Friday, November 27, 2009

Building a bunny

One of my challenges in this book is to design and draw a bunny character. Especially challenging when there have been a few great bunnies in the past. Bugs Bunny could perhaps be the single most famous animal cartoon character, along with Mickey Mouse. So I've been trying to teach myself to draw Bugs for about 40 years or so, but never really pulling it off. Lo and behold today, on my fourth attempt on one page, I somehow managed to do a fairly convincing Bugs! (Cue trumpet victory sound).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Softened in paint

So I'm in love with illustration style of Camden, Maine illustrator Chris Van Dusen. This painting is my first attempt at trying out some gouache on illustration board. Looks like I've got a loooonnnnnngggg way to go to get to the quality as seen in Chris's new book The Circus Ship.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A "softer" face?

“Hi, yeah, less googely eyed”, Sherryll said as she passed me on the way into the daycare this morning. That was the sum of our interaction, amidst the tugging arms of kids and the swinging of the big blue doors of the daycare entrance.
It made me wonder what other parents and their little ones may think we are discussing, when over hearing snippets of some of our passing conversations?
I’ve been battling my own drawing style for weeks trying to come up with a character that we can be happy with forever. We decided yesterday that the main character of the story needed to be a little “softer” whatever that means is unclear but somehow it does accurately describe the challenge.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pimples And All

On Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 10:56 AM, Sherryll wrote:

Hey Dan,

Here's a synopsis of my story: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [Sorry followers! No spoiler here. We ask for your understanding and patience until we get our book off the ground. In the meantime, please use your imaginations and see Dan’s response below].


Subject: Re: What a team!

Date: April 21, 2009 1:46:14 PM GMT-04:00

AWESOME!! So many opportunities for great comedic visuals! I really like the story, and I think it does have a lot of opportunity as a series.

[Without giving too much away, here are Dan’s thoughts around my story outline]:

Sherryll, I don't know if ‘x’ is such a plausible name (for the main character), I only ever met one in my life and he was about 104 years old! It is certainly a unique, unusual name, but it may be better to have a name that a greater majority of readers could relate to.

Dan: I like it because it’s different. Will let it simmer.

[Tone] I see this one as a bit more absurd than moralistic as I had put forth as an objective in earlier email. I love absurd, especially for the purpose of creating slapstick drawings, but ‘x’ doesn't really receive any overt retribution for his mean behavior, so I feel a little unresolved.

Great point, Dan! I totally agree. Will rework it.

[Age specific] I would think of this story for more of the 5-8 age group than the 3-6 (as you had suggested), I don't think my 3 year old could relate to a 10-12 year old adversary.

Hmmm. On the other hand, my 4-year-old sons LOVE being with/learning from/reading about older kids. Will think about it.

[Next up... He said, She said]

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Prequel

The other day I was thinking about how interesting it is to read correspondence between two people, especially when you are not one of the two.

With that in mind, I have cobbled together a prequel-of-sorts, a kind of 'real time' peek, via selected and sequential emails between Dan and me that cover the genesis of our picture book quest.

Beginning with my response after Dan first approached me:

On Tue, Mar 31, 2009 at 1:22 PM, Sherryll wrote:

Hey Dan, The good news: I would LOVE to do a book with you. I've studied your mural at the daycare and it's fab, as is the very versatile work on your website. I have lots of story ideas (all different kinds), one of which is actually drafted out (very beginning of the process... as in I thought of something a couple of months ago and scribbled it on rough paper).

The bad news: I have no contacts in book publishing and have never written for children.

The good news: I feel like I have a sense of what preschoolers might be interested in reading (a protagonist they can relate to, and a story line with action, adventure and a dash of humour).

Thanks for reaching out.
~ Sherryll

On 9-Apr-09, at 9:44 AM, Dan wrote:

Hiya Sherryll, Great! I'm really glad to have met you! I've been looking for years for a writing partner and have met a few people but nothing has ever developed. At this time in my life my ideas and craft have developed to a point where I feel very confident about my ability to develop a really good product. Check out this painting I am working on:

Dan! Nice work, thanks for sharing. So, I’ve been thinking about ‘the big question,’ i.e. what are the publishing houses looking for? I'd like to bring something of value to the table before you and I go over story/illustration ideas. Any ideas for a starting point?

