Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Opposites

The holidays are so much fun! They are so stressful! I love spending money I don't have! My emotions scatter across the board. Truly, I do love the holidays, especially with kids who make it so magical. I finished my shopping today and I am one of those strange people that love to wrap presents. 

I was in my daughter's classroom today where the children shared traditions and recipes. Of course this discussion raised the questions of my own traditions during the holidays and what I'm passing on to my kids. It also makes we wonder what new traditions we should start. There are the regular traditions - making cookies (hundreds and hundreds of them,) watching holiday shows, being glad we don't have snow. 

Okay, I've just bored myself with my own writing. The one thing I haven't been doing in all this madness is write and paint. We'll see if having time to do those things, which is one of my Christmas wishes, actually happens.
My wish is for health and happiness:)

Monday, November 22, 2010

NAEA National Convention

I was selected to be a presenter at the 2011 NAEA (National Art Educators Association) National Convention in March. I am doing a hands on demonstration on Acrylic Dot Painting – A Unique Technique Used to Illustrate Children’s Books. 

This is a really big deal for me since they accepted a little more than half of thousands of applicants. I love speaking in front of people especially when it's a topic I know well. I get to talk about how I paint and how I teach the technique to kids - how cool is that? And, I get to go to Seattle to do this and see my good friend and brother. And, I get to meet my publisher at the convention. I sound like a kid sitting on Santa's lap? And, I want a pony, and a Barbie...

Tee Hee.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In Loving Memory of a Dear Friend

This is my beautiful Kiwi, she has been sick for several months.

Today, I gave her a gift and let her go. She has been a wonderful friend for almost 16 years. I wish I could explain how much she meant to me, but it's hard to put it into words.

Kiwi was always there to warm my feet. She knew when I was sad and she'd hover around me to let me know she was there if I needed love. She greeted me every morning with a chirp, and asked me everyday to slow down for just a little bit, so she could curl up in my lap. She gave me comfort and joy. I hope I gave her half as much as she gave me. I gave a piece of my heart to her and hope she is waiting for me in a greater place when it's my turn. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Lion Within one-liner

Once again, I'm working on my pitch for my YA novel. I have entered a couple of contests, not following the rules lately, needless to say nothing will probably come of any of it. After my last conference critique I'm changing my plot --again. The pitch seems to be easier to write after I mapped out my revisions. It is still rough because heaven forbid I get it right on the eighty-th try.

Worse than being attacked by a super-natural lion and becoming part-feline, 15 year old Renna must attend high school in Wisonconsin, still unable control her inner beast, she must lie and kill to finally tame her lion within.

On a different note, I'm starting to work hard on my illustrations for my next picture book. I received great feedback from my publisher and his designer and I'm excited to move forward with more purpose.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Contests Motivate Me

Contests have a way of motivating me to clean up my one-line pitch, query, and first page of my novel. Here is a contest from the Guide to Literary Agent blog:

The first 150-200 words of your unpublished, book-length work of young adult fiction. You must include a contact e-mail address with your entry and use your real name. Also, submit the title of the work and a logline (one-sentence description of the work) with your entry.

One of my writing partners just signed with an agent due to this kind of contest. Read an interview with a very talented, very deserving, Nancy Herman

Good Luck on the GLA contest!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Inspiring Animals in Acrylic Dots

I am a part of a wonderful exhibit in Danville, California. The exhibit is called "Once Upon a Book," and is featuring the art of children's book illustrators. The coordinator asked if I would explain my inspiration and method, so I thought it would make a nice posting.

I began acrylic dot painting in 1992, after spending time in Australia. I found the Australian Aboriginal Acrylic Dot Paintings in museums and galleries inspirational. I was also inspired by mosaics during my Art History studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Over the past 18 years, my style has matured and become more focused on creating animals out of dots. My book, “Through Endangered Eyes – a poetic journey into the wild,” really got me out of my comfort zone and I found myself painting animals I would have never thought to paint.

I start off painting the background of my pieces. The most important element of my background color is that it must contrast from the lightest and darkest dots placed on top. In my latest paintings, I am painting landscapes around my animals. I intentionally make the landscape soft and usually paint it with a sponge. The dots pop out that much more when sitting on a soft background. I do a soft outline with a wax pencil of my animals. I like to start painting the face first and build out in proportion from there.

Chinese Alligator
 I use the handle or the butt of the paintbrush, not the bristled side. I dip it into the acrylic paint and then onto the canvas. Each dip gives me 3-5 dots. I leave space between my dots and rarely overlap them. My process takes a long time, but it is also very meditative. The Chinese Alligator is one of my favorite pieces. It was the first time I had painted a reptile and I fell in love with the textures the dots created on the beautiful alligator portrait. I can almost feel the folds of his skin around his neck.

The California Condor was inspired by the poem of my book. These birds, with a wingspan of 9 feet, are masterful flyers. I was at the Grand Canyon when I saw one, its shadow passed over my head. The shadow was so enormous it felt as if an airplane had passed over me, it was magnificent.

Lastly, the Snow Leopard, I started with a head portrait for my book, but it didn’t portray what the poem was focused on; its freezing environment and the leopard’s coat. So, I painted the piece you see now. I think big cats are my favorite animals to paint in dots, although my interest in other species is certainly changing how I feel about the challenge of painting other animals.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Desert Eyes Progress

Background to the Mexican Wolf painting for next book
Starting a painting is so intimidating, especially when it involves landscape. In order to achieve the quality of illustration I want, adding soft landscape is a must. I've learned over the years that the dotted animals pop out even more when siting on a more impressionistic background.
Just like any skill, I have to reacquaint myself with my paints and how I look at things. I laugh at myself because I started the sky backwards with the dark point at the horizon getting lighter as you go higher in the sky. Can I say, rookie? I fixed it, of course.

