Owl always love you

{You can find this illustration

in my shop


Here are a few things I'm loving this week...


Waking up to fresh sunshine after a few days of rain.

 Our living room is dancing with rainbows from the prisms that hang in the window. 


Long skype conversations with my Mom.

 Isn't it amazing that we can be half the world apart, but still share a cup of coffee and open our hearts?  


My Japanese pen nibs.

 Drawing the old fashioned way, with an ink pot and nib pens isn't easy, but these nibs make it such a joy. They never scratch or catch, or leave puddles, and I get the most beautifully fluid, undulating lines.  No wonder the Japanese have such amazing ink drawings, when they have such amazing supplies to work with!  (The brand is Deleter, which is


a funny name for a pen, don't you think?)


Decaf Cappuccinos.

  I never drink caffeine as it gives me serious migraines, but I love a decaf cappuccino. The deep warm flavour of the coffee, the creamy sweetness of the milk, the foam.  Bliss!


Alphabetizing stuff.

  Yes, I'm an incurable nerd.  Last week I felt the need for orderliness, so I arranged my bookshelf in alphabetical order and then by genre (fiction, poetry/drama, memoir, nonfiction, business).  But, I didn't stop there!  Emboldened by the experience, I went to to alphabetize our spice cupboard, from A to V! (allspice to vanilla...) Is there a spice that starts with Y or Z, or Q? These are the things I think about on a daily basis.  


And Oh! my heart!  

Don't you just love these photos by Alissa Circle from 

Rags to Stitches

of her children, Katelyn and Brayden, with my prints?  You can find the post


 with lots more photos and a heartfelt description of her hopes and dreams for the summer holidays. Make sure you pop over and say hi. 

{Images © Alissa Circle}

{Images © Alissa Circle}



this interview

I did on Erica's blog.

 You can find out what inspires me, where I love to travel, and the places I call home. 

What are you loving this week?

In my illustration studio

What I'm currently up to... 



The Assassin's Cloak

, which has nothing to do with assassins or cloaks, but it's a pretty awesome title, don't you think?  It's actually a book of daily readings from famous diarists: Samuel Pepys, Anne Frank, Virginia Woolf, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Katherine Mansfield, and Noel Coward (for example).  It's divided into months and days, and there are five or six readings for each day ordered chronologically though history.  It's compulsive reading; voyeuristic; a bit like getting into the heads of famous people without them knowing.  I started off disciplined, only reading the excerpts for the current calendar day, but now I'm steaming through towards the end. December here we come!

Feeling Thankful For

//  Time to work.  A chest cold steamrolled me last week, and I spent all my time curled up in bed, drinking tea and feeling sorry for myself.  I woke up on Saturday morning and took a deep breath, the first breath in days that didn't hurt. You know that wonderful feeling when you've recovered from an illness, and life feels renewed.... fresh.... full of possibility... That's how I feel right now.  Which is good, because I have an awful lot of illustrations to finish before the end of the month.

Also, I'm so thankful for the amazing blogging community I'm rediscovering. My new blogging friend, Wendy, has featured me on her blog today.  Check it out here.... 

New Mom's Talk



//  Now that my husband is so busy with the business, I've become the chief cook and bottle washer.  He is a fantastic cook, and I'm constantly in awe of his passion for combining new flavours and discovering new recipes.  It's a lot to live up to.  I've been trying to make meal plans for the weekdays, but I'm getting bored with my standard recipes. Any recommendations?  We don't eat much meat (beef), but love chicken, fish and vegetarian meals...

Please send me ideas, and I'll try them out! 

Listening to

// I really love silence.  I was recently asked by a journalist what I listen to while I paint, and I didn't really have an answer.  I don't really listen to anything in particular.  But I love the sounds of the house: the traffic zooming down the hill, the neighbours doors banging, the birds in our garden.

Making me happy

// Lots of little things: hot chocolate, cadmium red, fresh air, sunshine.  Ellie (see above) is keeping my company in my studio today.  She's more of a fashionista than I am.  Underpinning all these little things is the the warm glow of progress. It really feels like things are starting to fall into place in many aspects of my life.


