PenguinArt by Kate Garchinsky

Tag: scbwi

Written by Laurence Pringle, Illustrated by Kate Garchinsky. Boyds Mills Press 2017.

Earlier this year I completed the illustrations for The Secret Life of the Red Fox, written by my mentor and friend, Laurence Pringle. It’s something like his one hundred and seventeenth book. I have some catching up to do!

Imagine my joy when I was offered the job to illustrate his next “Secret Life” book—The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat. Seriously. First foxes, now bats? How much cooler can this job get? Last week I received the completed manuscript, and today I opened an envelope from Larry full of bat reference. He made great copies of other illustrators’ renderings of bats of different species. This is as helpful as watching someone else solve a very complex math problem right before you do one yourself. It’s not about copying, it’s about technique, and the artist’s eye.

See, bats aren’t very photogenic.  They are extremely difficult to photograph without some seriously advanced camera equipment—especially little brown bats. Why? Think about it. They’re little. They’re brown. And they are bats—the worlds’ only flying mammals. There’s really nothing else like them. They move fast enough to snatch mosquitos and moths from the air in the dark. I can barely get a sharp photo of a slow-moving pigeon in full daylight! So looking at other artists’ renderings of bats saves me a lot of guesswork. That doesn’t mean I won’t try to photograph them though!

Little brown bat

Another challenge bats pose is their creepy reputation. My job is to make young readers love them, despite any “ew” factor displayed by skeeved-out parents. Little brown bats need our love. They’re on a fast path to extinction due to a deadly fungal outbreak called white-nose syndrome. It’s an upsetting situation if you care about bats. If you don’t, though, then why would you do anything to help save them? Why help an animal that creepy creature like a bat?

My job is to show what’s endearing and important about little brown bats. My mission is to make everyone say, “awwwww!!!” when they see my illustrations of Otis, the main character in the story. The book will be a narrative non-fiction picture book for grades 1-4, but as with the Red Fox book, I’m not thinking about age. I’m thinking about the beauty and quirkiness of the animal when I draw it.

Osprey Growth Chart for Belle's Journey

Osprey Growth Chart for Belle’s Journey

Earlier I asked you, “how much cooler than this job get?” Well. In addition to foxes and bats, I have another project: Belle’s Journey, written by my ornithologist friend, Rob Bierregaard. I have lots of pictures to go through after 5 days sketching and photographing the ospreys of Martha’s Vineyard, the subject and setting of Rob’s book. Belle will be another narrative non-fiction book, but for middle-grade readers. It’s 19 chapters long and packed full of raptor action. How much joy can I stand?

Tag: scbwi

KING OF PRUSSIA, PA – The Eastern Pennsylvania (EPA) chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has a new logo, designed and illustrated by Kate Garchinsky.

Adrienne Wright, Regional Illustration Coordinator for EPA, announced a logo re-design contest for the chapter’s logo on June 26, 2014. The online Call For Entry asked for a logo design that would “knock the socks off all the other chapter’s logos!”

Philadelphia author/illustrator Kate Garchinsky decided to enter the contest after hearing Wright’s announcement during the EPA’s Illustrator Day at the University of Pennsylvania.

Prizes included a free SCBWI membership renewal, entry to the upcoming “Sundaes With Editors!” ice cream social on August 17, and of course, exposure.

“I wanted to create a symbol that embodied the spirit of imagination. With the ‘Golden Kite’ as the SCBWI’s official icon, it made total sense to me to honor Benjamin Franklin as our mascot,” said Kate Garchinsky, referring to Franklin’s famous kite experiment. “As children’s authors and illustrators, we invent ways to capture electricity in our work, and share that energy with our readers.” 

The new logo was revealed at the Sundaes With Editors event, and on the chapter’s blog, EasternPennPoints.

Garchinsky’s logo will represent the chapter “indefinitely,” according to the organization’s website.

