Sunday, December 28, 2008

Word games

I enjoy words. And some of the board games I enjoy most revolve around word choices or word play. They can be difficult to play in a mixed group of people - those who don't have the largest vocabulary or "punniness" or don't think quickly on their feet often find them very frustrating. But for the rest of us, these can be a great time.

Some of the word games I enjoy?

Apples to Apples
Catch Phrase
Last Word
(even Pictionary)

And then, of course, there's crosswords, word searches and other word puzzles. They entertain us, sharpen our minds and stretch our vocabularies and word skills so that we can always find just the right one as we write. Fun and informative - who knew?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas to you and yours
and my very best wishes for each of you
for the coming year!!

"Candy Cane" by VJCoulman
11" x 14" - Acrylic on Canvas

Friday, December 19, 2008


Maybe you're like me. Maybe you prefer creative spirit to concrete requirements.

One of my favorite quotes by a writer is from Douglas Adams:

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

Great quote but the reality is that I dislike deadlines intensely. The sound I'm more likely to hear is the hammering of the pulse in my right temple as a deadline creeps closer and closer and I'm still waiting for someone to return a call and say something intelligent that I can quote in the article!


I'm happy to say I haven't missed a deadline yet (except once and I had permission that time) but let me be frank - the day before a deadline I'd rather trade my job for a couple of sugar-jacked twin toddlers that hadn't napped in a week.

Then I meet the deadline and the cheque comes and I love my job again.

And in a moment of perfect honesty, I might even admit that freelance has been very good for me. I've learned to juggle deadlines and plan ahead and develop a sense of organization and even earn an income as a writer and artist. Let's face it, the projects that I don't have a deadline for are still sitting in random stacks of incompleteness all over my studio. It's become a life-long project to illustrate my next picture book. The novel? Well...

It took me almost two years to paint a seven-foot length of hallway. (Okay, it's really only finished because my father-in-law got bored on his last visit.) One of my kids' baby quilts is still on the frames and I'm now hoping to have it done before they leave for college. (My mother quilted the one they actually used.) And it takes a visit from relatives to really get the house clean. (It's part of the reason they're always welcome.)

So I guess I have learned a couple things. One is that I need deadlines to accomplish my goals. Two is to really appreciate my family.

So I'm assigning "project deadlines" in my calendar for the coming year. And I'm hoping my family can visit more often.

Come on over, guys...just give me a few days to clean up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stories in fabric

My grandmother was a quilter. And because of her influence, I am a quilter. I love the traditional patterns and fabrics but also enjoy the unique ways that technology can enhance the craft. And perhaps not surprisingly, I see a lot of similarities between writing and quilting in the ability to stitch together a story that can both warm the heart and delight the soul.

Some of my favorite memories of my remarkable grandmother are of the quilt shows we would attend together. We'd sometimes get in trouble because we'd get our fingers too close to the quilts in our enthusiasm over the stitching or the piece shapes and get a reprimand from the show overseers who would offer us gloves. But as Grandma would say, "Quilters shop with their hands." If you couldn't touch it, you couldn't be sure it was right for your quilt.

Perhaps that explains my innate preference for print books over e-versions, too. Reading is a tactile experience for me as well as an intellectual one. There is delight to be found in a good-quality paper, a well-constructed binding and the weight of a book in your hands. Each book has its own personality just as my friends each have a unique look and characterl, too. On a screen they all look the same (though they express themselves differently) but in person each personality shines.

I remember reading a quote somewhere from a pioneer woman that said "I make my quilts to keep my family warm. I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking." It's one of those art forms that is so often seen as purely functional that the story of each quilt gets lost in the everyday warmth of the finished project. But that's part of why we aim for excellence in our writing. So that the craft doesn't detract from the purpose of our writing.