It's great to be back in the painting saddle again. I'm very excited about the next 16 paintings. Now the challenge will be balancing my time. Once I get started on something I get obsessive until its completion. I will remind myself that I created my last book while working full-time and having two babies.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Build the Bridge First

One Plank at a Time
I bought canvas board to finally start
my first painting for my next endangered species book, "Through Desert Eyes." I have been looking for a nudge, a push, a kick in the butt, to get started and now that I am, I'm so excited! I'm still trying to decide which one I should do first. There are 16 to work on and they are all visually exciting (reading that last statement back sounds so pornographic.)

As I sit here staring at the screen, wondering what else to write, Greg Mortonson's journey to build schools in Pakistan popped into my head. Greg promised to build a school in the Pakistan village that helped him survive only to find that he must first build a bridge. I wonder if this is how it might happen for me and my journey to make a living doing what I love. Perhaps, to become a successful writer/illustrator I must figure out how to build the bridge first. The number one key to this process is not trying to rush it.

So, I am walking dogs, doing graphic design for a vacuum company, teaching kids art, and selling as many of my books as possible, to lay the planks of my bridge. I can see the other side, but I have a lot of planks to put down to actually get there. Once I get there-- man what a story that will be!

Friday, September 10, 2010


I have a tendency to pile things on my plate. I am not sure why I have the urge to be busy. Perhaps it is so I can complain about how busy I am. Maybe I am more efficient when I'm busy because I don't have time to lolly-gag (gosh I love that word.)

All the things I have added to my life to keep me busy ultimately benefit a lot of people, including myself. Volunteering for my kid's classes. Teaching a kid's art club. Writing. Painting. Helping the local zoo. Graphic Design.

No matter how I cut it, I still go to bed too late; I long to read more; and I wish my toes were a priority to paint because all the other important stuff was achieved.

The one beautiful thing I can say about my life right now, that I honestly couldn't have said two years ago, I get to have my biggest chunks of time with my kids and I love it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Circus Ringmaster - a 10 minute exercise

My writing exercise today is to write something using the following information: a ringmaster from the circus is knocking on my front door, I am a small town cop looking through my peephole. I must start the exercise with the cop saying "If you know what's good for you..."

"If you know what's good for you," I said immediately throwing my door open, "You'll go back to your circus, pack it up and head out of town."

"My dear lady, let me introduce myself," he said with a grand bow. "My name is Arnold Puffenfleffer. I am the ringmaster of the Puffenfleffer Jabberwalky Circus. I have free tickets for you and your family to attend my show this weekend."

There was nothing I hated more than a circus -- a place with creepy clowns and abused animals. It reminded me of when I worked at a New York City precinct.

"Mr. Puffenfleffer, this town doesn't want your circus. I'm sure me and my boys can find plenty of laws you're company is breaking, and we might just be bored enough to look. So, my advice to you is to move it along."

Mr. Puffenfleffer's eyes became wide. He shuffled backwards and... 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Contest at Market my Words

Agent, Mary Kole from ABLit is reading through 140 character pitch submissions on Market my Words. Here is what I submitted for the contest on my YA novel WIP.

Renna’s mauled by a lion in Africa. His venom gives her body cat-abilities. Renna must lie, kill and die in order to find value in her life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Warpagram - Ten Minute Exercise

I bought a book last week called "Take Ten for Writers," by Bonnie Neubauer. It is well designed, meaning it's pretty to look at, and super duper fun! So I thought I'd do at least one 10 min. writing exercise per week.

This week's challenge, that I randomly chose, was to write a 10 word message describing my mission on a planet called Warpagram incorporating the two words "slightly radioactive." I had 10 min. and here's what I came up with...

My slightly radioactive lips brought the Warpagram boy to life.

Note about my experience: Last time I did this, I took what first came to my mind. With this one, I put a lot more thought into it and challenged my brain. I wanted to capture an interesting event that would make a person ask, "and then what?"

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I have to take a break and share with anyone out there that is listening, how much I'm enjoying It is a FREE conference, yes I did say the F word, and the speakers are wonderful. It is running from August 10-12. I can't wait to tune in tomorrow.

I have read so many great speakers today, I had to stop and link to at least one of my favorites. I am linking this more so that I can refer back to it one day than anything. The blog article is by Jodi Meadows about writing query letters.

Why do we need sleep again? Ugh it gets in the way.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ten minute writing exercise

I am sure most writers who have been writing for a while and have been to countless classes and workshops have done a thousand writing exercises. I have not.

So I went online to find some and stumbled upon several at So, I thought I'd give one a try.

I am putting my timer on for 10 minutes. And the only requirements are: it needs to be ten lines, using and modifying a phrase, I chose 'a needle in a haystack,' and using these five words...cliff, blackberry, needle, cloud, voice, mother, whir, lick. Here I go...

A Needle in a Haystack
I was going to check my blackberry to locate the needle,
but my phone had fallen off a cliff
I called in the loudest voice I could to my mother,
but her head was in a cloud.
I'm sure my voice was nothing but a whir to her,
and she couldn't care a lick about
finding my cell among thousands of rocks.

Get it? The phone has become the needle in the haystack-- I mean rocks. I know sophomoric, but a fun exercise.

Now, I'm off to paint my daughter some artwork for her bedroom walls.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Inspired by my Past

I'm writing a kissing scene in my young adult novel, and being as old as I am, needed some reminders of how it felt to be a teen kissing. And what a better resource than myself. Confused yet?

I have been a prolific journaler since I was twelve and I've saved them all. Interestingly, I didn't write much about my family life, but I did write about the boys I had crushes on.

I spent over an hour reading some of my high school journals last night and learned a lot about myself back then. I was horribly insecure. The only way I felt good about myself was through a boy. Maybe this is why I can't stand Bella's character in Twilight-- it rings home. I did read some good kissing stuff though to help me with my character.

