Author: Jim

The Story of “The Story Circle” by Wendy Martin

Wendy Martin.
Smile for the camera, Wendy!

I’m excited to share this post from Wendy Martin, someone who’s art I’ve admired for many years. I love process stories. Whenever I talk to kids about what goes into making a book, either through writing or illustrating, I show them the work-behind-the-work. Why? Because finished books are magical things that look like they leaped out of someone’s head fully formed. And that makes them a little bit intimidating, and a lot a bit inaccessible as “something you could do.” It takes a lot of work to make a book, and I love to show people that that work is made up of attainable steps along the way. Sure, I get it, you can’t draw a straight line and your grammar is broken. That’s why we sketch, draft, and revise!

Here’s how Wendy works wonders. It’s great stuff. Enjoy!

Wendy Martin: Process

Jim asked me to share my art process. I’ll be explaining what I did for one spread of the book.
Upon receiving the story text from the publisher, I start with thumbnail sketches. These are very, very rough ideas of what and where I’ll be placing the image. For “The Story Circle,” I received the text in page breaks already. In some cases, I also have to decide the best way to break the text for the flow of the story.

Story Circle thumbnails.
Story Circle thumbnails.

The next step is to move to a half-size layout sketch in pencil. As you can see, this image changed a lot from my thumbnail.


Part of this book’s art requirements included unique vignettes for each spread. The vignettes are a visual separation for the English and Spanish text. In this instance, I created a larger version of one of the fish in the full spread art.

After I nail down how I want the layout sketch to look, I add other details. The background and the turtle and the fish near him are some of the revisions I made in this stage.  There are others, too, small refinements and adjustments. I made sure to keep the area where the text and vignette fall clear. I finish all the pencil sketches and scan them in to send to the publisher for approval.

After I get editorial comments, I make the changes requested and move on to the next step. Inking. I rescan the changed images. Then, I clean up the scans and enhance the contrast in Photoshop. Now they’re ready to be imported into Illustrator. I do my “inking” in Illustrator. This part of the process takes a lot of the pressure off of me from worrying about ruining the color part and having to start all over again from scratch. In the past, before all this wonderful technology, I used to use a light table to trace the line work onto sheets of watercolor paper, paint it and then ink the lines. So if the watercolor part didn’t work out as I’d like, I’d have to transfer all over again. It’s backbreaking, hand and mind-numbing work. I don’t miss it at all. My last step in this phase is to change the color of the inked lines to a pale shade of one of the main paint colors I have planned for my color palette. In this case it’s a dusty green-gray.
The color-adjusted inked line art gets printed onto watercolor paper. I stretch and tape the paper to flannel covered canvas boards and paint all the book images in an assembly line fashion. I’ve found this is the best way for me to keep character consistency throughout a book. It was especially important in this case as there were EIGHT repeating characters in the story. 7 students and their teacher.

These images are again scanned into the computer. I do some final color adjustments and minor retouching in Photoshop, make sure the color profile matches the information I have from the publisher and make low-resolution version of each image to send back to the publisher for approval.
With this book, there were some revisions to the final art once the story was fully translated. Some of my art had type in it and I got my tenses wrong on one of these. I also had to create some matching backgrounds for the end pages. All images are finalized, put in a folder, compressed and sent off to the publisher. Now I wait. And wait. And wait.
I finished the art for “The Story Circle” in mid-May 2015. I received my author copies in April 2016. Nearly a year of waiting!
The right-hand side of this image also graced the cover of the publishers Spring releases catalog and is reused on the back cover of the book.

Where to get the book:

You can get “The Story Circle” direct from the publisher, or through Amazon.

The Blog Tour Continues!

Here’s the schedule for the continuing adventures of Wendy and “The Story Circle,” and while you’re at it, visit Wendy’s site as well.

The full blog tour schedule.
The full blog tour schedule.

Poetry Friday: A Pantoum about a Watermelon Seed

It’s been a long time, but I’m dropping into the Poetry Friday crowd again – at least for one week. I rediscovered this poem a few days ago, then revised and tweaked. As one does.

The Poetry Friday roundup is happening at Buffy’s Blog. Pop over there for more poetic goodness.

I’m Jealous of the Watermelon Seed

by Jim Hill

I’m jealous of the watermelon seed.
Squeeze and it flies free.
Lost among the knee high weeds.
A survivor. Going places. Going fast.

Squeeze and it flies free.
Pressure sends it soaring above a sea of grass.
A survivor. Going places. Going fast.
It made a wish. Escaped the squish.

Pressure sent it soaring above a sea of grass.
Pressure dropped. Contest won. Winner got away.
It made a wish. Escaped the squish.
Without the squeeze, where would he be?

