Monday, April 4, 2016

Lilliputians at the Calgary Zoo

The Little Green Thumbs program of the Calgary Zoo recently asked if I'd join them for a professional development afternoon with some Calgary school teachers (mostly division 2, meaning grades 4-6). The hope was I'd provide teachers with some great art ideas to take back to their classrooms.

So, I came up with three suggestions …

1)  thaumatropes (yes, still one of my favourite things!!), where my students would use plant related / botanical imagery for their optical device ;

2) a three-panelled cartoon of stories revolving around the planning, planting, tending and harvesting of the students’ classroom gardens; and

3) Lilliputians in the Garden (this was the clear winner…) where students bring a full-body photo of themselves to class, and, after drawing a garden scenario, insert themselves into the scene. Just like a Lilliputian!

Using pencil crayons and water colours (and of course glue sticks), my grown-up students created a multi-media masterpiece … sort of like this… 

Great fun to spend a day at the zoo-- with both people and animals. I finally got to see the penguins!


Monday, May 5, 2014

My Writing Process

My friend Stella Papadopoulos (you can see her page at www.inspirationsbystella.blogspot.come-tapped me on the shoulder a little while ago and asked if I’d like to participate in “My Writing Process” blog tour. I said, “Stella, you do know I’m an illustrator, right?” and she said, “But, of course, Petal… it’s all good!”

And, of course, she’s right… authors and illustrators are all part of this big wonderful world of children’s picture book and YA chapter books, so here I go…

So, what am I working on at the mo? I’m currently illustrating a 32-page picture book about the Pittsburgh Penguins, the second in The Home Team series, published by Always Books for the National Hockey League. These books are for and about little kids who love their hockey team. The book for the Toronto Maple Leafs is actually on the presses at Freisen's right now, but will be out in the big, wide world at the end of May (2014).

I’m also working on another book for author / actress Jean Freeman. She and I have done a number of books together (including Where Does Your Dog Sleep?, Where  Does Your Cat Nap?). This time, our characters are trees (primarily deciduous ones…) who offer an explanation to young readers about why autumn impacts their foliage the way it does.

My most recent book is a sweet little tale of a girl named Emma who wants to help out her local food bank (see the cover here). Author Sue McLure wrote the copy, I did the pictures, and the Calgary Food Bank published it. 

I’m a traditional illustrator, which means I don’t use anything vectorish (I don’t even know what that means), and I produce all my imagery using pencil, india ink and watercolour.

I work with either an art director, the publisher or the author of the project I'm working on to get a good sense of what their vision is. Then, I dovetail their vision with my own. Lots and lots of drafts later, I come up with the final art... et voila.

Next week,  check out Bill Bunn's blog at

Bill's the author of three books, several essays and articles. He published his first YA novel, Duck Boy, in 2012 ( His second is a collection of grown-up essays and articles titled Hymns of Home, and in 2003, Moon Canoe, a children’s picture book was published. This book was bought and translated into French by Le Canotier, and released as CanoĆ« Lune (2005).

Bill's currently hard at work on his second YA novel, scheduled for release in 2015. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"The Home Team" Hits the Ice

I got my copies yesterday of The Home Team, just off the presses from Friesens' in Altona. This my latest children's picture book and is published by Always Books and commissioned by the Winnipeg Jets. I must say, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out... sure, I'm a bit biased, but there it is.

Working on The Home Team with author Holly Preston was great, and included a road trip to Canada's heartland. We spent a few mid-winter days in Winnipeg (February, to be precise), exploring sites that were to play a role in the story. We walked up and down the frozen rivers (the Red and the Assinboine), poking our heads into many of the weird and whimsical warming huts that dot the icepath.

The Forks, where the two rivers meet, was front and centre in the book where our junior Jets did a lot of their skating...

The MTS Centre on Portage Avenue was also on our list to visit-- since our junior Jets end up going to see the Jets in action, we had to check it out, too. In fact, Holly and I got to see the Colorado Avalanche play against our heroes. 

We also cruised various areas of the city, looking for a neighbourhood that our characters could call home.  My wonderful cousin Stefanie, a long-time Winnipegger (or is it "Winnipegonian"?), drove us around the south end of Winnipeg, outlining the characteristics of each neighbourhood -- Linden Woods, Waverley Heights, North Fort Garry, Assinboine Park (not necessarily in this order). We even came across one house with a skating rink right in the front yard, festooned with Jets' posters and banners, benches, official-looking ice markings, night lights. No sign of a zamboni... maybe it was in the garage.