Sherryll, I'm a strong believer in a "do what you love and feel and it will transmit and others will love and feel it too" sort of philosophy when it comes to creating things. I would look at the biggest successes in the Canadian marketplace for starters and use their model as a rough guide, especially the favourites of your own kids. My kids will always read any Seuss, Franklin, Magic School Bus.

As a starting point I have kept note of the below ideas, some you've mentioned, so I think we're on the same page, (no pun intended!).

· Employ Absurdity/Humour PLUS an underlying moral message
· Funny situation - robot baby, monsters, monkeys, frogs, penguins
· Funny, complex, curious imagery - interesting to children.
· Funny words - as in Dr. Seuss


· Tolerance over Intolerance
· Patience over Impatience
· Sympathy over Disdain
· Kindness over Cruelty
· Love

Why practice these virtues (Main message of the story)? Because… practicing these virtues helps a person deal with life’s troubles = happier life hence self motivating!

Dan, I’m with you, to the point that the story gelling in my head covers many of the ideas you outlined. I've researched some organizations that may be of interest/help to our quest, check this out:

Organizations:,,, pwac,

Government grants (who knows!):

Books: Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, The Canadian Writers Market (publishers of kids books in the mix).

[Next up: Sherryll sends Dan a story outline and Dan's response - pimples and all!].

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Boston Cream Doughnut Theory

We can now add to the list of potential platforms another radio program, this one called The Story on APM (American Public Media). The format is similar to Outfront, This American Life, and Radio Diaries (see below), in that it's about "the ordinary us."

Wait a minute! What self-respecting program would use the word 'ordinary' when trying to hook an audience? We don't want 'ordinary,' right?! Sounds boring, doesn't it?!

I don't think so. And if you do, I'd like to suggest that you're missing the custard in the Boston Cream. What makes life interesting, after all, is not always visible on the surface. You need to dig for the gold (or in this case, the golden custard). The Story is a fab program, which can be downloaded onto your MP3 or iPod. Check it out at:

~ Sherryll

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Back in May I pitched CBC Radio’s Outfront with a synopsis of our quest to write and illustrate a children’s picture book, only to discover that the documentary-style radio program, by and for the average, everyday person, had, sadly, been axed.
The idea behind the pitch was to share with a larger audience the steps we have taken, and will continue to take, in making our dream come true. Like this very blog, broadcasting our quest on a show like Outfront was our stab at self-promotion.

You may ask: But who really cares about two friends looking to make it in kids’ books? To that I answer: Lots. Try googling: writing + illustrating + picture books. You’ll get 56,600,000 results, which tells me that there’s a large group of people – people like Dan and me - who are equally captivated by the idea.

I close my eyes and imagine a child lying on the floor, tummy down, dirty socks up, totally engrossed as he flips through a much-loved book with the tell-tale signs of torn pages, dog-eared corners, and chocolate drippings. The expression of pure enchantment on his little moon face is clear: the child is here in body, but his imagination has been swept far, far away, floating on a cotton ball cloud to destinations unknown.

Life doesn’t get much better. For the child. And for me.

To imagine my words capable of absorbing a pint-sized person’s imagination to the point of otherworldliness… What a thrill! It’s definitely in the top five of my Life List.*

Then I think: How audacious! Really, who do I think I am?! I’m not Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon), Don Freeman (Corduroy), Ezra Jack Keats (The Snowy Day). I’m just me. Once again the venomous self-doubt snakes though my thoughts.

But we won’t know until we try, and try we will. Again. Last night I sent a pitch to two more most excellent radio programs, both along the same lines as Outfront: This American Life on Chicago Public Radio,, and Radio Diaries, part of the All Things Considered program on National Public Radio,

I regularly download both of these programs from iTunes – they are amazing! If you haven’t listened to them, I highly recommend that you do.

In the meantime, we shall wait. Will we be successful? We shall see.

* The Life List is a work in progress, but essentially it’s a selection of meaningful goals to achieve over my lifetime. At the top of the list is being a Mmmarvelous Mom to my twins, but the list also includes goals like racing in the Scotia Bank Waterfront 5km run this September – and placing in the top 10 in my age category.

