Lessons of an Artist

Lesson #5: Kids Are Amazing (a lesson from Pirate Portraits at the library!)


I just got home from a fun morning with 18 of the coolest kids in town at the Ball Ground Public Library! And they’ve got SKILLS! There’s just something extra neat about younger kids and their confidence in their art. I’m used to teaching big kids (high-schoolers) who are much more scared of failing. I was really nervous at first teaching these younger ones, but I was reminded how amazing kids are. They made me feel so welcome and comfortable and happy :) Just another reminder that I’m in the right place, pursuing the career of my dreams. If I keep doing stuff like this as an unpublished illustrator, I’ll be “fit as a fiddle” when I need to do workshops and talk to kids, etc. as a published illustrator.

Look how great these portraits turned out!…



I think it was a hit! And I’m so grateful for everyone who came today! And thanks for letting me know you had a good time!



Lesson #4: Attempt Being Friends with Technology

Work in progress… painting in Photoshop.

Work in progress. Painting in Photoshop on screen.

Work in progress. Painting in Photoshop on screen.

I’ve felt in my gut for a while that I needed to learn some more computer art skills. I already have a good foundation knowledge of Photoshop and I use it often to enhance photos for the  blogs and websites that I help with. Up until now, I’ve only used Photoshop to brighten my artwork before printing it or posting it.  CREATING with it is over my head. But… I took a little course called “Digital Painting in Photoshop” by illustrator Will Terry. He is a great teacher, and this course has eased my concerns so much. I’ve just started my first digital illustration painting in the style that Mr. Terry demonstrates. I literally just started, so… stay tuned- I’ll post my progress :)

I am aware that the competition in children’s illustration is fierce. There are so many really talented folks sending out to the same publishers and agents that I am. So, I feel I can’t be a stranger to the technology that could potentially help me work FASTER to create MORE work for my portfolio. The more I create, the better I will become. Also, I think it’s increasingly more appealing to work with artists who are technically-able, even if just for scanning and sending high res images over the internets :)

My Ben snagged me a Wacom Tablet for my birthday, so I could really give this a fair shot. I must say, I really like it! I would have bet money on me mostly hating it, and that I would have to force myself to use it. But I found that it’s easier! That’s all I need.

Computers in the studio

Computers in the studio

My almost 3-year-old embraced digital painting before I did, so I’m already behind…



photo 4

Thanks for stopping by!






Lesson #3: Give Your Blog Readers Good Free Content (& they’ll probably be excited about your books too :)

This lesson I learned from my Southern Breeze Illustrator Coordinator, Elizabeth O. Dulemba. About 5 years ago, she started offerring a FREE coloring page every Tuesday on her blog. Every Tuesday. For 5 years (and still going). Wow!


Readers loved it. Teachers loved it. Librarians loved it. Kids loved it! Her blog blew up! Coloring Page Tuesdays are hotter than hotcakes! Now she has a super nice platform of readers to tell about her new books when they come out! Genius! And she did this by GIVING!

So, the lesson here is the title above: Give your blog readers good, free content, and they’ll probably be excited about your books too! At this point, they would probably be willing to buy your books for their kids, kid’s friends gifts, nieces, nephews, classrooms, or themselves.

Well then, what can I do on my blog that could serve a similar purpose? Of course, I would not copy Elizabeth’s coloring page idea, so I thought about my own strengths, experiences, and what I enjoy. At this point in my journey, I like to experience lots of books and learn from them. Especially picture books. Reading with my daughter is my favorite way to spend time with her. We are both into books, and can have a lot of fun together. I’m not the best to get on the floor and play each day, but reading is different. We read together just about every day.

