Category Archives: Interview

An Interview with Sarah Wilkie, World Traveller, Photographer, and Blogger

Fisherman in Fort Kochi, Kerala, 2017
Fisherman in Fort Kochi, Karala 2017, by Sarah Wilkie

I discovered Sarah Wilkie’s wonderful blog, Travel with Me, about two years ago, probably through some of the photography challenges that we both participate in. She generously agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License and to share some of her gorgeous photographs.

ARHtistic License: You only just started your blog in August of 2020 (though you had previously contributed to the Virtual Tourist community and TravelersPoint) and you already have well over 1100 subscribers. I’m in awe. That’s a testimony to the quality of your work.

What was your profession before you became a blogger?

Sarah Wilkie: I trained as a librarian and worked in that field for most of my career, specialising in work with children and young people. I managed learning services in the City of Westminster’s libraries, then left to work in a government agency overseeing national public library strategies. For the last twelve years before retirement I worked as freelance consultant advising local authorities on their library and other cultural services, and a range of other projects.

Glacier Grey in the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, 2016
Glacier Grey in the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile 2016, by Sarah Wilkie

AL: You’ve travelled extensively around the world (though not since the pandemic). You’ve been to very modern and sophisticated locations, and also to places remote and exotic as compared to Europe or the US. How do you choose your destinations? What are some of your favorite places?

SW: The choice of destinations can be inspired in a number of ways. Often a friend has been there and shares on Facebook or blogs (or in the past wrote Virtual Tourist reviews). Our trip to North Korea was inspired by a VT friend who blogged about his visits there. I also read Wanderlust magazine and watch TV travel documentaries. I have a long wish-list and it tends to grow rather than shrink even though we regularly tick places off! The final decision on a trip can involve a negotiation with my husband, e.g. I make three suggestions and one appeals to him much more than the others. We also like variety, so if we’ve been somewhere in Africa recently we’re more likely to consider Asia or the Americas next time around.

As to favourite places, that’s almost impossible to answer. North Korea has to be the most fascinating place I’ve been, but other places stand out for different reasons. India, especially Rajasthan, for the colour and friendliness of the people. Botswana for the wildlife and the landscape of the Okavango Delta. The Antarctic for the icebergs and penguins! Japan for the culture. Galapagos for getting close to nature. Chile for variety and stunning landscapes, with desert in the north and the high Andes in the south. Laos for a sense of timelessness. I could go on! And we also love road tripping in the US for the freedom and the beauty of the landscapes in the west in particular. My favourite cities are Paris and New York, I would say.

Serrekunda Market, Gambia, 2014
Serrekunda Market, Gambia 2014 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What modes of transportation have you used?

SW: Most to be honest. We probably fly long-haul more than we should but we try to offset our flights. Once in a country we enjoy road travel, either driving ourselves somewhere like the US or being driven in India, where there’s so much to see along the road. I also love a train journey – if going to Paris we always use Eurostar, and I’ve loved our train journeys in India and would like to do more. The one thing we don’t do normally is cruise, but we did a small (16 berth) boat cruise around the Galapagos and a larger one for the Antarctic trip. I loved the small boat and would like to do more similar trips, but I don’t fancy the idea of those massive floating hotels, although I know they appeal to some of my friends and I never say never! We’ve only done a few group tours – we did some in the past when we were on tighter budgets, and more recently for North Korea where it’s really the only option, but generally we prefer to travel alone.

St Paul's Cathedral, London, 2018
St. Paul’s Cathedral, London 2018 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: In the past few years, travel has been extremely challenging, between Covid protocols, violent behavior from passengers, and rampant flight cancellations. Can you recall a time when you had a better-than-average travel experience?

SW: I’m not sure how to answer this. Maybe we’ve been lucky but I can’t recall a bad travel experience, beyond the usual little niggles (delays, hotel rooms not living up to glowing descriptions, annoying fellow travellers on a group tour). I firmly believe ALL travel is better than no travel, so maybe I could say that all my experiences have been better than average?

AL: How many languages do you speak?

SW: In addition to English I speak passable French and a smattering of German

In Old Delhi, India, 2015
In Old Delhi, India 2015 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What advice would you give to people who want to travel around the world?

SW: Not having ever done a round the world trip I wouldn’t dream of advising on any specifics. My general advice to anyone wanting to travel is simply to say, do it! I also always say there’s not a right or wrong way to travel. I get impatient when people are dismissive of tours, for instance, or say backpacking is the only way to go. The only right way to travel is the one that feels right for you.

In Tallinn, Estonia, 2015
In Tallinn, Estonia 2015 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What packing advice would you give to novices?

SW: Again, I probably shouldn’t advise on this as I’m not particularly good at travelling light. There’s plenty of good advice out there which I doubt I can add to. One thing I would say is, research where you’re going. How easy will it be to get laundry done if necessary? Will you be close to shops where you could buy essentials? Do you need to leave space in your bag for shopping?! When I travel with my husband I’m spoiled as he helps with my bag, but if I’m travelling on my own I always make sure I don’t take more than I can manage to carry up and down stairs, on to a train, etc.

Musician at Nizwa Fort, Oman, 2019
Musician at Nizwa Fort, Oman 2019 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: Do you have any favorite travel anecdotes?

SW: Oh gosh, far too many – my blog is full of them! It’s often the smaller things that stick in the mind, and the people we meet. Like the guy we got chatting to in a bar in New York who asked us to look after his beer while he popped outside – we thought he was going for a cigarette but when he came back he’d been for a haircut. He’d told his girlfriend he was going to the barbers but had spent the afternoon drinking instead and didn’t feel he could go home with hair the same length as when he’d left! Or the lovely Leo in New Mexico who was the subject of my very first blog post. We’ve had a few (minor) dramas too, like being almost charged by a bull elephant in Tanzania!

Statues of the Great Leaders on Mansudae Hill, Pyongyang, North Korea, 2019
Statues of the Great Leaders on Mansudaei Hill, Pyongyang, North Korea 2019 by Sarah Wilkie. Oh, the scale! Those are some big statues.

AL: When did you start taking pictures?

SW: When I was about ten years old my parents gave me a Brownie box camera and I’ve been taking photos ever since!

Little Bee Eaters, SIne Saloum Delta, Senegal, 2016
Little bee eaters, Sine Saloum, Senegal 2018, by Sarah Wilkie

AL: You use a bridge camera. What is the make and model? What are the advantages of a bridge camera over a DSLR?

SW: I use a Panasonic Lumix. In fact I have two – a small point and shoot compact which is useful for carrying in a handbag and the larger bridge camera. My current (very new) one is the FZ330. The biggest advantage is size and weight; I’m prone to back trouble so don’t like to carry a lot of heavy equipment. Also, not having separate lenses means I’m always ready for a shot. When I had a SLR in pre-digital days I found I kept my 35mm-200mm zoom on the camera nearly all the time, which meant the ability to swap lenses was really rather redundant! So I’ve never gone down that route since moving to digital.

Bald Eagle near Deception Pass, Washington State, USA, 2017
Bald eagle near Deception Pass, Washington State, USA 2017 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: The photos on your blog are so engaging. When taking travel photos, what do you keep in mind?

SW: I think the main thing is that I try to suit my photography style to the place. In a city I’ll shoot architecture and street photos. In other places it will be the landscapes and wildlife that I prioritise. One thing that’s important to me is looking for details, e.g. in architecture. And I always want to photograph the people – I enjoy capturing candid shots more than posed ones.

Zebra in Chobe National Park, Botswana, 2018
Zebra in Chobe National Park, Botswana 2018 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What organization tips do you have for photographers in regard to storing their photos?

SW: As an ex-librarian I should be better at this than I am! I don’t have a detailed indexing system, for instance. My travel photos are in folders grouped according to place. I always edit the hundreds I shoot down to a manageable number of ‘best’ shots, but I keep all but the most disastrous rejects on another hard disk in case I feel the need to find more, e.g. for a particular blog post. A typical trip folder will have a sub-folder for each day and an extra one with the very best shots to use if some asks to see some. For instance, my VT friends and I have regular Zoom meetings at which one of us will usually share some photos from a recent trip.

These days I try to label the shots with the date and place soon after my return, before I forget where I was! I’ve learned from past experience how important that is. There’s a bit of free software called FastStone Image Viewer which is very useful for reordering files in a folder and renaming in bulk – I highly recommend it.

And my other main tip is to back-up your files and/or keep multiple copies in different places, but I’m sure most of us do that!

Sarah Wilkie, traveler and photographer
Sarah Wilkie

Thank you to Sarah for sharing her expertise and her beautiful photographs. For more, and to learn about her travels, be sure to follow Travel with me.

Meet Author Shonna Slayton


Shonna Slayton is a prolific writer of young adult historical fiction and fairytale reimaginings. Her books include Cinderella’s Dress (2014), Cinderella’s Shoes (2015), Liz and Nellie (2016), Spindle (2016), Snow White’s Mirror (2018), The Tower Princess (2018), Beauty’s Rose (2019), Cinderella’s Legacy (2019), Sleeping Beauty’s Spindle (2020), The Little Mermaid’s Voice (2021), Lessons from Grimm: How to Write a Fairy Tale (2020), and its companion volumes, the workbook (2020), the high school workbook (2020), the middle school workbook (2020), the elementary workbook (2020), Prompts from Grimm (Grades 7-12) and Prompts from Grimm (Grades 3-6). I am delighted that she agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License–she has so much to share with us.

Cinderella's Dress

ARHtistic License: Many of your books are YA historical novels and/or fairy tale sequels. Where do you get your inspiration?

Shonna Slayton: I’ve long been interested in writing historicals and in particular telling women’s stories. But I also have a bent toward fantasy. Why not combine genres? With fairy tales, the inspiration is already there in the original story, giving me plenty to riff from. Once I’ve picked a fairy tale and paired it with a historical time period, the boundaries are set, and I’m free to imagine how to merge these two ideas.

AL: How long does it take you to finish writing a book? What is your favorite part of writing a book? What is the hardest part of writing a book for you?

SS: Each book is different. My favorite part of writing a book is the part I’m not currently working on (!) At least, that’s what it feels like right now. I’m deep in the weeds of Act 2 right now, pushing toward Act 3 and the words are coming ever so slowly.

