Launching “On Our Street”


Today’s the day! I’m celebrating this week, and not just because it’s pancake day and valentines day… It’s also my new picture book’s Book Birthday today! I’ll take any excuse to party, especially in dreary mid-February. Do you agree?

Over the last year I’ve been quietly working on a series of picture books called “The World Around Us” which is published by Orca Books and written by none other than Jaime Casap, Google’s Chief Educational Evangelist, and Dr. Jillian Roberts, child psychologist extraordinaire.

The first one, On Our Street, comes out today! It is a compassionate look at the complicated topics of homelessness and poverty, perfectly aimed for children. Kirkus reviews calls it “Clear and accurate.” Plus, part of the profits from every book support UNICEF’s programs around the world. Isn’t that amazing?

Tell your friends, your library, your local bookstore. And be sure to get yourself a copy! Sign up to my mailing list on my home page to learn more about the book and my creative process. 


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? 

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!}

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. 

C'mon in! Let's have some tea.

Hello my friends!

Please come in!  

If you were joining me for tea (or perhaps you'd prefer coffee?) this is what I'd tell you...

Sometimes I wonder about all of you out there, reading these blog posts or following along on Facebook or Twitter.  I really wish I knew you all better.  You can read what I say, and understand an aspect of my life, but aside from the comments you leave, I don't know very much about you at all.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could all come 'round for tea, and we could chat in person about art and life and everything in between?  

Well, since I couldn't invite y'all down for a big blog tea party. I decided to invite a couple of my favourite characters instead.  Meet Anne (see above).  She loves nothing more than a great big party, and lots of drawing. So that's what we did!  (You can find her adventures in my book Magic at the Museum)

She likes hot chocolate with extra milk.  I like rooibos tea, brewed weakly with lots of honey.  Her favourite pencil crayon colour is Copenhagen Blue; mine is Process Red.  

And then after our wild rumpus with colour and paper, we both lay down for afternoon naps.  Yes, sometimes naps are the best. things. ever. 

So, won't you join us for this magical tea party?

In the comments below, tell me how you like your tea or coffee, and leave a link to your blog/facebook/twitter so I can come by and say hello.  (Or, if you're following via email, you can mail your comment to

I can't wait to hear from you!  


Courtauld Alumni Authors Event

One of the best things about being a Courtauld Institute of Art alumna is that I get to rub shoulders with fantastically creative people on a regular basis.

This week was the first (annual, I hope) Courtauld Alumni Authors event. All Courtauld Institute alumni were encouraged to submit books they'd authored in the past few years, and a select few were chosen for the reading night.

On display were hundreds of great, authoritative, art historical tomes, worthy of the best ivy league libraries. But, amongst all those scholarly books were a few exceptions, and those were chosen for the reading: two novels, two memoirs, and poetry.

I wasn't selected to read, as the audience was too erudite for children's books, but at the post-reading soirée Magic at the Museum was prominently displayed with all the other 'fiction' books. (See above)

And now that my Friday work is done, I'll brew a cup of coffee and hibernate with my copy of Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard. I'm giddy with anticipation: a New York Times bestseller, set in Paris, and written by a Courtauld alumna. It just couldn't get any better than that!

Cezanne's Card Players at the Courtauld

Paul Cézanne’s famous paintings of peasant card players and pipe smokers have long been considered to be among his most iconic and powerful works. So says the Courtauld of their new exhibition Cézanne's Card Players.

The rustic card players were some of my favourite paintings when I was studying at the Courtauld. In particular, "Man with a Pipe", and "The Card Players" which depict the same man named Alexandre in two different situations. Alexandre was one of my favourite characters to illustrate in my children's book Magic at the Museum.

Alexandre was a peasant gardener. Cézanne strove to capture the essence of these sun-beaten farmers with the rough application of paint and deep browns.

If you look closely, you will see that his head is very small compared to his body (or, perhaps he is just very tall). I used this feature to advantage in the Magic at the Museum action scenes; Alexandre always looks very strong and powerful. In response to the sometimes odd perspective in his paintings, Cézanne told his critics, "I have a lazy eye."