A surprise for me as I read, was how much poetry I wrote. I knew that was a part of how I expressed my emotions, but forgot how many I wrote and how intense they were. I thought I would post one of the poems I wrote when I was 17. Me and my best friend in the world stopped being friends.

Lost Treasure

I wish to write something of gold.
A treasure found warm and bright.
A treasure, something like a friendship.
You see gold in the sky, in the sun, in the stars.
It is of the rarest kind, so when you lose it,
it will be forever difficult to find.
It is valuable, so nothing will ever be good enough
to replace it.
You are gold Lisa, of the rarest beauty,
and quality there is.
You are valuable to the heart,
a lost treasure.

Impressive for a kid, I must say.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I just returned from my first writer's workshop. It was held by SCBWI, a great organization, on the beautiful campus of Dominican University, San Rafael, CA.

The four faculty members were, Jill Corcoran from the Herman Agency; Andrea Welch, editor for Beach Lane Books; Kathleen Duey, author of Skin Hunger; and a wonderful woman, Martha Alderson, author of Blockbuster Plots. After we were barraged with information to help us improve our craft, the faculty hung out at night and simply talked with those of us that stayed for the weekend.

No matter where we were on the totem pole: writer wishing to be author, author wanting to publish next book, agent wanting to find talent and help their clients reach the esteemed editor, or editor wanting to find a fresh voice, we all had one thing in common - to add something to a child's life by providing them with good literature.

I noticed things around me I sometimes miss because I'm distracted. Thus the photo I have included above was one of those giggly moments when we walked by this tree at night and it looked like a bunny had hid easter eggs on it's limbs.

I also heard the most wonderful children's book, written by my friend Pat, that was so good we had to hear it twice in a row and then we talked about it the morning after. I can't wait for the published piece. I also hope my friend Pat, will write a book that made us laugh about her Border collie with Attendion Deficit - squirrel? - Disorder.

It was hard to be ripped apart by critique, but I believe I'll be a better writer for it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tracking Chapter Details

I have been working diligently on the re-write of my YA novel and have found that I need to go back and organize my details. I have heard some writers keep bios of their characters, dates and events. Up until now I didn't feel the needed to do that thoroughly -- alas my details are increasing.

I am reading Martha Alderson's, Blockbuster Plots for the upcoming conference I'm attending where she is a facilitator. She has a wonderful chart on organizing scenes, summaries and plots. It is perfect timing to use this tool, although like any tool, I will modify it a little to fit my needs.

I am going to start off by tracking things by chapter: timeline, characters involved in the chapter, goal, conflict, emotional change of characters, and what I want the reader to take from it. The biggest thing for me is to track time and details about my characters. If they mention where they are from, what painting my protagonist is working on, cell phone ring for a character, these are the details I'll need to refer back to to keep things consistent.

I am raising the character's stakes and building tension on every page. The re-write is also making my character's voices more clear and focused.

The best indicator on the success of my re-write is that my 14 year old niece, that is being a test reader, can't wait for me to give her my next chapter.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Connecting to That One Child

Last week I had the opportunity to visit a 4th grade class to talk about my poetry, artwork, endangered species and getting published. I noticed, as I surveyed the room while I was doing my presentation, one child that I just couldn't connect with. He stared in the opposite direction of me.

Usually there is at least one child like this when I visit a class. I really like the challenge of grabbing their attention, and try different things in my presentation to draw that child in.

My paintings wouldn't turn his head. My animal questions didn't turn his head. Reading poems in my book didn't turn his head. I didn't realize that while I was doing all these things, I was trying to reach that child, until after.

Finally, when I started using volunteers to show the size of a Mekong Giant Catfish, the wingspan of a Comoro Black Flying Fox and California Condor, and how far a Snow Leopard can leap, the boy connected. He got excited. I started asking how many feet were in XX number of inches and this little boy answered. He couldn't wait to volunteer. I had him hooked.

It was a neat feeling for me.

Oh, and he had been listening, I knew this by the wonderful questions he asked at the end of my presentation.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Teaser Tuesday - Accidently

Renna (14 yrs old) is home from the hospital after survivng the lion attack that gives her lion-like abilities. She is starting to discover her new abilities.

“Dad, should I be worried about anything?” She could see every wrinkle in his face increase.

Leaving the lights off, he sighed and sat back down in the chair next to her, He reached out and took her hand. “I think everything’s going to be fine. Your eyesight isn’t affected, so I think our analysis is accurate.”

He squeezed her hand. “Now, go to sleep, and continue to heal.”

“Night, Dad. I love you,” she said returning his gentle squeeze.

Her dad yelped, tearing his hand away.

“Daddy, what’s wrong?” Renna sat up, and turned on the light. She stared in horror at her dad’s hand which looked contorted. “Did I do that?”

“Yes,” he said through clenched teeth. He braced himself against the wall, holding his wrist upright, trying to breathe deeply.

“It was an accident. You didn’t mean to hurt me.” He tried to reassure her as he examined his hand and tried to move a finger. Renna saw fear in her father’s eyes as his face twisted in pain. He’s scared of me, she thought.

“It looks broken. You should go to the hospital,” she said.

He nodded.

“How is this possible? I don’t understand. How could I do that to you? Daddy, what’s happening to me?” Renna began to shake.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. Your strength doesn’t make sense.” He hesitated for a moment. “Don’t worry, I’ll be home as soon as possible and we’ll figure this out.” He quickly left the room.

Moments later the engine of the truck roared and wheels skidded in gravel.

“I’m so sorry,” she repeated between sobs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teaser Tuesday - Renna's eyes

14 year old Renna, is in a small rural hospital in Africa after the lion attack. She is talking with her best friend, Sean, who was with her when she was attacked. Sean is 16 years old. Both Renna and Sean's fathers are doctors without borders.

This is the first time Sean and Renna have seen each other after the accident. Sean is crying.