Take a deep breath


I've spent practically every minute either relaxing with my husband or curled up under my duvet.  

I'm not exactly sick, though I do feel like I'm fighting something that's gnawing at my lungs. Mostly I think I just need time to breathe....really breathe... deeply...  slowly... fully.  

I opened my day-planner on Monday morning, and was delighted to see nothing written in it for the whole week.  No deadlines. No meetings.  Just a page of days ready to be filled with enjoyment. 

And what is more enjoyable than breathing?  Fresh clear air (even in the big city) is so refreshing. And then there's the fragrance of blossoms and coffee brewing...Heaven.

I think I've spent three days sitting in my studio, pencil in hand, but not drawing at all. Instead of drawing, I watched the sun move across the white sketchbook page and the curtains dance in the breeze. 

That makes me sound lazy.  Which isn't true at all.  

In our rushed culture we forget that some of our best ideas come in idleness. Inspiration comes when your mind has space to breathe.  After all, the word "inspire" means "to breathe in".  (from in and spirare which is the latin for "to breathe"). I wish I could write a book about the correlation between inspiration and breathing deeply, but for now, let's just give that thought some space to grow in our minds. 

And while I was sitting and staring at the curtains in the wind some marvellous ideas for illustrations pranced through my mind.  Oh! I'm so excited to start drawing tomorrow!  

Life is busy. I'm constantly reminding myself to keep moving forwards, to push through the busyness, but also to take time to breathe deep and smell the roses.  

I think that's what this little illustration is all about...  

When life is flying at a fantastic pace, why not take the roses with you?   

And remember to breathe deep and be inspired

(which might be the same thing, after all). 

I almost gave up

All that happens in London depends

more on you than you can ever believe.

Everything is created by the image you

carry within you. 

Anais Nin

I almost gave up. 

After years of rejections, I told myself that I would go to the London Book Fair one last time.  I would give it my best effort, and if nothing came from it, I would quit pursuing the world of traditional publishing, at least for a while. 

We've all heard those stories about how famous authors have wallpapered their spare bedrooms with rejections letters. I'm never sure if those stories are meant as cautionary tales or encouragement.  Certainly, when you're living it as a reality, it feels pretty hopeless. 

There's only so much rejection one person can take before they crack.  

I reached that point months ago.  But, I wanted to make one last effort, just to prove something to myself.  

So I printed my portfolio images on the best watercolour paper I could find.  I practiced my smile, which I would have to wear infallibly through good interviews and bad.  I filled my heart with hopeful thoughts, positivity, and (almost false) confidence. 

For three days I went from one portfolio review to another.  

You want to know the amazing thing?  

Suddenly people were noticing. They appreciated my illustrations.  They had constructive, even positive, things to say.  Some said they would call me back.  A week later, some of them did.  

And, dear readers, I signed with an illustration agent!  Advocate Art is now representing me as an illustrator. 

Signing with an agent isn't any kind of guarantee of success; I know plenty of illustrators who have agents and still don't get publishing contracts.  

But, right now, that's not the point.  The point is, I didn't give up, even when I was so close to throwing it all in. The point is, just when I thought all was lost, someone important appreciated what I had to say, and put their confidence in my talents.

Who knows where this will lead? I'm sure it will add interesting twists to this adventure! 

I saw this quote from Cheryl Strayed on

Meg Fee's blog

, I thought I'd share it here...  

Every last one of us

can do better than give up.

It may seem hopeless, but if there's a white fire of passion burning in your heart, there will be a way for it to become a reality. I'm sure of it.

Even if it takes more time than you think.

Oh My Heart!

{Image courtesy of Jill at

Lune Blog


Oh my heart!  

I think my heart is going to explode this picture is so beautiful!  This is what I dream of every single day in my studio: that my artwork will touch the hearts of little people (and big people), and make them happy. 