The famous English critic Roger Fry wrote in 1927: “It is hard to think of any design ... which gives us so extraordinary a sense of monumental gravity and resistance – of something that has found its centre and can never be moved.”

This in an interesting quote, because I imagined Alexandre to be the strong, solid centre of the crack-the-whip game the characters play on the Somerset House Ice Rink. Here you see him holding everyone steady while they whirl around the ice.


Magic at the Museum: Degas Dancers

The next two Magic at the Museum characters I am going to introduce you to are the ballet dancers. They come from a painting by Edgar Degas called "Two Dancers on the Stage". Degas painted it in Paris in 1874. The painting shows dancers rehearsing or performing on the stage. The viewers attention is focused on the poses of the dancers, as they are seen from an unexpected angle. If you look closely, there is also a third dancer in the upper left corner (you can just see her blue skirt) approaching the stage. Is is leaving the dance or joining?

I had fun with these characters. Since Magic at the Museum is all about skating and dancing, I had to re-learn a lot of the ballet I had learned as a child to get their graceful movements. I tried to always draw their compositions as if someone had choreographed their movements. They always had to look graceful and composed.


Magic at the Museum: The Madonna

The next character from Magic at the Museum that I want to introduce you to is the Madonna. She comes from a painting of the Virgin and Child by Parmigianino, painted between 1524 and 1527. He painted it when he was staying in Rome, and the classical building in the background might be a references to the ruins of ancient Rome.

This painting is unfinished,and is quite sketchy, especially in the bottom right corner, where you can see his sepia sketches. The brown sections of the Madonna's skirt are unfinished; Parmiginanino intended them to be blue. I left them brown on my character to stay true to the painting as it is, not as it was intended.

He wanted this painting to be perfect. This perfectionism led him to procrastinate to such a degree that he never finished the painting and was imprisoned for breach of contract.

The Madonna in this painting has incredibly long legs, arms and neck. If she were real, she would probably be over 6 feet tall (rather like the exaggerated proportions of Alexandre who was painted 3 centuries later). This is due to the Renaissance Mannerist  movement. Mannerist paintings are known for elongated forms, precariously balanced poses, a collapsed perspective, irrational settings, and theatrical lighting. It was a challenge to maintain those distortions when drawing the Madonna, for I always wanted to "correct" them!

The Madonna and Alexandre make a pair. They both have exaggerated proportions that make them unnaturally tall.

Magic at the Museum: Alexandre

Continuing with my series of characters from Magic at the Museum, I want to introduce you to Alexandre. "Man with a pipe" was painted by Paul Cézanne, and now hangs in the Courtauld Art Gallery. Alexandre was a peasant gardener. I think Cézanne used lots of browns, ochres, yellows and greens to paint him because he worked with in nature and with the earth.

Cézanne focused on the relationships of colour and tone, rather than literal representation of the subject. I tried to emulate that by laying the water colour pigment quite thickly on the paper.

If you look closely, you will see that his head is very small compared to his body (or, perhaps he is just very tall). I used this feature to advantage in the action scenes; Alexandre always looks very strong and powerful. In response to the sometimes odd perspective in his paintings, Cézanne told his critics, "I have a lazy eye." :-) Alexandre's elongated body perfectly compliments the strange anatomy of the Italian Madonna, whom you will hear about next.

The skating pose you see above is a funny quote of a Scottish painting called The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch. It was painted by Sir Henry Raeburn in 1790. I think it is really fun to add small art historical inside jokes into children's picture books. Although the children and parents might not understand when they read the book, it will add an element of depth that otherwise wouldn't be there.

Creating and Designing a Family Cookbook and Genealogy

Often the things we remember most about our families is the food we eat when we are together. Every family has treasured recipes that are beloved as much for the memories they evoke as how they taste. Those recipes tell a sensual history of a family: of generations passing down good food, good experiences, joy, sympathy, love. Many emotions can be intimately tied to food and its preparation.