A friend of mine visited South Korea and came across an amazing quilt show called "Quilting Through Fairy Tales." Photos are available at ( and are well worth a visit as stories are brought to life through cotton and thread. Maybe someday a quilter will be inspired to bring the warmth of a quilt to one of our stories, too.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Quotes about writing and writers

"Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good
writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don't
see any."
--Orson Scott Card

"What a mistake for an author to emerge from her secret fastness. Authors were shy, unsociable creatures, atoning for their lack of social aptitude by inventing their own companions and conversations."
--Ariadne Oliver in Agatha Christie's "Mrs. McGinty's Dead"

"Revision is like wrestling with a demon, for almost anyone can write; but only writers know how to rewrite. It is this ability alone that turns the amateur into a professional."
-- William Knott

"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see
as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
--E L Doctorow

"Anyone who believes you can't change history has never tried to
write his memoirs."
--David Ben Gurion

"Good fledgling writers are like 6-year-old hockey players. They're not very good. They think they're awesome. They get better with practice. When they fall down, they get back up."
-- Sigmund Brouwer

“You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grownups, you write it for children.”
—Madeleine L’Engle

"Sure, it's simple, writing for kids... Just as simple as bringing them up."
--Ursula K. LeGuin

"When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out."
--Vickie Karp

"No one is asking, let alone demanding, that you write. The world
is not waiting with bated breath for your article or book. Whether
or not you get a single word on paper, the sun will rise, the earth
will spin, the universe will expand. Writing is forever and always
a choice -- your choice."
--Beth Mende Conny

"Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled
with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over
yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the
--Tom Clancy

"There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder."
--Brian Aldiss

"There was never a good biography of a good novelist. There couldn't be. He is too many people if he's any good."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

"It's true that writing is a solitary occupation, but you would be surprised at how much companionship a group of imaginary characters can offer once you get to know them."
--Anne Tyler

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
--Douglas Adams

"I am dying. I am about to die. Either is correct."
--French grammarian Bonhourre's last words on his deathbed

"Writing is a process in which we discover what lives within us. The writing, itself, reveals what is alive! The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know."
--Henri Nouwen

"There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write."
--William Makepeace Thackeray

"There is freedom in being a writer and writing. It is fulfilling your function. I used to think freedom meant doing whatever you want. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it."
--Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

"It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent forwriting, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous."
--Robert Benchley

"If writers were good businessmen, they'd have too much sense to be writers."
--Irwin S. Cobb, author and journalist (1876-1944)

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader--not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."
--E.L. Doctorow

"Books aren't written; they're rewritten. Including your own.It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it."
--Michael Crichton

Should you write? Perhaps the advice applies that an olderpastor once gave a young man thinking of becoming a preacher. "If you don't have to, don't."
– Stanley C. Baldwin

"Never underestimate the power of a woman, especially if she has a pencil in her hand or her mouth open."
--Columnist Phyllis Kendrick quoted in The Vegreville News Advertiser, Nov. 15, 1983

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."
--Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

"Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence
that sawing wood is what he was intended for."
--Mark Twain

"Writing, which is my form of celebration and prayer, is also my way of inquiry."
--Diane Ackerman

"When I'm writing, I know I'm doing the thing I was born to do."
--Anne Sexton

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."
--Jack London

"The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon."
--Robert Cromier

"Yes, I suppose some editors are failed writers - but so are most writers."
--T.S. Eliot

"Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say."
--Sharon O'Brien

"I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all."
--Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

"I have heard it said that rats collect trinkets," he wrote in a 1938 essay, "that if you expose a rat's nest, you may find bright bits of glass and other small desirable objects. A child's mind is such a repository -- full of gems of questionable merit, paste and real, held in storage. What shining jewels shall we contribute this morning, sir, to this amazing collection?"
-– E.B.White

"Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove; you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain."
--Elie Wiesel

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A funny

I saw this comic strip this week and LOVE it...

You can see this strip (and more in this story line) at My thanks to the talented and funny Sandra Lamb (who, incidentally, also illustrated I Am A Ballerina (check my bookshelf on the right to see the cover)) for letting me post the strip.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

You are invited

For the last three months, I have been involved in preparations for a Christmas musical - doing promo photography, planning costumes, stretching huge canvases and painting sets. And finally, opening night is this Thursday. If you're in the area, you are invited to join us for a Dickens' style Christmas musical.

