Monday, December 17, 2012

Small violinist, big room, part 2

Almost two years ago I posted a sketch that I had intended to use for a postcard mailing. I wanted to do the illustration in color, but I didn't start on it right away which meant I spent some extra time thinking about it. Some things weren't quite right in it for me, but until a couple of weeks ago I didn't take the time to fix the problems.

First off, here's the original sketch:

And here's the new sketch:

Not a big difference, but the new version made me much happier.

I also decided not to add color at all. I'm doing the whole thing in graphite with (hopefully) some really cool dramatic lighting. At least that's the plan. I'll post the final in a few weeks.

By the way, the boy's name is Nick and his friend is Clarice.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My gynecologist brings out the best in me

You may have noticed—or not—that I haven't posted lately. So did I. I guess time slips away from you when you're thinking about other things. And what I've been thinking about has done its best to suck the creative juices right out of me.

Let's do this in the least painful way possible. I'm going to type in some words, and you have the option to read what I type or not. It's personal, it's private, and it's making me queasy as we speak (I'm not a medical person like my siblings). This could fall well into the category of "too much information," but I'm willing if you are. If you're uncomfortable with reading about female medical issues, you might be better off moving on to the next post.

Still here? O.K. Here goes.

On October 17 I had my yearly PAP smear. While I was there I told my new (actually my "old" and I went back to her; it's complicated) doctor (who I adore, by the way, that's why I went back) about my funky periods. The first days after I start have been epically wicked for years now. I called them my "exploding days." I won't get into details, but they were fun on days where I had to go to work ("fun" in the most sarcastic use of the word). And then, as if that weren't enough, they pretty much lasted the rest of the month. I could count the days on one hand where something wasn't blooming.

To get the party started, the PAP came back irregular. They sent it off for further testing, but that didn't result in anything more. So end of story there. Ish.

In light of the period thing, the doctor decided to send me for an internal ultrasound. That's the way I like to refer to it. You may have heard of it by it's political name: "Transvaginal Ultrasound." You can read on your own about how they go about giving you one. So for my 48th birthday, I got myself an internal ultrasound.

My follow-up appointment the next week came the morning after I met Neil Gaiman. (Yeah, I know. I'm not sure which incident impressed me more.) The doctor told me they found some issues with my ultrasound, and advised I get a D&C and hysteroscopy. Again, I'll let you read about what those involve on your own. We scheduled that little scooping out procedure for the following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving.

Of course, every procedure needs a follow-up exam, and that happened last Wednesday. Before we get to the follow-up though, I should probably introduce you to my family. My maternal grandmother had four sisters. My grandmother was the only one of the five who didn't have to have a hysterectomy. My maternal aunt passed away last year from uterine cancer. My mom had had wicked periods and had her own D&C around the time she turned 54. She passed away suddenly a little over a month later (unrelated circumstances), so we'll never know for sure if a) the D&C worked or b) she would have developed her own uterine cancer and needed a hysterectomy.

So. My follow-up.

During the D&C, the doctor removed a lot of junk. The biopsy they did on some of that junk resulted in NO cancer. What they did find were cells that could become cancer: atypical hyperplasia. Or, to be more specific: Complex Endometrial Hyperplasia with Atypia. Of course it had to be complex, and of course it was atypical, because it makes life more interesting that way.

Bottom line, I'll be getting myself a hysterectomy for Christmas. Scheduled Dec. 21 for Winter Solstice. It will also be the 10th anniversary of my wedding engagement. I have an idea for an illustration of an operating room with a Shop Vac hooked up to my belly button.

It wasn't until the follow-up appointment was over (we had spent at least 45 minutes working things out; I got a parking ticket) and the doctor shook my hand to leave that I understood the seriousness of the situation. She stood up and said, "This isn't cancer. We can handle this." She paused for a second. "We removed a lot of tissue. I was worried."

I can only relate her words, but I doubt I can relate the tone with which she said them. Just know there was a seriousness there that said more than any words that came out of her mouth. When I retrieved the parking ticket from my windshield I was shivering a little.

On a positive note, when my doctor and I were trying to figure out when the best time would be to schedule my hysterectomy, I mentioned that I would be heading to New York at the end of January for a conference. She wanted to know what I did, and I told her I was an illustrator and writer. Her eyes lit up, and she said, "I want to be you!" That took a little while to sink in with everything else I had to process.

Yeah. I'm pretty lucky.

So. After having created no art for months, I started a new drawing the next day. My gynecologist rocks.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jack-O-Lantern Painting

So I've spent the last week and a half fighting a cold. Didn't feel like doing much of anything. I pretty much sat around and coughed up a lung.

But when I started feeling the least bit better, I really, really felt like digging into a painting. I had a couple of birch plywood boards that were already cleaned and gessoed, so I grabbed the smaller one of the two and pulled out some Halloweeny-colored paints.

I wasn't sure when I started what I wanted to do. I had painted a quick sketch of a field of pumpkins and quickly realized I wasn't going to get the painting finished by the end of the afternoon, so I scrapped the idea. But looking at the sketch gave me another idea.

On the upper right I had sketched a moon, and arching across near the bottom was the horizon line. I started throwing on some blueish colors thinking I could paint some kind of night scene, maybe throw in a few tombstones. But as I waited for the paint to dry, I started seeing something completely different. The moon became an eye, and the horizon line formed the top of a mouth.

So here he is: a 5"x7" jack-o-lantern painting finished in one afternoon between nose blowings. I think if I can get a few more of these puppies in the can, they'd make nice greeting cards. It's that "a few more in the can" thing that seems to be holding me back. I'll have to work on that.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wellsboro Bike Rides=Wildlife Adventure

A couple of weeks ago we trekked up to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, to spend some time on their rails to trails, but we weren't ready for everything we saw while we were there.