Turning those family favourites and heirloom recipes into a cookbook is an original and inspired way of telling your family's history. The story slides imperceptibly from family recipes, memories, and photographs to family history and genealogy. It is a more human way of connecting one's life to one's history. Sometimes looking at family tree charts and time-lines can seem quite abstract and clinical. Combining them with recipes and stories makes the history more immediate and accessible.

Steps to Create A Cookbook:

1. Collect the Recipes: Send an email or make a phone call to your relatives asking for their favourite recipes. Set a deadline for the submissions so people don't forget. Organize them into sections: breads, appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, etc. Don't forget to include the name of the person who submitted the recipe.

2. Test a few of the recipes: Old recipes that have been passed down through the generations are often taught by example. The actual written part of the recipe functions as short-hand notes. Baking temperatures or times are often not included. It might be best to test these so that modern cooks won't find them so difficult.

3. Collect Memories: Ask for people to submit memories of your grandma's or great grandma's kitchen. Memories of when the food was served, or what particular dishes meant to people. Share traditions surrounding the preparation of a dish. Don't forget those memories when the food was burned but the evening was glorious. Or tender moments shared over a cup of tea and a cookie.

4. Collect photographs: Ask for photographs of your family preparing or eating that food. Don't forget photos of the prize winning vegetables grown in grandma's garden, or the apron that everyone begged to wear. Scan handwritten copies of recipes that are special. If certain family members don't cook, this is their area to shine. They can submit memories of eating their favourite foods. Make sure everyone is included.

5. Design your cookbook: The easiest way to design a book is to use a special book design program like InDesign or Publisher. However, you can do it in Word or any text editing software if you can't access these more specialist programs. Make sure you use fonts that are easy to read (like Times New Roman, Ariel, Lucida...). Include photos and memories on the recipe pages where appropriate. Design a title page for each section.

6. Family History: Make sure you include a written history of your family as far back as you can go. Also include family tree charts, photos of old homesteads, photos of relatives, and anything else you think might be relevant or interesting.

7. Introduction: Don't forget to write an introduction explaining why you decided to compile the cookbook and why you think it is special.

8. Indexes: Create an index of recipe titles. It is also useful to create an idex of contributers, so that people can easily find their recipes or memories in the book.

9. Publishing your book: You can print it at home and bind it with staples or in ring binders. Or, you can bring the file to a copy shop and have them print and bind it professionally.

Some Highlights of Our Cookbook:
  • It is over 200 pages long
  • Our family recipe for gingersnaps goes back at least 4 generations!
  • It took us just one month to design (but over a year to collect all the recipes)
  • We included Low German (plautdietsch) songs and rhymes that we used to sing as children
  • I did a watercolour illustration of a favourite recipe for each title page
  • Each watercolour features yellow gingham, because our grandmother had a beautiful yellow gingham apron.
I have uploaded an abridged version (not all 224 pages) to Issuu, where you can page through the book for inspiration. Enjoy! To see the cookbook in a larger screen, just click on it.

Note: In order to be able to see it you will have to visit my blog, for some reason Issuu doesn't work in feed readers or facebook.

Magic at the Museum: Elizabeth Bruegel

I am working on a new picture book, and developing the characters and their personalities is making me nostalgic for my characters in "Magic at the Museum". People think that picture books are simple: after all, they're only 32 pages and for children, right? But that is not the case. So much thought goes into developing each character and each scene. I thought I would share the backstories of a few of my favourite characters.

Elisabeth Bruegel

Elisabeth was born in 1609, the second child of Jan Bruegel the elder and his wife Catharina. Jan Bruegel was a well known painter from Antwerp, the Netherlands. The painting in the Courtauld Insitute of Art which inspired me to include her in "Magic" was their family portrait painted by Peter Paul Rubens. Elisabeth was between 4 and 6 years old when this portrait was painted. She gazes lovingly at her mother.

17th century fashion for children

Elisabeth wear fashionable clothing (contrasted with her parents restrained, but rich, style) and she has an expensive coral necklace. With the advent of trading in Asia (and the foundation of the Dutch East India Company), coral became a highly sought after item. Coral was believed to protect children against evil.