This original play and musical is about two girls without a home - one in modern day and one in 1852 England - and the longing to have a home at Christmas. The very talented Rene' Phelps (director/scriptwriter) and Roger Hutley (composer/songwriter) have done an outstanding job in putting this story together. As part of this drama any donations made through the play are going to support a new shelter for homeless teens in Medford, OR. It's heartbreaking to know how many children and teens are homeless in this area and its been a long-felt dream of some people here to provide them a safe place to live.

So, you are invited to join us for a entertaining evening of music and drama, but more than that, you're invited to be part of what we hope will be a life-changing event.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sets and scenes

Sometimes my paintings are quite small, and sometimes they need a ladder. That's been the case over the past three weeks as I've been painting the set for a Christmas musical. It's been both exciting and frustrating to try to best capture the mood and look of 1850s England in 8 4x10 foot and 5 4x8 foot canvases.

But today I'm very happy to say they are finally taking shape. It's been reminding me of writing - you start with some ideas sketched out and then you have to go back and work out the details, sentence by sentence, block by block. Some things just fly off the pen, and others need to be reworked and reworked and reworked. You think you have something finished but the mood changes around it and it needs another edit. Then you take it to your critique group or set it away for a bit and more work shows up.

But when it finally does start to "pop", it's incredibly exciting. Even those small areas are reassuring because you know the other spots have the same potential so you plug away until its smooth and seamless and captures exactly what you want to portray.

There's really nothing like it...on canvas or on paper.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Christmas coloring page

I did this little sketch awhile ago in prep for a painting I was working on for a local event. It's nothing terribly fancy but I really enjoyed the process of painting this candy cane. (I'll post the finished painting later.) But for now here's the sketch which is also available as a coloring page on my site. Maybe you know a little artist that would have fun with it this holiday season too.

Monday, November 24, 2008

IMO - ProPanels

Occasionally I run across a product or item that just really wows the funky-colored socks off me. This time, it was a group of display panels by ProPanel.

As you may have read, I was director for a local Christmas art exhibit. I had organized an exhibit at this venue earlier in the year and as part of the set-up personally hauled and covered enough easels to display over 100 pieces of art. Whew! I was not looking forward to having to do that again.

Because of a very generous donation, we were able to purchase a small set of display panels and on the recommendation of several fellow artists and mentors, we chose to go with ProPanels. Plus, as part of this particular exhibit, a friend loaned us her booth-sized ProPanel set up along with lights and extension cords.

I cannot say enough good things about these panels! The company was helpful with questions I had, and other than shipping being a full quarter of our budget, the panels are wonderful! Because they are so lightweight, I managed quite easily to set up the entire panel structure myself, and the braces and supports all slid easily into place for a very sturdy unit to hang the artwork on. The simple Velcro fasteners held legs together, cords in place and were a snap to use (I mean really - its Velcro). Take down was just as easy with two people disassembling the entire set of panels in about 35 minutes, including removing the artwork and lighting.

If you're planning a purchase, make sure to invest in a few extra braces or support bars to maximize your options when you have room to be flexible. And what I didn't realize, too, is that the anchor hangers can be extended on either side of the panel so you can hang artwork on two sides without requiring a second anchor hanger (you will want to have plenty of hanger extenders though - it took two extensions plus the length of the anchor hangar to hang two smaller paintings). For short extensions, you can also link together the "s" hooks to form a chain extension if you haven't got enough straight bar extensions.

I had hemmed and hawed over the new cable system vs. the traditional straight rod system but am perfectly happy with the versatility of the traditional system and would actually recommend them over the cables. I work regularly with a cable studio system but for this venue prefer the traditional flat hangars.

They also offer a range of imaginative and useful accessories for those that want a variety of display options. If you do booths, displays or trade shows, I would HIGHLY recommend these panels for their versatility and functionality.

This review was neither requested nor sponsored by anyone. I did not receive any product or other recompense. I wrote it because I tried this product and wanted to share my impression(s) of it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

An art exhibit opens today

If you're in the area, you are welcome to join us!

Val (Exhibit director)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Choosing the right title

They say the title is one of the most important things you will ever write for your new manuscript - though probably the query letter still ranks a little higher. There are definitely some titles that catch the imagination or pique the curiosity. Some of my favorites include: How Are You Peeling?, Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type, A Bag Full of Nothing, Mr. Pinkerton Finds A Body, No More Dead Dogs, And God Created Squash, and the list goes on...