Snow White's Mirror

AL: Are you a plotter or pantser?

SS: As much as I would like to be a plotter, I’m more of a discovery writer. I know many of the plot points going in, but not how I’m going to get there. I rely on the characters to make those decisions, but the characters are not fully formed in the first draft…kind of the chicken or the egg scenario. I write in a spiral, moving forward, but often swooping back to earlier chapters to add more information as I learn it.

AL: Your first few novels were published by a publishing house. Did you have an agent? What was your submission process like?

SS: Yes, I was originally published through Entangled Teen. I’ve never had an agent. I went to a writing conference with plans of what classes I was going to take, but when Entangled publisher Liz Pelletier stood up to introduce herself and the sessions she was giving, I changed all my plans and went to her talks. At the time, she was working off of a different publishing model which fascinated me, and I wanted to be in on the experiment. I simply submitted my work directly to her a few days after the conference. She’s a smart business woman, and I was thrilled to work with her company for as long as I did.

Liz and Nellie

AL: Now you mostly self-publish. Sometimes readers assume authors choose to self-publish because they’re not good enough to get a book deal. That’s certainly not true in your case. Why did you decide to abandon traditional publishing?

SS: To be honest, traditional publishing abandoned me. My fourth book got cancelled, and while the company was willing to keep working with me if I changed what I was writing, I wanted to finish what I started.
Fortunately, when self-publishing started to take off, I thought it would be a good idea to have a foot in both publishing models. My first attempt at self-publishing (Liz and Nellie, about Nellie Bly’s race around the world) came out between my second and third traditional book. So, when my contract was cancelled, it wasn’t much of a leap to turn to self-publishing.

Looking back, knowing what I know now, cancelling my book was a smart business decision for Entangled and, it turned out, for me, too. My books didn’t generate enough revenue to keep a publisher’s interest, but when all the royalties come to me, I can make it work. Under a trad publisher, my books would have slowly died, but with the tools available to indie authors (such as paid advertising, newsletters, control over pricing, and a bit of courage to put yourself out there), I can keep a steady stream of readers finding my books.

Lessons from Grimm

AL: What’s up next?

SS: I’m working on an original fairy tale trilogy based on kelpie mythology. While set in a fantasy land, it’s got a Scottish flair.

I’m also in the process of producing audiobooks for my Fairy-tale Inheritance Series. The first audiobook, Cinderella’s Dress is out now. It’s been fun to work with a voice actor to bring the story to life.

AL: It’s been great to hear about your writing and publication journey. Thank you for sharing with us. I’ve read most of your books and enjoyed them immensely.

SS: Thanks for inviting me onto your blog, Andrea! I love how you focus on creativity in a variety of ways here.

Meet Donna Kramer, Blogger Extraordinaire


I discovered My OBT (One Beautiful Thing) in 2014, a few months after Donna Kramer launched it. I noticed that she regularly posts about my favorite interests: art, dance, humor, music, and photography, among other things. She’s introduced me to some of my favorite performers and artists. Her Etsomnia™ posts are a hoot, and her captions crack me up.

Her About page explains that Donna started her blog after a difficult time in her life, because her doctor said she needed to reduce her stress. Her response was to look for one beautiful thing every day and create a post about it. Her stress-busters have blessed me and many other readers on a daily basis. I am so happy that Donna graciously agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

ARHtistic License: How do you come across all the beautiful things you write about? Do you find them all online? Do you use search engines? If so, what specifically do you look up?

Donna Kramer: Initially, I had to make a real effort to look for beauty, but eventually, I got better at noticing the marvelous things around me. Now, when something strikes me, whether it’s from a magazine or someone’s post in my feed or a conversation or something I spy out in the world, I hunt it down. I’m also a big believer in following the breadcrumbs, especially on Instagram and YouTube. Once I spot something wonderful, I don’t stop there. I follow the suggestions to see where they lead. I’m also a voracious (late night) browser, so I regularly hit the websites of museums, concert halls, PBS, and of course my darling Etsy, which never fails to deliver new wonders. And of course, my readers are incredibly generous with their ideas. They send me artists and things to check out constantly!

AL: What’s in your head when you’re writing?

DK: As you pointed out in your post about writing and confidence, every writer has someone in their head when they’re writing. Sometimes it’s a good voice, often it’s not. Maybe it’s a partner, maybe it’s a critical parent, maybe it’s an encouraging professor or a tough boss or someone you admire. Maybe it’s just your third grade grammar teacher, but there’s someone talking to you as you write. I am very lucky in my muses. When I’m choosing my post subjects and writing my blog, I have my most loyal readers in my head, telling me what they think. And they don’t always agree with each other, either. If I were to write just for Beverly (who reminds me so much of my mom), everything would be sweet and crafty and beautiful. If I were writing for Hal, it would mostly be gorgeous women and dance videos. Laura has a wonderfully perverse sense of humor, and she most enjoys the more unusual artists and Etsomnia™ finds. There are many others as well, but these three pretty much sum up the three sides of me. When I’m writing, if I conclude my subject won’t make at least one of the three happy, I scrap it and go back to the drawing board.

AL: How do you find the time to write, considering that you also have a full-time job that requires you to work long hours? Do you have a special discipline?

DK: I wrote an article about this once, which your readers might like. I did used to write every day. These days, though, with the new career and the utter madness of the NYC real estate market, I no longer have time for that. Instead, a couple of days a week, I block out some time after Beloved goes to bed (she’s a morning person. I am definitely not.). Though it feels a bit like cheating, I now research and write half a week’s worth of posts in one sitting. At other times when I find something inspiring, I set it up as a draft post in WordPress and come back to it. I currently have 1,000+ drafts hanging around waiting for my attention. When I’m stumped for inspiration, I go wander through my drafts folder until I find something about which I want to write. I also always try to have a couple of fully-written posts hanging around for emergencies.

AL: Do you have a blogging schedule that you use? I notice that most Thursdays you post an Etsomnia article. Do you have a day for music and a day for art?

DK: In the early days, I posted music on “Wordless Wednesdays.” However, I noticed my numbers on Wednesdays were lower than the rest of the week (so much for my taste in music), so now I mix it up. I do still deliver Etsomnia™ on Thursdays, because I know there are people who only tune in for that feature, but the rest of the weekdays can be anything. I also now do reposts on weekends and most holidays (and when I’m on vacation).

AL: What is easier about blogging now than when you started? What is harder about blogging now? What is your biggest blogging challenge, and how do you handle it?

DK: When I first started, my challenges were very different than they are now. I was worried that my voice wasn’t right, that I wasn’t picking subjects that would be interesting to people. Now, I realize that my voice is my voice. If people didn’t like it, they wouldn’t be readers. And when I pick a subject that some of my regulars don’t like, they still read, they still engage, they just tell me what they dislike about it. I love that dialogue.

The biggest challenge for me now is time management. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of glass artists, for example. There is a never-ending stream of gloriously-creative people out there, and it’s really easy for me to (joyously) lose myself in the search. However, when I come back up for air and realize it’s 4 AM and I have a 9 AM work Zoom call, it is not so joyous. I have learned to use my calendar, adding a blogging “appointment” with a start time and an end time a couple of nights a week. When the appointment is over and the timer goes off, I may hit snooze to complete my thought, but I am at least more conscious of time passing.

AL: Do you have any advice for bloggers who are just starting out?

DK: Yes. RESPOND TO EVERY COMMENT. I can’t stress this enough. Like I said above, even if someone is disagreeing with you, they’re engaging. It’s important to make people feel heard. If they get a response from you, whether in agreement or not, chances are they’ll come back. But don’t suffer trolls (unless you enjoy that kind of dialogue). I am happy to respond to anyone, but if a commenter is being abusive, either to me or to one of my readers, I cut ‘em right off. It’s very satisfying, actually. Wish I could do that in real life…

AL: Do you ever think about quitting blogging?

DK: Confession time. It would have been unthinkable to me until this year, but since starting in real estate, I have thought about it and discussed it with Beloved a number of times. I get overwhelmed, and it is the opposite of stress relief. But this blog is a labor of love, and I’m intensely proud of what I’ve built. Every time I have this conversation, either with myself or with someone else, my conclusion is the same. I love my blog and I love my readers and I don’t want to abandon either. So on I go…

AL: What are some of your favorite blogs that you read, bloggers who you admire?

DK: This is going to sound like pandering, but I honestly love your blog, ARHtistic License! I regularly read the blogs of my readers. I get great ideas from them all. I’m also a loyal fan of Messy Nessy Chic and the Houzz vlog, I’ve been reading humorist Dave Barry’s blog since the nineties, I love art blogs like The Jealous Curator and Booooooom, and I never miss a post by Cheap Old Houses!

AL: What are some of your favorite posts that you’ve written? What do you most like writing about?

DK: There are many posts about artists whose work I was thrilled to share, but the posts that make me the happiest are the ones where I get really personal. My favorite of all time is a love letter I wrote to parents after a miscarriage. It’s a rough one, but I still love it. I am also really happy with my posts about adoption.

AL: What are some of your all-time most popular posts (most likes and/or most views)?

DK: My most popular post of all time, which continues to flummox me, was a snarky little thing I did about the idiotic prices (and beautiful design) by Restoration Hardware. I wrote it 7 years ago, and it still gets hits every day. I cannot begin to fathom why.

My second most popular post was a bit of prescience on my part. My friend has an exceptionally precocious son, and I wrote about him when he started reviewing Broadway shows at the ripe old age of 4. He has since become a very successful child actor and is currently playing the lead character in Young Sheldon. I knew that kid was something special!

AL: I am so jealous of your readership (more than 7500 followers). Do you do anything to promote your blog?

DK: Not really. I share my posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter every day, but it’s mostly been word-of-mouth. I also often tag the artists I profile, and many of them have shared my posts with their readers. I wrote an article about building your reader base that your readers might find helpful. I used to spend hours every week chasing down new readers, but now I let things happen more organically (since I don’t have the time for much more than that).

AL: Of all the artists and performers you’ve written about, who would you most like to meet in person?

DK: That’s easy. They’re all dead, but I don’t think that materially changes my chances of meeting them, so why not swing for the fences? I’d love to meet Elaine Stritch, Robin Williams, Dorothy Parker, and Tom Lehrer. Humor is still my favorite art form.