See the new logo on the SCBWI-EPA chapter’s website at

For more information about the SCBWI, visit

See more of Kate Garchinsky’s illustration at

Tag: scbwi

And I have lots of stories to share. Where to begin?

The Pocono Mountain Retreat on the Shawnee was something special indeed. I made friends, received expert feedback, made bird sounds by the river, saw a golden eagle by the river, painted en plein air while rocking on the porch, and danced like a carefree idiot child.

I learned new techniques for time management from Laurie Halse Anderson, begged for (and received) a pretend portfolio deadline from Laurent Linn, waged a silent auction bidding war with Carter Hasegawa, and talked crayons, clients, mountains and skiing with Amy June Bates.

The weekend ended with a moving keynote address by Kay Winters, which drew tears of love and inspiration from my tired and bleary eyes. Between now and next year I plan (plan!) to be in a more comfortable spot financially so that I can attend this special conference again on my own, without the generous scholarship—so that someone else may benefit and grow from the experience, as I have.

Special thanks to Francesca Amendolia, Adrienne Wright, and Marilyn Hershey for designing and coordinating this out-of-this-world event, donating their time, sweat, and tears for the cause (triple sweat from Francesca, the dancing queen!).

Stay tuned for my upcoming personal accounts of what it’s like to care for baby wild birds, and how not to chase an injured black vulture through a field of cow pies. True story.

*cue hillbilly banjo music*

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Tag: scbwi

Kate and the Great Blue Heron

Kate and the Great Blue Heron at John Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

Chapter 3, in which I cause a ruckus

Yesterday afternoon I stood on a chair in a library in West Philadelphia, flap, flap, flapping my wings and croaking like a heron for the kindergartners and first graders of the Charles Drew School. If you know me, you know that nothing delights me the way performing loud, ear-piercing bird calls do. You also know that I am quite good at this, even if you don’t personally have a taste for this talent.

How did this awesomeness happen? A few months ago I received a very special invite from a Mr. David Florig of the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC for short). David kindly emailed and asked if I would be interested in reading a children’s book to students in one of the school libraries the WePAC has opened, re-opened, or staffed in the area, in celebration of National Library Week. I said “Yes! As long as you don’t mind that my book is unpublished.” David said “No problem, kids would love to see your work in progress,” or something like that. I said, “Awesome! Let’s book it.” Or something like that.

First Steps (Time to Fly)

First Steps (Time to Fly)

Just like that, I unknowingly joined the fancy ranks of some famous authors and illustrators who also live in the eastern Pennsylvania region, and agreed to read for WePAC, including: David Wiesner, Gene Barretta, Dan Gutman, Lisa Papp and Robert Papp… wait a minute. Do I get to claim membership in the same cool club as this bunch? That’s right, I already do. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

After weeks of preparation, over-thinking and editing my manuscript, scrutinizing my sketches, and fact-checking my bird’s tale, Time to Fly, I threw my heart into the moment on Wednesday and totally got down like a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron. “Flap, flap, flap,” “Eeek! eeek! eeek!” and “CAWK!” echoed through the halls of Charles Drew for nearly 3 hours. I bet you a nickel that no library on Earth has ever witnessed such a wild, silly ruckus. Score one, two, and three for the birds.

Bald Eagle Wingspan

Bald Eagle Wingspan, John Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

Chapter 2, in which I receive a prize

In the same week I accepted my library reading invitation, I did another brave thing—I applied for a scholarship to the 20th Annual SCBWI Pocono Mountain Retreat. I sent my Time to Fly manuscript in consideration for the paid-in-full weekend getaway with art directors, editors, and agents, as well as other hopefuls in the kid lit business. Not even a week later I was notified of the results—I won! All expenses paid. I’ll be sharing a room with my co-winner, which is especially cool because I always attend these kinds of workshops solo.

The Poconos may not be my beloved Rockies, but yay! Mountains! Score! The Shawnee Inn does eerily resemble my favorite literary landmark, the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. I wonder if it’s even a smidge as haunted?

