Monday, December 1, 2014

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog

I was pleasantly surprised to find a post about my upcoming book on the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast - a blog about books - this morning.
Read on to check it out!

You can see some sneak previews of the artwork from inside the book! ...

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #408: Featuring Elizabeth Zunon

h1November 30th, 2014 by jules

Today I’m featuring the artwork of Elizabeth Zunon, pictured left, whose illustrations I’ve actually shared here previously (in this 2011 post — back when she was a debut illustrator). And I’m looking ahead a bit here; this isn’t a book out on shelves now. It will be out on shelves in February of 2015 (Millbrook Press). Written by Miranda PaulOne Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia tells the story of one woman who transformed her community.
The book is set in Njau, Gambia. We meet a young girl, carrying fruit in her palm-leaf basket. When the girl’s basket breaks, she picks up a plastic bag that has flown by her, and she gathers her fruits in this bag. Eventually, she learns that it’s one of many plastic bags littering the landscape of the community where she lives.
Years go by, and Isatou becomes a woman. “She barely notices the ugliness growing around her … until the ugliness finds it way to her,” the author writes. Her grandmother tells her that many goats are perishing after having eaten the plastic trash. Isatou and her friends decide to dry the bags and then cut the bags into strips. They then roll the strips into spools of plastic thread to use for the creation of purses. The women crochet with these plastic strips, and they do so away from the community — for fear they will be mocked. When they set out to sell the recycled purses (“fingers sore and blistered”), they discover that they sell well.
A closing Author’s Note from Miranda explains how she once visited Gambia and actually visited with Isatou in her home in Njau. (They are pictured right.) The book’s back matter also includes a Wolof glossary and pronunciation guide, as well as a timeline and suggested further reading.
Zunon herself grew up in the Ivory Coast in West Africa but now makes her home in Albany, New York. Her collaged, multi-media illustrations for this story are very textured and colorful, capturing well the transformation at the hands of Isatou.
See for yourself. Here are some spreads from the book. Enjoy. 

(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)

(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)

“One woman lays dalasi coins on the table. She chooses a purse and shows it to one friend. Then two. Then ten. Soon everyone wants one!”
(Click to enlarge)

“…it was.”
(Click to enlarge)

ONE PLASTIC BAG: ISATOU CEESAY AND THE RECYCLING WOMEN OF THE GAMBIA. Copyright © 2015 by Miranda Paul. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Elizabeth Zunon. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Millbrook Press, Minneapolis.
The photos of Elizabeth, Miranda, and Isatou are taken from Elizabeth’s website.
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Isatou is coming! Isatou is coming!

Four of the eight books I have now illustrated are about real people: Romare Bearden, William Kamkwamba, Barack Obama, and most recently Isatou Ceesay. I've never met any of the subjects of my books, but have felt like I've gotten to know them through my research about their lives and trying to put myself in their shoes as I illustrate their stories.

But, now, all that is changing because...



Isatou Ceesay, the subject of my next book due out February 1, 2015, will be in the U.S. this Spring, and she's coming to Albany, NY with the author of the book Miranda Paul, from March 21 to March 26!!!!!

The three of us will be doing some fun book events in Albany to celebrate the release of  One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (Millbrook Press), kicking it off with an Art for All activity at the Albany Institute of History & Art on March 21. (details to follow)

I am so so very very excited to actually shake hands with someone whom I feel I sort of already know and have a kinship with! And with the super-talented children's writer and teacher Miranda Paul, who met Isatou in the Gambia, West Africa in 2003, learned about Isatou's inspiring recycling project and worked so very hard to make this book about her a reality, has been such a sweetheart to me! It was an honor for me to illustrate this book. 

Miranda has been very busy writing, and has a slew of new books for children coming soon! In addition to One Plastic Bag, look for her upcoming books:

Miranda and her team have created an awesome website for our book: where you can learn about the book itself, the plastic bags Isatou and her friends recycled in their village, the women involved in bringing the story to you, the Gambia, where Isatou is from, and the Earth Day contest for kids, and more!

Sooooooooooooooo coooooooooooooooool!

Can you tell I'm excited?

If you would like to book us for an event at your school, library or bookstore in the Capital Region area, email me at

Isatou Ceesay will be on a One Plastic Bag U.S. Book Tour from March 9 until May 9. You can email Baptiste Paul at to book your customized tour event! 

Monday, October 27, 2014

We Need Diverse Books Campaign

Recently, I've been involved with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks mission to promote diversity in children's literature, and they have launched an official fundraising campaign!

The mission statement:
"We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality.
We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.
In order to accomplish our mission, we reach out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including (but not limited to) agents, publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students."