On our first day on the bike trail while we were riding along we saw a large animal on the trail ahead of us. When I exclaimed, "It's a cat!" it looked up and saw us and headed off into the woods. It was a cat alright. A bobcat. Bobcats don't like to show themselves often, so that was a real treat. It didn't stick around long enough for either of us to get a photo, but here's a shot of what one might look like up close and personal.

Also on the trail that day were several snakes. The first one we saw we stopped to help him off the trail. Where we normally ride we don't see too many snakes on the trail itself, and we'd rather they not get themselves run over. But then we saw another one. And another. And another. It was like they were everywhere. Mostly they were non-poisonous water snakes, but we did see a couple of garter snakes, too. This was one of the water stakes, and he let me take his picture. Well, sort of. I don't think he was very happy about it.
The second day we were there was a bit rainy, so we walked the town and read the day away. During our walk, I snapped this photo of a deer making itself at home in somebody's yard. It didn't seem very surprised at all to see us and wasn't frightened by us being there in the least.

The third day turned out to be spectactular, so we hit the bike trail again. As we rode past some houses, along the top of the fence separating the trail from the yard ran a black squirrel. He ran right along with our riding speed and was about three feet away from me. At first I didn't recognize what it was because I didn't realize that black squirrels even existed. But they do, and we got to see one close up. Unfortunately, by the time I realized what it was, it was too late to pull out the camera.

Did you see the first photo at the top of this post? Shortly after I took it (and put my camera away, of course. This is starting to sound like I'm making this up, isn't it.), we caught sight of a large black animal on the trail ahead of us. At first I thought it was a really big dog, but then it stood on its hind legs and proceeded to climb over the fence on the right of the photo. Yep. A bear.

We saw so many more snakes on the trail that we just decided to do our best not to hit them with our bikes. Snakes themselves are pretty exciting to see on a normal bike trip, but after you've seen a bobcat and a bear, any snakes you might see seem kind of tame.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New site design

I just uploaded a completely new website for The Rots (, and I'm planning on using the same styles and layout for my kid's illustration site when I get there. I'll be changing the colors to go with the branding I've already designed, but the fonts and layout of the new site will be very similar to The Rots'. I'll have some other changes too, just because I won't be creating pages for the same things, but there will be enough similarities that I'll be able to use the general idea.

I spent a long time getting these pages together and working. My original site was built completely in Flash (, but that was years before Steve Jobs decided the iPads he wanted to sell in the future wouldn't include the ability to view Flash. And I, like so many others, really need to listen to Steve. The portfolio parts on my kid's site are still in Flash, so I need to get those little guys up to speed.

I also had to build separate style sheets for tablets and other mobile devices, because those also weren't much of a factor when I built the original site. But it's finished, and I'll tweak if necessary, and the next step will be optimizing images for

Unfortunately, that's probably going to take a while. I'll post here when it's up and running.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Double-spaces after periods

Stop it! Just stop it!

fig. 1
For those of us (meaning: you) who don't know yet, back in the day when we (meaning: us old people) were learning to type, we were learning on that antiquated mechanism called a "typewriter" (see fig. 1).

Typewriters used monotype lettering, meaning, no matter what the letter, every single letter took up the same amount of space. So an ittie bittie lowercase "i" needed to be just as wide as a monstrous capital letter "M" (see fig. 2).

fig. 2
So that the periods at the end of the sentence stood out a little easier before the beginning of the next sentence, we learned to put an extra space after the period. I guess the idea was that it was too hard to distinguish where one sentence ended and the next one began, so we gave that little period a place to breathe.

What happened then was computers. Computers started getting smart. Not only were they able to use type that wasn't hampered by physical limitations, but they also knew how to give each letter the spacing it needed for optimal reading. They didn't need us to tell them about the extra spaces we had been using after a period. It already knew how much was necessary and said in a condescending kind of way, "Yes. I know."

Problem was, the people who learned how to type on typewriters (meaning: us old people) kept teaching new typists (meaning: those of you who grew up learning to type on a computer keyboard) that double-spaces after periods were the way it was done, mainly because we didn't know any better.

fig. 3 Typographers should avert their eyes from ¶ 1
But now we do, so stop it. It isn't necessary, and it causes empty spaces to stick out through your text when you do it that way (see fig. 3). A block of text should have an overall gray tone, but those extra spaces break that overall gray up in a way that gives typographers the hives.

If you want to fight this change to the death, here's a few good lines taken from the link above:

Using a single space means that you understand that technology has changed since the decades ago when you first used to type. A single space means you realize not everything your teachers taught you in high school still holds true. A single space means you have respect for the journalists and designers who are working hard to take those extra spaces out of the drafts you're sending us.

And who wouldn't want to show their high school teachers that they know better?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Scary mushrooms that pop up overnight

When I came back from an early morning run, I found these three little guys growing rampant in our front yard.

They weren't growing there the day before. It might be hard to see in the photo, but the largest one measured 7" tall (the next largest one was 6"). I think they were deposited here by aliens. They'll take over soon enough.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

@neilhimself and geekiness and what one is willing to do about it

I guess it's official: I've become a writing geek. I don't know any other kind of person who would keep themselves awake until all hours just to nab tickets to see a writer talk.

I found out a couple of weeks ago that Neil Gaiman was going to speak at the Carnegie Music Hall at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh nine days after my birthday. My reaction involved many, many exclamation points which, I've learned, real writers are expected to avoid.

To add to the overuse of punctuation, Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures were also going to have a post-lecture party where you could actually meet Neil and he would sign a book for you. (Oh! Get out!) The problem was, you had to buy a VIP ticket to get in, and the Music Hall isn't all that big (1,950 seats total), and there would be a limited number of VIP tickets for sale, and they were expected to go fast, and they were $55 each.

