Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Continuing "Two-Question Tuesday", in which I post and answer two questions each week, one pulled from some of the actual questions I've received over the years, the other a silly question I ask myself. I hope they provide a bit of insight into who I am and how (and why) I do what I do!
If you have a question you'd like to ask me, post it as a comment below and I will answer it in a future post.

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Q1: Did you take art classes when you were young? 

NOTE: I like to think that I am still young, but I get what you're asking...for the sake of argument I will address my relationship to art prior to age 21.

As a child, I had regular public school art class like everyone else around me. But at home, my sister ---she's 3 years older---liked to draw and paint and it wasn't long before I decided I wanted to, too. Maybe part of me wanted to show her up a little? (I am the middle child, after all...) By middle school I was drawing a TON. It was my favorite thing to do, and all that outside practice helped me improve pretty quickly. Granted, the kind of art I was doing at the time involved realistic teeny bopper drawings of my celebrity crushes [see above, age 11: Devon Sawa], but I guess they served a grander purpose eventually. When I was younger, I spent most of my personal time drawing from photographs as opposed to from my imagination. It taught me certain basics of light/shadow/value, but now I wonder where I'd be as an artist if I had relied more on my imagination as a child...it's a part of myself I'm still trying to develop even at age 30.

Anyway, I digress.
In high school I continued taking art classes as electives (i.e. advanced drawing and painting, portfolio, and AP studio art) but I was equally if not more concerned with my academic classes. I didn't want to be just a good artist, but a good student all around. My favorite teacher was my English teacher, Mrs. Sullivan (I had her sophomore year and senior year) who encouraged her students to approach their final projects creatively rather than just written essays. For The Lord of the Flies I drew before and after portraits of Ralph (see above, age 15), and for Macbeth I drew a poster montage of key scenes from the play (see above, age 17). I loved having the opportunity to fuse my art with my academics and will always be grateful for having had a teacher like Mrs. Sullivan.

All throughout high school my number one pastime was drawing in my bedroom for hours on end. Most often by myself, but occasionally with the company of one or both my sisters. I was a pretty independent art maker motivated by a simple desire: make realistic portraits of my favorite movie stars to hang on my bedroom wall. It might not have been the most sociable use of my free time, but it kept me entertained through the stress factory that is high school, so I regret nothing!

After I graduated, I went to RISD---but that's a story for another question. :)

Q2:  What is your favorite book?

Oof! How do you pick just one when there are so many books that make your life a little more complete just by existing?

UGH. Ok--- I know! I'll answer this in list form.

Picturebook: The Sea Chest by Toni Buzzelli, illus. by Mary GrandPre
Graphic Novel: The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Middle Grade Novel: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Juvenile Sci-Fi Series: The Giver series by Lois Lowry
Juvenile Fantasy Series: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
YA Series: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Adult Fantasy Series: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Non-Fiction: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

These are the books I'd rescue from a fire.
These are the books whose images have implanted in my mind, whose inky words have stained my fingers and become part of my being. (Can you tell I do not read ebooks?)

But if I had to pick JUST ONE book to attribute my entire being to, I'd pick Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

Reading this book at the age of 16 forever broke me of my adolescence-induced, too-cool-for-anything cynicism and showed me that it's ok to be a nerd/dork/geek/whatever and it's ok to openly admit loving that which you love. No more teenage apathy and negativity. No more putting people down for what they like, however different it may be from my own interests. Like what you like. Life's too short not to embrace the things that make you happy.

I will never forget reading the first few chapters of Sorcerer's Stone in bed at my gramma's house. She'd bought books 1-4 for us grandchildren to share, despite none of us really being interested at the time. Begrudgingly, I decided to see what all the fuss was about (Goblet of Fire had just come out--midnight book release parties for a kids book? Whaaat?). But there I was, finding myself absolutely hooked by the first few words:

"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
I sat in bed with the dawning realization that this book, this writing and the world within those pages---Roald Dahl meets The Worst Witch but with a voice entirely its own--was the book I had always wanted to read. It felt as if JK Rowling was speaking directly to me. I was at once both 16 and 6, teenager and child, completely transported, my imagination unlocked. There is no spell strong enough to undo the magic this book cast on my life.

Harry Potter singlehandedly changed everything I thought I was by connecting me to my true, unapologetic, wide-eyed inner child. Without this book (and subsequent HP books), I would not have made the friends I did, or met the love of my life in my husband (also a huge HP fan), or done just about anything else that makes me who I am today. This book made me love books, reinforced my lifelong love of reading, and kindled a passion for children's literature in particular which gives shape and meaning to my life and career on a daily basis.

