how the sausage gets made

I thought it might be fun to show how I paint a page of my book from start to finish. I know I’m always curious about how artists work, maybe you are too.

This is the rough sketch from my dummy. There’s actually tons and tons of work that goes before this, lots of rewrites and redraws and rethinks which are ZERO fun to look at. Let’s pretend for our purposes that this is where things begin! This sketch is done digitally in Photoshop.

Watercolor requires lots of planning (at least for me!) so I figure out my colors digitally before I start painting. See how the Little Guys each have a letter next to them? There are 25 of them, each distinct, and they all have to be in each spread, so I had to “take attendance” on each page and make sure they’re painted the right color.

It’s time to get off the computer! Using an LED lightbox, I transfer a printout of my digital sketch onto watercolor paper. I work actual print size - I think the paper is 12”x24”.

This is what I ink with - a dip pen with a G-nib in it, and FW acrylic ink. I decant the ink into these little things called Dinky Dips, which are the perfect depth for just getting your nib in there and not making a big mess. I love Dinky Dips. This ink is also great because it’s completely waterproof, and there are tons of colors so you can mix up just the right shade. I made my own dark green for this book.

Time to paint! Do you see those blue areas? That is masked off with one of these Molotow Masking Pens. The paint won’t stick to those areas, preserving white paper underneath. I mask off small detailed areas (like earthworms) so I can do big washes without worrying about having to paint around them.

You can also see that I have the digital color sketch up on my ipad in front of me for reference. I want to get close to my digital colors, since I know I like them! I don’t like having to think too much while I’m painting.

This is my palette - plastic, lots of mixing area. I use tube paint squeezed into the wells, mostly Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith. I have LOTS of colors but for this book I didn’t use all of them. The fewer colors I use the more unified my paintings feel, I think. Also mixing is really fun.

This was my ACTUAL palette for this book. Since it’s set in the forest there are looooots of greens, which means lots of blues and yellows. Not much red at all.

Before I started painting I mixed a bunch of test swatches and labelled what went into the ones I thought were pretty, so I would know how to recreate them. I kept this swatch sheet up on my desk too, to refer to. This is a fun exercise to do sometimes, especially when I buy a new color and want to see how it works with what I’ve already got.

Further along here. I’ve got the big brown wash down for the earth, but it’s not dark enough. I went back over it again to deepen it up.

That’s better. Phew.

Now it’s time to erase the masking fluid. I use this little rubber cement guy. It’s super fun.

I did not take a photo of me painting the worms and rocks in because… I forgot. But that was the very last thing I did.

Then I scanned the painting in, cleaned it up a little bit, and added the text. This is how it looks in the book.

(You might notice the fox’s head is different. My editor Connie thought the fox looked a little too cartoony, so I painted four different fox heads and let her pick her favorite. Then I did a head transplant. Computers are magic.)

As I finished each spread of the book, I pinned them up on a corkboard in my studio. It was nice seeing it fill up as I got more and more done.

Oh, and this is kind of interesting (to me): I painted this twice. The first time was on Arches Hot Press watercolor paper, and I didn’t like how granulated (grainy) it looked, and how it made the blue masking fluid smear when I erased it. You can see it on the right. So I switched to Fabriano Artistico Hot Press paper (left), and liked how it looked MUCH BETTER. So I repainted all the spreads I’d done up to that point.

See the difference? Maybe you like the granulated one better! That’s cool. That’s why it’s important to experiment with different materials and figure out what’s going to work best for the effect you want. Art materials are a very personal decision. Hope you liked seeing mine!


That appearances box on the side of this blog suddenly has things in it! I'm very excited to start promoting Be Prepared as it makes its way out into the world. The very first thing will be Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, WA. My schedule is below:


Title: Great Graphic Novels for Kids

Description: What makes a great kids graphic novel? Four fantastic kids comics authors come together to talk about their work, their creative process, and how they write and draw their books for kids. There will be an opportunity for librarian Q&A.

Time: 10:15 AM – 11:15 AM

Location:  Seattle Central Library, Howard S. Wright Family & Janet W. Ketcham Mtg Room, Level 4, Room 2

Speakers: Vera Brosgol, Mairghread Scott, Melanie Gillman

Moderator: Gene Ambaum



Title: Doing a Great Graphic Novel Program at your Library

Description: How do you host a great graphic novel program at your library? The first step is with you: creating something that works for the audience that you've cultivated with your community. Come listen to a discussion of comics library programming and how to make the best events for your readers.

