Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Travel PSA

It’s exciting to hear that the SCBWI winter conference will be back in person in January 2023. For those who decide to attend and are unable to make use of the SCBWI hotel referral with conference discount rates or those who may just be traveling soon to visit family or leisure, please be aware that there are hotel scams out there. 

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on this subject matter. I had a recent bad experience with one and while I will not be giving company specifics, I’ve pulled together a few tips based on hindsight, research, and an endless mental loop of replaying the events. Here are the warning signs I didn’t notice earlier that I hope someone else will before they spend any of their hard-earned money.

  • If you’re using a 3rd-party app to reserve your hotel, make sure it’s a reputable and trusted app. I began my journey by using a 3rd party app that I’ve used many times and still love, but I needed to communicate with the hotel to verify some aspects of my reservation. So once I found a hotel I was interested in, I did what I thought was the next logical thing: I did a web search for it to find their phone number. Only, the phone number I called was not the hotel phone number.

  • Do not automatically trust the first results/sponsored results on a web engine search. The first result was the phone number I called. Retracing my footsteps after the fallout, i discovered that the first result, a sponsored result, was a spoof site that mimicked the hotel website, but was actually a 3rd party, completely unaffiliated with the hotel. What I didn’t notice immediately:

    • The site url was significantly longer than the valid hotel website. It included strings like [hotelname][city].guestreservations…

    • The sublinks listed “About the hotel” and not “about our hotel”. Wordsmiths will appreciate this important distinction, since one clearly states a lack of relationship without a direct lie (maybe the sign of an unreliable narrator?) and one states clear ownership and responsibility.

    • Sponsored results MAY be valid. They may also NOT be. They are also known as ads, paid for by the company to get their post listed higher in a search. It’s an older version of the recent new world of Twitter verified accounts…good luck, have fun.

  • Do a google search of any phone number listed before calling, particularly if it’s a 1-800 number. When I entered the number I called into google, I immediately found a TripAdvisor post warning about this as a scam company plus many other similar posts on other websites. Better yet, avoid 1-800 numbers altogether and do a map search for the specific business, which will often include a phone number with a local area code

  • When you do call a hotel, listen closely to their intro recording for a business name. This phone number never once mentioned their business name anywhere, ever. In contrast, when I called the Hilton--which happens to be both the SCBWI hotel as well as one I had a great experience with--they used every opportunity on their phone recordings to give you brand recognition and tell you all the opportunities to join their rewards programs. Valid companies want you to know exactly who you are working with at all times so you can build trust with them and return for repeat experiences. 

  • When in doubt, ask who they are. Ask them directly on the phone if they are [insert hotel name]. If they are not, hang up. If they put you on hold to contact someone else to confirm booking, hang up. 

  • Customer service often trumps cancellation policies. The other warning sign I failed to notice was the very tight cancellation policy. The first date they gave in their cancellation spiel before charging my credit card was in the past, and the second date for no refund was midnight. I did pause a moment then and think that the dates were odd and very specific, but since I was booking something for the next day, I just assumed that I was inside their normal cancellation window. When I called back to talk to customer service on the day of the hotel reservations to discuss the issues I had, they said that the window for cancellation was past. I explained the reasons why I should still get a refund and they said they would need supporting paperwork, which I promptly emailed them and got exactly what I anticipated: radio silence

    • Valid companies want happy customers and often do what they can to find ways to leave the customer feeling at least partially satisfied with a bad outcome: issuing partial or full refunds, discount vouchers, or credit towards a future reservation.

What to do if you fall prey? 

  • Try your best to get the company to refund your money. Record as much information during this process as possible.

  • Contact your credit card company to put a stop on payment to that account. This will not guarantee that you will get your money returned, but it is an option to challenge the payment instead of doing nothing.

  • If you have any company information, report their bad practice to the Better Business Bureau (or equivalent in your country).

  • Learn from this mistake and don’t let one bad experience define all your travel and adventures in the future. It’s a wide, beautiful world out there and most people are very kind. Don’t let the killjoys stop you from living.

  • And most importantly, forgive yourself. We’re all human, we make mistakes. I’m still working on this one. 

TL;DR: Hotel scams exist and do your research thoroughly before making reservations.


© Cole Montgomery 
Gail Buschman is a graphic designer and children's book creator who loves to travel and explore new places.