When I explained all of this to my lovely husband, he said, "I think you need to get the VIP tickets." And, being the lovely husband that he is, agreed to go with me and give me the tickets for my birthday! (How do you finish that sentence without using an exclamation point?)

The tickets were to go on sale at 12:01 AM, August 27. That was wonderful, except that I'm brain dead by 10 PM, and can't remember the last time I willfully stayed awake until midnight. But it was imperative that I did.

I had the site up by 11:30 just to get a feel for what I would have to do, which in the end didn't really help much. When my computer clock hit 12:01, I hit "Reload" on my page and went to work. I picked "Best seats available" and "2" tickets and "VIP" and clicked to go to the next page, and a little ticker up in the right-hand corner started counting down the amount of time I had to finish the sale before the tickets would go back in the pool.

No pressure or anything.

O.K. 14 minutes.

But the next page asked for my login information. That's when the panic started to set in. I had lost my hard drive a few months ago where I used to keep a .doc file with all my user names and passwords listed. I've been slowly building the file back up from scratch, but I hadn't bought tickets from Pgh Arts & Lectures since the hard drive funeral, and I had no idea what my login information used to be. I had the bright idea that I could just register a new account, and when I typed my email in and made up a new password, the site informed me that I already had an account.

13 minutes. 12 minutes.

I decided to have them reset my password, but that meant they had to email me a link to do that.

11 minutes. 10 minutes. 9 minutes.

(Yes, I was feeling the sweat, too.)

With my password reset, I double-checked my order (quickly) and gave them my credit card number.

8 minutes. Ugh!

But one final click and happy ending! The beautiful bundle arrived in the mail a few days ago:

And you see that staple up the left-hand side? That means something very special was attached to the back of the ticket.

Something very, very special.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Stop motion at its finest

I went to see ParaNorman last Friday (on the day it opened, of course), and it was fantastic. It was well written, well animated and well paced. It brought up the subjects of bullying and mob mentality, and addressed them without hitting you over the head with a sermon.

Norman also solved the main problem of the movie by confronting it rather than putting a Band-Aid on it and kicking it on down the road. But more than that, he confronted it by talking to it rather than using violence. Conflict resolution: what a unique idea. I'll have some more, please.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Just a little illustration to tease you

I'm working on a novel geared toward middle-gradish kids (like The Graveyard Book or The Book Thief are considered), and I'll also be illustrating it. I've never written anything of these proportions, and sometimes so many words can be overwhelming to a picture person. A couple of times I felt the need to get away from Word and get back into Photoshop just to keep my sanity and my focus and my love of the story.

I wanted to post one of the illustrations I did for the book, just to tease you a little. If I have my way, the illustration above will cover a two-page spread at the start of the book. The text "Part One: Fliers" will be laid over the image on the right hand page about halfway down, under the bird.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How do people do it?

I'll just say it: I'm tired.

I have a job. I mean, a regular, pack my lunch, get in the car and drive to work kind of job. When the day's over, I'm beat. I didn't used to be that way, but I didn't used to have this many revolutions around the sun under my belt.

I've got ideas. Book ideas. Illustration ideas. Painting ideas. Stuffed animal ideas. Resin figurine ideas. I just don't have the time or the energy to get all these ideas out there.

I'm totally slacking.

I've been spending tons and tons of time writing my novel, and I haven't spent enough time finishing my mailing list, and my postcard mailing is months behind. I have a long list of promo stuff I need to be doing with my Twisted book, but the list is collecting dust in the pile of all the other things I've started lists for.

My office space is a mess. I haven't cleaned in forever because, well, I've been writing a novel which, apparently, consumes a vast majority of one's life.

I've started a list of things I absolutely have to get working on tomorrow. Unfortunately, none of them involve creating anything. My mom used to write to-do lists for herself all the time. She died with a list sitting on her kitchen table.

I have a feeling I'll never get finished either.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Photos while bike riding

Yeah. It probably isn't a good idea to take photos while you're actually moving on the bike, but I couldn't resist.

Great Allegheny Passage from Confluence to Fort Hill. Cleared the cobwebs. Got me focused.

A few days ago I had written about 12 important pages for the end of my latest novel, and they felt like I just wanted to get it done. I thought about them on the trail, about what the problems were, about what questions really needed to be solved better (or solved period) and about what needed more explanation. When I sat down after I got home, I started handwriting ideas out that I didn't want to forget on scrap paper. After the third sheet and I still wasn't finished, I decided to finish up on the computer.

Two pages single-spaced later, I've got problems solved that I didn't even realize I had.

Tomorrow, we write.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Website Listing Service scam

I don't like getting junk snail mail. It's annoying and not very earth friendly. But I got a piece of junk mail the other day that's a little worse than annoying. First, here's the front and back:

It looks like a legitimate bill, doesn't it? Except for that print in the middle of the front page that says "THIS IS NOT A BILL," it would be hard to tell that it wasn't. They've even perforated the bottom of the page to send with your "remittance." This page and a return envelope were the only things in the mailing, which makes it look even more like a bill.

A few things:
  1. You people suck. If you want to get business, how about doing a great job at what you do.
  2. Do you really think I would patronize a business that's trying to con me into using their business? Those aren't the kind of people I want to deal with.
  3. The name of the company is Web Listings Inc. Their email address is I'm not saying you should spam them or anything. Just know who they are when you're the one they contact.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shirley Jones

When I grew up, I remember thinking my mother and Shirley Jones were equals. She (Shirley Jones, not my mother) grew up in a small town (Smithton, Pennsylvania) that was pretty close to where I grew up (although my mother grew up in a town that was even closer), which I thought was terribly exciting and made the two of them practically sisters.