We'd been talking about titles in the residency I'm currently teaching (I'm done at the end of the week so will stop talking about it eventually) and doing some brainstorming about what should and shouldn't be in a title. Some kids had a snappy option right off the cuff, others just stared and shrugged. (I think I could tell which ones have more AR points.)

I got home with a head full of titles and then saw this sitting on my kitchen table:

Maybe it's just because I was hanging around with 9-year-olds but doesn't this strike you as possibly being an unfortunate choice? I can't imagine a parent walking into a book store and asking for the book "Things to Do with Pooh."

(Okay, actually I can. And I can also imagine the look on the staff member's face when they hear the request. I mean, if you didn't know it was connected to Disney's version of A.A. Milne's classic bear, what shelf would you start looking on?)

Needless to say, it's gotten some mileage around our house, and it's served as a caution to me too. Our titles need careful attention. Do you want to see if your title measures up? You can put it to the test at the Lulu Titlescorer or, for the more sports minded, put two titles to the test at the new Lulu Titlefight!

Friday, November 14, 2008

"I can't draw"

Today in the art residency I am teaching, we did self-portraits. These are intended to be Christmas presents for the 4th-graders' parents (act surprised if your child is in this class, okay?) and were also an exercise to get them a little more confident with planning and painting in watercolors before we illustrate the stories we've written as part of the residency.

Now let me say right off the bat that this would be a daunting challenge for most adults - and for a 9-year-old to tackle it, no one was expecting perfection. But one boy in particular was in tears from about 4 minutes into the lesson. "I can't draw," he sobbed. "I never could."

To my knowledge, no one in the class had told him he couldn't draw. In fact, his table group were surprisingly supportive of his drawing. And considering they'd had two hours practice so far, the portraits were turning out surprisingly well. But at each step - eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair - he'd start to cry and drop his pencil until someone came and walked him through it. It really broke my heart to see someone so young finished already. He had shut the door firmly on art for reasons that I obviously didn't understand.

How many other kids have already shut the door on something because they "can't"? How many grown-ups are no longer even aware they have hidden talents as writers or artists or some other skill because they made up their mind when they were 9 years old that they couldn't?

Three years ago, I also sat down in a class and said "I can't draw." But because it was so important to me, and with the encouragement of my own classmates, I can call myself an artist today. I know I still have a lot to learn but I discovered something that thrills me in both the product and the process and I can't imagine life without it.

I have just over four hours over the next week to try to light that fire in these students.

Wish me luck...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Embroidered jeans and funky socks

I discovered fairly early on as a childrens' writer that when you're invited to a school to do presentations with the students, 99 times out of 100, the kids will be sitting on the floor. And while I take along lots of props and visuals to try to keep all types of learners focused, you still know they are staring at your knees half the time.

So I decided to give them something to look at. I have started building a collection of funny socks and embroidered jeans. Fortunately, the jeans still manage to maintain a semi-professional look (since I'm not sure clown pants would have the same effect). But apparently there is no limit to the bad taste (or sense of humor - sometimes it's hard to tell them apart) people will exhibit when designing socks.

(Note: These are not my feet. Or my socks. But they illustrate my point.)

I have fuzzy socks with googly eyes, pig socks, striped knee socks, socks with cow ears and socks with toes. Socks with paw prints, lip prints and polka-dot prints. Frog socks, cow socks and flower socks. Sometimes just that peep of color keeps the youngest ones fascinated.

Sure, my socks often don't match my shoes (much to the chagrin of my fashion-guru friends), but I still call it dressing for success. Back are the days when catching a glimpse of my ankle can be a fascinating thing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Standing in the rain

You know the old expression "It never rains but it pours"?

The life of a freelancer is a funny one. Sure, you get to choose your hours and focus your markets and have a load of other perks. But you're also bound to have some dry spells. And now and then you get caught in a deluge.

