Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Holidays!

This is the first Christmas after living in Seattle for 17 years that I will actually be here for the holidays. I will miss my family both in California and Connecticut but at the same time I am feeling a little giddy at the thought of being in the city this time of year. It's also nice avoiding the holiday travel hassles. Last year we were delayed an extra three days when coming back from Connecticut!

So in honor of the season I wanted to share again one of my few holiday illustrations. I completed it two years ago but it still remains one of my favorite samples. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cooking magazine project

Recently I was lucky to be asked to complete two illustrations for the highly respected food magazine "The Art of Eating". They will be appearing in the next issue, out soon. It's not often that I get a chance to stretch my legs with a different kind of project outside of the children's book market. Because of that I really tried to savor this project like a fine meal. The article is about two French recipes for cabbage. My solutions were to paint a French landscape and a still life with the ingredients for one of the recipes. I set up this still life in my studio with nice lighting and painted directly from observation. I can't say I painted the French landscape from life but I can dream. It was a real pleasure working this way again as was the whole project. Many thanks to Edward Behr. Bon appetite!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Whidbey Island school visit

Yesterday I was lucky to be able to visit Wellington Day School in my old stomping ground in Clinton on Whidbey Island. In fact my first six children's book were illustrated while living in Clinton from 2001-2004.

Here is a photo during my visit. Sadly though I forgot to take pictures of the best part- the kids. It was a whirlwind visit so easy to forget. The twenty, 1st-3rd graders were really attentive while I talked to them about two of my books, "Nature's Paintbox" and "The Can Man". I haven't done a lot of school visits this year so it was a real pleasure. Also the beautiful weather made for an enjoyable ferry ride.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Celebrating 10 Years in Publishing!

This fall I have been thinking about the fact that exactly 10 years ago I was working away on my first children's book project "Nathan Hale: Patriot Spy" for Lerner publishing. It is still a very vivid memory for me. At the time I was living alone on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, commuting by ferry across the water to my old job at Fluke as a technical illustrator. I spent my evenings and long weekends painting my first children's book. Once I finished Nathan Hale I had to immediately jump to another project, coming up with all new paintings for a solo gallery show in Seattle. Maybe it was the stress that makes that time so memorable. Sadly something had to give. Little did I know by the end of that year I would be laid off from Fluke, just six months after moving to the island to be close to my job. It was a life changing event that I was oblivious to while happily painting away on my first book 10 years ago. A lot happened that fall when I turned 30.

At the time the lay off was both very scary and exciting. I was looking for a change but probably not one so dramatic or sudden. A year earlier I had made the decision to pursue work in children's publishing and mailed out my first samples prior to Halloween of 2000. The samples were my version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". A few months later in February 2001 I received the offer to illustrate the biography on Nathan Hale (thanks Zach!) It was as easy as that! I can still remember hearing that voice mail at work while checking my messages at home. I buzzed with excitement. Today I understand how lucky I was to have that first book offer happen so fast. Illustrators can wait years for that first publishing job. It was a modest project but a foot in the door. I spent the next year attempting to break down that door to publishing even further. I was hooked. In 2002 working full time I illustrated two more books, found some new clients and started teaching my first children's book illustration class. Eventually I did find part time work to help pay the bills. In time I achieved my dream of being a full time freelance illustrator. Now is as good a time as any to celebrate!

It was also 10 years ago that I started dating Jessica, now my wife. I was lucky to find someone willing to stand by me after losing my job so soon after we started dating. It could have been a lonely frustrating time, but together we made it through and created some wonderful memories. Thank you dear for all your help and support.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Talking at this years Northwest Bookfest!

Just a quick post to let everyone know I will be part of a panel of Illustrators talking at Northwest Bookfest in Kirkland this fall. The panel discussion will be on Sunday October 2nd from 1-2pm at the downtown Kirkland Library. I will be talking about creating children's book with illustrators Richard Jesse Watson and Erik Brooks. Hope to see you there! Go here to learn more

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Another do over

Below is a recent painting I choose to re-do again and it's earlier version. I decided to take this one in a more fantastical direction with the addition of the lasso and stars. I am glad to see I have gotten better at painting faces in the 8 years between the two paintings. I may add some line work to my newer painting but I haven't decided yet.

Newer painting.