The neighbourhood I eventually settled on as the backdrop is a mash-up of many of the areas Stefanie drove us through... I knew I wanted somewhere fairly central to downtown Winnipeg, with homes from the 1950s - '60s and lots of trees.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I include this scene below... a full-spread from inside MTS Centre, where one of the Jets flips a puck to our excited fans

Hope you enjoy The Home Team... and let's hope we get a hockey season this year!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wascana's Wild Goose Chase!

I've recently spent some time getting to know the Canada Goose... see what I mean?

Let me back up... Regina's beautiful urban park, known as Wascana Park, is about to turn 50-years old this summer, so in celebration of this landmark, author Jean Freeman decided to write a children's book about the park.

The main characters of the story are Lucy and Alexander, a pair of Canada gooses, er, I mean geese who've made Wascana Park their home. The two of them pass through the seasons of the park, moving to various well-known venues around the lake, often just missing one another. This is where the title Wascana Wild Goose Chase! comes in.

Illustratively, I was able to incorporate not only all the beautiful greenery and landscaping, but some of the interesting architecture of the surrounding buildings, starting with the Saskatchewan legislature. This gorgeous building was completed in 1912 and very nearly didn't make it past its first year. The infamous Regina cyclone just barely spared the new building in the summer of 1912, carving a path right around its periphery. Anyway, I digress...

In addition to the pictures and Jean's rhyming story line, she's also included on each page a series of stamps, in which she provides interesting tidbits about the scene, such as where the name "Wascana" came from, why the city was referred to "pile o' bones," where did the Queen's favourite horse come from, and more goodies of this nature.

I had a lot fun recalling my youth in Wascana Park, especially hanging out at Wascana Pool.... here's just a snippet of the pool illustration that appears in Wascana Wild Goose Chase...

The illustration that took the most time is, happily, also the one that made it to the cover... here it is, complete with Jean's stamps...  talk to you later!

PS... can you find Lucy in the above picture?

Monday, April 23, 2012

A day with the Snow Queen, Gerda and Kai

Another great day with the Calgary Pro Musica Society in the beautiful Rozsa Centre on the University of Calgary's campus!

Once again, I had the great fortune of organizing CPMS' craft room, and once again, my wonderful volunteers and I had hoards of artistic, craft-happy kids and parents come through before and after CPMS's two matinees.

This year, CPMS put on The Snow Queen as part of their children's series, so a craft that reflected the Hans Christian Andersen tale was in order.

I settled on articulated paper puppets as the craft which, for a number of reasons, was a good choice. Firstly, kids only have between 15 minutes and an hour to complete their craft. Secondly, paper puppets aren't terribly messy. Thirdly, kids love puppets.

And finally, the supply list is mercifully short...

  • pencil crayons or crayons (or both)
  • scissors
  • paper fasteners (found some super tiny ones in the scrapbooking aisle at Michael's)
  • popsicle sticks  

I designed three puppets, outlined them in black felt maker, and had copies made at Staples on 100 lb card stock. Don't try to copy them yourself-- you'll go crazy.

I've also designed blank, morph-like looking puppets so that kids can decide for themselves what they want their character to be. I saw a hockey player, a fairy, a gryphon and a caricature of Barack Obama.

But, back to the Snow Queen.

Here's what she looked like before colouring, cutting and attaching her body parts....

and here's what she looked like afterwards. See how she bends at the waist thanks to that little fastener...


Gerda and Kai were slightly smaller than the Snow Queen (she's a more imposing character)...

And here's a sample of Gerda with dark hair done by one of my crafty kids... she looks great either way. Only her artist knows for sure what colour her hair should be. 

Hope to see everyone again at next year's show!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Always Team gets a sequel-- Trouble in Riderville goes for a TD

My most recent book-- and the latest Saskatchewan Roughrider book -- has rolled off the presses just in time for the annual Labour Classic Day CFL game, the much-loved duel between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Sunday, September 4 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina).

In collaboration with author / journalist, Holly Preston, The Always Team: Trouble in Riderville, published by Always Books, hints at more suspense than readers may have found in the first story...
Everything was perfect in Riderville. At least it seemed that way.... until the day it wasn’t perfect at all.

