Friday, December 10, 2010

Amazon Provides Sales Stats

Authors, now when you log on to Amazon Author Central they give you sales stats for your books. They even have a neat report that breaks sales down by geographical location. It looks like my aunt and uncle in Michigan have been buying lots of Alfie books lately. :)

The data is coming from Nielson Bookscan so it's not just Amazon sales. They claim it represents approximately 75% of all print book sales (both online and instores). Pretty neat stuff.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Christmas Reindeer puppets

Merry Christmas! Here's a super simple Christmas puppet craft. All you need are printouts of the reindeer puppet and some crayons to color them in. There is no glue and no cutting needed. To make your own reindeer puppets, download the reindeer puppet activity sheet and the folding instructions. Now all you need is some orange construction paper so you can make them some carrots.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Merry Christmas

Here is proof that I save everything. I was looking for some papers this evening and found these Xmas card designs that I did about 15 years ago. I think Santa was done in watercolor and gouache and the snowman is colored pencil.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In Search of a 6 Sided Snowflake

As an illustrator I am probably more aware than most of holiday illustration snafus. I'm sure most folks could care less if the snowflakes on their paper plates or their wrapping paper are the eight-sided or the more accurate 6-sided variety. I'm not one to get too riled up about things. But I, and illustrators like me, spend literally hours drawing those little innocuous crystals and darn it they are suppose to have 6 sides. Six, do you hear me! Not eight. And I'm not the only one that is irritated by this corruption of one of nature's wonders. NPR had a story about this last holiday season. So as I go about my Christmas shopping I'm always counting the sides on the snowflakes. And just this morning on TV, I saw a car commercial that was bedazzled with 9 sided snowflakes. Nine sides?! Someone actually has to work to be that inaccurate.

It's time for an intervention.

Here are some instructions for drawing a SIX-SIDED snowflake in Adobe Illustrator. Of course like many things in life, this is just one technique, if you have another one that you prefer, I hope you will share it. I think we need to spread the word and rid the world of erroneously sided flakes.

In Adobe Illustrator create a new document, and using the pen tool create a vertical line. Then select the line and click the rotate tool. With the rotate tool active, press the ALT key (sorry I don't know the Mac equiv off the top of my head) and click on the lower anchor of your line. The rotate dialog box will pop up. Enter in an angle of 30 degrees and click the copy button. You should have something like this...

Now select those two lines and lock them (Object->lock) These two lines are going to be your guide lines. Now, using the pen tool, make a zigzaggy line between those two guidelines. Stay inside the guidelines, and make sure the begining of your zigzag starts on one guideline and ends on the other. You'll have something like this...

Now select your zigzag and click the reflect tool (the shortcut is the "o" key). With the reflect tool active, press the alt key and click on one of the anchor points of your vertical guide line. The reflect tool dialog will pop up. Select vertical axis and click the copy button. You'll have the first arm of your snowflake. It will look something like this...

Now we need to make that snowflake arm into one continuous object. Using the direct selection tool and select the points of your two zigzag lines that meet on your vertical guide line, and select (Object->Path->Join) or (CTRL-J) Now your snowflake arm is one continuous line.

Now for the fun part. Select your snowflake arm and click the rotate tool. With the rotate tool active, press the ALT key and click on the BOTTOM anchor point of your guideline. When the rotation dialog box opens, select an angle of 60 degrees and click copy. You will have a new arm of your flake...

All you have to do now is click CTRL-D which is the shortcut for "Object-Transform-Again" to create the rest of the arms. When you have all of the arms, select the whole mess and click CTRL-J again to join all the paths into one continuous object.

Voila! you have a 6 sided snowflake.

Now to rid the world of images of polar bears and penguins living together...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just For Fun - Manga Girl

Here's another thing I did just for fun and to fiddle with photoshop brushes. I was looking through one of my daughter's manga books - can ya tell?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Art for the Lunenburg Library Fund Raiser

The local library is sponsoring an event called "Tray Bien" Artists from around the area have decorated wooden trays that will be auctioned off in October. Proceeds will go to the Lunenburg Public Library. Here is my submission - of course my daughter suggested the bird be a robin. I hope there are no rules against bidding on your own tray because it matches my living room :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Now that's one tough bird...

