Welcome 2023

A new year means new plans, evaluation of old plans, and basically giving the muse a chance to take everything out of the closet for a good long look.

What does that look like?

First I take out my notebook. I find that writing things down on physical paper works best for me with any sort of creative exercise or stretching. Some insist on using pen to avoid any temptation to erase, but I’ve been working with my “muse” for a long time, and pencil works just fine.

The “muse” is the subconscious part of the brain, the place of dreams and imagination, and it is very much like a three-year-old kid living inside your head. It likes to play, dream big, and does not like being told what to do or being called a stupid kid. So for these sorts of brain dump exercises it is very helpful to keep this in mind. Hence the rule, “no erasing.”

Armed with my notebook and pencil, I sit down in a comfy spot (the joyful noise of 5 children in the background) and I start writing down a few ideas. I start with the ones I already know I want to do, such as adding a new critter to the pet shop, or fixing up the next critter for Redbubble. After a few of those my muse (I call her Shinki) jumps in with her own ideas.

“safari” book!

Fossil Friday critters

This sort of activity is a warm-up. Like drawing random circles or scribbles to warm up one’s hand before drawing, or stretching before going on a run. After a bit of back and forth between my adult self and Shinki, we’re getting along nicely and we’re all ready to get down to business.

Now both parts of my brain are willing to work together, and I can sort out the priorities from the list and determine which things I can focus on for the first three months of the year. Setting quarterly goals really worked well for me last year, and I managed to accomplish quite a lot even though I had a very rough year with personal and mental stuff going on.

So here are my priorities for the months of January, February, and March…

  • Prep for library story time
  • Fix book errors
  • Update dummy book
  • Outline picture book series

Once I have my priorities, it’s time to break them down into actionable steps, the smaller the better. I’ll post it here in full just in case it helps anyone to see the process, and also for myself. I do already have this written down in my notebook, but at this point in the process I like to have it typed out. It feels more official and it’s almost like chiseling it on an imaginary stone pillar. When it comes to actually accomplishing a task, it helps to throw every mental trick in the book at it!

Library Story Time:

This is a continuation of a goal I began last year, and it encompasses several tasks at once, so it’s an all-around winner.

Step #1: Redbubble critters. I plan on displaying all of the critters I’ve added to the shop so far in an art exhibit at the library, so I’ve been prepping all the critters for exhibition. For some that means an upgraded background and a few tweaks on light and shadow, for others it means reworking the linework in the same way I fixed Flipper last year, and for a few it means a complete update.

  • Terry- Background
  • Copper and Daisy- Background
  • Nessie- Background
  • Bella- Lines, color, background
  • Rosie- Lines, color, background
  • Gertrude- Lines, color, background
  • Opie- Research, lines, color, background
  • Tango- Research, lines, color, background
  • Skippy- Research, lines, color, background

Step #2: Fix book errors and re-release book on Amazon. I found an entire sentence missing in one of my short stories. Yes, it’s noticeable and has to be fixed, and it costs $25 to upload a fixed file on Ingram Spark, vs. for free on Amazon. What I need to do here is fix my missing sentence, and possibly take the opportunity to simplify the vocabulary just a bit. Make it more kid-friendly. I would feel better about advertising it if I wasn’t so embarrassed about it.

Step #3: Get my email stuff together. This needs more refinement, but in essence I think it would be good to at least have a few emails that are scheduled to post in a sequence over the course of a couple weeks. Basically a better welcome package than what I have right now.

Step #4: Contact library for story time. They often schedule up to two months in advance, so this is to get in line for a possible summer-time slot. This would be a good time to determine which stories I would read out of the collection, if I should line up any other activities for the kids like games or coloring pages, and in general how to focus the event. Should I highlight pets and pet care using the dinosaur stories, should I focus on a few fun dino facts, etc…Shinki wanted to put in that it would be REEAALLLY cool to have a life-size puppet of Skittles.

Step #5: Print critter portraits and frame them. I’ll most likely go to my local printer shop to print them, since my own printer isn’t high enough quality, and Redbubble is far too expensive. I think the best way to get frames will probably be Amazon.

Step #6: Critter bookmarks and stickers. The stickers just need printing and may or may not be cut out. My own printer is good enough for this task, and I already have the sticker paper. I need to decide if I want to give out entire sticker sets, or a choice of two or three individual stickers for anyone who comes to story-time or a book signing. The book marks are already designed, I just need to print and assemble about 50 of them, perhaps more. The average crowd size for story time at my public library is about 50, but it’s always good to have more on hand, since I don’t know how much the library will publicize my appearance. There’s a good chance of that, since they actively support local authors and often post anything special for story times on Facebook. Plus it would be good to have extras on hand in case the other library decides to do their local author event this year, since they featured artists last year. I might add another design or two depending on how much I like certain critter updates.

