Friday, December 28, 2012

Will Terry's Online Art Classes for Children's Illustrators

Are you an artist or illustrator trying to break into the children's book or app market? Check out Will Terry's online art classes on design, illustration, Photoshop, digital painting, and more at the Folio Academy.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Search for the Woodcutter (Guardians of the Gift - Choose Your Own Adventure)

If you have arrived in the middle of the adventure, you may start at the beginning by going HERE.

Search for the Woodcutter

The woodcutter was not nearby.  Erik dashed to the castle stable and tossed a saddle and bridle on his pony, Benton.  In no time he was mounted and trotting smartly across the drawbridge, down the frozen road, and into the forest.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Foldify: A Fun Little App

© 2012 S.J.
My daughters and I had fun tonight with a new app, Foldify. It's a simple concept: create 3D figures on an iPad following suggested templates; print out the result; and then fold it into the 3D object. The cute box creature my daughter made looked like this while she was working on it on the iPad:

Screenshot from Foldify
As she painted and decorated the template on the right, she could visualize what it would look like on the left. She could also rotate the 3D image to show all sides. The app is well worth its current sale price of $1.99.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

Friday, December 14, 2012

Year of Living Creatively/ 12 x 12 Blog Party

Although I only completed 4-5 picture book manuscripts as part of the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge, I've had a super creative year. So in this party post, I celebrate my creative highlights and share what I learned, including some resources for illustrators and writers.

Creative Highlights of 2012

(1) In April, I was thrilled to be a part of New Waves 2012, a curated exhibit of "up and coming" artists at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach.

Contemplating my lionfish painting

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Make Your Own Glass Holiday Ornament

Handblown glass ornaments
Finished glass ornaments
After living in this area for over 6 years, I'm still discovering the cool artistic opportunities we have here. In Norfolk, the Chrysler Museum opened The Glass Studio a year ago. It's a working studio that hosts daily glass making demonstrations, visiting artists, and classes and workshops.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ebooks and Print Books Can Coexist (Infographic)

I've been quite interested in the rise of e-books, from both a reader's and a writer's perspective (check out my comic on the battle of ebooks v. readers). has published a fascinating update of how people currently use e-books and print books. Most of the information is not surprising to me (people with e-readers read more books and also read printed books), but it was interesting to learn that reading e-books is slower than print books.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bear Picture Books!

Recently, I've noticed a bunch of fun bear-centric picture books. Although they seem to be the new "it" character (like penguins were for awhile), bears have always been mainstays in picture books.  Here's a roundup of great bear picture books, both classic and new:

New or Newish Bear Books

Cover of Goldilocks and Just One Bear
Goldilocks and Just One Bear, by Leigh Hodgkinson (Candlewick Press, 2011) This is a delightful story of a bear who is lost in the big city and ends up in a penthouse apartment. He sit on chairs that are too hard and too soft; he tries to eat porridge that is too soggy or too crunchy; he tries to find just the right bed. Cleverly, the illustrations show that the things he is trying out are very different from the text (the "chairs" turn out to be cacti and a cat; the "porridge" is a fishbowl or cat food). In a neat twist, the family comes home and the golden-haired mom looks awfully familiar to the bear.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Spam Comments can be Fun

© 2012 Sylvia Liu
Lately I've been enjoying the Dada-esque qualities of the spam comments Blogger screens. Do you think real people are hired to write these comments, or are the mish mash of words generated from some addled AI program?

The comments seem to fall into these categories:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Connect the Dots: Global Warming & Hurricane Sandy

Graphic linking global warming and Hurricane Sandy
(Click to See Larger Image) © 2012 Sylvia Liu
It didn't take long for people to wonder whether the freakish Hurricane/Nor'easter Sandy could be linked to global warming.  Here's my take . . . connect the dots.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

We were lucky that Hurricane Sandy mostly passed us by. We had lots of rain and wind, and the kids had no school, so we took advantage of their day off to carve some pumpkins. This year my 8-year old wanted a really scary pumpkin so I drew this and she carved it:

Scary Jack-o-Lantern

We were also at a fair earlier in the Fall and came across a pumpkin and gourd artist who carved the surface of pumpkins using carving tools for linoleum blocks. I had some at home so thought I'd give it a go:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Scale of the Universe

This is just very cool: The Scale of the Universe, by Cary and Michael Hwang (who were 14 when they created this), an interactive graphic that covers the scale of all things in the universe, from the smallest things (quantum foam, planck length) to the largest (the observable universe). It starts with a screenshot of humans:

Click here to go to the interactive graphic

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Five Ways to Increase Your Blog's Page Views

Graph showing Blog Page Views

So you started a blog. What's the secret to increasing its page views? This blog is tiny compared to many, but happily, it's going in an upward direction. 

