My Life as an Art Teacher-Oh What Fun!

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Traditional vs Modern Colour

When I bought my watercolours in Italy almost  two years ago, I was really, really excited. I had been told by an artist friend about the paints sold at, Zecchis, an art supply store that sits tucked away on a centuries old street called Via Dello Studio in the heart of Florence. The acacia honey and gum arabic watercolour paints were created from original Zecchi recipes and made with the same materials used by pre-Renaissance and Renaissance painters. So when I purchased my paints at the tiny cluttered store (think Olivander’s wand shop in Harry Potter) I was thrilled. And, yes, I was very pleased with the handful of tiny scenic watercolour paintings I made during the rest of my Italian trip. But I have to say I was not as enthralled with the paints when I applied them to kids illustration. To me, the colours looked washed out and sad. Though I admit its possible I am just not a very good water colourist. I also now realize that my aesthetic has been formed by the times I presently live in. A time where any colour you can imagine can be purchased and printed. I do love kids’ book art with vivid eye-popping colours and my sweet-smelling honey paints just don’t cut it. I will continue to use my Zecchi watercolours for scenery or portraiture, but for my kids art I believe will stick to the bolder and the richer colours of my time.

This picture was coloured with the watercolours              And this one was coloured digitally

And the smallest bed was just right!

Goldilocks checks out Baby Bear’s bed

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Goldilocks checks out Baby Bear’s bed



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Searching for Chinese Picture Books

Beautiful Chinese picture book

A New Year’s Reunion by
Yu Li Qiong and Zhu Cheng Liang,

Last October, my father, sister, and I went on an amazing dream trip to China. My dad, who is the inspiration for Stephen and the Lake Monster, was born in Shanghai and moved to Canada when he was twelve. He had always wanted to show us the country where he was born and so we booked a tour with China Spree. The emphasis of this particular tour was to showcase Chinese history and culture. The tour guides kept us on our toes; six cities in sixteen days! I jokingly referred to it as our Chinese Culture Bootcamp trip.

Bookstore & restaurant in Gulin

The restaurant-bookstore in Guilin. You can read or eat to lovely zither music!



Through the flurry of touring, one of the things I kept my eyes out for were Chinese picture books. But because of the tight schedule, I didn’t get the opportunity to seek out any book stores. Fortunately, while in beautiful Guilin, our tour group had dinner in a restaurant  that also happened to be a bookstore! While there, I found a couple of wonderful books both published by the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. These two books were fairytales with English translations. I have to admit, I chose them for their gorgeous artwork.


The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats, in Chinese and English

The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats, in both Chinese and English

Lotus Lantern, a Chinese fairytale.

Lotus Lantern, a Chinese fairytale. Written in English and Chinese.










Overall, though, I found that among the children’s selection, there seemed to be an emphasis on dry educational material. Some were also just translations of western fairytales like Hansel and Gretel with the illustrations depicting European (not Chinese) children. Many of the books were illustrated in an anime style, which is okay, but I know that a vast richness of artistic styles abound in China. It’d be lovely to see that reflected in children’s literature.

Chinese Picture Book

Two pages from The Boy Who Outfoxed a Fox. From a Beijing Airport bookstore.

The second place I managed to find picture books was at the Beijing Airport. The selection there was far better but, again, there seemed to be an emphasis on the educational-type material. However, I found two exceptionally illustrated books. Both were written only in Chinese.  It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the English title of the book, A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li Qiong and illustrated by Zhu Cheng Liang, published by Hsinex International Corporation. A breathtakingly poignant story of a migrant family’s New Year get together. The gouache artwork is nothing short of stunning. I was also thrilled to recognize that the story is set in Tongli a unique water village that we had the pleasure of visiting on our China tour.

The Boy Who Outfoxed a Fox by Xin Yi & illustrated by Cai Gao. I've yet to find a translation for this story..