I wasn't quite six years old when The Partridge Family debuted, but I was instantly in love. I wanted to be in a band. My dad told me later that the reason I played drums in school was because on that very first episode a little girl drummer showed up Chris Partridge on the show. I don't remember it happening that way, but I believe him that it did.

Anyway, the point of this was that I ran across this painting I did of Shirley Jones from way back, maybe ten years ago. For those of you who follow this blog and have seen my work, yes, it was in fact painted by me. Acrylic on bristol. Before I escaped to the dark side.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hand Lettering in Gettysburg

I can't help it. When I see lettering or graphic design that I like, I have to take a photo. I found some hand lettering at a place called The Pub & Restaurant right in the middle of Gettysburg on Lincoln Square. (If you take a look at their website, you'll see these lettering examples aren't carried through the rest of their design. As a matter of fact, the site is a bit annoying, to be honest.)

When I was taking the photo of the lettering in the bathroom, I tried to hurry before the lady came out of the stall there, but I didn't make it. I had to explain that I was a type geek. She said that was fine. That might have been her way of backing away slowly.

Monday, July 09, 2012

You know what? I'm still proud of this drawing.

I submitted this and a few other drawings to a certain industry newsletter (I won't mention names) over a year ago, and I'm getting the impression they aren't interested. I found all those submissions lying around recently and realized I'm a little proud of the work. I think she's cute, and I think she wants to be seen.

So here she is. Her name is Paula, and she's really into books.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Like I said, NO SPEC!

So as I've posted a couple of times before here and here, spec work for designers and artists shouldn't even be something we're discussing now that we have minimum wage and the robber barons have long since disappeared and all. For those people who still aren't "getting" what the problem is, here's a little video I ran across that might explain it better:

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Kirkus review is out!

My book Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1 got reviewed by Kirkus Reviews!

Some highlights:

"A clever collection of stories and comics by debut author Thompson.
An experienced illustrator and graphic designer, Thompson organizes this flash-fiction book into 28 extremely brief chapters on many subjects and uses both text and spacing to heighten interest. Her artwork tends toward the gory, though the drawings also contain elements of humor. The words themselves are arranged on the page for an atypical and interesting reading experience...Thompson shines at using unexpected or multiple perspectives to breathe new life into conventional tales, with story endings that are surprising and skillfully foreshadowed. This balance between the unpredictable and the expected rewards rereading. Thompson uses amusing chapter titles like “Cleaver Over-Achiever” and “Lobotomy Pie,” and her phrasing is often similarly adroit...
An assortment of repulsive yet funny chapters makes for a quick and enjoyable read."

Although I'm not sure about reporting that my artwork "tends toward the gory," I'll take it. Alfred Hitchcock banked his career on people seeing things that he never had to show, so I think I'm in good company.

Monday, June 18, 2012

In response to VistaPrint (and now 99designs)

Where do I start?

I guess I could start by saying this blog post has been sitting around as a draft since Feb. 6, 2012. I started it, took a few deep breaths and slowly lost the fight in my belly that got me started on it in the first place.

So lets begin there.

I'm sure most everyone has seen the commercials for VistaPrint (I refuse to link to the company here). Who wouldn't want to bypass the time and effort—and let's not forget money—it takes to hire one of those elitist graphic designers when you can so easily create your own designs right from the comfort of your own computer (and in your jammies).

For cheap. Let's not forget that part.

You can make your designs look the way you want. You can pick the colors and fonts and logos yourself. And hopefully you're pretty good at proofreading, because who wants to pay for 1,000 brochures with embarrassing typos? Because, really, what difference does it make which colors you pick, as long as you like them, right? And as long as the font looks cool, your business will look cool. Anybody can throw a logo together. Geesh. All it takes is one of those fonts that you like, a color that says, "POW" and one of those free stock pieces of clip art. You know, the same clip art all those other people who are using the service can choose from.

You'll be good to go in no time.

I had a client who I've worked with for years ask me to design a sign for their business, which I have done numerous times in the past and have always received an enthusiastic "thank you" for how great I made their business look. I waited for their email reply with size specs, but was punched in the gut when the email instead said, "I decided to use VistaPrint."

They decided to use VistaPrint.

They were able to create the design themselves online. Not that they had any experience in how that would work. You pay with peanuts, you get monkeys.

Let's knock some things out of the way up front:
  • I went to school, have years of hands-on experience and have taught graphic design at the university level
  • Things you learn in graphic design classes:
    • Fonts are a whole lot more than fancy lettering; they themselves carry meaning above and beyond the words they spell out
    • Colors are a whole lot more than attention grabbers or personal preferences; they themselves carry meaning above and beyond the spaces they're filling
    • Layouts are a whole lot more than making everything fit in a space or taking up every square inch of the space; they direct the reader's eye and carry meaning above and beyond the content they are arranging
  • Yes, we love what we do, that's why we chose this profession. Isn't that why you chose yours? Would you expect to show up at work and not get paid for what you do just because you love what you do?
  • Your graphic designer knows how to brand your business because she understands your business as well as you do. If you own a business and don't understand the importance of branding, maybe start with a Google search
  • Graphic designers can integrate your brand across all your materials: logos, business cards, marketing materials and websites, to name just a few
  • Those logos, business cards, etc. from above? They all require Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver and Acrobat, minimum. The Adobe Creative Suite 6 Design Premium costs $1,899 if you aren't upgrading, $749 if you're upgrading from CS5, which I would be if I could afford it. And new upgrades are released every year and a half or so. You do the math
  • I was just starting out in graphic design when I hooked up with the client that started this rant and, because I didn't want to cause their business any undue financial stress, only charged them $15/hour. Yes. $15. (P.S. I'm also still paying off my student loans. Even now.) And yes, that made me one of those people who devalued the work of a designer. When I upped my fee, I priced myself right out of new clients. Rock. Hard place.
Let's take a step off to the side here for a second...