These gorgeous photos were taken by Jill at Lune Blog.  I sent her two prints a couple of weeks ago, and she's featured them on her blog.  They look so at home in her daughter Eve's bedroom.  Jill is a fellow Winnipegger (yay! for hometown pride!), and I've been an avid follower of her blog for years.  She writes about her family life and vintage style with quiet eloquence and stunning photography.  Make sure you check it out.

Seeing these photos this morning brought me to tears.


I've been feeling quite small and vulnerable for the past few days. 

The London Book Fair finished last week. I spent the whole time tramping the exhibition halls with my portfolio. The meetings were very positive (More on that next week!), but it's still hard to open your heart and show your artwork to random people, hoping they'll have something good to say. It's like letting the whole world into that intimate place in your soul that houses your dreams.   

I heard so many opinions about what people liked or didn't like in my artwork. What they thought worked, or didn't work. And you know what?  Practically every editor contradicted the next.  Whom to believe? I was left spinning. Looking at my portfolio from the perspective of an editor removes me from the creation process.  By the end of the week I felt so far from what I love: the quietness of the paint and paper in my studio.    

And then I opened my email and saw these pictures from Jill.

They filled my heart with happiness until it was brimming with tears.  (yes, that's possible

These are the opinions that matter; these are the hearts I want to touch.

I hope Eve, Porcupine and Giraffe will become the best of friends.     

{Image courtesy of Jill at 

Lune Blog


I love London in the rain

{vinca (periwinkle), lavender, mint, icecream bush}

I had all sorts of plans for what I would blog about this week.  I had a sketchbook page scribbled full of notes, but I don't feel like writing about them today. And I have a biggish announcement to make about my online shop, but that can wait until next week.

It can all wait.

Right now the rain is playing the windowpane like a xylophone, and my fingers are full of ink.  All I want to do is dive into my paint palette and never surface.

I promised myself at the beginning of the year that I would blog once a week.  So here we are...  I think from now on I'll publish my posts on Wednesdays.  How does that sound?  Any thoughts? Would Thursdays be better, perhaps?

I like nice routines; they make life so comfortable.

A few little things about life right now...

The rain is London rain, soft and polite.  The droplets are soaking the tulips in my front garden, which will hopefully burst into bloom in the next few days. If the sun ever shows her face.

Next week is the London Book Fair.  A big, nerve-wracking event filled with editors, publishers and agents. I've been working hard to polish my portfolio and my elevator pitch.  It's one of those "tell me who you are in 20 seconds" kinds of events, and if people are bored, they will walk away with no apologies.


So there we are. That's life this week.

And here's my paint palette, don't you just want to dive in?  All that lovely colour.  Just add water, and you've got a masterpiece!

Tell me about your life this week... Do you have any big challenges coming up?


A peak in my studio

Here's a little glimpse into my studio.

Life has been quite busy these past few weeks.  I have soooo many new ideas for illustrations, but I'm keeping them all behind the scenes right now.  Lots of sketching and dreaming, and playing with coloured pencils.

I seem to get my best ideas when I'm thinking of other things.  I might be washing dishes, and suddenly *pop,* there's an idea floating in my head.  Is that normal?  I guess it must be.

That little meerkat with his pile of books is actually a fairly old illustration.  But, as I don't think I've shared him here before, I thought I'd let him have his 5 minutes of fame.

He just loves books.  Don't you?


It's summer in Cape Town and there's a Christmas beetle lazily buzzing against my studio window. 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 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 doing it 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:  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.}

Kisses for SCBWI

Make your Storybook Dreams come true! 

This year I went to my first Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI for short) conference in Winchester.  The weekend was filled with amazing talks, seminars, discussion panels, competitions, as well as fun parties (in a medieval guildhall, at that!), sketch crawls, and lots of new friends.

In order to make the most of my first conference, I entered every competition available.  I got carried away with my submission for the "best promotional postcard" competition.  The brief was:

design a postcard based on a minor character from a fairytale; 100mmx150mm.

  I chose the Frog Prince, and put the little amphibian in a pop-up kissing booth.  When folded, the card matches the exact dimensions, but it can be unfolded into a shadow box featuring this little green fellow.  