More about Gail at her website and instagram.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Keeping the Creative Spark

We work on our picture books over long deadlines. Our portfolio pieces are rendered with attention to detail in every stroke or pixel. All of this can be a fatiguing and may lead to a little creative burnout.

A couple years ago, I read several creative books about how to maintain your spark — books like The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch, and Creative Quest by Questlove — all of which I loved. 

A consistent recommendation through all of these is to follow your curiosity and to have daily practices in place.

For me, my daily practices include writing in a journal, meditating, and drawing in a sketchbook. No matter how much work I have on my plate, I try to make space for these small things that keep ideas flowing, help with problem solving, and keep momentum going. A quick daily practice (that takes 10-20 minutes to complete) can add that sense of progression and accomplishment that sometimes lacks in our longer timelines.

I often use Patreon as a space to share these works in progress and creative practices, which helps me share my creativity and process in a way that feels safe and sustainable.

Here's a quick exercise I offered to Tara Lazar's Storystorm this past year to help spark your creativity using a timer: https://taralazar.com/2022/01/29/storystorm-2022-day-29/

Storystorm is itself a great creative practice to try out: quick, idea generating prompts for stories by Tara Lazar and friends (30 new prompts every January!) so check out those archives for some more ideas.

What creative books have you found inspiring? What are your daily creative practices?

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Susie Ghahremani (@boygirlparty) is the author and illustrator of picture books STACK THE CATS and BALANCE THE BIRDS. She is currently at work on MEMORY GARDEN, a collaboration with her mom, author Zoe Ghahremani inspired by their Iranian-American heritage.

She is also the illustrator of WHAT WILL GROW by Jennifer Ward, WHAT WILL HATCH by Jennifer Ward, LITTLE MUIR'S SONG by John Muir, SHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED by Marcus Ewert, and LITTLE MUIR'S NIGHT by John Muir.

She paints with gouache, wanders in forests, listens to vinyl records, and snuggles her baby nieces. 

Find her at: Boygirlparty | Patreon | Etsy | Fb | Twitter | Instagram | TikTok

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Procreate Tip: Remembering Brushes

Procreate Tip: note special brushes in your Procreate file!

I was hired to do a follow up illustration about 2 years after I did the first one. Guess what?  I could not figure out how I got the effects in the first illustration -- eventually it was good enough, but now I always keep a separate layer that notes any special brushes (in Photoshop and Procreate). Duh.

Eddie Edwards
Instagram: helloeddieillo
Website: helloeddie.com

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Subtle Activism

I am not an activist. 

The thought of getting on a metaphorical (or literal) soapbox and shouting out to the world everything I think is wrong with it makes me shudder. Makes my hands go clammy and my knees go weak. The thought of asking strangers to sign petitions or publicly debating hard questions whose answers almost always fall within shades of gray makes me want to gag. I’ve vehemently argued with friends in the past that my artistic social media face should be neutral and accepting and about fun and lighthearted things because children should have fun and lighthearted lives. 

And yet…

The world is going through seismic shifts at the moment. We seem to be falling back to patterns of nationalism and isolation when we are more easily connected with each other now than we ever have been in our history. We are more polarized and even the innocuous topics are politicized. 

Remaining silent is the same as condoning what is going on in this moment. Whoever you are, whatever your stance is. Yes, I’m even writing directly to those who oppose my beliefs, because you do have a right to state publicly how you feel. I am not asking you to agree with me. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it harder and harder to remain silent on issues that matter to me. When people in my life are directly and emotionally impacted by decisions that seem like we are regressing on our years of painstaking progress and the hard-won freedoms for ALL people, regardless of who you are or where you come from, to live and practice and enjoy life. But I still don’t like “it.” I’m still not comfortable with “it.” You know what “it” is. Activism.

So I think we should redefine what activism is. 

There is bold, public activism: marches, protests, sit-ins, op-ed pieces, petitions and signatures, letters to your local and national elected leaders. I might do some of it, some of the time, but, frankly, even writing that makes it sound exhausting. Is there more? Voting. If you do nothing else at all activism-related, please vote. There’s my soapbox. But I still think there’s more activism out there. The subtle activism. The activism of introverts.