AL: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you because of your blog?

DK: I could never have imagined it when I started, but a small, sweet, loyal community has grown up around this blog. They now talk not only to me, but to each other. I love that so much! I now have a few of what Beloved jokingly calls “imaginary friends.” These are people with whom I’ve connected through my blog on such a deep level that I consider them real friends, even though we’ve never met IRL.

And a few of the artists I’ve profiled have sweetly send me thank you gifts of their work after they found the post I published about them. I treasure them all!

AL: Do you have any funny blogging stories?

DK: The funniest thing that happens in connection with the blog is that sometimes, I lose track of what’s written and what’s just a bare-bones draft, and I wake I the morning to realize that rather than a completed post, I’ve instead published a hyperlink and a few incoherent notes. I don’t find this particularly funny, but when I go running for my laptop shouting “nonononono noooooooo,” Beloved is entertained.

Also, because I have been known to schedule drafts up to a year ahead of time, I have told Beloved that if something happens to me, unfinished drafts of my blog will continue to haunt the blogosphere for some time after my passing.

AL: What else would you like ARHtistic License readers to know about you?

DK: I would like them to know something about YOU. You have been so kind and so generous to me over the years. I’m truly grateful for all the times you’ve included my posts in your Creative Juice lists. You can’t imagine what it means to me that someone I so admire is willing to share my work with their readers. I truly appreciate the interview, and thank you for all your support! XO

AL: And thank you so much for answering all my questions and sharing your expertise.

An Interview with Author Kelly deVos

An Interview with Author Kelly deVos

Kelly deVos is from Gilbert, Arizona, where she lives with her high school sweetheart husband, amazing teen daughter and superhero dog, Cocoa. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. When not reading or writing, Kelly can typically be found with a mocha in hand, bingeing the latest TV shows and adding to her ever-growing sticker collection.

Kelly’s work has been featured in the New York Times as well as on Vulture, Salon, Bustle and SheKnows. Her debut novel, Fat Girl on a Plane, was named one of the “50 Best Summer Reads of All Time” by Reader’s Digest magazine. Her YA dystopian thriller duology, Day Zero and Day One, are strangely prescient of the 2021 political climate in the US. Her next book, Eat Your Heart Out, releases on 6/29/21 from PenguinTeen.

ARHtistic License is thrilled to be able to discuss Kelly’s work with her.

ARHtistic License: Your website proclaims “Fierce reads for the feminist in all of us.” By that, do you mean that your books feature a strong female protagonist, or that you deal with feminist issues?

Kelly DeVos: I have always been interested in girls and woman trying to perform in spaces that are traditionally male dominated. In Fat Girl on a Plane, I tackled the fashion industry. While ostensibly being focused on women, at the highest levels of design and advertising, the fashion decision makers tend to be male. In Day Zero and Day One, my protagonist, Jinx Marshall, is a coder. Computer science is again another space where the major players tend to be male. When I think of fierce feminists, I conceive of girls and women who are trying to be true to their own interests and advocate for themselves.

Fat Girl on a Plane

AL: Your heroine in Fat Girl on a Plane breaks into the New York fashion scene. Your descriptions of working for a designer feel so real. Do you also have fashion experience? Or how did you do your research for the book?

KdV: I worked for many years as an art director and graphic designer including for brands like Roberto Cavalli Eyewear and Tom Ford Eyewear. I worked on a lot of photoshoots over my career and also heard a lot of stories and gossip about the fashion world. So I tried to channel that when writing Fat Girl.

Day Zero Duology

AL: Day Zero came out in 2019, and Day One in 2020, but I read them in early 2021, and I found them chilling, especially in light of the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Your duology portrays a country divided into factions, with conspiracy theories flying, after an election that was allegedly stolen. How much of the book was inspired by the recent U.S. political climate?

KdV: Thank you so much! I was trying to make it as topical as possible. It’s strange to think about, but I actually wrote most of Day Zero in 2015, before the election. Like most of the people in my social circle, I assumed Hillary Clinton would win. The question that started the book was, what would happen if someone like Donald Trump won? Of course, now we know. But most of Day Zero was conceived before the 2016 election actually happened.

AL: How do you do your world building?

KdV: Honestly, whenever I think about world building, I reread books by Kristina Perez, author of Sweet Black Waves. Her world building is always so excellent and she considers all aspects of the world she’s creating. She addresses the world’s politics, religion and economics and all that stuff is existing in her stories in a really subtle way.

Eat Your Heart Out

AL: Your soon-to-be-released book, Eat Your Heart Out, takes place at a weight-loss camp overrun by zombies. (And, according to rumors, it’s very funny!) Where on earth did you get the idea for this one?

KdV: I was thinking a lot about the toxic elements of diet culture and how, in some ways, that it turns people into monsters. In Eat Your Heart Out, I made that idea really literal. My main characters are forced to go to a fat camp that’s crawling with zombies. I did try to incorporate some Shaun of the Dead type humor to balance the scarier elements.

AL: What’s up next?

KdV: I’m currently working on a Dracula retelling from the perspective of Lucy Westenra that I hope will be coming out in the summer of 2022.

AL: Why do you write for young adults?

KdV: Like a of writers, I was a reader first and that’s how I fell in love with stories and storytelling. Books were so important to me as a young reader and really helped me navigate my coming of age experiences. I wanted to write for young adults in the hopes of offering something that might be similarly meaningful.

AL: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

KdV: Definitely a plotter. I’m honestly kind of in awe of pantsers because I truly don’t understand how they do what they do!

AL: How long does it take you to write a book?

KdV: At this point, I would say it takes me about six months to create a first draft. The amount of time that it takes to edit can vary a lot depending on what kind of feedback I get.

AL: What is your biggest writing challenge?

KdV: I feel like I come from the “plot is character” school of writing. So my top level note is always to reveal a bit more about my characters’ interiority.

Kelly deVos

AL: Do you ever get stuck?

KdV: I do sometimes get stuck and I have a couple of things in a drawer that I just don’t know how to fix. Sometimes, my way of getting unstuck is to move on to the next idea.

AL: What is the most fun part of writing a book?

KdV: For me, working on the first draft is the most fun. I love it when I have a new idea and I get to put it on paper!

AL: What is your favorite book about writing?

KdV: I personally use Outlining Your Novel and the workbook that goes with it. The writer of that book, K.M. Weiland, also maintains a website that contains a ton of great information that can be accessed for free.

AL: What types of books do you like to read? Which authors do you especially admire?

KdV: I go through phases. Right now, because I’m writing a lot of horror, I’m reading a lot more contemporary. I’ve also been wanting to learn more about Middle Grade, so I have been reading all the marvelous books written by Dusti Bowling. I would recommend her verse novel, The Canyon’s Edge, to readers of any age.

AL: How did you get your agent?

KdV: I got my amazing agent, Chloe Seager, through traditionally querying. I’d heard great things about the Madeleine Milburn agency and decided to send in a query.

AL: What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?

KdV: My dog, Cocoa, is responsible for any typos you find! LOL

Follow Kelly DeVos on her website, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Facebook.

Creative Juice #219

Creative Juice #219

It’s beginning to look a little like Christmas. I put a new Christmas bedspread and pillow shams on our bed.

  • Awesome photographs of nature’s power.
  • For the musicians and the music teachers: young composers get to hear their works performed by the New York Philharmonic.
  • Beautiful zentangles.
  • Ways to beat writer’s block.
  • For the writers: flabby characters? Put them through some exercises.
  • Have you taken your Christmas card picture yet?
  • Ways to use your books to decorate for Christmas. (I am seriously thinking of turning my TBR pile into a tree. The books are already stacked on the floor…)
  • In case you need to laugh, here’s a story about what to do when your husband says you can’t buy any more towels.
  • Some ingenious Christmas tree tools.
  • We all know what we should be doing in order to live our best lives. Read this to get it all in one place.
  • Interview with illustrator Jim Starr.
  • Christmas movies to stream.

An Interview with Judy Dykstra-Brown, Teacher, Artist, Poet, Part II

An Interview with Judy Dykstra-Brown, Teacher, Artist, Poet, Part II

I’ve been following Judy Dykstra-Brown’s lifelessons blog for more than five years, and I have found her to be incredibly creative and funny and intellectually stimulating. I’m so pleased that she agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

The first half of this interview with Judy Dykstra-Brown was posted this past Tuesday.

ARHtistic License: In 2001 you made the decision to move from California to Mexico. Why there?

Judy Dykstra-Brown: Many years before, I had met a man in China who told me that I should be living in San Miguel, Mexico. He had been there and knew lots about it and we had talked many times as we were travelling together. I kept this in the back of my mind as a place it would be good to retire to once I’d traveled to more far-flung places. My husband was 16 years older than me and we operated on a frantic pace, driving all over the U.S. to do shows and putting in long days at home creating. His sculptures got bigger and bigger—some of them weighing over a ton, and our setup for our shows was 12 hours long, our teardown 4 hours. We were always the first ones at shows for setup and the last ones there for teardown. I could tell Bob was wearing out and had tried for a few years to convince him to retire, but he was convinced we would starve if we didn’t do shows. I, on the other hand, knew that every penny we made ended up being spent on new tools, supplies and art studios. (We had 7 on our property, with Bob building a new one every two years, not to mention buying or building new tools for the new mediums he ventured into, pulling me along after him. So, I finally said I was moving to Mexico for a year and he could move down to the first level of the house where my jewelry studio was and rent out the top story and send me half the money. In the end, he came with me, protesting all the way. The first week, driving down and driving around San Miguel, he hated it. By the eighth day, he was proposing we buy a house there! This was after he was offered a job teaching sculpture at a new art center in a hacienda outside the town. So, that was our plan until after 8 weeks in San Miguel, we took a little side trip to Ajijic and Bob fell in love with it.

Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown

AL: Unfortunately, Bob was unable to move to Mexico with you, because he passed away suddenly. Your book Lessons from a Grief Diary, which you co-wrote with Dr. Anthony Moriarity, details your journey through your husband’s cancer diagnosis, death, and its aftermath. It draws from your journaling during that time, with additional insights from Moriarity, a clinical psychologist. What made you decide to share your pain? What was it like to have a co-author?