Older version.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A do over

Below is a painting I just finished that is a re working of an older one. After this spring's SCBWI conference I was determined to shake up my illustration style to bring more life to my compositions and energy in general. This is my first "do over" of an older painting and I am very happy with the results. Originally I thought I would use watercolor for my new work and I completed an early version using that medium with a heavy colored pencil outline but I wasn't as satisfied with the results. This painting is a bit of a compromise. I am using my new favorite medium acryla-gouache with a more subtle colored pencil outline. It's a good start and I will add more paintings here as I find the time to complete them.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Open for business!

Just over a week ago we made the big move back to Seattle after two years in Bellingham so my wife could earn her Masters degree at Western Washington University. With the mission almost accomplished it was time to head back to our favorite city by the water just in time for summer.

The best part of changing homes was setting up my best studio space yet! For the first time I have my own separate room that includes all the essentials needed to complete my work. Below are some views of my inspiring new creative space. Now I just need a new project! "Crickets, crickets, crickets"...

Love the summer breezes through the open window.
A computer, scanner and printer near my drawing table for the first time. Love listening to NPR (KUOW in Seattle), music, and my favorite podcasts. That's a live broadcast of TBTL on my computer.
Mirrors for any life drawing, my easel, books for reference, and a TV for distraction.
Lots of closet space for art supplies, computer files, reference (National Geographic's) and my published books.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I have been turned into a float!

A young fan of mine recently created a float about me and my work for a biography project for her class. How cool is that!? Here are a few of the photos. Such an honor, I had to share.

This book cover looks familiar...
Is that me wearing a boa? Not sure how I feel about that (kidding)....

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An interview about The Can Man for the New York State Reading Association Youth Book Blog

Follow the link below to read an interview about "The Can Man" for the New York State Reading Association's Youth Book Blog. The interview relates to the recent Charlotte Award nomination the book was lucky enough to receive. Mrs. Carver’s fourth grade class at Edison Elementary School, Tonawanda, NY, asked me the great questions. Enjoy!

New children's illustration classes and an oil painting class for teens starting in July!

Just a quick reminder that I have new children's book illustration classes and an oil painting class for teens starting in July in Bellevue and Seattle. Hope to see you in a class and please spread the word!

Here are the details...

Children's Book Illustration I
Immerse yourself in the world of children’s book illustration with
this introductory course. Through in-class assignments using a variety
of media, you'll learn basic techniques to complete illustrations for
young readers. Also learn the business side of children’s book
illustration, including what it takes to get your work seen by the
right people. Character consistency, portfolios, contracts, and other
topics are also covered. Craig Orback is an award-winning illustrator
of over 15 children's books. Basic drawing skills are helpful but not
required. Homework is required.

Bellevue College, Saturdays, 8 Sessions, 7/9/11-8/27/11,
10:00-12:30pm, $149
Go here to register

North Seattle Community College, Thursdays, 8 Sessions,
7/7/11-8/25/11, 6:30-9:00pm, $125
Go here to register

Beginning Oil Painting for Teens
This no pressure introductory course introduces teens to the basics of
painting with oils. Learn about materials available to painters, color
mixing and some basic color theory as well as composition. Instructor
gives one-on-one feedback in this fun, hands-on studio class. Please
bring supplies to the first class and be ready to paint!

Bellevue Community College, Saturdays, 4 Sessions, 7/16/11-8/6/11,
1:30-4:30pm, $169
Go here to register

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


This past weekend I attended the SCBWI Western Washington conference for writers and illustrators. I have attended several in the past including the New York winter conference but never have I come away so inspired by others. I have a renewed faith in my chosen career and a desire to shake things up. Part of this excitement came from seeing the great illustrator Dan Santat talk about his career path and renewed commitment to picture books. We were all moved by his inspiring speech including Dan. His talk was that memorable.

During his presentation he mentioned a pivotal moment early on when he decided to change up his painting style. This is something I have been toying with myself for several years but was too afraid. I have been illustrating kids books for 10 years now working hard at getting better with my chosen medium (oil paint) . With my recent book "The Can Man" I was beginning to feel I was getting closer to the style I had envisioned for myself when I started out. I am not going to throw overboard my realistic, painterly style but I am ready to develop a second parallel track. During my downtime in between jobs I am commiting myself to taking some of my older oil paintings (as well as some new images) and reworking them in a new looser way aimed at younger audiences.