What is it? What does it look like? What are you expected to do? It looks like…anything. It looks like telling the story you want to tell that you don’t see on the shelves. It looks like bringing your authentic self to the table, to the written word, to the drawn line on the page. It looks like writing the stories or drawing the pictures that might one day label your book “BANNED.” It looks like creation. It looks like what we are already doing. What we will continue doing through the hard, contentious times. When it hurts, when you want to cry and curl up and ignore the world around you (and maybe taking a break from the world for a time is good, too). It looks like trying to just reach one person in the world, make a difference in some small way, instead of trying to enact sweeping changes. 

Recently, a friend shared a story about a zebra. They have stripes for camouflage, they may look like an awkward horse---but the shadow they cast is a long one and when you change your perspective and see it from afar, their shadow looks like a black stallion. Your small act of activism might cast a longer shadow than you think. 

My subtle activism started out for myself. I needed to process my own emotions when confronted with a shift in my status quo. It was easier to write about something less personal, so "I" became “You” and "everyone else" became “The World.” Like any good story or character, it evolved, took on a life of its own and met me exactly where I needed it to be when I needed it the most in my life. If my work touches even one person and makes their life a bit better, then my goal is accomplished. My voice is loud enough.

Yellow emoji named You stands happily with hands on hips, with blue-and-green World emoji standing slightly behind them in a power pose with hands in the air and hearts floating above. Narration: "You are perfect the way you are. PERFECTLY IMPERFECT. Just like me. Just like everyone. Just don't mistake the fact that you ARE perfect with thinking that you need to ACT perfect or need perfection everywhere in your life."
You and the World


Narrator says, "Sometimes the weight feels too great to carry... Yellow emoji character named You has shaky legs and strains to lift a barbell that is labeled 'fears' on the left and 'dreams' on the right. Next to You stands the blue-and-green World emoji with a huge smile on its face. World waves two flags in the air while shouting "Woohoo! Yeah! Keep going! Fighting! You got this!"

Narrator says, "...but you are strong and overcoming challenges is rewarding." Yellow emoji character You holds the barbell overhead, victorious in their struggle and says with a wide smile, "I did it!" World-emoji is jumping for joy, still waving the flags and shouting, "You did it! YASSSSSSSSSS!"

The world needs your voice. Your voice is loud enough. Go create.


© Cole Montgomery 
Gail Buschman is a graphic designer and children's book creator who loves to travel and explore new places.

More about Gail at her website and instagram.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Story of a Book- Virtual Event

by Dorothia Rohner

Every picture book has a unique story of how it was created. 

Whenever a new book is released, are you curious?

Do you wonder . . .

Where did the idea come from? 

Why did it appeal to an agent and editor?

What was the editing process?

How did the choice for the final art technique get determined?


How was the art created?

How did the agent, author-illustrator, art director and editor collaborate?

If so . . . join editor-in-chief, Frances Gilbert - Doubledayagent Allison Remcheck Stimola Literary Studio, and me to discuss the making of my new book:

A Wish For Twins, The Tale of Our Two Miracles - Doubleday 2022 

This virtual event will include a slideshow presentation that highlights

the process–from inspiration, sketches, drafts, final art and manuscript. 

Short process videos using Procreate will also be shown. 

Erica Rand Silverman from Stimola Live will host the conversation:

June 22, 2022


Register in advance to save your spot! 

We’re looking forward to sharing insight into how this book was born. 


Stimola Live

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Your Ideal User

I spent yesterday sprawled across my backyard deck. A picture book dummy on my lap, a glass of lemonade tinkling in the sun at my elbow, and my brother’s golden retriever, Duke across my feet. It was heaven. This morning I woke to an inch of snow smattered across the lawn, each delicate tulip cup, I’ve been waiting to unfurl, overflowing with powder. If the specific is truly universal, you’ll relate this IRL metaphor to your creative journey too.

I left my life in New York tech with the hope of making picture books. It's all I have EVER wanted to do. When I arrived in my new studio with that singular goal - I was shocked to find myself more than a little lost. Where to begin?? I went on a hunch and took the long way, but here's what I would have done immediately if it had occurred to me - I would have discovered my ideal user. 