This blog bumped along until a year ago, when I made a concerted effort to post more consistently and increase my exposure. Here are five things I did that helped increase my page views and readership:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Picture Book Trends Update: Fall 2012

This summer, I lamented the fact that the big box bookstore no longer featured picture books in its main display in the children's section. I went in a couple of weeks ago and, happily, the picture books are back:

I also take heart, because although it still helps to be Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, or Laura Numeroff to get featured on the main shelf, look at the top left corner. Sherri Duskey Rinker is a first-time author who has seen her debut picture book, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site rocket to the best-seller charts. My blogging friend Romelle Broas has a fascinating interview with Sherri about how she defied all the unwritten rules of the publishing industry (no rhyming books, you need an agent, no bedtime stories) to achieve her success.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sweet Squares Collage

Sweet Squares Collage
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
I had a great time participating in illustrator Diandra Mae's Sweet Squares challenge. I started out doing a piece every day, and ended up doing groups of pieces, but I felt that I learned a new technique or tried out a new idea in each piece. I'll definitely continue to make more squares.

This collage looks like it's missing one more square, doesn't it?

If you liked this post, you may also like:

More Sweet Squares (#23-#28)

sweet squares why
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
Catching up on a few more Sweet Squares. Continuing the theme of mild existential despair.

Colorful art squares with caption "life is good...until it's not"
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
And RIP little panda that was born at the National Zoo and only lived a week:

RIP baby panda illustration
© 2012 Sylvia Liu

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Haring Homage (Sweet Squares #19-#22)

Colored squares with Haring-like figures
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
For my Sweet Squares, I am continuing with the theme of fun markings on colored squares. This is a bit of a homage to Keith Haring's figures.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Meaning (Sweet Squares #16 - #18)

Abstract squares with letters
"Meaning" ©2012 Sylvia Liu
Sweet Squares #16-#18: playing with color and letters and "meaning." (A little bit inspired by the political season). Have a great weekend, friends.  

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lined Seahorse (Sweet Square #10)

Illustration of lined seahorse found in Lafayette River, Norfolk, VA
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
Today, I started the day with good news from the local paper: scientists recently found an unusual creature in the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Virginia: the lined seahorse. It's good news because these seahorses like clean water, which shows that the multi-year restoration project to make the river, which suffers from high bacteria levels and algae blooms, fishable and swimmable by 2014 may be making progress. (A 1979 paper described the river as "a shallow, turbid, urban estuary, polluted with primary treated sewage").

(This Sweet Square is part of my continuing explorations with watercolor).

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Light a Candle (Sweet Square #9)

Light a Candle for Peace (response to Libyan assassination of US ambassador)
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
Any attempt to reflect on the anniversary of 9/11 and this morning's news of the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans seems trite and inadequate. But here is my small response.

There are few days in my life that I'll never forget, and 9/11 was one of them: my husband was in Manhattan and I was at a meeting a block from the White House when we heard of the attacks. I was six months pregnant with my daughter, and I remember walking 10 blocks back to my office, staring in horror along with everyone else on the crowded and traffic-jammed streets, as we looked at the smoke coming from the Pentagon to the south. It was the first time in my life I felt a personal sense of danger from a terrorist attack (as opposed to muggers and other city dangers). I remember wondering bitterly what kind of world my daughter would be born into, and being angry that everything would be different from then on.

Well, those feelings faded as life went on. Though the country went to war, Homeland Security was set up, color-coded threat levels were created, and 6 ounce bottles of gels were confiscated, I never again felt so personally connected to the world of terrorism. The news today reminds me that American diplomats and troops are on the front lines every day, and that it is very real to them. And it is real to the citizens who live in these war-torn countries. In the world their children are born into, it's not so easy to dismiss violence and terrorism as a sad news story.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cuttlefish (Sweet Square #8)

Cuttlefish illustration
© 2012 Sylvia Liu

Cuttlefish are less well known than other cephalopods, but just as interesting:
  • Their blood is greenish-blue because it uses a copper-containing protein, hemocyanin, to carry oxygen instead of the red iron-containing protein hemoglobin we're familiar with.
  • They are masters of disguise because they can rapidly change skin colors to camouflage themselves.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Little Map (Sweet Square #7)

