Look who showed up in my email today!

My talented friend, art teacher Scott Given, has been getting his portfolio together for the NE SCBWI conference and was looking for new illustration ideas a while back.  "How about a lonely sea monster?"  I tossed out.  (One of my picture book manuscripts is about just such a sea monster.)  And look what showed up in my email today…

I’m always in awe of illustrators…how they can conjure scenes and sea monsters out of thin air.

Isn’t he the cutest fellow?  I want to pinch his little sea monster cheeks and feed him cookies.

Over and Under the Snow has an Illustrator!

If you were reading my blog back in April, you might remember this post  where I was all over-the-moon about my picture book, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, being acquired by Chronicle Books.  It’s about a girl on a cross country ski trip who discovers the secret kingdom of animals living under the winter snow. Today, that snowy story is another step closer to being a real live book.  My editor emailed to let me know while contracts aren’t quite signed yet, I can go ahead and share the news that we have an illustrator on board!  

You might know him from his artwork on this cover…

It’s Christopher Silas Neal – an artist whose work I absolutely love.  I’ve been bouncing off the walls ever since his name came up in the illustrator discussions.  The sample spread he created for SNOW is stunning, and I’m thrilled that he’s going to illustrate this book.

Consider me all over-the-moon, all over again.

Awaiting an Illustrator

There are so many exciting steps along the way in a writer’s journey.  Some of them, like getting books in the mail or doing a first book signing, you’ve heard about and expect to be amazing experiences.  But some of the other milestones have taken me by surprise.  Like when my editor emailed me last year with the ISBN number for Spitfire, my first regional historical novel. 

ISBN number???  I have an ISBN number?  I have an ISBN number!!! 

I was so giddy that a slightly snarky friend suggested I have the number tattooed on my forehead.

Today was another one of those memorable milestones.  I got an email from Melissa, my editor at Chronicle Books, which is publishing my first picture book, Over and Under the Snow.  She’d just come from a meeting with Chronicle’s design department,  and she wanted to share the short list of illustrators under consideration.  They are all amazing.  I spent half the night online, looking at websites and portfolios and requesting picture books from the library.  Obviously, it’s way too early in the process for me to share much.  But I can share this…

Wow.  Just wow.   It’s humbling to think that someone with such incredible talent will create art to tell a story with my words. 

I’d love to hear thoughts from those of you who have been through this process.  I can’t begin to imagine how exciting it will be to see the final illustrations.

I know there’s more work to do with this manuscript.  There’s editing.  I still have to fill out that long author questionnaire (I’m working on it, really…).  And I’m sure there will be bumps in the road before my picture book is a book.  But for now, what a gift  – to be able to look at the work of such amazing artists and imagine what each of them might bring to SNOW with their unique styles and moods. 

Tonight, I’ll be dreaming in pen and ink, watercolor, mixed media, and everything in between.

Robert’s Snow…Meet Illustrator Shawna Tenney!

Today’s illustrator feature for the Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure Fundraiser is Shawna Tenney, an artist with a gift for whimsy and, as you’ll see in her snowflake, a child’s playfulness.

Blogger’s Note:  I’m a children’s author and a middle school English teacher, so my students are collaborating on our series of illustrator profiles. Today’s feature is courtesy of the Global Citizens in 3rd period English class.

Shawna Tenney has illustrated many books, such as Allie’s Bike, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, A Very Strange Place, and In the Sun.


She first wanted to be a ballerina, but finding out it wasn’t made for her, she discovered writing and illustrating.  She now lives in Utah with her husband, Warren, and two daughters, Cassidy and Madeline, and don’t forget Bongo the Cat!


We interviewed Shawna Tenney.  Here are our questions and her answers:

First of all, please tell us about your snowflake. Where did the idea for the frog fairy come from?

Well, sometimes I don’t really know where my ideas come from.  I was looking at my snowflake, and all I could see was a big beehive hairdo and wings.  A fat frog lady hopped in there randomly.

Why did you join the Robert’s Snow fundraiser?

I found out about it on a friend’s blog, and really wanted to participate, mostly because my mom is a breast cancer survivor.  I was very excited to participate in a fund raiser for cancer research in which I could use my talents.   I dedicated my snowflake to my mom and my good friend Amber, an 11 year old who has leukemia.

Why do you like being an illustrator?

Wow, what is there not to like.  I can stay at home with my kids while I work and make my own schedule (although at times this can be a challenge).  I get paid for doing something I love to do.

How much practice does it take to be an illustrator? 

Well, I have a bachelor’s degree, so I have had as much schooling as most other professionals.  I have always loved drawing and have been doing it since I was very little.  It takes many hours to complete a painting.  First I have to get the sketch just right with a composition I am happy with.  Then I have to transfer that sketch onto a board.  Sometimes I do a color study on the computer to decide what colors I am going to use.  Then the painting itself takes many many hours.