“I’m a bloody mess,” Sean said laughing at himself, and then abruptly stopped. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”

Renna's heart fluttered remembering the bright light of her dad’s flashlight. She looked around the room to see if her sight had changed at all, everything looked crystal clear. In fact, she couldn’t believe the details she could see of objects hidden in the dark.

Sean leaned closer, “Your eyes were brown, right?”

“Yes.” Renna looked puzzled. “Did you say-- were?”

“Your irises are like an icy lime color. I’ve never seen anything like them.” Sean said.

“Can you find a mirror or something? I want to look.”

Sean walked quietly out of the room. He returned a couple minutes later with a small cracked hand mirror.

Renna lifted the mirror and gasped. Her eyes sparkled a funky green color you’d find in a crayon box. Her dark long wavy hair, olive skin, and thick black eyelashes made the contrast in color that much greater.

She put down the mirror and looked at Sean. “They’re the same color as that lion’s.”

“You’re right, I should have remembered that. Can you see okay?” Sean said.

Renna nodded, distracted by concern. “There was something very wrong with that lion, like he had rabies or something.”

“Sean,” his father whispered from the hall. “We need to go, son. Say, goodnight.”

Sean rolled his eyes and squeezed her hand. “I’ll come back in the morning, if my mum will let me. Don’t worry about your eyes. If nothing is blurry I’m sure it’s not a problem.”

“I hope so. I just want to go home,” Renna said, and yawned. “I’m so glad you’re okay. I’ll see you tomorrow. By the way, I think the cub is safe.”

“I had forgotten about the cub. How do you know it’s safe? Never mind, we’ll talk about it tomorrow,” Sean said.

Sean turned in the doorway, “Ren, I don’t blame you for anything. I’d follow you anywhere.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Renna has just survived a lion attack...

Renna heard voices. Her eyelids felt too heavy to open as she lay next to something soft and warm. Her leg ached and pain shot throughout her body, making her twitch involuntarily.

“I found my baby. She was barely alive under a bush,” said a voice. “The humans are close. We should leave quickly. Is the girl going to survive?”

“Yes. I think she will be okay. I’ve cleaned the wound,” said a deep melodic voice. “I am glad your cub continues, thanks to this girl. Did our pride chase the male away?”

“It took ours and the neighboring one to do so. We ran him far past our outlying territories. He is a freak of nature,” said the first voice. “Do you think his bite will shift her?”

“She is making the change. She’s healing very fast, a sign described to me a long time ago,” said the deep voice. “I’m just glad we were able to steal her away from the dark male. He deserves death for destroying our young. We will need to recruit other prides to eliminate him for good or he will continue his mindless killing.”

“We need to go. The humans are anxious,” said the first voice.

“Move the pride out. I’ll wait another moment before following,” the deep voice agreed.

Voices became urgent all around Renna, and then faded away. Warm breath kissed her cheek. Renna saw a faint glow of golden browns and whites above her, making her wonder if an angel was taking her to another place.

“You are a part of us now,” the deep voice crooned in her ear. “Thank you for risking your life to save one of ours. Take care little one, and be strong.”

The warmth disappeared, there was a brief silence, and then a wave of new voices rushed in.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pin-up Advice from a Writer

I have been reading more and more what other writers have to say about writing. Wow, look at that sentence with no commas;) I found this quote on Nathan Bransford's site.

“Take risks. Think deeply. Care about what you write. Have the ego and non-gendered balls to think that your work is important. Write what moves you, what entertains you and sometimes, what pains you. Dig into the places in yourself that hurt the most and see what you find. Sometimes that’s where your book is hiding.”
Lisa Brackmann on the Writing Process and ROCK PAPER TIGER

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Teaser Tuesday Tee Hee

"The Lion Inside"
Young Adult Contemporary/Fantasy

Continuation from last week... Teenagers Renna and Sean, find a lion cub and decide to return it to the pride. They are living in Africa. I took into consideration the comments some people made last week about how dangerous this quest was, and shifted some of the dialouge to get the reader to agree more with Renna's decision to help the cub.

A series of loud crunches stopped them in their tracks.

Sean put his arm protectively across Renna’s slight frame. The grass shifted in one section and then another.

A moment later, a small antelope leaped out from behind the brush. Renna and Sean jumped back to avoid getting hit by the leggy animal.

“Wow, that got my heart pumping,” Renna said. She looked at him sheepishly and then frowned. “Wait…don’t antelope move in herds?”

As if on cue, fifty antelope dove through the foliage.

Sean got pushed sideways and Renna was knocked face down in the dirt by the shoulder of a large buck. She used her body as a shield to protect the cub. She tried to get to her feet, but was knocked down again. Sean stood over her yelling and waving his arms frantically. The antelope moved like water around a rock, avoiding the tall boy.

“Are you okay?” Sean shouted over the drumming beat of hooves. He reached down and helped her off the ground. She nodded and stood behind him watching the backend of the last antelope disappear into a cloud of dust.

“Wow, that was something,” Renna coughed checking to make sure the cub was unharmed. “I wonder what set them off.” She began to pat the dirt from her pants, when she heard a low growl.

Sean was silent.

Renna peered around him and spotted an enormous male lion with an antelope hanging from his mouth. The beast stared at them with unnatural lime-green eyes, and then dropped his prey. His lips curled up, exposing his canines. Sean slowly walked backwards pushing Renna away from the predator.

“There’s nowhere to hide,” she said under her breath.

The lion hissed. His huge body quivered, vibrating his jet black mane. The top of his shoulder had to be at least five feet tall, much larger than the average male lion. The green of his eyes made him look possessed by something other than a successful hunt.

“Maybe if we get far enough away from him we can run to the village,” Sean said in a whisper.

The lion took a step towards them and roared. They covered their ears to block the deafening sound. Sean tripped on a rock, and fell bringing Renna with him. The lion shifted to a hunting position with his shoulders down and his haunches raised.