Ribbons of Childhood - Leadstrings

The ribbons the hang from Elisabeth's shoulders were sewn there not just for decorative purposes. They helped her mother (or her nannies) to grab hold of her if she was running away, rather like a modern day leash for children. They were very fun to illustrate, as I imagined that they would fly in every direction when Elisabeth skated or ran.

So there you go, the things no one ever told you about Elisabeth Breugel.

Art and Nature

I just received my copy of Art and Nature: Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture, published by the Courtauld Institute of Art through their "Immediations" imprint. It was edited by my good friend Laura Cleaver, and I was commissioned to do three illustrations of medieval architecture and architectural elements.

This cathedral plan is from Nicosia Cathedral on Cyprus.

These reconstructions of wall-paintings and architectural elements are from Ourscamp Abbey and Noyon Cathedral in France.

I had great fun working on the projects with Michalis Olympios and Géraldine Victoir.

My Visiting Artist Lecture at the University of Manitoba School of Art

Poster courtesy of Kirk Warren

I was invited by the University of Manitoba School of Art to do an evening lecture on illustrating children's picture books. Life came full circle - I studied art history at the school of art, and now I was lecturing there as an 'authority figure' to the students. It felt like a homecoming.

The painting studios at the School of Art are housed in an old barn that was once used to house livestock for the agriculture department. When the agriculture department had outgrown the building, the School of Art re-purposed it for studios. The vaulted space in the roof is amazingly light, airy and inspiring - the perfect place to learn to paint. The student lounge had cool mural painted on the wall. One wall said [SM]ART FARM, which of course makes sense because of the barn.

The room was packed with people. I had expected maybe one or two intrepid artists to show up, and I would have a little "fireside chat" with them around my computer and portfolio. It was not that intimate, in fact, they even had to fetch extra chairs !

Thank-you to everyone who came and asked questions. It was a pleasure!

Magic at the Museum is a bestseller for two weeks in a row

This morning I picked up a coffee in Caribou Coffee, which generously offers free wifi, and read a delightful email notifying me that "Magic at the Museum" has now reached the number 2 spot in Winnipeg for the second week in a row. I hadn't expected to make it back on the list, and it was even more surprising that I maintained my standing from the previous week. Thank-you Winnipeg!

In 2007 I was in despair over whether or not my book would ever be published. A very empathetic friend cut the Winnipeg bestseller list out of the Sunday Free Press and added the working title of my book, "Anne's birthday surprise", to the number one spot. I don't know if I'll be able to reach the top and jockey "Where the Wild Things Are" out of the starting position, but it doesn't really matter. The fact that I've made it to number two after several bitter disappointments proves the power of positive thinking.

And, I just had to take a picture of the wonderful bestseller display in McNally Robinson Grant Park, with "Magic at the Museum" front and centre.

Magic at the Museum is a Winnipeg Bestseller!

After the success of the book launch last night "Magic at the Museum" made it to the #2 spot on the Winnipeg Bestseller list for the week of 6 Sept 2009. It even muscled its way past Sendak's classic "Where the Wild Things Are."

Make sure you buy your copy of the Winnipeg Free Press on Sunday where the list will be published for all to see!

I want to send out a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who bought my book.

Magic at the Museum book launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers

Six years ago I attended the launch of "I gave my Mom a castle", written by Jean Little and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. I sat in the Prairie Ink restaurant at the McNally Robinson Grant Park and resolved that I would some day do the very same thing: host a book launch at my favourite bookstore in the world.

Six years of hard work, inspiration, desperation and tears resulted in fulfilling my dream.

Last night I hosted a magical book launch for "Magic at the Museum" at McNally Robinson. It was very well attended (better than I expected) and everyone was delightfully enthusiastic and encouraging. I read from my book, and then displayed a few original sketches and illustrated spreads from the book.

The reception I received confirmed for me that I am definitely following the right path. The path to publishing success can be fraught with difficulty, disappointment, and despair. Sometimes a light shines through the clouds and it's in those moments you know that it's worth all the stress and hard work