It was the mood.  An ornery one.  And so... I wrote a picture book story. Now the healthy thing might have been to confront the source of my angst but nope...  I had fuel, I wanted fire...I lit a match. 

    It’s a story of Stella, a blackwidow spider...dangerous, diabolical, and darned cute!  Writing her misadventures into a picture book is a fine balance.  If the black humor carries too much darkness the reader builds no empathy for the main character; doesn’t invest in the outcome.  Not enough darkness, and there’s no tension to pull the reader in.

    So it is in the creation of Stella.  Drawing a cute spider was not the challenge.  Drawing “Stella” was.  She needed to have just the right blend of  threat, vulnerability, whackiness and charm in order to be invited into a reader’s acceptance.  She is to be feared and loved simultaneously.  The first attempts at Stella in clay and sketches were “too cute.” 


    Once I was satisfied with the body and legs, her face was a matter of  sizing and placement of  features to create the right look and expression.  I kept drawing until she made me laugh and I fell in love.  And as with all my characters, I see a bit of me in her, a bit of you.  Or should I say, a bite of you.  Chomp!~


Invite her in. Could you?  Would you?


Night Lights....


    “Tree of Life” is a popular motif in many cultures...Mexican, Hebrew, African, Celtic.  Last weekend,  our SCBWI Illinois Illustrators Network held a benefit auction for the Art Creation Foundation for Children, a children’s charity in Haiti.  This organization provides education, meals and medical care for impoverished children while teaching them the native arts so that can become self sustaining adults.  Eighteen illustrators donated their version of “Tree of Life” for silent auction at Ridge Art in Oak Park, Illinois.  All pieces were sold, and we were honored to provide a sizable donation to ACFFC.  Here is our forest of trees:

Above is my Tree of Life titled “Night Lights.”  From the beginning I knew I wanted to convey a magical night scene with the moon, birds and mythical  creatures.  Much of this illustration was carefully planned...the perspective, the play of light and shadow, the simplicity of the leafing.  Other parts happened spontaneously during the painting of it, the top branches releasing hearts that find other hearts and become butterflies, the creatures that wear camouflaged hearts. In this painting I hope you climb the branches, search for the story, find magic.

You can see a larger version of  “Night Lights” here:

Working on:  a Halloween spread for Spider Magazine

       facilitating an artists’ retreat in June, in Texas


In Everything

Do you hear the night birds sing?

"Believe," they sing, "in everything."

In the thick as well as thin 

Can you feel the dawn begin?

The sweet, together with the sour

the idling boredom of the hour

In a quagmire on our knees

or flying past the midnight trees

In your eyes, reflecting sparks

of buried treasure in the dark

Yes, dear heart, in everything

the thorny branch, the silken wing

Then by some untimely clock

Wind lifts one, and then the flock, 

Kaleidoscope jewels, circle and fly

Rainbow dancers across the sky



I love connecting with children.

For the past year and a half I’ve been holding art workshops for kids at area libraries...sometimes a single session and sometimes a series of workshops.  Each workshop focuses on either a  theme, a technique, or an artist.  I try to make work environments creatively stimulating, with work stations in the round, selected music in the background and an open casual format. And right when we think it can’t get any better, I break out the Oreos!

In the photo above, the theme was Op Art Portraits and the artist presented was Victor Vasarely.  We focused on hot and cold colors and how to make colors pop, or recede if you so choose, just by their relation to each other.  Each workshop lasts 90 minutes. The beginning is a short power point presentation introducing the artist or technique, and a step-by-step demonstration of the project. 

Above is a power point presentation on a workshop called Print Station.  Kids drew an image, transferred it  to a styrofoam tray, and embossed it with a pencil or wooden dowel.  They applied black or white paint with a roller and pressed the styrofoam to paper to form their printed image.

 Here are the Young Artists Workshops I’m currently facilitating...and I’m always adding!

Under the Sea Batik

Aboriginal Dream Painting


Op Art Portraits

Print Station

Mexican Sun,  Embossed Foil Art

Creating Mood with Sculpture

The Peace Quilt

Mondrian Animals

Street Scene Collage

Up-Close Portraits (art of Chuck Close)

Currently working on: writing a Valentines Day picture book story

       a drawing a day (a New Year's resolution)  

Boogie Villa!

Time to close out the year with yet another dance and music theme! The above is cover art for a children’s music cd “At the Boogie Villa”  by Ginny Halstead and Michelle Phelps aka Found a Penny.   Two California singer/songwriter musicians who found me on the web, attracted to my color palette and quirky angles. They had a wonderful design sense themselves and this project was truly a collaboration.  Ginny sent me demos of songs to get a sense of their musical style and to kick-start my imagination. With original compositions and crystal clear voices that could compete on any stage, Ginny and Michelle offer up catchy songs that kids will love and adults won’t tire of. It’s not pablum!  I can’t wait to hear the final cd.