Our Reading Chair

Our Reading Chair

I love to see what books she asks for again and again. Reading together is such a great way to learn what kids respond to, and the breadth of their understanding of a story. It’s that stuff and so much more! Here’s a great quote from The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books:

A picture book may seem like a simple proposition- a decorated story. In fact, a picture book contains several modes of expression and can contain multiple layers of meaning. What a picture book “means” to a child is more than just a story with illustrations. From an early age, children learn what a book is, how to hold it the right way up, the order in which to turn the pages, and how to read- first the images and then later the words. The imagery may be “realistic” or entirely graphic. Imagery and colors may form patterns throughout the book, accruing meaning as motif; white space may imply content and demand that the child mentally “fill in the gaps”; and the illustrations may expand on and extend the information in the text. Sometimes, the illustrations may even tell a different story. This tension between what is said and what is shown makes picture books a unique and exciting form of graphic expression.

So I’ve decided to offer up picture book suggestions that my daughter and I both enjoy and why. I’ll share my point of view, and then she’ll share hers :) But I’m also going to add an art element to it, and we’ll demonstrate a project to do with your little ones that expand on the book and are fun! And there you have it! I think I’ll call it “A Picture Book & A Project”.

I try to do it once a week, and my projects will be suited for young kids for now, My daughter is just about to turn 3. But as she grows, so will the complexity of the projects.


Which books will she pick??

Be on the lookout for “A Picture Book & A Project”. Coming soon!


P.S.- Notice anything different about the look of my site? It’s nice to change things up every so often :)

Lesson#2: Love Your Community & Do the Dishes (lessons from Brooklyn)

Filed under: Lessons of an Artist,On My Mind | May 18, 2013

Michael and HJ

My little family recently visited my sister and lots of old friends in Brooklyn, New York. It had been 2 years since I had walked that much (and that fast) in one day, rode the subway, strolled streets lined with row houses, got used to being warmer than usual indoors, washed dishes by hand, and went on the roof to water plants! If you don’t already know, my husband and I lived in Brooklyn (Park Slope) for a year before we had H.J. I remember leaving to move back home with renewed energy to make more time for friends. Family is awesome- especially mine- but friends are really important too. Friends in community are even more so.

India and Michael and HJ

HJ and India on a rooftop in Brooklyn

Our recent Brooklyn visit reminded me of that again… spending time in Crown Heights (my sister’s hood) felt like I was in a historic jazz town from a children’s book! Folks who had lived there all their lives were sitting on stoops and laughing with others, enjoying the Spring weather. When India (my sister) passed by, they waved to her and chatted as if she’d lived there all along too. And we had a warm welcome gathering in Park Slope in a lovely and quaint backyard of friends’. Afterward, my sister and her husband quickly offered to do the dishes! By hand! There aren’t many apartments with dishwashers there, so it’s a great way to serve your friends. And that’s when you get to the really good stuff in conversation- when you’re doing the dirty dishes! Don’t know why, but its true.

Party at the Booker's 1 Party at the Booker's 2 Party at the Booker's 3

I don’t know what it is about Brooklyn, but it breeds close communities. Communities of people with big dreams and big talents! That’s what I miss most about Brooklyn. Living among talented artists, designers, cooks, dancers, actors, musicians, and speakers and counting myself as one of them. When I visit, my old friends, my old community make me feel like I am still a part of it :) I’m so very thankful for that.

Hanging out behind The Old Stone House

Ben and I have chosen to live in the South near our families for now. I’m thankful H.J. gets to spend lots of time with her grandparents! And I have free babysitters often which blesses me with precious time for my illustration endeavors. I don’t get as much community with friends here in Georgia as did in Brooklyn, but the ones I do have are precious to me.

At the Brooklyn Botanical Garden At the Brooklyn Botanical Garden 2

I meet with 6 insanely awesome writers once a month! We (unofficially) call ourselves Trail Mix being as we are SO very different from each other, but we all all have the common thread of pursuing careers in children’s books. There’s laughing, tears, tough love, encouragement, and so much fun every time we meet! I would’ve never thought I would find such community with a group of writers! (Since I am more of an illustrator and all :) At the end of this month I’ll be hosting the group at my house, and I’m going to cook them dinner which is a little out of the ordinary. I guess I’m inspired to serve my little writer community!