Any kisses, only 50p.  Make your Storybook Dreams come true!  

And my dreams did come true, because I won the competition!  The judges comments were, "The postcard is beautiful, and imaginative, and has many layers of narrative significance.  Plus, it would look lovely propped up on an art director's desk."

But more importantly (and long lasting), was all the inspiration, affirmation and motivation we all received.  We all left the weekend feeling buoyed up by all the positive critiques and discussion.  For myself, I realized that I'm going in the right direction.  I've been muddling along, trying to improve my illustrations and writing as best I can, but you never know if it's "right" until someone else sees it and says, "Yes, this is lovely, keep going."  And that's what happened.

Now I have so much motivation to keep working, and to finish those projects that have been living in my head for so long.

Tell me:  how does one keep that motivation and enthusiasm long after the conference is only a dim memory from months ago?

I've decided to keep my Frog Prince on my studio desk, so that I can see him every morning and remember the affirmation I received.

What are you planning to do to keep the SCBWI conference energy alive?  

In addition to the postcard competition, I was also included in a juried exhibition showcasing the best illustrators of the British Isles. Below you can see my illustration.

Thank-you SCBWI for making this all happen!  


You can see the other conference winners here:  


On Designing Characters

August is over, and September is whispering around the corner. My blogging rate has fallen short, but that's more of a sign of busy-ness than neglect. (Though, some neglect as well)

The last few months have been full of friends and family, and lots of love and laughter.

They were also full of illustration and design work, but nothing that I'm at liberty to share quite yet. And the sketches, well... I just don't feel like sharing them.

There's something really wonderful about a sketchbook that's full of doodles and mistakes, research, scribbles and half-finished thoughts. It's a repository for all my mind's imaginings. It's a collection of all those half-formed thoughts that flit around the edge of the brain, and only materialize into something more concrete if you ignore them and give them space.

And if I put them online, they don't have the space they need to grow...

In any case, here is something I will share: a snapshot of my studio table and a little character I've come to know.

I know I've designed a good character when I recognize her. Not that I've copied her from somewhere else, but that I always knew she existed in my mind. It's like I've released one of those ideas that flitted around those dark corners (see above) and it finally decided that it was the right time to materialize on paper. I scribble, scribble, scribble and then I sit back and say, "Yes, that's her! I knew it all along!"

Do you find the same thing, when you're writing or drawing? That you recognize your characters?

Oh, and my most recent quote inspiration is:

"It's great work that wins a break. It's being great to work with that wins a career."

That is paraphrased from a blog post by

Chris Oatley


So long at the fair

Just a little ditty to cheer up a Wednesday.  

I loved singing this song as a child.  I woke up with the tune in my ears, and had to put a little sketch to paper. 

And, if you have a moment, and you need a little inspiration, you can listen to Julie Andrews singing a variation of this nursery rhyme



Happy Easter

Happy Easter Everyone!

As my grandpa reminded me the other day, Easter isn't just about cute eggs and bunnies...  I know that, it's just that sometimes I forget.  For me, Easter is about rejuvenation and rebirth.

It's been crazy-busy at our house these past few weeks.  I've been working flat-out on new illustrations and putting the final touches on a rather long story.  At the same time, I've been helping my husband with a very exciting entrepreneurial venture (my lips are sealed for the time being).  

This means I've been feeling completely fragmented.  While I'm painting my mind is thinking of business ideas; while I'm working on the business plan I'm resolving issues with the plot of a story.   No matter what I'm doing I'm constantly thinking about something else.   

I'm sure we all lose focus when life is so busy.

So, this Easter weekend I want to step back, slow down, and focus on rejuvenation. A little bit of quiet time and a few chocolate eggs will do wonders for the soul.  :-) 

What are you doing for Easter?  

The Moveable Art Studio

Three months here... Nine months there

Always expecting, and always the unexpected.

Ian McCallum

So, I'm back in my Cape Town Studio.

That sounds so glamorous, when really it isn't.

I've been thinking a lot about where people do their creative work. A lot of writers and illustrators believe they need a specific room, the perfect place, in order to write, draw or paint. It's only in that magical, fertile, serene place that inspired ideas will form and come to fruition.

