Still chained to the drawing board


Still working on the finished illustrations for A Bed…  Coming along nicely.  Need to draw and paint faster!

Made a few notes for the new project.   Working title is: The Wydes.   Instead of being set on Cape Cod I’ve decided to create a fictional Cape with fictional towns, villages, rail line, harbor, lighthouses, etc.  It works.   I’ll take lots of notes in October when we are back on Cape Cod.   Even though the new project is set on a fictional cape I still have to make certain that all the details ring true.

I think it’s going to be quite a fun project with lots of humor.

Back to the drawing board.


Still chained to the drawing board


Still working on the finished illustrations for A Bed…  Coming along nicely.  Need to draw and paint faster!

Made a few notes for the new project.   Working title is: The Wydes.   Instead of being set on Cape Cod I’ve decided to create a fictional Cape with fictional towns, villages, rail line, harbor, lighthouses, etc.  It works.   I’ll take lots of notes in October when we are back on Cape Cod.   Even though the new project is set on a fictional cape I still have to make certain that all the details ring true.

I think it’s going to be quite a fun project with lots of humor.

Back to the drawing board.


Stories and characters jump out at the oddest moments sometimes…


As I am concentrating with all my might on finishing the artwork for A BED FOR LITTLE CUB my mind does wander down strange alleys when I take a coffee break (usually around 3 am) and try to not think about the pictures on the drawing board.

Stories are always in the back of my mind, wandering about, trying to find their way through the clutter and cramped alleyways.   And once they find their way to the front of my brain they tend to simply jump out, announce who they are, demand to be recognized and recorded, and then settle down for a bit.

So, for many years I have been thinking about writing a collection of short stories collectively titled “Nobody Likes an Ugly Child”.  Pure autobiography about growing up the poor southern part of Virginia and the odd things that my family did and still do.   I have these stories loosely mapped out and just need to sit down and write them.   They are loosely connected to tell the story of my childhood and my family’s trials and triumphs.  

But, at the same time, I have longed to write about another family, even more eccentric that live an interesting life in an alternate universe parallel to my own real upbringing.   (If that makes any sense)

Around 5:37 am this morning this “other family” popped out of my head and right onto the paper blotter that sits beneath my computer.   I quickly sketched what they looked like, and made notes of their names and personalities and just let them reveal themselves and their story.   Characters seem to come to me with their names and personalities intact.  I don’t sit and agonize over “naming” characters.   Their names are always obvious and fitting.

And, as with all my stories, where this family lives is a vital part of the narrative.   I don’t need to know the details at the start of jotting down the notes for the story.  But I do need to know the basics:  The name of the house is Wye’s End.   It is situated on a remote, isolated corner of Cape Cod, built in 1748.  Wye’s End is a large, rambling house crammed with whaling memorabilia, books, heavy wooden furniture, art, and secrets and mysteries.   Wye’s End even has its own private train/trolley (and line) to take the family back and forth to the town (2 miles away).   One of the most important characters in the story is the family dog, Scowther.  He may be the narrator.

The opening lines are:  They lived by the edge of the sea beside the salt marshes and dunes.  By the edge of the sea they lived with me.

As soon as the illustrations are finished and out of the studio I’ll spend a week writing the basic plot outline and possibly a few chapters for The Wydeyes.   This is the family name.  

This is how a story begins.


In the home stretch!


Everything is coming together nicely for the illustrations for A BED FOR LITTLE CUB.   I’m in the home stretch and should have all the finished artwork wrapped up and out of the studio in about 10 days at most.   I’m pleased with how the illustrations came together to take the story beyond mere words.  I think this book will give readers a more in-depth understanding as to the strong, loving, patient relationship between Old Bear and Little Cub.   

Little Cub’s determination and perseverance mirrors my own.  Old Bear’s patience and understanding as to why having his own bed is so important to Little Cub rings loud and clear.   

I like this book.  A lot.

Little Cub reading 2

The final stage…


Whew!   Every time I do the finished artwork for a book I reach the point where 1) I really start hating the book and characters and 2) it seems like I’ll never get the layouts finished and the final artwork done done done!

ALL the layouts are finished for A BED FOR LITTLE CUB and I really do like them!  (after hating them for a while).  Now that I see each picture for what it is and how they all fit together as a whole I would have to say that I am pleased.   