Pressure dropped. Contest won. Winner got away.
A scattered seed across the green.
Without the squeeze, where would he be?
Freedom isn’t free and squeezing isn’t squee.

A scattered seed across the green.
Tomorrow’s garden, wait and see.
Freedom isn’t free and squeezing isn’t squee.
I’m jealous of the watermelon seed.

© 2015, all rights reserved

All Hallow’s Eve

A moment of inspiration became an hour of perspiration as I fashioned an entry for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 4th Annual HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST! 

The challenge? Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkin, broomstick, and creak.

Challenge accepted.

Kinsale Mixes It Up
by Jim Hill

Kinsale’s sisters cackled.
“I’ll turn that one into a toad!”
“The other shall sleep until awakened by a Prince!”

Straddling her broomstick, she bid farewell to the coven.

“As if there were any princes left to do the waking…”

She glided, accompanied by only the creak of trees, the rattle of leaves, and the flickering wink of pumpkins. Until she saw the children.

With a sprinkle of amalgamated toadstool, powdered batwing, and a touch of Eldritch rhyme, Kinsale mixed things up a bit.

“Safe ye shall be
On All Hallows’ Eve
As those that dish out
At last shall receive!”

New Strings for Ukulele – Poetry Friday

New Strings For Ukulele

By Jim Hill

Uncoiled, detangled, threaded over-under-through,
Bridge and saddle, knotted, tied then
Wound and wound and wound and
Stretched and wound.

Na fig dab wees

Keep winding, keep stretching, keep –
Oh that knot that keeps slipping and sliding –
Removed, rethreaded, retied.
Deep breath, stay calm, fat fingers restretch, rewind.

Ba tog gin knees

Check the knots, check the knots, tuner blinks,
Pings ascend as strings are brought to pitch,
Pinched, stressed, tightened, plucked,
Machine heads spinning, spinning, spun.

My dog has fleas


poetry friday buttonIt’s been a while, but as I take a breather between semesters I felt the call. And just maybe the need for new strings.  Amy at the Poem Farm is this week’s host for Poetry Friday. Hop on over for more poetry.

Mister Bug – the Video

The Mister Bug adventure has just about wrapped up. Last Spring I posted the demo of the song I submitted to the Eventide Arts Songwriting Contest. Much to my surprise, it won. Many thanks to the good folks at Eventide and my friends and family who came out and supported us at the performance. Here’s a video with me and my All-Star Jam Band – Kris Hill on guitar, Andrew Rapo on keyboard and Alex Lariviere on ukulele. Not bad for rehearsing once.

What’s next for Mister Bug? Well, the song was originally written as a picture book manuscript and I’m thinking of turning it into a storybook app for the iPad using Demibooks Composer. Anyone with experience using that software want to chat?

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to add “award winning songwriter” to my resume. *cough*

Hats Off – Poetry Friday

I think anyone that ever played dress-up will have fun with this one. I have an extensive list of hats to add, so many stanzas to go before I sleep. Enjoy. Should it be a song? A picture book? Hmmm.

Hats Off

by Jim Hill

I like to play at make-believe
It’s kind of like my thing.
I often wear a lot of hats.
It’s good to be the King.

Some kids will sit around all bored.
Not me! I’ll fly a jet.
And if you think that sounds like fun,
Just wait. I haven’t started yet.

When I pull this hat down low
I’m standing on the mound,
Throwing balls and strikes so fast,
I break the speed of sound.

It’s fourth and long, two-minute drill,
I cinch my strap and say,
The game is on the line m’boys.
It’s time for our trick play!

In space they say no one can
Hear. Not true! I hear a lot;
Ground control, the President,
And my miniature robot.

Magnifying glass in hand,
Looking for the truth,
Discovering a chain of
Clues, I am a super sleuth.

If I wear this one with
Horns, maybe I can sing?
If you have the time for it,
We’ll take on Wagner’s Ring.

I have so many hats to try,
A chapeau a day for months,
And it would just be silly,
To wear them all at once.

I like to play at make-believe,
and seeing what I see,
In the mirror when I wear,
a hat that isn’t me.

Poetry Friday is at Carol’s Corner this week. Go say “Hi!”

Kid’s POV Haiku – Poetry Friday

This week I’ve been looking to nature and experimenting with haiku. I also picked up Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Raczka, perfectly illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Talk about two great tastes that taste great together! Words and images create a lively look at a year of being a boy.