When you design anything in the tech world, whether it's an app, website, or video game, your team will first sit down and create an ideal user. Waxing poetic on your future deliverable, you dream up your dream client. You decide how old they are, their interests, income bracket, how they spend their time, what they like to wear, who their friends are, the whole gamut. Then you'll google search a picture of them, (something like "Emo Seattle Musician") print it out, slap it up on every visible surface, and pull a NEVER ENDING STORY by giving them a name. You don't need to shout that name into the eye of a hurricane, but in my experience, it does help. That ideal user becomes your holy grail, everything you dooooooo, you do for them - Brian Adams style. 

My ideal user is five years old. All she wants is a puppy and some new crayons. Her life's dream is to color ALL day, EVERY day. She spends more time in the ocean than on dry land. She is nearly always barefoot, except on Sundays when her mother begs her to wear the beautiful, understated silk dresses her grandmother sends from Korea. Instead, she opts for scratchy golden taffeta, multiple petticoats, and elbow-length gloves. If you are going to get dressed up, you may as well feel dressy, she figures. Her parents are struggling dreamers, but she has the richest childhood. On many mornings, as the Sun is waking up, her dad gets her out of bed for a walk on the beach. They collect shells and bits of sea glass. They talk about making their own stained glass window someday. Her favorite food group is Otterpops. She believes in mermaids. She cries when the boys in the park chase the pigeons. What did the pigeons ever do to them!??! She is constantly on the lookout for friends. Even though she has the best companions in her brother and sister, she is yet to know it. She forever wants her mom to read her LITTLE BEAR, especially BIRTHDAY SOUP. She loves books and dogs, and the sea best of all. 

I am, of course, describing baby me. Here she is. Amber. I love her so.

Last year, after six years of struggling through my creative process, I framed four photographs of my ideal user on a hunch. I placed those photos in strategic spots in my studio. 

Before realizing who I was making books for I left myself undecipherable bread crumb notes, often scavenged by birds. I'd walk in circles, looking for my path. Now I am simply following the glittery pebbles that catch the Sun. 

I know what baby Amber wants. I guarantee that if you set out on your ideal user journey, you'll stumble onto the path your child artist wants you on too. 

Since putting those pictures up, I've swapped season tickets to an indie film fest for an annual pass to the aquarium. Sometimes while swimming laps, I'll stop, grab my nose, and try to beat my summersault record. Sitting at a bar with friends, I'll order a dry Shirley Temple with extra cherries. This Easter, I bought a bag of jelly beans, plucked out all the orange and yellow ones, put them in plastic eggs, and stuck them around the house. I threw the disgusting remaining jelly beans out with the trash. Yes, from the outside it would appear that I'm losing it - but from the inside looking out, I am stepping into my own. 

In the Fall of 2021, after six months of diligently following the glitter rocks on my path, Iunlocked a new level of creating in my brain. 

I found that my ideal user knew how drawing all day should feel. I'd forgotten. I discovered that the computer I thought was helping me was actually standing in the way of that delicious "please bring me a yellow crayon!" feeling. I went back to traditional media with a vengeance. Like the play-dough/cereal villages I once built for my plastic Care Bears, I gave myself cart-blanche to truly mix media. That means that I now combine ink and Elmer's glue, use hot pink regularly, and buy new supplies just because they "feel sparkly."

I left ideas I'd been begging to evolve - ideas my adult self had spent years fostering, behind. I now realize they felt hard to make that whole time because they were wrong for my ideal user. Six months later, I am poised to sell three books soon; one is about dogs, another is about the ocean, and the third is about the love of a special pet, kindness, and chosen family. I know my ideal user would LOVE them, and they're my favorite things I've ever made too.

I've left behind a butt-in-chair approach that felt "right" to my corporate-trained muscles, and I am opting instead for a butt poolside, butt in hammock, butt in front of a roaring fire. My ideal user is teaching me so much, but most of it has very little to do with picture books. It is about gratitude. That child version of me was thankful for every fluffy dandelion, soft kiss on her forehead, and dazzling star that twinkled on the water's surface. 

This winter, I realized I needed to honor those sunrise walks I grew up taking with my dad. I added a "thank you walk" to my routine. Since the goal is not exercise (what child-self would brand a fun romp in the woods as "exercise??!"), I stop at the slightest thing that delights my soul. I am constantly gifted with ideas and insights while I put one foot in front of the other. This week I witnessed a lazy, fuzzy bumblebee tumble out of a tulip, played chicken with a wild turkey who refused to step off the sidewalk, and caught snowflakes on my tongue.

