illustration

"My Shadow" - Illustrations for Learning A to Z

Last year, I joined the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) with a goal in mind: I wanted to branch out into drawing pictures for kids! I went to the LA Summer Conference and met some of the nicest, most supportive people in the world... and crammed my brain full of as much info as I could at the same time. I now had a mission: add stuff to my portfolio to attract children's publishing clients! Go go! Time's wastin', fam!

Almost a year later, I'm excited to reveal my very first project: illustrations for the Robert Louis Stevenson poem My Shadow, published by Learning A to Z.

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These illustrations were meant to match the poem's stanzas by showing kids playing with their shadows at specific times of day. There was a scene with candlelight, sunset, noon, and one at early morning dawn.

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As I was working on the sketches for these, the only thing I could think about was my "Drawing From Imagination" professor, Stephen Player, and the day in his class where we had to learn about drawing shadows in perspective. A notoriously difficult course, that day was so taxing I went home and went to sleep out of sheer mental exhaustion!

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As I was painting, I made sure to reference my copy of Color and Light by James Gurney often since there were so many times of day to work with! If you're an artist, you should probably own a copy of that book. It's highly recommended, insanely useful, and pretty much a requirement to own! Get thee to Amazon and get a copy if you don't have it yet. I'll wait.

Detail shot of the skateboarding boy!

Detail shot of the skateboarding boy!

With this particular piece, when the sketch round's notes came back, the AD asked me to add a car (specifically an early 70s Ford Pinto in orange) in the background. GASP! HORROR! The bane of many an artist's existence: drawing CARS! Somehow I soldiered on.

Detail shot of the car behind the skateboarding boy!

Detail shot of the car behind the skateboarding boy!

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This last one turned out to be my favorite from the series-- no, not because I enjoy painting 10,000 flowers-- but because of the color palette and mood. I've never painted a misty morning scene before, and I quiet enjoy the quiet moment it represents.

Some close-up detail of the girl in the flowers!

Some close-up detail of the girl in the flowers!

All in all it was a terrifically fun project, and I hope to have more kidlit illustrations to share with you in the future! Which one of these is your favorite? Leave me a comment and tell me!

Kato Chef Tasting: 4th Course

 

Be sure you've tasted course onetwo and three before moving on to this one!

So at this point in the meal, I've noticed a trend. Each dish has a stronger flavor and heavier consistency; they play upon the tasty notes that have already been established, and are definitely ramping up to a crescendo. We've got a Flavor Symphony, here! Is this how all meals are meant to be? Is this real life?

These ribs might be short, but they're tall on FLAVOR

These ribs might be short, but they're tall on FLAVOR

These short ribs with turnips and chili were mind blowing. The flavor was hearty and while quite heavy, and the meat was extremely soft and supple. It had been cooked in such a way that it practically fell apart on my fork... which led to some scrambling and attempts at covering up how ungraceful I am. The turnips on top lent the dish a nice crunch to it without detracting from the flavor. I dipped each bite in a tiny bit of chili sauce to really round things out with a ZING!*

This illustration was particularly challenging because of the delicate veins in the turnips-- they're so subtle that I had to be careful not to overdo it.

Next will be course five of the chef tasting, in which we go full tilt flavor!

*I used to hate hot sauce, but I'm slowly becoming a lover. I'm pretty sure this was a house sriracha, and it was DELIGHTFUL.

--

As a working artist, I have to exhibit at comic and art conventions in order to grow my audience, sell my wares, and meet art directors. Each show requires a ton of prep work, and then a certain amount of recovery time afterward as well. This show was totally food related though, as I just debuted my very first set of food illo art prints and pins!

Deliciousness for your wall or photo frame!

If you missed WonderCon and were interested in getting your hands on these prints or the accompanying pins, stay tuned: I'll be opening a web store soon! If you want to stay up to date on the things I get up to as an artist, sign up for my newsletter. It's a weekly "open diary" on what it's like to be an artist, what new work I have, upcoming shows, and (eventually) coupon codes for the store!

Sign up here! 

Kato Chef Tasting: 3rd Course

You see that fish there? It's so soft that it's like eating straight butter. Oh yeah.

You see that fish there? It's so soft that it's like eating straight butter. Oh yeah.

And we're back with the amazing Course Three in my Kato Chef Tasting Experience. Be sure to read parts One and Two first!