When someone asks to get work done for free and they get it, they'll probably expect that work to get done for free again in the future, right? And if you won't do it for free, surely someone else would love the opportunity. And if enough designers (or artists in general) do the work for free, then why would anybody want to actually pay for that work? And what if someone actually decided, yes, they would pay you for your work with, say, exposure, then you could get paid for some other job at a later date? So if you actually did get that paying job after working on that first job for free, in the end you've done two jobs for the price of one. That would be worth the money you spent on all those programs and schooling, wouldn't it?

Which brings me to today.

I saw a commercial on TV for (again, I'm not linking). They're a crowdsourcing site where, if you want a design done, you post a contest where you get to pick a winning design from all the free work that gets entered into your contest. Sure, that winning entry gets paid, but those other entries? Yeah, those guys just spent hours (maybe days) of their time and will get no money for it. None. But they'll have a great design for their portfolio.

Let's put this in perspective. I want a deck built on my house. I decided to have a contest where contractors can each build me a deck to look at. Not just an idea of a deck, they have to build the actual deck. All those decks will be gathered in one place, and then I get to pick which one I'd like to use and pay for. Those other decks, and all the overhead that went into building them? Yeah. Those contractors can use those in their portfolios. Oh, and by the way, I'll be paying for the deck by inviting my friends over and telling them who it was that built me the deck. I don't have many parties, and I don't have many friends, but what a great opportunity for exposure you'll be getting, huh.

Is any of this making sense?

Has anybody read this far?

Is there anything that can possibly be done?

Probably not. Maybe. I don't know, it might be too late.

If you're a client, pay for the work from a real designer. My husband knows enough about plumbing that he knows somebody else should be doing ours.

If you're a designer (or artist), don't work on spec or enter contests. Period. That not only devalues your work but all the work of the designers that have come before you and all the future designers who will be following your ass out of school. Do you really want them getting the job instead of you because they'll do it for free?

If you want to read more (after this, I'm not sure why anybody would), try:

Also, you may have already seen my post on yet another problem with working on spec (could there really be more?) in a post from February which I'll link to here.

I'm going to go ahead and post this one before I take too many deep breaths.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Twisted book just won two awards!

I just found out yesterday that my book Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1 has taken first place in the category of "Fiction: Collection of Short Stories" in the 2012 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards! The interior design layout also won a second place award.

They don't have the winners listed yet on their site, so I can't post a link, but once they're listed, I'll post.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mockingjay, I so wanted to like you

No, actually I wanted to love you. But it was me. I just couldn't do it.

When Hunger Games first came out, I was reluctant to hand over my money for a book that I thought was about kids killing each other in a futuristic reality TV show. People kept telling me, "No. It's not like that." Eventually I caved and bought the paperback at a Scholastic book fair for something like 50% off.

I put off reading it until after I had already read the other book I bought at the book fair (a hardcover copy of Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos). Then, I read the first chapter and put it down. I wasn't too interested. Then, I read the first chapter again because it had been too long and I didn't really remember what had happened. But this time, I made myself keep reading.

Somewhere around the middle of the book, I realized for myself that, "No. It's not like that." Yes, there was that kids killing each other in a futuristic reality TV show thing, but it was more than that. And I was getting it, and I was starting to look forward to reading the next one.

By the time I finally got to Catching Fire, the second book in the series, the Hunger Games movie had been released, and the second book wasn't available from my local library. I put my name on the waiting list, but found it hard to wait. When Barnes & Noble sent me a coupon for a bunch off, I put it toward my very own copy of the hardcover boxed set of the series.

So yes, I'm now the owner of both a paperback and hardcover copy of Hunger Games, but I was totally fine with that. I figured I'd donate the paperback copy to some worthy something or other someday.

Finished Catching Fire and was still O.K. with the series. I didn't think it was as good as the first book, but it was certainly a page-turner, which isn't bad.

But then a few days ago happened.

I finally finished Mockingjay and was terribly disappointed. I guess in my idealistic world I was hoping the problem that needed to be solved in the book would happen in a genius kind of way. In a way that I would have never thought of or that showed just how genius the concept of the book actually was. I'm not sure why I expected that.

What I got instead was a bloodbath. I suppose that's fine with some people, and maybe even embraced by others, but I'm having a bit of a problem with it. To add to my frustration, when I finished the book I turned on the TV. I flipped to a kid's channel that was showing Kung Fu Panda which I'd seen before, but it had been a while. For the 15 minutes or so that I watched, I witnessed a fight scene that just went on and on. The part that bothered me was the fun, comical score that was playing in the background while these characters beat the shit out of each other.

Yes, I understand it was Kung Fu Panda and what did I expect? When I saw it the first time around, apparently the fighting didn't leave an impression on me because I didn't remember seeing any of it before. But this time I had just read a book that, from pretty much cover to cover, found new and inventive ways to kill tons of other human beings.

This time I saw the scene with new eyes and I couldn't help but wonder how we got to this place. Is violence the only way we know how to solve problems now? I'm afraid it is, at least in our entertainment. Video games, movies and books aimed at the part of the population who will some day lead a country that I will still be living in. That's where the creative thinking of the future will plant its roots.

And I don't think there's anything any of us can do to stop it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Leonard the Clown

I just ran across a couple drafts for blog posts this morning, and realized they've been sitting around for over a year waiting to be posted. They each included a sketch of a clown without any other explanation. The first sketch hasn't gone anywhere. I wasn't very satisfied with it for some reason. I had planned on making a painting out of it, but it never materialized.
Once I wasn't satisfied with the first sketch, I tried another clown, and this one I ended up completing as a full-blown drawing, and he's hanging in an exhibit as we speak.
Here's the finished drawing.
And here's the exhibit.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Sketchbook Project 2012—End papers #sketchbookproject

Ooh. I do have one more page to show you from my Sketchbook Project sketchbook, and here it is. It's what you might consider the end papers.