Time: 1:45 PM – 2:45 PM

Location:  Seattle Central Library, Washington Mutual Foundation Mtg Room, Level 4 Room 1

Speakers: MK Reed, Vera Brosgol, Dawn Rutherford, Nidhi Chanani


Title: Kids Comics!  

Description: Comics are for kids! Join a group of great kids cartoonists to hear about how they got their own start reading -- and creating -- comics when they were kids themselves. What turned them from a kid to the cartoonists they are today?

Time: 2:45 PM – 3:45 PM

Location: WSCC 604

Speakers: Vera Brosgol, Nidhi Chanani, MK Reed, Jen Wang

Event Link:

Staff: Gina Gagliano



4:00 - 5:00pm

First Second Booth: 1602

Books and patches!

Oh, did I mention the patches?? HOW COOL ARE THESE:


So that's next week! And the week after I'll be in Hong Kong for the Young Readers Festival! I'll mostly be doing school visits, but I'm doing a public reading/drawing session March 11th as well. Please come see me lose consciousness from jetlag in front of a live audience, it will be great. And give me your tips for Hong Kong!


Hey guys! Just a quick note that I'm going to be at Wordstock, a literary arts festival here in Portland OR! On November 11th I'll be at two panels, with book signings after each of them. You can get more info here:

I'll also be taking part in a moderated talk with the other 2017 Caldecott honorees and medalist, at the First Unitarian Church, Eliot chapel, on November 12 from 2:30-4:30. Open to the public!

New website! New book (cover)!

I figured it had been long enough that this ol' thing needed a refresh! I am most active on instagram these days but I'll try to keep it current. It is nice to have a bigger showcase for my books since that's what I'm doing more of now. The old goodies like snow-bo are still here, and I updated my faq a bit.

I just wrapped up Be Prepared, my upcoming middle-grade graphic novel with First Second. Here's the cover, and a little preview over on The Beat!

I'm nearly done illustrating Lyric McKerrigan Secret Librarian, a picture book for Clarion, and am in the middle of writing and drawing my second picture book for Roaring Brook. I also adopted that sad dog from the previous post, because how could I not. His name is Omar and he's good.

I took down my store for now because I was pretty sick of looking at those drawings. I'll offer prints again in the future but deadlines first.

help an underdog!

Lately I’ve been fostering dogs for Underdog Railroad Rescue. They’re a local rescue that is foster-only, saving small dogs from high-kill shelters in Southern California and bringing them up to the Northwest to be adopted. Lord knows we love a dog up here.


They just saved this little sweet little guy Ringo, who was attacked multiple times in the shelter by other dogs. His liver and gall bladder were herniated and he was literally on the table about to be put down. Underdog pulled him at the last minute and now he’s all stitched up and coming up to Portland soon. But his vet bills are… not great. So I’m offering some pet portraits to raise money.

I’m only doing three slots for now, of small watercolors. $200 for a 6”x6” watercolor of your pet! I'll cover domestic shipping but international can be brutal so I ask that you cover that if you live outside the US.


I’ll add more pets or humans for $100 each. This example has a kid in it, and 3 pets, so it would be $500. (It’s also a bit bigger, obviously.) I’ll cross the slots off as they get taken.




All taken!!!  Woohoo! I'll get through these and maybe will offer more later. If you just want to make a plain old donation (hooray!), Underdog's paypal is here: Please uncheck the “goods and services” box so that the rescue doesn’t get stuck with the paypal fee.

 Help Ringo! Help an amazing organization that does great work! Put something cute in your house!

Leave Me Alone pre-order contest!

almosthereposter It's finally feeling like fall around here, and Leave Me Alone is out so soon! September 13th, mere days away, holy moly. It's been getting really nice reviews including starred ones from Publisher's Weekly and The School Library Journal. This one by Betsy Bird is especially nice! I blushed. I'm so excited for you guys to see this book, I loved making it and it's so fun to read aloud to kids too. Or lazy  grownups.

If you would like your own copy you can pre-order from one of these lovely outlets:

And once you have pre-ordered, you could be in the running to win an ORIGINAL PAINTING FROM THE BOOK.

giveaway pages

One of these three paintings! You get to pick which one, even. All you have to do is send a photo or screencap of your pre-order receipt to before September 13th. It's cool if you pre-ordered it before I started the contest. I will pick a name out at random and send the painting of your choice your way. Easy!

There are also four runner-up prizes, little paintings of the grandkids from the book wearing their cute sweaters and enjoying autumn harvests. I will pick which one you get but they are all pretty good I think!

giveaway kids


And if you happen to live in Portland, I'm having a release party on September 18th, here's some info about that. I would love to see you!