So yeah. I guess I DO have a favorite book after all!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Continuing with "Two-Question Tuesday", in which I post and answer two questions each week, one pulled from some of the actual questions I've received over the years, the other a playful question I ask myself. I hope they provide a bit of insight into who I am and how (and why) I do what I do!

If you have a question you'd like to ask me, post it as a comment below and I will answer it in a future post.

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Q1: What artists influence you?

I am a great appreciator of the work of many children's illustrators, although I don't actively try (or succeed) at making work anything like theirs. Instead, I admire their work because it looks like they sincerely enjoy their process. They are consistent in their dedication to quality and their craft, whatever their medium of choice. Most of my favorite illustrators have a recognizable, characteristic style that makes their work easily identifiable. Some of my favorites are Mary GrandPré, Linda Wingerter, Cory Godbey, Brett Helquist, Brian Selznick, Tony DiTerlizzi, Rebecca Guay, and Aaron Becker (just to name a few). If you know their work you'll probably notice that they all have distinctly different styles from each other and from my own work.

By looking at these artists' images, I absorb valuable insights that I hope to someday be able to bring to my own art---insights into color, composition, lighting, character, style, etc. Qualities like strong drawing skills (good anatomy or intentionally stylized figures), use of interesting perspectives, dynamic environments, looseness of lines, use of expressive, dynamic shapes, and a sense of gesture and movement are all evident in the illustrations that strongly appeal to me (in contrast to my own work, which all-too often tends to become stiff and overworked). There is much to be learned from the artists I admire. 

Most important of all, my favorite artists remind me to enjoy myself, to work hard, and create with authentic passion. They're all so good at being themselves that I'm reminded to be myself, too (whatever that may be). Their techniques and processes encourage me to try something new, loosen up, and be playful. Their work compels me to continue to hone my drawing skills so that I can draw realistically when I need to AND be expressive when I want to.

Ancora imparo!

Q2: Are you obsessed with space, and why is the answer YES?

Our solar system, exoplanets, the galaxy, and the entire universe has been and will forever be a topic for me which inspires true AWE. Contemplating space used to leave me boggled and afraid. Afraid of what is out there, afraid of what we don't know, and afraid we'll never know enough to satisfy my own curiosity. Apart from my creative projects, the pursuit of space related topics has been filling ALL of my free time for the last year and a half. I've read non-fiction (several of Carl Sagan's books), fiction (The Martian was a particular favorite this year), sci-fi comic books and classic novels, not to mention watched countless documentaries and educational videos. I'm discovering more and more my passion for topics like cosmology, astrophysics, and astrobiology. (If I hadn't been scared away from studying science in my youth, I suspect I would have loved stellar spectroscopy.)

I've always been dissatisfied with the sub par science education I received in school, and up until last year I'd spent most of my life avoiding heavy science topics altogether because I was intimidated by how stupid I felt trying to navigate it all. But I'm making up for lost time by throwing myself into it now, at age 30, with a level of passion and enthusiasm I've only ever experienced inside the art-making realm.

So YES. I am obsessed with space, that wondrous, fascinating and overwhelming place of which we human beings have the privilege to be a very small part. Sometimes I wonder if anything besides the study of the universe really matters at all...

Did you watch the Orion test flight last week? Are you following the New Horizons mission? There is so much happening right now--- it's a very exciting time to be a space enthusiast!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


While I was at RISD, I contacted illustrators I admired eager to glean whatever I could about what life as an illustrator was really like. Answers to questions like "How did you discover your style?" and "How do you navigate the vastness of the children's book industry?" provided valuable insight to me as a new and wannabe illustrator. Now, nine years later, I have the humbling pleasure of sometimes being on the receiving end of some of these very questions from students and aspiring artists. Imagine that!

I thought it might be fun to have a weekly post themed around answering the kinds of career-oriented questions I've received. So I'm beginning "Two-Question Tuesday", in which I will post and answer two questions each week, one pulled from some of the actual questions I've been asked over the years., the other a playful question I'll ask myself. I hope it provides a bit of insight into who I am and how (and why) I do what I do!

If you have a question you'd like to ask me, post it as a comment below and I will answer it in a future post.

Here we go!
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Q1: How did you get your start in the children's illustration industry?

Getting a foot in the door as an illustrator can be remarkably hit or miss. My experience is not a very common one in that one of my first professional jobs was a legitimate picture book with a big publisher (believe me, I was just as surprised as you!). I graduated in 2006, and during that first post-grad year I spent a lot of time researching and learning about the industry I wanted to be a part of rather than actually being part of it. I created some sample pieces and spent 2007 prowling the RISD job board for illustration gigs. Eventually I got my first paying job that way, creating pencil drawings for a kind of paint-by-number kid's paint set.

