On My Mind

Life is NUTS!

So Much has happened … good AND bad and the reason for my posting gap …

 

I got an agent! – Very good.

November of 2015, I participated in a twitter pitch event called #PBPitch. Participants write up a VERY short pitch of their picture book work-in-progress and if an agent wants you to submit it to them, they “favorite” your post. I got 10 favorites that day! But one agent in particular took the time to email me separately and state that she really looked forward to seeing my work closer. That effort made me feel like she really liked it. She was the only agent I sent it to that week. And that’s how I found Erica Rand Silverman! Turns out, she’s the perfect agent for me! (She’s cool even if you cry which is MUST-have to be my agent :)

 

I got LASIK – Very very bad.

My life changed on February 19, 2016. Because I had LASIK. Yep. That “easy” surgery that’s a “miracle” called LASIK. Well, for most it is a miracle, but it was a tragedy for me. I haven’t even been able to write about it until now – over a year later – and I’m still not out of the woods. My eyes reacted unpredictably to the surgery, probably because of unknown underlying auto immunity in my body. My eyes were so dry for months, I could barely open them and when I did, the vision was a blurry mess. I can’t think of much worse for an artist aside of losing your drawing hand. Then as I was just starting to see some improvement in my sight, I suddenly was afflicted with HUNDREDS of floaters in my eyes that swirled around (and still do) at every eye movement.  I had developed uveitis which in my case is a chronic auto-immune inflammation of the uvea in the eyes. Without steroids, I would eventually go blind. But steroids have their own issues. As months passed, my clarity improved but it’ll never be as sharp as it once was before the surgery. I’ve seen so many eye doctors. And now I have developed cataracts from the steroids. And that’s where I stand now. My vision is starting to cloud up. Hopefully I can remove the cataracts safely with another surgery soon. And I’m hopeful that after that, I can be well enough to undergo a last surgery to remove the many many floaters. From this, I sprouted some scary anxiety that on one occasion landed me at the hospital. Anti-anxiety medicine was a life line, literally. And I’m still very reliant on it as I continue this health journey. The bad news is that I gained 30 pounds since starting this medication, but it’s life (and be bigger for now) or death. Sounds extreme, but it’s true unfortunately.

Also Erica held on, encouraged me, and waited for me to get better.

 

I got a book deal! – Very very good.

But in the middle of all this tragedy (early this year), something AMAZING happened. Erica submitted my book to a handful of publishers and 4 BIG publishers wanted it! It went to auction and sold to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in a 2 book deal! A. Dream. Come. True. I can’t even.

 

I did the job! – very very very good.

I was very nervous about illustrating my book through vision issues, but God stayed near me. There’s no other explanation. This very week I’m working through a final tweaks list and then it’ll be a done deal! I have been so honored to work with Andrea Spooner, Hallie Tibbetts, Jen Keenan, and Saho Fujii at Little, Brown!  I couldn’t have imagined a more wonderful first experience! (I think my medicine helped me deal with this good stress better too.)

 

I’m still standing! – very good!

I’ve never thought of myself as very strong, but I still can’t believe what I’ve gotten through this past year. Good and bad. I’ll continue to trust the Lord. I’m sure I’ll still mourn my loss of perfect vision for a long time, but I know God will deliver me to the other side of sorrow soon. He has already thrown me many lines of hope that I hold onto with all my strength.

 

I have the sweetest husband ever! – so good.

Through this, I’ve seen the love my husband has for me. I knew he loved me before, but I REALLY know now. He carried us when I couldn’t rise from the bed or take care of our girls from depression. He never got angry at me or asked me to “get it together” or “man up” or anything like that. He got it together and manned up in my place. He just loved me. He never lets go of our hope for normalcy again one day. He has tirelessly talked with me over and over reminding me of the hope I have in healing, good doctors, and a career ahead of me. He’s such a good man and daddy. He saved me.

 

Moving onward!

So now I’ve finally written this down. Whew. I hope to be posting happy updates soon. Until then, I’ll keep on truckin’.

