Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thoughtful Scribe in the Sky

I was running errands downtown Iowa City and noticed this perfect silhouette of a man studying in our Biology skywalk- such a peaceful site, person and book, cloudy later fall day leading up to finals.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It's beginning to feel a lot like...

..being an artist in the holiday season... I neglect my blog when I'm busy in the studio. A million details go into preparations for the show, from framing small pieces to pricing tags. It's keeping my fingers flying.

This year, one of my new projects was creating a calendar. I had so many long format pieces roughly the same size I designed out a small desk top sized one. My printer Bob Goodfellow printed and collated the 14 pages, punched the die holes on top, and then loaned me an old manual wire binder machine to put it all together. Not an easy start, but once I got the hang of it, progress was made. I'm just now getting feeling back into my finger tips! But they look nice. Here's some pictures of it. I have it for sale on my Etsy site. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Growing on me

An annual local holiday art show- the Eastside Artists- is right around the corner and the usual blitz of creativity happening in my studio. One new item I'll have ready for market is this 45" long children's growth chart. Just wanted to see how it would produce on the! It is long!!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jaeger Kitty

Katt Pa Fageljakt (1883), Brono Liljefors
Gothenburg, the lovely Swedish port city, has a great art museum. The Kontsmuseum, housed in an austere looking building at the very end of the city's vibrant main Boulevard, Avenyn, holds a delightful collection of Northern European art; there's modern and classic, and all in between. I spent a memorable afternoon last fall getting a taste of their collection.

Not surprisingly, many Swedish painters are represented. One painting caught my eye. Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939) was an influential wildlife painter of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. His work focused on animal hunters and their prey, and has been described as being very unsentimental in tone. I agree. The painting I viewed was of a domestic cat (can a tuxedo cat- black and white ever be wild?!) after a bird kill, tromping through a late fall landscape with his spoils. Familiar with this look of satsifaction from my own cat (who occasionally does get a backyard offering, to my angst), something moved me about it and I thought a lot about this painting afterward. I bought the card reproduction of it and recently it surfaced in my studio. I put a light little poem together. Let' s just say I dedicate it to those birds out there not so lucky to cross the path of a jaeger kitty. Note- Jaeger is German for hunter. I liked how it sounded with Kitty.

Jaeger Kitty

Jaeger Kitty in the wood,
Stepping soft
Then fixed, she stood.

Heard a rustle
through the leaves,
something tiny
scents the breeze.

Eyes wide open,
whiskers quivered;
One mighty leap
and pounce delivered.

Jaeger Kitty,
With muffled mew,
brought her spoils
home to you.

“Would you share a mouse with me?”
“Thanks”, you said, “I’ve had my tea”.

Jaeger Kitty,
Now she sleeps,
She cleaned her fur then
slumbered deep.

Contented by her hunting day,
dreams of one that got away.

Friday, November 7, 2014

No proper time of day...

Part of one of my favorite poems of the season, illustrated.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dala Dreams

My visits to Sweden always include buying one of the traditional Dala (short for Dalecarlian) horses. Painted from little wooden carvings, these creations go back for generations, at least 150 years, and are now widely symbolic of the country. Historically, there were probably made as toys, but were also used as kind of a currency in some rural areas. I love the painted details. They come in many colors, but red seems to be most popular.

I have our Dala horses situated on our front room window sill. Last week on a foggy morning, I felt the larger Dala almost peering out wistfully down the street, thinking of his homeland perhaps. I did a small basic scratch of one to color later...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sweet illustrations

A deadline always finds me rattling the cupboards for chocolate, my treat of choice. Look at the neat little graphics on my Hershey's miniatures! Love the owl, for the dark one, of course.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A fall story

It's an extraordinarily beautiful fall this year, cool but sunny, bright skies, slow leaf change, and not a lot of blustery winds. I have a picture book at sketch stage on my board and have seen more perfect autumn days than I care to say looking THROUGH my studio window at them. But time for a quick check-in with this little scene that's been playing out under the oaks the past few weeks.

"Eating Acorns with Mom".

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Picturing the Future

Thanks to all who attended the program on nature and picture books this past weekend.  It was the perfect setting to talk about things that I love: nature, picture books and art. Living in Iowa for 20 years, I’ve used the regional natural world around me as my prime creative inspiration. To me, art is an opportunity to bring the outdoors in with us. A singing cardinal bird, a calling cicada, rustling prairie grasses, even a stealth deer can all be part of our every day worlds here in Iowa. I’ve enjoyed connecting my art with kids in many different ways, most importantly through picture books, and I'm know others feel this is an important bridge to make, too.

One topic that came up during discussion after the program was how children's literature is handling the crisis of climate change. What role do picture books play in educating our young readers about the enviromental tipping point the world faces right now? I admited to not knowing the current picture book titles on the topic. But I should. It will be some important on-going research for me.

