Memory of My Dad at Christmas

I thought I would share this memory of my dad that I wrote for School Library Journal a couple of years ago. I’ll miss him forever.


Dad Christmas


 I’m the youngest of three boys… Lance, Linden (we call him Lindy) and Loren. My childhood was great. Christmas was magical. I could tell you of many wonderful Christmas memories and traditions but today I’d like to share a story about my Dad on one Christmas in particular.  It’s not a childhood memory, I was a bit older.  Dad was a salesmen for a building supply company. We were not affluent, my brothers and I did not get a lot of extras, but we were well taken care of. Born in the Depression Era,  Dad was old school frugal.  It seemed no matter what I asked for in those days, Dad had one answer…”no”. I must have asked Dad for help buying a car dozens of times. The answer was “no” (I bought my own car but it was lame). If money was involved, Dad’s answer was “no”. By my junior year in College, I had finally decided to try to become an artist for a living. At the end of the Fall semester that year I picked up a flyer from the art department announcing something called The Kentucky Institute for European Studies. It was a program where students could go abroad for two months in the Summer, study a certain discipline and get college credits. I enthusiastically read how I could go to Florence, Italy and study art history and take an independent drawing class for two months in the Summer of 1986,  I could roam the Italian streets and draw whatever caught my eye  and experience  famous art and architecture up close instead of a text book. The Institute would take me on weekend excursions to Assisi, Rome, Siena and Venice, all the while getting college credits to help me earn a degree. I was convinced that this would greatly enhance my quest to somehow become a professional artist. There was only one problem. The cost of the program was several thousand dollars.  Where would I get the money? I’d have to go ask Dad and of course, I knew what the answer would be. His answer would be “no”. All hope was gone. I didn’t even bother to practice my pitch before approaching Dad about the opportunity. I could hear him say it already…“no”. Still, I went through the motions, giving it the best attempt I could muster, including what it could mean to me and my future as some kind of artist. Dad sat quietly as he often did…typically waiting for me to bury myself with flimsy logic. As I finished my plea… he quietly looked over the flyer. Silence. My ears were conditioned to hear what came next. So they could hardly comprehend when he looked up from the flyer and said, “I’ll talk to your mother.”  I was shocked. My Dad didn’t say “no”. He was going to talk it over with Mom. I had a chance! I didn’t know anyone who had ever gone to Europe and there was a chance I could go to Italy to study art as a 22 year old kid for nearly an entire Summer. Nothing was said about it for two weeks.  I wondered if the Italy trip was ever going to come up again.   Christmas  was great. My brothers and I gathered with Mom and Dad and enjoyed a meaningful time together as we always did. Christmas morning, I had opened a sweater or two and some socks (the kind of things college kids get, no exciting bikes or G.I. Joes). And then Dad handed me a box that felt like a shirt or something. I opened the box to find the Kentucky Institute for European Studies flyer. Dad said “I think this would be good for you son, we’re going to make it happen, Merry Christmas.” Dad followed through and went to the parents meeting with me that February. He made sure I had all the clothes, art supplies and essentials that I would need. He gave me an extra amount of spending money to take for the Summer. And he and Mom drove me to Atlanta from Lexington to meet the other kids for our flight abroad. It was the Summer of my life. Dad was right, it was good for me. I believe it inspired my career as a young person who wanted to create art for a living. I can say it changed my course and set my path.

Years later as I was a working as a freelance illustrator Mom and I were talking and she happened to mention in passing that Dad had finally made the last payment on that Italy trip.  And she immediately put her hand over her mouth as if to say oops! When I pressed her for an explanation it came out that my father had taken a home equity loan from the bank so that he could send me to Italy that Summer to study art and follow a dream. I never knew. He had been making little monthly payments all the while to pay it off.

This Christmas will be my first Christmas without Dad. Sadly, we lost him this past April. I’ll miss him forever. And if you ask me if I’ll ever forget that selfless sacrifice he made for me that Christmas in 1985 ,of course, like Dad, I’ll say “no”.

I Broke Out the Paper Mache


Started out with a styrofoam model.


Rather than the paper mache with newspaper strips I did as a kid, I tried this CelluClay product. Just add water and it becomes a sort of modeling clay/paste depending on how much water.



Why is a grown man playing with paper mache? Don’t knock it until you try it.


Jumpstart’s Read for the Record and Otis

I’m honored that Otis has been chosen to be this year’s Read for the Record book. However, it’s not about me or my book. It’s about supporting Jumpstart’s worthy mission to work toward the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed.
Check out this video clip and make plans to be a part of the record this October 3, 2013.

Why did they choose Otis? The following is a nice piece written by Jumpstart’s Katie Deguglielmo.
Thanks Katie!

Otis: A Timeless Story About Friendship 04.23.2013

By Katie DeGuglielmo


Katie DeGuglielmo, a true Jumpstart veteran, is Jumpstart’s National Program Coordinator. Katie joined Jumpstart as a Corps member at Tufts University and then became a Jumpstart Site Manager for Jumpstart’s Northeast team; shortly thereafter she joined Jumpstart’s National Program team.

In celebration of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record®, Katie shares the “why” behind choosing Otis as the official Read for the Record 2013 campaign book. Read for the Record is one of Katie’s favorite times of the year.

Putt puff puttedy chuff. Otis, the old tractor’s soothing purr lulls his loyal friend, the calf, softly to sleep.

