The Harbinger of Spring





With the sky blue and the temperature tolerable outside, I sat with my coffee next to an open window this morning at breakfast. I listened to the bird’s chorus outside.  There’s something deeply comforting about the promise of spring after a winter that has been a bit too long.  It’s like waking up yawing, stretching, and feeling refreshed.  Just as I’m ready for this long winter to be over and anticipating the spring, I’m also rejoicing in the new changes coming in my life.  And today, that starts with art.

One of my main pursuits of 2014 is to find and use new Photoshop brushes with the aim of simulating my traditional style.  Up until now, I’ve used a lot of generic brushes out of necessity (speed) and to simply get used to drawing on the computer.  With more concentrated time and an intentional focus, I’ve been able to unearth a few goodies.  Finally a few pencil-like lines and some white gesso brushes!  I’m getting excited about what I’ll be able to do with this!

I hope to post some more adventures in brushes soon!  Until then, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

(subtle nod to Garrison Keillor)

Book Dummy Concept – The Vikings Who Came for Dinner

Over the next few months I’m participating in a “Picture Book Dummy Challenge” through SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators).  While the challenge hasn’t begun quite yet, I’ve decided to go ahead and dive in to this lively and raucous concept.  And I’m having the time of my life doing it!  This piece isn’t quite complete, but it’s got the energy and vibrance that I’m looking for in a book concept. I’d like to revisit the color design of this piece, as well as bring the viewer’s undivided attention to our focal point – the Vikings.

I’m also trying my hand at several new Photoshop brushes.  I’ve got a bit to go before I get that ‘traditional’ look I’m going for, but there’s no time like the present to start experimenting!

So, here’s my progress thus far! I hope to have the completed piece sometime by the end of next week!

Mr. and Mrs. Shrew-Complete!


It’s an unwritten goal of mine to paint at least one traditional illustration each year.  While this painting was actually completed in the wee early days of 2014, I still count it towards fulfilling my 2013 year-end goals. Moreover, I am pleased with the timing of this picture because mountains of snow hem my husband and I inside our cozy little house, and we’re keeping the kettle on and the fireplace roaring – in essence, we are Mr. and Mrs. Shrew. That wasn’t my intention, but there you go!

Overall I like how this piece turned out.  It reflects my personal style and way of telling stories.  Another image I particularly like along this strain was my 2011 piece, Miss Bianca.

Look for more new illustrations soon!


Mr. and Mrs. Shrew Sneak-Peek!


MrandMrsShrew2 copyIn honor of the first blanket of snow to cover the ground this season, I’d like to share progress on what might be the coziest painting I’ve ever worked on.  It’s about 60% complete, and I’m painting it in my favorite traditional medium, gouache.  I’m also taking a bit of a different approach than normal with this painting.  Where I usually start with a written story, I’m instead painting from a feeling. The feeling I get when I’m home. I imagine this picture as the final illustration in a chapter book, in which Mr. Shrew finds himself in heaps of mischief despite Mrs. Shrew’s repeat warnings.  In the true spirit of Beatrix Potter, he’s sweetly comforted by a simple cup of hot tea and the love and safety of home.

For me, 2013 has been an interesting year, complete with its own set of mishaps and blunders.  I think painting this story, regardless of its ever being completed, has helped me process my own story and the events of this year.  I imagine myself as Mr. Shrew. Silly, blundering Mr. Shrew. *sigh*  Who knows what he’s been through? But here we find ourselves, in the last chapter, where he sits comfortably soaking his feet and having his tea. At least for now we know he is quite safe.

I’ll be sure to post the completed painting before the end of the month!


Illustration Friday – Underwater

Illustration Friday – Underwater

Back on the Illustration Friday challenge!  This week’s word: Underwater. I’m playing texture and depth in my digital work.

Over the past few years I have been dedicated to the task of meeting some financial goals for my family.  While I’m blessed to be illustrating and designing almost full time, I’ve put speed and efficiency above exploring my creativity and experimenting with media like I did back in college.  With some of those goals now (nearly) met, I’m lessening my constraints and giving my right brain a little wiggle room.  In the thick of striving to meet looming deadlines and juggling five different projects on my plate at a time, I’ve daydreamed about what it would be like to discover a new photoshop brush, or to pull out a pad and pencil and just sketch.  I’ve thought on these things so much I feel as though I’m a race horse about to sprint from the gate.  Blessedly, in a few weeks that gate will be opened and I’ll be ready – quite ready – to charge headlong into my well marinated ideas.