I share the majority view who agree that climate change is occuring and that people are contributing to it. I don't want to be gloom and doom over the statistics, but for all sorts of reasons, critical habitats are being lost for so many animal species.  The great loss, and potential disaster, for humanity in only a few decades time can no longer just be imagined but scientfically calculated. It IS our duty to get more people, most importantly youngsters, to care for our planet. One way is to create and tell stories that celebrate our love for the natural world in positive, hopeful stories that motivate learning and caring more about our wild places. I'm one of the author/illustrators that try and do this the best I can. As the saying goes, "You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar".

But the talk last week made me re-think on the critical urgency of our situation.  Maybe I've been too PollyAnna about this. Perhaps sharing with our children that it's time for all-hands-on-deck is necessary right now. The capabilities of our childen's understanding can never be underestimated. Ideas and creative problem solving starts young- there could be a 7-year-old with a seed of a solution just waiting to be motivated.  I'm not talking a dystopian picture book- young readers will have enough of that flavor to read in the current YA trends. But what if the birds can't find a place to nest? What if the sea becomes too warm for fish? What if we cannot learn how to share the earth with others?  Every field should take some responsbility for the situation. Children's literature can surely shoulder some grunt work. And I'm looking foward to helping.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Studio Glow

This morning, the studio was bathed in a pale orange light, bouncing off the turning maple tree outside. It was fleeting and fragile, this not so typical orange. The kind of color that fills you with nostalgia. Fall is here.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Nature Bound

I've talked before about my love of nature and of picture books and of the two working together to enhance each other. It's a beloved topic for me. And if you are in the area next weekend, I'll be sharing a program on this subject as part of the Iowa City Book Fest. Here's the particulars.  What are your favorite nature connected picture books?

Iowa City Book Festival Program- 
“From Page to Pathway: Connecting to our natural world through picture books” with author/illustrator Claudia McGehee
Sunday, October 5 at 2:30 p.m.
Biosphere Discovery HubMobile Museum photo
Iowa’s simple, elegant natural beauty has brought inspiration to writers and visual artists for generations. Many of the works that make Iowa City a City of Literature celebrate our surrounding landscape. The bonds between art, literature and nature are expressed in children’s picture books as well and can be an invaluable tool in introducing children to nature. Iowa City based author/illustrator Claudia McGehee shares her experiences illustrating and writing nature focused picture books, and the inspirations behind her work. McGehee’s award-winning titles A Tallgrass Prairie AlphabetA Woodlands Counting Book and Where Do Birds Live explore and celebrate eco-systems found regionally and coast-to-coast. Her presentation will include ideas on how to use picture books to expand the outdoors for young readers, a survey of some favorite nature connected picture books, and a peek into her latest book projects echoing this same theme.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014


Oh favored month, but so fleeting!

Working on a calendar this year for the Eastside Artist show. It's a compact size one could display almost anywhere for that oldy-worldy nod to day-keeping. Perhaps it will slow time down on my board if I linger a little on each month...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Red-winged blackbirds, lilies and end of summer

Here's a piece I've been wanting to do for awhile. It's time to begin saying farewell to summer and these two symbolize the season for me. 

Also, my studio, with freshly cleaned surface, with coneflowers beyond the window.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Found a hummingbird nest that have blown out of a tree on my walk this morning. 
Such magnificent tiny architecture. So strong yet so comfortable for those 
thimble-sized fledglings. I'm glad I didn't have to construct a house with my mouth for our baby!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Tales of Harry Potter

A few years ago, I read aloud “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” to our daughter, who then inhaled the following six books on her own. I felt a bit unfulfilled, having never finished this classic series myself, so last winter I embarked on reading the rest, a chapter or two every bedtime. I triumphantly finished Book Seven a couple weeks ago and I am still missing Harry's world! I enjoyed the endearing characters, fantastic settings and plots, but as a naturalist I was also captivated by Rowling’s inclusion of natural history in her tales. Her owls may carry mail scrolls to the ends of the earth, but they are based on real, species-specific owls. And of course, each advanced wizard or witch can summon a patronus, a powerful and protective animal spirit. They don't choose the animal patronus, it is revealed only when they first succeed in creating the charm. In the books, Harry and his mates each have distinct creatures; Harry's a stag, Ron's a Jack Russell terrier, Hermoine's an otter, Luna Lovegood's a hare, etc.  It makes for the most magical moments. I'm wondering on what my patronus would unveil as...

I hope Harry Potter sustains a readership for decades. I feel it may be one of the last classic series shared and loved so globally, as reading for youth seems to be less of a passion that it did even a few years ago. If I ever discover I am a witch born of Muggles, I'd create a charm to preserve the joy of reading. The most powerful magic I can conjure until then is to continue to help create a good picture book or two!

