Thanksgiving Dinner Party Portraits

The day after thanksgiving, we went out to dinner with some family. Where did we go? Out for SUSHI! However, the wait to fill the big order was a little long and tedious so I am glad the kiddos at our table were provided with some crayons. Here's what I did with a little box on the waxy paper placemats. Maybe I could turn it into a restaurant side show...offer my services. What do you think? (Just kidding of course)

Read more »

Halloween Fun! Despicable Me 2 Characters Costumes: Gru, Agent Lucy Wilde, Minion

Just a quick post, post-Halloween. Maybe the costume links will help you out for next year or for Comic Con sometime. :-)

This year my little toddler wanted to be a minion for halloween. He LOVES the Despicable Me movies. So I followed suit...I dressed as Lucy Wilde, Agent for the Anti Villain League and made a lovely nose (click for instructions) complete with stick-on mustache eyebrows and used a bald cap for my hubby to be Gru.

Here are some supplies, the pics and some costume tips...

yellow construction toy hat
yellow shirt
denim overalls
shipping labels to print logo on (logo below...print out on Avery 8164 shipping label, then cut out and stick on)
black stretchy gloves
Black shoes
minion goggles (toy or created yourself)

My Minion (sans gloves)
Agent Lucy Wilde, AVL :
Orange hair spray color
large sunglasses
pink and white polka dot material to make a scarf or buy this one
turquoise dress
spike heels (white or neutral)
lipstick (for lipstick taser)
shipping labels for badge printout

Here's a file of the badge to print out in MSWord. If you don't have that program, here's a pdf. print out on Avery 8164 shipping labels or its equivalent. My printer was losing its ink so the badge book I printed ended up a striped turquoise instead of full turquoise. But if you have turquoise duct tape or cardstock, just use that to make a flip open badge holder and stick your labels inside.

Black jacket
preferably black skinny pants (but all we had were gray slacks)
gray and black striped scarf (all we had was gray so I used black tape to make stripes)
Bald cap (or naturally bald head)
Long nose (here are the instructions I used)
Dollar Store stick on mustaches for eyebrows
rubber band

I made the nose and the eyebrows as one aluminum foil piece, kind of like a unibrow with a nose. Then covered in masking tape. Painted with flesh colored acrylic paint (mixed yellow ochre, white and alizarin crimson). Let dry. Stapled rubberband to ends of eyebrows so it could go around head and hold on to the face. Then used the stick on mustaches as actual eyebrows.

Read more »

No Excuses...But I'm back: Hosting Erin and Philip Stead and more

Hello all. I'm so sorry I was absent all summer and for half of Fall. I won't make any excuses only say that family, work and life passes by quickly and sometimes the blog gets left behind.

But on to the now...

The book idea I blogged about last, the one that has to do with collecting (and something SOOOOO much deeper), is all dummied out and in the hands of a very dear copy editor friend, who loves it, and is passing it on to her very dear editor friend. There are no assurances, but a friend on your side in the business is always a lovely thing.

In July I was privileged to host Erin and Philip Stead at the summer BYU Symposium for young readers. It was a wonderful experience. Erin is kind, a bit shy, and very humble about her own art. She attributes all her success back to her husband, Phil, nudging her into children's books. They make a great team all around. Phil is also kind, the more outgoing of the two and very excited about creating new art. They had great tips and fun stories to share. Here's an image from my notes.

I'm currently finishing up with a patriotic book due out June 2014. As soon as the publisher's catalog is out with the cover art I just turned in, I'll post a link. I am REALLY loving this book. The text is actually lyrics in the public domain and has been illustrated before. However, I hope with my spin on the book, it'll take it to an expanded sphere. I know speaking in generals and not giving any specifics is annoying, but unfortunately, that is sometimes the biz.

And just a little more of a sneak peak of that one...probably as much as I can show right now (but look at earlier posts and you'll see another):

On that note (of having to be hush hush), I'm also working with a VERY big client...NOT on a picture book at all, and I can't say a word about it until probably February (that's so annoying, I know). But just be happy for me and know that if my house doesn't get decorated much for the holidays, it's all because I'm feverishly trying to make deadlines.

Read more »


I'm working on another picture book manuscript and illustrations (a personal project that I hope to present for publication someday)...and I'm collecting. I'm collecting memories.

Last summer my dear Grandma passed away. She was such a sweet and lovely person, always trying to serve and love others. I can't deny that she was my favorite Grandparent. So I began collecting my memories of her, like...