I had a book launch party for the release of the picture book Dance Y’all Dance. A little nervous...the remote mike kept throwing me off.  Had some olde timey country dance music playing...the soundtrack from the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?.  Prizes for any spontaneous dancing (glass boot mugs filled with M&Ms) were offered and we had some takers!  A PowerPoint presentation included a Where’s-Waldo-type search of Texas symbols I planted in the book with more prizes for that.  

I talked about inspiration, about how much of the time an artist’s head is in the clouds, searching, while the deadline looms nearer, and the design planning, character fleshing and topical research that goes on before pencil hits paper. There was a little Cinderella story segue  about me riding off with cowboy Russell Crowe as he showed me the ropes in an old Old West Dance Hall. What?  You just go with the flow when then muse hits! One of the best compliments I got was from a man who said “I never realized it before... you’ve built a whole story in pictures but you  start out with just words.” 

Reminds me of a favorite quote by the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ...  See with your ears and hear with your eyes.  ~Ken Kesey

Working on: promotional material for a new venture

             experimenting with a new art technique!



HaPPy biRtH daY, Dance Y'all Dance

Dance Y'all Dance is born!  The picture book officially hits the shelves today, November 1, 2009.  It was quite a labor and delivery, fun how many women can say that!  Written by Kelly Bennett and published by Bright Sky Press (see link below), it's a story of one night at a country dance hall where family and friends pack away their worries and dance into the night.  The story is loaded with characters young and old--Grandpappy Skittle who plays musical "spoons" on stage, the mischievious Harlin and Beau taunting girls, and Buck the Dog who tries its best to get into the mix.


Toward the end, the focus switches to Sallie and Jem who just got married, engaged in dance.  I knew I wanted to convey a quiet moment between these two, oblivious to the gaiety of their surroundings, so I used an old photograph as inspiration. Changing costumes and faces, I concentrated on that kiss to the cheek and the sparkle in her eye.  It's one of my favorite illustrations in the I hope will resonate with viewers.

As with the illustration of the newlyweds, I hope readers see something of themselves in the book--their own family celebrations through music and dance--and how, often, we are more alike than different.

Family, after all, can be seen in a tree-or-forest kind of way.  Dance Y’all, Dance!



Currently working on:  Music and dance, again!  Art for a children’s cd called “Boogie Villa.”

dance STEP-by-STEP

Here’s sneak peek into the making of Dance Y’all Dance, a picture book written by Kelly Bennett that I illustrated and is being released this November (Bright Sky Press).  It was the most fun project I’ve ever worked on.  The story is set in the not too distant past when families, farm hands and cowboys & gals would get together on weekends at the local honky tonk.  I did some research into clothing styles, period furniture, Texas symbols and olde timey dance halls, then chose to keep the colors vivid and saturated to give the book a contemporary look.

Once I had the scene sketched, I redrew it on Strathmore 10-ply paper with a Berol Prismacolor pencil...then laid a wash of ultramarine & yellow ochre. With a wet q-tip or small brush, I began to pick out highlights.


Later, using the new tones as a guide, I start to lay in color with gouache, working from dark to light. What interests me now is the design of shadows, losing and finding edges and letting a little of the wash show through as line.  I make an effort to NOT have perfectly symmetrical faces as I believe it lends to more effective expressions. 


I continue building layers of paint to emphasize form, adding texture, patterns, detail and highlights.  Finally scanning into photoshop, I clean and fine tune the piece.


So there you have it.  I love playing with color.  I love visiting my works-in-progress (aka “children”) every morning.  I love this job!

Working on:  another country-themed book offering, but that’s all I’m gonna say right now!  In the meantime, here is an interview I did on the author’s website, if’n you’re interested:

UnsolveD MysterY

The lovely thing about mystery is that unsolved ones keep wandering around in your brain.


In 2006, I received my first piece of fan mail...from a man who saw an illustration of mine at a New York Children's Book conference gallery.  He wrote me, asking about purchase of a print, saying that piece had a tremendous effect on him, for reasons he may disclose to me one day. Here is part of the painting, from a story I was writing.


I sent him the print, along with what inspired me during the painting of it.  He never received it, so I sent another.  That one arrived fine.

