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: http://www.pinterest.com/daragoldman/cakes/

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!

The Dreidel Shop

Pssst … One of the reasons Boris and Stella is so special to me is because of the personal details I included in the illustrations. The pretty colored lamps hanging in the dreidel shop are from one of my favorite restaurants, a tapas bar in Waltham, MA called Solea. The tapestry on the wall was woven by my mother, who is reknown for a kind of weaving called, Bound Weave.  I chose it from among her other designs because the row of red brick townhouses reminds me of the town house where I grew up in Brookline, MA.  I also like the way it repeats the city theme. The little wood box in the shape of an upside down ice-cream cone comes from Africa and sits on my nightstand.

Tapestry by Eileen Goldman

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Research

At the RISD Nature Lab in Providence
Once I've finished all my thumbnail sketches and picked out my favorites, I'm ready to draw the full size sketches. This part requires LOTS of research.  When I first started making children's books, I used to have to go to the library to search for reference material.  The internet has changed everything! However, there is nothing like drawing from the real thing!

Newbury Street,  Boston

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Storyboard

When I'm satisfied with the pagination, I'm ready to begin drawing the storyboard. To do this I must decide the size of my book. Will it be a horizontal book, a square book, or a vertical one? (If the story is about a giraffe, it will probably be a vertical book.)  Looking at other books and holding them in my hands sometimes helps me imagine what my book will look like in each of these formats.

The questions I must ask myself are endless. What should the first page look like? Should the text go on the top or the bottom? Should it be a two page spread long shot to establish location? A single establishing shot at the start can set the scene, and  give the reader a sense of time, atmosphere, and environment. It not only establishes a location but defines the position of the characters to their surroundings and to each other. Or maybe I should begin with a single page close up view to establish my character? 

Pacing and Rhythm:
Think like a movie director! The way I plan my storyboard will control the speed with which the reader moves through the book. A large 2 page spread invites the reader in causing him to pause, while many small pictures will cause him to move quickly. 

 The composition of each page dictates the reader’s viewpoint, forcing him to look at a scene the way I intend. I can also direct the readers eye to a focal point within each illustration by using various compositional devices. 

With these things in mind, I draw hundreds of little boxes that are proportionate to the size of my book and fill them with rough sketches. These 'thumbnail' drawings allow me to quickly try different possibilities. My intent is to transfer all ideas from my mind onto paper. The process of actually creating the thumbnails often leads me to something I didn’t think of at first. This method produces unplanned thinking, and it is often the product of unplanned thinking that becomes the fruit of our efforts.  
Thumbnails can take me 2 - 4 weeks to complete, and I don't choose my favorites until I have finished thumbnails for the entire book. 

How do I choose my favorites? 
Sometimes this can be tricky and I find myself caught between several favorites. But in the end, my favorites are chosen not only for their composition as a single image, but because of the way they work within the book design as a whole.

Friday, December 20, 2013


When I begin a new book,  I always find myself a little overwhelmed. It doesn't matter that I have illustrated 18 books now … it is a daunting feeling to be faced with 32 blank pages… and a deadline! Choosing which words will fall on each page or,  'paginating' the manuscript is where it all begins. There is no wrong or right way to do this because it is personal to each artist.  The main question I ask myself as I go is, "Does my reader feel compelled to turn the page?" A suspenseful moment can be made or broken here.

To do this I sit quietly with my manuscript and imagine pictures as I read. The first 3 pages I leave blank for front matter: subtitle page, copyright page, and title page.  The story almost always begins on pages 4 and 5, and ends on page 32.  I make backward L's with a pencil after each chunk of text, and I break it up into 2 page spreads. This is not as hard as it sounds!

Pssst … Music with words distracts me when I do this so I listen to instrumental music, or to music with words I don't understand, which is practically anything besides english!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Perfect Latke Recipe

When I first began drawing Boris and Stella's apartment, I wanted old city charm. I found the perfect  apartment building on Newbury Street in Boston.   Okay, okay … Boris and Stella could never afford real estate on Newbury Street ... don't tell anyone! Their  apartment had to be scantily furnished so I chose simple cabinetry and white plates and bowls that would disappear into the background. But in this scene, I couldn't resist including a pair of ironstone pitchers in the cabinet. Fellow antique lovers will know that white ironstone is quite collectible.

Pssst I have a small collection of white ironstone pitchers too!

The Perfect Latke Recipe

This recipe came from my grandmother Minnie who was a Russian immigrant. We have all changed it slightly in my family to suit our own tastes. I've added more onion, and use flour instead of matzo meal. When I grate the potato, I don't let the pieces get too fine. A little chunky is better than too fine. And this is the secret…you are probably not going to like it…you must use Crisco shortening to fry them! 