That isn't really possible for me at the moment because I travel a lot. My friends and family are scattered around the globe: Canada, Britain, South Africa, Swaziland, The Netherlands, Namibia. I need to be on the move

if I want to spend time with them.

So, my studio isn't a room, it's a satchel; I carry it around everywhere I go. It's filled with my art supplies, my computer and my scanner. I call it my "moveable studio." (like moveable feast) No matter where I am, I can get down to work at a moment's notice.

My "perfect place" to write or paint is actually wherever I am at the moment. My imagination takes hold and I'm transported into a world of stories and drawings. I don't even notice that I'm perched at a fold-out desk in a guest bedroom, or spread out over someone's kitchen table.

In the past year (since my last birthday), I've completed illustration jobs from tables and desks in Cape Town, London, Bologna, Amersfoort, Steinbach, Manzini, and Swakopmund. I have pictures of all the places except Bologna. It never occurred to me to photograph the hotel bedside table where I drew roughs in my down time between visits to the Children's Book Fair.

After all there is no such thing as a perfect place. There's only our imaginations, and the imagination can be used anywhere!

Where do you work?

I love to know how many of you have proper studio spaces, and how many of you work on kitchen tables, floors, or any other horizontal surface that might be available.

Here's an example of my basic art supplies...

My kitchen table in London

The Guest Bedroom in Amersfoort

The Basement in Steinbach

The Guest Bedroom in Manzini

The Kitchen Table in Swakopmund

Adventures in... Dublin

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

I just returned from a weekend in Dublin, visiting a friend who recently got a job lecturing in medieval art history (think the Book of Kells) at Trinity College Dublin (I'm so proud of her!). 

I've never been a very good at keeping travel sketchbooks, so I decided that my one goal for this trip was to take some time to do some sketching.  Luckily it wasn't too cold in Dublin, so I didn't have to try to hold a pencil with mittens.  

I only brought pencils along with me; I tend to pack far too many art supplies and then never use them at all.  This time, I only travelled with a selection of pencils, an eraser and a sketchbook.  The simplicity of my supplies made the sketching less intimidating.  There were no decisions to be made (pen or pencil?  Colour or no?), and less to carry in my satchel.  

I haven't posted all my sketches.  Many of them were really messy, just little doodles to help me remember moments I enjoyed.      

This trip to Dublin was a substitute for going to Bologna.  The past two years I have joined thousands of children's book writers and illustrators in an annual pilgrimage to the Bologna Children's Book Fair.  I love the fair, and I love spending time with so many talented and inspiring people...  

But this year is different...  

For the longest time I've been working relentlessly towards my goal of becoming a children's book writer and illustrator.  I love what I do, and I love striving for ever-greater opportunities... but... somehow...the relentless pursuit of one goal at the expense of everything else results in a very flat and shallow life.  

I need to take a small step back to spend time with my friends; have new experiences; be inspired by the random things I encounter. 

And on that note, I need to hunker down in my studio and work towards another illustration deadline (due Friday! eek!).   

Dublin Castle

Georgian House and Plane Tree, Dawson Street, Dublin

Into the great beyond

This week I finished the last of a long sequence of deadlines.  I rushed and panicked, and then sent everything in on time anyway (so why worry so much?).  And now I have this feeling of release.  You know that moment when a helium balloon escapes your hands and it bobs around within arm's reach for a moment before zooming upwards into the great void of sky?  

That's exactly how I feel:  at the moment I'm bobbing around, not far from removed from my previous project.  I can feel the rush of air, and that sense of free breathing.  I'm done!  Yay!

But, any second now, I'll zoom into the great unknown and I'll be surrounded by the outer atmosphere. What?  You mean there's no work on the horizon, for the foreseeable future?  Eek!  

In the meantime, I thought I'd share some of the illustrations I completed for my latest illustration projects.  They're all commissioned by Pearson Education and Oxford University Press (both in South Africa).  

