Shanda’s Journey

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:
LATE BLOOMERS by Malcom Gladwell:

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

We Shared Chocolate Today…

Filed under: Illustration,Shanda's Journey | April 24, 2013

Ruta and Miss Featherbottom illustration by Shanda McCloskey


I’m continuing to get to know a new friend- we shared dark chocolate today. You can get right down to the nitty gritty when chocolate is involved! I told her about how I was actually timid to meet up with her again today… what if it didn’t go as well as last time? My spirit can be fragile! But I had nothing to worry about. She shared some of the road blocks she has come in contact with lately that get in the way of her goals too. She really put me at ease and encouraged me. She’s so cool.

Ruta Painting by Shanda McCloskey



Getting To Know A New Friend…

Filed under: Illustration,Shanda's Journey,Sketchbook | April 17, 2013

Shanda McCloskey Illustration

I’m not sure if we could be great friends, but I want to get to know her better! She seems interesting, artsy, kind, considerate, and curious. I think she wonders about her future, her purpose, how to use her talents. We have so much in common!

Shanda McCloskey Illustration

Today, we met for coffee.
Tomorrow, who knows?!

Shanda McCloskey Illustration




Ruta Scared by Shanda McCloskey




Ruta Sweet by Shanda McCloskey

I like her.
I hope she likes me too.


Notes To Self from Springmingle 2013

Space Chicken Illustration by Shanda McCloskey

Time flies! It has almost been a month since Illustrator’s Day and Springmingle and I’m just now getting around to writing up this post. I took notes for myself and wanted to document the highlights… and the gist of the weekend.

First of all, it was extra fun because I attended with 4 other members of my super critique group! There was definitely something special about our being there together. As each one of us went into the hall for our formal critiques, the others waited in the lobby as if the one being critiqued was in surgery or something. We all came out with good feedback, yet much to work on. I had 2 critiques in a row, because I did a portfolio critique as well as my first manuscript critique! My manuscript was reviewed by Jill Corcoran, an agent with the Herman Agency. She is very straightforward, but kind. She saw a few of my illustrations too so she saw me as a whole package as someone trying to write and illustrate, and do you know what she told me…?

She said (twice by the way), “You have a future in this. Keep working at it.”

Holy cow! That was nice to hear :) It was like she said: You’re not crazy for spending countless hours following this dream. You are getting closer. She didn’t say those words, but I think that’s what she meant :) Of course that MADE my weekend! And yes, I cried when I got back to my critique group. That’s just who I am :)


It was also cool to spend some time with my illustrator buddies too! These girls (Shannon and Christina) are really down to earth and talented. We represent 3 states! We don’t see each other often, but it sure is nice to talk art when we do.

artists_group copy

These are just two of the many amazing illustrators I have come to be friends with. I could never list them all, but each one has taught me something different! Lori Nichols, for example, has given me incredible, forehead slapping Photoshop tips and an beautiful example of a mother-of-three living this dream! The openness and honesty of Kristen ApplebeePrescott HillAlison Hertz, and Elizabeth Dulemba‘s journeys are dear to my heart as well. Thanks for all you do and for sharing what you know with me.

Since I was one of the first 12 to sign up for Illustrator’s Day, I was able to participate in the assignment art directed by Mark Braught! Here are some sketches and the final, although I feel it got too busy. And I prefer the cropped vignette image at the top of this post best :)

Shanda McCloskey Sketches

Chicken Graffiti by Shanda McCloskey

The weekend started with Illustrator’s Day (just for artists) with the silly Chad Beckerman (Abrams Creative Director), the hilariously honest Will Terry (Professional Illustrator), and the genuine, Dianne Hess (Scholastic Press Executive Editor).

Chad said that postcards are a pretty good, efficient way to send art samples to him. He also has been finding illustrators on Instagram! His big message was to get away from the idea that your work is “precious.” Because that way of thinking stifles you from changing and exploring as deeply as we need to as illustrators. Stay loose, free, full of life! Not, museum precious.

