Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Enjoy the Season!

We're taking a break to enjoy the snow, hot cocoa, winter sky, sledding...
      see you in the new year.

collage art ~ Sue Heavenrich

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Dip into Art, Find a New Writerly You by Leslie Colin Tribble and Kathy Halsey

Any amount of creativity takes incubation.
Kathy:  This past fall was hard on me mentally and by October, I felt creatively dry. I had not read Julie Cameron's The Artist's Way but I have done Morning Pages and knew to take myself on "creativity dates" to art museums, the woods, or whatever to just feed my soul and heart. I changed up my creative routine and challenged myself to try pen and ink sketching with Inktober a week into the challenge. Although I didn't get 31 drawings done, one a day with a prompt, I did enjoy the pursuit of another medium. Here's what I learned dipping into a new art form.
One of my pen & ink sketches w/acrylic. Inspired by a photo and the prompt "angular."

  • It freed me from being too critical of myself, since I didn't consider myself an artist. 
  • I met other artists and saw how many different ways there are to render art with pen & ink.
  • I sketched on planes, in pubs, and found that people were interested in what I was doing. 
  • By the month's end, I realized that as I wrote, I was beginning to think in pictures and what I would sketch on a page. 
  • I gained courage from trying an art form that was new and realized that all artistic expression has rough patches, trial and error, fun, and breakthroughs.  
Sometimes you have to be patient and wait until the time is right.
I knew some of my kid lit friends had other talents and asked them to comment on what they enjoyed in addition to writing and how each art helps feed the other. Twenty-three writers responded to my question over at KidLIt411. I'll share just a few responses.

  • To me, creative writing is just one form of artistic generativity. Almost any form of self-expression is useful for generating writing ideas and for getting into creation-mode.
    Different ways of creating often feed into one another. A necklace I've woven may lead to an idea for a different way to decorate a cookie, which in turn may result in an unexpected idea for a children's book. - Michele Blood
  • I enjoy handicrafts like sewing, knitting and needle-felting along with costuming. I also garden. For me, it's about letting my brain have some time to fallow, but my hands need to be busy somehow.  - Kimberly Christensen
  •  I love gardening, and mowing the lawn. How is lawn mowing creative? I mow nonsensical patterns, or only see from above patterns some times. It's great non-interupted creative time too, much writing is figured out in the fresh air! I also do t'ai chi and qigong which help my writing a great deal. - Charlene Brandt Avery
  • Cooking, gardening, and oddly, doing puzzles. I realize that it's not creative in the sense that the pieces are already there. But it both focuses and relaxes my mind. It's very meditative and I often come up with ways to approach a manuscript I'm working on while I'm doing them. - Julie Foster Hedlund
  • Finally, GROGger friend, Leslie Colin Tribble, is an author/photographer and treats Facebook followers to amazing photos. I asked her to tag team with me on this post. Her photography makes me conjure up stories. (They are throughout this post.)  
Leslie: I use photography to help me sharpen my creativity. Often when I'm out hiking I see things in nature which prompt story ideas so I snap photos to help me remember. Or I take photos of things I want to research later - what might that animal track be; what woodpecker makes those types of holes; do kangaroo mice hibernate? I could write these ideas down in a notebook, but slipping my cell phone out of my pocket and snapping off one or even ten photos of something is so much easier. Thank goodness for digital!

Creativity is a reflective endeavor.
I'm not on Facebook much anymore, but I have a presence on Instagram (sagebrush_lessons) and I love it. I follow people, places and hashtags that inspire me to create, whether it's photography or writing. I really enjoy posting my own photos and love showing people a slice of my outdoor life. I seldom post anything personal, but I do post things that I find interesting in the natural world. Instagram boosts my creativity and keeps me looking for unique and fun subjects for posts. 

I also think it's good to take a break from your regular writing. I didn't do much of any writing this past year, and when I finally picked up a pen, I wrote personal journal entries exploring emotions and thoughts, something I definitely am not comfortable with. And I've been trying to write a nature-related tidbit per day, just to jump start the words. Writing is practice and when I don't practice I feel the words and ideas stop flowing. 

Sometimes you have to just stop and absorb all that good energy.
Another practice which has come into my life is that of sketching. I've always wanted to keep that tried-and-true naturalist's notebook filled with beautiful sketches of plants and animals. But I really can't sketch for anything. The point is though, that sketching helps me notice both intimate detail and overall impressions. It helps me better understand what I'm looking at and inspires me to increase my knowledge. It's a creativity booster, even though I am absolutely no good at it. I figure I may never create a journal on the lines of Claire Walker Leslie, but my sketching certainly can't get any worse than it already is. And who knows? In several years (decades?!) I just might be slightly better at sketching than I am now! 