Picture Book:

Step#1: Outline picture book series. This is about asking questions and is not meant to take a long time. A lot of it is simply keeping it in mind and allowing Shinki to do her thing while my adult mind focuses other tasks, like laundry. That time lying in bed before falling asleep, or that moment when you’re waking up and you’re mind is still sluggish first thing in the morning is a great time for this kind of thinking. For some people it’s the shower that gets them in this space.

What sort of questions?

What holds all the books in the series together? Is it a question that holds them all together, or something else about the title? Should each book focus on the “first” critters in each time period? 1st bird, 1st fish, etc…Should each book end with a kid walking away with some modern critter that has its roots in that time period? Rudimentary stories, possible scenes, or concept sketches are allowed, but limited. This exercise is meant to be a path to keep in mind as I move forward, not a way to procrastinate. Once I have a basic idea that I am happy with I am not allowed to go deeper until later. This prevents me from going down the rabbit hole of research, especially with the time periods I know very little about. I only allow enough research to understand the most important milestones of each time period.

Step #2: Update book dummy. Some pages for the picture book need a complete overhaul. For example, the spread featuring flyers like Archaeopteryx and Pterodactylus have tall cypress trees and a slow river like a bayou. Not at all like the scrubby trees and Galapagos-type environment the Solnhofen formation preserves. Does it matter? YES! I absolutely must do my best to portray a realistic environment. Besides, it’s more interesting. ๐Ÿ˜€ Other pages are either too vague, not based on any references and are therefore too messy to even try to draw a “real” illustration, or for any number of reasons just need a little more refinement before I tackle the real deal.

  • Pet shop spread- This is the page where the family enters the shop. It needs a new sketch based on references of actual stores, and overall better composition. People were confused with the original sketch in the first dummy I made.
  • Flyers spread- Pterodactylus and Archaeopteryx need to be in their original habitat. This may or may not change the order of when they appear in the book. It depends on what makes sense according to where along the “river” they are at, since the basic idea is that they start at a dry stream bed, and slowly make their way to the deep water where the swimmers are.
  • Sauropod spread- I’ve determined that it’s too busy to have three different kinds of sauropods on the same spread. Sauropods are very difficult to fit on one close illustration. It’s like trying to fit a mountain or an entire tree in the same picture as the family. So I just need a few tweaks here to make it a few Apatosaurus, and introduce the submarine that appears later.
  • Swimmers spread- I need to rethink the composition on this one. I like it, but it appears that the submarine comes from nowhere.
  • Bird page- I was never happy with what I came up for this page. I need to work on some more ideas on it.
  • Meet the Dinos- I’ve looked at a lot of books with little info pages at the back, and this page could use a new design.
  • Meet the Critters- Same as the Dinos page.
  • Any other pages I should add?- First I need to make sure I can add any more pages than the recommended 32. Then I need to ask questions to figure out if any extra pages are necessary.

Then of course come all the bite-size steps of determining how big to print the dummy, and how to arrange the pages so that they all turn out right. Good news is that I’ve printed out quite a few mini books for the kids by now, and I have an easy system for making the dummy.

Progress:

So that’s the not-so-small nutshell of my to-do list. I worked this out in the first few days of the new year, so by the end of January I’ve already finished some of the tasks.

For Library Storytime Progress I fixed up some of the Redbubble critters, and I’m currently in the process of finishing Gertrude’s update. Now she just needs her background, and I am hopeful that with focus I can complete the rest in another month.

I’ve also already had a bit of time planning and prepping the activities for story time (which added a few extra bullet points to the list). This way I know which stories I will read, and can start preparing for the extra activities. Story time can often devolve into chaos at the library, depending on the crowd of kids and how willing they are to sit still and listen to the story (vs. bringing up a story of their own or a thousand questions), and I’ve noticed that the most successful story times are broken up into smaller sections and have a general pattern of activities.

Ok, I’ll spare you the analysis. Bottom line, I have it all planned out now in full nerd fashion. If you want the details for the stories and activities I will share with the kids, then I’d be happy to oblige.

I love a visual checklist. Only 5 left!