~ Sherryll

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Banana boy and a bunny on a bike

A pencil sketch to begin a new colour image

A cleaned up sketch is the next step

Some colour added

And a final - or is it??? Looking back on this now I guess it wouldn't have killed me to add in a couple of birds, a tree or 2, or maybe better yet a distant group of buildings as a destination point. This is the creative process in mid action!! Tune in later for the above mentioned additions on a FINAL final of the final piece

Well here is a more FINAL final of the final with a few additions and colour toned down a tad

Thursday, June 25, 2009

BANANA time!

Well it seems like my gloomy period of self doubt is easing somewhat and my creativity is starting to come back! I'm getting some drawing done and some good ideas - pheww! I hate going through that grey area, even though I know its doable - I try to stay positive reminding myself of Dorothy Sayer's trivium: Idea, Energy and Power. We have the Idea, that's in the bank already, its the Energy that fluctuates, we will have to wait and see if the end result produces any Power!!
Posted by Dan 06.25.09

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How to describe a bunny rabbit's ears

That is if they are not just big, or huge or even humongous - if they are ELEPHANTINE.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Escaping the pull of the moon

So, after a prolific and exciting start to the artwork portion of our book, suddenly nothing.
Its now been a couple of weeks since I’ve produced anything of significance for the book. This morning I met Sherryll and her kids, who I know are all eagerly anticipating a new fun-filled drawing for the story. I yammered a variety of excuses, some valid, others to placate myself as I search inwardly for a good reason why nothing has come forth recently. Then riding down on this beautiful spring morning I remembered something about my self. This may sound like voodoo, but somehow my creative cycles are closely aligned with the cycle of the moon. I know, I know, werewolves come to mind at first when you hear this kind of thing, closely followed by aliens and /or Elvis sightings, but its true. I can offer no feasible explanation, but for the empirical evidence of my own canvasses, songs and a variety of creative stuff I have to show, all which came from me while the Moon shone un-shadowed by the Earth.
This cycle isn’t always positive, and I haven’t tracked it closely, but there are full moons that have exactly the opposite effect. It occurs to me today that this past Monday, June 8th was such a moon for me, hence I have had a terribly un-productive four weeks. No songs (I’m recording an album with a musical partner), no drawings, zilch.
BUT - Sherryll - the good news is that the next full moon coming up, July 7th, should bring about my creative cycle! Stay tuned - drawings should be arriving from the moon any day now! Posted by Dan, June 15th.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It Was Tense But I Nailed It

A couple of blogs ago I was mulling over question of tense and viewpoint.I had consulted a few how-to books, which were fairly unanimous in employing a past tense, third person formula for kids’ picture books. To that I wrote, “Right now, the first draft of my story is third person, present tense, but, I must admit, it doesn’t feel quite right. Will I end up bowing to convention?”

Well, yes and no. After fiddling with the story, I ended up in a sort of reverse position to how I had started. Having begun with third person, present tense, I quite happily ended up with first person, past tense.

For the re-write, I began with the tried-and-true formula – third person, past tense - but it just wasn’t working. I would start typing and then stop. Start. Stop. Backspace. Start. Stop. Delete. It was a sure sign: something was wrong.

Writing, for me, is normally a fairly smooth and flowing experience.It may not always be so from the get-go, and may not be so all the way through, but at some point in the initial stages the words drift from my head, through to my fingertips and onto the page. It’s like magic in the sense that I am often surprised by what ends up on the page: poof – there it is, my opener.

We all have different ways of doing things. Celebrated author John Irving (The World According To Garp, A Prayer For Owen Meany),for instance, always, always begins crafting his novels with the closing sentence. And, just as intriguing, the closing sentence always, always remains the same. Not so for his opener or any of the preceding paragraphs or even chapters. For Irving, his last sentence is his definitive starting point, and once it comes to him, it is chiseled in stone.

So when I began to flounder with the tried-and-true, attempting to squeeze my story into a one-size-fits-all formula, experience told me it was time to try another tactic. I did and I'm thrilled I did. Both Dan and I agree, this is THE ONE.

~ Sherryll

Monday, June 1, 2009

And the answer is…

I opened my inbox and saw a message from the editors of Outfront.
Two weeks ago I had submitted a pitch to the CBC radio program, described on their website as, “Your stories, your radio show.” The pitch, which you can read below as the first entry in this blog, was about our quest to write and illustrate a kids’ picture book.