2 lbs Russet potatoes or Yukon Gold
2 Large onions
1 egg
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Crisco shortening

Grate potatoes. If using a food processor, do this in small batches or the mixture will get too fine. Let grated mixture drain in colander at least 10 minutes. Then allow fluid to stand 10 minutes too. Pour off liquid reserving starch that has settled in the bottom and add it back into potatoes.
Mix in other ingredients.
Heat shortening in pan. (Make sure it is sizzling hot before you add batter ( if you add it too soon, your latkas will absorb too much oil, fall part, and taste oily.)
Cook about 3 minutes on each side - transfer to paper towel to absorb extra oil before you put on platter. Add shortening as needed.

Serve family style with large bowls of sour cream and applesauce!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Last year at this time I was creating the sketches for Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift. It was especially wonderful to be surrounded by the holidays as I worked.  Their was an abundance of reference material out there to inspire me, and lots of holiday spirit too!  Creating the sketches is my favorite part of making a book. This is where I get to imagine anything I want…and draw it! I don't live in the city above a little Italian restaurant, or bake cakes in a bakery, or wear kooky hats (well, maybe sometimes) but through Boris and Stella, I do!

When I was trying to imagine the dreidel that Stella gave Boris, I looked at a lot of dreidels. Not only did Stella's dreidel have to be different from the other dreidels, it had to be special.  I decided the only way I could know if Stella's dreidel would be special, was to draw Boris' other dreidels first.

 I drew lots and lots of dreidels until I finally figured it out.  It would have a heart on it of course!

Pssst … To see some of the dreidels I looked at for inspiration click on the link below.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Danforth Museum Exhibit - just in time for the holidays!

This week brought a wonderful surprise. Katherine French, executive director of the Danforth Museum, asked me if she could exhibit the paintings from my new book, Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift in the Danforth Museum's Children's Gallery.

We have all been dashing around madly because guess what? The exhibit opens next Sunday on November 17th! It will run through February 23, 2014.   I hope you will stop by.

Follow the link below to learn more!


Friday, November 8, 2013


Watch the Trailer!

A giant thank you to my talented producer/designer sister, Amy Putman, and my incredibly savvy, and patient production assistant and designer daughter, Sammi, for creating this book trailer. It was a family affair! 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

We Art Boston Fundraiser

This is the print I've donated to We Art Boston (weartboston.org) where it will be part of a group of more than 60 paintings, drawings, and prints donated by illustrators to raise money for the Boston Children's Hospital Trauma Fund.

Why this one you are probably wondering?  Because I drew it on Newbury Street!  The charming architecture of the shops and apartment buildings there was the perfect reference material to help me create Boris and Stella's world. It is also just a couple of blocks away from the site where the bombs went off during the Boston Marathon.  I was painting it that day in my studio, and stopped working to hear the news and grieve with the other artists in my building, and with the rest of the country.  The Boston Marathon is near and dear to me.  I grew up in Brookline and walked to Beacon Street every year with my family to watch the runners go by.  When I had children, I walked them up to Beacon Street to watch the runners go by too.  

Pssst ... The bear pushing the baby stroller is wearing a Red Sox hat and jersey. 

A Beautiful Review ...

I am deeply touched by the beautiful review of my new book, Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift, by Marc Pollick, president and founder of The Giving Back Fund. He found the perfect words to convey a message in my story that is most meaningful to me. Thank you Marc!

"Every once in awhile a book comes along that reaches out and touches your soul.  In Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift, author and illustrator Dara Goldman offers a gift to children everywhere replete with a timeless message of gratitude and generosity.  How appropriate for the holiday season!  The brightly colored pictures are so endearing and evocative that the artwork literally competes for your attention with the very moving storyline.  And yet they are woven together masterfully and delightfully.  You almost can't wait to turn the page to be able to enjoy the next set of pictures.
At the heart of the story is the selflessness displayed by boyfriend and girlfriend bears Boris and Stella.  It called to mind a phrase from a book I once read as a young teenager. "Life's greatest possessions, are those which when shared, multiply; those which when divided are not diminished." I think if children can learn that concept--if all humans could learn and manifest that concept, our world would be ever so much more peaceful and harmonious. This beautifully illustrated book, eloquently exemplifies that concept. Thank you Ms. Goldman for contributing to the increase of kindness and giving in the world!"  

