Monday, February 8, 2016

I just came across this lovely review and some lessons librarianarika created around my book, Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift. It is such a pleasure to see how my story and pictures are shared with children and thought it would be fun to answer her students questions here.

By librarianarika Elementary Library Lessons for Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift

2nd and 3rd grades:
Fact: I almost never read any December holiday stories. This year, though, I couldn’t pass up Dara Goldman’s Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift.  It was perfect for so many reasons: a little bit of Christmas AND Hanukkah, a thoughtful story that would provoke good questions, and (my favorite!) a version of O. Henry’s classic short story “The Gift of the Magi”.  Goals: review last week’s TAG lesson, discuss A=Ask a Question about the characters / problem as a class, write T=Tell What You Like independently.
For each class, the questions started out slow.  One thing I explained to them was that the ability to ask a good question (one that we don’t already know – and can’t infer – the answer to) leads to deeper thinking and reflection on a story.  Eventually, they hit on some winners: 
Question:  Are the two bears married?  
Answer: Are they married is a question I get often and which concerned my book publisher, Sleeping Bear Press in the beginning. Would parents have trouble with Boris and Stella living in the same apartment if we did not reference marriage in the text? We even tried a revision where Boris and Stella lived in separate apartments. It seemed to take us off the track of the story and became confusing. In the end, we decided to put them back into the same apartment together just like the original O Henry tale.  
Question:  Why did the illustrator choose to make the characters bears instead of humans?
Answer: I chose animal characters over people because I wanted to make this story more accessible to younger children. I also like to draw animals more than people. But Stella wasn't always a bear. At first she was a pig, and then I tried drawing her as a mouse too. Finally, it was a honey colored bear that seemed just right to me.  
Question: Where do the bears live – Russia, Italy, or somewhere else?  
Answer: Boris and Stella live in Boston because the street scenes I drew are from Newbury Street. Also there is a bear on the first page spread wearing a Boston Red Sox hat and jacket.  

How old are the bears?
Answer: Boris and Stella are each 8 years old because that is my favorite number and a good age for bears.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Writer's Block

Been quiet for awhile cause I'm writing... make that, trying to write.  This is what I do when I find myself sitting at my desk totally blocked.

- Begin anywhere.  Sometimes the first sentence doesn't come first.

- Write a crummy first draft, cut out the boring parts, write a slightly better second draft.

- Clean my house.  When I'm stuck in shades of gray, it's extremely satisfying to clean.  There's no gray in cleaning.  First it's dirty, then it's clean.  When a friend stops by during the day and I'm vacuuming, they usually know I'm stuck. If the baseboards are clean, they know I'm in big trouble.

- Take my dog for a walk. Monty is down 5 pounds and extremely fit right now. We found an old cemetery near my house we like.   I've gotten some of my best ideas there (makes me wonder if I am getting a little extra help.)

- Drive somewhere that takes at least an hour.  There's something about the scenery rolling by while the rest of me is stationary, and the knowledge that I can't be interrupted or distracted by anything, that is inspirational.  A train ride is the best because I don't have to navigate at all.  Beginning to fantasize about an Amtrak trip to the wild west for my horse book.

But the very best advice I ever got came from my friend, the late Michael Palmer, a NYT best selling author who wrote medical thrillers. He said, "Floss your teeth every morning. That way if you get nothing accomplished all day, at least you will have accomplished that."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Trying something' new ...

Been working with a new medium these last couple of weeks. There's something about cats that calls for pastels and pencils instead of watercolors.

The great thing about pastels is that you can brush away the pastel crystals if you change your mind about something.  With watercolor, if you change your mind about something, you usually have to start all over. The great thing about watercolor is you can mix any color you need from just a few tubes. With pastels, you need to have as many colors as possible.

I have an assortment of different colors made by different companies. I'm learning that my favorites  are made by Girault.  The pastels are soft and blend well, but not so soft that they crumble. You can create a nice hard edge with them, and the colors are rich and velvety!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Guide to Drawing Characters

If you have ever drawn a character you know there is a lot more to it then just capturing the actual physical design.  Even when you know exactly what your character looks like, and you draw him just as you imagine, he still isn’t right! This is probably because you haven’t drawn your character’s personality yet. 

How do you draw personality you are wondering? Here are some tricks I use to help bring my characters to life.

First make sure you already have decided what your character looks like. His facial features and body proportions, how much or little hair he has, and any oddities you may want to include.

Now take your character out of the story and think about him alone.  Answering the questions below will help you know him better, and will make him more 3 dimensional and interesting! Do a little rough sketch for each bullet.

 Is your character frail or sturdy? How would he look on a windy day  
or lifting a heavy object? Can he climb things easily, do back bends and hand springs?

• Emotions have behaviors. Is your character shy? Does he talk into his shirt or is he outgoing and use his hands to make gestures? What other body behaviors might your character have? Think about the seven dwarves. Is he sleepy, sneezy, grumpy?

• What does your character look like walking? Is he a type A; high energy, and quick moving, or type B; laid back, and slow moving? Is your character happy and bouncy, or sad and sluggish? (Think Eeyore and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh)  Is he clumsy?

• How does your character do a simple task like eat a piece of cake? Is he well mannered and tidy, or is there chocolate all over his face?

• How does your character interact with another character from your story? Are they annoyed with each other, loving, silly?

• What is your characters biggest fear, or greatest joy? Is he afraid of dogs or horses? Draw a quick sketch of him walking a giant dog, or ten giant dogs, riding a wild mustang, or climbing a mountain…this is how the special abilities of your character are demonstrated.  Don’t worry about drawing the horse or dog or mountain right now, use simple shapes for anything you haven’t worked out yet. The important part to draw is the action.

By the time you've finished these little sketches, you will know your character a whole lot better, and it will show! Keep your sketches … you never know when one of them will be just what you need!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Story Board Wall

My storyboard wall is made of two sheets of  4' x 8' white homasote fiber board.  Its the best thing I ever put in my studio, besides the antique bubble gum machine, which I keep filled with M and M peanuts.  I like to pin all my sketches up so I can refer to them easily as I work. Of course it helps to have a big wall. My last studio was so small I had to wrap it around the room. 

This story board is from Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift, and I'll be taking it down soon.  I always feel a little sad doing this, a little excited thinking about what will be next, and a little terrified because...

well, look … isn't this scary?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stella's Bakery

No one has ever had as much fun drawing an illustration as I had drawing this one.  I wanted it to be simply scrumptious!  My research brought me to bakeries throughout the city of Boston and many of its surrounding towns.  I started in December, even though I was still drawing thumbnails then, because the stores and shops were full of holiday themed treats.   One of my favorite bakeries is Party Favors in Brookline.  Entering their store is a feast for your eyes. Their glass doored refrigerators are always stocked full of their standard fair which can be bought every day, and is not only stunning but delicious.  Friends and family got involved too. They sent me pictures, and sometimes even surprised me in my studio with something beautiful and tasty.  I gained five pounds while I was working on this picture.  So did my dog Monty.  He ate 17 cupcakes from a platter when my back was turned. The platter had 19 cupcakes on it - which means now I know his limit!  
To see my reference photos of cakes and pastries, visit me at:

Pssst …
Most of the cakes and pastries in this picture are favorites of my friends and family.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Print and Color!

Pssst … 
Try printing this on white resume paper, or something with a little texture!