You can learn more by clicking on the link below and watching the video:

Read more about We Need Diverse Books on the website:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Painted Tile

A few months back, I was asked to paint a ceramic tile for the African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region, Inc. They had partnered with Glennpeter Jewelers Diamond Centre for a previous event and were asked to contribute a tile for the Jeweler's "Wall of Love" which displays painted tiles from various community groups Glennpeter Jewelers has been involved with.

I was given a kit with the paints, brushes, and directions (a great help, for someone who's not used to ceramic paints!) and this is how the tile turned out:

This is before firing the tile in the kiln, so the final outcome will have brighter, darker versions of the colors used. I haven't gotten any calls telling me the colors ran or the tile exploded in the kiln or anything (I'm dramatic, I know) so I'm hoping it all turned out OK!

If you ever happen to be in their Albany location at 1544 Central Avenue and see the tile on the "Wall of Love", let me know how it looks! 

An Announcement!

I'm very happy to announce that one of my original illustrations was purchased by the Albany Institute of History & Art this past spring during my show at the African American Community Center of the Capital Region, Inc.!

The illustration is from my first book; My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden's Childhood Journey, created with oil paint and cut paper. It depicts men and women jumping off a tree into the air with flying birds, escaping to freedom : "Wanting to Be Free like the Wind Blows through a Tree"

My mom called me and said: "Lizzie, you're in the newsletter!" Thanks for letting me know, Mom! :)

... Click on the Newsletter to read the blurb! ...

The Albany Institute of History & Art happens to be in my neighborhood, and they have been very supportive of my artistic endeavors. They purchased the clog that I painted in the summer of 2012 and display it in their lobby!

.. the facade of the Albany Institute of History & Art ...
... the front doors ...

I will be teaching the Albany Institute's Girl Scout Program workshops this fall. The first is a jewelry workshop on October 18 for Junior Level Girl Scouts. We will be making our own jewelry inspired by the Institute's ancient Egypt exhibition! So exciting!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Back to Work

Ahh, it's been over two months since I've posted anything!
I've been busy working on multiple projects and was able to leave town for a relaxing vacation. I finished illustrations for one of my upcoming books right before my 30th birthday, photographed and emailed them to the publisher for review, then escaped to New England for a while to breathe some different air...

One thing I haven't done on recent vacations is sit down and draw or paint. I recently bought a block of watercolor paper and dug out my watercolor set. I've been experimenting with freeing myself from creating images that are overly thought-out before even touching the paper with paint or ink.

I think too much!

On a beach in Rhode Island, I decided to sit down and just play...

It's so freeing to just sit on a beach and listen to crashing waves and whirling wind. After flying a kite and doing some reading (well really laying in the sun and listening to Kevin read out loud), I created four little watercolor paintings inspired by my surroundings.

You can't tell from the picture, but I swear there are tiny little bugs sunbathing on the painting.. weird.
I guess bugs love art too!
I sprinkled some sand onto the wet paint to add a frosty texture.

... This one looks more like a beachy landscape ...

... Grassy sand dunes ...

... Kevin's feet on the beach, in pen, marker and watercolor ...

I think I'm going to use this combination of watercolor, pen and marker in my next book (which I'm working out sketches for these days).
I've got to take a break from working with oil paints... too much getting lightheaded and having to stop painting before I think I'm done for the day. I know that oil paints are somewhat toxic, but a recent trip to my local art supply store to get a new tube of Flake White paint was a sort of scary reminder: the saleswoman said that the company had discontinued that particular color because of the high amounts of lead in it (oh geez, and I've been leaning over my paintings, literally breathing in the stuff for years. Is that why I'm so stuffy in the mornings and my sniffles sound like an old rusty lawnmower? I'm going to try very hard to not self-diagnose here...).

So as soon as I'm done with the very last changes for the illustrations in Poems in the Attic (due out May 2015), I'm swearing off oil paints for a while! It will be hard, since that's my favorite medium and I've gotten so used to it, but an artist's gotta do what an artist's gotta do to stay healthy, right?

Plus, I've officially entered my third decade of life and it's time to experiment! I spent a little too much money on fancy decorative papers in Boston and Providence, and I'm looking forward to painting, cutting them up, and using them in my next book :)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Cover Reveal!

Today's the day!
I've been itching to share the cover for my newest book: One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, and here it is!

The book is written by Miranda Paul and published by Millbrook Press. It's about a real-life recycling powerhouse (that I really hope to meet someday) named Isatou Ceesay, who lives in the Gambia, West Africa. The author, Miranda loves to write, teach, travel, and drink mango smoothies (my favorite!!!). She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
You can learn more about her at and

I'm so proud of our book! Look for Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia in stores this Spring 2015!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blog Tour!

