Today is... Dreamy

{Bougainvillea and Table Mountain}

Can you believe it's almost the middle of November?  Where has the year gone? 

I've had my head down all year, working on illustration projects in my studio.  When I enjoy my work, I often forget the time. I'll look up from my paintings and suddenly it's almost supper time.  

Or.... suddenly it's November!

This is the beginning of the social season, and our calendar is filling up with parties, gatherings, weekends away, and the prospect of a wonderful, summery Christmas in Cape Town.  While I miss Canadian snow a lot, I'm actually beginning to get used to Antipodean Christmases. 

So, I'm dreaming of bougainvillea, hot sunshine, and time spent with family.  

I've spent the last week reading, reading, reading.  Currently, I'm reading the Diaries of Virginia Woolf. I found the entire set (several volumes) at a used book store a few weeks ago.  It is compulsive reading. She writes about her creative process, insecurities, and triumphs.  It's wonderful to see her world, and London, through her own eyes.    

I've also been reading poetry on my ereader. To be honest, I find it difficult to concentrate on an entire novel on an ereader.  I always feel like something is missing; I end up turning the ereader over wondering, "but... where is the rest of the book?"  It's ridiculous.  It feels like the moment when you show a mirror to a kitten, and when it sees it's own reflection, it runs around to the other side to find the other cat. I keep trying to turn real pages, or skim forwards, which can't be done!      

As poems are shorter I can read a few, and then do other things in between, so I don't get exhausted by peering at the screen.    

So, that's my dreamy day.  

Tell me about your day.

 What's the one word you would use to describe it? 

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all

--Emily Dickinson


{I'm sending you a hug across the miles...}

J'adore Montreal

{Montreal from the Mountain with the St Lawrence in the distance}

Montreal is my new favourite Canadian city.

 I visited for the first time last weekend, and I loved it! I loved the wonderful juxtapositions of old and new, European and North American, French and English... It really is one of the most dynamic and multi-dimensional cities I've been to recently. 

My mom and I spent the weekend in the Montreal area for my cousin's wedding.  They had their marriage ceremony in a countryside "Auberge" (French for "Inn") surrounded by wild-flowers, trees and vineyards.  It was so wonderful to spend time disconnected from the world, but reconnecting with my family.  

After the wedding festivities, we drove back to Montreal to bask in the gorgeous weather and cosmopolitan flavour of the city.  

We walked cobbled streets; we sipped coffee in cafes; we climbed the mountain; we marvelled at the mighty St Lawrence river, which has connected Canada to the world since the 16th century; we wandered down streets with glittering shops; we sampled poutine (french fries, cheese, and gravy) and the famous Montreal bagels from the Jewish quarter.  

The city was founded in the 17th century, and the old town feels like an ancient European city. I loved the cobbled streets and stone houses, which are now trendy cafes and art galleries.  

In contrast, the main city centre felt slick, energetic and busy, just like Chicago. They even call their main street, Sherbrooke, the "Golden Square Mile" (much like Chicago's "Magnificent Mile").   

And speaking of art... Montreal is such an amazing artistic hub. I spent a day at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, soaking up the artistic goodness on offer.  It was the only big museum in Canada I hadn't visited yet, and certainly lived up to the anticipation! 

{A statue of Maisonneuve staking his claim on Montreal}

{The Old City}

{The Old City, can't you imagine an early french settler living here?}

{Old and New}

{Musée des Beaux-arts in the Golden Square Mile}

{Unadulterated joy in the Musée des Beaux-Arts}

Eastern Townships

My cousin's wedding was in a remote part of the Eastern Townships, an area to the east of Montreal. There were so many quaint towns, beautiful mountains, and wine farms. I wish we could have stopped at them all!  And there were trees, and trees, and trees for as far as the eye could see. You'd be forgiven for thinking that all of Canada was one huge forest!

{My cousin Jeff and Me, so happy...}

This photo was taken the Friday evening before the wedding by my good friend Charmaine.  

Check out her blog here

. She's got such a quirky way of looking at the world; I love reading her posts! 

