Morning mist


In the paint splattered margins in the day, it can be the smallest things that light the winter gloom. For me, today, its the bright sunshine, now matter the cold; the frost edged leaves in the early morning, as if fairies have crocheted lace edges on everything in sight; and a fragrant cup of coffee, brewing in my tiny kitchen.

Tell me one of the small things that brings a smile to your face.


Painting is a diary


This is why I do daily drawings. My sketches, even if they’re rough and unfinished, are a way for me to record my thoughts and experiences from each day. And when I look back at my sketchbooks, I can remember how I felt, where I was sitting, and all the sights, smells and sounds that were around me when I first sketched it. It’s a visceral way to honour each moment.

I can’t manage a drawing every day. And that’s ok. I’d rather be gentle with myself that hold unrealistic expectations. But I try, and that’s what counts. The “almost” daily practice adds up more that you realise. Since I started shortly after my daughter was born, I’ve filled 8 sketchbooks with tiny drawings. That’s three years of memories!

What is one small thing you could do today and tomorrow? That’s my mantra: today and tomorrow... I don’t need to plan any further into the future. If I can manage something today, and then tomorrow, the rest of the tomorrows will take care of themselves.

It’s ok to go slow


Take a deep breath. Wherever you are is where you’re meant to be. It’s the perfect starting place for the journey ahead. 

Where do you want to go? All it takes is small, slow steps and you’ll get there. 

It’s ok to go slow. 

I’m slowly working towards my illustration deadlines. Work is going well, but I’m choosing not to be overwhelmed by complications or setbacks. Slow work is better work, because I can focus on excellence (but not perfection, of course! )

My notebook collection

This weekend I spent some time organizing my studio, and I thought it might be fun to take you on a tour of my notebook collection and show you how I use them.

My Journal

I have been keeping journals continuously since I was 12 or 13 years old. I started in sweet looking cloth-bount diaries, then moved on to Mead 5-star spiral bound scribblers, then decided that I needed to be stylish and chic, and graduated to moleskines.

I write an entry almost every day. Normally I describe what happened that day (or the day before, if I'm writing first thing in the morning), and outline my thoughts about my projects or things that might be happening in my life.

However, I don't always write journal entries in my moleskine journal. I keep a concurrent journal in a Scrivener file and sometimes I brain-dump my thoughts into that. It's nice to be able to type at the speed of my thoughts, instead of waiting for my hand and pen to catch up.

I'm not precious about my paper journals. They're messy. They're full of scribbles. They're peppered with mis-spelled words and incomplete sentences. Sometimes I only have the time to write quick lists about the day -- things I saw, things I thought about -- in a rapid logging style. My journal is for un-selfconscious experimentation and expression. It's where I push my voice to its limits and figure out what my heart really wants to say. It is utterly private, but at the same time, there isn't much in there that is deeply secret or unsharable.

My Sketchbook

I recently moved from a moleskine pocket sketchbook to a normal sized one. At first I liked the smaller size of the pocket book because I could wedge it between diapers, wipes and bottles in my hold-everything bag. Now that Little One is older, and we don't need to bring the kitchen sink on every outing, I've opted for a slightly larger notebook. It gives me more freedom to decide how large I want my sketches to be. 

This sketchbook is all about daily experimentation and play. I'm not enamoured with the moleskine sketchbook paper. It only does an adequate job of dealing with watercolours and some pens bleed on the paper. That being said, I quite like that I can't be precious about what I'm doing. I feel free to make mistakes because these drawings are only for myself. 

I have many other sketchbooks which are the workhorses for my various jobs and projects. For those I normally use A3 or A4 Seawhite of Brighton sketchbooks. They're big, bulky, fantastic, and rarely leave my studio. 

My Personal Dictionary

This is where I have to admit to you that I'm a nerd; I'm completely, hopelessly nerdy. When I'm reading and I come across a word I don't know, want to use more often, or think is particularly lovely, I write it and its definition down in this little notebook. 

I don't know where I got this book from and it started off as something different. It's first iteration was as a book of lists: things I wanted to bake, things I loved, etc.  But, it turns out that a book of lists didn't inspire me. 

But a book of words? 


