The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib

Here is the cover I illustrated for Adam Shaughnessy’s middle grade book, The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib. for Algonquin Books.I created it with water color dyes, photoshop and adobe illustrator.


This assignment was exciting not only because I had a long, quirky title to hand letter, but the story had giants,a mysterious hut in the woods, and gods from Viking mythology. There were so many options to propose for the cover:

We decided that the giant in the woods would hold the title best, and took a scene from the story of the kids running through the woods with the giant trailing behind them…


Short & Shivery 1 & 2



Here are two covers I did for the reissue of Short and Shivery and More Short and Shivery books for Random House Delacourt.

I decided to link the series with a hidden skull on the front cover and tie in a blue palette and a green palette to set the books apart. Here are three initial sketches.


The art director also asked me to try a title treatment so I gave several options and we chose the title that “shivered.”


Secrets of Selkie Bay

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Here is a middle grade cover that I illustrated for Shelley Moore Thomas’s Secrets of Selkie Bay. This assignment was fun because Anne, the creative director at Roaring Brook Press, gave me a lot of freedom to do what I wanted in terms of subject matter, type treatment, and execution. After reading the story that was beautifully told in first person narrative of an Irish girl, both Anne and I thought we needed to show the rocky islands of Ireland and give the book a sense of magic.

Here are the first three sketches:

We combined some elements out of two of the sketches. Anne liked the drama of the splash against the rocks and the details of the town.
After the next sketch was approved, I painted the final using dyes:
Then I scanned the painting and did the rest of the image using my cintiq for photoshop (linework) and illustrator (type treatment):

All The Answers

Here is a cover that is for Bloomsbury for a magical realism middle grade book by Kate Messner called ALL THE ANSWERS. I love it when I get assigned to illustrate a cover in a slightly different style than my more popular covers. Editorial asked only that I include fun, child-drawn doodles around a giant pencil. Since the main character felt so burdened with the responsibility of having a pencil that could give her all the answers, I included a silhouette of her trying to hold the pencil up. It’s a great story about facing uncertainty. Read it!


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

My agent, Steve Malk, asked me to illustrate a holiday card. I threw my name in the hat and thought nothing of it. When Steve gave me Dr. Martin Luther King Day I said sure, but silently panicked. What was I going to say? I soon grew busy with work and forgot about the assignment. The deadline approached in December, days after a certain middle grade author made a distasteful remark to Jacqueline Woodson during the National Book Awards and in the middle of civil rights protests across the country. And I had not done a single sketch for the card!

The problem was, I had grown up in Jackson, Mississippi where Dr. Martin Luther King was held in high regard in our schools. Although it was not yet a school holiday, every year our class would design posters in an effort to not just commemorate Dr. King, but to mend the state’s broken past of Jim Crow laws, and to inspire hope for a better future. By the time I moved North for college, I had seen it all when it came to Dr. King holiday imagery. I had seen a rainbow of hands putting together building blocks to “build a better future,” a quilt with many different colors making up the united states, and images of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s head in the clouds looking down over a hopeful future. I honestly didn’t know how I would represent this holiday and say all I wanted to say without coming across as cliché.

After getting caught in the middle of a protest on my way to a kid lit party in Brooklyn, I decided rather than focus on Dr. King himself, I would draw the faces in the crowd where he gave his “I Have a Dream “speech in Washington DC. I combed through an image search of faces from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s as inspiration. Instead of painting the skin tones in tans, browns and pinks, I decided to go with vibrant colors against a cool January purple. In the distance, the faces would abstract to just colorful circles.


To tie the back of the card in with the front, I continued the abstraction of colorful circles from the front with the crowd around the Washington Monument, but I included floating balloons in the same colors as the faces. I felt that balloons have multiple meanings: they are often released to commemorate a life or bring awareness to a movement. These particular balloons paired with the faces in the crowd would say “celebrate diversity” while still paying homage to Dr. King’s life.


It appears that it is always the same story with human behavior. After you hear the same thing told a million times, you stop listening, forget, and fall back to your old ways. The job of illustrators as well as storytellers is to tell the same story again but in a new way in order to capture the attention of those who have stopped listening. I hope that I did my job with this card.