{Pastoral scene in the Eastern Townships}

{Vineyards near Lac Bromont}

Online Check-in

{Can anyone guess where I am?}

Hi there! 

I'm just checking in to let you know that I haven't dropped off the face of the earth. 

I'm not quite sure where I am, or which way is up or down, as I've been travelling for over a week, but I'm still here!

In the past week I've done 24 hours of air travel*, not counting layovers in airports. I've traversed two hemispheres both up and down and sideways. I've packed and repacked my bags, and sighed with relief at check-in when they were still under-weight.  

I sat beside a passenger who snored like a jack-hammer on a 12 hour over-night flight. I spent 2 hours on a very small plane sandwiched between 3 crying babies (it was heaven when they started giggling instead!).  

I still have a few more flights to go, as I travel to

my cousin's wedding

in Montreal.  {Yay! I can't wait!} 

I'm determined to keep a travel sketchbook, as well as take some lovely photos of our time in the Eastern Townships, and then the city of Montreal.

La Belle Province

, here I come! 

I'll post all my travel adventures next week!

*(Four flights in total: 2 + 12 + 8 + 2 = 24)

The Perfect Weekend in Hermanus, South Africa

{Home is somewhere in that cluster of houses between the mountains and the sea}

I think we all have a few magical places where we can go to find perspective, to spin our dreams into reality, to rest, and to centre ourselves in this whirligig of a world. 

I have two very special places like that.  

One is the dormer window in the attic of my childhood home.  I sit on a pile of cushions and feel like I have climbed a castle tower where I can survey my domain (the front yard). The world seems so small and manageable from that height; not scary or overwhelming at all. I make lists and dream big dreams, and almost every one of them comes true. 

That's another thing about these magical places.  The dreams you dream there have a habit of transforming themselves into reality. 

My newest magical place is my parents-in-law's beach house in Hermanus, South Africa.  Here, I can sit on the second floor balcony, glass of wine in hand, and watch the waves rolling endlessly toward the shore far below me. 

There's something about the sea and the mountains and the whales (oh! the whales!) that make me feel simultaneously really small, but also like I'm part of this great big amazing world. The landscape is wholesome;  I mean wholesome in the "being there makes you whole again" kind of way.  

Plan your trip to Hermanus

Getting there:

It's about a 1.5 hour drive from Cape Town through amazing mountain passes and rugged coastline.  

Where to stay:

There are plenty of amazing hotels and B&Bs in the town.  However, we usually stay in our parents' holiday home.  Fancy staying in the same place?  You can check it out and find more details HERE

Where to eat

We have a ritual of coffee and breakfasts at Savannah Cafe. It's our favourite "not for tourists" place. The staff are friendly, the food is affordable and delicious, and the coffees are fantastic.   

The best pizzas in the world are from Rossi's. Trust me.  Advance booking is essential. 

Where to buy books: Hemingway's bookshop is like Paris's famous Shakespeare and Company transported to the African Coastline. They have an amazing selection of used, rare, antique and new books, as well as other memorabilia.  

Other things to do: 

A walk along the cliff path.  Hermanus is a long narrow town, strung along the shore and nestled between the mountains and the sea.  The whole coastline is public parkland, and there's an amazing paved walking path that leads along the beaches and cliffs, and through the dense Fynbos forests.  

Whale watching. In winter and spring whales make the bay their home.  I've sometimes seen up to 10 whales at a time, breaching and jumping and frolicking in the water.  You don't even need to go on fancy boat tours, all you have to do is walk along the cliff path and keep your eyes peeled.

Do you have any special places that inspire you more than others?  


{Hemingway's Bookshop}

{The perfect cappuccino from Savannah Cafe}

{Flowering Aloes hanging over the sea cliffs}

{The dense forests along the cliff path feel like something out of a fairy tale}

{He is my sunshine....} 

{Along the Cliff Path}

{Rocks carved by the Indian Ocean}

Are you ready for the art of living?

Are you ready?


I think I am... 

I hope so... 

What does it mean? ... 