Illustration of old fashioned nautical map
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
I'm not much of a water colorist, so I figured Sweet Squares would be a good time to experiment with water colors. I made different squares of washes and then made a doodle inspired by one of the washes. The shape of the colors reminded me of an old-fashioned nautical map, so I drew a small, quick one.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Funky Frog from Melted Crayons (Sweet Squares #5 & #6)

Melted Crayon Scan
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
I enjoy making patterns and backgrounds to play with in Photoshop. My daughter and I did this today by melting crayon shavings between waxed paper.

Starting with that as a background, I sketched a frog, and then started experimenting. Here are the end results:
Funky Frog Illustration
Funky Frog © 2012 Sylvia Liu
In "Funky Frog," I used the paint bucket tool to randomly drop colors onto the existing wax patterns in the frog. Clicking the bucket tool repeatedly to increase the size of the color swatch resulted in interesting effects like the outline around the eyeballs. I painted the background using a large watercolor brush tool.
Illustration of Fun Frog with Swirly Background
Swirly Frog © 2012 Sylvia Liu
In "Swirly Frog," I used the bucket tool inside the frog and the smudge tool on the background.

What kind of handmade or painted backgrounds have you used for digital illustrations? (P.S. This entry covers sweet squares #5 and #6).

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy these other illustrations I've done using scanned hand painted or hand made patterns:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Steampunk Squid (Illustration Friday & Sweet Square #4)

Steampunk Squid Illustration
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
This steampunk squid does double duty today:

(1) It's my fourth entry for Sweet Squares, a 30-day challenge to draw or create something every day. So far I've been on a cephalod kick, drawing a nautilus, octopus, and kraken, and adding some fun facts. Here are my squid facts:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Kraken (Sweet Squares #3)

Kraken illustration
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
I've always liked the old-fashioned look of wood-cut or lino-cut printing, and I've even tried my hand at doing some in the past (for example, of surf boards). For today's Sweet Square, I've made a sketch of a kraken in a block cut style.

Kraken are:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Curious Octopus (Sweet Squares #2)

Curious Octopus illustration
 © 2012 Sylvia Liu
This was done quickly, finger painted on my iPad. A curious and smart octopus. (Second Sweet Squares piece).

Reasons I love octopi:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nautilus (Sweet Squares day 1)

Nautilus illustration
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
Illustrator Diandra Mae has started Sweet Squares, a challenge to draw, paint, or create something every day for 30 days, with no expectations other than to explore and have fun. I thought I would give it a try.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Picture Book Trends: Mid-2012 Report

Photo of main display in children's book area
Center display in kids section... no picture books
Photo of main display of children's section of book store
More of the center display...the illustrated chapter book seems to be popular.

Every half year or so, I go to the big name bookstore in town (rhymes with Yarns and Global) to see what picture books they feature in the middle wall of the kids' section. This is my totally unscientific way to assess current picture book trends, or at least find out what picture books are considered the biggest commercial sellers.

Last week I went in and found . . . no picture books at all in that section. Instead, middle grade books were being featured, with a whole section devoted to the graphic novel/illustrated chapter books that were popularized by the Wimpy Kid series. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lake Champlain sunset

Sunset off Lake Champlain, VT © 2012 Sylvia Liu
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
Lake Champlain sunset © 2012 Sylvia Liu
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
I just spent a week in Shelburne, Vermont, and enjoyed 7 nights of beautiful sunsets over Lake Champlain (actually, Shelburne Bay, which is connected to Lake Champlain). Even though we often get beautiful sunsets in Virginia Beach, there is something special about viewing a sunset over water. Just thought I'd share this special one from our second to last evening.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

5 Excellent Web Comic Sites

I have recently started making comics and infographics, and only hope one day to be as inspired, funny, and smart as these five excellent web comic artists:

1) Indexed (Jessica Hagy)

Jessica Hagy is an artist and a writer with a mathematical mind. She draws clever and funny charts and Venn diagrams on all aspects of the human condition. Her blog has been popular since 2006, and her work is published in several books, including one of my favorite recent purchases, Information Graphics. Sample index card:
from Jessica Hagy's blog, Indexed, May 2012 archives

