New Book nears completion.

A new job nears completion.  This one is a sequel to a previously published book called – Miss Brooks Book Nook, or Story Nook, or whatever wins in the end. It was written by Barbara Bottner and will be published by the very patient Knopf/Random House. This is the entire book in black and white, just before painting the color. I do all the pencil line first. I use a light table to draw from the well worked over sketches shown the publisher. The drawings are all clipped up on the wall because I can’t afford a bigger place that has room to lay everything out flat. And I need to see them all at once, and in order, as I’ll be painting a single color, say a shirt, all the same colro at once so it is consistant throughout the book. As I watercolor paint the illustrations I have to make sure they are dry enough to put back up…


I actually dread the color process. I like it well enough when I’m into it but it’s not my favorite part. The drawing is the acting, the performance, the color is the costumes and production design. I’m more performer than decorator…I draw duplicates of some images as I’m never satisfied. Some days are better than others. Some hours are better than others.


Sometimes I can’t draw, sometimes I can. Sometimes you can figure out how to put yourself in the right place to draw well, sometimes you need to go for a pint…Sometimes, I redraw and just tape a new drawing over the old one…Sometimes I have to redraw because the character has the wrong coat on…Miss-Brooks-studio-6Two illustrations from two other books…overlapping the one I’m finishing. It’s updated images for two previous books – It’s So Amazing, and It’s Perfectly Normal. They are going into their 15th and 20th anniversary editions…
Miss-Brooks-studio-5Here I am after actually ‘cutting and pasting’ a new matching outfit on a character, as in cutting paper with a knife and taping it into place… Old school. Lead pencils, rubber erasers, stainless steel blades, paper made from a cotton plants. This ain’t digital, kids.

Kevin Carty Fitzpatrick - October 17, 2013 - 8:55 pm

Great drawings, hard work but great to get the children to read.Well done.

Julie - October 22, 2013 - 2:52 pm

So glad to know it when other artists feel the same about ‘off’ days, and the parts of the process they enjoy most. It seems you are happy all the time – that’s the magic you conjure! Thanks for sharing

Miss Brooks Loves Books on You Tube

A recent still motion video reading of Miss Brooks Loves Books  is up on YOUTUBE
While we’re back on Miss Brooks and Missy… Below are a couple of prototypes I did for the Miss Brooks cover design.

This is the full link to the still motion/ “Ken Brown” pan and zoom video reading.  –

Here is another one. A simple video reading the book –


Book Done…almost

Well, it’s probably tempting fate but my latest book is just about done. Just waiting for a jacket approval before doing the art for the cover.

But it’s 99% done…

I’ve been working in this tiny rented room in the middle of my village here in Ireland, as there is no space at home with my wife, Marei-Louise, also finishing off an illustration job at the same time. She has just about finished a picture book that she also wrote.

This job is pictures only…. “only” that is… Only about 75 illustrations in total… Pencil and watercolor. Have a look. And a second new book I’m already deep into that is due right away as well so there’s no real rest at the moment. (I’ll sleep in the Summer) Luckily that book is already taking shape and moving forward. Overlap. A fatal term in book illustration. But it always seems to work out that way…

As I work the illustrations are clipped to a wooden frame I made because the room is too small to lay them out flat. I made all the other furniture as well, well, I cannibalized  a few bits from IKEA (who doesn’t?)

Here  are most of the final color  illustrations up on the wall of fame. I had so many though they do not all fit so some are on the other wall. You can see a bit easier here. They are clipped to the frame so I would not have to bring the wrath of Khan done on me for poking a million holes in the wall. Plus it’s an old building and the wall might not be able to take it. It’s important to me to be able to visualize the entire book, for balancing color themes, for progress, for avoiding repetition, and for simply getting them to dry in the damp Irish air…. (I’m right near to the Irish sea, on the East coast. You can just see it from my window.)The biggest pain in the book (above) – Casey Jones and his freakin’ trains…(he was a real guy apparently)Too much detail, ugh!

This is one of my faviorites. I love movement better than detail.

OK I’m exhausted. More later. Gotta get going on that second book.

Bridget - March 31, 2013 - 10:35 pm

Thanks for showing these – looks amazing! I can relate to loving movement but you get detail too – impressive. Sometimes I think only another illustrators can appreciate how much work this involves and boy I hope you get a break after this! I also like to see all my work up for a project together -sometime several versions of the same spread. But your solid frame solution beats white tack which I’m ruining my walls with.
Will this book be out in the UK?

Maybe A Bear Ate It, in Spanish.

After over 35 years, there are  few surprises left working in children’s books, but finding out they have made a foreign language version of one of your books, without your knowledge, is still one of them. It’s mildly annoying to discover you’re out of the loop again, but ultimately pleasantly satisfying. You want them to acknowledge that you are, in fact, one of the creators of the book, but still, as in this case, when you are the designer/illustrator and not the author, no matter how substantial your contribution, you are generally not considered “important enough” to be kept up to date on everything the publisher is up to. Publishing people will usually debate the point or completely disagree, but the fact is they don’t. I sometimes find out years later and usually by accident. Sometimes even as the author they still don’t always keep you informed. I know. I’ve been on both sides. But that’s another story …

I’m particularly glad this book, Maybe a Bear Ate It!, orginally established as a co-release of a trade/bookstore edition as well as a less expensive edition destined for the Reach-Out-And-Read program in the US which distributes free books to children through pediatrician offices and other health professionals who come into contact with children. The idea being literacy is as much a holistic health issue as an intellectual/cultural/economic issue.

