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Today I invited The Girllustrators, Austin-based kidlit artists, to guest blog for PiBoIdMo, so you’re getting THREE inspirational essays—by Emma Virján, Caitlin B. Alexander and Marsha Riti—for the price of one. (And they’re all FREE, LOL.) I recommend following these talented ladies on Twitter @Girllustrators.


Up first: Emma Virján!

WHAT THIS STORY NEEDS IS A PIG IN A WIG started with this doodle of pig snouts.

WTSN_01 BWSnoutDoodle

Sketches of pigs started to fill my notebooks.

WTSN_02 PigSunHammock


After many drawings, I determined pig needed a name. I named her Pig.

It was also determined that she needed a wig.

WTSN_03 YellowWig 

I drew Pig wearing many different wigs.

WTSN_04 DiffWigs

I loved Pig in all of her wigs (still do) but this one became my favorite.

WTSN_05 FaveWigs

The story of Pig and her wig started to take shape. Work began on a manuscript.

WTSN_06 EarlyDraft

The words “on a boat” kept cropping up and I started drawing images of Pig near a boat.

Sometimes I only drew the boat. The boat always had a pig snout on the bow.

WTSN_07 Boats

The first of many thumbnails were created.

So began the real work of the images and words becoming a picture book.

WTSN_08 EarlyThumbnails


Revisions happened. Drawings were scrapped and new ones were drawn. More revisions happened and eventually What This Story Needs Is A Pig In A Wig was finalized.

WTSN_09 PigInaWig-Cover

WTSN_10 PigOnHerBoat

It’s amazing to think that a black and white doodle of pig snouts, drawn while on the phone with a client, became the inspiration for a character and a story.

And the endpapers.

WTSN_11 SnoutEndpaper


Emma J Virján was born under an Aries moon on a Wednesday, her dad’s bowling night. This explains her attraction to hardwood floors. She likes to draw, work in her garden and often lets her dog sleep on the couch. She makes her home in Austin, Texas where she spends her days as an illustrator and graphic designer. 

She is the author-illustrator of Nacho the Party Puppy, Random House, 2008, and the forthcoming What This Story Needs Is A Pig In a Wig, HarperCollins, May 12, 2015.

You can visit Emma Virján at and follow her illustrative moods on Twitter @EmmaVirjan.


Caitlin bio image

Next is Caitlin B. Alexander! 

Being an illustrator, my concept for a story grows in tandem with my visual ideas. I look at children’s books that I admire, both old and new, and take note of what draws me to them. Is it the overarching message? The color palette? The scenery? What medium did they use for the art, and what kind of characters did they use? The art or writing may not resemble my work, but something about it can still inspire me. I have a massive collection of books that I turn to frequently.

Pic 1

I am somewhat of an overly-organized person, so I make all sorts of bubble charts and graphs, with ideas sprouting into other ideas. Some of these are just images I would love to incorporate into a story, like a sailboat, and others are larger concepts. Eventually, with a lot of scribbling, listing, doodling, highlighting, and sample-writing, I come up with a rough idea or two that can be explored further. It reminds me of a slab of clay that has barely taken shape, but has a lot of potential.

Pic 2

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I wish I could say that I know what perfect and repeating formula works for getting a book published, but there are probably few people who do. The rest of us just create things that we love, and keep learning, making mistakes and trying new things. If we’re lucky, we’ve hit the right combination, and someone else has fallen in love with the idea as much as we have.

Pic 4

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Caitlin B. Alexander is an illustrator based in Austin, Texas with a particular love for dry-brush gouache painting. Both her life and work are heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the 1940’s, ’50s and ’60s. She fancies herself a collector of memories as much as a collector of things, andenjoys bringing this sense of nostalgia to her audience.

Clients include: Spider Magazine, Ladybug Magazine (Cricket Media), Geneologie, Texas Board of Tourism, Dallas Child Magazine, Bearded Lady Screen Prints, Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, PERC Coffee, The Kloud Agency, What’s Up Annapolis? Magazine

Visit Caitlin’s website at, follow her Tumblr at and Tweet with her @cbaillustration.



Marsha Riti

And now…Marsha Riti!

Because I consider myself an illustrator first and foremost, the way I approach storytelling is a bit different than a writer. My inspiration comes from sketching and playing around with materials.

I’m currently working on a dreamy story about a girl, a rabbit, and the moon. This story came about from playing around with loose watercolor techniques and other materials.

Image 1

Then I started playing with character sketches.

Image 2


I love to thumbnail out ideas. Tara Lazar has a great thumbnail guide on her website and so does Debbie Ohi.

Image 3

Here’s a small sample of a double-page layout.

Image 4

And here’s a finished spread.

Image 5

This process naturally lends itself to wordless storytelling, but I don’t want to limit myself. If the story needs words, then I’ll supply them. If it does not, then so be it.

One other place I find inspiration is this quote below from a Blake poem titled “Night.”