Will hit us with tons of graphs and charts about the market, reality, and moving forward. His big message was to be an illustrator entrepreneur. Do all the things we need to do to get traditionally published, there’s nothing like it, but ALSO do your own thing. That may mean apps, quality self-publishing, editorial art, other art forms, etc. To make it as an illustrator for a career, we must DO BOTH (traditional and our own thing). That was nice to hear, because I would love to try a few apps with my husband :) What if I could bring in some income from an app… what if? My dad would love this guy! He’s always telling me… “why don’t you just make your own books?”

Will’s recipe to be successful on your own:

1. Perfect your craft. Know who you are. (Working on that.)
2. Build a microphone. Blog! (Doing that right now!)
3. Develop a good idea.
4. Make a product that is amazingly _________. If you have a computer, you have a factory.
5. Tell the world. Blog, submit to review sites, etc.
6. Never quit, commit for life.

Then Springmingle heated up…
Carmen Deedy started off the weekend with a speech that made the entire audience cry! Not just me- everybody! Her words made me realize that the reason I am so passionate to do this is because I am absolutely IN LOVE with the idea of being a part of the children’s book world. Having a hand in  kids reading and imagining stories (in my time, from my head) is pretty cool. I AM in love with that idea. It’s actually very romantic :)

Then Nikki Grimes told about enjoying the process. God loves puzzles and He gives you the different pieces you’re going need at the right time. Trust.Be patient.

I loved Dianne Hess’s genuine passion for books. And Katherine Jacobs’ sweet, yet stern way about her. She knows what she wants. Katherine was very easy to talk to as well. She read “My Friend Rabbit” to us…. beautiful!

Shanda McCloskey Explorer Illustration

Chad ended the weekend with a presentation on Finding Your Voice… which seems to be the same as finding your joy! Whatever is immediate, easy for you, and joyful is what you should be doing. For some reason, artists think that they should struggle with their work or it isn’t good, but that isn’t true! But we must expect failure some of the time. FIND JOY IN MAKING :)

So, that is what I’m off to do!


Sitting and Wading

Filed under: Illustration,On My Mind,Shanda's Journey | October 18, 2012

These past few weeks I haven’t felt much like drawing. No particular reason, but every time I sat down to draw- I ruined it. So I didn’t draw at all for several days. This was a good experiment for me. For the first few days it was freeing, like a burden lifted from my shoulders. The next couple days I started to get snappy and feeling like getting published traditionally was a mountain too high for me to ever climb. Self-doubt can consume me. I heard a few success stories of others that brought me down … from jealousy I’m embarrassed to say. Sometimes I think that unless you live in New York City, just forget it. And then that just makes me mad, because there is so much beautiful culture in this country beyond what is found in one or two cities. The Southern culture is incredibly interesting and brave with a code of its own. Maybe I should think about incorporating the South into my work more! But I’m sure it’s like an accent. Other’s can hear it even when you don’t think you have an accent at all :) And so I ramble…

The moon has been incredible lately. I can talk best to the Lord when I look at the moon. I know He is working on me. I know this. So why do I grow impatient? I know that God has a plan just for me that no one else can have… a path paved JUST FOR ME. So why in the world, do I feel sad when others around me seem to jump ahead of me? I know I really don’t want my dreams to come true unless it’s in God’s plan for me. At a time when He is ready for me to have it. The reason is because I’m human. My spirit is willing to wait, but my body and mind is weak when it comes to actually enduring that wait. I am wise enough to know that I can’t do it alone, and I don’t  want to. When I draw for myself, I stink at it. But when I draw while leaning on Him, I’m always amazed!

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Jeremiah 10:23

When I can shut-up the other voices in my head, and let the part of me that knows Christ best speak, it reminds me that God loves me so much! Even more than my mom! And that little feeling inside my heart that just knows I’m going to be used in a big way was placed there by God to get me through this season of waiting.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Psalm 37: 4-7 

Writing this post has helped me sort through some thoughts… thanks for listening. I’m left with the notion of how special this waiting season is. It gives me time to spend with my two-year-old and husband. This is not a season to be sad about. I want to enjoy it, and I can just give my worries, dreams, and burdens to the Lord and have a truly joyful heart – now! My Lord is “on it!” So, I’m about to go enjoy dinner with my sweet family … thank you, Lord, for the times you give us to simply sit and wade.