We were in Central Park a few weeks ago and we were sitting on the benches near Cleopatra's Needle. As we were sitting there a woodpecker flew down and landed on the monument. I didn't actually seem him peck at the granite but I had a vision of him pecking out elaborate hieroglyphics Woody-Woodpecker-style.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

For Fun - Katniss

I, like a lot of folks lately, have been re-reading the Hunger Games and Catching Fire. So I had Katniss on the brain when I did this week's doodle.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

For Fun - Evil Dentist

Sometimes I get so busy with kids and deadlines and life in general that I forget why I like being an illustrator. When I was a kid, I used to draw and paint just for fun and I spent hours just drawing and not really having a clear direction where it was going. Sometimes I have to remind myself to do more of that. In fact, I think I'm going to try and post one "for fun" illo every week. This week's entry is evil scientist guy or scary dentist guy. Open wide... :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Whale Watch

We went on a whale watch out of Gloucester Mass yesterday. I took lots of pictures, most of which look like logs floating in the water. But I thought I'd share these two. These are humpback whales. And one was kind enough to jump out of the water and say, "hi". You can see by the boat in the background just how big these guys are.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Another Alfie

I received a nice email the other day from a proud daddy in England. He wanted to know if he could get a signed picture of Alfie the Alligator for his son because his name is also Alfie. How could I say no to someone this adorable? Happy very first birthday Alfie!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Illustration Friday - Giant

Giant Squash. (I must have had the "Great Pumpkin" on my mind when I did this because the girl's hair ended up looking like Sally from the Peanuts.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

David Wiesner's Flotsam for Real

I love David Wiesner's children's books. How cool is it that one of them came true - sort of. A sea turtle found a digital camera in a water proof housing and managed to turn the thing on and record himself. He's not a very good cinematographer, in fact, I imagine he was probably trying to eat the camera. But it's still neat. Even neater was that they actually tracked down the owner of the camera, a man who lost it scuba diving in November 1,000 miles away.

I wonder if frogs will start flying next.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cutest Pigeon Picture Ever

I was Googling pigeons this morning looking for some photo reference for a project I'm working on and I found, what has to be, the cutest pigeon/monkey photo ever. I just had to share. Everyone, all together now... AWWWWW!

I guess this little monkey was orphaned in the jungle and brought to a rescue facility. The workers their put the pigeon in his cage with him to keep him company and they bonded.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Illustration Friday - Ripple

Kelly Light is a very talented illustrator and also has a very big heart when it comes to the animals of the Gulf coast. She has a great idea for a fund raiser. Ripple Sketches is a site where you can buy pieces of art by making a modest donation to either the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies or the International Bird Rescue Research Center. I hope you will consider contributing.

3D Sidwalk Painting

What does this have to do with this weeks Illustration Friday topic, ripple? Um, there are ripples of water inside the bucket. yeah, that's it.

I'm fascinated by these artists like Julian Beever that do 3D sidewalk paintings so I wanted to try my hand at it. I didn't have much time (or much chalk) so I thought I'd start with a portrait of a plastic bucket. Finally, after 25 years I've finally found a use for those trigonometry formulas I learned in high school! What a neat art/math project this would be for high school kids. Next your kids ask, "what will I ever use this trigonometry junk for?" You can tell them that someday they will want to draw a three dimensional drawing of bucket on their driveway and they will need to know how tall to make it. :)

I was kind of eye balling this and it came out a little crooked. I'd like to try again, but next time I will draw out a neat grid with a chalk line before I begin. I'll also have to buy more chalk. The rough black top eats it up fast.

This is what it looks like from the side. As you can see even a small object like a bucket has to be pretty long and skinny...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Patio Visitor - Gray Tree Frog???

I went to pick up one of our patio chairs the other day and found this little guy. He looked so wise and serene, I just had to take some pictures. I think he's a gray tree frog but I'm not sure. Does anyone know? He never moved a muscle even when the camera was six inches from his face.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Two Nice Reviews For Please Write Back!

From School Library Journal

PreSchool-Grade 1—In this easy early, early reader, Alfie, a crocodile, sends his grandma a letter that says, "I love you. Please write back." And then he waits. And asks the mailman. And waits. That's the entire plot. With the appeal of a bright green croc that has expressive eyes and the concept of sending and receiving mail, this book is bound to capture the interest of youngsters. They can read the letter and the address on the envelope, and enjoy the crocodile stamp. Grandma's reply finally comes—inside a box filled with cookies. The book is perfect for its intended audience. There is good repetition in the text for early reinforcement and the pictures are just delightful.—Susan Lissim, Dwight School, New York City

