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by Courtney Pippin-Mathur

You must play if you want to create.

HI, I’m an illustrator.

An illustrator that loves to draw.

An illustrator that loves to draw and paint with watercolors.

An illustrator that loves to draw and paint with watercolors and create stories.

An illustrator that loves to draw and paint with watercolors and create stories who doesn’t like to sketch.


It’s the truth.

The doodles I do create are abstract pattern designs taken during PTA meetings, where I dream of being home in my PJs. (No offense to PTA meetings, I just have a love affair with sweatpants and PJs and it starts at 6pm sharp every night.)

But I was running low on ideas. I had written and illustrated two picture books and I needed more. More ideas, more stories, more art.

But when I sat down to write, nothing happened. When I tried to sketch ideas, nothing happened. The graphite ran dry. I hated everything I made and grew frustrated with each attempt. The burden of creation had stifled my brain. Because I felt as though I HAD to come up with more ideas, I could not come up with ANY ideas.

So, I decided to just play.

Instead of making myself sketch in order to get a story, I sketched because I love to draw. And I drew what I loved.

My niece who loves to act like a dinosaur.

My daughter who was so shy in big family gatherings with her father’s family.





And I played with my first love, watercolor.

I started to combine my abstract watercolors with my drawings and felt the magic come back. The magic of inspiration and story.

Sometimes the story comes to me right away.

And sometimes I let it sit and the story comes to me through stages.

If I just play and put no pressure on myself that every drawing or painting has to become a story, the stories come. Some shamble in like half dead zombies, some strike like lightening but if I move my pencil or my brush and just PLAY, the ideas arrive.

Even if you’re not a visual artist, you can play. Play with watercolor, play with oil pastels, play with colored pencils, crayons or markers. Just play. Allow yourself to do something creative that isn’t tied into words and see what happens.

Courtney Pippin-Mathur grew up in East Texas and passed the hot summer days reading, drawing, watching She-Ra and exploring her grandma’s farm. She doodled constantly through elementary, middle and high school but didn’t think about art as a career until a fateful art history class at The University of Texas at Austin. After transferring from Government to Studio Art, she moved to the east coast, and started pursing a career in children’s books where she could combine all my favorite things.

She now lives in Northern VA now with her husband and three kids. Her picture books include MAYA WAS GRUMPY, DRAGONS RULE PRINCESSES DROOL and the upcoming HAPPY DIWALI with her sister-in-law, Sanyukta Mathur. Visit her online at, Twitter @pippinmathur and Instagram @pippinmathur.

Special announcement! Courtney will be teaching at our premiere Storystorm Retreat at Highlights Foundation, March 5-8, 2020. We’ll be playing with watercolor!

You do not have to be a Storystorm 2020 participant to attend the retreat! It’s open to anyone serious about developing a picture book and a writing career.

Learn more about our fun and intensive picture book retreat here!

This event will fill up quickly! Sign up today!

Hope to see you there!


by Courtney Pippin-Mathur

For PiBoIdMo, I’m giving you a very special gift.

Your very own Inspiration Fairy!

This Fairy will grant new ideas and make your kidlit dreams come true!

All you have to do is the following:

  1. click on her for the full size image
  2. print
  3. cut
  4. color
  5. attach her somewhere close to your work space.

Next, (and this is the only way to make fairy magic happen:) You have to believe.

And in order to believe, you have to work. You have to write or draw something as often as you can. And never give up! (for more than a few minutes or days at least)

The things you create can be things that are wonderful, horrible, short, long, happy, funny, sad and even things that will probably be better off in the recycling bin.

But, you have to do it.
You have to work for it.
And you have to believe.

I speak from experience. It took five years to get my first book published. It was the first book I wrote and the first publisher I sent it to. But, it took five years for the planets to align, my skills to improve and to get the yes. During these years, I hoped, despaired, submitted and almost quit a million times.

I give you this fairy to remind you that the kidlit adventure is dangerous, slow and might even bring you to tears occasionally.

But, hang in there, keep at it, work it and most of all, believe.

Courtney Pippin-Mathur is an illustrator and writer. Her first picture book as a writer and illustrator, MAYA WAS GRUMPY, is coming out Fall of 2012 with Flashlight Press. She juggles paint, paper, keyboard and three kids. She wouldn’t wouldn’t have it any other way.

Courtney is giving away an original watercolor painting of the Inspiration Fairy to a lucky commenter. A winner will be selected one week from today! Good luck!

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My Books

Coming soon:

illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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