Guest Post & Giveaways: The Girllustrators

In order of heads: Patrice, Lalena, Marsha, Shelley, Amy

By The Girllustrators

Greetings, Cynsational readers!

The Girllustrators got together to talk about art, children’s books, and inspiration, as a sort of ad-hoc interview for Cynthia’s blog, at her generous invitation.

Five of us Girlls—Shelley Ann Jackson, Marsha Riti, Patrice “Patty” Barton, Amy Farrier, and Lalena Fisher—convened around the dining table of Amy’s house in central Austin, while her dog Lloyd loitered about as groupie (at least while we had snacks on the table).

Girllustrator Emma J. Virjan (pictured below) could not make this meeting.


MARSHA: Should we talk about how we came together?

By Shelley (and Jeff)

SHELLEY: Well, I moved to Austin in October 2010 and didn’t know many people here, especially in the children’s book community. My husband (illustrator/author Jeff Crosby) and I had been collaborating for a number of years.

I am at a point now in my career where I’m trying to reinvent myself artistically because I’m once again working on my own. I could really use some feedback and support. And also for the sake of making some friends in a new city, I thought it might be nice to have a girls’ group. That’s why I initiated forming the Girllustrators.

I met Amy at an Inklings meeting (the Inklings are an Austin SCBWI illustration critique group). At the 2011 regional SCBWI conference, Amy introduced me to Marsha, and Patty introduced herself. About a month later, I met Lalena at the Picture Circus in Georgetown.

(Group is quiet)

And that’s a take!

(Group laughter)

Why did the rest of you want to get involved?

AMY: Well, I just wanted to meet with other illustrators and talk about work. We had been talking together—Marsha and I—with a different group. It’s fun to meet with other illustrators and hear what they’re working on and get new ideas.

MARSHA: And I love your work, Shelley. It’s really inspirational to see someone who works in such an exacting way, and it’s great to talk to someone else about craft, who obviously knows theirs extremely well.

PATTY: That’s what I like too; when you emailed me to ask me, you told me who else was coming, and I liked everyone’s work.

MARSHA: [To Patty] I was so excited when Shelley told me you were going to be part of the group!

SHELLEY: Yeah, that’s how I got everyone else to join! I told them you were coming!

PATTY: (Laughing) Thank you. Well, when you work at home it’s isolated, so it’s nice to get out and have someone else to talk about work with. Especially if you’re on a project and you’re stuck on something.

By Marsha

MARSHA: And not just about the work itself, but the working relationships you have with the people around you. I find it really helpful to have other people who know what’s going on, and maybe have gone through that. And are good sounding boards.

PATTY: Yeah, like “Are all art directors the same way?” Because they all have different approaches, and different publications have different approaches.

LALENA: Patty and Marsha, it’s been so interesting to see your in-progress work for your chapter books. I feel like I’m getting an inside look into the process that I wouldn’t get otherwise.

…Another thing we do at our Girllustrator meetings is show work in progress, and bounce ideas off each other. It’s helpful to get other eyes.

SHELLEY: Last week we laid out Amy’s entire portfolio on the floor to help her decide what to take to the Houston SCBWI conference.

MARSHA: What was super-exciting about that was rearranging it and realizing that just rearranging a portfolio can change the whole flow of it.

SHELLEY: And make it much more dynamic.

AMY: It helped me think about what to focus on, too.

MARSHA: It was brave of you to do that.

AMY: Oh. Well…it was brave of you guys to look at it!

(Group laughter)

It’s nice to have a group of people whose opinions you trust when you put something out on the table and say, “This is what I’m working on; what do you guys think?”

SHELLEY: I think it does make a difference that the group is all women, in that respect, and also that it’s a closed group. I’ve gotten to know you ladies well and you’re all very nurturing, so it’s a safe environment for me to be experimental in.

LALENA: But we have a “brother band.”

By Jeff

SHELLEY: Yeah, Jeff was inspired by us and formed his own group!

MARSHA: The Armadillustrators!

PATTY: I think it’s neat that sometimes we do things together with them.

MARSHA: It would be great to work together on the next conference.

PATTY: It was wonderful how they came in on the last one and brought prints for the auction.

LALENA: And it looks like we’re going to do drawing days together.

SHELLEY: One thing I was looking forward to, because I have so much going on, is a monthly meeting that helps me set goals and get work done.

LALENA: And keep up momentum when you’re trying to take your work to the next level. Because it’s actually a kind of difficult pursuit. Especially when you have—well, everybody does have—other responsibilities.