  • Her white patent leather purse on a gold chain strap
  • The black licorice she kept in plentiful supply
  • Her blue hair 
  • rolls and jam
  • peaches and cream
  • beautiful, handmade, quilts
  • the petite genes she passed on to me (she shrunk to about 4'11" through the years)
  • her little black heels
  • pearls
  • her smile
The list goes on and on. So I wrote a book. Based on truth. Beautified through the music of art and words. As I mentioned last week in my notes of Poet Lance Larsen...MUSIC TRUMPS TRUTH. Hopefully the music of this book will bring out the truth of the truth. I hope to share it with you someday. But for now,  here is a simple and my Grandma...

What are your memories of your Grandparents?

Read more »

12 tips on writing from Utah State Poet Laureate Lance Larsen

Here are my notes from Lance Larsen's Speech today

Read more »

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers- How to write

illustration by Julie Olson

Here are a few tips from Sharlee Glenn about writing picture books...

1. Choose a suitable shape for your story. Is it circular (start and then end at about the same place)? Is it linear? Is it an arc? Think visually.

2. Use ACTIVE not PASSIVE voice. 

3. Use Concrete Language. Circle all your adjectives and adverbs and decide if they are really needed or if the sentence could be written any differently? Make each word count.

4. Omit Unnecessary Words. Take out take out take out...anything that is absolutely not pushing the story or plot forward.

5. Voice. Distinctive voice from author and from character.

What to write?

  • write memories from childhood honestly & truthfully
  • write down how you felt, thought, and acted as a child
  • write things that you would never tell anyone
  • write the story that is in YOU
  • read a lot
  • pay attention
  • write a lot
Read more »

Creating Cute, Charismatic Characters

Yesterday I taught a workshop on creating picture book characters. I thought I would share a couple things here. When you are creating (writing or illustrating) a picture book character, think about these things...

Make sure your character is able to be "Indentified WITH."  RELATABLE. You need to think about your audience, what they would indentify with, and put some part of that in your character...whether it be age, a common problem for that audience, or a common interest that audience has.

The character needs to be "INVOLVED." They need to be part of the action of the story, the verbal part AND visually part of the action. Do not make them a passive bystander watching the action in any way. They must be IN it. INVOLVED.

And finally the character needs to be "INTERESTING." Something about them should be unpredictable. Instead of a cat for a little girl's pet, give her a bearded dragon. (see below)
In addition, ask yourself these three questions... WHO? WHAT? WHY?
Often the answers to those questions will provide you with a picture book story ready to go. For example...

WHO? Archer Aardvark, boy, Aardvark animal, age 5
WHAT? favorite color Orange, wears a baseball cap, loves baseball, needs his blankie
WHY? REALLY wants to play on the baseball team

So the story is... Archer Aardvark wants to play on the baseball team, but he can't give up his blankie. He tries all sorts of ways to play baseball WITH his blankie and finally figures out his problem in a fun way.

Then we talked about capturing the essence of an animal or person and then adding interesting things to visually create the character. I can't put the whole presentation here, but that's the gist.

Now, go create your own character and picture book.

Read more »

Signed a Contract for a new Picture Book!!! YAY!

So a while back (last September...almost a year ago) I posted this...., talking about the WAIT after submitting a picture book and what I do while I wait. Well, yesterday I posted a review of what I did during the last month of waiting. :-) But I have great news!!!

I signed a contract for that picture book! I have to have it all finished by December 1, 2013 and it'll be out one year from now in June 2014. It's a patriotic book with a fun twist. I am VERY excited about it and can't wait to share it with you. I'll have to ask my new publisher how much I can share. :-)

possible interior illustration from upcoming book "From Sea to Shining Sea" copyright 2012 Julie Olson 

Read more »

Main Floor Renovation - Why I've been absent from the blog

This is my latest creative project which took 7 weeks and was only supposed to take 3-4. When we bought our house, we knew the main floor wasn't our style and that we'd renovate it someday. Well, after 8 years and a lot of planning and designing on my part, we finally bit the bullet. I am thrilled with the results.

Here is our kitchen before the remodel (well we had already taken off some drawer fronts and taken out the stove). But standard cookie cutter kitchen and plain beige everything including ceramic tile with dirty grout.

And here is the kitchen after the remodel...
new much better for the work flow

We used the same cabinets but rearranged them, added 3 new ones, and put new doors and moldings on everything. (When I say we here, I mean I had the cabinet company do them.) They painted the cabinets and then added doors. The counters are quartz.

My husband and I did all the floors. They are bamboo hardwood planks, called Antique Strand Bamboo from Lumber liquidators. I personally painted all the walls on the main floor (whew!) and had fun installing all the new light fixtures and caulking the darn baseboards when we put them back on.  It was all a lot of work but we are excited to have it done.
Here's the flooring...minus baseboards. The walls are Sherwin Williams Mindful Gray (but they look a little green in this light. It's really a nice warm gray. See the other pics.
moved the microwave to the new island and installed a range hood 
view from the couches
The main room before the remodel
after the pillows, flooring, rug from and wall pics and ceiling lights from

front room before
front room after...ikea rug and cube by chair
So there's what I've been doing on the side. Living without a kitchen for 7 weeks really stunk. But I'll forget it now because it's all done! 