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron adult and chick

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron adult and chick, Avalon, NJ

Chapter 1, in which I save the birds

Coinciding with the bird book events above, I discovered a new muse: Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, Delaware. I began volunteering as a bird rehabber in March, though I had been contemplating it for over a year. Tri-State was a first responder in the BP oil spill in the gulf, and rehabilitates thousands of birds a year with all sorts of maladies, from broken wings to abandoned babies. The oil spill specialists have even travelled to South Africa to de-oil Jackass Penguins. Sign me up!

So far in my first month of training, I have learned the special dietary needs of five species of raptors, three songbirds, two gulls, and one very great Great Blue Heron. Needless to say, this involves some rather unsavory food prep, including the butchering and preparation of dead mullet fish, mice, rats, chicken, and venison, and collecting live mealworms…

Watercolors and reeds

Watercolors and reeds

I fared rather well in every department but poultry. It may seem to be the tamest from the list above, but imagine, if you will, that it is 8:45am when you are asked to halve a whole, feathered chicken (complete with head, beak, feet, and all innards intact), stuck to a tray coated in its own pink, rotten leakage. “With what shall I halve it?” you ask in your most impressive volunteer voice, expecting some fine piece of butchery equipment to appear. No no, sweetie. This is a non-profit. You are directed to go find the saw. Yes, that dull one.

Despite this scenario, in which I had to leave the room after just one pass of the saw, so far I have exceeded my own expectations in dealing with the unpleasantries of the circle of life. Perhaps I could have, or still could, pursue a career in the natural sciences. The payoff of caring for an injured wild bird—even a turkey vulture—is far greater than any discomfort in serving its carrion. That vulture was released to the wild one week later. Score.

Ishta at Tri-State Bird Rescue

Ishta the Peregrine Falcon, permanent resident at Tri-State Bird Rescue


It’s a beautiful mid-March day, and I have chosen to spend a few hours of it painting outside, on the marsh surrounding the Wilmington waterfront. Just as I am about to pack up and leave for home, I see a Canada Goose approach the tidal gate, swimming against the current. Trying to paddle his way through, only to spin and drift backward again and again. What’s that around her neck? It’s a white plastic six-pack holder. It’s woven so tightly that she cannot do the things a goose should do, such as dip underwater, tip down for feeding, look left or right, or reach her preen gland. Her beak is a dull grey, as are her eyes.

Canada Goose, entangled neck

Canada Goose, entangled neck

To get around the tidal gate she scrapes her way onto land, and waddles slowly around it to the calm tidal pool. She wades into the water and floats in the shade of the boardwalk. I call the volunteer inside the education center. She contacts Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research. They ask us to determine if the goose can fly. No. She does not flush when approached. The closest volunteer won’t be there for another hour or two. I am not sure the bird has that long, but I cannot wait around. I have my last art class scheduled in 2 hours and cannot be late.

Before heading home I visit Tri-State’s website and peek at the calendar to find the next volunteer training date. Wouldn’t you know, it’s this Saturday. I have no plans. I’ve already completed an orientation. I call. “Please let me know if there are any spots open for training this weekend.” 10 minutes later I receive my answer. “Yes.” Sign me up.

During training my group is shown the admissions log at the front desk. My Canada Goose was the last bird admitted, the same day I found her. In the status column are the letters, “DBA.” I ask our trainer what DBA means. “Dead Before Arrival.”

Canada Goose with 6-Pack Holder

Canada Goose with 6-pack holder entangled around her neck

The following week, during my “shadow session,” I ask my trainer, “is it possible to find out how an admitted bird died?” I share with her my goose story. We find her chart in the “recently deceased” file. It reported that the stress of her capture and transport to Tri-State caused her to seize. When the staff attempted to move her into the safety of a playpen, she seized again and died.