I was going through my folders of pictures, trying to find a photo of myself for an upcoming blog feature, when I found this set. (see below for what I was wearing in the photos...)

There used to be a mural down the street from us that asked all the passing traffic, "R U ready for the art of living?"  Whenever we drove by I wanted to answer a resounding YES!

So, I painted "YES!" on a piece of paper with bright red paint (cadmium red, to be exact), and my husband and I walked down the hill to take some photos.

Several weeks later the city built a new bus stop right in front of that wall, and painted it beige.  


 Isn't that just like life?  Just when it feels like everything's happy and wonderful, the world descends and turns everything beige.  Blech!

I recently attended a talk by Alexander McCall-Smith (author of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books). He must be the happiest, most optimistic person I've ever met.  Every story or comment was bookended by a giggle or a big smile.  One of his comments, which resonated quite deeply with me was:

"The world may be a vale of tears, but we can't fix it by being miserable."

So, let's embrace the art of living!

I'm not exactly sure what the art of living is, mind you.  I think it must have something to do with being joyful in the moment, right here, right now.  And doing the best we can. And being kind to ourselves (and others).

What do you think the art of living is?  

I'm curious. Let's brainstorm and see if we can come up with a definition.  You can comment below. Or, if you're following by email you can email me at: .

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?




I have a confession to make: I didn't do any drawing at the seaside.  I didn't even open my sketchbook or unpack my pencils from my bag.  


All I did was sit and stare at this... 

{that might be my special bench}

I soaked in the infinity of the sea, the slow pace, and the refreshing sleep.  My soul geared down to neutral and I coasted at the speed of the breeze and the waves.  

Sometimes it is necessary to do nothing, and revel in it.  

But now I'm back in the studio and working hard, or at least trying to.  Things seem to be happening a lot slower than I'd planned.  

But you know what? It's ok.  I don't mind working slowly.  That way I can really enjoy what I'm doing.  Good work shouldn't be rushed.  

Here's a little quote by the novelist Amelia Barr, who advocates doing things slowly...

"Everything good needs time. Don’t do work in a hurry. Go into details; it pays in every way. Time means power for your work. Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration." 


Dream Big

"Now," she said, startlingly down to business, "tell me what you expect from life. Fame and fortune aside -- those we take for granted."  

Truman Capote 

(from the unfinished novel "Answered Prayers")

We have been dreaming a lot in our house these past few weeks, months even.  The days have been filled with possibilities, what ifs, wonderings, brainstorming, lists, and many, many unanswered questions.  

The other day I sat in the garden, I picked up a frangipani flower, and I looked at the way the petals fold towards the middle with such architectural precision -- almost like a Frank Gehry building --  and it got me thinking about the nature of dreams.

What do we dream of?  Fame and Fortune aside.  (for that's too vague, and too prosaic) It's much better to hone your dreams, until they have the precision of a laser beam, cutting through the murk. 

I dream of inspiring people.  I dream that what I draw, or what I say, might illuminate some of the wonder of the universe that people are too busy (or to preoccupied) to see.  

Of course, I also dream of money and of recognition (I won't say fame, I'm too introverted for that). But those are all things we can't just dream about, those are things we have to constantly and tirelessly work towards

The dream, on the other hand, is that little pilot light in the soul that is always in danger of blowing out.  Any rejection, any setback, and the light extinguishes. It's the small light that guides our hearts in the right direction, and gives us courage in the dark nights. 

So, to all of you out there, tirelessly working towards your dreams, guard that little light with your life. And then work hard; work harder than you've ever worked before.  Never give up.  

And when life seems overwhelming, and your little light is flickering in the buffeting winds of the world, go pick up a flower, any flower, and contemplate the miraculous universe that made it.  While there are flowers, there is always hope.   

So, what do you dream?  What is that small light that burns in your soul? 


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.}

Christmas in Cape Town

Merry Christmas Everyone! 

Let's make a joyful noise and sing a new song, and all that jazz.  It's Christmas!  

I have managed to accomplish the impossible (almost) and gather my dearest family in Cape Town for the holidays.  My mom travelled half-way across the globe!  