Here are a few of the words therein....


ornamental covering for a horse


complimentary or flattering to a excessive degree


slow to act; intended to cause delay


gorse (a type of plant). Thorny, evergreen, small yellow flowers, grows in the moors. 


translucently clear


another way to say "complaints" 


having a strong religious or spiritual quality. 

Will I ever use any of these words in every-day writing or speaking? Probably not, but I love knowing that I have enriched my vocabulary with them. 

My Inspiration Notebook 

Whenever I read inspiring passages or facts I copy them into my inspiration notebook.

In essence, this is like an old "commonplace book," which is defined as a notebook into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use. 

I'm on my third commonplace book. At first I copied clichéd quotes and song lyrics (I was in my teens). In my second book I copied beautiful paragraphs from novels, and useful paragraphs from non-fiction. 

In my third book, in addition to recording beautiful and useful things, I'm also trying to incorporate more poetry. 

I need more poetry in my life.

My Gratitude Journal

My Easter resolution this year was to keep a gratitude journal. I've flirted with the idea for years; scribbling little notes in the margins of my journals or day planner, but I've never stuck with it for longer than a few weeks, because I've never had a concrete plan.

I realized that if I listed three things I was grateful for every day, that would be 1095 happy things to remember over the course of a year.

I wanted a special notebook to motivate my in my quest for gratitude, so I ordered the gorgeous "Line A Day" diary from Chronicle Books, which is a perpetual diary that runs for 5 years.

Think about this: five years of daily gratitude would record 5475 happy moments.

My Day Planner

My day planner is a black moleskine notebook with squared pages. I have quested high and low, though stationery stores across three continents, and never found my perfect planner. My main requirements are: a weekly view where the daily portions are vertical instead of horizontal, so I can write lists; and lots of space in the margins for weekly lists that are not day-specific. 

For much of last year I used a planner that I had made in inDesign and had printed at our local Notting Hill printing shop. However, after six months the ring binding was in shreds and pages flew hither and thither whenever I opened it. 

Since moleskine notebooks have the strongest binding of any notebook I know, I bought a book with squared pages and ruled the spreads myself. 

I LOVE this little planner of mine. It is my brain. It is my time-keeper. It keeps me sane and helps when I feel overwhelmed. Everything gets written down, so nothing is forgotten (at least nothing important). 

And, there are plenty of pages in the back for me to keep notes on projects I'm working on, books I'm reading or want to read, random lists, and weekly recipes so that I always have the ingredients lists on hand. 

It's a mess, but I love it.

What do you think? 

Do you have any notebooks you can't live without? 

And, would you like a more detailed tour of any of the above notebooks? Please leave a comment to let me know. 

And, as always, show your love by pinning on pinterest, sharing on facebook or twitter, or hearting in bloglovin! 

Not so daily sketches

It's murphy's law that the minute you proclaim to the universe (or the internet, that's the same thing, right?) that you're ready to start working, you get steamrolled by the worst head cold you've had in months.  

I'm lying on the couch drinking tea and blowing my nose while Little M sorts through our recycling in the kitchen. She is judiciously taking all the bottles, boxes, papers and containers out of the Westminster City recycling bags and scattering them on the kitchen floor. 

I don't mind, as long as she's quiet and playing independently and doesn't mind that I've been rendered horizontal. 

So, rather than pushing myself forwards, I'm taking a step back and reviewing where I am and where I want to go. I'm paging through my sketchbooks, and leafing through my journals. 

I used the last page in my teeny-tiny moleskine sketchbook the other day.  Here are a few selections from the past few weeks. I'm not sketching every day, but I'm sketching regularly, which is good enough. Don't you think?

Hopefully I will get over this dreadful lurgy soon. 

What were you up to this week

? Please let me know in the comments. 

*  *  * 

And finally...

Did you like the drawings in this post?

Feel free to pin them, heart them on bloglovin, tweet them, or share them on Facebook. And, make sure you subscribe or follow along to get even more weekly inspiration and follow along in my creative journey. 

See you next week! 

{This was the last page.}

Cheers! A little celebration and Inspiration

{Photo taken at Beluga in Cape Town}

I have decided that my maternity leave is officially over. It's difficult to make "official" proclamations when you work for yourself (who's keeping track of whether or not you clock in at your desk?), but I have to tell someone, so I'm telling you, dear readers. 