He went on to tell me that he owned a kayak shop in  New Jersey, and was about to embark on a 14 day trip paddling the waters around Greece.  That's the last I ever heard from him. I often picture him in paddling the crystal blue Aegean Sea, tanned and laughing, wet with golden glints of ocean spray. And I wonder what it was that he connected with so strongly in the art of a little girl looking wistfully to the sky.  I also wonder who got the lost package of art and inspiration.  And if that had a synchronicity in their life.

Ultimately, I like not knowing...wondering and wandering are just fine with me.

working on: relaxing!  Just finished illustrating Dance Y'all Dance, a picture book due out in Fall '09.  Off to Florida Keys to see the sis, play in the ocean....

BIG bear's BIRTHday


Just received my advanced issue of LadyBug Magazine, May/June ‘09, wherein I have a spread of illustrations for a story, “Big Bear and Skinny Rabbit” by Kathleen Stevens.  An amusing tale about a birthday gift Rabbit gives Bear--a hammock.  Bear is thrilled and grateful, then proceeds to figure out more and better ways to enhance the hammock experience. Rabbit happily obliges again,

and again,
and again...

until it finally dawns on Bear that one thing is still missing....

On the writing side of things, I just won 2nd Place in a writing contest for a short story--“Remembering Basha” ...a coming-of-age tale about a Polish girl and her relationship to her doll.  My mom went through her albums and coincidentally found a photo of said doll and Polish girl:


You can read more about the contest, and find “Remembering Basha” in a sidebar link here:

Currently working on: paintings for “Dance Y’all Dance” picturebook wherein everyone dances, go figure!

Groundhog Day and Cowboys

      Remember the movie with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell where each day repeats the exact events from the day before? Groundhog Day. That’s how my illustrating life has been the past month or so.  Squeezed by a tight deadline, I basically painted non-stop for 30+ days to finish a 24-page picture book.  Paint, sleep, paint, the end I was wild eyed and mumbling, my fingernails yellowed and grown to enormous lengths.  Ironically, Groundhog’s day fell somewhere in there.  The only shadows I saw were my own, slogging off to bed at 3 a.m.   
      Here’s a character from that picture book about a dog and his boy.  Visual inspiration courtesy of a friends’ pup...the puppy they got after they said they would never get another dog.  The pup had different ideas...
      Started layouts for a picture book called Dance Y’all Dance, a lighthearted story about a raucous family-friendly Texas dance hall in the 1930’s, Kelly Bennett-author, Bright Sky Press-publisher.  Goin’ through my pics and imagination for raucous, family-friendly  dancin’ cowboys and careful, I might just put a stetson on you!  Here’s the cover, which had to be done prior to the innards (I’m already talkin’ cowboy!), for promo purposes...   Yeehaw!DanceCoverBlog

currently drawing:  Dance Y’all Dance layouts
currently writing:  2 short stories for inclusion in a themed anthology

o christmas tree


I still have my Christmas tree up.  Not laziness on my part...all my other decorations are put away for another year.  But this year's Christmas tree, still green and holding its needles, is one I've become very attached to.  It's the kind I remember from my childhood, a single balsam.  This spindly variety has nearly disappeared from the lots nowadays, in favor of the uniformly shaped double balsam and the "more is better" theory.
    When I was a child, on the day before Christmas Eve my father would find the bargain tree, the one picked over, the sorriest tree on the lot. Then full of Christmas spirits, he'd haul the balding, misshapen evergreen on to a Chicago city bus where it invariably became a group effort to get him and the tree on and off the bus.  Transformed in ornaments and tinsel finery, we'd pay homage to Christmas with my brothers and sisters singing "Dzisiaj w Betlejem,"  hands folded in reverence.

With my own family, we shop for the tree on my son's birthday, have candy cane silk chocolate pie at Bakers Square, then head back home to sing "o christmas tree" to the tree. Not quite an instant replay of my youth, it is our tradition...part old, part new.

The tree and me, we have an unspoken bargain.  I'll keep feeding it,  and it'll shine its best for me...even long after it's gone.

currently working  on: illustrating 2 picture books. 
One for Hooked on Phonics, and
“Dance Y’all, Dance” Bright Sky Press, Fall 2009

a sneak peek...

    Remember the time you waited until no one was around, crawled under the Christmas tree, peeled back the corner wrapping of your present and took a peek?  This is going to be something like that.

    Except that this time my agent Nicole ( is fully aware and gives a wink and a nod.  I was asked to paint the image for this year’s agency holiday card.  Knowing I wanted to show a variety of animals and convey the hope and magic of the season, I sketched and rendered the following illustration.


    The next challenge was to produce spot art for the back of the card that played off the main illustration.  This is an entertaining part in creating narrative give visual hints as to what may happen next. In this case, the subplot is easy to catch.  A gift is given, it is received...and the mouse soars.

