August 4, 2016

2016 LA SCBWI Conference...the Faculty "ONE WORD" List

The 2016 LA SCBWI Conference was held at the historic (and haunted) Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.  It was a fast-paced week of stellar keynotes, inspiring breakouts, great people and new friends.

At the opening Keynote each of the faculty members were asked to give their "one word" take away.  They were inspiring and funny...thought-provoking and encouraging.  The impact was undeniable. I scribbled down each word as fast as I could...being a word nerd I didn't want to lose a single letter!

The One Word List is too good not to share.  Whether or not you attended the conference, the impassioned "one word" list is meant for each creative reading this post.

CHALLENGE:  Throughout the following months, I encourage you to look to this list for inspiration and fill a blank page.  If you create an illustration from a word, or words, on this list, please share on the social media of your choice and hashtag it #2016LASCBWIoneword.



March 31, 2016

Experimenting with digital watercolor

Watercolor paintings and illustrations are beautiful.  And though I've tried, I never quite mastered traditional watercolor.  In fact, I never even came close to the images I saw in my head.  My color mixes were muddy and my brush hand felt clunky.  I took another route and started using colored inks, mixing them with colored pencils, markers and hand-drawn ink lines.

Fast forward to the present.  Digital painting makes experimenting with watercolors fun again.  There are many, many watercolor brushes in Photoshop that give realistic results.  This is good news for someone like me because it allows me to play...and delete...or add...without the stress.

There is fun in the practice!


March 30, 2016

Sometimes you have to go with your gut...

This illustration is part of an assignment for our upcoming SCBWI Carolina's Spring Conference.  The assignment was to choose a stanza from Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (or other selections) and create a double page spread. We were given feedback on the sketch and we are to bring a final version to the conference.

My original sketch does not look anything like the final version.  The original was "sweet" but it didn't create the emotional connection that I wanted it to have.  I was given clear and very good art direction on the first illustration, but it still was not working for me.  Rather than keep working on a piece I didn't like, I chose to go with my gut instinct and redo the drawing.  And I'm glad I did because I like this one so much better!

I was happy with the first illustration below, but was given a suggestion to add color to the mom and baby.  This is where I give a thumbs up to digital painting!  Color comps are so easy in Photoshop and make comparisons simple.

To be honest, I liked the color, at first.  But the more I viewed them both side by side, I found that the original, without the color, gave me that "heart" connection I wanted. 

The idea for this illustration comes from a place I love...and miss...rocking fussy babies at 3 AM.  Eventually one, or both of us would fall asleep.  But time does not stand still and these precious babies of mine have grown, married and will one day have their own 3 AM experiences. I am thankful to be able to share my memories through my illustrations.

So, when something connects with your heart - or gut - don't be afraid to go with it. Even if it goes against everyone else's opinion.  After all, if you are not in love with your work, how can you expect others to be in love with your work?!

Original Sketch

Until next time....if you have any comments or questions, feel free to contact me:
Facebook: debjohnson.1
Twitter: @debjohnsonart
Instagram: debjohnsonart

March 29, 2016

Let your sketches do the talking...

I had a little down time this afternoon, so I started a sketch of a toddling kiddo in the yard.  She reminds me so much of my daughter at that age, in particular the hair "fountain".  As I painted, she seemed to smile back at me.  She waved and begged me to go outside to see the beautiful flowers in our yard. She even stopped to pick a few. 


So, I let her take my hand and we stepped outside to oooh and ahhhh over the explosion of vibrant colors blooming all over the yard.  Wow...and to think I might have missed it!  It made me pause and reflect...I am thankful for a husband who's thumb is way greener than mine.  And I am truly thankful for the gift that God gave me that allows me to create.  I am even more in awe that HE connected with me through a sketch! 


The following images represent the steps I took to complete the illustration "Kellie".
Digital Pencil Sketch

Background gets painted in several layers.
The baby girl is painted in several layers, too.

March 28, 2016

The Fun of Digital Painting...