Sean frantically grabbed a large rock and threw it at the lion.

“Run, Renna! Get outta here!”

Renna turned and sprinted towards the village, screaming. She glanced back at Sean. He had gotten up and was throwing another rock at the beast. The lion swiped at him, knocking him to the ground.

“No!” Renna shrieked and halted.

The crazed lion shifted his attention and began to run in her direction.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Golden Hills Elementary

I have mentioned in the past how much I love the fact that being a published author/illustrator opens up doors for me to work with kids in classrooms. Kids are wonderful teachers and almost every time I go into a class they teach me something.

I went to Golden Hills Elementary in El Dorado Hills this week and had one of those surprising moments I love so much. 

I brought in a drawing I did of the Steelhead Trout for the kids to color with dots (per request of their teacher.) The steelhead trout in California are in trouble and these kids had the opportunity to raise them in the classroom to release them into the wild. Their teacher is a passionate and driven woman and those kids are lucky to have a teacher so inspired helping nature.

But, that wasn't my surprise.

It was what the kids did with those drawings that inspired me. They used markers to stipple their dots. The colors and the detail were beautiful. And there was no mess to clean up afterwards. It offers me a solution for kids that are in classrooms that can't have paint. The hardest thing for the kids to do is to give distance between or white space around their dots. But, once I ask them to be open to the technique they take off!

If you want to try dot painting (using acrylics and dipping the handle of the paint brush to make the dots,) or try it with markers, download a couple of my templates from my book at It is really fun! 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Friday was Endangered Species Day

Although I didn't post, I did celebrate Endangered Species Day on May 21st. I went into a kindergarten class and read my book.

Twenty-nine pairs of eyes stared at me for 45 minutes, thinking only of endangered species. Okay, so maybe the kindergartners didn't actually think about what I was talking about for that long, but I did, so that kind of counts.

What the kids will remember from my talk was how huge a Mekong giant cat fish is and how far a snow leopard can leap. Those two items, I am pretty sure, will stick with them for a while.

My heart goes out every day to the species suffering from over-hunting, loss of habitat, non-indigenous species competition, disease, and the inability to find a safe place for their young.

As I share with children repeatedly, every creature has a purpose and a job to do on this earth. When a species isn't around to do their job, a hole is created and everything around that hole eventually falls in. Not an easy message to pass on, but a necessary one. Children have inherited a rather messy planet.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Teaser Tuesday - a little late

I am going to give the Teaser Tuesday a try. This is from my contemporary/fantasy Young Adult novel - "The Lion Inside."

Renna Healy got on her hands and knees to reach the animal huddled under a bush. “Oh my gosh, it’s a lion cub,” she said picking it up and cradling it. “It doesn’t look very good. We need to find its mother.”

“You want us to search for a pride of lions?” asked Sean Taylor, Renna’s best friend.

“Yep. I bet they’re close. The cub’s too small to have wandered far. If we can’t find the lions, I promise we’ll go to the village and ask for help,” Renna said scanning the treeless savannah. Their Kenyan village looked hazy in the distance.

“That makes me feel so much better,” Sean rolled his eyes.

The dehydrated cub gazed at her and meowed. Renna held it closer to her body. “You’ll be okay,” she murmured to the baby.

“Fine, we’ll look, but if I’m eaten by a lion it’s entirely your fault,” Sean said pointing his finger at her, his English accent thickening with anger.

Renna smiled, shading her eyes as she squinted at his handsome face. She was two months away from fifteen, old enough to be crazy about a boy, but smart enough to hide it. Sean was a year older and she thought he was the greatest person she’d ever met. She didn’t want to ruin things by liking him. Plus, Renna had no idea how long it would be until she and her dad moved again, so she tried not to get too attached – although that wasn’t working very well.

“I can’t believe that after a year you’re still putting up with my crazy adventures,” Renna said. “You know, of all the countries I’ve lived in, Kenya is the most exciting.” She kept talking, trying to keep Sean’s mind off the fact that they were looking for, not running from, a pride of lions. “There are so many amazing things here. I’ve got a million images to paint. I think my dad even likes it. He was just saying--”

“Shhh. Did you hear that?” Sean turned towards an area of high golden grass and thorny bushes.

“Maybe the cub’s mother found us,” Renna said.

“This isn’t cool. We should be back at my Mum’s house starting history, not traipsing about the bush looking for something dangerous.” Sean said. Sweat dripped down his forehead as the noon sun beat down on them.

“Do you want to go back and tell her I’ll be late for our next subject? I don’t want you to get in trouble again because of me,” she said.

Sean’s mom, Georgia Taylor, was their home-school teacher. Renna had felt the wraith of Mrs. Taylor before and wanted to keep it from happening again. Every time Renna suggested they go exploring over their lunch hour, Mrs. Taylor would remind Renna that her boy was built for the city, not the country side. Renna on the other hand could make it work anywhere she lived.

“I’m not going to leave you alone, stupid,” he tugged her long, brown pony tail. “What am I going to do with you?” He peeked at the lion cub snuggled against her chest, and sighed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eric Hoffer Award!!

News Release:
Windward Publishing Title Named Honorable Mention
for The Eric Hoffer Award

May 11, 2010

For immediate release

Lakeville, MN – Through Endangered Eyes, A Poetic Journey into the Wild by Rachel Allen Dillon, was recently named a 2010 Honorable Mention in the Children’s Book category for The Eric Hoffer Award.

The Eric Hoffer Award proclaims “this book will inform you about several threatened or endangered species through the use of playful poetry. Each poem is paired with an abstract illustration of the individual animal created from an assortment of colorful dots, which make the creatures come alive on the page. After becoming connected to each living thing through illustration and poetry, you are invited to read more factual information about each animal. There are activities for home and classroom, a list of ways individuals can help endangered animals and a compendium of conservation organizations including their descriptions.”