Something that I thought was remarkable about Kato's dining room was how small and minimalist it was. The walls are light, the floor is wood, and there are absolutely no frills. Artwork sprinkled around and a simple tea light on the tables count as the decor. I'd say there are, what, 10 tables total? 15? I find it interesting that they took this approach, and I expect that it's so you can focus on the food. No gaudy decorations or talking animal heads here! (Apologies to lovers of Rainforest Café, heh.)

I suspect that's also why they don't serve any alcohol, and their drink selection is extremely limited. Green tea or sparkling water work just fine when alcohol could detract from your enjoyment of the delicate flavors they're putting in your face. Plus, realtalk, as a restaurant owner I bet it's just easier to get through life when you don't have to worry about booze permits.

So! The delightful third course of the evening was trout with chili and seared cabbage. This dish, seriously. UNG. I almost died when I put it in my mouth. The trout was cooked in a sous vide so it actually burst apart as soon as it left my fork, and the amazing flavors locked inside are the kind you'd write home to mom about. Or... write about on a blog on the internet.

The chili sauce is apparently fermented, and while it has a dash of heat, it uses it subtly to enhance the other flavors. The seared cabbage* is crisp and its strong flavor sticks with you long after this course is over, but in a good way.

Stay tuned for Course 4! "How many courses ARE there?" you ask. The answer is five, plus dessert, plus additional food we ordered at the end to round everything out. In other words, I've got a lot of drawing to do.

* I am definitely not supposed to eat cabbage. That's that FODMAP thing again that I mentioned before. I'll get around to discussing it, one day. I ate it anyway though, in the name of art!

Trader Sam's Passionate Python

Lemony Snake-it's "Series of Unfortunate(ly Empty Cuz I Drank Them) Drinks"

Lemony Snake-it's "Series of Unfortunate(ly Empty Cuz I Drank Them) Drinks"

I went to Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland recently, and ordered this delightful drink called The Passionate Python. "Ah," you say, "NOW I get the joke in the caption." Well ssssspotted, Hungry Reader! This drink is described in the menu as "Dark and Aged Rums, Red Passion Fruit and Tropical Juices garnished with an Orange Peel 'Python.'"

I really enjoy drawing drinks-- there's a fun challenge in their simplistic design. Drawing glass and getting the subtle gradients shifts in the liquids just right can be tough, especially with markers. Markers are a rather unforgiving medium, mind you. One small twitch and it's all over.*

This particular illustration was an exercise in playing with layering techniques. I don't like going straight into a piece with my most vibrant marker-- no no! I'd rather layer a saturated color over a less saturated base to keep the color from becoming unnatural (not... that the color of this drink was natural, but I digress).

To achieve this bright red orange without going overboard, I first put down a layer of Goldenrod (PM-69), put Poppy Red (PM-13) on top, and then finished it with hits of Scarlet Lake (PM-5).

"But what about that ghostly lemon peel and the straws in there?" you wonder. There are clearly no pen lines, so how did I do that? I'll tell you in Parseltongue: Ssssssssssss sssssssssasaaasss sassssssssss shhhh sssssss!

You're welcome.

*Note to self and others: Do not attempt to Marker while drinking the subject of this illustration. The results won't go well! Please Marker responsibly.

Kato Chef Tasting: 2nd Course

There is no ham in hamachi

There is no ham in hamachi

Welcome back, hungry reader! This is the second post in a series about my Chef Tasting experience at Kato Restaurant in Santa Monica. If you haven't yet, be sure to read Part One first! Kato is a restaurant that specializes in Chef's Tastings, and is a Californian/Japanese/Taiwanese hybrid. And no, Chef Tasting doesn't meant we ate the chef, in case you were wondering.

Kato itself is hidden in the corner of a strip mall in Santa Monica-- it can actually be quite difficult to spot until you're practically standing on top of it. One might even call it a Room of Requirement-- it's impossible to find unless you're desperate for tasty, well-crafted food. The dining room is terrifically small, so you MUST make reservations... and make them, like, a week out because this place is very popular.

So on to our second course, which was hamachi and cucumber topped with a charred scallion sauce. What are the herbs on top? I'm not entirely sure, as I'm not good at identifying these things by sight yet.* Fennel? Maybe? The dish's flavors were gentle, cool, and seemed slightly pickled. This made an excellent pair against the good punch in the mouth that the charred/smoky flavor of the sauce gave you!

Stay tuned for the 3rd Course coming soon!

*I'm learning, I swear. At least, it's on my "To Learn" list. So I'll get around to it. No really!