I've had a long hiatus full of soul-searching, self-doubt, moments of happy inspiration, and lots of cuddles with Little M.  

She is now 9 months old.... which also means that I have been a mother for 9 months. I think it's time to transform from a nesting, stay-at-home mom into a working mom (who also happens to work from home). 

I have no idea how I'm going to make this work. Motherhood and my passion for making books sometimes feel like two diametrically opposing forces pushing me in different directions.  One tells me to savour each moment and not work too hard, and the other tells me to sharpen my pencils and get creating because the seconds are rushing by faster than we can count them. 

But, this week I signed a contract to illustrate two children's picture books.  

Now I have no choice but to stick my head into my sketchbooks. I can't wait to get back to drawing, because a part of me will never feel whole unless I'm creating a book and telling a story, in some way. 

So, cheers! Let's celebrate! Raise a glass ... to new books! ... to 9 month birthdays.  And to venturing bravely into uncharted territories. 

Here's a little inspiration from the books I've been reading this week: 

On babies: 

"A baby is a wishing well.  We walk by every day and throw our pennies in. Most are bright and shiny, full of smiles and possibility. Some are tarnished with bad memories, unlucky genes. Others have been hiding under the couch cushions all these years, just waiting for someone to dig them out. A baby is a wishing well. Everyone puts their hopes, their fears, their pasts, their two cents in." Elizabeth Bard from 

Picnic in Provence.

On divine intervention: 

"I learned that to simply ask a blessing on one's circumstances, whatever they are, is somehow to improve them, and to tap some mysterious source of energy and joy. I came upon one of the most ancient and universal truths -- that to affirm and claim God's help even before it is given, is to receive it." Marjorie Holmes. 

Pick a card... any card {Business Cards for Illustrators}

{The Queen of Puppies}

My current business cards are designed to look like a playing card (see below).  One of my dreams for the past few years has been to design a second set of business cards so that I can fan them out in my hand with a flourish and say, "Pick a card, any card."

I never got around to it because I was always too "busy." Too many deadlines and other urgent tasks got in the way. It took having a baby, taking a self-imposed maternity leave, and then feeling bored during her nap times to get them designed and painted.

I normally print my business cards with

.  It would be cheaper to go to a local printing shop to get them printed, but then I would have to print 500 (which is the usual minimum), and I would be buried under stacks of my cards for years to come.  With Moo prints I can print small runs, which allows me the flexibility to change my designs quite frequently.

Plus, their paper quality is amazing, and they give lots of nifty options, such as the sleek rounded corners which I love so much.

These past few weeks I've been busy trying to re-imagine my life and career with a little one in tow. I sit on the couch with Little M, answer emails, fiddle with photoshop, and ask her, "what do you think about this?" or "what should mommy do with that?" She stares at me with wide eyes and a knowing smile, and I'm sure she would have sage advice to share, if she could only talk. Perhaps she'll become my most valued business advisor in time.

Sometimes it feels like things have reached a state of stasis; the impulse to create pulls me one way, and the impulse to slow down and savour motherhood pulls me the other. I decided that the one way to conquer the inertia was to design a new business card. Doing a little makeover gives my portfolio new energy. Suddenly I'm excited to contact people and send images into the void.

{The current Queen of Kittens, soon to be joined by the above design!}

A New Arrival - How I Learn {Plus a Giveaway!}

This morning I finally opened up the large cardboard box that had been sitting in the corner of my bedroom since I arrived back in London. 

What could be inside, I wondered?

Look!  Advance copies of the new book I illustrated called

"How I Learn!" with Magination Press.

It will be released in August 2014, but I thought I'd share a sneaky peak with all my lovely readers. 

It's a story about three children who all have difficulty with learning in some way; one struggles to read, one struggles to write, and one struggles with math.  But, with the help of their parents and teachers, they all find a way to make learning easier!  

The story really touched me, because I often felt self-conscious about math when I was in elementary school.  I remember having to do mad minutes, where we had to solve 10 math questions in one minute.  They were simple adding and subtraction, and should have been easy, but the time pressure meant they were agony for me.  I just couldn't do them!  Math remained arduous until I had an amazing teacher in grade 12 who made everything clear for me.  (Thank-you so much Mr. Pries!)  