JD-B: After 8 years mourning my husband, I ventured out into the world via but after a number of months, realized I was not going to find a match there, so switched to OkCupid. It was a very different site back then and drew many creative people. It has since been purchased by Match.Com and so has dropped all the features I loved, but the real point is that this marked a change in me and I actually met a number of very interesting men, some of whom ended up coming down to Mexico so we could meet in person. It was at this point that I gave a talk for a local lecture series that talked about my process of grief recovery. Tony, who was in the states at the time, did not hear the speech, but he heard about it and asked me if I could send him a transcript. I did, and it was he who convinced me I needed to write a book about it and asked if he could write alternating chapters.

The co-authoring worked out very well. I handed chapters over to Tony as I wrote them, he wrote his replies and I edited them. He had about every book on the grieving process ever written and so we compiled an annotated reading list at the end of the book that in itself is a valuable resource.

Bob Brown, Judy’s husband of fifteen years, in front of a gallery showing his work
Lamp by Bob Brown. Judy describes the lamp: “I looked everywhere for a photo of my favorite lamp, but I don’t think one exists, so I shot one of it in my house. It’s not well-staged, but I just wanted you to see this lamp. Bob went through many phases, as did I. I liked this one best. They got weirder and weirder.  This lamp was all Bob’s baby. The only thing I did was to make the paper and use it to create a cocoon for the spiral element. The ball on the spiral cord and the palm leaf bird are not part of the lamp. Someone hung the ball on the lamp for fun last Xmas and I never took it down. The bird is hanging from the curtain rod. The horsehair is part of the lamp, however. When they trim the tails of the horses in Bali, they keep the hair and weave it into strings. We brought some home with us. A string of it forms a necklace on the lamp as well. The huge head is one Bob carved in Bali, which is a story of its own.”

AL: When you started your blog in 2013, your initial intention was to help people through grief, but your focus soon changed to sharing your life, and encouraging people through your life lessons. There’s a lot of positivity and humor on your blog, especially in some of your poems. You have over 6,000 followers. What do you hope readers will take away from your blog?

JD-B: I hope it makes them laugh and think and take risks and realize that even if the way we experience life changes as we age, an excitement with life need not wane. Even limited to your own house and yard, nature and just the fact we exist with all our complicated inner workings is such a miracle that even the observing of it can be enough. Having a way in which to express this amazement is a huge help as well, be it art, writing, music, dance, or even volunteering, interacting with animals or thinking about your long incredible life.

Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown

AL: You are one of my very favorite poets. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been delighted by a turn of phrase or an unexpected twist in your poems. Your meter and rhymes are impeccable, and the words flow like music. Where did you learn to write poetry like that? When did you start? Who are your influences, your favorite poets?

JD-B: When she was young, my mother kept a rhymed journal. We absolutely loved having her read it to us. Everything was perfectly rhymed and metered and hilarious. When my mom passed away, I asked my sister, who lived in the same town where my mom had lived, to send it to me and she told me that my mother had decided it was silly and burned it years ago. I was so disappointed. She also wrote humorous plays for her women’s club to perform at state conventions. My friends and I performed one of them for a talent show once.

Well, long story short, whenever someone in my family deserved teasing, she and I would sit down and write a rhymed poem about them. Some appreciated it and others didn’t, but we certainly enjoyed writing them. I think as a result of this that an ear and eye for rhythm and rhyme just grew up with me. By the time I got to college, where I took every creative writing and journalism course that was offered, rhymed poetry was not in “style,” so I wrote mainly short stories. Later, I studied screen writing which wasn’t my bag and substituted a poetry class and joined a writer’s workshop in Hollywood. Everything that had drained my soul in the TV world was healed when I started writing (still unrhymed) poetry, and with one 5-year hiatus (which is another story that I’ll tell if another question leads up to it) I’ve been writing poetry ever since.

I started writing rhymed and metered poetry on my blog when I started following word prompts on WordPress. I’ve been thinking (and even occasionally dreaming) in rhyme ever since. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of writing a poem in my sleep, grab my computer from the bookcase headboard of my bed, jot down as much of it as I can remember, and go on following where it leads me. I think the reason why I prefer to write in rhyme is that it limits my choices and makes it easier not to “block.”  I write one line, then run through the alphabet to find every word that rhymes with the last word I’ve written, pick one and make a sentence that leads up to it. It is a game that creates an end product that is as much a surprise to me as I hope it is to the reader. I absolutely love the project. Poet friends have told me it is keeping me from writing more serious work, but I notice most of them are not writing much at all. I write one or two poems a day and have for the past 7 years. I love waking up in the morning and doing so. Can’t wait to feed the dogs and cats and then jump back into bed to write. I sleep with my computer plugged in on the headboard of my bed. It is the last thing I do before I fall asleep and first thing (after feeding the animals) I do in the morning. I have quit all activities that occur before 2 pm in the afternoon to devote myself to writing in the morning.

Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown

AL: You’ve authored one book of poetry for adults. Any chance another poem collection will be coming out? (Please, please, please.)

I actually have poems selected for several books, but I keep putting off doing the final formatting. I think the first one will be poems about family and growing up in the same town I was living in in Prairie Moths, my first book of poetry.

I also have two autobiographical books that have been finished for years—I just can’t make myself do the final edit and I hate the business part of trying to find an agent or publisher. I will probably self-publish them—if I ever get around to it. I have another book project that involves my humorous poems about aging, but it is a book with a twist, and I’m not telling what that twist is!

[Note from Andrea: All you agents and publishers out there, here’s your chance to snag a great client!]

Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown

AL: You’ve written several books for children. Are they all in verse?

JD-B: Yes. My illustrator just finished the illustrations for a third one. The illustrations are sitting to my left waiting to be scanned and formatted. I just keep putting it off.

AL: You collaborate with illustrator Isidro Xilonzochitl. How did you meet? Why did you decide to work with him? Describe your process as a team.

JD-B: When I moved to Mexico 19 years ago, I had thought I was moving here with my husband. Unfortunately, two days before we were to move down to the house we’d bought here, we went to our doctor’s office to get the results of physicals we’d had the week before and discovered my husband had pancreatic cancer. He lived for 3 weeks. And so, when I actually moved down to Mexico two months later, I was moving alone to a place where I knew no one except for my real estate agent! Since I was interested in art, I started making the rounds of galleries and one of the first artists whose work I was attracted to was Isidro. I bought several of his paintings and through him I met a number of young Mexican artists who formed a group called ARCOC. I was adopted as their sole female comrade and we put on several art shows, art experiences for kids and art contests for kids. When I started my poetry reading series, it was in a coffee shop Isidro and his partner at that time opened up on the ground floor of his studio. We’ve been friends ever since.

I actually wrote most of the children’s books years before but had done nothing with them. I asked if he’d be interested in illustrating them and he said yes. His partner at the time, Kristina, had grown up in the states and so she translated them to him for illustration purposes. I set up the books, minus illustrations, and the two of them collaborated over how he would illustrate them—with hilarious results, I think.

Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown

AL: Which poetry journals did you edit? What did you look for in poetry submissions?

JD-B: I ran a reading series at a local coffee shop here in San Juan Cosala, Mexico, for two years. I also edited an anthology of writing by high school students when I was a teacher in Cheyenne, Wyoming after coming home from Africa. It was entitled The Spiral Notebook. In L.A. I was one of the editors of The Sculpture Garden Review, which was not, despite its title, an art journal but a poetry journal. I also ran a reading series at the art center in the San Lorenzo Valley near Santa Cruz, CA. Recently, that entire valley was evacuated due to fires and at least one of my friends lost his house, others won’t be able to go back for a year until water and electricity is restored. So sad.

The ten women in a women’s writing group I started here in Mexico also published an anthology entitled Agave Marias, stories and poems about crossing borders and breaking boundaries. That anthology is available on Amazon, as are all of my books. Oh. An interesting sidelight of Prairie Moths was that some years after I published it, I got an email from a man in Oregon who said, “I am the youngest boy in your pictures of your grandparents standing in front of their homestead with their daughter and her 8 sons.” He was a cousin, at least 20 years older than me, that I had only met once when he passed with his family through South Dakota on their way back to Utah, where they lived. I believe I was 10 or 11 then. We started up a correspondence after his first email to me and he invited my sisters and me to come to their family reunion and we all went. I came from Mexico, one sister from Wyoming and another from Minnesota. It was fabulous. Only two of the first cousins were still alive, but there were at least a hundred people there who were their descendants. Since then one of the first cousins and one of the first cousins once removed has passed away, but I’m still in touch with the one who wrote to me, who is now in his nineties.

What I look for in poetry is originality, word choice, and heart. Although I presently write mostly rhymed and metered poetry, I mainly do so because somehow the prompts force me to. I don’t know why. It is also a sort of game I play to keep my mind working. I used to do crossword puzzles. Now I do metered rhyme. I really do think as we grow older that it is vital to exercise our minds.

Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown

AL: What advice would you give to a beginning poet?

JD-B: I think many beginning poets think that poems should rhyme but with almost no exceptions, I encourage them not to try to rhyme. The thing we need to learn to do is to follow where our mind leads us—to write without editing and without stopping—just to write what comes and to edit later. Then, to edit remorselessly. It is important to get to that place in ourselves that we wouldn’t necessarily get to through reason or careful plotting.

I’ve written a few poems about writing poetry:

Poetry Pie (A Recipe)

To Get a Poem

If a Poem Could Speak for Itself

Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown

AL: Can you define retablo for us? When did you start making them? How did you begin?

JD-B: The retablo is a frame or shelf enclosing decorated panels or revered objects above and behind an altar in a church. In Mexico, it is a box which contains a figure,  photo or painting of the Virgin Mary, Christ or some other saint and sometimes little votive offerings or objects. Most homes have at least one. I took the idea but it quickly evolved into themes that were not religious. I tended to work around a certain theme. One year it was saints, another it was famous artists, another Mexican legends, traditions or places I visited. I have created one for each family member or friend who died. I’ve even done one on the Coronavirus.

Covid-19 Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown. For more photos and information about this piece, check out this article on her blog.

AL: Any more funny stories you can tell us about your work? (See Tuesday’s post for the previous ones.)