I cannot get this goose out of my mind. She couldn’t fly. She pushed herself hard to get to that still tidal pool to die in peace. I couldn’t save her, but I can save others. I can help broken birds fly again, and abandoned birds fledge. Flap, flap, flap. It is time.

Snowy Egret pair

Snowy Egret pair

Tag: scbwi

exhaustion [ɪgˈzɔːstʃən] n

1. extreme tiredness; fatigue
2. the condition of being used up; consumption exhaustion of the earth’s resources
3. the act of exhausting or the state of being exhausted

I love this spot. Taken by Scott McBride.

Exhaustion isn’t always necessarily bad. There’s post-exercise exhaustion. Post {bleep} exhaustion. Post-party exhaustion. Today it’s post-SCBWI-NYC-Mid-Winter Conference exhaustion. Who else is with me?

For the past three days I sat in a crowded room and absorbed a highly charged current of creativity in the electro-magnetic New York City.

I <3 NY.

Snow dustedness outside the Grand Hyatt

The mere scale of this weekend’s conference could easily terrify and exhaust any introvert. There had to be at least 1,000 people in the main ballroom. At least. All exchanging creative energy, enthusiasm, frustrations and exhaustions through conversation, presentation, body language, laughter and sighs.

*cue long sip of Rioja*

Door prize time!

I cannot possibly share it all right now. I’m not even sure it’s possible to share it all. The mere thought exhausts me. So… how about a few highlights? After that, I’m going to search for last night’s episode of SNL because Scott and I could not hear the TV audio from our two corner stools at Rosemary’s Greenpoint Tavern last night. El DeBarge had stolen all the rowdy room’s ears via jukebox.


Weekend highlights (kind of in order of occurence):

Making it to NYC just in time to drop off my art. Catching up with John. John Carlin and Rubin Pfeffer’s eBook session. Conversing briefly with a Mentee without realizing who he was. Fantastic Italian dinner in NoHo. Picking up my Showcase art and seeing all 20 large postcards had been snatched. Good dark ale at McSorely’s with Scott and a table full of strangers-turned-pals from NYU law school.

Whew. Hilarious and humble luncheon keynote by the gazillion-copy-selling author of Goosebumps, R.L. Stine. Meeting an eBook entrepreneur. Book signing party minglings. Chatting with Marilyn. Snowflakes that stayed on my nose and my lashes. Perfect vegetable dumplings at Samurai Mama. Watching Eye of the Tiger through the glass wall at the bar at the Knitting Factory. Making super secret plans with Scott at Rosemary’s.

R.L. Stine receives thanks post-keynote

Sara Zarr’s keynote. Sitting next to Olivia and Nadine Bouler, sharing a bird joke before I realized who Olivia was. *Birdartiststarstruckness* Following the owls and the penguins. The humor panel including Mo Willems. Making last-minute connections with people in line at the autograph party. Talking to Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple about birding, owling. Birding and writing. More wandering around Brooklyn. Experiencing the moment. Feeling right.

The owls are everywhere, and they are very wise.

Ok. That’s all I’ve got. When I get home I’ll scan some of my notes. They’re littered with character sketches. Girls in animal masks. Penguins doing yoga. Well, trying their best. It’s not easy with those stumpy little legs.


Penguins are also wise. They love beagles, just like me.


Tag: scbwi

Last week I spent a good solid 5 days in New York City via Brooklyn—the longest I’ve ever stayed in the big, big city. I hadn’t planned it that way. The original purpose of the trip was the Illustrator’s Intensive hosted by the Metro NY chapter of SCBWI on Saturday, July 24—a plan that I almost canceled due to a death in the family. In the end, everything worked out rather miraculously and I was on my way there with plans to return Sunday.