When we moved to Utah, we bought a home against a mountain. I wanted it desperately because it was surrounded by Quaking Aspens. As a girl, I'd summered with my grandmother here. We would delight in our mountain drives, giggling at the way the Aspens laughed with their leaves. For years now, on one wintery spring night, I go to bed, safe in the knowledge that there aren't even buds on our Aspens. The following day, they've burst alive with full-grown leaves. I thought this was a 12-hour process. THIS year I caught the tiniest green buds and watched as they became the smallest baby leaves on our branches over four days. I know why I saw them. I was LOOKING for them. My ideal user would have caught them year one. She is my superpower.

I do not know anything about your ideal user. THEY might like kicking things, or using a stick to dig in the earth. Once you find them, like me, you may still have what you expect to be a springy day in the studio suddenly covered by a blanket of freezing snow. On those days. You’ll do something else. On those days, you'll put the supplies away and hit your nearby indoor pool, or pack a picnic for the aviary. You'll buy a middle-grade novel and curl up with a fluffy blanket. You'll look for the signs. You’ll find them too.

Most of my life, I've been sure I could work harder and try more - I'm thrilled to find the opposite is true. I feel confident it will be true for you too. I hope to hear about your ideal users and how much they are enjoying the beautiful books you are making.


Amber Alvarez is the illustrator of Diana Murray's WILD ABOUT DADS, published by Macmillan Kids books, and MY MAGIC WAND, written by Pat Mora, and published by Lee & Low Books.

See more of her work at AmberAlvarez.com and on Instagram @SheSureisSketchy

Monday, March 28, 2022

Looking For Ways To Re-Discover Your Creative Mojo? Kidlit Artists Offer Tips

 by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

It's been a crazy couple of years, hasn't it? Not sure about the rest of you, but I found it a struggle to stay creative earlier during the pandemic. Things are gradually getting better, but I know many out there are still going through difficult times. In case it helps, here are just a few tips from KidLitArtist creators on how you can help re-discover your creative mojo:

Take the breaks you need to feed your soul. Molly Ruttan reminds us all to get outside, to experience the things we love, to be fully present in the moment. "Don’t wait to feel better, don’t wait for an anxiety attack! Get out there with an open heart — good feelings and inspiration will follow."

Get inspired by other media. Deepen your understanding of other cultures (which may in turn inspire your own work). Read Zahra Marwan's post about Understanding Culture Through Film and Literature: A Focus On Russian Animated Films.

Even if you only have a few minutes to spare a day, do something (even a small something) that helps you work on your craft. This could be doing a quick live sketch-doodle of something or someone nearby. It could be taking a closer study of a spread in a picture book (just pick a random page) and trying to figure out how the illustrator created an image. Do a mini-dive into a physical or digital art tool and learn or practice one new thing. If you use Photoshop, for example, see Robin Rosenthal's My Favorite Photoshop Tips And Shortcuts.

Dip your toes in something unfamiliar, suggests Tenaya Lena Gunter Brown. Experiment with drawing in a new style, try a new material or tool. Don't aim to create something for public viewing or for use in your usual work. See Tenaya's post for some suggestions.

Get together, either virtually or in person, with fellow book creators. I recommend smaller groups or one-on-one with someone you trust, to avoid just being a spectator. Talking with others about they are have or are still going through can help you gain perspective on your own situation. Always try to end your get-together with positive sharing or uplift, though. If you leave a conversation feeling more drained and anxious than before, then rethink your approach or the group dynamics.

The most important tip: BE KIND TO YOURSELF. Do what you need to in order to protect your own mental health. In trying to support others, don't spread yourself so thin that you are unable to support yourself or reenergize.

I found that giving myself permission to NOT be creative sometimes gave me the space I needed to gradually find my creative mojo again.

Do you have other tips that have worked for you or for others? Please do share them below!


Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s writing and art has appeared in over 20 books. She is the award-winning author and illustrator of Sam & Eva and Where Are My Books? (Simon & Schuster). Her illustrations appear in books by Judy Blume, Michael Ian Black and Linda Sue Park, among others. Debbie lives in Toronto, Canada. For more info, see DebbieOhi.com and @inkyelbows on Twitter.