I can't wait to show you more of this book and some of the original sketches and paintings in August!  For now, this is all you get to see. 


Or, how about this?  Did you have trouble with anything in school, and was there someone who helped you through it? 

A Day in the Life of a Children's Book Illustrator

I thought it would be fun to share a typical day in my life as an illustrator.  Right now we're in Cape Town, but my routine rarely changes whether I'm here, in London or in Canada. It's just the scenery that changes.  

7am: Wake up. Stumble bleary eyed into the blinding sunshine in the kitchen. Pour a glass of cold orange juice and will myself to wake up. 

I wish I started my morning by reading something erudite, or meditating, but I usually end up checking Facebook...

8am: I walk down the hill to the post office to send off the most recent order from my Etsy shop.

Luckily it isn't far to go.  It's already so hot that I make sure to find all the patches of shade on the way there and back. 

This is the view I see on my way back up the hill.  Our house is the one with the brown door in the garden wall.  The frangipanis (also called plumeria) are blooming so beautifully this time of year. There's a wisp of a Table Cloth on top of Table Mountain. That means it's going to be a hot and windy day. 

8:30am: On my way back from the post office I like to stop by Vida e Caffe for a cappuccino.  Vida is a local coffee chain with a wacky, energetic feel. I love how they decorate their paper cups.  Which moustache are you?  I also love that they give a square of dark chocolate with every coffee order. I'll save mine for later.... 

{Coffee on the studio table and ready to work}

9am: I'm already hard at work and listening toBBC Radio 3 online. I love how the classical music gives a sense of order to my crazy imagination.

Right now I'm working on a big book project for Magination Press (a job I got through my agents at Advocate Art). The deadline is fast approaching, so there's no time to spare.

When I'm painting I go into a zen state. I focus. I breathe deeply. I concentrate on the colours and patterns unfolding under my hands.

Any work I do in the morning is like double work. It's that magical time of day when my ideas flow and time seems to cooperate with me.

10am: I find myself googling things like "chalkboard brushes" and "monarch butterflies" to look for references for my current project. I also spend a bit of time trying to win a game of solitaire while my paint dries.

{This is how illustrators do their hair... with a paintbrush.}

{Dive into the colour!}

12 noon:  Noon Gun!  Boom! You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but I always jump.  The noon gun has been marking midday in Cape Town since 1806.  It's loud; it echos between the mountains; sometimes I spill paint...

It wakes me from my painting reverie and I remember that I should eat lunch.  Wait a second, did I even eat breakfast?  (Usually not). I make beeline to the fridge and graze from last night's leftovers.

12:30pm: Back to the drawing board. Literally. By now I'm starting to lose concentration.

In the afternoon I often focus on smaller projects, or work on scanning or photoshopping illustrations I'd started the day before.

If I don't have pressing illustration work, I'll write blog posts, or brainstorm ideas for new projects.

....Oh dear, my eyes are drooping.

2pm: Time for that square of dark chocolate.  Thank-you Vida! 

3pm: Unless I have a super-stressful deadline, this is the end of my work day.  I take a long bath, to ease my aching muscles.  You wouldn't think working as an artist would be that strenuous, but hunching over paintings can make my shoulders so tight!

After my bath, I unfurl my back muscles with a short session of yoga.

3:30pm: I rush to the grocery store (aptly named "Pick and Pay," I laugh every time I think about it) and figure out what to make for dinner. Sometimes I pop into the bookstore for a little inspiration, or grab another coffee.

4pm: Skype time with my Mom in Canada!  She's finally awake and I can tell her all about my day.  

6pm onwards: I make supper, and my husband and I settle in for a relaxing evening. Sometimes we have a glass of wine; sometimes we watch a dvd; sometimes we read; sometimes we escape the heat and head to the seaside.

10pm: Time to curl up in bed and close my eyes. Tomorrow will be the same, all over again! 

Here's a one minute video I made of me painting... Enjoy! 

Swooning in the Cape Town heat {a little animation}


It's summer in Cape Town, and it's so hot.

So, so, so hot.