 

They say the best story is when a character is faced with the most awful thing that could happen to them, and then we see them grow and overcome it. That’s my hope.

Life is NUTS!

-Shanda

 

P.S. My debut picture book Doll-E 1.0 publishes Spring 2018 by Little, Brown!

P.S.S. I don’t recommend LASIK :)

 

My Favorite Childhood Robot!

Filed under: On My Mind,Shanda's Journey | April 3, 2015

wonder

This is Vicki, my all-time favorite robot character from the 80’s tv show “Small Wonder”! They say the best material anyone has to pull from (for writing children’s books) is from one’s own childhood. As a kid, I thought this was SO COOL to watch. Maybe it’s why I wrote a robot picture book as an adult!

It’s interesting and deep to think about what makes you care about something…even though you know its not human or even an animal.

I get a little teary-eyed when I think about moving my family out of our home that we’ve lived in from the beginning of our marriage. This house sheltered us from so many storms, we raised our babies here, we dreamed our dreams here. I know the house isn’t human, but I can’t help but imagine it feeling like we were abandoning it if we left. It would be sad. I’d probably drive by and check on it periodically to see if the new owners were taking care of it, not that I could do anything about it, but it would feel good if I knew the house was being loved like it deserves. Isn’t it strange that I think those thoughts? Do you care about anything like that?

The new movie, Interstellar, explores this idea of machinery and humanity too!

It’s definitely something for character creators to think about no matter if you are drawing them or writing about them. Your characters are (usually)  not really real, and furthermore, they might be inanimate objects. So, what does a character need to do, say or look like to be loved by the readers?

I dazzled my four-year-old with this show today! The episodes are on Youtube. She can’t wait to watch another episode tomorrow. Go ahead and relive the magic too…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48WCJ84z7vw

Books Are Babies Too!

Filed under: On My Mind | September 10, 2014
photo 2

Strange little drawing of a book-baby.

We often hear writers and illustrators refer to their books as their babies, but after just recently having my second “real” baby, I can see that this is REALLY true!

 

For example…

How exciting! You’re pregnant! What will this little one be like? Dream. Dream. Dream. (Your idea incubates and grows in your heart and head).

Then one day it’s time… to struggle, to cry, to fight and labor to get it out! (Writing the first draft)

Finally she’s born! You are so happy, she’s perfect. You did it! Joy joy joy! (First draft is done!)

Then … comes the torture. You realize this isn’t so awesome. What were you thinking?! You’ve made a huge mistake. No sleep, no schedule, no life, and so many diaper changes! (You read it again, it stinks. Rework, rework and rework. Edit and edit after endless edit.)

Then one day…She smiles at you! (You see a glimmer of hope again in your manuscript.) It’s changed a lot. Oh yeah, this is why I went through all that. It might just be worth the pain. She really is pretty cute :)

Then you keep raising her as best as you can. And it takes a village to raise a child as they say. (Husband, friend, critique group, agent, editor… ).

You feel so unfit to do this job. But you keep going because it’s the task that’s been given to you. No one can be a better mom to this kid than you can. (No one can write your story but you.) So you keep going…. (Doubting your story, doubting your calling, you never knew how much work this would be! But you’ve put in too much to quit now.)

Some days will stink. (Rejections.) Some will bring you so much joy. (Requests!)

You’ll take her to story time and play group. You’ll introduce her to the guitar, let her try art lessons, or dance classes to help her figure out who she is. Turns out, she loves to dance! Her dance instructor may see some real talent in her and even ask her to join the company. (An agent takes you on.)

You’ll always be her biggest fan :)

And hopefully…

She’ll grow up into a lovely person (a good book) because of your labor of love. Someone may even tell you that you’ve done a an outstanding job raising her. Maybe a great college or company wants your kid on their team and takes a chance on her (Your book gets published!)