Author and Illustrator Rachel Dillon was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She earned her bachelor’s degree in art and graphic design from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and currently lives and works as an artist in Folsom, California, near Sacramento. Beyond design and fine art, Rachel holds a special interest in ecology, evolution, and extinction. Her passion for animals and endangered species has led her to write about them in hopes that educating others will lead to more conscientious treatment of these animals and their habitats. To learn more, visit

Through Endangered Eyes is published by Windward Publishing, an imprint of Finney Company, and can be ordered by calling Finney Company at (800) 846-7027 or visiting It is also available at national and local bookstores.

This title is one of only five award winners in the Children’s category of The Eric Hoffer Award. The award, known as the Writers’ Notes Award prior to 2007, was established at the start of the 21st century as a means of opening doors to writing of significant merit. It honors the memory of the American philosopher Eric Hoffer by highlighting salient writing in short prose and independent books. The winning stories and essays are awarded prizes and published annually in the anthology, Best New Writing, along with the results of the book awards.

Finney Company was established in 1947 currently has more than 400 proprietary publications and distributes more than 6,000 quality products, enhancing the company’s mission to help improve the quality of lifelong learning worldwide. For additional information about Finney Company, visit or call (952) 469-6699.

Monday, May 3, 2010

April 24th SCBWI Conference

SCBWI held a writer's conference in Rocklin, a couple of weeks ago. Me and the young adult critique group I belong to went.

It was a lot of fun. Last year, I went to a SCBWI conference in Oakland and knew a couple of people. This one I was shocked to know or recognize about twenty people. A lot of wonderful things have happened with writing this past year for me.

I got a chance to practice pitching my ya novel idea to a couple of editors. Whew that was tough. The most challenging part was summarizing my 230 page book into 1.5 minutes. It was a great exercise.

The most inspiring session was held by Jeanne DuPrau, author of "The City of Ember." She spoke about revisions and her process of writing. I have re-written my novel several times because of the input I've received from paid critiques and local critique groups. My story is more interesting, tense and focused because of the people that have helped me. What DuPrau really hit me with was the fact that I have to really polish my novel before I submit it to anyone. I have to LOVE it before sharing it - I'm not quite there yet.

Since that conference, I have completely changed the first few pages of my novel, including a new working title, "The Lion Within." I am changing the age of my protagonist too. She will be 14-16 years old in the novel, not 12-16 years old. This shakes up some things with relationships in the beginning, they will become more "edgy" to use an industry catch phrase.

I am going to take a writer's workshop in the summer to hone my craft more. In the meantime, I am almost done with my sketches for my next endangered species book. I will be sending those off for my publisher to review in the next couple of weeks. Oh, and I still completely suck using commas. I am actually looking into buying a book called, "Grammer for Dummies." I know, pretty low, huh?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Earth Day at Twin Lakes Elementary

I had the privilege of working with Twin Lakes Elementary fourth graders on Earth Day. I spoke to the classes about the importance of learning about endangered species and the sadness of losing them. Then we painted.

Twin Lakes Elementary is so lucky, because they have an art teacher on staff that works with the kids. So many of the schools around us don't have any art program. I wonder how that will affect children in the years to come. I remember when I was in elementary school we had a huge art room filled with supplies and even a kiln. I am sure part of why I love art is because I was exposed to it in school.

There are some traveling programs at a few schools that offer art to classrooms once per month. Doesn't feel like enough though. I am glad to get into classrooms to offer a different way of looking at painting.

I have been working for the past two weeks on the sketches for my next endangered species book, "Through Desert Eyes." They are more intricate and the compositions more complex than my painting ideas in the past.
I am excited to finish up the sketches and send them off for review!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Painting with the Daisy Girlscouts

I have been having a lot of fun traveling to classrooms and other venues talking about my book and art. Each visit and group have just as much to teach me about my process as I have to teach them.

I created outlines in Adobe Illustrator of four different illustrations from my book, the vaquita, tiger, panda and corroborree frog. YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THESE IF YOU WANT TO TRY DOTTING!
It seems I can categorize the kids I work with in three groups. One group is so excited and patient that their focus is unbreakable; a second group of students do a few dots and can't stand it, so they end up spreading the paint and forgetting the dots; the third group have some patience but do a sprinkling of dots anxious to work on their next project. I love when the kids surprise me with their creations.

I am more prepared for all levels of patience, and I am finding ways to hold their interest. One cool thing is how some of the parents that walk around and help out steal a bit of time to paint in dots - a most seem to love it. I love the comments, "it is so relaxing," "almost meditative." I completely agree!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Four Leaf Clover

My daughter found a four leaf clover yesterday, and I got the email I have been waiting for from my publisher. Windward Publishing is taking on "Through Desert Eyes."
I ran out into my cul-du-sac to hug my kids and tell them my news. I'm not sure they get the significance, but they humored me with hugs.
So, my next step is to finish up my sketches and send them along to Windward. Once we make sure the text and images work together, then I'll jump into the paintings.
I think what is different between this next book and my first is that I'm really letting the power of the words inspire my art. My first book was a combination: sometimes it was the painting that inspired the words; sometimes it was the words and the art followed.
My technique and process changed a lot through the course of my first book. My dots got smaller, I included more detail, and I got better at really seeing the animal I was painting. I am so excited to see how my artwork changes for this next process.
I am so excited to work with Windward Publishing again! It is a glorious time to have a focused project.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Leupp School in N. Arizona

I had the opportunity this past Monday to spend the day at the Leupp School, right outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. Tammy Kelly, a fabulous teacher offered me this opportunity and I am so appreciative.

The Leupp School is a boarding school on one of the Navajo Reservations. There are 60 resident kids at the school during the week and return home for the weekends. The school is K-12 and totals around 220 students.

I spent the morning doing almost four hours of reading and book activities. My first class was 7th grade, followed by: 1 st, 4th and then 2nd graders. I have become better at assessing a classes interest level. I change my instruction and detail based on age and time.