When I started my illustration career, about 427 years ago, I worked traditionally.  I could tell the difference between hot and cold press bristol board and papers.  Canson Mi-Teintes was my favorite paper and, when paired with my Prismacolor Pencils, it was a marriage made in heaven for me!  I did lots and lots of pen and ink...3 complete sets of Rapidiograph pens bit the dust not to mention countless single pens.  Running out of india ink in the middle of an assignment was horrifying (many late night runs to Pearl's art supply!).

Usher in the 2000's and a switch to digital media 16 years on earth did I survive all those years on pencil and paper alone?!

There was no CMD Z to undo my boo-boos.
Texture actually came from real paper, not an overlay layer set to multiply.
Color studies were done separately and I could only hope the final art looked the same.  There was no eye dropper tool to keep the colors consistent.

My list could go on and on about the benefits of creating in a digital studio but I still make a point to connect with my traditional art.  I love the feel of a sketchbook and pencil.  My schedule is still a hand-written daily list and entries into a (egad!) dollar store calendar.  I guess I still cling to some of the tried and true habits from the stone age...

Enough of that!  Here is a video clip of painting a work in progress (WIP) in Photoshop and the final right side of a double page spread.  I use Creative Cloud and keep everything up to date.  One know, ONE DAY...I plan to learn some of the other software that my membership includes.


Most of my paint brushes are purchased from Kyle T. Webster.  They are fabulous!  (

Until next time....if you have any comments or questions, feel free to contact me:
Facebook: debjohnson.1
Twitter: @debjohnsonart
Instagram: debjohnsonart

January 4, 2016

Happy New Year...2016!

I am fully embracing the start of 2016!  It feels good to shed my 2015 experience and step into a year of intentional and inspirational challenges and grow from there; both professionally and personally.

2015 had it's share of awful stuff...things I didn't plan to encounter.  After working for months to get ready for the SCBWI LA conference, I had to cancel at the last minute because I contracted C-DIFF.  It's not something you can travel with and it's highly contagious...and yeah, people die from this stuff.  The (usually quiet) rheumatoid arthritis that I've had most of my life woke up in the middle of the C-DIFF nightmare.  Life halted.  Everything changed in the matter of a few weeks.

That unwanted call at the end of July meant I had a choice to make.  Do I give in to the temptation of feeling sorry for myself? Get angry at God because I didn't deserve this mess?  I can tell you that I didn't choose either one of those options.  Instead, I chose to lean in to God and seek comfort rather than anger; to have peace over the situation; and get to know Him much better.  I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was never left alone once during the last 7 months.   It's pretty amazing what He can do, even in a broken-to-pieces person like me :D

2015 is the year that "hope was born" in every sense of the word.

Here we are, finally at 2016...YAY!!!  I don't make resolutions, but instead have "words" to guide my goals for the year.  My 2016 "words" are Intentional and Inspiration.  I want to be intentional of the choices I make, the things I say and do...intentional about how and where I spend my time and finances (and that's just for starters!).  To do my best to be an inspiration to others through my God-given talents.

Oh...and I want to self-publish at least one more coloring book this year and TWO of my own books through my imprint, Flannel Moose!

I am thankful to have a job that I love - illustrating and writing for children - and ready to take a new adventure in 2016!

How about you?  What goals have you set for yourself in 2016?

June 24, 2015

Embracing the interruptions

All writers and artists need space...a quiet place to create...right?  I don't know about you, but that rarely happens at my house.  And that's okay. 

Through the years, I have shared my studio space with the most important people, and pets, in my life.  Each conversation, every interruption, the floating pet hair and dust bunnies...they are moments that inspire and make this illustrator's heart happy and full.  Some of my favorite memories are when my daughter was a teenager...she would come in to my studio, flop down on the floor, and start telling me about her day.  One day, I hope to live close enough and let my future grand-kiddos (or her) do the same.

I always find the quiet spaces when I need them, but for now, I'll embrace the snoring dog and count my life blessed.  My art is, after all, a reflection of my heart.  Let's keep it happy.