HJ in BK!

I also happen to be a part of a very artsy family which I probably take for granted. It would stink if my whole family thought I was aloof and wanted me to be a doctor. That is definitely not the case! My family sets the artsy bar high- I am constantly being amazed!

HJ in BK 2

And my neighbor is pretty cool. Brandi has shown me that it can be a whole lot of fun to be friends and neighbors! We visit over coffee at each other’s houses or yards at least once a week. And if we need a cup of sugar, we walk over and get some :)

I also live in a sweet little railroad town called Ball Ground. I hope to be a pillar here and see it grow into something really neat. A small town girl with big dreams might be important to this small town- who knows?

McCloskey's in front of Manhattan

Conclusion: Artists need each other. Artists and non-artists need each other. Family needs each other. Maybe there’s a reason you exist in a place or in the same place as someone else. Maybe you are meant to inspire them or they to inspire you. Probably both.

So, love your community and do the dishes wherever you are.

NYC Graffiti


Lesson #1: Know You Are A Work In Progress


*Note- this blog title is fitting for my blog as well as my self… This is the first post in a series of lessons I’ll learn on my career path.  And since you can never stop learning and growing in this ever-changing field, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about! Man, I wish I’d thought of this sooner, but I’ll be humbly starting now, at this point in my story, which is still very much at the beginning.


We all have expectations for ourselves. I know I do, did, and will. When I graduated high school I thought I’d be at the top of my game by the time I turned 30. Now that I’m 30, I missed my mark. I’m definitely not where I thought I’d be. But it’s okay. I think I’m being taught about faith, patience, hard work, perseverance, priorities and joy. I believe with all my heart that my successes in the future will taste much sweeter after a courageous adventure!


It’s been months since the last SCBWI Southern Breeze conference I went to, but some things I heard there are still playing over and over in my head. Chad Beckerman is the creative director for Abrams Books. He’s a silly dude. I wasn’t sure if I learned much from him at the moment, but it’s his words that have stood out to me the most after leaving that weekend. He told me during my formal critique that I’ve almost got it, but not quite. In a nutshell, he preferred the work that took me the least amount of time to create. He told me to explore what was fun and immediate for me. Then, on the last day, he finished with a wonderful presentation about finding joy in creating. He disqualified the notion that artists must go through this crazy struggle to make great work. And he said (my paraphrase) that less is more when it comes to backgrounds; so don’t get too caught up in them if you don’t love making them. That’s great news! My writer friends were bored stiff, but all this seized me!


JOY in creating? Make what is immediate? Make what is EASY? To be honest, the pressure and expectations I have put on myself in recent years had taken a lot of joy from me. The instructions Chad left us with are just plain liberating! So, that’s what I’ve been focused on in my latest work, my character studies. I am finally having some fun focusing on characters. It might take me a month to struggle over one painting, but I did all my recent character drawings in 3 days! It felt so much more…. natural, immediate, easy, and fun—BINGO! I’m not saying these are perfect, but my metal detector is beeping if you get my corny drift :)

Sketches by Shanda McCloskey

Sketches by Shanda McCloskey

I am a beautiful work in progress, and the Bible tells me so!

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8


HJ drew a pear :)

HJ drew a pear :)

HJ traced my faded chicken drawing. She yold me she will help me draw silly chickens when she grows up!

HJ traced my faded chicken drawing. She told me she will help me draw silly chickens when she grows up!


She drew this while I wrote this blog post :)

These two recent posts from a mentor of mine that say what I’m trying to say much better! Check out:

Ira Glass On the Secret of Sucsess: http://dulemba.blogspot.com/2013/04/ira-glass-on-secret-of-success.html
LATE BLOOMERS by Malcom Gladwell: nyr.kr/5NXYa

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Shanda McCloskey, Children's Illustrator & Author