And even though it was a tough journey and being published is awesome…

you’ll probably miss the days when your baby was little… (the process :)

 

 

-Shanda

 

Lesson #8: Real Paint Soothes the Soul

Filed under: Illustration,On My Mind,Sketchbook | March 6, 2014

color_image by Shanda McCloskey

 

Something has been missing for me lately. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I think it might be real paint. Not that I was ever a master painter, but it bothers me that I’ve gotten so far from painting since I’ve tried working digitally. I’m feeling like I should bring some paint back into my work somehow, at least in the backgrounds.  The Ladybug Girl series is a beautiful example of watercolor backgrounds with flatter characters on top. So is Winnie the Pooh, and some Calvin and Hobbs. I’m not sure to what extent I can do this, but I’m willing to start experimenting. I’d like illustrating to feel good. Lately it has been a real struggle in my heart. Most of what I create, I hate. Is that normal? I hear it’s normal to make more mistakes that triumphs, but it’s getting ridiculous!

I understand why someone would quit now. It’s a roller-coaster ride for your mind, heart, eyes, and brain for what seems like it should be so simple. Ha! Not simple for me!

I couldn’t sleep last night so I put some watercolor down on paper, scanned it, and put it behind a character I drew. Something about it is sort of nice. Next I’d like to try a real scene with characters interacting and details of the setting. Hopefully, I’m on the right track.

Headed to NYC today!

Right now, I am sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting on my flight to New York City to attend my first SCBWI national conference.  I have my love, Ben, beside me, which is nice. He works in New York often, so it was awesome that we could travel together!

ny14scbwi

I have always dreamed of attending the NYC SCBWI conference, although now that I’m headed there today, things aren’t exactly as I imagined them being. Not a bad thing, just different, because (if you didn’t know already) I am 5 months pregnant with another precious girl! And I feel really great these days, so I knew I had to seize this opportunity before I have a newborn in my life again :)  I also got to experience a full body pat down for the first time at the airport! I didn’t want to walk through the x-ray scanner being pregnant and all. The lady really explored my maternity pants. I guess you could really hide some stuff in all that extra stretchy fabric!

February has been a busy, packed month preparing for this adventure. My to-do list looked almost impossible for the month of February (March will be the same way), but I did everything! It’s amazing what a little planning can do. Here’s a little bit of what I was working on for this trip:

 

Illustrating a mandatory assignment for the illustrator’s intensive…

Research:

snowwhite_research

Thumbnails:
snow_thumbnails
Character sketches:
snowwhite_sketch
Layout Sketches:
snowsketch
snow_sketch2
Value Study:
value
Color:Snow White by Shanda McCloskey

Preparing my portfolio for the Portfolio Showcase… (I am really looking forward to seeing other’s portfolios and how they crafted and organized them.)

portfolio

It also helped that my 3-year-old started a little preschool program this month. So, for 2 mornings each week I had work time to myself, and it was really fun to see HJ discover school, have a Valentine party, overcome some shyness and anxiety, learn about frogs, learn to write her name, choose a packed lunch or what the other kids were having, and be picked for a table cleaning job. This was all stuff she told me about when I pick her up after lunch.  I also can’t forget about the help and support I have from my mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law when it comes to HJ. She is one loved little girl, and I know she’ll be happy and safe all weekend (having 3 different slumber parties with them) while I’m gone.

supermanI miss her though! 5 days is the longest I have ever been apart from her. I know she’ll be just fine, but it feels really strange still. We found PINKY, the owl, in our bed this morning :)  So, I brought her with me!

pinky
Okay, here we go!

What I’ve been up to…

Filed under: Events,Illustration,On My Mind,Shanda's Journey | October 30, 2013

Man, the past few weeks have spun me around! Here’s the list in order of the craziness…

titlepage

 

1. First of all, I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t attend another writing/illustrating conference without a book dummy! So, for 2 months I tweaked my best story, Dollie 1.0, and prepared a sample dummy for the WIK Southern Breeze SCBWI conference in Birmingham, AL. I learned SO VERY much during the dummying process! So much, that once I finished the dummy for the conference, I knew it was just a place holder for much work still needed on it. A little disheartening, but I’m growing tougher. I am still a work-in-progress and so is my book. But it was great to lay even a work-in-progress dummy beside my portfolio display. Definitely a step up in the right direction.

spread1_2 spread2

 

2. The Birmingham conference was nice and familiar territory. But this time I went with a few of my writing group homies! 2-night stay in a hotel and all :)

group

 

3. After the conference, I got some wonderful feedback on my story/dummy from this writing group as well as from Author/Illustrator, Sarah Francis Hardy. Now, I’m about to rework the entire story to focus my message more. I love pulling together the framework of a story. It’s the stringing together of words that intimidates me.