Each grade had their own series of questions and comments that always make me smile.

The 7th grade class was very interesting. They took a while to warm up to me, but by the end, and after a few laughs, they came up with a ton of questions.

The 1st grade class had the winning question though. I usually remind K and 1st graders what constitutes a question, otherwise I get lots of stories about their bunnies, when their dog died, or where they last went on vacation. So, I got a lot of 'how' questions from this crew. One little boy raised his hand and when I called on him he froze. He said, "How, how, how (pause) are you doing?" It was the cutest question and left me and Tammy with huge smiles.

In the afternoon, I had the opportunity to work with the kids on dot-art projects. Wow, there is a lot of talent in that school.

Take a look
at some of these photos. The one with the spider is the little guy that asked me how I was.
I returned the question to him and he giggled! Spending time with kids really makes me feel blessed that I am published. I wouldn't have had this opportunity if it hadn't been for Through Endangered Eyes. I hope that the kids will remember me and that I'll be able to visit again next year.

Thank you Tammy!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

First 500 words of Peridot Cage

I thought it might be fun to post the first 500 words of my Young Adult Contemporary/Fantasy novel that I'm am re-writing. I am having it critiqued this April for a conference, so I thought it might be fun to post this now and then post it again after I get it critiqued.

Peridot Cage
by Rachel Allen Dillon

"Do you think the birds will mind if I take one of their feathers?” Renna asked her best friend, Sean. She didn’t wait for his answer and sprinted towards the flock. She stopped in the middle of hundreds of small birds as they raced into the air to avoid her touch. Renna closed her eyes to listen to the gentle flapping; rejoicing in the birds’ freedom.

She bent down and picked up a single feather and brushed it against her cheek.

“You’re weird, you know that mate?” Sean said with a thick English accent. He laughed as she joined him under a huge African acacia tree.

“It took you two years to realize I’m weird?” Renna shoved him. “You know, of all the countries I’ve lived in, I love Kenya the most.” She said. “There are so many amazing things here. I’ve got a million images to paint. I think my dad even likes it. He was just saying--”

“Shhh. Did you hear that?” Sean turned towards an area of high golden grass and thorny bushes.

“Hear what?” Renna paused and rolled her eyes. “Don’t get all paranoid on me again. Remember the time you thought a giraffe was tracking us? Ha-- that was a good one.”

“It was a huge snap. You really didn’t hear anything?” He dragged his fingers through his light brown hair and looked at her with concern. “What if it’s a lion or something?”

“You’ve been reading way too many scary books about Africa. Are you really fourteen or two?” She reached out and pinched him. He pulled his arm back and glared at her.

Recognizing he was really afraid, Renna consoled him, “The night watchman said they haven’t seen lions near the village for a long time.”

“Yeah? Okay. We should head back anyway, you know how pissed off my mum gets when we take too long of a break.” Sean glanced back towards the wall of grass as they headed to his house in the village.

“You’d think your mom was running a real school or something. Gheesh, it’s just you and me, and it’s not like we’ve been late that often.” She kicked the dirt. “She can be so strict.”

“Try living with her,” Sean said. He smiled.

Renna shaded her eyes and squinted at Sean’s handsome face. He had to be at least a foot taller than she was. Sweat dripped down his forehead as the noon sun beat down on them. Renna was almost thirteen, old enough to like a boy, but smart enough to hide it. He was her first best friend and she didn’t want to ruin things by liking him. She had no idea how long it would be until she and her dad moved again, so she tried not to get too attached.

A loud crunch stopped them in their tracks.

Sean put his arm protectively across Renna. They were silent as they listened and watched the grass rustle. A moment later, a small antelope leaped out from behind the brush. Renna and Sean jumped back. The animal quickly changed directions to avoid hitting them.

Sean exhaled loudly.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Third Graders!

I read to about 130 third graders last week at Sandra de Gallardo Elementary in Folsom, CA (truly the greatest perk of being published). They were absolutely precious! I have to say, third grade is my favorite to share my book with. They have great questions, and really comprehend the poetry.

I thought it was hilarious that when I asked for 10 volunteers to stand next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, to demonstrate the length of a Mekong giant catfish, and they wouldn't touch each other. It was especially obvious between the boys and the girls. Now, kindergarten and first graders practically jump to be shoved up against their fellow classmates, too funny how just a couple of grades later their hormones are already kicking in. Ewww boys, ewww girls.

Some of the questions I received were wonderful: What came first, the art or the poems?; Which animal is most endangered in your book?; Which is the least endangered in your book? How long did it take to write the book?

My favorite question (stumper, surprise) of all... If you see yourself as any animal in your book, what would it be? Hmmmm. At first I said the tiger, and then I really thought about it. I concluded I was most like the snow leopard.

Monday, February 22, 2010

As it Should Be

I am listening to Eckhart Tolle's, A New Earth right now. I admit that reading books like that put me to sleep, but listening, ahhh now that's the way I learn. Anyway, Tolle is fascinating. Many times he mentions how recognizing the now, not dwelling on the past or anticipating the future is the most peaceful way to walk through life. Wonderful philosophy, but tough to live by. Every time I feel like things should be happening more quickly with my book, or my artwork, I now force myself to think about how things are flowing as they should and I should enjoy the ride.

My book offers me random beautiful moments. Last week, a high school student emailed me from Rhode Island. I have never met her, nor have I met anyone in her family or circle. Yet, she wanted to let me know that she liked my book and was using it for her senior project - if that was okay by me. She is a reminder of why I wrote my book in the first place, I want it to mean something to people. I light up with passion when I talk about helping endangered species and my book does that too. The louder the voice the more people will listen.