Recap of Illustrator’s Day 2012

Filed under: Shanda's Journey | September 7, 2012


As I said in my previous post, Southern Breeze Illustrator’s Day 2012 was just awesome! We had award-winning illustrator and artist, R. Gregory Christie (pictured above) there urging us to take chances and get our work out there. He said- That’s the great thing about art. It keeps advertising for you no matter where it is. You never know who might see it in a public place, someone’s home, etc. (A chef bought a painting from him in a night club and it ended up in Oprah’s magazine one day :) Greg offerred very wise advice such as reminding us illustrators that we are responsible for the imagery in our books for young eyes. Kids don’t have the filters of experience; it hits them pretty literally. Also, how important it is to find a passion- a niche, and how important librarians are to kids, us, and the book market. Greg also has an entrepreneurial spirit – he said we are Americans- you can make your own book store if you want to. It was also comforting to me as an artist, that he has a hard time visualizing what his art will look like until it’s done. I know from my own experience that it can be scary sometimes how much of an “accident” art-making can feel. I know it’s not an accident, but I feel that out-of-control at times.

Then we got silly/funny/cool Peter Brown! Illustrator of “Children Make Terrible Pets” and “Creepy Carrots”. He’s a picture book super star, and it was such a privilege to hear him talk to us as fellow artists about finding our “style” or “artistic voice”. It was just nice to hear that this amazing illustrator once had all the same questions as I do now. I especially loved his method of making a list of all the art you love, then try to find patterns or any similar strings in this list. And then figure out how you can incorporate all those attributes that move you most into one style that is undeniably YOU. He ended his talk with us saying, “You definitely won’t get published if you give up.”



The last speaker was Kelly Barrales-Saylor, Editorial Director for Albert Whitman & Company. She gave sound business advice from her side of the industry about getting noticed and hired. She voiced her fondness of working with artists and said that we are, by far, the funnest part of her job :) She said illustrations should take the a manuscript farther than the writer could’ve ever imagined; to elevate the book to a level that simply wasn’t there before. She spoke on the importance of making a personal connection with industry people like herself (crap- that means I can’t let being shy get in my way anymore), platform, a current website, and a portfolio that shows published and unpublished work (so she can see what we art we choose to do for ourselves which reveals our passions). “Persistence pays off”, she said, “and be flexible.” “Try new things, but stay true to yourself. Never stop learning and growing.” Something I thought was especially interesting was that she said many publishers are asking for layered artwork from all artists (even traditional, non-digital artists) for the sake of ebooks and apps. So for example, an artist like me who works with paints may want to paint the background as one painting and the characters on a separate painting so they can be digitally layered together so scenes can be moved around if needed to fit standard book dimensions as well as ipad and e-reader dimensions (which are all different!) Kelly also encouraged using agents, because it usually just goes smoother when negotiating etc. etc. This woman really appreciates artists and presented the business side of things with truth and grace. I would love to work with her someday.

At the VERY end of the day, I finally got up the courage to go say hello to Kelly. I’m so glad I did, because she handed me her card! She didn’t provide her contact info to everyone at the event. I think she purposefully gave cards only to those who approached her. I learned my lesson right then and there, because I could’ve missed that opportunity altogether. Please Lord, heal me of my shyness! In all seriousness, I pray that prayer. I’m so outgoing and comfortable with my friends and family- I am! But the more I attend SCBWI events, the more they become like a family to me, and the more comfortable and open and un-shy I will become too. Thank you, Lord, for Southern-Breeze and SCBWI!

At the end of this educational day, my husband took me to P.F. Changs to eat. Here were our fortunes- a relevant ending to my day!

So that’s the run down of Illustrator’s Day 2012! Hope you enjoyed it.