BESIDES all that I have some great news about illustrating I'll post next. Watch for it!

Read more »

Wall Mural

I don't do these often...mostly painting fun designs or things on my own kid's walls every time we change their bedrooms around (see those pics here). And this is about as detailed as I got, for my boy's cowboy room way back in 2008.

But every once in a while I get a request from someone to do more of a traditional wall mural/painting. So this is what I did this week in a large basement "under the stairs" play area that the owner is turning into a little French Kitchen for her granddaughters to play in.
copyright Julie Olson 2013
It's about 3.5' wide by 4' tall. A little window looking out from the patisserie over a Parisian sunset...complete with Eiffel tower (which took a very long time to paint). However, the whole thing took me about 4.5 hours total. My knees are feeling it today. I should've used one of those foam garden kneeling pads. 

Anyway, It was fun to get out the acrylics and paint HUGE. I haven't done that for a LONG time and nothing really like this, ever. It really does make me want to go back to France. :-(
a picture my talented hubby took while we were in Paris (copyright  2008 Rhett Olson)
Not quite the sunset pictured in the mural but it felt just as romantic.
from the base of the Eiffel Tower (copyright 2008 Rhett Olson)

Read more »

Conference for Charity called Writing for Charity

Hope to see you at the WRITING FOR CHARITY conference this Saturday, April 27th!
  • LIVE Manuscript Critiques by published authors! 
  • Writing workshops! 
  • Silent Auction! 
  • Pick an author's brain! 
  • Lunch provided!
All proceeds help put books in the hands of less-fortunate children.

Saturday, April 27, 2013 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Followed by Book Sale and Author Signing
Utah Valley University Sorensen Student Center, Orem, UT
(Park in the yellow student spaces in front of the Language Arts building -
No permit required. See map on the website.)

Register online if possible, or pay at the door.
For more information, visit our
Read more »

A possible new venture...Stylized Kid Portraits

So I did this portrait of my kids and decided I may start offering them on a commissioned basis...maybe on Etsy or something. They'd be an 11x14 print, $200 for up to 3 kids, $50 per additional child. What do you think? Worth the price? Worth the venture?

full color digital style
full color final watercolor handpainted
full color final watercolor hand painted

Read more »

School Visit Demo

So today I did another school visit...I actually did two in one week. That is not usually what I do, but it just worked out that way. At today's visit, I enlisted the help of a student to video the presentation with my camera and then created this little demo so you get a small idea of what one of my general school visit consists of. This is a presentation for lower elementary grades. 4th-5th grades or Middle school age visits are much more in depth on the writing process and the illustrating process, whichever they choose. I also do presentations on developing character, making dummy books, and more.


Read more »

On TV again...Fun Times!

Here's a video of me on our local CBS affiliate's show "Fresh Living" once more...teaching the hosts, Casey and Debbie how to draw a penguin. See more of my how-to-draw lessons and coloring pages under the printables tab above. If you want to become an illustrator yourself, I highly recommend attending Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference.

Read more »

How to draw: Penguin, Puppy, Pony,...and Mouse

Today I'm appearing on my local news show, KUTV's "Fresh Living," again. (It airs at 1pm MST on channel 2). They wanted me to come back and teach a little "how-to-draw" segment. I've posted a few how-to-draw posts previously, and now I'm adding a few more to those. You can find all of my drawing printouts under the PRINTABLES tab above. Enjoy!


Read more »

How to draw a face/head

People always say to me, "Oh I'm no good at drawing. I can barely even draw a stick figure." Well, just so you know, people are the hardest things to draw and if all you are trying to do is get the idea of a person across to communicate, a stick figure does it for our left brains. That's what I use in the game of pictionary just like everybody else.

People are hard to draw because we all know what they SHOULD look like. We see people every the mirror or standing in front of us. Our eyes know the proportions and what goes where. So when someone draws a person incorrectly, we instinctively know.

However, EVERY person is different and has different proportions. That's what makes us all individuals. But there are a few basic rules to follow if you want to draw a general picture that resembles a non-specific person. Here are some images that you can print and use to learn the general rules (for personal use or classroom use only).

instructions on proportions of the face and head
you can print this head map to use as a tracing template when practicing your head drawings

a detailed explanation of drawing a general head

Read more »
My photo
I'm a freelance illustrator working in the children's book industry. I love kids and raising my own 4 children. They are the inspiration and the passion behind all I do in art and in life. See my website at

Blog Archive