The noon gun has just fired (as it does every day). The air is so still that the reverberations from the blast have shaken the frangipani flowers from their branches, and now they're wafting down in front of my window. Across the street someone is playing sultry saxophone.

If I slouch in my chair (as I often do), I can see the top of Table Mountain peeking above the roof of our house.  It's shimmering in the heat today.

It's so hot that I think the paint is melting on my palette before I can even get my brush into it.

The heat always brings out the diva in my characters; they always seem to have minds of their own. This little girl was frustrated that I wasn't paying enough attention to her heat-induced swoon, so now she's swooning over and over and over again.  Ad infinitum.  

The grass is always greener on the other side isn't it?  I envy all you readers who are cozily cocooned in  winter.  Oh!  For the snow and the hot chocolates and the great big fuzzy scarves.  Enjoy it while you can!

{Note #1: I posted this little girl last year, but as I have so many new followers, I thought some of you might enjoy seeing her brought back to life)

{Note #2:  I'm not sure if the animated illustration works for email subscribers, so you might want to click through to the blog to see it.}

Being Inspired and Playing with Sketches

{Queen Elizabeth and her people}

One of my favourite things to do on a Saturday afternoon is go to an art gallery and sketch from the great masters.  A few weeks ago, I went to the

Elizabeth I and her People

 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London with my dear friend

Ayla Lepine

I had so much fun sketching Queen Elizabeth I and all her courtesans and contemporaries. There were so many hats!  So many outlandish costumes!  I decided to challenge myself, so I worked into the sketches with ink wash (which, unbelievably, I've never done before). I really loved the warm tones the sepia wash gives the sketches. 

Which made me wonder... why had I never tried it before?

This reminded me of how important it is to keep growing as a creative person.  I may spend every minute of my day drawing and painting, but it can still be too easy to fall into routines. I have a habit of reaching for the same art supplies every day.  

A year ago I was contacted by Whitney Sherman to contribute to her book

Playing with Sketches

.  She had been searching the blogosphere looking for innovative sketchbooks, and appreciated the way I regularly draw in museums, being inspired by the old masters.  

So much so that I've even written a children's book all about it! 

Playing with Sketches

 is a book with 50 creative exercises, grouped by difficulty and theme, designed to help you grow as an artist.  The exercises include word games, dimensional shapes, and inventive sketchbooks and letterforms, eventually creating a “toolkit” of ideas and skills developed through the process of play.

What's really great is that each exercise is illustrated with examples from real sketchbooks by real artists.  Whitney Sherman contacted artists and bloggers from around the world to feature in her book. She included their website or blog details, so if one particular exercise or artist really inspires you, you can hop online and check out more of their work. 

I'm featured in the section on drawing from the old masters.  

What kinds of things do you do to keep your creative fires burning?  How do you make sure you don't get mired in stagnant waters, but keep the river of ideas flowing freely?  I'd love to know! 

{A collection of left hands from the National Gallery, London}

{Here's the page I'm featured on!}

Today is... a blur

This week has been a complete blur.  

The blur of watercolour washes; the blur of two deadlines in one week; the blur of preparing a university lecture...

The blur of my hands dipping my paintbrush into water, into paint, onto the paper, and back again.  

I'm rushing to get some illustrations finished for Frankfurt Book Fair, which is fast approaching.  I can't actually show you what I'm working on, but I can show you my studio table, and my hand, working at lightning speed.

As a token of good luck, I'm using a German mug for my painting water which has a sweet love poem printed on the side.  Hopefully it will infuse positive energy into the project for its debut in Germany!

That's a little snapshot from my corner of the world, how are things for you? 

A Royal Welcome

Come on in! 

Feel free to snoop around, I don't mind! 

For the month of July I'm the featured illustrator over on Words and Pictures, which is the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (British Isles) online magazine.  

And, today, I'm featured in a special blog post  talking about how I became an illustrator (it was an adventure!), and any advice I have for people wanting to follow the same career path.


I promise the adventure has a happy ending.   

There's also a gallery showcasing my portfolio HERE

So make sure you pop over to Words and Pictures

to read it. And, if you're an aspiring writer or illustrator, the website is a growing omnibus of everything you need to know about the children's publishing world. 

If you've landed here from Words and Pictures, welcome again!  There's lots of fun stuff to read and see, so stay awhile!   