Lemuria Bookstore Visit

I had a book event at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson yesterday for Mr. Ferris And His Wheel. I told the story “dressed” as Mr. Ferris (although I have been known to dress this way anyway), I gave a short presentation of my process illustrating the book, and I drew characters in clothing from the 1890’s. Children were invited to make Ferris Wheel ornaments after the presentation. Some pictures from the event are below….





Mr. Ferris And His Wheel- Original Art Show

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel has been selected to be in the Original Art show at the Society of Illustrators in October. I will have one piece from the book exhibited there and the picture book will be on display with all of the other picture books thought to be the best illustrated for 2014. It is an honor to be included with all of the talented illustrators in the show.

This is the piece that will be in the show:

The Island Of Dr. Libris

Here is the newest book cover I illustrated for Chris Grabenstein’s The Island Of Dr. Libris. It’s a fun middle grade read about a boy who has to spend his summer at a lake house where there is no television; just a library and an island across the lake. As the boy reads, strange things begin to occur on the island….

Nicole, the designer I worked with at Random House, asked that I make the cover similar to Chris’s previous book, The Library of Mr. Lemoncello. The children and the characters on the island were to be done in silhouette and the lush vegetation on the island was to be created in adobe illustrator. I went through seven rounds of sketches, but all of them are so similar I wouldn’t want to post them and have one confused for the actual cover. Below is the cover that will be released next year.

The Process of Illustrating Mr. Ferris And His Wheel

When I received the call about illustrating Mr. Ferris And His Wheel, Ann Rider ran down a list of illustrations on my website that she liked and wanted me to emulate. The only problem was that every illustration was in a different “medium.” Some were created in adobe illustrator, others in photoshop and scanned brush and ink drawings. I was also trying to move away from digital by incorporating more watercolors into my work. After doing several sample pieces and working closely with the art director, Rachel Newborn, we devised a system in which I would incorporate all three styles into one piece. I didn’t know any other illustrator working this way, but agreed to do it, glad that I had six months to figure it out.

I began the project by purchasing a bunch of books on the 1890s. Since the picture book text was relatively short, Ann suggested that I read longer books about the Ferris Wheel so that I could get a better sense of details to add into the illustrations.

After finishing the sketches at the end of last August, I took a weekend vacation for sun and relaxation. While lying under the umbrella and listening to the seagulls, my phone dinged with a message from Ann. Mr. Ferris and His Wheel was to be released six months earlier than its original date. All artwork needed to be in by mid October! I had a month and a half to complete a book I was not entirely sure how I was going to illustrate!

So began a race to complete the book. As I traced over the line work of Mr. Ferris striving to build his wheel before the Chicago World’s Fair, I was also trying to make a deadline. Fortunately, Rachel was quick to respond to each of my spreads as I finished them with suggestions on how to improve them. If I did not have a second pair of eyes, I really don’t know how I could have done it.

Here is a sketch of the first ride in the Ferris Wheel:
Once the sketch was approved, I traced over the people in the drawing with brush and ink, or a micro pen for details:
In order to include my watercolors, we decided that all distant background could be done in washes, but the buildings and machinery needed to be created in adobe illustrator. My next step was to paint the background in vibrant Dr. Martin dyes:
Next, it was time to trace over the sketch in Adobe Illustrator. This process was fairly time consuming as I tried to pick colors that would correspond to the water colors that I would merge into the piece:
After I finished the buildings in Adobe Illustrator, I scanned the linework and water colors. Then I imported the three techniques into Adobe Photoshop. Needless to say, there were a lot of layers in my document as I tried to merge these three different processes into one cohesive piece:
This was the result of my effort:
Two days before my deadline, I got all of my artwork in. I had nearly 40 pages worth of illustrations completed and a year to wait before its release.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel is available for purchase starting September 2nd.

Cover Sample

Here is a sample cover for Greenwillow books that was not used. It was a cover for a steampunk novel where the protagonist, a girl who dresses in boy’s clothes, is on the run in a city that seems to be looking for her….

I have left the title out in this image, but it was in gold and orange in the dark area at the bottom of the cover.


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