One interesting aside... the first book, simply entitled The Always Team, has won the distinction of being the Riders' all time best-selling book.

I started working on Trouble in Riderville in the spring of 2011, and decided, along with Holly, to add more Regina landmarks to the sequel. As you can see from the cover, and a number of the full spreads, I needed to do some research as the look of the Regina skyline has changed considerably over the past few years.

Lots of reference pictures, especially from the perspective of Mosaic Stadium, were needed. We were both keen to include a scene of the boys walking across the Albert Street, where the reader could see the gorgeous and newly-refurbished pillars. (Some trivia here... did you know that the Albert Street bridge holds the Guiness Book of Worlds Records for the longest bridge over the shortest span of water... ? If you're from Regina, then I bet you did ...)

Here's my pen draft of this scene -- the final colour image that appears in the book is somewhat changed, however. We decided to include some Saskatchewan pirates, anchored in Wascana Lake, for some extra intrigue...

As for the neighbourhood where the boys live, I drew on my own memories of growing up in the 2900 block of Retallack Street in the leafy surrounds of Lakeview, where kids still play in the dappley shade of its tree-lined streets. I chose houses that were built in the 1920s because I love the stucco, the window frames, the interesting doorways, the mature foliage... the gestalt of the neighbourhood, the singularity and uniqueness of each home, where a sense of western Canadian history lingers.

I was reminded while creating the images for Trouble in Riderville of what a lovely city Regina is. If you harbour any doubt about the validity of this statement, then check out the blog called "Regina in Pictures: an online photoblog of one of Canada's most beautiful cities!," by a wonderful photographer named Guy D. There's one shot of a gentleman sitting lakeside at the south end of the Albert Street bridge in autumn-- it's absolutely stunning.

Anyway, it's back to the proverbial (and literal) drawing board for now...



"The ALWAYS Team: Trouble in Riderville" is now available online at

Monday, January 24, 2011

A weekend at the Banff Teacher Institute

I've just returned from a revitalizing weekend at the magnificent Banff Centre for the Arts (the temperature was plus 1!), where I had an opportunity to facilitate a couple of workshops at the 6th annual Learning Through the Arts Banff Teacher Institute. There was lots of cross-pollination as LTTA artists and teachers from across Canada gathered in the mountains to share their arts-based ideas, innovations and experiences for the classroom.

My co-facilitator was Mar'ce Merrell, YA novelist extraordinaire, and together we tackled humanity mapping at the division 2 level. With Mar'ce at the writing helm, and me directing the visual art component, we and our class of teachers explored 19th century immigration to western Canada.

Our lead into the topic was the creation of a thaumatrope (see my December 1, 2009 post for details on this easy but effective optical device). We asked our students to devise an image based on some form of 19th century vehicle -- modes of transport that immigrants would have used to make their way to western Canada. Chinese and European immigrants would have come by sea to reach North America, while Afro-Americans would have come by land.

With some reference material on hand to sift through, students came up with images such... as a steam train on one side of the thaumatrope disk, and steam rising from its stack on the other side; a clipper ship hull on one side and the full set of sails on the other; a wagon train on one, with the seated driver on t'other.

Students drew them in pencil first and after lots of twirling and experimenting with the placement of objects on the second side, outlined their images in fine black Sharpies and coloured them in with pencil crayons.

My second visual arts project with our students was developing a short cartoon strip -- I provided a series of pre-drawn templates with 4 to 12 boxes, gave them a brief run-down on the basic elements to consider when creating a cartoon strip (panels, speech and thought bubbles, narrative devices, etc).

Based on Mar'ce's literary lead-in, in which she guided us through the first chapter of Shaun Tan's "The Arrival," students developed a short immigration story based on their own family history, or on the reference materials provided. Most chose to narrate from personal histories, and the results were wonderful and moving.

I like to use cartoon strips or graphic novels as my art form when I instruct because it covers lots of core scholastic territory -- literacy, fine arts, storytelling -- and I now realize that really any subject matter is a candidate for this art form.

It was one of my students (a French immersion teacher from southern Alberta), who showed me an example of four-panelled cartoon she's used to teach math in Grade 3. I quickly scribbled it up show I could post it here to show you ...

So simple, so effective, so, so, well, so Learning Through the Arts...!!