I am now eager to get the painting finished.  I think I’ll have them all done within 8-10 days.  The only layout/illustration I haven’t given any thought to is the cover illustration.  I always do this last after all the interior illustrations are finished so that I can see what kind of picture would sum up the entire story in one glance AND make people want to pick up the book and look through it!

I did a very quick 15 minute value study for the very last picture in the book.   Sometimes doing a value study helps me see (and solve) problems that I might now have noticed before.  

Page 31 Value Study

I also love the layout sketch for the page where Little Cub is describing to Old Bear exactly what kind of bed he wants.   

Pages 20-21

I love the idea of having Little Cub standing on the wood pile so that he can be closer to Old Bear’s face.   The empty space at the lower left needed an animal of some sort to balance out the composition.  I tried putting a rabbit there in a realistic rabbit position, but then changed my mind.   My thought was “If the bears can stand and talk why can’t other animals?”   So, I drew the rabbit as you see him.

I love it!  The problem is…the rabbit adds TOO much information to the scene that really isn’t part of the story.   Here’s a good example as to how a picture really can have too much information or add information that detracts from the main scene.  As much as I love this rabbit he will NOT be in the finished illustration.

BUT…because I love the picture and the idea so much I will most likely develop an entire book around THAT rabbit!  

One of the things I always do in the writing workshops that I taught was to show the writers a photograph or a picture and have them write their version as to what is going on in the scene.   

With this rabbit I immediately want to know 1) why is he hiding as if there are gangsters after him?  Why is he eavesdropping on Little Cub’s and Old Bear’s conversation?  Why is the wren perched above the gourd bird house?  Did the rabbit steal her eggs?  Is Little Cub telling all that he knows?  Was Little Cub blamed for the rabbit’s actions???

These questions always lead to a good story line.

I’m in the final stretch in finishing the art for this book.   I’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief once it is out of the studio.   Most likely I’ll drive the finished art down to my editor in NYC.   This will give me a chance to go through the finished artwork with her and the art director, maybe have lunch, and then spend a few hours walking around the city.


Changes are always made at the 11th hour…


Naturally, as I work on the finished illustrations for A BED FOR LITTLE CUB the words in the story have to change.   I don’t know how writers who only write catch sequences that need a bit more polish.  It’s only when I am working on a sequence of pictures that take place in the same locale (the bed scenes, for example) that I realize something more lively has to happen to keep the sequence (10 pages/5 pictures) from becoming too static, too boring, too cozy, too cute, etc.   

The original text for the opening of the sequence reads:

—Little Cub climbed into the big bed.

“This bed is too big,” said Little Cub.

“It has to be big so that there’s room for both of us,” said Old Bear, tucking

Little Cub under the thick blanket.  “Now close your eyes and listen to the


Little Cub closed his eyes.


Obviously, it’s bedtime for Little Cub.  And, just as obvious, he’s not going to climb 

into bed quietly and settle down without some action and conversation.

How many pictures can I do that show him “tucked under the thick blanket with

his eyes closed”???

I needed to do some quick thinking to make the first picture in the sequence really

make a statement as to 1) Little Cub’s personality 2) bedtime is not simply a matter

of climbing into bed and 3) the bed IS too big (for a very small bear cub).

Looking at my sketch I thought “Aha!  I’ll have him sitting on the rustic stool by the

bed (that Old Bear will actually sit on when he starts to tell Little Cub a bedtime


That would mean changing the opening line of the text on this particular page

and rearranging the sequence of action:

—Little Cub sat quietly on the stool.  (he’s thinking, of course)

“This bed is too big,” said Little Cub.

“It has to be big so that there’s room for both of us,” said Old Bear.

Little Cub climbed into bed.   Old Bear tucked him under the thick blanket.

“Now close your eyes and listen to the story.”

Little Cub closed his eyes.


Not a bad scene, but there’s still NO action!   And the next four pictures

only become more quiet as Little Cub slowly calms down and listens to the

story (knowing he will be getting his own bed).

Then it came to me!  There was only ONE way to get some lively action into

this overly cozy, quiet scene.  And here is how the text changed (for the better).

—Little Cub bounced on the bed.

“This bed is too big,” said Little Cub.

“It has to be big so that there’s room for both of us, said Old Bear, tucking

Little Cub under the thick blanket.

“Now close your eyes and listen to the story.”

Little Cub closed his eyes.