The scene reminds me of Lydia, a dear Jumpstart child, and her beloved “Blankie.” Blankie comforted her every day, beginning with her first day home from the hospital. Even when all that remained was little more than torn rags of blanket stuffing, Lydia was steadfast and packed Blankie snuggly into her backpack.

Many of us know children like this – clinging loyally to a beloved toy or object. The nostalgia in recalling the memory of Blankie is why I am thrilled about the selection of Loren Long’s Otis for Jumpstart’s eighth Read for the Record campaign, presented in partnership with the Pearson Foundation.

Otis is fun and educational – a marvelous story to share with a young child in your life. Children quickly warm to the lively illustrations of Otis and the calf leapfrogging bales of hay. There are wonderfully rich vocabulary words for adults and children to discuss together (such as bawl, explode, stall, and rumbling).

Otis will prompt you to recount play-filled childhood days just like Otis and the calf enjoy together.

But there is something else in this book that speaks loudly to me, and I bet it will to you too – the phasing out of the old for the new. One day, Otis’ farmer excitedly introduces a shiny new tractor to his barn of animals and farm tools. Sure, the new tractor is bigger and stronger than little Otis. But the new tractor doesn’t have it all. Otis waits faithfully for the day when there is something the farmer needs that the new tractor just can’t do. When trouble comes to the farm, Otis springs to action and saves the day.

The farmer’s excitement for his shiny, new tractor made me stop and wonder: How often do we eagerly await something shiny and new? And what is the value we receive when we trade in the old for the new? The lines of customers outside of a certain high-profile, shiny new tech store on a Saturday morning offer some evidence that we may be trading in the old more often than we realize.

Otis gently reminds us of an old wisdom. Some old things are loyal and trusty. They might rattle and putt puff puttedy chuff, but those rattles are familiar and comforting. Some things that are old will know when we need them and gladly oblige.

I love Otis because it gives us an excuse to talk with our children about this very wisdom. As they earnestly insist that we buy them the next shiny new toy, we can remind children of Otis. Shiny new things aren’t necessarily better than those that are faithful and old.

And speaking of things that are old, Jumpstart’s 20th anniversary brings up similar feelings of nostalgia for me. We have grown and changed, and we have some shiny new things to offer. But the heart of our programming is comfortingly the same. Adults and children sharing a book together, finding joy in learning and working towards the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed.

We hope you will join us in reading Otis on October 3, 2013 in support of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record!

Art I’m Donating to Children’s Art Auction at BEA

I made this picture for my newest Otis book, Otis and the Puppy. At the end of the book making process, we (my editor, art director and I) decided not to use it. We liked the painting but we wanted to end the book with a bright, daytime scene.
aa3Below is the original sketch for the picture. My sketches are very small. Keeping them small helps keep the overall design of the image simple, very little detail.

I never really finished this painting so before shipping it to the folks at the auction, I needed to  touch it up , some noodling to make Otis pop, with brighter reds, and highlights in the eyes to make them come to life.


a little more detail on the puppy…



Here is the final art in my studio before sending it off!

For information about this auction, go to

Thanks for taking a look!


contemporary illustrators that influenced

I often site the American Regionalist painters from the 20’s and 30’s as my biggest artistic influence. It’s true, I love the art that was being created in America in the first half of the 20th century. But there are many contemporary,  working  illustrators who influenced me early in my career in the late 80’s and early 90’s when I was getting started, just trying to figure out how I could possibly make a living as an illustrator, long before I did my first children’s book.

There were many, but today I’ll share just a few… Gary Kelley, Mark English, Brad Holland and C.F. Payne.

I first saw Gary Kelley’s work at a design conference in West Virginia while I was still at the University of Kentucky. Gary is a brilliant draftsmen, a master designer, and a true original and when I heard him speak I first realized, this is what I want to be. See his work here

Back when I was a student, Mark English was widely known as one of the biggest names in the illustration field. He once gave me a portfolio review at a conference  when I was a student (shaking in my boots) and he told me I needed to work on drawing hands. He told me that my painting is only as good as it’s worst part. I’ve never forgot that, since that moment I began emphasizing hands in my illustrations, making sure they were believable. You can see Mark English’s work here

There is no shortage of illustrators, young and old, who were in no small part affected by the work of Brad Holland. I was no exception. I studied his work and learned as much as I could from the free expression and power of his imagery. You can see his work here

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet each of the illustrators I’ve listed above but none of them impacted the daily approach to my career more than C. F. Payne. My first job as an illustrator brought me to Cincinnati and Chris Payne had just moved back here (where he grew up) from working in Dallas. I took a night class from Chris when he was teaching at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I loved the work Chris did for Rolling Stone magazine and a host of other editorial publications. Chris is such an open, friendly, enthusiastic guy and he invited me over to his studio to work alongside him. I would show up sometimes around 10 or 11PM and  work on little parts of his pictures while he was trying to  make some of his important deadlines. On a few occasions I did not leave his studio until early morning, just enough time for me to go home and shower and get off to my job at Gibson greetings for the day  (no wonder I could never get there at 8:00 sharp). Chris was the bigtime and I was allowed to witness his work firsthand. His artistry and work ethic left a huge impression on me as a young artist. You can see Chris’s work here

Many famous American fine artists in art history certainly helped shape the way I work, but I can’t forget what an impression the living, working illustrators of today have had on me as well, especially when I was just getting started. Thanks for reading this.