So, with mounting excitement I clicked on the message and here is what it said:

"Sorry Sherryll. Our show has been canceled, and so we are no longer commissioning stories. Best of luck, The Outfront Team"

I forwarded the Outfront email to Dan with this short note: " : ( Back to the drawing board. I will figure out if there is another avenue we can take.”

I assumed a forge-ahead attitude for Dan – which, I will do; I will forge ahead. But I couldn’t help thinking that we had suffered a triple whammy here: First, I felt crushed that our story would not air. Second, I mourned the loss of Outfront – an innovative, grassroots program put out by top-notch people. And third, the most unsettling of all, is that Outfront’s demise is yet another example of what is going on in this economy, and in journalism in particular. RIP Outfront.

~ Sherryll

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Third Person, First Person, Past Tense or Present? These are the questions…

I’m flipping through a stack of ‘How To’ books that I borrowed from the library: Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books for Publication, Writing For Children and Young Adults, Writing Children’s Books for Dummies.

I specifically want to know which point of view and which tense are recommended for picture books.

Hmm. Looks like the latter two books recommend third person and past tense as a good rule of thumb. One even claims that first person can be confusing for the picture book age category (typically 4- to 8-year-olds).

Confusing? Why? I’m a reporter; I need answers. Let’s take a look at a random sample group of kids’ picture books that I happen to have kicking around:

* Little Bear’s Friend, written by Else Holmelund Minarik, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Opening line, chapter 1 – “Little Bear sat in the top of a high tree. He looked all about him at the wide, wide world.” Yup, third person, past tense.

* Olivia… and the Missing Toy, written & illustrated by Ian Falconer. Opening line – “One day Olivia was riding a camel in Egypt.” Third person, past tense again.

* The Kissing Hand, written by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper & Nancy M. Leak. Opening line – “Chester Raccoon stood at the edge of the forest and cried. ‘I don’t want to go to school,’ he told his mother.” And again.

* Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey. Typical opening line: “This is George. He lived with his friend, the man with the yellow hat. He was a good little monkey — and always very curious.” Wait a minute! It starts off as present tense (“This is George”) and then goes into past tense (He lived with his friend…). I have long found Curious George… well, curious really; in my mind I imagine the Reys delighting in breaking the rules by mixing tenses, and writing stories that, by today’s standards anyway, are way too long and rambling. Still, it worked then and it works now. See what I mean? It’s curious.

I wish I could thank Margaret and H.A.; they give me hope.

Although it appears that most picture books are indeed third person, past tense, I’m not one to be hemmed in by formulas. Right now, the first draft of my story is third person, present tense, but, I must admit, it doesn’t feel quite right. Will I end up bowing to convention?

This exercise, researching and conducting a random sampling of picture books, has bolstered my need to figure this thing out: I will play around with the tenses and the points of view and sooner or (more likely) later, I will nail down what works best.

Here we go…

~ Sherryll

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Banana Muncher

I LOVE colouring these illustrations - I'm sure that once all pages are finished - I'm going to miss working on them!

This sketch pays homage to our primate ancestors

* Dan

Friday, May 15, 2009


Wow colouring the illustrations is really fun and makes them look sooo much nicer. Here is one rendering style which may work for this book. Influenced by Disney and maybe some Flinstones and Seuss. CLICK on the picture for a larger view!

* Dan

Thursday, May 14, 2009

CBC Outfront: Are You Listening?

There. I did it. I just hit the send button and there it goes: a pitch to the CBC radio program, Outfront, about our quest to write and illustrate a children’s picture book. In case you’re not familiar with Outfront, the website describes it as, “The show where you get to make radio. In other words: Your stories, your radio show.” Outfront is heard at 8.43 pm (9:13 NT) Tuesday to Friday on Radio One. They also have many episodes posted on the CBC web site.

You may be thinking: ‘That’s nice. But how does this tie-in to your quest to create a killer kids’ book?’

I guess you could say the tie-in is kind of Seinfeldian. It’s like a story inside a story. It’s also kind of Reality TV-ish (minus the TV although Dan and I have forged an alliance). In addition to working on the nuts and bolts of the book – honing the story, dreaming up illustrations - Dan and I have decided to share with a larger audience (hellooo… anyone out there?) our struggles and triumphs as we go through this against-all-odds venture. Hence, our stab at Outfront. Hence, this very blog.