The Tea Robot

Yesterday afternoon Alicia Padrón and I had a twitter conversation about our mutual wish for an assistant in the form of a robot. Alicia wanted hers to make her coffee and bring cake; I'd love mine to bring endless cups of rooibos tea.

She drew the cutest coffee robot ever invented. (See here) And I promised to draw my version of a tea robot. This is a super-duper quick sketch because I'm panicking to finish a huge job before tomorrow.

Where's that soothing cup of rooibos tea when you need it?

The Sea! The Sea!

Being a prairie girl, I've never had a close acquaintance with the sea. I've admired it on summer trips; I've stuck my toes in it and shivered; I've dreamed of living in a beach house; but, it never seemed like a "real" place. The seaside was a dream and a vacation, not a home.

Now I find myself living within a short distance from two seas: the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic ocean. Each has its own distinct personality and moods, and each are inspiring in their own way. And I love them both!

This new friendship with the sea led me to contemplate children and mermaids. How much fun would it be to have a secret mermaid friend? 


The Cape Town Aquarium

Riding Horses in the Atlantic.

SCBWI Cape Town Spring Conference 2011

This weekend I attended the SCBWI Cape Town Spring conference (2011). It was such a treat! The roster of speakers dazzled the attendees: Steve Mooser (SCBWI president and founder), Erzsi Deàk (founder of Hen and Ink agency), Nicol Faasen, and Stephan Spies (publisher).

The afternoon consisted of crit groups moderated by prominent South African publishers: Michelle Cooper (Tafelberg), Sally Howes (Watermark), Carol Broomhall (Jacana), Aldré Lategan (Human and Rousseau), and Miemie du Plessis (Lapa).

The consistent theme throughout all the talks and critiques was how we all need persistence. It can be hard to trust the process of creating, but this conference definitely affirmed the need for bravery and persistence when facing blank paper. There is a story within you; cajole it out of hiding with songs and soft words, otherwise it may remain in the shadows forever. Don't give up!

Well, hello there, old friends

There is something cathartic about organizing the studio. These long lost friends of mine, sequestered in suitcases and plastic bags, have finally found their way back into the daylight. My brushes, pens, pencils, and paints have travelled with me across two hemispheres. From Cape Town to Winnipeg and back, with many stop-overs in between. They've served their wandering master well, with no complaints (except from the paint tubes... some exploded inflight and left my art-bag full of pigment) and now they've come to rest on a my studio table again.

One thing I've learned through all this travel and upheaval is that here is no 'magic' place to make art. I used to think that I needed a perfect studio, and all my art supplies arranged 'just so,' before I could create something worth-while. On this trip I haven't had that luxury; In fact, I've had to create illustrations for silly deadlines in all manner of inconvenient places. All that really matters is that I have the time to stop and draw, no matter where I happen to be sitting.

We're back in Cape Town for the next couple of months, and I'm back in my studio with the view of the grapevine and Table Mountain. I'm definitely going to have lots of work to do in the next few months, so perhaps this next statement is foolhardy... but... I want to start a drawing challenge.

I resolve to draw something every weekday and post it on this blog.

[There, I said it. Now you can keep me accountable!]

Adventures in... Johannesburg

Mark and I spent the weekend visiting his sister and her family in Johannesburg (affectionately known as Jo'burg). The weekend was filled with socializing, seeing a bit of the city, and making new friends. I didn't really have time to spend sketching, but my eyes and my mind were still full of artistic inspiration.

We went on a game drive in a reserve called The Cradle. It isn't far from the city, in fact you can see it sprawling in the valley below the reserve. Everything I saw inspired me: the colours, the fresh scent in the air, the animals... but there was no way I could draw everything. It happened too quickly, and it was too cold to hold a pencil. So... I sketched with my camera.

It is completely possible to 'sketch' with a camera. Not everything has to be done with a pencil or pen. A quick photograph can record an idea, a composition, a gesture, and lots and lots of colour. I often see something, and challenge myself to name the tubes of watercolour paint I'd use to capture the scene.

The world is bursting with colour, and I can't wait to explore it more with my camera.