Children's Literature

Any kindergarten or first grade teachers planning a unit on letter writing will want to have this delightful book on hand for their students. Alfie, the main character, writes a letter to his grandmother telling her he loves her and asking her to write back. Not only will readers see Alfie writing, but they will see his handwritten note, illustrating the format for a friendly letter. Alfie is also shown addressing and stamping the envelope, again modeling the correct format. Alfie waits and waits for his grandmother to write back and is ultimately rewarded with not just a letter, but also a box of cookies. Young readers will readily identify with Alfie?his joy and sense of accomplishment in writing to his grandmother, and his dismay at not receiving a prompt response?not to mention the ultimate reward for writing, a batch of homemade cookies! In an indirect way, this book emphasizes the human need for communication, and the letter as a still viable means of communicating. It also provides young letter writers with a handy reference for checking the format of their own missives. Reviewer: Maria Lamattina

Alfie The

I have put up a new website dedicated to all things Alfie called It's a work in progress, but do let me know what you think. If you are an educator or a parent and can think of something I can add to make the site more useful, I would seriously LOVE to hear from you.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Letters from a Philatilist

How nice to get a letter in the mail. So many times all that's in the mailbox is junk mail and, even worse, bills. It's doubly nice to receive a letter from a stamp museum. These letters are from Mr Henry Lukas is the education director at the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History where I did an author visit a couple of weeks ago. I love how he stuff the corner of the envelopes with all sorts of stamps. It like a little art museum on every letter.

Also during my visit I met lots of new friends including my buddy Nicholas who sent me this wonderful picture of a tarantula. Thank you Nicholas!!

BTW, if you are in the Boston area, the Spellman Museum is having another family day on July 4th.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Photoshop and Wacom Tablets

When I first started using the computer to create illustrations I primarily used Adobe Illustrator. This paper plate design was the first image in which I used Photoshop. I also used a mouse to create all my work (yep, I did that jungle plate with a mouse.) Wacom tablets were/are expensive, and I thought $400 was a ridiculous amount to pay for one. Oh, did I mention that I'm a cheap skate?

But then a friend of the family, who happened to be a graphic designer came to the house and saw my workspace. And she said, "you idiot, go buy a pen tablet!" I'm sure she said it much more diplomatically than that, but that was the gist. And she was right. If you want to use Photoshop for painting, a mouse will only take you so far. You really need to invest in a tablet. The good news is they have come down considerably in price.

The really difficult part of using a tablet is that you draw in your lap but your brush strokes show up on the monitor. That incongruity takes some getting used to. And honestly, I never found it as natural as drawing with paper and pencil, although I know some artists that don't have a problem. But a couple of years ago I upgraded to a Cintiq. The Cintiq is basically the Cadillac of the Wacom line. It's a monitor with a Wacom tablet built into it, so instead of drawing on a separate tablet you draw directly on the monitor. Sound cool? It is wicked cool, and much more natural feeling to me. I can't tell you how much I love my Cintiq. One of the function buttons was sticking the other day on my precious baby and I was fretting as if one my real children had come down with the flu. What would I do if my poor Cintiq became ill?! Luckily it recovered on it's own. Phew!

Programming the Wacom Function Keys

When I first started using a Wacom tablet I didn't make good use of the available funtion keys. I still had one hand on the keyboard to do things like hit "b" (the hotkey for the brush tool) and "e" for the eraser tool and my all-time favorite "CTRL-ALT-Z" for undo. But I have since started programming my Wacom for the way I work and it has definitely streamlined up my work flow.

Think about the tools that you use most in Photohsop and try bringing that functionality down to the tablet. I spend most of my time switching between the brush tool and the eraser tool. So in the Wacom preference utility, I set the left function keys to "b", "e" and "CTRL-ALT-z". The preference utility can be accessed in Windows by going to "Programs -> Wacom Tablet -> Wacom Tablet Properties" Notice how I can specify that the keys only have this behavior within Photoshop. You can set up different behavior for use in other applications (Illustrator for example)

The other thing that I have found very useful is to reprogram the buttons on the actual Wacom pen. I have set the top one to the left bracket and the bottom one to a right bracket. "[" and "]" are hot keys that are used in conjunction with brush tools. The they will resize the paint brush up and down in incremental steps. That way I can increase and decrease the size of my brush just by tapping my finger against my pen.

I recommend playing around with various button configurations and see what works for you.

Note: I think the newest Intuos 4 tablets have a different function key configuration so my preference screens may look different than yours.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Half Drop Repeats in Photoshop

Here's a little addendum to yesterday's post about creating repeating patterns in Photoshop. This variation of of the repeating pattern technique, makes creating simple half-drop repeat in Photoshop is really easy.