The workshop consisted of a full day of mini-classes, both hands-on sessions and lectures. Due to a last-minute cancellation or two, I obtained a spot in award-winning illustrator Pat Cummings‘ class on storytelling, and an extra unplanned critique with art director and former Muppet builder, Laurent Linn. This and another critique by art rep Mela Bolinao were the first portfolio reviews I’ve had on this level in quite some time. Five years since a critique in Colorado and triple that since anything in NYC.

I was giddy to receive positive reactions from both reviewers, even some instant oooh’s and aaah’s but I wanted the nitty gritty. I had requested 100% honesty and I received it with gratitude. My style has changed and evolved for the better, all agreed. Awesome. However, showing multiple styles of illustration in a children’s trade picture book folio may imply weakness in consistency. It is paramount that an illustrator be able to deliver one, beautifully rendered style without deviation when assigned an entire picture book. So a style change, while good from a growth standpoint, does me no good until I prove it’s not a fluke but a regular way of working for me now.

In other words, I have work to do. And that’s ok.

After the workshop I confirmed two appointments for that coming Monday, and, thanks to ridiculously reasonable, flexible accommodations and a gracious host, I was able to extend my stay as needed. Then an angel secured me tickets for the sold-out Celebrate Brooklyn fundraiser with The National and Beach House in Prospect Park that Tuesday. Yes, amazing. With extra tickets I was able to invite and bring some of my newest contacts. I hope that I did not geek out as much as I suspect I did….. ok I’m rather certain I did. Restraint is quite impossible when something moves you, fills you up and just keeps spilling over, again and again and again. Some music just does that. As do some films, some works of art. I want to move people like that.

The events leading up to the show that night surely amplified my celebratory mood; with each day came a new experience; with every new connection a cobwebbed door cracked open, illuminating the brain dust before scattering it in a crosswind. I was alive. I am still alive. I like it.

Why didn’t I do this sooner?

Obligatory Hipstamatic Photos

Tag: scbwi

Author Denise Vega introduces her mentor, Julie Anne Peters

Author Denise Vega introduces her mentor, Julie Anne Peters

This past Saturday and Sunday I attended the RMC-SCBWI Conference at the Sheraton in Lakewood, Colorado. In attendance were a couple hundred writers and illustrators, and industry experts who gave presentations, demos and critiques to the published and to the aspiring. Rather than spread myself thin, I decided to focus on three of the presenters whose work and expertise were of particular interest to me.

Allyn Johnston, publisher of Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Beach Lane Books, gave an excellent tandem presentation with writer/illustrator Marla Frazee. “Let’s Start at the Beginning—with the Ending!” emphasized the infusion of raw emotion within the core of a storybook—especially on the last page. I found this discussion particularly fascinating and helpful, as Allyn shared her emotion-squeezing techniques, using some of Marla’s books for examples. “But what are you reeeeally trying to say?” It’s a good question. “Ok, but what are you reeeeeeeeeeally trying to say?” Even tougher. Later I sat next to Marla during lunch, where I picked her brain a bit on successful illustration portfolios.

Another highlight of the conference was James Gurney’s plein air discussion. Mr. Gurney exposed all his secrets for painting onsite, whether it be legal (as in a paintout situation) or not so much (such as in a fine art gallery). Later in the evening I jumped at the chance to sit with him at the dinner buffet, where we discussed the similarities between birds and dinosaurs, extreme plein air painting and his February appearance at the Delaware Art Museum. I snapped a few shots while he personalized a book for one of our tablemates.

James Gurney personalizes a copy of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara

James Gurney personalizes a copy of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara

A T-Rex mowing the lawn.

A T-Rex mowing the lawn.

Sunday was a shorter day and included a class on public speaking, an expert panel Q&A, and a sort of shotgun critque session with Allyn and Marla. The two were asked to comment on images flashed on a projector screen for one minute a piece, which proved to be quite the challenge (pressure!). Three of my illustrations made it up on the screen, and the commentary for each was positive (thank you!).

I believe the most important bit of wisdom I pulled from the entire weekend was this: Write.