JD-B: When I was in Peru, I bought a few small oil-on-canvas paintings of saints and the Virgin Mary, thinking I would turn them into retablos. I worked for a long time on one of the Virgin, adding first tiny beautifully crafted wooden musical instruments. I didn’t know why but then I started adding little books and pages of poems taken from a miniature book of poetry, pen nibs and other objects associated with music and poetry. When it was finished, Isidro’s cousin Eduardo was at my house for some reason and he saw the retablo and said, “Huh. Santa Cecilia!” I said no, it was the Virgin and he said, no that it was definitely Santa Cecilia. After he left I consulted Google and sure enough, it was Santa Cecilia, patron saint of poets and musicians! She had somehow attracted to herself the exact appropriate symbols.

Santa Cecilia retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown

To close this interview, I am adding links to a few more of Judy Dykstra-Brown’s poems (and photographs):

Oldest Friend

Water Fetish


Martyred by The Camino de Santiago

An Interview with Judy Dykstra-Brown, Teacher, Artist, Poet, Part I

Judy Dykstra-Brown

When I first started blogging more than five years ago, one of the first blogs I discovered was lifelessons–a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown. I took part in blogging challenges, and so did Judy. As I perused other responses to the challenges, I often found Judy’s, and often they were poems–very good poems. I was hooked.

When I asked Judy if I could interview her for ARHtististic License, I was thrilled that she agreed. I knew she was interesting, but I didn’t realize the depth of her genius until I read her responses. Frankly, she sent me so much material that I soon realized I couldn’t squeeze it all into one article and do her justice. So I’m breaking it into two parts. If by the time you get to the end of this article you’re dying for more, you’ll have to just click on the link above to her blog until Saturday, when Part II will appear here on ARHtistic License.

Judy with her husband, Bob Brown, in front of their booth at an art show. I think it’s interesting how alike their faces are. Look at their eyes, cheekbones, and smiles.

ARHtistic License: You have worn many hats: English teacher, television production, artist, poetry journal editor, photographer, author, and blogger. Did I get everything?

Judy Dykstra-Brown: I was also the curator of shows for an art center. 

AL: You have lived in interesting places, including Australia and Ethiopia. What took you there?

JD-B: From the time I was a tiny girl, I wanted to travel. When I was 11, I asked my folks if I could go on a tour for teenagers organized by Seventeen magazine. Of course, they refused, but by the time I was in high school I was driving all over the state to All State Chorus, district MYF meetings for the church we belonged to, and basketball games. I was the youngest of three daughters and they had sort of worn out in terms of driving kids, so I was given a lot more freedom than my sisters. Finally, during my junior year in college, they agreed to let me go on World Campus Afloat—a college campus on a boat that sailed around the world, stopping at a number of ports during its 4 month journey. They thought it would get travel out of my system, but I couldn’t wait to graduate and go back to my favorite place on the trip: Kenya. I absolutely loved Africa, but the only two places in the world that advertised that they  would hire a teacher with no experience were Isfran, Iran and Australia. So I actually emigrated to Australia and taught there for a year and a half before taking off to travel through Timor, Bali, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and finally—Africa. Due to a series of misadventures, I ended up staying and teaching school in Ethiopia for a year and a half while my travel companion went on without me. 

Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown

AL: You were a television production assistant. What shows did you work on? How did you land that job?

JD-B: I did P.R. and publicity for The Bob Hope Specials on NBC and also for his specials in Denmark and Tahiti.

I was studying film production and Screenwriting at UCLA and participating in an actor’s studio as well, thinking I needed to know all sides of the business, but after working on a couple of documentaries, I became disillusioned with the dynamics and decided to take a poetry class to regain my soul. I took two semesters from an excellent poetry teacher at UCLA and then heard about a charismatic actor and poet, Jack Grapes, so switched to his weekly workshop. There I became friends with a woman who was an assistant in charge of public-relations and publicity for Bob Hope. At that time, my income suddenly dried up when a company who bought a ranch I had a share in defaulted on their loan payments and we had to repossess the ranch my sisters and mother and I had inherited when my dad died.

I had quit teaching a couple of years before to come to CA to write the great American novel (still unfinished nearly 40 years later.) My friend had not had a raise in the 6 years she’d worked for Hope, plus no health insurance, and when they wouldn’t give her a raise, she quit. Her boss asked if there was anyone she could recommend to take her job. Knowing I was suddenly without a means of support, she suggested me. Her boss asked about me and she said I was a poet and studying film production, but the thing that really earned me the job was that I had spent a few years traveling through Australia, Indonesia, Asia and Africa after I’d graduated from college, ending up in Ethiopia where I got a job teaching English in a local school and had a number of adventures.

It turned out that the man hiring me was a travel writer for the L.A. times during the 5 months a year when everyone in the production company was laid off because there was no show in production. So, I got a job in publicity and P.R. not because I had any experience in those fields but because of my poetry and my travel experience. I was actually at a poetry conference in Napa when I got a phone call from my friend and her boss interviewed me over the phone. At the end of our talk, he asked me to come in for one week on a trial basis when I came back to L.A., and I ended up working there for 3 years until I married and moved to Boulder Creek.

Retablo by Judy Dykstra-Brown.

AL: When did you begin making art? Do you have any special art training?

JD-B: I started doing art when I had writer’s block and Jack Grapes, who headed up my writer’s workshop in Hollywood, forbid me to write and told me to do art instead. I insisted that I didn’t know anything about making art and he said, “That’s why I want you to do it. You know too much about literature and writing and that is getting in your way. You’re too concerned about what you ‘should’ be doing. I want you to do something you don’t know how to do!” So I went to a variety store—what we once would have called a dime store, and just bought a bunch of silly stuff: confetti, a rubber mouse and other assorted things. The summer before, the man who became my husband and I went on a driving vacation through Europe and I was amused by all the various little disposable aluminum jam and butter receptacles and I’d saved them all. I cut them up into three-dimensional shapes and took my poems and cut them in thin strips and made little figures out of them and glued them to heavy watercolor paper along with the things I’d bought. They were totally silly but I had such fun making them. I remember the first one I made had the title “Party Mouse Wants To Come Play But Can’t.” It included a rubber mouse and the confetti with a little fence around the mouse and I don’t remember what else, all glued to a Morilla block. At any rate, Jack had told me to bring them to next week’s workshop, but I was embarrassed and just left them in the car. When my turn came to present, he asked me if I’d done the art he told me to and I said yes, but they were dumb. He asked where they were and I said in the car and he told me to go down and get them. So I did, and they passed them around the circle.

At the end of the session, a woman came up to me who had a gallery in L.A. and she asked if she could exhibit them there. I was too embarrassed and said no, I wasn’t really an artist, but within a few months, I had married Bob, who was an artist and also a poet. We moved up to the redwoods and I fully intended to go back to teaching. I had taken and passed the CBEST test and planned on applying to teach the next year so Bob could stop teaching and do art full time. In the interim, I was doing little collages on stone and he said if I was going to do collage I needed to learn more about joining than simple cold joining. He talked me into taking a silversmithing class and that class led to another and another with the result that I never did go back to teaching and I ended up making my living making silver jewelry for the next 14 years. After my second class, he entered two of my pieces into the CA State Fair and I won first prize for them. I was astonished. He also entered me in an art fair in Oceanside. I was so embarrassed, but was delighted when people bought the jewelry. I took a photo of every person who bought a piece of my jewelry that day!  Ha.  Later I became a papermaker and made washi shades for all of my husband’s lamps, then started making art lamps myself as well. I didn’t go back to writing for 5 years. By then I was the curator of an art center and curated a show called “The Poet’s Eye, The Artist’s Tongue” which wedded art and poetry. I wrote a poem to go with another artist’s painting and then ended up doing several other art pieces that involved words which lead to starting a reading series at the gallery. And Jack was right. I came back to writing from a completely different slant after that.

Jewelry by Judy Dykstra-Brown.

AL: Do you have any funny stories about your work?

JD-B: When I was making jewelry, I remember feeling as though it was a very self-indulgent pastime. Prior to moving to California, I had been an English teacher for 10 years and felt that although I loved being a metal smith, it wasn’t really a job that was of benefit to anyone else. I think I had been doing shows for about three years and every time I did a show within 50 miles or so of San Francisco, one woman would always come and buy at least one piece of jewelry. Then two and sometimes three pieces. Then during one show, she came up to me and said, “You know you have changed my whole life.” Puzzled, I asked how that could be, and she said, “Well, you know I’m a nurse, and every year I go to this convention of health workers and because I’m not very outgoing, I never really used to meet anyone, but then three years ago, I wore one of your brooches, and people kept coming up to me and asking about it and because you always told me the stories behind the pieces, I had something to talk to them about. Pretty soon, every time I’d go to one, people would come up to see what new piece of jewelry I had, and eventually I knew lots of people and because we’d already broken the ice, we always had something to talk about”. My husband Bob always did say that he thought art could change the world, and I guess after that, I believed him. Never again did I question the worth of what I was doing.

About the above photos, Judy says, “These are some of the hundreds of vases Bob made so we could do shows together–me selling my jewelry and him the vases. I only have one–the carved dragon–only because the lady who bought it gave it back to me after he died. I’m looking at it now as I keep it on my desk.”

JD-B: Okay, another story. When I started doing shows, my husband Bob, who was a sculptor, decided he wanted to do something on a smaller scale than his very big sculptures so he could do shows with me, so he started making incredible ikebana vases out of wood, stone and bamboo. Each vase he made was unique and I would do an ikebana arrangement in each one. After a few years, those vases grew into huge lamps and I started making handmade paper lampshades that looked more like big sails or big cocoons than traditional lampshades. Some of the large lamps were rather expensive and there was one couple who would come to every show in San Francisco, Sausalito and the surrounding towns in the bay area. They would spend a long time looking at each lamp, but never bought anything. Finally, after three years or so, the man came to a show in Sausalito and bought three of our most expensive lamps. As I wrote up the order, I couldn’t help but ask why, after all these years, he had finally bought not a lamp, but three of them! 