Picture Book Progress was more brainstorming than anything else, mostly because I want to keep my focus on one task at a time. Brainstorming tasks are great for those times I need to wait for my iPad to charge anyway, or any other number of in between moments for a breather between illustrations or times I can’t draw but can still have a notebook in hand. I now have a much better idea on where to go with the series. I may do a few concept art bits and brainstorm a few more titles from time to time, but now the next step is to draw more thumbnails to nail down composition.

My lessons for this month…

  • Taking the time to plan ahead and develop clear steps to achieve goals actually saves time.
  • The smaller and more actionable the steps, the more efficient one can be when accomplishing tasks. Just be careful not to plan to the point of procrastination. Plan only so far as it is helpful then take action. This looks different for everyone. For a busy mom like me who is easily overwhelmed, breaking things down into bite-size tasks that can be done quickly and easily are best.

And the Critter of the Month is…

Cassie got a mini upgrade this time around. Since the progress section of this post is quite a bit longer than usual, I thought I would showcase a couple of fun videos. Cassie would have looked very much like a combination between an otter and a platypus. It’s interesting how otters and platypus have a different swimming style, and it’s not certain which method Castorocauda would have used. Did it primarily use its front feet for swimming, and its back feet and tail as a rudder, like platypus? Or did it use its entire body to twist and turn through the water, and use all four feet for both steering and propulsion like the otters?

Perhaps we can look to the fossil for clues? Castorocauda has a beautiful fossil that preserves dense fur, scaly skin and hair on parts of the tail, and webbing between the toes, and though one must always be cautious of possible decay or shrinking of soft skin, it can give us some idea.

Holotype specimen ofย Castorocauda lutrasimilis, with osteological structures and reconstruction. From Jiย et al.ย 2006.

In the fossil the toes are scrunched together so it’s a bit hard to see the webbing. So I am relying mostly on the illustrations that come with the photo. Take a close look at how much larger the back feet are compared to the front feet. A bit more like the otter’s feet than the extra large, paddle-like front feet of the platypus. So it is very likely that Castorocauda would have looked very much like the otter down below when swimming.

Other details in Castorocauda’s appearance or possible behavior may be more like a platypus. It lived in a murky river environment surrounded by dense forest, it had a spur on its hind feet like a platypus, and probably walked on land in a very similar way. Imagine a slightly longer, more pointed snout on the otter below, and it is easy to imagine Castorocauda diving to the river’s murky bottom hunting for crayfish or fish among the rotting fronds of ferns or fallen ginkgo leaves.

Now that Cassie is all nice and shiny she is ready for adoption! Just click on the picture below or CLICK HERE to go to Redbubble and take a look at her.

See you March 1st for the next Critter of the Month!

This dino is big and loud and loves to hang out with a crowd.

Share your guess in the comments! Sheโ€™ll be one of the critters over on the critter page. ๐Ÿ™‚

5 thoughts on “Welcome 2023

  1. I didn’t get through this whole post, but I loved how you were planning and keeping yourself accountable in that post. ๐Ÿ™‚ I do the same thing and it makes me so happy ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. Yay, I love goal brainstorming dumps! I’m especially excited to hear about how the library event goes! A Skittles puppet would be epic. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Also, watching the otter/platypus videos totally changed my perception of Cassie. I mean, I loved her to begin with, but now I have the added mental image of a squishy potato-mammal flying underwater.

    The fossils are so pretty! I’m curious, what tissues was Castorocauda’s tail made of? Do we know for sure?

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      1. Hi Rosie! Hehe, I always find other people’s brain dumps helpful, plus it was fun to go all out nerd. ๐Ÿ˜› I’m glad you enjoyed it too. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hopefully the library stuff turns out the way I expect it to, you never know how things will actually go when it comes down to it. “The best laid plans of mice and men…” Good thing plans can be flexible. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Yeah, when I saw the otter and platypus videos I just had to share them. It makes Cassie so much more real in my mind, and I love anything that helps the minds eye. Lol, and I think “squishy potato-mammal flying underwater” is the best way to describe her!

        Castorocauda’s tail is interesting. In silhouette it’s like an otter’s tail, it’s fatty and has dense fur at its base like the platypus, but the rest has little leathery scales like a beaver. Nearer the end there are long hairs growing between these scale-like structures, so that it’s a bit furry. Look at pictures of muskrat tails, on some parts of their tails they have long guard hairs growing on the same parts that are scaly, so it would have looked a lot like that. Maybe the entire tail would have looked like that in life, and the bare patch we see in the fossil is a result of some amount of decomposition. There are so many unknowns even with the truly amazing fossils like this one. ๐Ÿ™‚

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