How many paintings have you done?  Do you have a favorite?

Oh goodness, I have done countless paintings.  I have big bins full of old paintings.  I kind of stick to one style now, but I’ve gone through many different styles and mediums.  I think one of my favorite paintings right now is “The Queen of Sheep-baa.” 

I really like making animal characters and want to do many more, maybe even someday a book with some fun animal characters.

Where do you get your inspirations for paintings? Do you ever get ideas from your family?

I am inspired by many great artists and illustrators.  As for my ideas, I get those from many things including things I used to imagine as a child, and things that are going on with my family.  Sometimes my imagination comes up with things out of nowhere.  A lot of the time I am doing jobs for a client and they tell me what to draw (which is certainly not as fun).  I really like fairy tales.  I like to modernize them and make them silly.  In fact, I’m working on a whole new website based on silly fairy tales.  Come back and visit my website in a couple months to see what I mean.  My little three year old, Cassidy, is really into fairy tales, so some of the things she enjoys inspire me.  Some of the things she says and does give me ideas for stories that I would like to write and illustrate.  My husband also helps me think of ideas.  He is a graphic designer, so he helps critique my work and helps me improve things.
Do you feel like you have a particular style of illustrating, and if so, how would you describe it?

I feel like I have my own children’s storybook style.  I guess if I were to describe it, I would say, clean, detailed,colorful and whimsical with interesting angles and compositions (at least that’s what I’m shooting for. . .).

Which do you prefer to draw – fantasy pictures or realistic ones?

Definitely fantasy.  I love making up my own worlds where anything can happen.
What medium do you usually paint in?

Acrylic Paints.  I do some black and white work with charcoal pencils and micron pens.

Have you ever thought about writing your own book? What would it be about?

Yes, I’ve actually written a few of my own, but have never gotten a story good enough to send out.  I think I would enjoy writing a picture book about a crazy fairy tale or about animal characters.

Now the rapid-fire questions…things that kids (and adults who think like them) need to know!

What is your favorite painter or painting of all time, and why?

How can I pick one?  Well, one of my favorites would be John William Waterhouse.  His skin tones are beautiful and I love his style and the way he applied his paint.  His subject matter was usually fairy-talesque.   There are countless other painters and illustrators I greatly admire.  A current artist I love is James Christensen.  If you saw his work, you would probably know why.

Favorite book ever?

Oh goodness, I can’t just choose one.  I of course love the Harry Potter series.  One book I read recently that I thoroughly enjoyed is The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.  As for illustrated children’s books, there are too many to count, but my favorite author/illustrators are Dr. Seuss and Chris Van Allsburg.

Your favorite kind of pie?

Banana Cream Pie.   Mmmmmmmmm!

Favorite sport?

Well, sorry folks, I’m not much of a sports fan.  I do enjoy watching some sports.  Actually, I’m more into dance, if you can count that as a sport.  I was actually thinking of being a ballet teacher in my earlier years before I decided to become an illustrator.

Your website gives your name as Shawna J.C. Tenney. What does the JC stand for?

Shawna Jean Calder Tenney
Favorite animal?

Sea Lions

Favorite color?

I don’t think it is legal for an illustrator to choose just one favorite color.

We read about your cat on your website. How come you chose Bongo as his name?

We found Bongo in my parent in law’s window well.  He was a sweet little orange kitten.  My husband chose Bongo as his name and  it stuck.

Has your cat Bongo ever helped with a painting?  Or ruined a painting?

Bongo posed for the cat talking on the phone on my website, although he was very embarrassed to have to dress up like a girl.  Sometimes Bongo tries to bite my feet while I’m painting.  Sometimes he tries to jump up on my lap or drink my painting water.  One time he stepped in my pallet and walked over my painting.  That wasn’t the worst I’ve had though.  Cassidy who is now three has painted on several of my paintings that I had to get to clients.  Fortunately acrylics are forgiving and I was able to fix them.  Madeline, my one year old, hasn’t ruined any paintings. . .yet.

 Thanks, Shawna, for taking the time to visit with us, and thanks for giving your time and talents for the Robert’s Snow project!

Thank you!  It was really fun.  What a fun project for your classes to do!  Hope you’re all having a great year

Please be sure to check out Shawna’s snowflake and all of the amazing work at the Robert’s Snow Auction Site.

And…to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Allie’s Bike and a print signed by Shawna Tenney, please post a comment below, mentioning one of your favorite snowflakes in the Robert’s Snow fundraiser.  You don’t have to have a blog to win, but be sure we have a way to get in touch with you.  A winner will be drawn in early December, after the auction.