- Marc Pollick, President and Founder, The Giving Back Fund

Bears, Mice, and Pigs

Have you ever wondered why there are so many bears, mice, and pigs getting star roles in children's books? It's because they lend themselves so well to being upright.   When I first showed my drawing of Stella to my editor, Amy Lenex, she and her savvy editorial team, wondered if using a pig for the non-Jewish character of Stella would detract from  the story. People sometimes ask if I mind when a publisher thinks I should make a change to my story or art.  If I follow their suggestions, am I compromising something by doing so?  The answer is almost always NO!  It is a privilege to work with an art and editorial team who are experienced in the art of bookmaking, and who will give me thoughtful suggestions to improve my story.  

Amy and Felicia Macheske, my art director, had some brilliant ideas that made my book better!  We considered some other animals. A kangaroo was a nice upright animal. But, Stella is from Italy, so a kangaroo wasn't logical.  Then we considered a mouse. This posed some interesting and amusing illustration possibilities because the size difference between her and Boris would be enormous. But would this work through out the entire story?  In the end, I decided Stella should be a bear too.

It took a few sketches to get Stella's clothing right. She needed to be feminine, and girly, but the feather boa felt too much like dress up.  I also wanted her clothing to be minimal so that she could remain more bear-like. We  went shopping for her on our computers!  Felicia found a perfect, little sweater with loops of yarn around the collar. I changed it to a ruffle so it would read more clearly against her fur. Then we changed the flower in her hat to a daisy for a younger look. 

Pssst … The pig character I first drew has a new name now, Lottie Da. Watch her dance on my website's "about" page!

School Library Journal Review

This wonderful review by Maureen Wade at the School Library Journal was just sent to me from my publisher.  She found the perfect words to describe my story and the message it offers. Thank you Maureen!
K-Gr 3 –Goldman makes O’Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” accessible to younger readers and successfully keeps the tenderness and warmth of the original short story. An Italian bear named Stella celebrates Christmas; her bear friend, Boris, from Russia, celebrates Hanukkah. Stella sells her most precious possession, a pine tree from her family farm, to buy Boris a dreidel. Meanwhile, Boris sells his childhood dreidel collection and buys a star ornament for Stella’s tree. When the holiday arrives and presents are exchanged, they realize what they have done, but their love for each other helps them feel better about their decisions. The juxtaposition of the two different religions and nationalities reflects our diverse world and offers a message of acceptance. The lush watercolor illustrations depicting the holidays in a quaint town carry the same emotions of love and devotion as her text. Even the font, resembling handwriting, lends a cozy, personal touch. Perfect for one-on-one or small group read-alouds.   – Maureen Wade


I always tell my students that illustrators must wear many different hats while they are working on a book. They must be a casting director to cast their characters, a movie director to choose their camera angles, a set designer to find locations, an interior decorator, a costume designer, an actor, and oh yes, an artist!!!  

When I'm writing a manuscript, I usually have a pretty good idea who my characters are, but I don't begin drawing until the manuscript is finished. I think this is because while I write, they are still evolving in my imagination.  Once I begin drawing, I must think about them visually in specific ways. Here are some questions I ask myself to get started:
  • Is he/she an animal or person?
  • How old is he/she?                                                                                                           
  • What time period does he/she live in?                                                                              
  • Does he/she wear clothing? What kind of clothing?                                                                                 
  • Is there something about him/her that is distinct or recognizable?                  
  • Does he/she have a sidekick, a stuffed animal, a cape, a green bikini?
  • What is his/her background story? Where does she/he come from? The answer to this sometimes motivates a character.
From the beginning, I knew that Boris and Stella were going to be animals living in the city, and I knew that Boris was a bear from Russia.  But I wondered ... would he be a bear living in a world of people or a world of animals? And if it is an animal world, will there be different kinds of animals or just bears?  
The drawing I made of Boris was almost perfect right from the beginning. 

​Pssst … My father wears a hat like this.

The Idea

The idea to write Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift first came to me about 15 years ago when my children were small. It was bedtime, and I was looking for a picture book to read out loud that I hadn’t already read a million times. That’s when I found The Gift of the Magi. It was a beautifully illustrated retelling by Lizbeth Zwerger, and a story I loved. My version had a lot of text. It was too sophisticated for my children, so I improvised and simplified it as I read. 

O.Henry’s gentle tale is about the art of gift giving but, it is also about love, generosity, and thoughtfulness. I thought it was a story that young picture book readers would enjoy, and a message that was important.  My only question was, “Will they be animals or people?

Pssst ...  When I first drew Stella, she was a pig.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift - Arriving September, 2013

     I'm excited to announce the arrival of my new book, Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift, in bookstores this September -  just in time for the holidays.  I’ve saved all my thumbnail drawings, and sketches so I can show them to you here, the good ones and the bad!   I’ll also be sharing some special, secret information with you that no-one else knows.

Pssst …  If you look carefully on every page, you will find a heart hidden in the picture.