Kato Chef Tasting

You can't find delightful piles of fish like this easily

You can't find delightful piles of fish like this easily

Last month we tried out a highly rated restaurant in Santa Monica named Kato, a Californian/Japanese/Taiwanese hybrid chef's tasting restaurant.

Hungry Reader, you may be asking "Um wat?" which is the exact same question I asked myself because I, too, think in memespeak. Luckily for you, I went and found out! A chef tasting is when a restaurant's chef designs a menu that takes customers on what I like to call a food experience. A Foodsperience, if you will. The flavors of each small course are meant to work together like a team to send you to Tasty Town.

It began with what's called an amuse bouche, which is sort of like an appetizer but smaller. It literally means "to amuse your mouth." It was a tapioca snack with roe (fish eggs), and while it was brownie-like, was also very salty. Think "sea salt brownie with heavy emphasis on the sea and possibly as dark as it is because maybe squid ink?" Regardless, it was delightful and I was ready for more!

We then received our first course, which was tuna tartare with eggplant and herbs over crispy rice. Seriously I put this thing in my mouth and the world stopped*. The rice gave it a fantastic crunchy texture that contrasted with the softness of the tuna. The vinaigrette had almost a minty note to it, and the shallots gave the sauce absolute sass. SASS, I say! The dish was very light overall, which, by the end of the meal I learned is the best way to start a Foodsperience so you can build a flavor symphony over time.

But more on that next time with Course 2!

*"The world stopped" is going to be a phrase that I use often in this series with Kato, because spoiler alert: THE FOOD IS REALLY GOOD

Review: Fiesta Martin

Yes, that fish still has its head

Yes, that fish still has its head

So my husband and I moved last fall, and in our old neighborhood we had an amazing sushi place. It was so good that we went about once a week. We always lamented though, "Gosh, we really wish we had a good Mexican place around here."

Lo and behold, our new neighborhood has a dearth of sushi (sigh), but has the exact sort of Mexican place we asked for: Fiesta Martin at 1330 N La Brea. We've been here quite a few times, and the atmosphere is warm and inviting. The service can be a little slow, but it never lacks for friendliness. I think we've had the exact same waiter every time, and this dude is just the nicest. Is he the Martin that likes to Fiesta? I can't say.

The menu here is nothing short of huge-- there's an array of house specials, seafood, caldos (soup), and appetizers. Their tacos are tasty, the fajitas phenomenal, and the burritos boat-sized. For me, a win is that they have chimichangas. I know that they may be a cross-cultural invention... but I just happen to like them. Also, their salsa is of particular interest to me, as it doesn't have many onions/the onion chunks are large enough that I can pick them out.*

A repeat dish I've ordered is the mojarro frita , which is an entire tilapia, deep-fried. Yes, with the head on. It's crispy, light, and is seasoned well. There are also plenty of things that are more traditional like the Milanesa (A+!), and then some truly this-is-a-bad-idea-but-it-looks-so-good dishes such as the Camarones Costa Azul (A+ for clogging ones' arteries!).

The chili powder on the rim was a... surprise

The chili powder on the rim was a... surprise

The drink menu is staggering as well-- they've got standard margaritas, and then complex, frankly ridiculous-looking cocktails that feature sidecars and upside down beer bottles that seem to defy the laws of gravity.

My favorite drink, however, is called the Cantarito and it originates from Jalisco, Mexico. It's served in a clay pot, has tequila, grapefruit soda, various fruit juices, and then has bits of fruit floating on the top. Plus, the drink is less than $8. As a previous graduate student, that is the perfect price to get a bit fancy, especially here in Los Angeles.

So is the food good? 4 out of 5 tacos!

Expensive? Nope

It's LA, what's the parking like? Meh, there's a tiny parking lot out back, and some street parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

Good for groups?  Yes

Reservation required? Nope!

Is it QUIET? No, but especially no when there's some sportsball game going on.

Final verdict: YUM. Fiesta on, Martin. Fiesta on.

*No, I don't hate onions. I actually rather like them, but I have to keep my diet fairly low FODMAP, which I will get into at a later date on this blog. Feel free to Google it now if you like though. Go on, you know you're curious.

Petit Fours from Valerie Confectionary

Tiny ovens, anyone?

Tiny ovens, anyone?

If you're an LA local and you haven't visited the Grand Central Market  downtown yet, get thee a Lyft and go. Right now. I'll wait. No, really.

Back yet? Or maybe you're at work and can't leave your desk. Alright fine, I'll just tell you about it instead. The Grand Central Market is a magical wonderland that brings together various LA cuisines and cultures in a delicious way, and each time I go my definition of "YUM" gets redefined.