Will the editors of Outfront select our pitch? Stay tuned to find out…

~ Sherryll

We've got a lot of work to do

We contact each other daily. Sherryll is busy writing, revising, soliciting critiques from colleagues and past editors, devising promotional and cross marketing ideas. She forwards me ideas to help "visualize" each of the many scenes that will make up the picture portion of the book. We make trips to the local bookstore to seek guidance from some the masters: Dr. Seuss, Lucy Cousins, Melanie Watt, Robert Munsch and Michael Marchenko. My intention is to weave the fabric of the illustrations with the threads of so many well loved images, visited and revisited so many times: reading the classics to our kids; re-watching Bugs Bunny, the Flinstones; reading Krazy Kat, Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side. hopefully the graphite and paper gods smile on me this weekend as I sketch, erase and fatten a cheek or shave an eyebrow. Character development is essential to the process - once a character sketched out is finally defined it will flavour the whole book - then to the painting - with colour the images will really come to life…

* Dan

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To walk among the all-time greats

I KNOW we can write a good book! The interesting thing is: why the desire to go public?. What drives a person on to the stage to play or sing while others are content to watch? Does it go back to a lack of attention from parents at a young age, or is it too much continual parental adoration, creating a need to be noticed? Somehow the approval of others gives validation, whatever the psychological reason. So here we go. We need words - we need pictures. Riding my bike to work today I thought to myself, I don't want to contribute just "adequate" pictures to help tell the story - I want to create amazing, wonderful pictures - there are so many fabulous children's illustrators, so I guess one of my motivations is the desire to be included among them.

* Dan

Kids at Heart

We know the odds are against us, but still we dream on. My friend, Dan, and I are hammering out a concept for a kids’ picture book, he as illustrator with me as author.

What artist and/or writer haven’t toyed with the idea at least once in their life? What parent for that matter? Dan is a creative director at a recruitment agency and a father to a boy, 6, and a girl, 4. I am a home-based freelance writer and photographerwith 4-year-old twin boys.

An artist and a writer: it’s a winning cocktail… Or is it? Surely we have what it takes to crack the publishing nut, but then comes that ever-familiar waft of self-doubt. I suffer from it and I’ve come to recognize it in Dan, too. Largely self-taught, we live in a society with a tendency to judge worth by the letters behind one’s name, and the framed documents on one’s walls.

Last night, after kissing our kids goodnight, we slipped out of our respective homes and met at the ‘poor man’s office’ – the local coffee shop. I asked Dan: “Are we Great Pretenders or can we do this thing?” Dan’s answer was both simple and honest: “I just want to draw and paint. What I’m doing with you allows me to perhaps realize that dream.” Then he smiled and added, “And I want to have fun.” I took a sip of my peppermint tea and flipped through a sketchbook he’s had for years. There’s a pencil drawing of a bird. Beside it he had written, “Lone some” (sic) and inside the bird was scribbled the word “blue.” On the next page is a rendering of a zany mouse wearing a top hat and smoking a cigar.

That’s the emotional side of this venture. The hard, cold, factual side is this: publishing houses like KidsCan Press receive 1,000s of submissions per year all vying to attract the eye of an overworked editor; like a little league hockey game, competition in picture books is fierce.

Still, Dan and I try, try and try again. We bang out copious emails back and forth chock full of exciting updates (“I’ve got a new twist to the story”); we offer suggestions for improvement (“the brothers need to reconcile”) and encouragement (“great perspective!”). We bump into each other at our kids’ daycare, and as we tie shoelaces and zip jackets, we toss around exciting ideas (“let’s put the bunny in a bike trailer!”).

Only two months ago Dan and I were virtual strangers. But through a curious chance meeting - not at the daycare but rather on our respective family vacations as the only Canadians in the relatively obscure Floridian panhandle - we now share something incredibly personal: a quest and a dream.

What’s at stake here is twofold: 1. Can we see this venture through? Is our desire stronger than our self-doubt? 2. Through our actions, can we show our kids one of life’s great lessons: that you truly never know until you try, and that the only thing worse than failing, is not trying at all.

The “something happens” moment will come after we submit our story and await word from prospective publishers. It’s the moment of truth. And perhaps we can convince an editor from a publishing house to weigh in.

~ Sherryll