Because, he told me, that entire time he knew he was going to divorce his wife and he didn’t want her to get the lamps in a divorce settlement! And, the plot thickens. We delivered the lamps to his house, then went back to do two more days of the show. The day after the show ended, there was a Cirque de Soleil show in San Francisco, so we spent an extra night at my friend Sharon’s house in Berkeley so we could go to see it. The tent was so full that we couldn’t find three seats together, so Bob sat in the front row in front of the stage and Sharon and I sat in seats far away higher up in the risers on the side of the stage. During one performance, clowns started drawing people from the audience to come up on stage and Bob was one of the first people they chose. Now I must explain that Bob had a Santa Claus beard and long white hair that came to his shoulders. He loved wild Balinese-print batik pants, and red high-top suede sneakers. He was a handsome man and although rather quiet in private life, on the stage he came alive. Accustomed to performing his poetry in public, he was much more at ease center-stage than he was fighting it out with the hoi-polloi in real life. So, of course, the clowns made much of his hair and clothes, but Bob gave them back tit for tat and the crowd was laughing as loudly at his quips as those of the clowns. So, when they sent the rest of the people back to their seats, they kept Bob up on the stage for another 5 minutes or so.

The show ended and as Sharon and I stood in front of the tent waiting for Bob to find us, who should stroll up but the big spender who had just purchased our three lamps! He was with a very pretty girl and when he saw me, he came right over to me and asked where Bob was. I explained and he said, “Well, there’s someone here I have to introduce him to!” Turns out that before the show, as they were sitting in the audience, he started telling her about these fantastic lamps he had just bought, describing Bob as this eccentric character. She asked why eccentric, what did he look like, and just then, he looked up and the clowns were pulling Bob up to the stage. “He looks like that!” he said. “That’s the man!” The girl would not believe him. It was just too much of a coincidence to be true. We were in a town where neither of us lived, not even the town where he’d purchased the lamps. The chance that we would run into each other was just about nil and yet, there was the object of his story, up on the stage at Cirque de Soleil!  And just then, Bob strolled up, and the girl was finally convinced.

Above are some of the beautiful lamps made by Bob and Judy. Click on an image to enlarge it.

Do you agree that Judy Dykstra-Brown is an amazing artist and a captivating intellect? Be sure to check back on Saturday for the conclusion of this interview.

Interview with Doreen Auger, Master Free-Motion Quilter

Interview with Doreen Auger, Master Free-Motion Quilter

I discovered Doreen Auger about five years ago when I stumbled on her blog, Treadlemusic. She makes quilts and takes simple vintage household items and turns them into masterpieces with her intricate free-motion quilting.

Free-motion quilting means lowering the feed dogs on your sewing machine so you can manipulate the layers of fabric and batting to accommodate swirling and spiraling and stippling patterns with your stitches. It’s something like riding a bicycle without training wheels—you have a great amount of freedom, but it requires some skill to get positive results. I’m thankful that Doreen agreed to share her expertise and her warm personality with ARHtistic License.

Drunkard’s Path

ARHtistic License: When did you start quilting? How did you learn?

Doreen Auger: I taught myself. Mom wanted to teach me but, being the tom-boy, I wasn’t going to go there! BUT, she had the last word….by giving me/us a sewing machine for a wedding gift. Our 2 boys came along and needed clothes and we had a very tight budget! Enter my determination to learn. That was 53+ years ago!!

Doreen says, “The cute blue and white piece was a client’s piece. It was actually a cardtable/square cloth that had much damage (staining, etc) in the center so I removed a wide strip (from left to right) and pieced it back together, forming the “points” on the right and left edges. I, then, quilted it heavily causing the seaming to disappear. I really loved that little piece.”

AL: You pick up vintage pieces (dresser scarves, pillowcases, quilt tops, etc.) and embellish them with your gorgeous free-motion quilting (also known by the acronym FMQ). What are you on the lookout for, and where do you find them? How do you decide what designs to do?

DA: Those pieces really find me! Friends discover they have these pieces and don’t know what to do with them and I find myself the honored recipient of them. 50’s tablecloths are wonderful to “upcycle” and I use them every day. My quilting ideas come from the piece itself after viewing it while pin-basting and……many ideas come in my dreams! LOL! When I’m really a blank, I doodle in my sketchbook and check out Pinterest.

Front side/Back side

AL: Do you belong to a guild or a quilting group?

DA: I belong to several quilt groups—each with different personalities. One is a “longarmers” group (I’m the only “sit-down” quilter!), one is needlework of all types and the other 2 are quilting—both hand and machine BUT the last 3 groups are primarily “piecers” not “quilters”. I only piece of necessity to get to the part of the process I love!

AL: Do you teach FMQ? Tell me about that. Do you teach certain designs, or how do you structure your lessons? Do you teach at a store, or at events?

DA: I do teach and do trunk shows. The most interest is in the vintage linen quilting. Most have never thought of even doing it. The teaching topics range from very basic beginner to FEATHERS….of course! Everyone wants to do feathers, hmmmm???

Doreen says, “The bunny printed quilt was a thrifted tablecloth to bed quilt that I donated to the Norman, OK, tornado quilt collection for survivors. It was my first vintage piece and first 50s cloth.”

AL: Would you hazard a guess as to how many quilts you’ve made or how many quilts you’ve quilted for others?

DA: I, sadly, am not one to keep track of such things and I do regret it now. Most are/have been given/donated. An example would be, while in Texas last winter (Dec. through the end of April), I made and donated 7 bed-sized quilts. In the course of a year I do, maybe, a dozen large quilts and fill in with the small/medium pieces that utilize the linens.

AL: What kind of quilts do you most like to make?

DA: I like any type….retro, modern, traditional whatever, as long as I can quilt them, I’m happy. The more modern style is a bit of a challenge for me and I enjoy the process of “thinking outside the box”.

Doreen says, “The padded hangers were upcycled using the beautiful embroideries on 2 vintage pillowcases. I give directions for achieving this on my blog here:”

AL: What is your favorite sewing machine for free-motion quilting, and why?

DA: I have 2 favorites: a Juki 2010Q (domestic with a 9” harp) straight stitch, industrial for home use (meaning it has an internal motor rather than a table mounted type separate from the machine itself) and my Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen, sit-down mid-arm. LUV them both. The Juki is an incredible piecing machine with a thread cutter and knee operated pressure foot lifter AND awesome for FMQ! I, also, have a Juki in our Winter Texas place.

Enhanced doily.

AL: Tell us about your fabric stash.

DA:Wow! Now, that’s a topic!!! Totes…almost too many to count! Some are sorted by color, by seasonal (winter/Christmas), batiks, special interest (woodworking, hunting, RV) AND, of course, linens!

AL: What are your favorite colors?

DA: Purple……surprise! Just kidding a bit. I love green in all of its varieties of hues and tints. Although I like pastels, it’s the “cozy” feel that most often draws my eye. Reproduction/Americana fabrics seem to have a prominent place in my stash.

Vintage linen embellished with quilting.

AL: What is a project you’re looking forward to starting?

DA: Always the next one. While I’m finishing the binding or label on the current endeavor, my mind is straying to the “what’s next”. Right now, it’s a Christmas gift for our son/DIL. A king size Mariner’s Compass piecing that I did using a Dream Big flower panel for one of the components. This one is proving to be a creative challenge as it’s going to have a more contemporary feel (the outer border is floral so, maybe, a feather or two will appear!!!!).

Doreen says, “The black pillow is an example of a workshop project to help break that “quilter’s block” when it comes to background fill. Randomly cut a large patterned piece of fabric and spraybaste it to a background. Sandwich it and begin to play with designs. Outline what’s there, continuing the design beyond the cut into a thread only motif. Fun. “

AL: What advice would you give to a quilter who is timidly considering free-motion quilting? How would you suggest he or she begin?

DA: I am self-taught in this art, also. Check out some online quilters’ blogs and start looking to see just what it is that intrigues you. Figure out ‘why’ you want to learn this part of the process. Is it because you want the finish to be completely done by you? Is there a creative part of you looking for an outlet? Advice: be realistic when it comes to your personal learning curve. Do NOT be hard on yourself……we all learn differently and at different paces. Make sure your machine is in tip top working order (clean, etc.) and you know how to set it up properly for FMQ. Do you have a FMQ foot? Drop the feed dogs-or not? Get a cheap sketchpad and doodle..lots! Practice 15 minutes a day….every day (rather than big chunks of time sporadically). Make sure your chair is at proper height for your machine (so your elbows are at 90 degree angle when resting on the table. You must have some type of an extension table…..just the free-arm is too narrow of an area. It’s a new journey….even if you have sewn for years….this is different. Your final skill level achieved may not be the same as anyone else…..we are all different. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Connecting Threads 3-piece table topper.

AL: Do you have any funny quilting stories?

DA: Not really “funny” but, when teaching my workshops (beginner or not), it’s quite fascinating to observe how intensely focused the gals are when stitching and trying to get them to take a break…..well, that’s almost impossible!!!! They’re “sweating bullets” but would prefer to work right through a lunch break!!! I love it!!! And, always, they have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

Vintage tablecloth made even more beautiful with heavy quilting.

AL: You spend the winters in Texas and the warmer months in Minnesota. Where did you grow up? What are the joys and challenges of splitting the year between two different states?

DA: The St. Paul Metro area is where I grew up but we lived in both Minneapolis and St. Paul before buying our little hobby farm in extreme southeast Minnesota, outside the very small town of Houston. It’s been 46 years since that move! Wintering in Texas, for the past 6 years, has been interesting. DH got weary of the snow/cold and we both agreed that Arizona (where all our friends go) and Florida didn’t hold an attraction. Deep South Texas has the beaches (South Padre Island) and the warmth we wanted with the added perk of extremely reasonable living costs (cheapest in the nation!). Now that I have my little sewing nest set up comfortably, it is amazing. There are few quilt shops in the immediate vicinity so I try to plan just how much (and what) of my stash I’ll need to bring down there………trying to remember the limitations imposed by the interior dimensions of our car!!

From a couple of years ago: Doreen with her husband, Tom. Doreen says, “My bike is a ’96 HD Heritage Softail Classic. Tom’s is an HD Road King.”

AL: How long have you been riding a motorcycle? And why?