Bouncing page 10      Page 11

Note:  The oil lamp wasn’t working; the candle is much better.  As this sequence progresses the candle

will burn lower and lower to show the passage of time.

As a writer and illustrator of children’s picture books I often let the pictures dictate necessary changes in the story.   I don’t know why these changes don’t come to me when I do the sketches and revise the text.   It’s only after really letting each finished illustration “breathe” and come to life that it strikes me that something needs to change.

Oftentimes the change in the text is very small, but it can have a huge impact on the what the illustration shows and how it gives the reader a bit more information that they might not have had before.

Making these changes at the eleventh hour keeps the story and pictures fresh for me.  The changes are unexpected, not planned, and being spontaneous they keep the story and pictures fresh and “not remembered”.   

Thankfully, my editor(s) trust my judgment in making these changes and very seldom challenge them.  Most often they see the improvement right away and are in full agreement with me.

NOW…if I could only draw faster and not always be so damn late in delivering beautiful finished changed illustrations!

Got off track…


Writing and illustrating are two of the most enjoyable and rewarding pursuits anyone could imagine.  But the life of a freelance writer and illustrator can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride with lots of bumps, thrills, twists and turns, and stomach lurching pitfalls.

I was making excellent progress with the finished illustrations for  A BED FOR LITTLE CUB.  However, these past two days have been a struggle at the drawing board.   Nothing seemed to be working.  And, even after all these years’ of experience, you’d think I know the minute I was starting to get off track and stop slogging away at a hopeless piece of art that was only spiraling down faster than my own emotions.

This happens sometimes.  It’s not exactly ‘writer’s block’ or ‘illustrator’s block’, it’s something else entirely.

Writers and artists tend to be emotional, reactionary people.   Most often we feel things intensely, a bit too intensely for our own good at times.   There is a great deal of turmoil going on in my life at the moment (hopefully soon to be resolved) and it makes it very difficult to create happy, carefree, warm fuzzy pictures when I just don’t feel that way. To make the situation worse, the sudden death/suicide of Robin Williams completely knocked me off track emotionally and artistically.

He truly was one of the most loved and admired brilliant comedians that ever walked this earth.   Robin is only two years older than I am.  When I was younger, in the 1970s, I really hadn’t seen him yet.  But, everywhere I went people would point at me and exclaim: “LOOK, it’s Robin Williams!”  

Robin and I did look quite a bit alike.   We had the same 1970s longish thick hair, we both wore wild suspenders, and my wacky sense of humor onstage was often compared to his.   When I finally did see his stand up comedy routine I was stunned!   I thought: “This man has watched ME onstage and has stolen my entire persona and humor!”   

So, lo and behold, my own special close affinity to this wonderful man began.  Simply because we looked and acted somewhat alike.   I always felt reassured and hopeful for the world because Robin was in it. And he was doing his part to make the world laugh at itself, poke fun at the most impossible situations, and just keep going even in the face of the darkest adversity.

Robin’s death threw me into my own depths of despair (as Anne Shirley would say).   We all have our demons, and I have some of the worst you might imagine.   I’m usually pretty good at keeping them under lock and key in the deepest catacombs of my psyche.  But every now and then I can hear them rumbling and grumbling and trying their best to nudge that locked door open.

If Robin could succumb to his demons and depression what hope is there for people like me in keeping my/our own locked safely away so that they can’t do us any harm?

I am happy to report that I am feeling much better tonight and work in the studio is going along much more smoothly.  I have two lost days of work to make up, but I think I can do it.   When I’m on a roll drawing and painting goes smoothly and quickly for me.  The sketches are done, the layouts have been worked out, and it really is only a matter of cutting the watercolour paper, penciling in the crop marks, and transferring the sketch to the paper and make corrections as I go.

Part of my despondency has to do with the bleak weather we’ve been having and not going for a long hike every day with the pups.   These long hikes do as much good for me as it does for them.   This afternoon was beautiful!  The pups and I took a nice hike down to the river and visited with a friend who has a house right on the river.   The pups love his grassy, mowed area that leads to the river stone edge of the river.   It was probably the best two hour break I could have taken.

Note to self:  Even when it’s a bit dark and dank get out and go for a walk with the pups to clear your head!

It really does wonders for the creative psyche.