Next I sent out promotional mailers to publishers (a packet of sample prints, postcards, the norm), but nothing came directly from it. Then I put my portfolio on the website childrensillustrators.com.  There were many artists on the site (and tons more now) but somehow (miraculously!?) my work was seen by an editor at Abrams Books. After creating a spec illustration for the manuscript, I was hired to illustrate a book called Ballots for Belva by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. (I hadn't done anything that big prior, nor have I since, really.)

The money from that advance was enough to allow me and (my then-boyfriend) Adam to move to Boston and get real jobs so we could live together. From 2008-2010 I worked full-time as a web/graphic designer and sought out small illustration jobs when I could. Illustration was relegated to late nights and weekends. At the time that was enough. It kept me busy, brought in some extra money, and served to remind me what I truly wanted to do someday.

After two years at my day job, I felt the itch to quit and try freelancing full-time. I also just so happened to have been contacted by an agent around that time. She'd also seen my work online and thought I might be good for the kind of work she often assigns. I came on as a Tugeau2 artist four years ago and have very much appreciated working someone so knowledgeable, accessible, and supportive as Nicole Tugeau.

But my plan to become a full-time illustrator hasn't quite worked out as I envisioned. At least not yet. 2010 was the same year I contracted Lyme disease, and it has been a bit of an unpredictable ride ever since. (Fortunately, I think I'm finally moving past all that now...)

Anyway---back to freelancing:
Most of the projects that come through Nicole are educational work. They pay well but sometimes prove challenging to the spirit. There usually isn't (in my opinion) enough time to explore in the initial stages before I have to pump out the final artwork. Generally after educational work wraps I'm completely worn out and frazzled. And I always wish I had more time to let the process breathe a little. I do the best I can with the time that is given, but with my part-time job sometimes it's very little actual work time. 

I'm 9 years out of RISD now but I feel like I'm still establishing myself. I still want to be a children's illustrator, but I'm realizing now what that really means to me: I want to make my own books and stories, and take on less educational work. Since I'm not relying on illustration to support myself, I don't really want to do work my heart isn't in fully---especially since I don't have to.

It's a big world out there and I've inadvertently taken longer figuring out who I want to be as an illustrator than I originally intended. But I'm ok with learning little by little and improving project by project. Everything is a chance to get better. To get closer to being the artist I hope to someday become.

Q2: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

People often remark that my cat Miette looks an awful lot like me, thus I have been likened to a cat by those who know her. But if I'm picking for myself, I'd say I would like to be a deer. I feel a kindred spirit with these wild yet gentle animals. For being so commonplace, deer are wonderfully majestic and mysterious. When I see them appearing out of the tree line or standing stoically in a field at dusk, l feel connected. Connected to all of nature and to my peaceful animal brethren, silently taking in the sights, living their quiet lives, hoping to remain undisturbed.

Oh, and I, too, malfunction in the spotlight. So there's that

Saturday, November 29, 2014


It has now been a year since I completed illustrations for the story "Follow the Drinking Gourd" (which hopefully means I can now safely post my work). It's about two runaway slave children who, through the help of good samaritans, are able to escape to freedom. Here is a sampling of the finished pieces:

Saturday, November 22, 2014


I spent the afternoon exploring ideas for a deer themed illustration/painting for my husband and I's joint fine art venture (Slumberland Studio). We will attempt to collaborate in the art-making process, but first we need ideas! We each have to come up with three composition ideas to show each other and then we'll settle on one to develop further and bring to finish---with actual paint---imagine that! I only got through one of my 3 ideas today. More to come!

Friday, November 21, 2014


It's getting colder in Rhode Island and each day seems to pass in the blink of an eye. I've been keeping busy in my free time, spending it either reading books (currently Bill Nye's newest), comics (Bravest Warriors is a new fun favorite), or watching documentaries and educational programing via PBS, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube while I work on new doodle paintings.

I have one more small craft show coming up on December 6th (Blackstone River Theatre's Holiday Fair). It's the last show I have lined up at the moment so it seems a nice time to wrap up the doodles for a while so I can dive back into developing (and perhaps writing) my story idea.

Generally, during the cold months I tend to go into a hibernation mode, wanting very little to leave the house after sundown except for occasional trips to the movies. I've seen Interstellar [twice], and Big Hero Six---both excellent. Interstellar was just about everything I imagined and hoped it would be, namely epic and beautiful and emotionally moving and ambitious and mind bending, while at the same time different (enough) in plot from my own. There are many components of the story that overlap but thankfully there's still enough unexplored in my idea that continues to push me forward conceiving my own epic space odyssey.