Friday, July 25, 2014

A little sketchy

A few days on the "North Shore", Lake Superior, Minnesota and time to limber up and do some sketching.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blog Tour!

Earlier in the summer, I was invited by friend and award-winning children's book writer Jackie Briggs Martin to be part of the My Writing Process Blog Tour. An image of a jolly double-decker bus crowded with all my favorite bloggers- writers and writer/illustrators all- came to mind. Blogs are great vehicles in which inspirations and observations travel widely. No passports needed, carry on only a creative mind, focus time and a love of writing and children's books.

You can find Jackie's blog and her post on the blog tour at:

Here are my replies to the tour's four questions:

What am I working on?

A couple commercial illustration jobs are juggling for time on my board right now, along with the sketch stages of a current picture book project for Minnesota Historical Press. Writing is confined at the moment to blogging and my long-hand (private) journal. I have a file full of stories in progress though and try to fledge at least one manuscript and book proposal of my own every few months.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m in the non-fiction camp, and I strive to write in an approachable, friendly style, factual but not didactic. I’m not sure how my voice differs from others. I hope I write like the writers I love to read.

Why do I write what I do?

It’s a mystery for us all, isn’t it? One of my favorite playwright and screenwrights, Horton Foote (Trip to Bountiful, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tender Mercies) said something like you don’t choose the material you write about; it chooses you. I think I write best not about what I know in my head but what I know in my heart.  

How does your writing process work?

My brain has been described as a junk drawer, with many ideas haphazardly rolling around inside. One day, I’ll open the drawer and something will pop to the surface that interests me. It is usually one sentence or one image that I happen upon organically that evolves into a story. For instance, my first narrative, creative non-fiction picture book, My Wilderness (Sasquatch; Spring 2015), started with a child’s remark I overheard at an art exhibit. One moment, I had no story; the next I did. After that initial spark, I flesh things out with research and a lot of BIC- butt in chair- keyboard time. I write and edit a manuscript in its entirety before I sketch or do story boards. I like my illustrations to sit in “the green room” (what actors and entertainers call the waiting room before an actual performance begins) until the words are completely ready for them. It’s a joy to get to mesh pictures and words together. And hope what my heart has to say in words and pictures is what kids would like to read about, too.

Next stops on the tour? I've tagged two friends in the field to hop on the tour. Both are illustrators primarily but phenomenal writers as well.  They each write lively, smart blogs. Julia Kelly and Jennifer Black Reinhardt will add their colorful commentary in the next few weeks.

Thanks Jackie, Jennifer and Julia!

Jennifer Black Reinhardt is a nationally known award-winning illustrator whose artwork has been published on numerous calendars, books, greeting cards, even needlepoint kits and collector plates! She lives in Iowa with her handsome husband, two teenagery teenagers, and a big white poodle.  Her blog can be found at

Either in words or fabric and thread, Julia Kelly illustrates the mountains, canyons, deserts and people of the Four Corners Region where she lives with her husband, daughters and too many dogs. Her blog can be found at

This is from M. Sasek's classic This is London. Sasek is one of my favorite author/illustrators. Maybe someone on that bus is a writer who just came up with a great idea for a picture book! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rowing away

Making progress through the waters of a busy summer. Saying farewell to my Alaska book with one last illustration. I've put away the research boxes, stowed the original art, filed the sketches, etc. It's a bit like letting go of a child as they begin their lives, independent of your control (although a hell of a lot easier on your blood pressure!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

For Cindy

I think of you tonight,
as the fireflies light the way on the gentle July breeze,
guiding you safely home.

Cindy Heims

Monday, June 30, 2014

Shades of Alaska

Savoring some quiet studio time today, in between thunderstorms. Here's a composite of Alaska wilderness colors to share. Milky fjord turquoise, cliff side grays, fir greens, pebble blues, and a pop of wildflower.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Travel in the Lands of the Midnight Sun

Two opportunities for travel this month have had me in places that both share endless summer day-light hours. Suns that never set, light that never darkens, it's been new way of looking at the world this season.

The first week of June, I visited Alaska (Anchorage and around Seward and the Kenai Fjords). And recently I returned from Sweden (Goteborg and Stockholm). Both trips were full of inspiration and welcomed respits from a busy 2014 in the studio. But time away from the board does limit an artist's out-put. I now feel the overwhelming, near-physical urge to express the images conjured in my head from rubbing against other cultures and historys. I'm looking forward to the rest of the summer and fall, staying put in the studio, gelling new ideas along with other ongoing projects.

Monday, May 19, 2014

On Top of Mt. Picture Book

I'm in the last stages of sending in final art for "My Wilderness". It was a long ascent. I was overly optimistic about my arrival. But the climb was steep to begin with, I knew this! Now I'm enjoying the view. A few more pre-production steps to take, and I'll be finished.