A Peek at My Process: Little Red Riding Hoodie

Filed under: Illustration,Shanda's Journey | September 3, 2012

This past weekend I attended my first “Illustrator’s Day” with the Southern Breeze SCBWI illustrators! It was just as amazing, if not better, than the pricier conferences (which are geared mainly to writers) that I go to twice a year. And as you can imagine, this day was geared specifically to illustrators. It was also extremely affordable. Anyway, more about Illustrator’s Day in my next post :)

I was fortunate enough to be one of the first 12 folks to sign up for Illustrator’s Day which qualified me to participate in a month-long mentorship with the amazing illustrator, Michael Austin! (He has a new book coming out soon called “Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg”.)

Michael challenged us 12 with depicting suspicion in the context of one of these three classic stories: Rumpelstiltskin, Three Billy Goats Gruff, or Little Red Riding Hood. We discussed sketches over email and phone calls. Michael Austin truly has a teaching spirit! His emails were very detailed, and he really took his time with each of us. I learned a lot! He says there are three things in which he feels is most important in an illustration: action, emotion, and connectedness.

So here is a series of photos of my work progressing from sketches to a final painting…

These thumbnail sketches let me explore my options a bit. To see what floated my boat.


I took to this one right away. Something about that curtain was very suspicious to me- which was the goal!


I developed the sketch more so I could send it to Michael and he would have a clear idea of what I was going for. This sketch still has Red in her classic hooded garb.


I was growing tired of Red Riding Hood cloak imagery, so I tried a hoodie instead. Michael challenged me to enhance the action and emotion. So, I let her hand reach to touch the wolf’s feet and she looks more scared. The wolf’s feet are about to pounce too. I also added glasses to Red. Michael brought up the question: why can’t Red tell this isn’t her granny until it’s too late?


At this point I just jump in. For some reason, I have the urge to paint on wood lately, so I did :) This sketch really got me excited. In some ways I like Red’s face and expression in this sketch better than in the final piece, but sometimes you just have to move along. And since I’m not a digital painter, I can’t just go back. What’s done is done for the most part. The mouth, eyes, glasses, and gesture in general is strongest here, but I’m still happy with my finished piece.


I start adding paint. Unfortunately, things start looking a bit stiff here. And she starts to look older again after I had finally gotten her to look younger in the sketch above. The work sat like this for two days, and it itched at me bad- all I could think about was how I could “fix it”.


Finally I got some time to myself again to paint. I was happy when I got it to this point. I think she looks younger again. And I was loving the purple drape!


This is a big jump in the process, but when you get on a roll you just have to go with it. I’m especially proud of the way the background turned out. I tend to avoid backgrounds so this was a huge leap for me to do one effectively that didn’t compete with my foreground images. Tints and shades. Tints and shades.


On the last day, I pump up the contrast in several areas such as the hands, hair, and basket. I also completed the newspaper and made the wolf’s head’s shadow more transparent and a different shape.

So there you have it! I think it turned out pretty fun! This piece is a little more child accessible than some of my other work. I’m definitely evolving, growing, learning.  If you have a chance I’d love to hear what you think!


Where this story begins – my first blog post!

Filed under: Illustration,Shanda's Journey | July 28, 2012

Once upon a time I decided I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator! But … It’s not quite that simple :) This blog has been a long time coming, and for so long I have wanted to share my particular journey to my dream in a setting called my life where there’s a husband, a 2-year-old, financial limitations, time limitations, fear, and faith.

My first post is a simple one. Today I was watching my sweet pea play outside, so I squeezed in some drawing-from-a-live-model practice. Well, I tried anyway. She was too fast. I couldn’t even finish a one minute sketch, so I snapped a phone picture to get her still for a whole 3 minutes :)


Then I took her upstairs and thought I might add a little color to my drawing. But painting and entertaining my squirt didn’t mix well. She ended up finishing it for me. Oh well, at least I snapped a picture of the pencil drawing before she got a hold of it :) She does love to paint! She says she’s an artist like me!


So here’s what you can expect from this blog… my illustrations, inspirations, books, illustrators, art projects, my road blocks, my leaps, my tears, my triumphs and my life (the big and little times)! And here’s a big kiss to my sweet honey hubby, Ben who made my site look just the way I wanted it and encourages me to just go for it :)

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. -Proverbs 16:9 

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Shanda McCloskey, Children's Illustrator & Author