I certainly haven't been able to get enough of space related stuff since I began this project a year and a half ago and I'm fairly certain the obsession won't let up any time soon. I'm also fairly confident that there's room for yet another space exploration story in the world...

Anyway, as I mentioned, I don't want to leave the house when it's cold which has a nice bi-product of increased productivity. Staying in = working longer = getting more done. I'm quite content to "work" until late each night since there isn't much else happening to distract me. This has resulted in several new doodles in progress, including this one just finished this evening.

"Winter Light" is the final installment in my "Four Seasons" series.

I really do love the doodle painting process, and while it will always be part of me, I suspect I'm using it now more as a diversion from tackling the things that scare me most---and that truly matter to me and my ambitions. I don't so much miss illustrating but I miss the idea of actively pursuing a career I want. When I close my eyes and imagine my dream job, it's working in a studio writing and illustrating my own picture books. So why is it that I'm not working towards this every day?

Perhaps it's time to really consider my priorities and find a way to tend to all the branches of my creative tree---including pruning those that aren't what and where I truly want to be growing...

All in all, I am extremely grateful to be in a position where I have the luxury of contemplating what I want to be when I grow up. I just don't want to miss my chance to make something of myself.

No better day than today, no better time than now. The winter light is fading. Better get to work.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Join me on Benefit Street in Providence this Saturday, October 11th from 10am-4pm, where I'll be selling new doodle prints and paintings like the one shown here.

"Corona", title inspired by the music of Sheridan Tongue, who created the score to the BBC series "Wonders of the Universe", which I happened to be watching while creating this.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Quite a bit more paper trimming and print backing and bagging left to go...

Monday, September 22, 2014




Fall has officially arrived. 

Summer seems like (literally) only yesterday, and yet here we are, on the brink of my favorite time of the year. 

The summer was lovely and part of me is sad to see it go. But I am comforted in knowing that I spent a good deal of time reading outside and soaking up the sun from the comfort of my favorite reading chair. I think I made the most of the warm days---I've certainly read a lot. And thought a lot. (And watched a lot of CrashCourse). While I haven't made much direct progress on the story development front, I have made a constant effort to absorb everything I'm reading (or watching), be it comics, novels, non-fiction ,television, movies, or even YouTubeVideos. 

After all, it's all funneling toward my creativity. 
It's what I call the percolating phase...I never know when or how inspiration will bubble back up and out and into the writing.  I'm just hopeful that it does.

In other news:

I will be participating in the Fall RISD Alumni Sale taking place on Benefit Street in Providence on October 11th. In anticipation of the day, I've gone back to the doodle board to finish up some new pieces. It's been nice to return to my beloved circles, cells, and stones after a few months away. 

Here are my two newest pieces. 



That's all for now. There's more work to be done and the night is young!

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Eventually I'd like to compile a visual of all the books I've read in the past year, but for now I'll make do with just the books from May - September. (This is apart from the MANY graphic novels/comics I read over the last 4 months. See previous post for a sampling).

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Prior to a few months ago I'd basically never read any comic before - ever. I've always enjoyed accompanying Adam to comic shops and browsing the different titles and artwork, but I'd never embraced the medium myself. I found comics difficult to read and follow - I often read the text boxes/bubbles out of order and was overwhelmed by the amount of visual information.

I'm not sure exactly what flipped the switch (I suspect my growing appetite for sci-fi stories) but this spring I decided to bite the comic bullet. I began with an adaptation of Ender's Game, Ender in Exile, because I really like the world building in Ender's Game, but was not a fan of the writing (I find Orson Scott Card often tells more than shows, undermining the emotional impact). Because comics are great for action and simplified character/dialogue, I figured by reading the comic version I could cut to the quick of the story without getting distracted by the writing. And thus began a new-found love affair with COMICS!

I'm happy to report that I am now a full-fledged comic enthusiast. I'm also downright inspired! I don't picture myself ever illustrating comics, but I admit that the writing part intrigues me. I've got a few ideas of my own floating around now, and maybe one day I'll be able to pin them down. For now, I'll stick to reading, thinking and collecting... It's all circling back to my trilogy idea. Some of what I've read below deals with similar themes and concepts. It's good to know what's already out there so I can keep crafting my story to be all the more my own. 

Below are the series I've read so far (not counting one-off single issues). I was pretty picky initially, opting only for comics in my genres of choice (sci-fi or fantasy) with impeccable artwork. My tastes are already broadening, expanding and evolving. I'm finding I like series that I didn't think I would and enjoying artwork that originally turned me off. I'm growing.