Christmas here is very different to the Christmasses I grew up with.  My Canadian Christmas is: white snow, cold air, sleigh rides, hot chocolate, and caroling around the neighbourhood while bundled in every layer of winter-wear we could find.  This year Christmas is: beaches, sunshine, barbeques, and open air carol concerts that start as picnics in the park. So very different, and so very enjoyable!

So, wherever you are in the world, dear readers.  I wish you a Merry Christmas!  

And remember: 

1) Stay close to those that you love; for love is the most important thing in the world. 

2)  Laughing makes you live longer, so let's have some fun!

3)  And lastly, but also very important, make sure you eat lots of Christmas goodies, for they're only available once a year!  :-)  

Adventures in.... Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls

So, here I am in bed with some sort of tropical fever; at least, I have a fever which I acquired in the sub-tropics.  It's actually just some sort of pesky ear/nose/throat infection, but it sounds much more dramatic to call it a Zimbabwean Fever, don't you think?  It was well worth it as I got to see the largest waterfall in the world: Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean and Zambian borders.

I resolved on this trip that I was going to keep a travel sketchbook.  As much as I love sketching on location, I often find it difficult to achieve on holidays because I'm always rushing around trying to "see" everything, so I don't take the time to stop to draw.

This trip was different... there isn't much to see in the small town of Victoria Falls, except (you guessed it) Victoria Falls.  There is one mostly paved road with a bank, a few tourist shops, a grocery store and a police station; then there are several amazing four star resort hotels, and the Falls.  And all of this is surrounded by impenetrable bush.  So, there wasn't much else to do but stare at the falls and sketch, which suited me just fine.

So here we are, a few sketches of "The Smoke That Thunders" and the mighty Zambezi River.  Aren't hippos cute?  Don't be fooled!  Which animal kills more people than any other in the world (aside from mosquitos?)  Hippos!  They're the most dangerous vegetarians in the world.  Which is a shame, as they look so cuddly and cute.

And now, back to bed, so that I can recover from the Zimbabwe Fever before Christmas.

The Diamond Jubilee in pictures

This weekend I was privileged to be in London while Queen Elizabeth was celebrating her Diamond Jubilee weekend. It seems to me that the whole nation has gathered together in a rare atmosphere of complete joy.

Every street is bedecked with bunting and streamers; every garden is fragrant with multitudes of English roses. The whole city simply blooms with rose petals, ribbons and bunting.

I didn't attend any of the events, preferring instead to watch them in the comfort of my home on the telly. However, we live so close to the Parks that I heard the loud "hip-hip-hoorays" and the fireworks after the Jubilee concert carrying through the night air. And, the planes that flew over the Palace also flew over my flat. From my own cozy lounge I felt like I was in the centre of the action!

Previously I didn't give the Queen much thought, except to know that she's on our money, and on my passport, and that she is the head of the Commonwealth. However, the Jubilee celebrations uncovered my nascent affection for her. Why? I love her because of her gentle, feminine influence. The world can be such a harsh place filled with conflict and hatred. The Queen is a benevolent spirit who travels around listening to people and protecting the arts. And, that's what the world needs more than warrior dictators, don't you think?

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

Christmas in Namibia - the desert

I think I still have sand in my pores, even though I've been home for a week.  Namibia is the kind of country that stays with you long after you've left.  When I close my eyes, I still see the shifting dunes, and arid, rocky desert, and the wild sea. 

My only excuse for not having filled a sketchbook with watercolours of the dunes and the waves is the mountain of illustration work I had to complete (over Christmas!).  

Mornings in Swakopmund are always submerged in cool Atlantic mist.  I'd wake early, set up on the kitchen table, and churn out as many finals as possible.  Then, every afternoon, when the desert sun had burned the mist away, we'd escape the seashore, or take a drive into the dunes with a picnic.  

One one occasion I came face to face with a lovely little chameleon.  He was crouching in the sun, and looked so melancholy that I named him Leonard Cohen.  All he needs is a cigarette, a tumbler of brandy, and a guitar, don't you think?  