Don't worry, everything's going to be amazing

What I'm Currently Up To.... 

Reading //

I picked up "To Kill a Mockingbird" again this week, and I love it as much now as I did when I was a teenager.  (and thanks so much for all your book recommendations the other week, I now have a great list of books to read in the coming months!)

Anticipating //

A few weeks of travel as I go to Montreal for my cousin's wedding, and then spend some time with my mom in the big, wide prairies.  I can't wait! 

Working on //

A painting of a Marie Antoinette ballgown in greens and pinks.  I love losing myself in the detail.  I'm working very slowly for a change, and I'm enjoying the zen of it.  It's ok if it takes me all week, I want it to be perfect. I'll share it next week, I promise. 

Taking Care of the Small Things //

  For some reason life has seemed a little off-kilter in the past few days.  You know that slightly off-balance, fluttery feeling in the tummy that makes you feel that the world is spinning out of synch and you don't know why? I can't exactly explain why the feeling arrived, as things are going really well at the moment. 

I have this instinct that if I take care of the small things, then the big things just have to fall into place.  I think that a sense of "rightness" might grow from small seeds planted in the depths of the every day. So, I polish my finger nails, I put my papers in order, I make grocery lists, I plump the couch cushions... I hope that the impact of these small actions will grow like ripples in a lake, spreading rightness throughout my life.  This goes exactly against the whole "don't sweat the small stuff" movement, but I've always been a bit rebellious. If I tend to these small, enjoyable habits, then hopefully the great, grinding wheels of fortune will turn in my favour.  

Grateful for //

Naps.  I came up with the theory the other day that something that might take me three hours to do when I'm tired, would take me one hour if I were rested. That's reason enough to take a nap, don't you think?  

Loving //

The fact that my book Magic at the Museum was featured on Play by the Book as part of a post of the best books for children featuring art masterpieces. There are some really inspiring books on the list. 

Today is... Pink

I am submerged in a sea of pink.  

Pink coffee mugs. 

Pink paint.

Pink pencils.

Pink fairies.

The very pink of perfection. 

A few years ago I was working on a very pink painting of the Queen of Hearts. I showed the work in progress to my friend Ayla . Mostly I had been using Permanent Rose straight out of the tube. She wrinkled up her nose and said, "Well, you know, there are lots of different kinds of pink." 

And how right she was! 

Just like there are lots of different kinds of happiness.  

Today I am content/happy.  You know that warm glow of comfort you get when you're drinking your cup of tea, and you're working on a project that's going well, and the sun is shining?  

What colour of happiness are you today? 

Wow! We're already half-way there!



 Can you believe it?  We're already half-way through 2013!

I could use all those clichés like, "my how time has flown," or, "where did all those weeks go?"

But that doesn't really express the energetic mood of this year. Rather, I'll share my favourite quite from the movie White Christmas:

How much is wow? 

It's right between, uh, between "ouch" and "boing."


Now, I'm not complaining about the ouch and  boing, they've been pretty fun roller coasters to ride. But it's been hectic all the same! I'm feeling breathless just thinking about it. 

I thought I'd share a few things I've accomplished in this dizzying dash of a half year... 

1.  I resolved to blog every Wednesday come hell or high water.  Some weeks it's been difficult, but I've managed so far.  Now that I've re-engaged with the blogging community I'm making such amazing friends. I know there are a lot of new readers I haven't met before, so welcome !  

Please say hello in the comments and leave a link to your blog, I'd like to follow you too.   

2. I've read over half of my quota of books for my reading challenge this year, which means I'm on track to accomplish my goal.  

If any of you have a favourite book to recommend, please share it in the comments. 

3. After years of portfolio reviews, submissions, and tirelessly trying to improve my craft, I signed with an illustration agent!

4. I barely show photos of myself on this blog, but my face is in print in Get It magazine!  See below to get a glimpse into what inspires me... I think if you click on it you should be able to stick your nose in to read it.

5. And, as usual, I've spent my time bouncing between hemispheres and seasons.  London to Cape Town and back. From summer to winter, spring to autumn. Sometimes time feels very nonlinear and disorienting, but it makes life into an adventure.


How has your year been so far?