This isn't a crass stab at a bigger more lucrative market but a heartfelt artistic yearning to express myself in new exciting ways. I have always been drawn to this style of work and used to paint this way with watercolor in the past. Change and growth will feed my soul. After all I am in the book making business not the painting realistic at all costs business. Watercolor, pencil, gouache, and maybe some pastel and ink will be my new mediums. Mixed media in other words. Wimsy, freshness, looseness, simplification, line work and engaging characters (both human and animal), is a small part of what I am after. When I became an oil painter N.C. Wyeth and Gregory Manchess were a few of my inspirations. Now I am looking at among others, Trina Schart Hyman and the wonderful Amy June Bates for guidance on how to loosen up my line work and depiction of people.

Below is my first attempt at taking an older painting and playing with these new themes at the sketch phase. Now its time to shut up and put paint to paper. If I like it I will share it soon. If I don't, well I will just try again with something new. Its supposed to be fun after all!

More great Can Man news!

In the past few weeks I have learned that The Can Man is up for two state reading awards! In Pennsylvania it has been nominated for the 2011-2012 Keystone to Reading Book Award. In New York state it will appear on the 2012 Charlotte Award Ballot (in the primary category), the state award run by the New York State Reading Association (NYSRA). With both awards students will vote for their favorite and the winner will be awarded in the fall of 2012. Really excited that so many new kids will be exposed to our book over the next year. Also the book will be part of TD Bank's summer reading program on the east coast. Even more great exposure! The Mid-Atlantic loves The Can Man!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Old Grandfather revisited

Back in 2007 I illustrated a Tolstoy short story for a school textbook project. It was just one painting but I always felt I could have done a better job. My original sketch that I liked ended up being changed pretty heavily due to feedback from my client. So recently I repainted it the way I wanted to. Here it is...

Monday, February 21, 2011

My own Mount Rushmore is now complete!

In honor of President's Day I recently completed my painting of Mount Rushmore. Late last year I posted a blog entry about its inspiration, a sketch and color study. If you have the day off today enjoy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Copies are in of Clara Morgan and the Oregon Trail Journey!

I recently get a stack of copies of my new book Clara Morgan and the Oregon Trail Journey written by Marty Rhodes Figley, our 4th book together. I am really pleased with how they art was reproduced in this book! If anyone is interested I can send out a signed copy including shipping for $20. Just send me an email to

It is a wonderful story of compassion and generosity set on the Oregon trail in 1864. Here is a description and thanks for your interest:

Eleven-year-old Clara Morgan traveled the Oregon Trail with her family. While her mother cared for the baby, Clara struggled with the cooking. Finally, she made her first batch of perfect biscuits. But she gave them up to a hungry American Indian who stopped by. Little did she know they would meet again. Would her family’s act of kindness help them farther down the trail? In the back of this book, you’ll find a script and instructions for putting on a reader’s theater performance of this adventure.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My first graphic novel book

In the last week I finished all of the art for my first graphic novel. It is a 24 page book with 45 individual paintings. To say it was a lot of work was an understatement! I'm not one to shy away from a challenge though and this was a fun creative one. With picture book projects I am used to editing double page spreads of story and text into large full size paintings capturing the essence of whats being said. With a graphic novel though you get to break down the action into little scenes and play more with composition, perspective and viewpoint. It feels a little bit like I would imagine a film director would feel when it comes to depicting action and playing with camera angles.

The art will later have bubbles and banners with dialogue and story added by the designer. I look forward to seeing it come together. Unfortunately for now I can't post the art here. I worked smaller than my usual oil paintings in gouache paint to save time and for easy detail work. Recently I bought a large format scanner so I was able to scan the final art myself and download it as digital files to their FTP site. Very convenient as the art never add to leave my studio. Clients are preferring that more and more these days so it feels good to change with the times. I hope you enjoy the art!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Some nice 2010 accolades

As creators of children's book know the end of each year and the beginning of the next is award season time. In the last month two of my books from last year have won some acclaim.

The Can Man was included on Smithsonian magazine's list of Notable Books for Children in 2010. Also Hot Pursuit: Murder in Mississippi was named a 2011 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers.

Fingers crossed I will have some more good news to share in the near future. Either way this was a great way to begin 2011!