Also, they've digitized my book, and you can flip through the whole thing on the Art House Co-op site: Or, if you're in the Brooklyn area, you can see it for real and in person at the Brooklyn Art Library at 103A N. 3rd St., Brooklyn, NY 11211 with the call number 153.3-3.
O.K. Now I'm all finished.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Sketchbook Project 2012—Scarecrow in color #sketchbookproject

And here's the last drawing my Sketchbook Project sketchbook.

The quote is the title of the song by The Hives (who happen to have a really cool website, by the way). I loved the song when I heard it on the Cartoon Network (see the embedded video), but it was really hard to find a copy at first since it was a bonus track only on the UK version of their Black and White album. Eventually iTunes caught on that I was looking for it, and finally made it available for me. Thanks, iTunes.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Five impossible things before breakfast

The last thing I saw before I went to bed Saturday night was the very end of Alice in Wonderland. I found it on ABC Family just as the White Queen and Hatter were standing outside the queen's castle waiting and hoping Alice would show up to battle the Jabberwocky.

That last paragraph doesn't really matter much except that, when Alice first gets a look at the Jabberwocky, she tells Hatter that sometimes she "believes as many as six impossible things before breakfast." So I'm sitting here before breakfast thinking of the things that, until yesterday, I would have thought were impossible, and I'd like to share five of them (I'm lazy, it's early, and I'm pushing it to find five).

1. I am (apparently) a writer

Growing up a reluctant reader makes this one all the more impossible. I guess now I've become what might be considered a "reluctant writer."

2. I would write a book

I did write the Twisted book so I would have something to illustrate, but in the end there were words involved and I did write them. That, and they were bound in a book.

3. I would be reviewed in Publishers Weekly

I'd like to think that only happens to real writers.

4. Writers would accept me as one of their own

I spent the weekend at a writer's retreat trying to convince everyone there that I was actually just an illustrator, not a writer, and that I didn't really like to write. They convinced me otherwise.

5. Editors wouldn't laugh and point when I read them my manuscript

At that writer's retreat over the weekend? Yeah. I got to read to two different editors from Scholastic; Grace Kendall and Mallory Kass. I personally witnessed them laughing over the weekend, and they both seemed to have complete control over their index fingers, and neither of those things were directed at me as far as I could tell.

And I believed all of these impossible things before breakfast.

But you know the thing I'm thinking about as I'm writing this? Not only am I going to have to accept all of the above, but I'm also going to have to update my website.

Oh, and 6. Slay the Jabberwocky.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nickelodeon cartoons on acid (!)

How exciting!

Publishers Weekly, the book industry's leading news magazine since 1872, has taken time out of their busy schedule to review my book, Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1! Just getting a review from them is outstanding, but it gets better: They actually liked it!

Here's a little bit of what they had to say:
"In stories that last only a few pages and comics that resemble Nickelodeon cartoons on acid, Thompson riffs on zombie, werewolf, and other ghoulish genres, while also finding the horrific in unexpected places...Just the thing for readers who aren't scared of the dark--or for those who are and like it."
Crazy, huh?

Here's a link to the complete review so you can see for yourself:

You can grab your own copy at Amazon by following the link above. It's available in hardcover, paperback and completely digitized for your Kindle. And then maybe you can write a little review of your own?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sketchbook Project 2012—Scarecrow sketch #sketchbookproject

Here's the final sketch from my Sketchbook Project sketchbook. I think I'd like to paint him biggie-size some day. Maybe add a crow somewhere and a corn field all around him. And a yellow brick road around front. Scarecrows can't exist without yellow brick roads, can they?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Moving from GoDaddy

Last December I had had about enough.

When I built my first Web site, it was 2001 and getting up and running on the Internet wasn't the easiest thing to do. I chose GoDaddy to host because, at the time, they were the easiest thing I could find. For some reason I thought their name and logo meant they would be pretty cool to work with. I'm such a sucker.

Since the beginning, I've done my best to make sense of their site. It's hard to figure out what you're doing on it. It's just way too hard to navigate. Not only that, at every turn they try to get you to buy more of their products. When you buy a new domain name, when you re-up your hosting, or just when you bring up the site, everywhere you turn they're pushing more product. Once, when I called their support number, what I really got was a sales person who spent most of our time on the phone getting me to renew my hosting plan.

Still, I learned to ignore it all and stayed with the company.

For most of the past 10 years, I have endured GoDaddy's unfemale-friendly commercials during every Super Bowl. I put up with the same attitude on their site where they tease you to "see the rest" of what they couldn't show on T.V. And I did it knowing my money was paying for it, and I stuck with them anyway.

Last spring I put up with GoDaddy's CEO, Bob Parsons, hunting elephants and then posting the graphic videos of it.

And still I stayed.

Until last December. That's when I heard about GoDaddy's support of SOPA. That's when I decided it was time to jump ship. Turns out a lot of people felt the same way.

Up until last December I was a little frightened of moving away. I had been there for 10 years, my sites worked, my email worked and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to figure out another company's technology.

I did a little research, and I found a local company based right in Pittsburgh that was started just for me. Their name is pair Networks, and they had me at "we have an environmental policy." It took a little trial and error, but all my sites were up and running smoothly within a couple of days, all my emails are in working order, and I haven't noticed any down time since I started hosting with them.

Now I know my money is going somewhere I can be proud to say I support. I don't have to pay for scantily clad women during my Super Bowls anymore.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book signing success!

Well, we all survived the book signing at the Frick Art & Historical Center over the weekend, and I'm terribly happy with the nice turnout! I thought I would be quite embarrassed by the lack of people in my line, but it turns out people are more willing to admit to liking the twisted stuff than I had originally thought. So, no, no embarrassment on my end at all.