What are some ways which you can try to ratchet up your creativity by exploring other art forms? How about taking a watercolor class or learn sculpting? Maybe you could join a Toast Master's group, learn glass blowing, or learn to knit? I find I do a lot of mental writing when I'm just knitting down a long row of the same stitch (plus I'm not a very gifted knitter - plain and simple for me!) Find something you aren't very good at, especially if it requires you to use a different side of your brain.   
Other times you have to head out and pursue it.
Kathy:  As author Sarah Aronson reminded me in her recent newsletter, "In our creative lives, when we take risks, we don't always succeed either. But you'll never know what can happen in your story unless you try. Unless you let go of playing it safe. Unless you risk losing." Here's to new forms of creativity in 2019. What might you do with this one fabulous life? 

Its always worth the effort and you can congratulate yourself on a job well done.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Writing a Holiday Picture Book ~ by Patricia Toht

This time of year, bookstores are filled with holiday books, with picture books making particularly festive displays. 
A holiday display at Dragonwings Bookstore
in Waupaca, WI
Perhaps that sets you wondering about writing one of your very own. I've written two holiday books, PICK A PINE TREE and PICK A PUMPKIN, and I've learned a few things along the way. 

Let's begin by looking at the pros and cons of holiday books:


• Many holiday books have a ready consumer market every year, with shoppers willing to open their wallets to buy. In 2017, Money magazine asked the National Retail Federation to rank which US holidays have the most consumer spending

National Retail Federation, 2013
The Winter Holidays are #1 by a long shot. The next biggest are Mother's Day, Easter, Valentine's Day, Father's Day, and Halloween (in that order). Each of these holidays offers an opportunity for books.

*The second largest "holiday" spending is Back to School. Another topic to consider!

• The school and library markets also buy holiday books, and are often interested in a greater variety of topics. While bookstores might not carry a wide stock of books on minor holidays, such as President's Day or Groundhogs' Day, schools and libraries order these books to support student learning.

• Often readers build their own personal libraries of holiday favorites, adding to their collections every year. Repeat business!


• The window for selling holiday books is narrow. You only get one shot each year for sales - the rest of the year, sales are pretty non-existent.

• The holiday book market is crowded. It can be difficult to come up with a unique offering that will stand out.

• Holidays are hardly universal. Some are celebrated widely in the world, while others are unique to certain countries or regions. Publishers may not want to take on a book with too narrow an appeal. 

• Publishers interested in selling co-editions (versions of the book published in other countries) will also not be interested in holiday books with a limited audience.

So, still interested? How do you get started? 

1) Visit the library and the bookstore. What holidays are celebrated in books? Read, read, read!

2) Christmas and Halloween are widely covered in the US. If you choose either, can you come up with a unique character, setting, conflict, or other element?

3) Diversity offers opportunity. Is a holiday that you celebrate under-represented?

4) Look at book formats. Has a particular format not been done? Concept book? Wordless? Nonfiction? Historical fiction? Poetry?

5) Apply your craft. Elements that make a terrific traditional picture book are the same ones that make a great holiday book. My favorite craft book is Ann Whitford Paul's WRITING PICTURE BOOKS.

Below is just a small sampling of my favorite Christmas books. What are yours, readers?

Unique setting

Economy of words, and so funny!
Cute character and sweet ending
A classic, in rhymed text
My favorite historical fiction
Christmas book

Merry Christmas! 

Happy Holidays! 

Best wishes for the New Year!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Building an Artist's Collective

by Sue Heavenrich

Annie Z ~Night (self portrait)
Annie Zygarowicz and Johanna van Der Sterre were successful illustrators when life - and the economy - pushed them off course. Annie delved into graphic design, developing brochures, websites, and providing a range of publicity services. Johanna managed to carve out some time for painting and began sharing her love of art through a series of art workshops at the local library.

Last summer, both decided they were ready to dive back into children's book illustration. While chatting one day, they wondered whether they could collaborate on marketing - maybe share a website or do some local art shows.

Johanna ~ Day
"But our artwork is so different," said Johanna. She paints animals and scenery with a bright, lively watercolor palette and then digitally refines them. Annie focuses mainly on digital character design and scenes using dark, muted colors.  Johanna's art embraces picture books; Annie's tends towards the middle grade readers. Their work is as different, and as complementary, as night and day - a description that captures the mood of their work as well. Annie's paintings are dark and mysterious while Johanna's tend toward the sunny.

So, in July, they established the Night and Day art collective. Since then, they've added two new members: Marie Sanderson and Jennifer Gibson, whom Annie and Johanna had met in 2016 as part of an art gallery tour. Marie’s serene farm scenes and animals are painted with loose pastel watercolors, with the gentle feeling of "dawn". Jennifer paints plein aire landscapes with gouche and watercolor, garnering her the nickname "dusk".
Jennifer ~ Dusk

Between them, they've illustrated traditionally published and indie-published picture books and are busy working on new projects. As a collective, their goal is to support each other and promote each other's art. Some artist collectives form to share work space and materials. At this point, the Night and Day collective is more oriented to support.  They plan to get together on a monthly basis, like a critique group.

"We want to fit our skills together to collaborate on projects and also explore ways that illustrators can help each other," Johanna said.  To that end, she and Marie are working on holiday cards for a local show.
Marie ~ Dawn

The Night and Day Art Collective website, is currently under construction and should be ready to unveil next month. And you can find out more about each illustrator, and check out their online art galleries, at their individual websites: