbing a foreign culture when we first moved to Indonesia.


We Need Diverse Books, and How!

Last night, inspired by Sarah Park’s piece on diversity in children’s books, I looked through the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s reports on diversity. It was an interesting read (I learned about the history of the report which I had heretofore taken for granted) and it left me wanting to see how the numbers looked on paper (screen) so plotted them in a google spreadsheet, built a graph and thought I’d share it with you.

A couple notes: The “Animals etc” category doesn’t exist in the CCBC data set. Sarah Park’s infographic does break that down but her numbers came from books produced by US publishers only. The CCBC numbers for 2002-2014 include books from Canada and the UK (presumably) and for all I know they publish a ton of books about moose and hedgehogs. Nonetheless, to adjust for the animal factor I took the ratios from the 2015 report (where “Animals, Trucks, etc” make up about 14.6% of all books not about people of color), and applied it to the 2002-2014 numbers using these formulas:


Finally, I should point out that these graphs represent books about people of color and not necessarily books by people of color. There’s a whole other discussion concerning books by versus books about as well as whether or not casual or incidental diversity counts as truly diverse books (to catch up you could start here and here) but for the purposes of this post I can only claim that these are books that depict people of color and offer no judgement or guarantee about those depictions. Let’s go!

Here’s the graph:


Even looking at it as a chart, I still didn’t know exactly what to make of the statistics until I made a mental shift and stopped thinking about the numbers as percentages but as actual books. For example, books depicting African Americans went down 0.4% between 2012 and 2013, and books depicting First Nations went down 0.2% between 2011 and 2012. That’s 26 books about black kids and 7 books about Native American kids that didn’t get published and never made it to bookstores and libraries. Realizing that was disheartening.

But looking at the chart as a whole, I see that diversity has improved over the last three years*. Since 2013, representations have gone up for every minority group (translated to number of books, that’s about 223 more books in the world representing people of color). I like that but I wanted to know how far the numbers would have to go to be an accurate representation of US diversity. That is, how many books are we talking about when we say #weneeddiversebooks? I’m not looking for “as many as possible”, I want an exact number. And not because I’m planning to make exactly that many diverse books and not because I’m looking to indict any one who doesn’t. It’s just an academic exercise.

Here we go! Time for more charts. This first pie chart depicts where we’re at in 2015:


This second chart shows what the percentages would be if the number of books were a direct representation of the 2015 US Census (again, assuming Animals etc as a 14.6% subset of all non-POC books):


That’s a good goal to shoot for. It wouldn’t be impossible, but in five years those number are going to be out of date. I figured it would be smarter to look ahead and use a 2020 population forecast to figure out the book breakdown (turns out, by that time we’ll have to consider a new category of reader, Mixed Race at 2.5% of the US population):


At this point (and I will admit I was getting punchy) I started wondering if I should abandon the whole pretense of fair representation (what’s fair anyway?) and just split all books evenly between everybody. I was also starting to think about the gender divide and LGBTQ representation (side note: is the CCBC keeping track of those books?). I was close to opening a new spreadsheet but I thought I would see this one through first. Here’s the equal shares graph (at 3400 books total that would be 486 books in each category):


That’s a nice looking pie chart (even if 8 wedges would have had better symmetry) but it felt too optimistic (and I really didn’t like admitting I felt that). So here’s where I landed: splitting the difference between the 2020 census and a world where everyone gets an equal number of books. That gives us this last pie chart and, I think, something reasonable to aim for:


Here are those numbers set against the 2015 report and laid out with numbers of books. This is the number of books we have to get in the pipeline so our 2020 numbers look better than our 2015 ones and so that we have a starting place where the equal shares doesn’t seem out of reach. I’m calling this a Reasonable Five Year Plan.


And, finally, a visualization of that goal.


I like those colors. And as much as I look forward to seeing that representation of books on the shelves, I’d be more excited to see 20 years past that and at the kids who enjoyed those books growing up.


I wanted to go further into the upward trend I mentioned earlier lest it breeds feelgoodism and complacency. Projecting the average annual rate of change between 2013 and 2015 across the next five years gives us this:


I placed the 5 Year Plan/2020 Goal and Ideal World graphs alongside for comparison. Thoughts?

Book Every Friday: Truth Fairy

This week my inspiration came from a Twitter post by Adam Rex. Where his truth fairy left an uncomfortable truth for its kid, the truth fairy as I imagined it would leave a quarter for truths left by the kid. The story that suggested itself to me was a boy admitting he likes his dad more than his mom (something similar to feelings I grappled with as a kid). Here’s a drawing, charcoal on recycled paper.

I’m not going to post the whole thing because I’m not sure how I feel about running with someone else’s idea. Though, a quick google search showed that there’s already a book by that title, Jimmy Kimmel uses it for a “kids say the darndest things” bit and there is an actual (?!) Truth Fairy living up in Oregon.


Book Every Friday: Hedgehog story

#Bookeveryfriday came on a Monday this week. I saw a Slate article where they gave some staff writers a challenge to make a children’s picture book in one hour. Although the gimmick was to get non-kidlit writers (and non-illustrators) to write and illustrate a picture book and then admit (though I’m sure they already realized) that it’s not that easy, I thought I’d try the challenge to see what kind of book I could come up with in one hour.

The short answer: an incomplete one. I made it to sixteen pages in one hour, then to 25 by the second hour. The next morning I finished the last two spreads and assembled all the text boxes. The total time spent was about 3 hours, the final page count is 32 pages. Here they are:















And some notes on the experience:

1. The materials list included Crayola markers. I love Crayola markers but I had sent our brand new set to school with my son’s back-to-school package. I used a set of Cray-Pas oil pastels instead.