A very big thank you to my illustrator friend Meg Sodano for inviting me on this author/illustrator blog tour! I am posting later than expected, but here we go: 

*What am I currently working on?*
I'm finishing up final illustrations for my eighth children's book, called Poems in the Attic. It is written by Nikki Grimes, and will be published in Spring 2015 by Lee & Low Books
It's been a busy spring and summer! I recently wrapped up illustrations for another book which I'm very excited about, called One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, also due out in Spring 2015, published by Millbrook Press

Here is a little sneak preview of an illustration for Poems in the Attic, a story about a little girl discovering her mother's poems.

It was my first time painting a horse! Very nerve-wracking, but I'm happy with the result. I'm used to painting human faces and figures, and let me tell you, going from a human painter to a horse painter is scary- very worried the horse would end up looking like a donkey... also, it's hard to make a goat not look like a lamb- but that's another story- in another book.

The illustrations I'm working on now are a mix of oil paint and collage, so I'm currently waiting for the last few illustrations to dry so that I can add collage elements to them. It's labor-intensive, but the final result is so fulfilling! 

*How is my work different from others in my genre?*
I very much use my personal experiences and mementos in my illustrations; it's like putting a piece of me, a memory that I have, into every illustration. I lived in the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire) where my dad is from, until I was twelve, so things like bright patterned African print fabrics and lush green foliage often make their way into my work. Just about every scrap of decorative paper or fabric I use in my illustrations has a memory attached to it.

*Why do I illustrate what I do?*
Because it's the best way for me to express myself and tell stories.... and I love color and texture and pattern and contrast, and all those things art school nerds stay up at night thinking about :)

*How does my illustration/writing process work?*
As an illustrator (I'm working on the writing thing, keep your fingers crossed... ), it all starts with reading the manuscript and doing some doodles of the first images that the words conjure up in my head. 

Next, I create a storyboard for the book. Most picture books are 32 to 40 pages, so I get a large piece of paper and draw a box for each page of the book (32 pages will translate to 16 rectangles cut in two on the paper). I do thumbnail drawings of what I think would make the most sense on each page. 

The next step is research. Since most of my books are non-fiction, I've got to research the people and the places that the book are about . Maybe one day I'll have the budget to travel to far away places for research:) For now, it's Google and other books. 

Next, I take photographs of myself in various poses of the characters in the book so I can use these photos as reference when I'm painting... super corny if you don't know the context... 

Then I draw to-scale drawings for each page of the book, in pencil. 
The two following images are from The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, written by Willam Kamwamba and Bryan Mealer, Dial Books, 2012.

I transfer these drawings onto my gessoed watercolor paper, paint and collage...

(the words are added on later digitally by the Art Director)

And pray that they all dry in a reasonable amount of time... this is the most stressful part- making the deadline (or asking for an extension in time) and hoping that the art directors are happy...

Finally, I wrap all the illustrations up in a box with probably too much duct tape, take the long-anticipated drive to FedEx (by 7pm so that I can send the illustrations overnight to their final destination), send them off, and b-r-e-a-t-h-e!!! 

Then I reward myself with a great meal and wait till morning to vacuum up all the tiny little pieces of paper left in the rug from the epic collaging. And Voila!

Next up, I'd like to invite you to see what two of my illustrator friends are up to.

Nicolette Callaway is a self-taught visual artist. Her collage paintings are made with paper cut from gossip and fashion magazines. She repurposes these magazines in an effort to direct the viewer away from the consumeristic culture they promote; however, rather than reappropriating the images themselves, she uses their color and texture as though they were paint.
Her work focuses on totem animals surrounded by the four natural elements: earth, air, fire and water, speaking to how we as humans can actively connect with the natural and spiritual worlds.
Visit Nicolette's blog at:

Violet Lemay has been an illustrator for twenty years, focusing on children's books for the last five or six. She has 20+ titles to her credit, including New York Babyand Isabella's Shoe Studio—the latter of which, besides illustrating, she also wrote. Violet, who lives in upstate New York with her husband and twelve-year-old son, is the art director of her favorite publisher, duopress.

Visit Violet's blog at:

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Soccer is the only sport I can stand to actually watch on TV.. and actually get loud and yell at the screen. It must be from watching all those soccer games in in the living room with my dad while growing up in the Ivory Coast, where people are crazy for soccer!

It's been four years since I wore my bright orange Ivory Coast soccer jersey to watch the national team called the Elephants, battle it out at the World Cup. I was lucky enough to be asked to be the artist to represent the Ivory Coast in creative agency's World Cup Challenge; an online match-up of 32 artists and graphic designers from each of the countries playing in the World Cup.