As anyone experiences, the descent of a big project can be tricky, too. With no new work, one can feel lost in the crevasses. With too much work waiting, one can still feel oxygen-deprived. The key may be to have a little of both. I need to feel lost for awhile but I also look forward to the next project in the wings. Always the fine balance on the mountain.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

CHILDREN's BOOK WEEK...Something Old....

I'll share today about one of my favorite books from childhood, "Island of the Blue Dolphins", by Scott O'Dell. I know it was THE first young adult novel I ever read. I still remember sliding it off the shelf in my elementary school library, from the "Big Kids" chapter book section. It's an odd detail to recount, on selecting a book, all these years later. Perhaps that's a nod to the important place literature holds in my history, that looking for a book has always been as enjoyable as actually reading one.  

I  re-read "Island of the Blue Dolphins" a couple summers ago for the first time in 30-odd years.  The story line is constructed so animatedly, simply a soliloquy of its virtually soul character, Karana. The story, set on an island off late-19th century California, speaks of interior strengths we all possess but few called to use. Karana could do anything. She is a Katniss of her time. It read as fresh as it must have done the year it won the Newberry in 1961. I urge you to read it, even if only to compare YA novels of today.

I love this cover art by Evaline Ness, from the version I first checked out (I own this one, thanks to Alibris).  I see a gestural strength in Karana's portrait, her resigned but content expression, the graphic punctuation of the round abalone hair clasps against her jet black hair. "Island of the Blue Dolphins" has been re-issued many times since, but I think this classic cover is the best.  

Last August, on our way to Bend in central Oregon, my family and I stopped and picnicked in a beautiful state park at the foothills of Mt. Hood. The trees were already changing from the towering, dense, Douglas fir to the angular, airy, arid-loving pines close to the lakeside where we ate. Lucy, our then 14-year old daughter, poked around the water's edge. Later she showed me a selfie taken of her shadow, an image of wild, wind-whipped hair and sand and shell. I immediately thought of teenage Karana. She could have taken this selfie, too. Two girls, on the edge of adulthood, very separate eras and circumstances, but the same raw material. Literature reveals itself in our lives in many unexpected and wonderful ways. 

Something old...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Children's Book Week!

It's a big week for children's book lovers. Children's Book Week has been sponsored by the Children's Book Council for 95 years and I always look forward to marking this tradition. I personally feel entrenched in many aspects of children's books, in admiration, in their advocacy and in their creation! I hope, however you are involved in children's books, you'll find moments of joy involving children's books the next five days and always. I'll share a daily post of joy here this week to celebrate.

CBC's CBW poster of 1955, by beloved Garth Williams (1912-1966).

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Day

A slow spring emerges, not any less cherished.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Painted Lady

Painting the last steps to the top. It starts out a very civilized process, with clean blotters, clear water, a glass of white wine, mellow evening sunshine, jazz in the background. It soon deteriorates to back-to-back coffee cups, muddled papers, the glare of incandescence, irritating npr hosts...It'll get done, but not before some ochre and crimson gets shed.

In the beginning....

and during.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Model family

My poor family often gets called to model for me, especially when it comes to those tricky hand positions. One of my characters in the wilderness book also plays a flute and I drew it in one of the interior scenes. Just happened to have a flute in the closet (played long ago in high school), so I pressed it into service as well.  Afterwards, I played my flute for the cats. They didn't like it much. Maybe they were mad they didn't get to model.

Drawing from life, indeed!


Monday, April 14, 2014

SCBWI conference a sip of creative oxygen

I had a break from final book art work to attend a day session at our Iowa SCBWI spring conference this weekend.  As always, good to connect with fellow writers and illustrators, absorb new ideas and directions, and be reminded that my “Climbing Mt. Picture Book” metaphor doesn’t describe an isolated adventure. Others are there trudging along too, on their own trips with similar tales of success and setbacks to share. Although a crowded mountain is not a good thing on any Everest (see link and photo below!), there is contentment in knowing I am part of a collective who passionately try to create books that children will love.

Now, back to the climb. My creative oxygen is flowing and enthusiasm remains high, but I’m running low on mental energy! Excited to report though, I can see the summit ^ from where I am today.

This is the image I have of fellow climbers toiling up Mt Picture Book. Their backpacks are full of lap tops and manuscripts, portfolios and rejection letters! Some have published books and awards, too but that sometimes doesn’t make the climb much easier. I snagged this photo, taken by mountaineer 
Raif Dujmovits, from an article written by Dujmovits in The Guardian. It illuminates  the very real problem of too many climbers on Mt Everest. Kind of fascinating! 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rest Stop, colored

The original, uncolored, for comparison

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