MARSHA: Well, and you and Shelley have little ones.

PATTY: And they always come first.

By Lalena

LALENA: I also like the fact that we’re at all different places in our careers, as well has have different styles. Like, some of us haven’t been published at all, some have published a lot, and some work in pencil, and some on the computer, and others in watercolor.

It’s nice to have the variety. Because you can get inspiration from unexpected places.

SHELLEY: I was kind of surprised when we first started meeting, because I learned so much about technology from you guys, which is not what I was expecting to get out of the group. At that time, I didn’t know anything about blogging.

MARSHA: I forgot that! Because now you’re really the one coordinating our blog!

PATTY: You’ve done a great job with that. It’s been really good content, and really good feedback on the content.

SHELLEY: Thank you!

MARSHA: And people are following it.

LALENA: It is much more planned and put-together than a lot of blogs out there.

AMY: I think scheduling it was a good idea.

SHELLEY: Well, Tech Tuesdays was your idea.

By Amy

AMY: It was? I forgot!

(Group laughter)

I do like a catchy title.

SHELLEY: When Austin SCBWI regional advisor Debbie Gonzales approached Jeff and me about speaking at the Tech conference (Austin SCBWI’s Storytelling in the Digital Age symposium, August 2011), I thought: “What? I don’t know anything about technology.”

And then I thought: “Well, when I have a technology question, I ask the Girllustrators! Maybe we, as a group, could talk about aspects that apply to illustrators.”

MARSHA: And that really galvanized our whole group: us being a part of the tech conference.

LALENA: Once that started, that’s when I began to come regularly. Because I felt obligated—I was taking part in something. So it ended up being a really good thing. It got me into the habit getting me into the habit of coming.

SHELLEY: And that’s when we felt we needed a logo (see below), and the Tech Tuesday blog posts—to give ourselves a bit of credibility before we got up and spoke in front of people about technology!


But it also gave us the opportunity to research other illustrators, and learn about how they used technology.

MARSHA: So it was helpful to us as well as to other people. And now the group feels really solid. Because we went through that experience together.

LALENA: We’ve been through battle!


SHELLEY: At this last regional conference, it was nice to attend together.

LALENA: We had a collective identity: “I’m not just Lalena, I’m a Girllustrator!”

MARSHA: This really leads into what we do. I think that our group has done a good job being advocates for the illustrator community. Like during the conference, Patty was instrumental in making sure that the portfolio room represented the artists as well as possible.

PATTY: At the 2011 conference, there were so many illustrators that came, and not enough room to show all the portfolios.

SHELLEY: Overseeing all aspects of the illustration room was such a monumental task; more than one person could handle.

PATTY: Mark G. Mitchell, illustrator coordinator for Austin SCBWI,
is spread too thin at these conferences. So we were thinking about how
we could help him, and meanwhile help the illustrators look more
professional. After all, we’re the “I” in SCBWI.

MARSHA: Mark does such a phenomenal job for the illustrator community here in Austin with his blog, with Inklings; he attends every SCBWI event that he can attend. He’s always there.

By Mark G. Mitchell

PATTY: He wants the very best for the illustrators, and he’s a professional. So I asked him if he would like some help, and he did.

SHELLEY: He got down on one knee…

(Group laughter)

PATTY: He said, “Thank you! Thank you!”

Jessica Lee Anderson with illustrator chair Mark G. Mitchell

So we planned it out so that everyone had a defined space, with the name card holders from Marsha. Then we worked with Mark to set the tables up so that everyone could walk around, and we got to have the auction items in the same room. He put the coffee and pastries in there, which just invited people in. You could be out in the hallway with all the bustling, and then the minute you walked into where the coffee and donuts and portfolios were, you could feel people exhale. And just mingle, and linger…it was a very inviting space.

AMY: Plus, it was a great idea to have the prints and paintings for the auction.

SHELLEY: Patty thought that another way to showcase our work and raise money for SCBWI would be for the illustrators to donate prints to the auction. I think everyone got pretty excited about that!

Another thing that was exciting was having some other chapter’s illustration coordinators attend, like Diandra Mae of Houston SCBWI and Akiko White of SCBWI-San Antonio. They were enthusiastic about our ideas too. And since Amy went to the Houston conference, they shared their plans with her. So, the idea is that we don’t have just one conference a year; we’re involved with all these cities, so we can collaborate and improve together.

2011 Austin SCBWI Regional Conference

Switching gears, something that you mentioned earlier, Lalena, that the Girllustrators do is our drawing days. We go someplace together and sketch.