4. We had a Friends Family Pumpkin Carving Shin Dig!

photo 1 copy

spider cookie

5. Ball Ground Public Library asked me to fill their display cases with my artwork to share it with the community! I sure do love my local library and the people there. It is a cool opportunity, so I took it!

photo 3 copy

photo 2 copy

6. I helped my mom (NuMe Natural Soap) prepare for the Country Living Fair in Atlanta, GA. She makes natural soap. I helped build displays, wrap soaps in fabric, paint signs, and think strategically, etc. It was a great weekend, and a beautiful distraction!

fairpass photo 4 setup

7. Then I had a scissor accident! I cut a tiny tip of my finger off while cutting string for soap wrapping. You know, I try to do do something nice…

photo 5

8. I sent out a new set of postcards to art directors. Who the heck knows if they ever catch anyone’s eye?! But my options are limited until I have a killer book dummy/dummies to send out.

9. I’m trying to sketch more each day. I joined DOODLE DAY on Facebook for some inspiration and prompts.

Spooky
photo 3

10. I’m registered to participate in Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo)! Where I vowed to come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days… should be interesting.

piboidmo2013-participant-214x131
11. And now I’m getting back to my blog! I hope to have a new “A Picture Book & A Project” post soon!

12. Last but not least… I signed up to attend my first National SCBWI conference in New York City in February 2014! This is a huge step for me. I know I will leave with a sense of where to go from here. Benny is going with me! He works with a company located across the street from the conference venue. Cool, right?!

Homepage-banners_conf1

So, that’s what I’ve been up to, but I’m eager to get back to a steady work routine to pump out work… great work I hope.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN with HJ’s pumpkin! I think it’s pretty cute.
photo 2

-Shanda

 

 

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!

-Shanda

 

 

 

 

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

 

Loosening Up To A Little PINK…

Filed under: Illustration,On My Mind,Shanda's Journey,Sketchbook | April 27, 2013

Miss Featherbottom Sings by Shanda McCloskey“Just give me a reason
Just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again
It’s in the stars
It’s been written in the scars on our hearts
That we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again”

 

Miss Featherbottom Not So Sure by Shanda McCloskey

A Sketch from My Book and Notes from My Head

Filed under: Illustration,On My Mind,Sketchbook | January 15, 2013

From my sketchbook.

My baby is my muse. Here’s some practice I did of her profile. Kids are so hard! Their faces are teeny and this ended up looking nothing like my particular kid… Maybe the overall shape might be close, but the face looks too old. Kids are tough to draw. But I really enjoyed charcoal pencils after a long time of not having any. My daughter added the abstract shapes and color around figure- she’s brilliant!

Well this is a good time to update you on what I’m currently working on. I’m proud that I have a manuscript written. It’s still too long and lacking something, so I’ve signed up for a formal manuscript critique at SCBWI Southern Breeze Spring Mingle (February 20-something). This should be interesting. It’s my first time doing this, so I’m just hoping I don’t get too discouraged by the feedback. I’m an artist who is wondering if she has a CHANCE of being able to write too. We’ll just have to see!

For Illustrator’s Day (which is now attached to Spring Mingle), I’ll be working on an illustration with guidance from Mark Braught. It’s sort-of a how you see yourself kind of assignment. Still thinking about this one, but I’ll try to show my progress as I go, like I did last year. Let’s hope it’s awesome enough to put on a postcard to send out to editors and art directors:) I’m really trying to figure out who I am as an illustrator. I feel like this year is going to be a very important year of my figuring some of that out… maybe :)

Well, that’s it for now! Have a great week.
-Shanda

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Shanda McCloskey, Children's Illustrator & Author