My next book, which I hope my publisher likes, is only about Desert endangered species. It has been so fascinating to study a single ecosystem. It seems logical that desert species have a lot in common, but it still surprised me when reptiles, mammals and birds that are so different have so much alike. They have all evolved and adapted to survive such arid and harsh extremes, they are truly amazing. Splitting my books into ecosystems will help to demonstrate the importance of leaving a specific environment intact, and how making slight alterations to a chain, disrupts the balance of everything.

Okay, that was my pitch, but it sums it up.

I started a red eyed tree frog painting. I LOVE IT! I have missed painting more than I realized. I love to paint as much as I love to write. Pretty cool that I get the opportunity during this stage in my life to do what I love. Persistence pays off, if it is meant to, that is.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day

Last week I visited Sac Splash, whose mission is to help children understand and value their natural world through scientific investigation and outdoor exploration. Great mission. I spent a couple hours with Eva Butler, the director, and several of her staff members. They greeted me so warmly, I found myself blushing. Eva is a woman with passion for the environment and teaching children to love and care about it. I am so excited to have made her acquaintance.

David, a photographer/scientist and Eva took me and another artist for a walk near the vernal pools of Mather Park. It felt so great to be out walking on something other than a side-walk. The pools, which will practically dry up at the warmest part of the year, are teaming with life. I really enjoyed connecting with nature, even if it was for a short amount of time. I'll take some pictures the next time I am out there and post them on my blog.

I used to walk for almost a half-hour in a valley of Wisconsin, to find my horse. He would be grazing with a herd in the base of the field. It was so beautiful. I would sing and follow a dirt path beat by hooves and then try to catch my sassy quarter horse, since of course he didn't want to leave his paradise to go to the barn. Once I caught him though, I'd jump on his bare back and gallop up to the top of the valley.

Spending just a few minutes walking in a field, brought back memories.

On a side note, I submitted my manuscript last week to my publisher at Finney Company. It has motivated my butt to get back to drawing, so I can paint more inspired images.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Through Desert Eyes

After months of writing, tweaking, research, even moving into a new house, I am finally ready to send out my "Through Desert Eyes," manuscript. Hooray!

I am only sending it to my publisher, Windward Publishing an imprint of Finney Company. I will be so excited if they want to take this project. I have been doing so much with "Through Endangered Eyes," that I can't wait to get another book out there to share with kids.

I am planning a trip to Arizona where I can photograph so many of the species I have chosen for my book. Being endangered, most of the species are hard to locate in the wild, so I'll have to depend on the Phoenix Zoo. My photographs will help my process in sketching out the images for the book. I learned the hard way with the first book that images need to harmonize with the words. I did many of the paintings first and then the poetry, two separate elements of art, not always relating to each other. This time, I am tightening the poetry and letting the words inspire the images.

I am still working on "Peridot Cage," mostly on the re-write, synopsis and 1.5 minute pitch.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I Love Nature - and those that love nature!

I had a wonderful time in Coloma yesterday, at the American River Nature Center. What a lovely place. A couple of deer crossed my path and I spotted a pretty little woodpecker. I really don't spend enough time exploring the beautiful areas around me. I really need to get my children in nature more often. I came across a book in the Nature Center's book store that I really want to read, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. Perhaps, I'll read that and post my thoughts on my blog.

The children and parents at the event were so excited and pleasant! Could I use enough adjectives to explain what a nice time I had? :) We painted in dots and I read my book. I also met a Wildlife Biologist that is studying the
Pika and Pacific Fisher. I was humbled by her. She is so lucky to have so many amazing experiences with live animals. She and her team do so much to help save species by understanding them better.

I also had the opportunity last night to see Avatar. It was the best movie I have ever seen. I cried so often that people probably wondered if I had been an alien in a previous life.

On a completely different note. There is a children's writing contest I would like to mention. It runs until January 31st. If you have a YA or MG you can enter 500 words at

Monday, January 18, 2010

Upcoming Art-Book Event

I have an event this Saturday, January 23rd 11 am - 12:30 pm
At the American River Conservancy

Here is their publicity on the event:

Local Author and Artist will be reading and signing her children's book "Through Endangered Eyes - a poetic journey into the wild." Through beautiful paintings and intimate poems, you will learn about the lives of these amazing animals and why they are in danger. Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Rachel Dillon earned her bachelors degree in art and graphic design from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Rachel will be available to teach her art acrylic dot painting technique. She will have note cards available for children to make paintings on in acrylics. Minimum age: 6. Suggested donation $5. Please call to sign up and for meeting location (Coloma area) 530-621-1224 or contact

Their Mission:
The American River Conservancy serves our community by protecting and enhancing natural habitats where wildlife can flourish. Through education and recreation we promote a broad ethic of stewardship, ensuring healthy ecosystems now and for the future.

Julie Andert
American River Conservancy
P.O. Box 562 - 348 Hwy 49 Coloma, CA 95613

Monday, January 11, 2010

Falling off the Balance Beam

I don't feel like I have been accomplishing much lately. I haven't painted in a couple of months, and I struggle finishing a chapter in my novel or my desert book edits. I have itty bitty bits of time. I shouldn't complain, lots of people have it much worse, but here I am complaining. I would love 24 hours where I didn't have to talk to anyone or answer any questions. One whole day where I didn't have to clean up cat-puke, make dinner, or step around a maze of things randomly left on the floor.

I would also love some great news! I'll just leave that statement floating.

I have pretty much concluded that to make it as a writer is about as likely as winning a grand prize at a raffle where one million people have bought tickets. I'm not going to give up writing my stories and my books about endangered species, those are burning inside me and have to get out. I guess I must simply change my expectations.

Therefore, I am actively applying for work. Funny, we moved near a larger city and I am such a small fish here that I don't have any prospects. The competition is so great that it is almost as difficult to get hired here as it is to get published.

There is also the happiness factor. The dream of doing what I love for a living must be put to the side. I think that's the hardest part to swallow. But, swallow, I must - as Yoda would say.