AMY: I love having Harper (Shelley’s five-year-old daughter) there; there’s something about having a kid there—being super-free—that loosens me up.

SHELLEY: It’s so funny because she’ll be watching something intensely and drawing, and when she’s done you’ll ask, “What’s that you just drew?” And it’ll be some fish swimming in the ocean, and you’re like, “But you’re looking at a monkey!”

(Group laughter)

LALENA: Have you heard of the fourth grade slump?

MARSHA: No! (Everyone shakes her head)

LALENA: Apparently one of the last parts of the brain that switches on is the amygdala, which is the part of our brain controlling inhibitions. It’s in about fourth grade when it happens. And then kids are suddenly worried about: “What is it supposed to look like?” and “What are the rules?”

MARSHA: And that’s when a lot of kids stop drawing! There’s this book by Lynda Barry about that (Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book). They suddenly think they can’t draw, because what they draw doesn’t look like what they’re looking at.

PATTY: When anime came out, my son suddenly started drawing again. He was about in sixth grade, and he was drawing all this anime stuff.

And I asked him, “Why is it that you like this style?”

And he said, “Because to do a nose, all you have to do is one line here and one line here—and there’s your nose.”

So he felt like he could draw again.

LALENA: I find it hard to switch off my amygdala even now. I mean, not everything has to look realistic, but I have preconceptions, and focus way too much on the goal so that I don’t always enjoy the process as much as I should…

So, even for those of us who kept on drawing, it can still be a challenge.

SHELLEY: Once you’re able to make things look realistic, then you’re stuck in that mindset. I want to loosen up, and it’s hard.

LALENA: You form habits.

By Laura

PATTY: My friend Laura Logan has a playful style, but for one project she had to draw a tiger. She said, “I can draw a kitty, but if I draw that with stripes, it’ll just look like a kitty with stripes!”

So she looked at YouTube and got some photos of tigers, and drew them realistically for a while. Then she put those away, and went back to drawing her kitty in her style, and then tried to draw a tiger in her style.

Gradually, she worked her way back from her style, to a tiger.

MARSHA: That’s fascinating.

PATTY: She has images on her blog showing the process. So she had to learn how to draw a tiger realistically—learn what it really looked like—

LALENA: And then let go of it.

PATTY: And let go of it.

MARSHA: Amy and I met up for a drawing day, and I was trying to draw this horse. And I just got to the point where I was thinking, “I hate horses. I hate drawing horses!”

PATTY: Laura was saying that too; you get to the elbow, and then you get to the knee, and then the ankle, and you think you’re done, but—Oh no!

Gene Brenek & Girllustrator Emma J. Virjan

MARSHA: Horses have a really exacting structure. If you don’t get the horse’s structure down, then it doesn’t look like a horse.

SHELLEY: So should we sort of wrap this up? Do we want to say anything in conclusion?

LALENA: We really appreciate being part of Cynthia’s blog.

MARSHA: Hear hear.

SHELLEY: Cynthia’s awesome. If she could draw, she would totally be a Girllustrator.

MARSHA: She has beautiful hair.

Cynsational Notes

For more Girll talk—our favorite children’s books, the language of nursery rhymes, and an artist’s journey to a cohesive portfolio—meet up with us on!

Patrice Barton is a children’s
book illustrator living in Austin, Texas; with her husband, son and a few
doggies. Her clients include Alfred A. Knopf, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
Scholastic Book Club, Ideals Children’s Books, Ladybug Magazine,
Clubhouse Jr. Magazine, Highlights, Highlights High Five, National
Geographic, and Hazelden Educational Publishing.

By Patrice

Patty’s recent books include Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine (Knopf, 2011); MINE! (Knopf, 2011); Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale (Knopf, 2010); The Looking Book (Ideals, 2009); Layla, Queen of Hearts (FSG, 2010); The Naming of Tishkin Silk (FSG, 2009); and the forthcoming I Like Old Clothes (Knopf, 2012).

Amy Farrier is an illustrator and designer with a degree in English literature. After years of working with words, she picked up a paintbrush and got hooked on watercolor. And the wonderful art and stories found in children’s books.

Inspired by morning walks, nature specials, and funny life moments (some of them involving a certain sweet dog and spicy cat that live with her), she is happily working away on some art and stories of her own.