I often forget these little tricks to keeping myself sane and on track in the studio.  I tend to stay chained to the drawing board for large inhumane chunks of time trying to convince myself that if I just keep drawing and painting magic will happen.

Well, it doesn’t always work that way.

Writers and illustrators and artists do need to take a mental and physical break from the intense concentrated work on the drawing board or on a piece a paper or on the computer screen.  

If anyone asked me what would be the best advice I could give someone who was struggling with writer’s block or illustrator’s block or simply got off track, that advice would be, TAKE A BREAK!  Go for a walk, listen to the birds, smell the hint of crisp autumn air hovering on the edge of the tail end of summer.

I hope this confession about getting off track offers hope and encouragement to other writers and illustrators who might struggle with this problem.  Struggle with doubt.  Struggle with financial worries.  Or just feel stuck.  It really is fairly simple to get unstuck.  Take a break.  Ease up on yourself.  Breathe.  And snuggle the pups.Ollie and Pups 1

This is what taking a break looks like!

Ollie and Pups


Ollie and Molly copyOllie Peedie Fergus bw

Making progress!


Slowly, but surely, the finished illustrations for A BED FOR LITTLE CUB are getting done.  The book and pictures are starting to take on a real life of their own.   

Getting off to such a slow start always brings to mind one of my favorite quotes that I came across about 40 years ago.   It really does sum up my feelings toward illustrating.

The quote is from the Introduction written by Patricia Meyerowitz for Gertrude Stein’s famous book: HOW TO WRITE:

“I was talking to a friend the other day and telling her how difficult it was sometimes to get down to work.  She was so surprised.  She thought it was easy and assumed that as all artists love their work all they had to do was just do it.  I explained to her that it wasn’t like that at all.  It takes so much effort sometimes just to begin and although going on is mostly a pleasure it is also a great effort.  And no one cares whether or not you do it.  No one asks you to do it and mostly no one wants it when you have done it and although as a creative artist you accept that it mostly has to be like that, nevertheless it is hard.  She was surprised.”

It can take me an inordinate amount of time to get started, really get started, on the finished illustrations for a book.   The writing part comes easily enough (perhaps I am a more confident writer than I am illustrator) but when it comes to cutting the watercolour paper, laying out the crop marks, pencilling in the composition and then start painting…can take me forever!   

I will admit that once I have broken through the fear of the unknown the painting generally goes well and is actually quite enjoyable.  Just so long as I don’t torture myself and worry about making mistakes!

Someone once told me that I am a perfectionist living in a imperfect world and it’s slowly driving me mad.   I’m almost there.  Being mad, that is.

I am happy to report that so far I am pleased with the finished pieces for the book on the drawing board.  I’ll try to take some decent photos before I take the art down to NYC and not see it again for a year or so.

Meanwhile…if you’d like to check out a non picture book that I wrote (and did the cover illustration for) go to amazon and look for: 4″ by Gabe Hooton.   This edgy coming-of-age novel is based on my own journal that I wrote when I was 17 years old.   It will give you some insight into how my muddled (at times) brain works.   4″ is written under one of my pseudonyms to avoid confusion with my picture books.  Besides, Gabe has his own voice as a writer.

Cover Design 3

Where did the word “Moel” come from?


A Myvyrrian Map  5 June 2012

An early version of the Myvyrian Map

The one question that I am most often asked as a writer is: “Where did the word “moel” come from?”

It’s a fairly straightforward answer but the evolution and how the word came to define both my writing and illustrating is unchangeable.

I used to be a secretary/administrative assistant/office manager and have sharp typing skills.  I still type 110 wpm to this day.   But, sometimes my fast typing does make for mistakes.  And that’s where “moel” came from.  I was trying to type the word “mole”.  When I saw the typo I liked it so much that I kept as MY word.   And I named my studio Moel Eyris Studio (at Henwoodie).  Eyris is MY word for “Island(s)”.   Over the course of doing research in archaeology and prehistory (of Scotland) I came across another very interesting word: moudiewart — which is the archaic Scottish word for “mole”.

If you look up moudiewart in the OED you will find a fascinating array of definitions.  The most profound being: moldo warpo that translates literally as “earth thrower” (a mole).  Naturally, as a writer, I took the etymology of these words to heart and they became the core of my own mythology: THE LAY OF MOEL EYRIS: The Saga of the Bear’s Son.