2. I started by doodling some hedgehogs. I was stumped for a story idea until I drew the hedgehog and porcupine. Then I knew what I was going to write.


Immediately after that I made a quick thumbnail storyboard on some folded paper thinking that this would help me keep to the time limit.



After that it was a matter of knocking out as many pages as quickly as I could.

3. The best part of the experience was reading the story to my family after I finished it. At that point I hadn’t added the text boxes and I was counting on the pictures to convey the narrative. The review was a lot like this Cul de Sac cartoon.


4. Speaking of the text boxes, I knew I wanted Hedgie’s song to build as the story progressed. That was the most stressful part of the experience for me.

5. As per the challenge rules, the story was supposed to have a moral (When one door closes, another door opens). For that to make sense in this story, Hedgie should have found food in some way related to the raccoons that ruined his dinner–like they had knocked over a garbage can and Hedgie found some grubs under or around it. That would have felt tidier to me.

6. Finally, I’m almost ashamed to admit I had to google ‘nocturnal insectivore’ to find the third creature Hedgie encountered. And for the story to be zoologically accurate, it should be a badger, not a porcupine.

Would I do this again? Yes, but I’d rather lock myself into a solid hour and also do it with others. Any takers?

UPDATE: I made a small (small!) book out this story. I also put it up on Kindle.

Book Every Friday: A Tough One

This week’s #bookeveryfriday has to do with my kids and the recent shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.


One of my troubles in creating new work is that I always feel I have to make something meaningful and important. And then I almost always feel unequal to the task. It’s been a hard year.


Book Every Friday: The Tree Story

Part of this exercise is forcing myself to share my work. I’m getting more used to that. Still, though, I’m not 100% with the ending on this one so I’m going to blur it. And I kind of want it just to myself for now.



Adventures in Self-Publishing Part 2: Writing, Drawing, Editing

Thank you, Robin Wiesneth, for your comment. You win the first giveaway! I’ll send you a copy of Now, Louie! I’ll decorate the envelope with the last of my 2001 USPS American Illustrator postage stamps and maybe a Young Elvis.

A hunka hunka burning self published book.

For this installment, I wanted to share how I made Now, Louie! I’ll start with the writing even though as an author-slash-illustrator the writing and illustrating happens more or less simultaneously.

1. Writing

The idea for Now, Louie! came from a game I’d play with my nephew. I’d tell him to not do something, he’d do it, then I’d grimace, pace, shake my fists at the sky, bury my face in my hands and so on. The routine had the makings of a story so the jump from that game to a picture book wasn’t hard. I never had a single document with the full Now, Louie! story on it but a script more or less existed on several different pieces of paper.

What was a constant was that Louie was a cat. He was never anything but a cat. Why, I’m not sure. It might have to do with one of my earliest memories. I can remember pretending I was cat meowing and crawling up my parents’ bed. I want to say I was nine or ten at the time. Joking. Based on the house in my memory, I was between three and four.

Here’s the first drawing of Louie as he would appear in the final book.


I must have felt this drawing was pivotal because I signed and dated it. I don’t do that nearly enough. In fact, hardly ever.

2. Illustrating

I started with some thumbnail sketches. Then, because I never learn, I beat myself up for a day or two trying to duplicate the spontaneity in that doodle on a larger scale. Eventually, I did what I should have done from the beginning and scanned the little drawing, scaled it up to final art size and inked it over a light table.


The inking was done with Winsor and Newton black India ink and a size 1 brush.


And here is some of the finished art:



You can see white out where I cleaned up some of my lines. In the case where I needed a bigger fix, I would cut and paste a fix over the original.


I haven’t looked at these drawings in over ten years and I have to say I like them (I’ve come to realize it takes at least that long for me to become comfortable with my work). My favorite in this set were the last two drawings I inked. These were for the endpapers.


All the drawings were scanned and colored digitally.

3. Mocking up

After finishing the artwork, I printed up and assembled a dummy.

In retrospect, I should have done that at the sketch stage but I had probably made enough thumbnails to envision how the book would work. Still, working on a dummy is my favorite part of the picture book process.

3b. A Word on Page Count

I knew that books were assembled in sets of 8 pages and I think I knew that 32 pages was ‘the usual’. I didn’t realize that 32 was an industry standard and artistic form (explained very well here) and I didn’t know the difference between a self-ended and separate-ended book (difference detailed here). All this time I’ve been calling Now, Louie! a 32-page book but in fact it’s a 40-page self-ended book.

4. Editing

I never joined a critique group, informal or professional. But I did go for dinner with a friend I respected and asked her to read my story. Her only suggestion was to replace “What the?!” on the cake page with something less… potentially controversial. That was tough. I didn’t want to let What The go but I trusted her advice. My next favorite expletive was “Desi Arnaz!” followed closely by “Holy Moley!”


In the end I settled on this:


Ay ay ay.

And that’s how I wrote and illustrated Now, Louie! That post was more fun than I thought it would be. I hope you enjoyed it. Next up, I’ll talk about my choice to self-publish.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Another Giveaway!

Last time I did this I got one comment which is one more than you can expect for not broadcasting the blog post. Same deal this time. Comment below and be entered to get a free book.


Book Every Friday: untitled dragon bath story

I had a headache on Friday so I asked a robot to give me a book idea. The robot said:

The story is about a teacher. It takes place on a world of magic in a magical part of our universe. The crux of the story involves someone taking a bath. A major element of this story is when technology becomes indistinguishable from magic.

I missed the first line, there’s no teacher in my story. But there is a wizard trying to give his dragon a bath. Here they are:



I didn’t give myself as much time on this one as I did on the last two challenges. I did clean it up a bit by pasting it into a new version of my thumbnail template.