After each World Cup match, the designer is expected to create a piece of work within a 90 minute time frame and supply it within 24 hours of the game, with both competing pieces of artwork presented side by side on Over 64 matches the collected images will provide a unique creative expression of the World Cup muse. 

What a great idea! All of the artwork created will be sold in limited edition prints and collected into a book to sell for charity. 

Here are the pieces I created for the 326490 challenge:

Game 1:
Triumph! The Elephants are back! They won their first game 2-1, playing against Japan.

Game 2:
The Elephants lost 2-1 against Colombia. Kicked up a lot of dirt and energy, though.
Sadly, the younger brother of two of the team's players passed away hours after the game. Very sad day.

Game 3:
So close to moving onto the second round of games! The score was 1-1 against Greece until literally the very last minute, when a foul was called on one of the Ivorian players and Greece was allowed a penalty kick which won them the game.
SO NOT FAIR!!!! The elephants were sluggish and stunned.

After the end of this game, I was stunned into silence. (Sigh) we totally almost had it. 
I'm still wearing my jersey to sleep in solidarity. I'll put it away in July until four years from now when the nest World Cup starts up again. Fingers crossed for better luck for the Elephants.  

You can take a look at the ongoing creative matches here:
There is some great graphic design going on! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Catastrophe! It's Raining in My Office (AGAIN)

A couple of weeks ago, on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning (perfect weather for a wedding, which I was headed to) I woke up to the drip, drip, drip sound of water leaking onto my computer desk. Grrreeeeaaaat! 

Freak-out moment #1: Half-asleep, in tears and more than totally panicked, I proceeded to unplug and move my computer, keyboard, mouse, speakers, brand new printer/scanner/photocopier, lamp, bulletin board, office chair and piles of paper from my desk and place buckets under the leaks...

Unfortunately, this has happened every spring during the four and a half years I've lived in my apartment. This is the worst it has ever been. I live on the ground floor, but every time we have a heavy rain or ice and snow melting on the roof, I have to move all my computer equipment out of that room. There is apparently a drainage pipe from the roof which empties out into the alleyway, but overflows at the point where the pipe enters the building between the ground floor and second floor causes drama in my life.

There is water in the walls, in the ceiling, in places where it shouldn't be. Rusty rainwater, at that.

Not cute.

... threatening water bubble in the ceiling ...
... buckets ...
... bucket ...

Well I after I made sure everything was out of the room and contacted the landlord, I had to get the heck out of there to calm down. I packed an overnight bag and headed to my parents' house, which is halfway between my place and the wedding venue I was headed to that day. (Mom and Dad are always there to save the day!)

The wedding was gorgeous: outdoor ceremony on a lush green golf course... but I had to leave the reception early when I got word that no one had come to my apartment yet to check on the leaks and the roof and the drainage pipe... so I rush back home to find that three out of the five buckets I had placed under the leaks in the morning were overflowing....

Freak-out moment #2: kick my heels off, tie my long black cardigan on backwards over my dress and walk the buckets, one by one, into the bathroom to empty them into the tub, spilling plenty of rusty water in the hallway. I didn't make it back to the reception. Got a pep talk and hugs from my cousins (thanks, Jen and Julie!) and went to (try to) sleep at Mom and Dad's.

... water dripping in the hallway ...
... the patched up crack in the bathroom getting wet ...

I let my computer air out for about ten days before trying to turn it back on... praying it would be OK.

... And my computer still works! Hurraaayy!! I haven't tried the scanner yet though, but the printer function works. 

The following Monday at 5:17 am, I was awoken to a loud BANG! sound in the bathroom.

Freak-out moment #3: I have no words.

SO NOT CUTE!!!!!!!!!!!!

That patch job holding the ceiling together where it was cracked gave way. Whhyyyyyy meeeeee?

This is after the ceiling debris in the tub was cleared and the shower curtain rod screwed back into the ceiling. Can you make out the blue sponge up in the hole? There was also a paintbrush that came down with the debris... so weird.

I thank my lucky stars that no artwork got wet- I would have absolutely had a nervous breakdown. There is artwork EVERYWHERE in my apartment; my own and art that I've purchased. I had illustrations for two books drying in the hallway: thankfully, not the hallway walls that got wet.

Suffice it to say: I now refuse to now use that Evil Rainy Season Catastrophe room, I've had to slowly re-configure my work spaces. I now have my computer in the room where I keep paint materials and let paintings dry, but had to move the internet modem and get wireless internet so that I actually check emails and do research on my computer.


That room is too small to fit my huge printer, so thanks to Geek Squad (and 50 bucks) I can now print wirelessly to the other room, where I have my drawing desk.

So much drama... I'm attending another wedding out of town, this time an hour away this weekend. Let's hope I don't come home to Freak-out #4.