Part of the juggle is knowing how to manage the deluge when it happens. I have some wonderful and consistent markets that I've been privileged to work with for years. And I never turn them down unless I simply won't be around to write the assignment but - whew! - this month there seems to be some sort of conspiracy to swamp me with work. I'm learning time management in ways I've never fully appreciated before.

Of course, I'm grateful. It's still ironic though that while I'm hearing about tough economic times I'm only listening with half an ear as I'm typing towards yet another deadline. I've had some of my best financial months since the stock market started its slide. Oh, I'm sure I'll have dry spells again. And like most writers and artists, I've got plenty of projects waiting to keep me busy when it happens but for now it's back to work.

I hope your writing is rewarding this month, too.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

IMO - EcoDrop cloths

I'm going to be painting sets for the next few weeks.

Actually, I'm painting a set for the next few weeks but it's made up of 8-4 x 10-foot canvases & 5-double-sided, 4 x 8-foot canvases. They are stretched onto wooden frames and then mounted in metal braces that have castors so they can be turned and rolled into position during scene changes in this part-Dickens/part-modern musical drama.

What it really means is that I have to cover a lot of carpet before I start painting. We don't have the luxury of a spill-proof room to work in. So I went hunting for drop clothes.

I ended up with an assortment - some canvas (reusable but pricey), some 3-mil plastic (guarantees my less experienced crew won't soak through the canvas ones if paint spills or they start dropping blobs), and some "EcoDrop: Biodegradable Plastic Drop Cloth"s. I'm always on the lookout for greener alternatives to plastic and this one caught my eye.

It's a relatively inexpensive, 2-mil, green-tinted, 9ft x 12ft drop cloth by Trimaco that claims to be leakproof and good for indoor/outdoor use. It's also supposed to break down in a landfill within 12-24 months and return to "simple materials found in nature" according to an ASTM standard. Of course, the manufacturer also cautions against storing it or using it in direct sunlight because it will break down more quickly.

What I like about it so far is that it's smoother on one side but slightly textured on the other which gives us better traction over the carpet. The color does help paint drips show up a little better and are thus easier to avoid stepping in. I have two that I'm using alongside the canvas and the 3-mil plastic for comparison over the next three weeks.

I'll have to keep you posted but my only complaint so far is that it comes in - you guessed it - a plastic bag.

This review was neither requested nor sponsored by anyone. I did not receive any product or other recompense. I wrote it because I tried this product and wanted to share my impression(s) of it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A tiny commission

It's really satisfying to finish something that's been waiting for you.

This tiny little painting is 2" x 3" and was commissioned by a designer that fell in love with the frame. Which I totally understand, by the way - I used to design clothing around buttons or a great zipper pull. And it's a beautiful frame in weight and construction as well as design.

She gave me no guidelines which can be a little unnerving, but in this case was very freeing. It's painted on canvas in four Liquitex acrylic colors - black, white, silver and a custom green blend background that was "distressed" with the tip of an Exacto knife and shot with black.

I've been accused before of painting with a brush with only one hair because I love working details into small spaces. But I always prefer when a painting continues to fascinate as you get closer instead of just losing its form to the canvas texture.

I'm pleased with it. Let's see if she is too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

In for a penny...

I can't believe I'm starting another one...

My hope for this blog is to keep it focused on writing and illustrating. And possibly editing. And maybe publishing. Or songwriting. Or writing articles. Maybe even marketing if I'm really in the mood.

To start things off though, here's a little picture I started during a lunch break at my current Artists-In-Schools residency...we'd been talking a lot about fiction vs. non-fiction and the things that are possible when we use our imagination.

As we were talking, I told them a story about a turtle we kept one summer that had a hot pink stripe across its back. (It was superglue. This particular turtle was an escape artist and had been run over by a truck while crossing the street. Not while it was with us though. A raccoon got at it while we had it.)

Anyways, when I remembered this little tortoise I met last summer at West Ed, I decided he should be easy to find if he ever got away!!

Illustration done in Prismacolor art markers & colored pencils.

I'll be drawing him again someday soon. Some of the students in this group are definitely non-fiction sorts of thinkers so I'll find the right color scheme for him. Just for them. And because I have a new set of pencils to test drive.