The cover of The Boy Who Outfoxed a Fox by Xin Yi & illustrated by Cai Gao.

I have yet to find out the storyline for the other book I bought at the airport, The Boy Who Outfoxed a Fox by Xin Yi & illustrated by Cai Gao, also published by Hsinex. At a recent get together with some illustrator friends, we marvelled at the unique and engaging style of Cai Gao’s artwork.

My overall impression of Chinese kids’ books is that the children’s market is only just starting to blossom and now that China is opening up to the world, we can look forward to many more wonderful titles to come.


A New Year's Reunion by Yu Li Qiong and Zhu Cheng Liang,

A page from A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li Qiong and Zhu Cheng Liang. Stunning Illustrations.

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Going Digital With Sketchbook Pro

Tiny Grace tries to fly the witch's broom in 'The Witch of Golden Acres'

Tiny Grace tries to fly the witch’s broom in ‘The Witch of Golden Acres’

I really love drawing and painting but I have to admit that colouring in my inked illustrations is my least favourite thing to do. Once that paint brush hits the paper, it’s done. No going back and sometimes that permanently placed colour turns out to be oh-so wrong. What to do…

After (jealously) examining the works of other illustrators’ fabulous online portfolios, I figured it was high time I learned to how to apply my colour digitally. I did not want to spend the big-bucks on Photoshop and put the time in to learn how to use it. I am writing a novel, after all, which is taking up more than its fair share of time! So, Sketchbook by Autodesk was a good fit.

At first, I tried the free version, Sketchbook Express, to get a feel for the program. I played around with it for a few months but became frustrated by the fact that it did not have a transparent background option. This is an especially important option for artists like me who chose to start their drawing on paper and then import it to a program like Sketchbook to finish it there. When I wrote to Autodesk, I found out that the transparent background option was only available in the paid version, Sketchbook Pro.

So I paid the $60 (not a bad price!) and downloaded Pro. So far, I have to say that I am very pleased. I still have to put in the time to learn the program which I am doing by watching video tutorials and just jumping in and ‘learning by doing’. The illustration (above) is a ‘learning’ piece as I am sure the next twenty illustrations I work on will be.

The best thing is now I can fearlessly look forward to colouring my work without concern for placing down the wrong colour. I also love how the strong digital colours really pop and turn a simple black and white inked drawing into a visual delight!

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A Room With a View in Tuscany!

A View from The Castle Only God Knows in Tuscany

A view from The Castle Only God Knows in Tuscany. Formerly a Roman military outpost, it now sits alone in a stunning forest setting. It takes about an hour to hike to -and it’s so worth it!

My mother and I went to a heavenly writers retreat in Tuscany last July. Tuenta di Spannocchia is a villa located on an expansive beautiful heritage farm that has existed since the twelfth century! Before we arrived at Spannochia, we spent four glorious days in Florence where we enthusiastically took in the museums. Seeing the art I studied in art school was an amazing experience. One of my favourite mental snapshots was watching a brilliant orange sunset going down on the Ponte Vecchio while enthusiastic Italians walked by us with banners and Italian flags singing out songs in support of their team playing in the World Cup finals that evening. A vibrant and memorable night!

I took some notes on my experience in Italy. Here are some samples:

-a nicely dressed woman riding a bicycle in high-heels
-Teeny tiny vehicles; including garbage trucks
-vocal appreciation towards the fairer sex readily expressed
-gypsy women in long skirts begging for money while checking to see if your camera or wallet is easy to steal
-very few fast food restaurants (not missed)
-a hundred year old building is considered brand new
-Italian youth much better behaved after the devastating loss to Spain in the World Cup (Pay attention Stanley Cup hooligans!)
-a nun in a pure white head to toe habit texting on her iPhone
-the evening light bathing the streets of Siena in a wash of golden colours
-the wine, so inexpensive, so good!
Writing Retreat

Wine on the front deck at Tuenta di Spannocchia. The property goes out as far as the eye can see.







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