I signed lots of books, and we even got to use the new Square credit card reader which, by the way, a three-year-old could figure out. The image is of our first swiper signing for her purchase. The best part was how much fun the people giving me their cards to swipe thought the card reader was. It wasn't just me.

I brought a lot for people to choose from including copies of Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1 (both hardcover and paperback), copies of Yikes! Wow! Yuck! Fun Experiments for Your First Science Fair, and prints, posters, postcards and bookmarks with images from Twisted. We needed the entire table to fit everything.

I have to do a little research about getting into other venues for book signings, but I think this one was a very successful first try. Thanks to everybody for your support!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Now accepting credit cards

For my book signing this weekend, I bought myself a new iPad so I could accept credit cards. Yay!

Exciting and scary, but yay!

The app and hardware is from a company called Square. The app is called "Square Register" and works like a little register on your iPad. I can upload inventory—including images—and prices, and then all I have to do is click the product and the app starts a tally. So far it's been really easy, although I've only been playing. The real test will come this Saturday when I have to use it in real time.

Oh, yeah. This Saturday.

I'll be selling hardcover and paperback copies of my book Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1 along with prints, posters and bookmarks at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh. You'll also get a free bookmark with every book you buy, or if you like, you can just buy a bookmark. Your call.

Here's the scoop:

What: Book signing (along with my new buddy Stacy Innerst)
Date: Saturday, April 14
Time: 1:30-2:30 pm
Location: The Frick Art & Historical Center, in the museum rotunda

I'm hoping to see an absolutely huge turnout. I totally want to run out of books and stuff. No pressure or anything.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Women of the Page panel @ The Frick

I made it through the Women of the Page panel at the Frick Art & Historical Center without tripping, burping or falling off my chair. Great news!
It was a fun night and I got to see the Draw Me a Story exhibit, too. Well, sort of. I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I didn't really get to read all the information that was included with each illustration, but I got a general idea of what the illustrations looked like. That should be something.

My favorite illustration was the one by WPA artist George Avison called, "Bucking Bronco." It was the cover for the book Sunflight, and the original painting was matted and framed leaving all the handwritten notes and instructions visible. The book itself was displayed in a case alongside the original.

I also want to see (with my glasses) the sketch Maurice Sendak did of Max from Where the Wild Things Are. It was so small. I really need to wear my glasses next time.

The Chris Van Allsburg one is another one that is probably going to be incredible when I finally see it. All those details. This illustration was for the book The Z Was Zapped. I've never seen the book, but it sounds a bit like The Gashlycrumb Tinies in that it's an alphabet book and each letter meets an untimely demise. And, as a type geek, I love the inside joke: The book follows the "Caslon Players," Caslon being the font the book was set in.

As an aside, I feel terrible for Thomas Taylor. He did the original illustrations for the first Harry Potter book, but was dropped for someone more established after the book became a hit. He was only out of college for two years, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was his first commission. Poor kid. You gotta feel for him.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

I've got one! (My first book signing)

So on my way out the door after that panel discussion at the Frick Art & Historical Center (that I told you about here), Susan Bails, another one of the nice Assistant Curators of Education there, stopped me and asked if I was going to be busy April 14. It's a Saturday.

She said they were having a Family Day at the Frick that day with book readings and puppets and movies and book signings and would I be interested in signing my books? With my new buddy Stacy Innerst? Stacy? Stacy's great! Of course I would be interested in signing books!

Here's the scoop:

What: A book signing. I'll bring hardcover and paperbacks of Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1, some prints and posters of illustrations from the book (I still have to check to make sure I'll be allowed to sell items that aren't books, but I'm going to try), and I'll even give you a free bookmark with every book you buy.
Where: The Frick Art & Historical Center, in the museum rotunda (it's a beautiful building, by the way)
When: Saturday, April 14 from 1:30-2:30

Stop in and say, "Hi!" Please! I'm hoping some people will stand in a line in front of me, not just Stacy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sketchbook Project 2012—Accordion player in color #sketchbookproject

Here's that little accordion player girl in color. I wasn't thinking of this when I drew the sketch, but when I was figuring out what colors to use, that raincoat absolutely had to be yellow which automatically required this little girl's hair to be blue.

Don't all little girls who wear yellow raincoats have blue hair?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Draw Me a Story: A Century of Children's Book Illustration

I'm excited to be part of a three-woman panel at the Frick Art & Historical Center on March 28 which will coincide with their exhibit Draw Me a Story: A Century of Children's Book Illustration. Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard and Elizabeth Perry will be the other two panelists. I will play the part of "The Person Who Is Not Elizabeth."

Our panel is titled Women of the Page, and the last I heard they already had around 70 reservations in the books, which means they're almost sold out. The event starts with a cocktail hour in the rotunda of the museum. The exhibit will be open for the cocktail hour from 7:00 through 8:00.

They're going to start our part of the program talking about favorite female children's book authors. Our panel will then share our experiences as authors and illustrators including our processes, how we became interested in the business, how we developed our styles and how we got our work seen, among other things they haven't thought up to throw at us yet.

I'm not nervous.

The Draw Me a Story exhibit runs through May 20, 2012.

The image above is a watercolor on paper by Charles James Folkard (1878–1963) called "King of the goblins." It's from the book The Princess and the Goblin, published in 1949. The painting is small, only 9 ¼ x 6 ¼ inches. It's part of the collection of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, CA. The photo of the painting was taken by E. G. Schempf.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My illustrations @SCBWI Bologna

Each year, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) mans a booth at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, and they take along a portfolio of pieces from selected members. I entered my work and was selected to be a part of that portfolio, along with just 39 other people. I'm very grateful and excited that my illustrations will be participating!