So it makes a lot of sense not to leave out the ever growing first language-Spanish speaking population of children in the US, who though they tend to learn English quite quickly, far faster than their parents, they still have “bridge” reading needs as they learn to read for the first time, particularly if they have little or no English when they begin the process.

Scholastic are great to have agreed with the idea, the brain-child of  Robie, the author, networking with various people/organizations before the book was even written. So it was a bit of a work to spec. project, but my end of things was the usual – make it the best book possible. The theme just needed to be about the general theme of Reach-out-and-Read(ROAR): owning and loving a book, a physical book. Part of the motivation for creating ROAR, was the discovery by some pediatricians that some of their patients did not have a single children’s book at their house.

It’s always interesting to read, or look at the printed words of so-called “foreign” editions. And even which countries choose to co-editon the book. While not last word on which cultures identify/understand/ enjoy  your work over others – ultimately publishing is personal opinion after all. The national population as a whole does not vote on each purchase, some well meaning but often overworked and underpaid publishing executive at a big foreign rights fair such as Bologna or Frankfurt makes that choice …and the original publisher must choose to feature and sell the title to other rights buyers to0, while simultaneously trying to buy rights themselves to other foreign titles. So it can be hard to tell if anyone ever saw the book or got a chance to buy it at all. That said, it’s still interesting, and gratifying, to have another group of people, who have not seen your book before, to now have a chance to read it, or not.  But at least they now have the choice.

The illustration below, the left hand page on the same spread as the right hand page illustration above, shows how much language you could learn just by looking at the book. If you were a child who could not read, the words would look just like this (unless you speak Spanish of course). The main word, is of course familiar, but the rest you could pick up by studying the elephant below, and what he’s doing. The theme of the book is the little guy has lost his book, so he imagines – “maybe a bear ate it!” (the title), then various other animals doing things. What has this animal done to his book??? See, the right illustration can help bridge the gap when learning to read – in any language. Answer below*

*”Maybe an Elephant fell asleep on it!”

Abraham Lincoln’s birthday illustration

In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday this month, and the recent release of the Steven Spielberg film about Lincoln that has generated new interest in the 17th President, I submit some workings from my most recent book, Forget-Me-Nots, Poems to learn by heart, (written and compiled by poet laureate Mary Ann Hoberman) which contains a poem about Abe, or more accurately, about his dead mother…

At first have to admit up front I did not even know the poem was about Abe, I plead ignorant about poetry in general, until I was politely reminded by the review staff at Little, Brown that the clothes of the woman needed to look more like Lincoln’s mother would have worn… If you have read the poem, Nancy Hanks, (by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Brown), it does not declare it is specifically about the American Civil War president. In fact even if it was intended as such it could be graphically interpreted as a story about any mother asking about her son from beyond the grave…

Perhaps that’s part of the reason I did not focus on the narrator’s identity, because was was too busy trying to figure out how to  represent such an abstract concept in the tiny column space surrounding the printed poem. It was , after all about a woman,  a mother, clearly not around anymore, presumably dead, asking someone, anyone, about the welfare of her son, mentioning him as a child when she left him, to when he becomes an adult. Clearly she cannot see him herself or she would not be asking. But who she is able to talk to or hear, who can see him, or would know about him is also unclear. Perhaps it is simply a sad rhetorical plea she understands full well cannot be answered.

At any rate, it is a complex idea that works well without images. But could it work as a picture? And without using a black coat and top hat?? In the end, as you can see in the images below, I made her arching about the poem as if floating above the world, reaching out to the young son from above, whom she would have known, as he blindly reaches up, for some memory of his mother perhaps, while the older version of the boy, separated by time by the column of text, and facing away, oblivious to the mother’s yearning, studies away in his book, to become the well known learned politician he becomes as a man. Quite a complex thing to pull off and one of the problems of this book I’m most proud to get anywhere close to solving. I know nobody can ever know how hard we puzzle these things out when it all looks so simple after the fact. But you do need to feel satisfied that someone someday my scrutinize the book as much as I did, and not be disappointed.

The progression of sketches is as follows: Early concept drawing directly onto the “galleys”, or rough printed layouts of text, which I often do first, then sketchbook puzzling of options, then a tighter sketch, then the same sketch inserted in the layout and given some black and white shading in Photoshop to present as a final dummy, then the final pencil line drawing, then the final art in watercolor. You can see in the early version she is dressed more ambiguously, and looks a bit like she’s been hung out with the laundry… and I made her a little squiggly to make her seem a bit more like an apparition than flesh and blood. also you can see early on I illustrated the poem on the right, facing page as two frogs whispering, then changed my mind as I went through the book and linked the poems visually where I could, regardless of how related they seemed in the manuscript.

This was actually one of the most straightforward illustrations in the book, and very close to the original concept. I’ll post some of the more circuitous drawings next.  (Of course, all copyrights to the text of poems shown here are strictly the author’s or the author’s estate and not to be reproduced in full for any reason without their specific approval and due credit.)