Lalena Fisher illustrates children’s textbooks and workbooks, and designs characters and environments for children’s animation. A native Texan, Lalena recently returned home after 14 years in New York where she assisted artist Matthew Barney, created characters and backgrounds for Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues” and “The Wonder Pets,” and created graphics for the New York Times.

Her current children’s clients include Oxford University Press and the Mother Goose Club. She also designs logos, posters, books, and websites.

Lalena has a Master of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. After-hours, Lalena is currently developing several of her own children’s picture books, and a short animated music cartoon.

Shelley Ann Jackson has illustrated for clients such as the New York Times, Berkley Books, and Faces magazine. Her first picture book, Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds: A History of Dog Breeds (Tunda, 2008) was awarded the 2008 Gold Medal in Juvenile Nonfiction by ForeWord magazine and received a non-fiction research grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her second book, Upon Secrecy (Calkins Creek, 2009), was selected One of the Best Children’s Books 2010 by Bank Street College of Education. Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds (Tunda, 2011) is her latest release. She lives in Austin with her husband, daughter, and three pups.

By Marsha

Marsha Riti is a freelance illustrator based out of Austin, Texas. She has a BFA in studio art from the University of Texas in Austin. She loves to create and takes inspiration from early comics artists as well as some new ones with a slight mid-century twist.

Her first illustrated picture first book, titled The Picky Little Witch, written by Elizabeth Brokamp, came out in September 2011 from Pelican Press. She’s now hard at work illustrating the Critter Club series to be published by Little Simon.

Emma J. Virjan was born in Texas, under an Aries moon, on a Wednesday evening, her Dad’s bowling night. This might explain her attraction to shiny, hardwood floors and crunchy, snack bar French fries.

Her career as a graphic designer and illustrator started when she gave everyone handmade business cards for Christmas when she was five years old.

Nacho the Party Puppy, her first children’s book, was featured in the 2008 Texas Book Festival. Get to know Nacho (and Emma) at

When Emma isn’t drawing, she spends her time reading, making lists, cutting out images of the numeral 5, and collecting produce stickers.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter for a chance to win Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds by Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson (Tunda, 2011) and/or I Like Old Clothes by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Patrice Barton (Knopf, 2012). Both giveaways are illustrator sponsored, eligibility: North America.

From the promotional copy of Harness Horses:

Thousands of years ago people living on the steppes of central Asia realized that horses could transport them long distances, help them fight their wars, pull their plows, and provide them with sport and companionship. Ever since, horses and human history have been intertwined.

The author-illustrator team of Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson celebrates all kinds of horses in this beautifully illustrated, fact-filled book. 

From fast horses like the Barb, which traveled to Spain from Africa in the early eighth century to become a foundation for many Spanish and European breeds, to war horses like the Mongolian that gave their owners military advantage (today there are more horses in Mongolia than there are people), to the hard-working horses ranging from the tiny American Miniature to the giant Clydesdale, Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies is a treasure-trove of information. 

Today there are fifty-eight million horses in the world.

This is the perfect book for those who own (or dream of owning) a horse, who ride, or who simply like to read about these magnificent animals and the special relationship they share with humans.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

From the promotional copy for I Like Old Clothes (see cover art above):

I like old clothes, 

Hand-me-down clothes, 

Worn outgrown clothes,

Not-my-own clothes…

Originally published by Knopf in 1976 (with illustrations by Jacqueline Chwast), this poem—an exuberant celebration of hand-me-down clothes—is just as relevant and accessible today as it was over 30 years ago.

Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman offers a bouncy, fun-to-read-aloud text and a refreshingly agreeable, resourceful protagonist who likes old clothes for their “history” and “mystery.” 

Illustrator Patrice Barton brings new, contemporary life to the poem, with an adorable little girl and her younger brother playing dress-up, making crafts, and happily treasuring their hand-me-downs.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Visit The Girllustrators: United for Sharing, Support & Shop Talk


8 thoughts on “Guest Post & Giveaways: The Girllustrators

  1. WOW, what amazing talent!!! LOVE all of these beautiful illustrations. They make me so happy. 🙂 Thank you for introducing them to us, Cynthia.

  2. I am a bit jealous of a group that have so much talent and so much fun! Thanks for adding these great titles to my tbr list.

  3. You're right, these books are certainly beautifully illustrated and each so different as well. What an enjoyable experience it is to read such gorgeous books.

  4. These illustrations are fantastic. Students will be pulled in! Thanks so much for featuring such a variety.

  5. That is a whole lot of talent in one place. The illustrations are amazing and expressive. I also relate to the fact technology seems to be part of everything and anything you do now.

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