DA: My love of biking goes back to when I was a late teen. No personal experience but just totally enamored of them. When I met Tom, our 2nd date was a several hundred mile ride to southern MN…mostly spent in rain!!! Over the years, living on our farmlet, bikes & go-carts were the recreation of choice for our boys, Tom and I. Dirt bikes were easy to maneuver and learn on. We began going to the Sturgis Rally, back in the early 90s, with  our club. I realized that, while I was riding behind Tom, if something were to happen and I needed “wheels”, I would need to get my own license. Just before my 50th birthday (in April), I signed up for a motorcycle safety course and got the required license and have been loving it ever since. Now, at 74, I find myself at the quilting more than the biking, though. I still have my Harley.

AL: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your quilts?

DA: Quilting has changed over the years, as has all art forms. It becomes what the current generation brings to it. The process adapts and is filtered through present life experiences and comes out unique to the present. I consider myself a textile artist who specializes in the FMQ portion of the quilting process. It is a creative outlet that I’m DRIVEN to do and is a significant part of who I am. My creative expression, also, takes form in my piano music. My monthly piano moments at a local hospital is a great blessing to me and, I pray, to those visiting the clinic. Sharing my baking/cooking with family and others makes up another facet. All that I’ve shared has been given to me as an amazing gift from my Lord and Savior for the purpose of sharing with others. Its value is only truly realized when these fabric pieces or music or kitchen sharings, etc., are taken to heart by another in need of a day-brightener.

Doreen Auger

All photographs in this article are the property of Doreen Auger. Used with permission.

Interview with Photographer Cee Neuner


When I first started blogging, I quickly discovered Cee Neuner through her photography challenges. She was one of the first bloggers I followed (she has 10,624 followers), and I’ve been a frequent participant in photo challenges ever since because of her influence.

Cee in action.

ARHtistic License: Back in the day before you contracted Lyme Disease, what sort of work did you do?

Cee Neuner: In my last year of high school (1979), I was lucky enough to be chosen to learn word processing, which was new at the time, so that actually created a good secretarial platform for me.  Since then I’ve been on the leading edge of computer technology.  I also have a legal secretary degree from a vocational school.  Back in the days when the world needed secretaries and word processors I was highly employable.  I worked basically as a word processor since my technical skills were good.  In my later years I was a Sales Administrative Assistant for Mission Foods (tortilla company) and Staples (office products in their Business to Business department).  I also worked as a software quality assurance tester for a couple of years, and as a tech writer.

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: How long have you been taking photographs? How did you get started? What is it that you like about photography? Have you ever been a professional photographer?

CN: I’ve always been interested in photography.  I don’t know how many Instamatic cameras I’ve bought over the years.  The only thing that really stopped me from taking photos was the cost of film and the processing of it.  Once digital cameras came along, I began making photography my hobby.  My first real good camera had a flower macro setting and that is what hooked me on flowers.  That was around 2007, and that is when I got serious.

I feel so comfortable and creative when I’m behind the camera lens, the world transforms for me.  I see the world and its parts in a totally different way.  I don’t have the words to explain it.  It’s a magical thing.

In terms of being paid for my photography, yes, people have paid for my photography.  So that does make me a professional photographer, but I don’t do it as a business.  Being the introvert that I am, I don’t have a major sales presence.  I have countless hours of practice both behind the lens and on post-processing, and in that sense I’m definitely a professional.

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: Do you have any formal photography training?

CN: No, not by education in a classroom.  I did take a couple local classes, but it was very informal and there was not any kind of credit given.  Instead, I study everyone who takes photos and I determine what I like or don’t like about a photograph.  I’m constantly learning from bloggers and other photographers.  And in my opinion, I am constantly improving as a photographer as time and experience dictate.  I’m always learning.

AL: You used to have some composition lessons on your blog—I think they were in connection with the Compose Yourself Challenge. I miss those. Did you ever teach photography?

CN: I just reposted that series on my blog, since the Covid virus has kept most of us inside.  I thought it might help people get through the lonely times.  Here is a link to the last post:  CCYL:  Review and Practice, Plus Left to Right Effect.

I would love to teach people how to take good and interesting photographs.  To me photography is all about getting a good photo to start with.  It’s less about the camera and lenses or even about the technical aspects of the camera or post processing software. It’s all about composition and what goes into capturing a good photo.

I am actually thinking next year I will bring back my Tips and Tricks and do those weekly, possibly as a challenge.  Or maybe start a “Dear Cee” column answering questions about photography or taking photos, or fixing up someone’s photo.  It’s still all rolling around in my head.

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: Over the years, you’ve hosted many photo challenges. Now you’re down to four, but you’re a clearinghouse for many different kinds of artistic blogging challenges. Why do you like challenges? Why do you recommend them for bloggers and artists in all media?

CN: Challenges keep me thinking and learning more about photography and even more about taking photos of different types of subjects.  I started out with basically being a floral photographer, but over the years I’ve learned how to take photos of just about anything.  When on an outing with my camera, I’m always looking for something different to capture or a different way of capturing something ordinary.

Artistic bloggers love to share what they are passionate about.  Challenges are a great place for them to practice and learn more.  It is also a place for them to teach their art.  We want to share our work with others and hope they enjoy what we do.

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: Most of your photographs are outdoor scenes, especially of nature, like Flower of the Day. (Is that your longest running challenge?) Why do you especially love nature as the subject of your photographs?

CN: I love being outdoors.  When I was really young, I lived in Northern Minnesota on the shore of Lake Superior, so I guess I just relate to nature more.  I am not a city girl by any stretch of the imagination.  When Chris and I lived in Colorado (near Denver) we went camping weekly in the summer in the mountains, usually at 10,000 feet.  In the winters we camped on the plains in Eastern Colorado.

My longest running challenge is Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge.  That challenge is actually a carry over from when I used to host a challenge on a photographers community site. 

My Flower of the Day Challenge is actually one of my newest challenges.  I just liked posting a flower a day since I take so many flowers photos and other people started joining along, so I turned it into a challenge.  That may be why you think it was my original challenge because I’ve been posting flowers from day one.

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: Have you ever done portraits? 

CN: No.  I’m really not interested in posed photography, although I would like to explore doing candid or street photography more.  I find if you can capture a person when they distracted and being their natural self you get a better picture.

AL: What kind of camera (or cameras) do you have? Which is your favorite?

CN: My recent camera is my Sony A7III mirrorless full frame mirrorless camera. Chris has a Sony a6000 which is our go to camera for the wide angle lens. 

I don’t keep my old cameras.  I usually sell them or give them away.

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: What camera would you recommend for a novice?

CN: It depends on what the person is wanting to photograph or what level of photographer they already are.  Most modern cameras can take a great photo these days.  What you need to learn is how to compose and create an interesting photograph.  You need to train you eye to take the photo you see.  I generally recommend a good point and shoot if you are a complete beginner, or a “kit” camera with that comes with a 24-70mm lens.  That lens size varies with the manufacturer, but all of the good brands have an entry level camera that usually start around $200 USD.  I always encourage people to buy the camera that is one level up from what they want.  That gives them room to grow as a photographer.  That is always a perfect place to start because as  you learn more you can buy new lenses.

There are a few things to keep in mind:  Always have your camera battery charged and plenty of space on your memory card, and learn how to hold your camera, especially if you have a longer or heavier lenses.  Take your camera everywhere you go, because you never know when you will want to take a photo. 

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: Is there a photographer whom you admire? Who has influenced your work?

CN: Not really.  I believe in learning from everyone.

AL: How do you set about getting the particular effect you want for a shot?

CN: I basically use natural lighting, so it’s taken me a while to work with sunlight, or heavy cloud cover.  I’ve learned how to use my body as a shield from the sun when taking close ups of flowers.  I don’t do a lot of post-processing.  I always say if it takes me more than 5 minutes to clean up a photo, it isn’t a good photograph to start with.

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: What is your favorite kind of lens? What camera accessories do you consider essential?

CN: I use the following lenses:

  • Sony E-mount 18-200mm VR lens (general telephoto)
  • Sony FE-mount Macro 90mm fixed lens (for flowers)
  • Sony FE-mount 70-300mm VR lens (longer telephoto)
  • Sony E-mount 10-18mm VR lens (wide angle for architecture and up-close work)

My favorite “go to” lens is my 18-200 mm.  It is so adaptable, especially with someone like me who isn’t very mobile.

If you learn how to take a steady photo, you won’t need to use a tripod for most of your shots.  The only time I use mine is when I take photos at night.

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: How do you organize your photos?

CN: Okay, this will show that I am a real nerd.  I’m fortunate, too.  I have about 150,000 photos that I’ve kept and the number keeps increasing.  (I do clean my library out from time to time.). Anyhow, I’ve always key worded all my photos.  My key wording gets more detailed as the years go by.  I keep all my photos on an external drive so I have easy access to all of them.  I can usually find a photo I need in a few seconds to sometimes a few minutes.  I also have all the photos I’ve already edited or used on my blog, so I can look through those quickly.  And yes, I have backups for my hard drives.

AL: What is your favorite time of day to take pictures? Why?

CN: The only time I really don’t like to take photos is from 10 am to about 3 pm.  The sun is too bright and high in the sky during those hours. Flowers look flatter and the sun is often an issue and photos can be burned out easily.  If you have to work with the sun, try and keep the sun to your back or the side.  I rarely shoot directly into the sun during the day.

If it is a cloudy day, which it is a lot of the time in Oregon, it is much easier to get good photos. One drawback to heavy clouds, though, is that there won’t be shadows to have fun with.

Golden hours (the hours around sunrise and sunset) are superb for lighting.

Photo by Cee Neuner

AL: Have you ever had a humorous experience taking a photo? (I love funny stories.)

CN: I don’t know if you’d call them funny stories, but I’d have the best time with doing a “drive by shooting”.  We call them that because since I’ve been a handicapped person with limited mobility, we’d go out driving just to find things I could photograph from the front seat of the car, a shot I could get as we drove by. You’ve known people who brake for garage sales?  Well, we’re like that with wonderful things you can find while driving around.

We see a lot on the country roads around us.  One time we were behind a slow moving truck with what looked like a part of a mountain laying on its side.  We followed it and found out it was a mobile climbing wall that could be rented out for carnivals and the like.  It was fascinating to look at.  I got some great shots of that.