Mouse2 Mouse1
    So if you receive one of these holiday cards in the mail, just act surprised. How did we know ... it’s what you’ve always wanted!

    currently painting: 6 illustrations for May/June 09 Ladybug Magazine
    currently writing: short stories and poetry for a themed anthology

Happy Holidays!

Terri Murphy

sPaCeS and pLaCeS

    Thought I’d give a tour of my favorite spaces and places for creating.  Starts out with my studio, a.k.a. “the cocoon,”...Studio1 Studio3 Studio2 organized chaos of inspiration, art samples, books, music, found treasures, and toys,... especially these squishy lizards toy designer Liz Dubois gave me.  When stretched, twisted and twirled, they help make my fuzzy caterpillar brain turn into butterflies.Studio4

    Studio B (for basement) is a cleared out corner with curtained walls.  Purely for play and experimentation. Currently working in oils, I’m doing a copy painting by one of my mentor artists, Claude Langevin, a Canadian painter in the tradition of The Group of Seven.  He has great color sense and simplicity of vision.StudioB

    As an artist and a writer, it’s tempting to spin another cocoon for the writing portion and just plop in front of a computer.  So I go out.  Favorite places to write are coffee shops, libraries, bookstores, and this place....I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it....Kouks
...a vintage resale and coffee shop!!  My two favorite things, housed together, brought a tear to my eye as I drove past it...squealed a u-turn, pulled over...walked in...the Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” was playing.  I said “I could live here!”  Georgia, owner and kindred spirit, said, “So could I.” A great place to write, research, eavesdrop, visit ancient resident ghosts, have a cappuccino,...complete with Georgia’s lovely mother who rocks in the sun and reads. She speaks only Greek yet somehow, everyone understands.

    Lastly, the great outdoors, kept alive in a sketchbook.  Variety abounds, always surrounds, always there, waiting to be fuzzy caterpillars into butterflies.

currently painting: b & w children’s art, a promo Christmas card
currently writing:  a humorous short story “The Snowy Mammoth,” & poetry



    Sent out some illustration promos this a smattering of children’s publishers that I’ve worked with or that I want to work with.  Was going to send out a flyer...but then I thought it might end up in a dreary file cabinet somewhere.  So I went with a 3-pack postcard promo.  Maybe they’ll get tacked up on a wall somewhere for easy future access.  That’s the hope anyway.

The picture book dummy/story about kid ghouls and a thundercloud is circulating to a few publishers too.  We are HUGE thunderstorm fanatics at this house.  Waiting for nature’s show, we’ll shut off all the lights and stare out the windows in anticipation, pets included. One year I found out just how many kids and animals can fit and follow in my shadow when a thunderbolt exploded the tree in front of us.


    Here is an essay my younger son wrote in 1st grade.  Such a innocent think that thunderstorms crack the sky.  Maybe they do...  It was the inspiration for the picture book story I just sent out, though it would be years of rewrites before the ghouls arrived on the scene. When a story keeps knocking at the back of your head like that, when it won’t stay shut in a drawer, when characters come in and take over, you simply have to write it and then get out of its way...

Welcome to the Waves...

Happy Independence Day, America!

And in that independent spirit, I free myself from the fear of blogging.  I was sure I’d never do it, never post publicly as I still have nervous quirks and tics from the post-traumatic invasion disorder the time my parents broke into my diary for evidence of some kind.  Call me a pack rat or just I’ve saved my diaries from when I was ages 12 through 16, locks scuffed and nicked from bent hairpins.  I was going to transcribe some pages, but after reading and refreshing my memory a bit, I think my parents were on to something. 

So put your hairpins down and in future blogs I’ll share a behind the scenes look at illustrating for children, some step-by-step progressions, and unabashedly reveal a few creative attempts that went from table to trashcan.  I’ll present my favorite children’s authors and illustrators, try out new creative techniques, and share the journey to get my first trade picture book published in both words and art, a long and winding road I continue to trek.

Here are a couple of character sketches from the story I Velmakev_4
created that is currently making the rounds with
publishers...about ghouls and an approaching storm cloud.
It was only after I drew the entire scene that I realized
Velma the Vampire and my son have an eerily similar look
to them, captured in this photo when he was 6 pretending
to be a dinosaur hatchling. Funny what lurks and hovers in
the recesses of our minds!

“Mermaid Waves”  I titled this blog after a lyric I once heard in a siren song of the sea.  I like the double meaning of I absconded with the 2 words and claimed them for myself, which is perfectly acceptable according the the muse handbook....

Welcome, and I hope you visit often.

Terri Murphy