Although I enjoy haiku, I often think they feel too detached from the natural world. All observation, not enough heart. Raczka’s work is quite the opposite. Completely engaging, colloquial, even conversational, I felt like I was re-living my own boyhood memories. He made me reconsider what it is to write authentically from the point-of-view of a child. And, since this is Poetry Friday, I’ve taken a crack at a few Guyku of my own.

I had the good fortune to live in the perfect kid-friendly neighborhood between the ages of 4 and 7. Among other things, we had the Pollywog Pond at the end of the street. Frogs in the summer, skating in the winter. General year-round tomfoolery any time.

I’m not claiming these are on par with Mr. Raczka, but I enjoyed writing them. They brought back some fun memories. We were afraid of that snapping turtle for months! And I didn’t even mention the snake that tried to bite me, fishing for Kivers, the haunted barn or the train tracks. Hmm, wonder if they’d consider a Guyku anthology?

Pollywog Pond Haiku

by Jim Hill

Summer days prowling
around the pollywog pond
for frogs and turtles.

Barehanding bull frogs.
“Mine can jump farther than yours.”
We bet popsicles.

The snapping turtle
came right out of the water.
Scared the pants off me.

Opening milkweeds
to launch a million fluffy,
white paratroopers.

Skipping stones across
the pond to see who can reach
the other side first.

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Linda at TeacherDance. Go say hello and read some more poetry.

Mister Bug, the Musical

Here’s the demo track of Mister Bug recorded today with Andy Rapo. It’s a bit rough, but not bad considering how quickly we did it. Andy is a whiz in the home studio and has a pretty nice set up. That’s me singing and playing ukulele (in case you were wondering).

Mister Bug started out as a poem (trivia – my first rhyming poem) based on a comment from my three-and-half-foot muse about a bug he saw on the ceiling. After some great comments from my crit group, I expanded it to fit a picture book format. Then, last year I started thinking about song writing and this version kind of came together.

I still think it’s got pretty good picture book potential *cough* agents, editors *cough*

I “debuted” it in January at my first VCFA residency by coercing a room full of children’s writers to sing along on the chorus. It didn’t take a whole lot of arm-twisting, they’re a game bunch. Now this version is going out to a local songwriting contest, and I’m living the not-quite-a-Wiggle-dream.

I wonder if Laurie Berkner would like it?

Bumbly Me – Poetry Friday

This week’s poem comes courtesy of the bumble bee crawling around the red azalea given to my wife on Mother’s Day, the very funny (and so NSFW) “Political Talk with Two Guys from Boston” segment in Dana Gould’s podcast, and my VCFA advisor, Mary Quattlebaum who suggested I try an acrostic and work on assonance. Just thought you might appreciate the synapse synopsis.

I think I can finally forgive that bee I stepped on when I was three.

Bumbly Me

by Jim Hill

Buzzing, bumbling, bumbly me,
Under and over and tumbly,
Merrily, airily, teasing the breeze,
Buzzing, bumbling, bumbly me,
Looking for colorful blossom and bloom,
Errand of hustle and bustle and zoom.

Buzzing, bumbling, bumbly me,
Eternally fumbling, mumbling wonder,
Eyeing the garden for nectar to plunder.



Kathy Czaja is this week’s Poetry Friday host. Take some time over there to discover some great poets and poetry.

photo credit Hayling Images


Monstrous – Poetry Friday


by Jim Hill

Up all night? Can’t sleep a wink?
What’s the trouble guys?
Do you think that squeaky shriek,
Could lead to your demise?

I’m no weirdo just because,
You find things too creepy.
The shadows from a leafless tree,
Only make me sleepy.

Important safety tips you ask?
Come closer don’t be shy.
I’ll help you with some pointers,
That you’re gonna wanna try.

If you really have to use,
The potty late at night,
Take a teddy bear (or two).
Watch out for things that bite.

If there’s creaking on the stairs
Get under covers fast.
Don’t let the creatures see you,
Or this night could be your last!

Thunder? Lightning? Gusty gales!
Storms shouldn’t make you frown,
Unless the power fizzles out,
and blackouts hit your town.

Empty space beneath the bed,
Can cause the blood to freeze.
Keep it dusty, never clean,
To hear the nasties wheeze.

Are my secrets helping you
To make it through the night?
Time to whisper, listen close,
And never take affright.

I know there are no monsters,
But when I close my eyes
I think there really are some
Waiting to surprise.

If your bravery runs away,
When somethings out to get you,
Holler loud for mom and dad,
And they’ll come to your rescue.

Irene is hosting the Poetry Friday Round-Up this week. Take a look. Lots of great poets, poems and poetry info.


While you’re feeling the love for Poetry, take a look at the heartbreakingly funny “The Truth about Poets and Poetry” from Greg Pincus.