Another time we were wandering around and got behind the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.  Really.  I didn’t know there was such a thing.  We followed it to a grocery store parking lot and talked with the young ladies who were driving it.  Their job was to travel from store to store to promote Oscar Mayer hot dogs.  They said they had a lot of fun going places and meeting people.  Everyone smiled when they saw the wiener mobile, especially moms with young kids.

That’s another thing that fun about doing drive by shootings… I meet and talk with interesting people.  Chris and I were driving out of town one day when we had to stop for a red light.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see the most interesting van in a parking lot.  I had Chris circle back around so I could take pictures of it, and then I talked with the artist who was creating it.  His main line of work was painting store windows with notices of special sales, but just for fun he was turning his painter’s van into a moving art piece, all built out with 3-D statues and scenes.  He was great fun to talk with.

AL: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about you or your work?

CN: My challenges’ home pages:

Meet Kathy Temean, Illustrator, Author, and Children’s Literature Advocate

Meet Kathy Temean, Illustrator, Author, and Children’s Literature Advocate

I first discovered Kathy Temean’s blog, Writing and Illustratingfive or six years ago, and I’ve been following it ever since. If you like to write or draw for children, you must check it out. Kathy has been a long-time member, speaker, and regional advisor of the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is very knowledgeable and helpful.

I have since found out that she herself is an award-winning illustrator. She is also a consultant who helps companies (and especially authors and illustrators) develop marketing plans and websites.

I am so thrilled that Kathy agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

ARHtistic License: What books have you written or illustrated?

Kathy Temean: I wrote and illustrated Horseplay and illustrated Yogi’s Team, and various book covers, and have written and illustrated many articles for magazines like Highlights and Sprouts. Plus I have done artwork for Individuals like Jerry & Eileen Spinelli, major corporations like McDonald’s, Pfizer and Merck, and businesses like Mullica Hill Merchant Association have commissioned my artwork.


AL: How did you first hear of SCBWI?

KT: To understand that, I need to tell you about my writing journey: I went to college to study art. My only connection to writing was my Dad who wrote short stories for magazines, articles for the newspaper, and love poems for me and my mother. I am sure he would have loved to write a novel, but he worked hard to make a living to provide for his family. I had to do the same, working full time to take care of my family and doing my art on the side. When my mother and father passed away in 2001, I had the task of cleaning out their house and found all the treasures of my childhood and Dad’s writing. Oh, how I wish I had found them earlier in life. I would have loved to discuss writing with my Dad. I started write so much that I really thought my father had taken over my body. All I could do was write. Maybe it was because I was an only child and I didn’t have a brother or sister I could talk to, or just grieve, but I poured my heart out writing for hours every day and night for many, many months. With my art background and so many cherished memories and the inspiration of my father’s poems, I started writing children’s picture books. One night I got up from my desk and couldn’t take a step and had to have my knee replaced. I started thinking I should use my artistic talents to illustrate the books I wrote. Then I realized I didn’t know anything about how to write or get a book published, so I read every book I could find and did everything suggested. One of those suggestions was to join the SCBWI. I did. Went to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, won an award for my illustration titled “Boys with Bear” and met other writers, illustrators, agents, and editors.

Asian Boys500SCBWI Award

Boys with Bear by Kathy Temean

I had worked for some major companies setting up corporate events, so I volunteered my talents to the New Jersey SCBWI chapter in order to create programs that would not only helping me navigate the road to publication, but others, too.

AL: Did you win other kudos for your illustrations?


Babes on Beach by Kathy Temean

KT: I did. “Babes on Beach” (Society of Illustrators in NYC), “Homework Helper” (SCBWI Summer Conference),  “Cinco de Mayo” (PASCBWI Conference), “Exploring the Garden” (NJSCBWI), “Boys with Bear” (SCBWI Winter Conference).


Homework Helper by Kathy Temean

AL: You were the regional advisor for New Jersey SCBWI. How long did you serve in that capacity?

KT: 10 years. I stepped down at the end of 2013 and still attend the NJSCBWI events. I have conducted workshops and have done critiques at some of the NJSCBWI annual conferences.


Cinco de Mayo by Kathy Temean

AL: Tell us about your passion for children’s literature and the authors and illustrators who create them.

KT: I love children and I love to write and illustrate. Seems like a perfect combination to me. The thing I loved about being the SCBWI Regional Advisor was how I got to see writers and illustrators grow and succeed. Having a little part in that success was special. That is why I have kept up my Writing and Illustrating blog.


Exploring the Garden by Kathy Temean

AL: Tell us about your illustration work. What software do you use?

KT: I have done a lot of traditional techniques, but when Photoshop came along, I jumped on board and taught myself how to use the software. It was instalove. I love that I can play around with the colors, correct anything I don’t like. I just wish I had more time to experiment more.

AL: You also assist writers with marketing and with author websites through your consulting business. Why is an author website important?

KT: For the last two decades I have gotten upset with writers and especially illustrators for not thinking enough of their work to show it off. Facebook is nice, but not good enough. Having a website gives a writer/illustrator a chance to tell their story. Think of it as having a picture book about you. You need to put up something interesting, provide some unique content that will bring visitors back. Even if you don’t have a book out there, you want to put your best foot forward, show off a little, and get that editor, agent, or future buyer interested in you. You never know where your next opportunity will come from. Just make sure what you design and create is professional and interesting.


Cover by Kathy Temean

AL: Besides a website, what are some of the most important things authors and illustrators can do to promote their work?

KT: Don’t run scared of having a blog. Just the word can make some of my clients faint. A blog is a great thing to include with your website. Why? Because it lets give you a place to put up pictures, notices, and stories about what you are doing to help build an audience. Your website designer will not be there 24/7 to put all the new things up on your site. With a blog, you will have complete control without having to depend on and pay someone else.

You don’t have to do something every day. Think about what you can reasonably do. Could you take an afternoon once a month to come up with four things to post? If so, you can schedule them to post on four different days during the month. Hint: If you see something interesting you would like to share, put it in a file so you can get your hands on it the afternoon you schedule to come up with your four posts.

Also get a Twitter account. You can set your blog up to automatically tweet what you post. That is so helpful. And people will click on the tweet and will be steered to your site.

If you have a new book coming out, make sure you put it up on your website. I know you are thinking Duh! But I have seen that happen too many times. Also, I know a debut author who did not have a website ready for their book launch. This is very bad. Don’t let that happen to you. You can’t expect to hire someone to do a site and get it up a couple of days. I have seen some sites take a year to finish and not go live until after the debut book has been out for months on the bookshelves. Make a marketing plan or hire someone to help you accomplish that. Don’t miss your window of opportunity.

AL: Your blog is one of the most helpful I know for writers. How often do you post?

KT: I started the blog in 2009 and have blogged every day since then. Even through major operations, pneumonia, and vacations, etc.

yogi cover

AL: How do you keep up that blogging pace and still do everything else that you do?

KT: A lot of late nights and I try to plan what I want to feature a month ahead. Writers and illustrators should think about submitting something to me. Think about what they could send to get their name or books seen. I feature authors, books, illustrators, agents, and I am always looking for articles that would interest other writers and illustrators. I love to get submissions – an illustration I could use with a post or holiday post – poem — a how-to article – a new book with their journey – a good new announcement for a kudos post. It’s a win-win for them and me.

AL: My favorite feature is the weekly Illustrator Saturday. The posts are full of illustrations, some in various stages of completion, so that we can actually see the artists’ process. How do you find 52 illustrators every year?

KT: There are so many talented people out there. It really is amazing. I am in awe of all the talent. It is a lot of work doing Illustrator Saturday, but most illustrators see the benefit of being on a blog that gets thousands of visits every day from all over the world. Many of my visitors are agents, editors, art director, publishers, teachers, writers, and illustrators. All are lovers of children’s books.

I rarely get anyone send me a link to look over their illustrations or tell me about themselves. I think they should. Even if I don’t think they are quite ready, there could be an illustration that catches my eye and could use, which might be something that would catch someone else’s eye, which could lead to a job. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

AL: You also keep us apprised of upcoming new books in the children’s market and even run book giveaways. Do you seek these books out, or do the authors or publishers offer them to you?

KT: It’s a mix of both. In the beginning I asked writers if they would like to be featured, but now publishers are sending me books coming out, hoping I will feature the author and the book. It is funny how I have seen an author, illustrator, and even a publisher grow from posting this feature on the site. At first glance it might seem like it is just a chance to win a free book, but it is much more than that. I always ask the author to write up their journey with the book. Everyone loves to read what an author and/or an illustrator had to go through to get their book on a bookstore shelf and into the hands of a reader. There is a lot of knowledge being shared in those stories. Plus, we are all in this journey together, so we have support the new books coming out to keep the industry going. We want it to be strong when we submit a manuscript and have people see and buy your book when it comes out.


Kathy Temean

AL: You profile agents who are building their children’s book lists and also feature an agent of the month, who critiques several submitted first pages of manuscripts. I am in awe of your contacts.

KT: I am glad you find the info about different agents helpful. If writers and illustrators read the features, it could save them a lot of time trying to figure out who is out there and may be a good fit for them. Just remember, the industry changes frequently, everyone should check to make sure the agent hasn’t left the company or that they are still accepting queries. Last month, I had an agent who decided to close submissions and I didn’t realize this, since I had just researched her. So things can change on a dime. One day they can be working for an agency and the next they can be working for someone else or traipsing around the world with a new boyfriend. I do my best to keep up.

AL: What else would you like readers to know about you?

KT: I would like to let writers know I am currently working on organizing a Virtual Writers Retreat. I have done a full manuscript critique retreat for the last seven years. It has helped so many writers get published or opened doors for them with an agent. This COVID-19 and everyone being locked down and afraid of flying, I decided going virtually would be a good idea. If you write a novel, where would you get a chance to have an agent or editor read your full story. Plus, everyone gets assigned to a four person critique group and everyone gets a 20 page critique with one of the other agents. The retreat is open to picture book writers, too. Their cost is less. They get a total of four PB critiques and a PB critique group. Here is the link for more details.

Children’s authors and illustrators, now it’s your turn. Check out Kathy Temean’s websites. You can learn so much there! And take advantage of Kathy’s offer–she’d love to have some submissions about your work and your journey.