We went this past Saturday evening, and we happened to catch Valerie Confections when it was open. The first time we went to the market it was closed, and I spent a good 15 minutes trying to lick the chocolates through the display case.

We were able to sample their petit fours in two flavors: Earl Grey and Champagne. I haven't mentioned this yet here on my blog, but my favorite dessert? Cake. And cake dipped in chocolate is an upgrade to an already perfect dessert, especially when said chocolate is named "the best chocolate in LA" by Los Angeles Magazine. So.

The Earl Grey petit four had a very strong bergamot flavor to it, but was light and airy.* The lemon ganache on the outside was extremely complementary, and I was left feeling refreshed. There was a tiny silver fleck on top, and I suspect it may have been silver lustre dust.

The Champagne honestly didn't taste like champagne at all, but I didn't mind. I loved that it had dark, bittersweet chocolate, and the buttery cake inside really broke up the flavor before it became overwhelming. The tiny bit of edible gold on the top was a nice touch.

"But what does gold taste like?" you ask. I... don't think it's meant to have a flavor. But I'm still learning, so maybe it was just too subtle for me to have noticed.

The end verdict: I can't wait to try more from Valerie's. Besides the petit fours they've got chocolates, truffles, toffees, cakes, coffees, and more, so if you like sweet things you're probably covered. Go try it!

*As an aside, I'm a weirdo and have always maintained that bergamot has echoes of a Froot Loops flavor. I am apparently not the only person who has this opinion, but maybe the rest of you may think I'm insane. Doesn't matter, because it's my favorite tea thank you very much.

Sous Vide Pork

You really can't lose when you have mashed potatoes

You really can't lose when you have mashed potatoes

Have you seen the new cooking craze, Sous Vide? Well, it's not new-new-- the technique has been around since 1799 and was "rediscovered" and refined in the 60s and 70s. It's basically where food is put inside a vacuum pouch and cooked at a steady temperature by water or steam.

It's "new" in that now it can be achieved with a fancy kitchen gadget that is finally affordable for the average consumer. It is an electronic stick that you put in a pot of water with your vacuum-pouched-food, set the temperature, and let 'er fly.

My husband and I got one for Christmas, and let me tell you-- it makes AMAZING meat. We've used it to cook steaks a few times, and in this case we cooked up a pork tenderloin that turned out phenomenally. It was mouth-wateringly moist, and the salt and pepper we put on the outside really brought out the flavor of the meat.

Did YOU know that pork tasted like something? I mean, bacon notwithstanding. Pork actually has a flavor. I used to not be a huge fan of pork, and I'm wondering if I just kept having overcooked meat all the time. That's understandable, since there was that whole trichinosis scare back in the day. I'm pretty sure I cooked my porkchops into a pile of ash out of fear.

Now they say it's really not that much of a threat anymore. And thank goodness for that! Our pork was perfectly medium-well all the way throughout, and exceptionally juicy. We paired it with some mashed potatoes (frozen, yes I know... travesty, but they work in a pinch!) and some steamed spinach.

Have you tried the sous vide technique? Let me know in the comments!

Heeeey Margarita!

There aren't many uses for this lime green color marker... besides this.

There aren't many uses for this lime green color marker... besides this.

So this "drawing my food thing" began with me just sketching various things I ate for lunch. After a few goes at it, I found another simple and easy object to practice drawing-- drinks. I have frequent access* to them and they're visually interesting, so it seemed like an easy fit. This and the last drawing in particular were the first time I'd attempted to add some color into the mix with my old pals: Prismacolor Markers.

In undergrad in 2007, I did an entire semester of independent study with markers, so I own over 100 of the things. I know, I know. Sacrifice food for the expensive art supplies, I know.

Anyway, I spent three months finding only two books on the subject out in the wide, wide world, and one cost $70. $70! Do you know how many bottles of very cheap wine that is? Or alternately, it's about 20 markers.

I instead made my own book that was a glorious 60 pages of swatches, technique trial and error, and my first set of fully-rendered marker pieces. Where is that book now, you may ask? No clue. I may have chucked it at one point, once I went to grad school and was told that digital art was the way of the future. What a letdown, am I right?

Fast forward ten years, and I'm finally using them again.** I still love and need my computer to maintain an income, but it feels SO GOOD to get away from that glowing screen and make something with my hands again.

*I mean, I AM an artist. Writers have this same thing too, I hear.

**Can we talk about how amazing it is that they haven't dried out in all this time??