Along with the physical portfolio in Italy, SCBWI also displays a gallery of art from the participating illustrators on their Website. Here's the link to this year's page. Bummer having a last name that starts with a letter of the alphabet that's toward the end and requiring a scroll down, but there you go. I'm happy to be there.

The image up above is one of the illustrations that will be included on my page in the physical portfolio, and it's the one I chose to represent my style on the SCBWI Web gallery.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Tots. Made from taters

Anyone who knows me well enough knows I'm not much of a cooker. I'd rather be spending my time creating something that won't be coming out my other end tomorrow, if you know what I mean.

But sometimes, you just gotta do it.

I made some tater tots, completely from scratch which, I realize, isn't saying much, but it's more effort than I usually put out. I was proud of how they looked, and I got a thumbs-up from the hubby. But I don't know that I'll be doing it again very soon. It's just too easy to buy the little frozen guys. Here's the recipe I used anyway, if you're so inclined:

Tater Tots (from Can You Stay for Dinner—her post is funnier, by the way)

serves five, as a side dish

3 medium potatoes, finely grated and dried well
¼ C all-purpose flour
1 t salt, plus more for serving
½ t black pepper (I didn't use any pepper in mine)
¼ C Canola oil

Mix the potatoes with the flour, salt and pepper. Form into 1" logs.

Heat oil in a large pot until it is so hot that dripping a drop of water on the surface immediately sizzles and spatters. Add tots and fry until all sides are golden brown.

Serve hot with extra salt.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Sketchbook Project 2012—Wrinkly dog in color #sketchbookproject

Here you go. The wrinkly dog in color.

The further I get in the sketchbook, the heavier I seem to be applying the spray fixative. I started out worried about when I was working on the back of a page, how the page on the other side would rub and transfer to the page opposite it. So I've been laying on the fixative. Unfortunately, that seems to be messing with the transparency of the paper, so on this page you can see the Frankenstein showing through from the page before.

Not only that, I'm noticing that any green I use bleeds through the paper as yellow on the other side when I spray it.

I don't think there's much I can do about all that, so I'm moving on with the rest.

Damn the torpedoes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

My illustrations are heading to Italy! #BolognaBookFair

At the end of January I submitted a page of my illustrations for possible inclusion in the SCBWI portfolio at the Bologna Book Fair, and this would be the page I submitted.

The portfolio selection team notified me that my page was chosen to be included (yay!). Not only will it be in a physical portfolio at the book fair, but it will also be included on their site. Once my image becomes available (along with the rest of the portfolio), they will send me a link to it which I'll post here.

Here was how they described what they're doing:

"A portfolio of SCBWI illustrator members work will be on display at the SCBWI Showcase during the 2012 Bologna Book Fair and available for browsing by publishers, agents and other attendees from across the world. In addition, a digital version of the portfolio will be posted on this webpage with thumbnails of artwork and contact information as we did for our 2010 Illustrators' Gallery."

The fair will run March 19-22 this year.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sketchbook Project 2012—Wrinkly dog sketch #sketchbookproject

Here's another sketch from my Sketchbook Project project. It's a sketch of a really wrinkly dog with lots and lots of folds, but absolutely no stitches. That I know of.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The argument against working on spec (or, Why it feels like my idea was stolen) #nospec

Way back on April 6, 2007, I received an email from a publisher that I won't mention the name of here. I thought I finally got a bite after all those postcards I had been sending out. Here was what she wrote:
"Thank you for your interest in working with [us].

We have several projects that we feel match your talent and are interested in knowing if you are still available to illustrate picture books.

[Our] process is simply (sic). We ask that you create a rough cover and one inside spread from the text we provide. From your work we will select an illustrator based on who we feel has the best conveyance of text through art and understanding of appeal in the children's genre."
I ran the proposal past some of my colleagues in the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators, and I got advice that went both ways. I reasoned that even if I didn't get picked I could still finish the image and use it for my own self-promotion (yet another postcard).

So I did. Here's the sketch I did for the cover.

This was the exact file I sent in (on April 18), with my name and copyright really noticeable right there at the top.

And this was how the image looked after I finished it. To be fair, I didn't actually email the publisher the final image, so the argument could be made that they never saw it.

The editor/publisher replied that if I didn't hear from her by that Friday, then she would get back to me when she got back from the Bologna Book Fair. When I hadn't heard anything by May 11, I sent an email to find out what was going on, and she said she was "still digging out from business travels, but promise to get back to you."

O.K. I guess I needed a little patience.

On September 17 I sent another email asking for the status of my submission, and that's when I found out they weren't interested in my idea.

This evening I was doing some updating of my mailing list, and I was checking out that publisher's site to see if I should keep sending to them (no, I hadn't removed them from my list yet) when I found this.

Yes, stylistically my image and the one here are very different. But nowhere in the manuscript was there any mention of the boy casting the shadow of a monster in his bedroom. Is that so obvious of an idea that somebody else actually thought of it after I did? And if this illustrator and I both sent in the same idea, wouldn't you as an editor/publisher want to go in a direction that wasn't so obvious?

As an aside, when I first found out that they didn't want me to illustrate the book, I kept watching for the book on their site to see what they had picked instead. In the beginning, there was another image on the cover that I can't seem to find on the Internet. It was a computer-generated image of a purple monster standing at the foot of a bed. The monster was in the middle of the frame, looking directly at the viewer as if the viewer was in the bed. The image above isn't the original image I saw online.

I know the illustration on the final book cover isn't taken verbatim from my idea (especially having seen what other companies have tried to get away with in swiping artwork for their designs), but knowing that the editor saw my rough and seeing the similarities in the final cover image, my post Bedtime Monster anti-spec policy has been firmly cemented.

Just say no.

P.S. I've now removed them from my mailing list.