 A desert chameleon

 The Swakop "River" - a dried river bed

Welwitschia Plant - over 2000 years old

And the mist and the waves....

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.

Sketching Llandudno - Cape Town


I promise, I have been drawing every day. I just can't prove it. Really. Every day I sit down with my sketchbook and watch my pencil skim across the paper. Sometimes I'm happy with the result; sometimes I'm not; and, sometimes, the sketch turns into something I don't want to share. What I mean is, they turn into something more substantial, a full painting that I will share at a later date (you know, to keep the suspense going).

These daily drawings have forced me to really think about my style. What is my visual language? How do I make marks on paper? The trick with drawing is to be able to anticipate what might unfold. You need to draw as though the sketch could turn into a full painting. That means different things for different people, as everyone works differently. For me, it means working with clear lines and tones (three shades: light, middle, dark).

The exercise has forced me to draw with greater clarity. I have to see clearly in order to be able to draw clearly.

Above you see a little pencil sketch of Llandudno, a lovely bay in Cape Town. To the left is the Klein Leewkoppie, the smaller lion's head mountain. This tiny sketch was done quickly, in my evolving visual short-hand. I couldn't draw them, but the waves in the bay were teaming with seals frolicking in the waves.

Sketches from New York and Minneapolis

A whole week in New York... and I spent practically the whole time staring at the skyline. The variety of roofline shapes, colours and heights sent my head into a dizzy spin. Or perhaps it was the vertigo of staring up all the time while trying to walk in a straight line and not crash into a harried New Yorker.

I wanted to record the crowds, and the activities, that I saw around me in that great city. Instead, I found myself drawing all the fire escapes and water towers. Did you know that practically every New York building of a certain age has a small water tower on its roof to increase water pressure? They seemed so old fashioned and quaint, like a nod to the past in the ultra-modern, ultra-fast-paced city.

I imagined that Yakko, Wakko and Dot from the Animaniacs would burst out of a random water tower and break into wild song and dance. Perhaps to interrupt the UN General Assembly with their antics. Do you remember that old Warner Brothers show?

The last water-tower sketch is from the old Pillsbury Flour mill in Minneapolis. And here's another old children's TV trivia question: Do you remember the Pillsbury Doughboy? I loved the way he always said, "Hoo Hoo!" with a giggle whenever the industrious Mom tickled his stomach. He was so helpful in the kitchen; and the cookies, buns and rolls always turned out perfectly.

Hoo Hoo!

Adventures in... Chicago

Today we leave Chicago. This is my second time in the windy city, and I love it more with every visit. It has the perfect mix of cosmopolitan hustle and bustle combined with small-town friendliness.

I've been sketching as much as I can. The pace of travelling doesn't automatically lend itself to leisurely sketching time. I admire those who seem to make travel sketchbooks so effortlessly. How do they do it?

I tried to photograph my sketchbook pages, in the hopes of posting them as I go along. But the pictures were fuzzy and poorly exposed, so I'll rather post a selection of my best sketches at the end of this epic journey.

Today we leave for New York! It will be my first time in the 'capitol of the world' and I can't wait!

Adventures in... Winnipeg

I don't think anything quite compares to a prairie sky. I've admired many a sky, in many a lovely foreign place, but there's something awe-inspiring about the vastness and power of the sky in the Great Plains. It stretches from horizon to horizon, making everything else seem insignificant.

I haven't been taking that many pictures, except these ones that I took on a 'scenic drive'. It always seems redundant in my home town. I've seen everything so many times that it doesn't seem special. Except now that Mark is here with me, and I'm seeing it all with fresh eyes.

And time to fess up. I also haven't been doing that much sketching either (for the same reasons). I start to draw something and then think, "is this even interesting?" And besides, drawing a landscape means drawing a straight line across the page... where's the challenge in that?

However, we've started to do more sight seeing and I'm gradually filling the pages of my sketchbook. I'm not sure if I'll post them as I go along, or all at once at the end of the trip...

what do you think?

We've still got Minneapolis, Chicago, New York and Toronto to cover.

Or perhaps, after each city I should do a summary of our time with sketches?