I created an entire history for my word “moel”: mool, maol, moel, and so on.  I like to think that “mool” is the most archaic in the etymology of the word ‘moel’.   And, of course, I created my own definition for the word.   The most interesting definition is for the word “maol” — it means “mythographer” (not mole).

In my mythology moles and mythographers play the most important roles in the narrative.  Many geographical place names on the Myvyrian Map of Moel Eyris are derived from “moel”.

Here are some examples: Moel Terre (Mole’s Earth); Moel Weorpe (Mole’s Worth); Mowdie, Moudiewart, Moel Faulds; Moel Breeks, Mools Wadder; mool dykes; Moolstery; Cymry of Maols, and so on.  In my mythology the actual animal, a mole, is most often a “scupper” or messenger (for maols).

So, from one simple typographical error sprang an entire mythological world in which nearly all my stories and illustrations are set.

THE LAY OF MOEL EYRIS: The Saga of the Bear’s Son comprises five books:

The Secret Book of Moolstery

The Secret of the Mool Dykes

The Secret of Morag’s Too’er

The Secret of the Myvyrian Map

The Secret of the Dragon Eggs

The narrative is firmly rooted in more than thirty years’ research delving into the prehistory of Scotland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Outer Hebrides, St. Kilda, and, of course, The Flannan Isles.

I wanted to create (write) my own world in which magic was real and based on fact, not wand waving fiction.   Words have power.  Throughout history this has been proven time and time again.  Just think of that old adage: The pen is mightier than the sword.   It’s very true.

THE LAY OF MOEL EYRIS (from now on referred to as LOME) tells the story (and history of a mysterious and real archipelago that is neither “here nor there”.  It is betwixt and between the two Realms of Man and Faërie.  The inhabitants of these islands are diverse and have fascinating stories of their own.   The fates are intertwined, their destiny is unstoppable.   Their beliefs are unshakeable.   

To go back a wee bit farther in my own evolution as a writer I would have to tell you that 1) I have always been an avid reader and that 2) it was when I discovered the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien that my life was changed forever.   I became obsessed with “barrows” and “barrow-wights” and when I looked these words up in the OED it became imperative that I visit England and Scotland and see these remarkable ancient structures for myself.

Note:  IF you look up the word “barrow” in the OED it will refer you to such words as “cairn,” “tumulus,” “burial mound,” etc.

My quest to explore cairns and barrows myself began in 1978 with an extended eight week expedition (sounds so much more interesting than “trip”) to Scotland.   And then onto the Orkney Islands, across the north coast of Scotland (hitchhiking and hiking) and taking the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.  

I must say that I was NOT disappointed in the sites I explored.  My imagination was set on fire and the more I saw and explored, the more I read about these ancient sites, and then began to read (and hear) the legends and superstitions associated with them, my work and writing would change forever.

If you go back and look at one of the very first picture books that I wrote and illustrated you will see how profoundly archaeology and folk beliefs influenced my writing and illustrating.  RAVENA (Holiday House, 1983) was the first children’s picture book that shed light on my fascination with cairns, standing stones, bean sidhes, bog trotters, etc.   My own mythical world of Moel Eyris began to take form.

Throughout my career as a professional writer and illustrator I have made detailed maps, architectural plans, sections, elevations (of farm buildings, cairns, Moolstery et al) and have kept thousands of pages of detailed notes on the flora and fauna of the islands, the inhabitants (how they came to be there and how their lives evolved), the history, the magic and the mystery of these islands—in short, Moel Eyris became MY world.

As this blog evolves (you notice that there is a lot of evolving in my life and work) I will share glimpses into the world of Moel Eyris and will begin to outline who is who and what is going on in their life (or death).   

As I work on the illustrations for picture books that I am obligated to finish it is very difficult to NOT think about, not write about, Moel Eyris—the Islands on the Edge.

1992 Sketchbook


Back in 1992 I kept a sketchbook where I drew ONE picture every day.   It was an exercise to try to become a more confident drawer.  The sketchbook is 5″x7″ or 4″x6″ (I’ll have to measure it).  It’s quite small.   Many of my book ideas came out of this sketchbook and others like it.  Sometimes I added a few words to record an idea or thought that added humor or insight into the picture.

Here are some of the sketches:

SB Front Cover


And The Wee Dog Flew







As both a writer and illustrator a book idea often starts with a sketch.  Then the words come and the two merge together to begin to tell a story.