Monday, August 6, 2012

Project for a Hot Summer Day: Baking Cookies in a Car

Last month during one of the summer heat waves, my kids and I tried to bake cookies in our car. Our experiment was only half successful. It was close to 100 degrees outside, but instead of parking the car in the sun for several hours and letting nature and car do its course, we had to do some errands. So we kept opening the "oven" and cooling it down with AC. In the end, we only had half baked cookies that we finished in a real oven. The car smelled great, though, and next time we'll get it right.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Infographic: Games People Play

infographic and chart on games for kids and adults
(click to enlarge) © 2012 Sylvia Liu
Sometimes it's too easy to let my kids sit in front of the computer or the TV, so I made this chart to remind myself of the many non-screen options we have. 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All You Need to Know about Book to Movie Adaptations: A Venn Diagram

Venn diagram of book to movie adaptations
(Click on image to enlarge) © 2012 Sylvia Liu
Genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the like) is an always popular source of movie adaptations. Here's a handy Venn diagram explaining the various permutations that can result.

What do you think? What other books/movies fall into these categories?

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: Neal Stephenson's REAMDE

I tend to think authors who write books of over 1000 pages are a bit indulgent and rely on the good will of their rabid fans. But since I am one of those fans, I loved every page of Neal Stephenson's REAMDE (William Morrow, 2011). It's a page-turning geeky techno-thriller that reads like a mashup of Guy Ritchie movies (think Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels), James Bond movies, and all the hacker movies you've ever seen.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

4 Excellent Audio Books for Kids

Recently, my kids and I have started listening to books on CD on most of our car rides, whether 10 minute errands or longer trips. I don't know why it took us so long to figure out that this is a great way to fill up what adds up to be significant amounts of time.

Listening to a book is a very different experience than reading one. I enjoy the choice phrases and descriptions more. It's a small luxury to hear a professional actor read a story aloud. And it's a good way to introduce books that may be beyond my younger daughter's reading level. Here are the ones my girls (10 and 8) have enjoyed the most recently:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I'm Crashing the 12 x 12 Party

My fellow members of the 12x12 in 2012 challenge (the goal is to write 12 picture books in 12 months in 2012) are checking in and joining the rollicking half-way point blog party. I'm crashing this party, because I haven't completed my six manuscripts. I'm over half way through the half way goal, so that counts for something, right?

Here are some excuses. The past six months, I've been busy:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June Comics up at AltDaily/ So Many Ideas, So Little Time

Illustration of alien watching Earthrise on the moon
"Earthrise" © 2011 Sylvia Liu
My June batch of comics/infographics/illustrations are up at These are older pieces because summer tends to be a busier time for me than the rest of the year when my girls are in school. It's been great being a regular contributor to, a pretty happening local arts/culture/politics site. Here are the rest of the posts I've had there:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Learning to Surf: Some Scenarios

I've been learning to surf for the last few years and haven't progressed very far, mainly because I don't go out enough. But when I do try it, I love every minute of it.

Here's the majority of my experience:
Comic showing common scenarios while learning to surf
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
Here's the minority, which makes it all worthwhile:
Comic of less common scenarios while learning to surf
© 2012 Sylvia Liu

Friday, June 15, 2012

Do Oil Imports Affect Gas Prices? (Infographic)

Infographic on gas prices and oil imports
© 2012 Sylvia Liu

Some cool news: an infographic I designed for the nonprofit ocean conservation group, Oceana, on oil imports and gas prices, has been published at the Huffington Post. Oceana researched the question whether the amount of oil a country imports affects its gas prices at the pump, and the answer was no. I helped translate this information into this infographic on gas prices.

I used to work for Oceana as an attorney, so it was great to work with them in a new capacity as a commissioned graphic designer/illustrator.

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Illustration Friday: Shiny

Image of Serenity from Firefly - Shiny
© 2012 Sylvia Liu
If you're at all interested in science fiction/space westerns and haven't seen the TV series, "Firefly," by Joss Whedon, run to your nearest Netflix/Amazon/other source of video entertainment and watch the 14 episodes right now. Add the movie, "Serenity," and you will be my true friend. Shiny.

(fingerpainted on my iPad)

A Good Quote for a Tuesday

"If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

At Least I Knew How to Use a Handkerchief Properly

Continuing on the theme of nostalgic memories, I came across my Kindergarten report card recently. I love the mid-century design vibe of this report card. I doubt anything a kid brings home these days has this much style. I also like how the skills required to graduate from Kindergarten were much simpler back when.