First create a new document the size of your final pattern. Make sure it's an even number of pixels high and wide. Make a note of the size because you will need that info later.

Next set the background to the desired color. For this to work you must make it a solid color (no gradients or anything like that) Remember I said this was a "simple" half-drop repeat. Next create a new layer above the background layer and create or cut-and-paste your pattern here. For my example I cut and pasted this little pig from another file and dropped it in here.

Make sure your image does not bleed off the edges of document and that it is on it's own transparent layer. Your layer window should look something like this.

Next create a duplicate of your image layer. Photoshop automatically named my new layer "Image Layer copy"

Next, make sure the "image layer copy" layer is selected and click "Filter -> Other -> Offset." Set the horizontal offset to half of the total width of your document. In my case my file is 500px wide so I will set the offset to 250px. Also set the the vertical offset to one half the total height. Again, my document was also 500px high so I set the offset to 250. (This is why we needed an even number of pixels when we initially created our document.) Also check "Wrap Around" for the Undefined Areas. When I click okay my original pig is still there but the new pig has been shifted to the corners.

Now, click "Select -> All" and "Edit -> Define Pattern" and you have a simple half drop repeat. Hmmm, I think I need some pajamas made out of my new "pig party" pattern. :)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Quickly Creating Patterns in Photoshop

As I was unpacking my materials from the NESCBWI conference this week I realized that I completely forgot to cover one of my presentation topics. I'm so annoyed with myself, because I thought it was one of the neater things that I was going to cover. I can't believe I forgot it. Oh well, at least I'll post it here on my blog. Better late than never, right?

I discussed this technique a while ago in the context of creating polka dot patterns but I think it's worth repeating. Many folks like to create collage images but are concerned about the copyright implications of using other people's fabric or paper designs in their work. This is a quick way to create all sorts of repeating pattern of your own in Photoshop.

First create a new document in Photoshop. It doesn't matter what size you make it as long as the height and width are an even number of pixels. I'm going to make mine 200px wide and 200px tall. Make note of the size, you will need it later.

Next draw something. The only rule is that you can not touch the document boundaries with your drawing. You can change the background to different solid color if you want, but make sure your drawing does not touch the edges of your image.

You can add textures, shadows, what ever, get as fancy with this as you want. Here I set the background to a light blue and drew a flower.

Now I could stop right here. If I click "Select -> All" and "Edit -> Define Pattern" I will get a pattern that will look something like this...

It's not bad but I want something less grid-like. So I'm going to modify it. First if you used more than one layer to create your image (which I did) you will need to flatten it into one layer. Next, select "Filter -> Other -> Offset" You will need to set the horizontal offset to one half of the total width of your image. In my case that would be 100 pixels. You will also set the vertical offset to half of the total height, again, in my case, that will be 100 pixels. Lastly, you will check "Wrap Around" for the undefined areas. If you click on the other options you will quickly see the difference. Once I run the offset filter I have something like this...

Now I can again draw something in the middle. But again don't touch the edges of the document. I can even draw over my original drawing and modify it just as long as I stay away from the document bounds. I drew another flower and one of the green curly cues overlap my original flower.

Now if I click "Select -> All" and "Edit -> Define Pattern" I get a more fluid looking pattern like this...

As you can imagine, making new patterns is rather addictive and before you know it, you will have a whole library of your own patterns to choose from.

ADDENDUM: I didn't make it very clear what to do after you click Edit -> Define Pattern. So here goes...

After I hit Edit -> Define Pattern. I like to save the original pattern file. So for my flower pattern I would save it as "flowerpattern.psd" I like to save all my patterns to a directory I called "PatternFiles" that way if I ever need to change one I have the original file to work with.

Once I save it, I can close the original file I won't need it anymore. Now I can create a new file. Make this new file larger than the first pattern file. For example, my flower pattern was 200px X 200px So I made a new file that's 800x1125 (it doesn't matter how big it is - just as long as it's bigger than the pattern file so you can see your pattern repeating) In this new file I make a selection. I wanted my pattern to fill the whole file so I clicked Select -> All then I clicked Edit -> Fill and when the dialog box comes up, I selected "Pattern" for the "Contents Use" dialog. And down below where it says custom pattern I click the little arrow next to the pattern and my new pattern should show up in the list. I select it, and when I click okay my new file should be filled with the flower pattern.

Hope this clears up any confusion.