I’ve watched good artist friends start out and become quite successful in their own right, dabbling in paints, pixel pushing, or even in one case playing with her food.  While it’s so exciting to see others become successful in their craft, I sometimes wonder, “will that ever be me?” I pause now for a moment and realize, that is me. Being successful in this field means that timing is everything, and each experience I have is a building block to the next big idea.  Moreover, the artist will often have 10 bad ideas for every good one.  So it isn’t that I’m not successful, it’s that my success is rooted in the growing process.  If there’s one thing that I am doing, it’s growing.

I’ve berated myself recently for pushing hard and taking every job that falls on my plate. As a result I’ve been frustrated with quality of my work or my inability to bring any picture to the place where I, not the client, feel like it is complete.  But no more.  I realize now that there is deep value in the quantity of work I’ve produced.  In the hundreds of pieces I’ve done in the past three years, there are maybe 4 or 5 that I’m truly happy with. But the things that I’ve learned through each trial and failure are monumental. I need make no apologies for that.

So as I charge out the gate, developing new styles, learning new tools, and thinking up new stories to tell, I don’t expect that I’ll crank out a series of winners right away.  I believe it will take time, a huge pile of failures, and patience just as it has in the past.  However, I’m thankful that this is my process, because frankly I often love the process more than the end result.  And I look forward to that process because of what it is: messy, beautiful, unpredictable, art.

Starting a New Project with a Client: My Communication Essentials

Recently I was asked an interesting question by a friend who coaches small business owners. She asked me and a few other artists what we need from clients when we start a new project with them. This got my wheels turning a bit.  As I’ve been freelancing for about a year and a half, and working as a designer for about three years now I’ve had some time to summarize my thoughts on the subject. Perhaps this will be helpful for those of you working with designers, or those who are designers trying to sort this out for yourselves.

When I’m starting a new freelance project the essential information I need to know up front is (1) what is the scope of the project, (2) when do they need it to be completed, and (3) what is their budget. (More simply: “The scope? How Long? How Much?”)

The Scope:
Any project starts off with a discussion of the requirements of the job. This happens in different ways: in person, over the phone, or via email (my preferred method.) While talking directly to my client means that I can ask all of my essential questions up front, it also has it’s disadvantages. We have no written record of the conversation which I can reference in the future. This is why I generally prefer email. The information I like from a client up front is an emailed list of bullet points outlining the project with all of the job’s essential content attached. (copy, manuscripts, essential graphics, flowcharts, etc) Even if we converse in person, or on the phone initially, a written record is essential to me because I can reference it later.  It’s very very helpful to have an emailed list of expectations and essential content for a project up front. Once we’ve discussed these details, they may be laid out in the contract/project proposal/etc.

“How Long?”
The timeline of a project is vitally important to me because it helps me know where to place the client on my schedule. Often I’m juggling several projects at once and need to know where to place their project in my queue. Furthermore, if it’s a rush job, it could effect my overall rates depending on how busy I am. If a client forgets to tell/send me their deadlines in our initial exchange then I have to reply back. This interchange may eat up valuable time. It’s best to have that information up front.

“How much?”
The elephant in the room. As a freelancer I’ve learned not to avoid it, but smaller companies, friends, and folks who’ve never worked with artists before tend to be timid with the subject. I’d rather have that information outright because, honestly, the project hinges on it. Unless I’m doing the work for charity, or to build my portfolio, I’m concerned about rates, so it’s best to discuss it upfront. Even more, I don’t want my clients to be afraid to ask me about my rates. I’ve thoroughly thought them through and am not ashamed of what I charge. So they should not be embarrassed to ask me about them. Moreover, I’m always willing to discuss different payment options, flat rates (one cost for the whole project rather than hourly), or other options that might work better for them. Most artists I’ve talked to are more than happy to work with their client on this.