“The moon like a flower,
In heaven’s high bower,
With silent delight!
Sits and smiles on the night.” ~ William Blake

My husband and best friend Adam happened across it while reading “Songs of Innocence.” Adam is another source of inspiration. We have wonderful conversations about life and philosophy that are always giving me new ideas.


Marsha Riti is a children’s book illustrator from Austin, Texas. She has been a member of SCBWI for a number of years, and is also a co-founder and member of a female illustrator collective called the Girllustrators. She is currently illustrating a chapter book series for Simon & Schuster, The Critter Club, and is represented by Teresa Kietlinksi of Prospect Agency. And she’s got a wicked sense of humor.

Tara featured Marsha in a “Portrait of an Aspiring Illustrator” in March 2009.

View Marsha’s artwork and latest projects at and follow along on Twitter @marshariti.


Emma is giving away a NACHO THE PARTY PUPPY book and tee!


And Marsha is donating two books from THE CRITTER CLUB!

CritterClub_Amy CritterCLub_Marion

These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for these prizes if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!



marsharitiMarsha Riti grew up in Texas where everything is big, including dreams. So I assumed that she had always dreamed of becoming a children’s book illustrator. Truth is, Marsha knew she had a place in the arts, but it took her a while to discover where that place was.

Marsha currently resides in Austin but she was raised in “the sticks.” Living in a sparsely populated town forced Marsha to use her imagination for entertainment. (Good training for a children’s book illustrator, huh?)

When Marsha’s not at her desk, you might find her cleaning, cooking, gardening, creating pottery, doing math homework, and hanging out with her boyfriend and friends.

bringing-in-the-harvestMarsha, how did you evolve from doodler to doer? What got you started in children’s book illustration?

I was always the best at drawing in high school so when I went off to college it was a no-brainer. In college I tried doing a little bit of everything. My only regret would be not taking metal working or lithography. Even though my interests were (and still are) all over the place I have always loved drawing.

After receiving my BFA from the University of Texas at Austin I went to work for a string of locally owned businesses, some of which were related to the arts, others were not. These jobs were great learning experiences: I can now show great professionalism in the face of adversity and I have also found my true love, illustration.

How did you find your true love?

I took a children’s book illustration class at a local art school. My teacher Mark Mitchell did a great job inspiring me to pursue children’s book illustration. He made the idea of being an illustrator accessible. Before I took his class I had no idea about where to start, but he did a really good job outlining ways to get into the field. I also got a better understanding of watercolor form taking Mark’s class.


Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your illustrations?

Two of the sample paintings were assignments given to me by my boyfriend, artist and designer Adam Norwood. He just gave me a simple phrase like: “full moon over the treehouse” and “fun in the rain.” Then I thought of an image that would best fit the words.

The other sample painting titled “Treasure Apartments” is for a book dummy titled Treasure Hunt that I have not yet finished. Here is a description of the painting:

treasure-apartmentsEach apartment has a very specific owner: the top is a fashionable twenty-something who loves the mid-century look. The next apartment houses the main character, the little girl. Her father (behind the paper) has been everywhere and has the trappings to show it. Then there is the pink apartment—she has lived a long life and loves to listen to her vintage record collection. The bottom apartment is a stay-at-home programmer who is also a bike enthusiast.

I really enjoy using my imagination to think up all kinds of interesting scenarios and characters. Then I get to think about the attire and items that would best show their persona. It is like playing with a really elaborate doll house.

treasure-apartments-detailHow would you describe your illustration style?

I think my style is illustrative and cartoony with an emphasis on fun.

Some of my favorite children’s book illustrators are: Samuel Ribeyron, Jean-Baptise Monge, Graeme Base, and Lisbeth Zwerger. These illustrators are inspiring to me because their work is visually deep both in the sense of space but also because they have texture and substance.

I am inspired by the composition of Japanese woodblock prints by Katsushika Hokusai.

For figure study and line inspiration I like to look at drawings and etchings by the old masters: Rembrandt, Titian, and Durer.

I have a fondness for minimalist art by Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and Carl Andre. For an artist to be able to break their aesthetics about line, weight, color, composition, and form, down to its base level is very inspiring to me.

I love the color field paintings by Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. They amaze me–the scale of their paintings envelopes you in color and can really change your mood.

I also find inspiration from installation art by James Turrell. His installations show beauty in nature in a deceptively simple way.

Other influences would be the early cartooning done by Winsor McKay and George Herriman. Their innovation, imagination, and humor are strong influences on me.

I guess I subscribe to the “less is more” school of thought that I am trying to merge with my love of lush illustration.

What are your goals for the future?
Finishing my first book dummy, getting work, and improving as an artist and storyteller.

Marsha, thank you for sharing your amazing art! Good luck to you!

Marsha Riti is a member of Austin SCBWI. To learn more about her work, visit and follow Marsha on Twitter @MarshaRiti. (Besides her daily doodles, I enjoy Marsha’s daily vintage furniture picks from the Austin Craigslist.)

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