It’s out!  May 23rd was the release date for I Got a New Friend, my second author/illustrator picture book with Knopf.

I worked once again with Kelly Delaney, Associate Editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, and Isabel Warren-Lynch,  Executive Art Director at Random House Children’s Books, the team behind Fly!

This is a simple story about the stages of building a new friendship. Initially, there is some apprehension, maybe a bit of shyness, and then we begin to test this potential relationship through interaction and shared experience. Is it a good fit?

No matter your age, the process of making a new friend is essentially the same.


Both are a bit wary at first.




A bit shy too.

But things improve and a strong friendship develops.

The reviews have been good and I’m so happy for that. Here are a couple:



Like most of my blogs, it’s the process of the process that I find most interesting. The story came one morning when I was thinking about old friends and what a good friendship is based on: mutual acceptance of each other's flaws and strengths.

I honestly don’t know what the characters look like until I begin my initial sketches on either paper or the WACOM. 

Working with only two characters, it didn’t take long to see the direction this book was going. Here are some initial sketches of the puppy and the little girl.



A tad tighter in my line and proportions, but still exploring and getting feedback.


The puppy is major part of the story. She is female, young, and cute, so how should she look? Here are some early developmental sketches and eventually the shape of the final character begins to show itself.



Then I switch gears and play with medium and color. Should I work in conte, pencil, ink, watercolor? Time just to try different techniques.



The line art was Initially drawn with an 8B pencil and scanned.


Once scanned, that pencil line can be manipulated by altering the contrast in Photoshop.


I print that out on 100% rag paper and then tint it with watercolor.


The text is simple. The wording is intentionally ambiguous. For example:


Friend noise.jpg




So, who is the narrator and why is this friendship so special? 

Just ask Leo.





Fly Takes Off!


Fly! is a picture book targeted to 2-4 year-olds, but its universal theme of self-discovery through perseverance is a message parents can appreciate.

The protagonist is a young fly. If he were a child, he’d be a toddler. He looks to his peers — the spider, the pill bug, the beetle — to figure out how to function in the world. These other bugs are able to do things that our hero finds challenging. It’s frustrating and hard, but give him the chance to use his imagination, move his body, discover his wings, and do what he does best . . . fly.

 Fly! is a simple story, told in just 13 words. It’s also an activity book — in the most literal sense. Single verbs and corresponding action images propel the plot forward. Each action flows across one double page spread to the next. The entire book is made of action verbs that invite kids to wiggle, roll, and jump by imitating the insects.

With tremendous help (and patience) from my editor, Kelly Delaney, and senior art director, Isabel Warren-Lynch, we refined, streamlined, and improved the story and characters. They helped me turn a message and a character into a real book. It must be real. Here’s the announcement in Publisher’s Weekly.






Most of my blog posts talk about the steps in my process. I’d like to use this post to share just a small part of the process involved to produce a children’s book.

I’ve been illustrating other people’s ideas my entire career, so it’s exciting to illustrate my own. Most of my assignments have been single illustrations, so the idea of developing a character with consistent personality and physical appearance is new to me.  It’s much harder than I thought. You get so close to your own work that it’s hard to see the big picture. Concepts, characters, and drawings become too precious. It’s wonderful to have the input and advice of a good editor and art director.

Some author/illustrators begin with a story, while others begin with a character, and build a narrative around that. For me, Fly! began with the concept that a fly can fly and things developed from there. It occurred to me that every insect has its own unique ability and function, just like people. Ask any parent with two or more kids. They will tell you each of their kids has a core personality that was apparent from birth. Each child is unique. They just are.

Publishing, I’ve discovered, is all about collaborating, adjusting, and making positive compromises. Choosing an oft-maligned fly for a protagonist is a fun challenge.

Try to draw a cute fly!

Here are some of the initial sketches I drew months before I even approached Knopf.





This is my first layout — also known as a book dummy. This sequential series of page sketches provides visual notes to help with the developing the plot, action, and characters. It’s all very loose and casual.



The layout begins to gel. I tighten up the loose sketches. The core concept of the book is becoming more obvious.



I presented a color dummy (below is a mock-up of the cover) to Isabel at Random House, and to my good fortune, editor Kelly Delaney felt it had sufficient appeal to pick it up — but it needed work!




First, we developed the fly character. Eventually, he has six legs (hey, he is an insect after all), we decreased the size of his eyes, and placed them to the side.





Here is a screen shot of the next revision of the dummy title page with art direction notations.




Here is the final version of our hero pondering his wings.





See how the legs of the grasshopper act as a “page turner” or “teaser” to entice the reader to see what’s next? Children can imitate the action. It’s good for kids to get up off the couch and wiggle, jump, march, swing . . . You get the idea.




For the endpapers/pastedown of the book covers, Isabel suggested that I create realistic renderings of each insect shown in the book. Factual text near the art helps teach children a bit more about each insect. I enjoyed doing two different illustration styles for the same book.



I’m working on stories, scribbling down notes, and sketching characters for new books ideas.  There’s more in the pipeline, so stay tuned!


A Room Full of Flies

PORTLAND, OR–March 24, 2015

I spent Saturday morning in a room full of flies. Baby flies. Toddler flies. Little girl and little boy flies. And even a few mom and dad flies. The largest fly was 6 feet four inches.

I am grateful to Jeremy Garber, Rachael Waller, and Mark Savage at Powell’s City of Books here in my adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon, for the best book launch imaginable!

Who is Justice Jack?


Here’s another peek into the process of the process. In this post, I go through the steps of creating illustrations for Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack, the latest in author Wendelin Van Draanen’s series published by Random House Kids.

Who is Justice Jack?


According to the description on the jacketflap, Justice Jack, “. . .  is a real-life superhero! Well, really he’s just a guy in Spandex and a mask who rides around town on a dirt bike, hoping to find some crime to fight.”

According to Stephanie Moss, Senior Designer at Random House:

“I think this one will be a BLAST! We’d like to depict the character Justice Jack on the cover.

Awesome description below:


A self-styled, real-life superhero. He stands very upright, arms akimbo, head high, jutting chin!

Here’s the description from the book:

The man has long, black hair. And he is wearing red and gold Spandex. Over his red and gold body suit, he’s wearing tall, heavy, black boots that have buckles everywhere, red knee and arm pads, and a gold chest plate that looks like a cross between a hotrod grill and a catcher’s chest protector. And in the middle of the chest plate there’s a big, red “J” with a black lightning bolt behind it. Topping it off are heavy gold gloves, a red-crested Roman centurion helmet, and a black mask across his eyes. And around his waist is a utility belt. You know – like Batman wears? Only instead of high-tech Bat-gadgets in his utility belt, this weirdo’s got a hammer, a flashlight, and a slingshot.”

Here is the first round of sketches.


Stephanie’s response:

“Hi Karl –

We all love option A! Pretty much spot-on!

Two minor comments: Jack does not wear a cape, so please nix it.

Second thing. Can we go with the belt on option D?

No decision on the back cover art yet. Will keep you posted.

In terms of color, please refer to the original description.

Let me know if you have any questions.”


Good art direction, Steph! Next step.


The correspondence with Stephanie continues:

“The colors are fantastic! One minor detail that we’re missing is the ‘J’ on his chest. It’s in your sketch. He just needs to have the ‘J’ with the lightning bolt behind it.”

Oops, I forgot . . .

How’s this?

On the back cover, Stephanie wanted a spot illustration of a running peacock.

And here is the final.

Stephanie’s great art direction makes the process nice and easy.

A copy of the published book arrived in the mail today. It’s always fun to see my work on a Sammy Keyes cover!

Here it is!