These three items are what I find most important to discuss before working on any project. Avoiding any one of these may eat up valuable time and money! If anyone has any additional thoughts/comments I’d love to hear them! I know I’ve certainly not thought of everything, and am interested in constructive input as I work on building client relationships and my company!

Thankful for Thotful

This morning I woke early to be a guest speaker in my friend’s high school drawing class.  With Starbucks in hand (liquid courage) and a stack of my freshly printed books and portfolios, I headed off to what I hope is the first of many opportunities to encourage up-and-coming artists about the joys of a creative profession.

As I reflect on that, I am so thankful I can say that my artistic journey so far has been a joyful one.  It took a few years to get the wheels turning and the motors running, but as of January 3rd 2012 my small business, Thotful LLC, will be one year old.  Though not everything has been smooth sailing, and I know there will be (many) bumps in the road, I can truly say that I’m glad this is my journey, my mountain to climb, and I wouldn’t ask for anything different.

I was recently reminded of a Bible passage one of my favorite professors read to us in an illustration class:

2 Samuel 22:36
31 “As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord is flawless.
He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
32 For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
33 It is God who arms me with strength
and makes my way perfect.
34 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he enables me to stand on the heights.
35 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
36 You give me your shield of victory;
you stoop down to make me great.

Finding freelance work is a faith walk. In a competitive field like art, you are not guaranteed to find work every day. You are not guaranteed a paycheck at the end of every week.  This field is difficult, and as with some others (i.e. entertainment and sports) it seems as though success is based solely on outperforming your peers. However, the beauty spoken through this passage is that the artist who trusts God knows that it is God who supplies greatness.  “36 You give me your shield of victory; you stoop down to make me great.” It is God who gives strength. It is God who provides successes, and holds on to us when we fail.  This knowledge takes the pressure off of me and my desires to succeed in my career.  As a freelancer, I trust God with my paycheck and my provisions believing that he can, and will, provide for me.  Possibly not in the way that I expect, but I know He deeply cares for my well being.

So what does that mean for me?  I’m filled up with joy, filled up with strength, filled up and overflowing with the desire to share how God has been good to me.  I’m so thankful to have been able to share this with the high school drawing class this morning, and I’m equally blessed to share this with you.

Stay tuned for more images and updates soon! Lot’s going on here at Thotful!


Paintings for the Advent Season

This year I made a festive contribution to my church in the form of 5 Advent paintings.  Each week leading up to Christmas, the church revealed a new painting, telling a bit of the story leading up to Christ’s miraculous birth.  These whimsical paintings each come with a bit of hand-written scripture which inspired each segment.  It was a fun way to celebrate Christmas this year!

The first painting is a depiction of the Prophet Isaiah fortelling Christ’s birth. (Isaiah 64)

The second is John the Baptist announcing the coming of Christ. (Isaiah 40)

The third shows a pregnant Mary and Joseph making their way through the wilderness in route to Bethlehem. (Isaiah 35)

The fourth shows the announcement of Christ’s birth to the Shephards. (Isaiah 61)

The fifth and final shows an empty nativity scene with the Holy Spirit hovering overhead, and Zion in sight. (Isaiah 52)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!


Meet Fatima and Fumo

Fatima and Fumo

My latest project is inviting some exciting new challenges in character design!  A quick project overview: my client, a humanitarian aid group working in the Central African Republic, asked me to illustrate and design a book that teaches children how avoid getting worms.  According to research, worms is a plight that effects 40% of all children in the country, and causes problems such as diarrhea, malnutrition, and stunted growth. This instructional booklet will teach 4th-6th graders how to avoid infection, stay clean, and help educate others. Read the full post »

Illustration Friday: Influence

This week’s Illustration Friday word is ‘influence.’ With this in mind, I chose the classic subject of a flower to demonstrate how light and reflection influence an object.  This image is a festival of jewel tones spotted by the eye of my artist friend, Heidi (also mentioned in my post, IF: Gesture) on her recent trip to the Ft. Wayne Zoo.  From her trip, she sent me her lovely photos, ranging from baby lemurs and tigers, to feather textures and flowers. (I hope to illustrate some of her animals soon!) From her photos, I was particularly taken by this vibrant fuchsia, and thought I would enjoy painting under the influence of this kaleidoscope of color.  Enjoy!