From Albert.


My complete collection of Lani Yamamoto books. (Click to enlarge).

Lani Yamamoto’s books have been a big inspiration to me. I love her books on every level, for the topics they tackle, for her simple line illustrations that speak volumes, for her inventiveness and for her extraordinary sense of color. Many moons ago I worked at a bookstore and told anyone that would listen that they should buy the Albert series.

She lets her characters ask big questions and find solutions through their own exploration. I love how the books in the series are not simply noted by a 2 or a 3 after the word, rather a squared and a cubed, which gives you a hint of the exponential power of the kinds of things Albert thinks about. In the first Albert he runs out of things to do on a rainy day, until he opens his mind up to bigger things. In Albert2 he struggles with the speed at which things are moving and ever changing.This brings him to rethink stillness. Albert3 takes on the notion of “being a big boy” when his baby sister arrives. He ponders the concept of big and small. Adults are present in the Albert books but they have no faces, it is solely about Albert’s connection and understanding with the world around him. Yamamoto lets the children speak and think for themselves.

In Stina children inspire each other to make a much needed change. Stina is a magical book, starting with its cloth cover. Stina struggles with the cold and invents every way possible to keep herself warm, nearly to the point of complete isolation. She plays with the idea of cold and warmth and how two people can feel those things so differently. Lani Yamamoto’s books are never preachy, but they do lead kids to question and discover the world around them. Most of all, she does so many big things in such a subtle quiet way.

Stina cover.

Cloth cover.

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I reached out to Dasha Tolstikova because I LOVED her illustrations for The Jacket. Her work really inspires me — so fresh and loose and graphic. I got chance to meet with her recently at her home studio in Brooklyn talk about the making of her author-illustrator debut, a fantastic, graphic novel autobiography called A Year Without Mom.

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The cover for Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland

The cover for Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland


“A very brief history of the computer before 1975.” A final spread for Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland. “Throughout the book I have spreads that show what was new for the younger generation. (Click to enlarge.)

“In the early 70’s powerful computers are huge. The ginormous computer shown here would hold only eight megabytes of memory. In 2015 64,000 megabytes fit in a cell phone. So wild, huh?” (Click to enlarge.)

When we visited Jessie Hartland’s home and studio a little over 2 years ago, she was working on a picture book biography of Steve Jobs. Well that book just came out a few months ago, not as a picture book but as an accessible and engaging 240-page graphic novel for adults and teens called Steve Jobs: Insanely Great. We met up again recently to discuss the process.

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My two new favorite erasers: dust-gathering (red), light-erasing (blue).

I was recently ordering some of my favorite nibs. As every online retailer knows, I’m going to fill my cart to get the free shipping. So I still had a ways to go and noodled around the website thinking of all the future art supplies I could possibly need. The “dust-gathering” listing intrigued me so I clicked on this Pentel Ain eraser. Somehow, my scans are always covered in erasures that I fail to brush off before scanning — even when I think I really took my time and did a good job. When I see the scan it somehow looks diseased with all the microscopic debris leaving me with a lot of cleaning up to do in Photoshop.


The Pentel “dust-gathering” eraser. Can you see the few large clumps? (click to enlarge)

Excited by the possibility of a dust-gathering eraser, I thought, what more can I be missing? And then I found this Pentel Ain eraser described as “light-erasing”. Sometimes I get carried away erasing and press too hard trying to get rid of every stubborn pencil mark peeking out from under an inked line. Often times I damage the paper. When I tested this light-erasing one out I was amazed by how little pressure I needed to effectively remove the line without damaging the paper.

I find the dust-gathering and light-erasing both do the trick. The dust-gathering really works, there are few clumps that are easy to brush away and often the clump just remains on the eraser head itself. Both erasers are inordinately better than any erasers I used in the past and I liked my old Staedtler!

Oh and I also bought scissors with a special coating so they don’t get sticky and weird when you cut tape! Japan really is ahead of the game with these art tools!

After all that erasing, here's my final piece: Bounce!

After all that erasing, here’s my final piece: Bounce! (Thanks to SCBWI for the new illustrator prompt!)


The cover for A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin.

The cover for A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin.

Laura Carlin’s work is sensitive, thoughtful, and beautiful. You’ve probably seen her illustrations for The Promise, by Nicola Davies and for The Iron Giant, by Ted Hughes. She also creates fantastic editorial work for publications like The New York Times and creates beautiful ceramics. With her author-illustrator debut, A World of Your Own, Laura adds a nice dose of humor to the mix. Today she tells us all about it.


Hometown: Hertfordshire

Now lives in: London

Tools of the trade: colored pencils, watercolors, acrylics. I’m inconsistent with what I buy. It depends on my finances as to the quality of the tools!

Illustration idols/creative influences: Picasso, Andre FrancoisClementine Hunter, Paul Klee, Alfred Wallis, Barbara Hepworth, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Gone with the Wind, West Side Story…

Workspace: At home and in a studio in Camberwell, South London.

Pets: In my head I’ve got about 40 kittens.

Favorite children’s book
…as a child: Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs
…as an adult: Would You Rather? by John Burningham

Favorite thing to read: Slightly depressing American books written in the 40s/50s.

Favorite thing(s) to listen to while illustrating: Radio 4/Magic FM

A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin.: A final illustration for a building filled with

A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin: A final illustration for a building filled with “rooms for all of the people and animals I’d want to live near.” (Click to enlarge.)

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Endpapers from Sweaterweather (click to enlarge)

Endpapers from Sweaterweather (click to enlarge)

Author/illustrator Sara Varon is one of my all time favorites! From her color palette and quiet humor, her touching characters and story lines, her books welcome us into her world which is a pretty great place to be.

I’m so happy she agreed to be my first face-to-face interview. One chilly night we met for snacks in Brooklyn. Here is what we talked about:

The Dirt on Sara Varon:

Caffeine of choice: Iced tea (I hope that’s not too old lady-ish of me)

YouTube video you can’t stop watching: I’m a Luddite and I rarely watch YouTube

Hometown: Suburban Illinois

Sara Varon's tools:  ink, eraser, pencil and brush

Sara Varon’s tools: ink, eraser, pencil and brush

Now lives in: Brooklyn

Tools of the trade: Ink, brush, paper, Photoshop

Favorite thing to read: I just love a great story, in any form – novels, picture books, short stories, fiction, or non-fiction

Favorite food: Baked goods!

Most prized tchotchke: Oh, there are too many to list.

Cat or dog: Uh, dog, hands down.

 Favorite children’s book
…as a child: the Frances books by Russell Hoban, Richard Scarry books

…as an adult: Some favorite graphic novels are the Aya books by Clement Oubrerie and Marguerite Abouet, The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar, and Moomin and the Golden Tail by Tove Janssen

Ruthie: What technique do you use to do your final color?

Sara: I draw on paper, with a brush and ink. Then scan it and color with Photoshop.

Ruthie: What kind of paper?

Sara: Whatever is cheap. For freelance work and thumbnails, I just use Xerox paper. But for books, if it’s something important, I use Bristol, but nothing fancy. For the ink I always use Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star. It’s the best.

Ruthie: Are you drawings little?

Sara: I usually draw at 150%. I think most people draw bigger and reduce. Then you don’t see the mistakes. It looks really clean at the smaller size. And the math is easy. Read More

Robin Rosenthal Rooster Wakes up

A new piece for my portfolio, based on feedback from SCBWI-LA. ©Robin Rosenthal

For the past few months I’ve been working on new pieces for my portfolio based on the amazing feedback I received at the 2014 SCBWI LA Summer Conference. (I was one of six illustrators who received the SCBWI Mentorship Award, and I got to meet individually with six mentors who each gave me guidance on my work. It. Was. Awesome. Read more about my experience here.)

More than one mentor told me to forget about words for now. I should think in pictures and create wordless stories. Don’t think about a whole book. Think of an episode or a paragraph. This concept of letting the images lead the storytelling, and of choosing smaller stories to tell with those images, has been very liberating for me.

I do not currently have a particular story dummy in the works so I need to come up with some smaller narratives to illustrate. To get myself going, I’ve compiled a list of ideas—collected and expanded upon from past class assignments, fellow illustrators, and published picture books—and I’ve shared them below.


Illustrate a few scenes from a historical or current event that interests you.
Some books for inspiration: Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill, Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum and City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male by Meghan McCarthy, How the Meteorite Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland.

Make a mini-biography of a friend or famous person.
A while back, I wrote about Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson who created these really cool ‘zines of their family and friends. Some more inspiration: The “I am…” series, including I am Rosa Parks, and I am Amelia Earhart written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos, Malala, a Brave Girl… by Jeanette Winter.

Think about your own childhood and illustrate an important memory or feeling. In The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, Nancy Lamb includes a great page of prompts to get you thinking about your past.

Eavesdrop on your kids and write down what they say. Illustrate those quotes.

Find a picture in a magazine—like National Geographic or a travel magazine—that inspires you and create a story around it. What happens next? (idea via Jeslyn Kate Cantrell.)

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