Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Payoff!

So much has happened since I last wrote ten long months ago! 

I signed with agent Kelly Dyksterhouse at The Tobias Literary Agency AND I have a book coming out with The Minnesota Historical Society Press in the Fall of 2025. How to Draw a Tree is written by David LaRochelle and illustrated by meeeeeeeeee!!!!!

I am so excited for this book. Trees are one of my favorite things to draw and this whole book is about trees. It’s been so much fun doing research and deciding on which trees to include. I have so many favorites, so this has been harder than it sounds. 

For those who have followed along. And for those who listen to me talk about picture books, writing and illustrating endlessly, guess what? There’s even more of that to come! :) It has been 15 years of hard work to get my career to this point. Perseverance and hard work have been just as important as the skills I have developed over the years. 

My first SCBWI conference about 12 years ago, there were several lecturers who talked about going slow and taking your time. Nothing happens quickly was mentioned several times. Back then, I was thinking maybe a year? Two at the most? Ha! I wonder if I would have moved on to something else if I had known it would be another 12 years. 

But you know what? I needed those 12 years. I started out illustrating and over time realized that I really enjoyed writing stories too. So I painted and I wrote. I took classes in both art and writing. I entered contests. I attended conferences. I made great new friends. I joined critique groups. I kept writing. I kept illustrating. I kept submitting. Rejections flooded in. But after a few years, I was getting “good” rejections. Then better rejections. I kept working and submitting. Then there was a point a couple of years ago when I could feel like I was close. I knew my work was getting better. I pushed myself and was surprised at what I was producing. I could see the results of all that hard work paying off. 

Soon enough, other people saw it too. Kelly and I connected through a friend, and my social media posts paid off and resulted in a book contract. 

I feel so lucky to have signed with the best agent in the world!!!! She’s the perfect combination of feedback and encouragement. Kelly has worked so hard for me in the last ten months. I’m so excited about our projects and overall plan for the future. 

How to Draw a Tree- written by the amazing David LaRochelle will be out in 2025 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. I’m currently hard at work on sketches and research. I am so grateful for this opportunity! 

And now after all the time and all the work…I am working even harder than before! 

Keep writing! Keep drawing! Keep working!

It may take 15 years but eventually it does payoff. 

Colleen :)

Friday, November 5, 2021

Editing Is Not Just For Words

I just returned from a workshop in Iowa. There I had a portfolio review that made me think about my art in a new way.

Mallory Grigg from Macmillan, really honed in on the pieces that I made for fun. Not a project, or a story, or an assignment. My use of color was vibrant, almost energizing. I wasn’t playing it safe. I was pushing the boundaries of the things I love. Color! Pattern! Texture! 

Mallory pushed me to edit some of my existing pieces that were pretty, but lacking the energy from my other pieces. She was asking me to trust my instincts. 


I found it hard to believe that my instincts deserved any merit. Especially because I don’t have an art degree. Over time and many portfolio critiques, I taught myself not to trust my instincts. This wasn’t because I received bad advice, art is subjective after all. There are some things that make a piece work on other levels, like composition, perspective and value.  I think it was because I didn’t have the skills to take that advice and apply it to the things I was doing well. 

Mallory encouraged me to see that art is about learning. Learning to tell the story of my image clearly. Learning to evoke emotion. Learning to paint the things I love. Learning to take chances. Learning to trust my instincts. 

So this is a heartfelt THANK YOU!  To everyone that takes the time to make my art better. Sometimes I might not be ready to hear or understand everything you are trying to say, but know that I am trying. Slowly when I put in the work, your words come back to me and my art improves in small (sometimes big!) incremental ways. 

Here are the steps I took with a perfectly pretty image to make it more interesting and dynamic. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Year Of Submission

As a previously represented Author/Illustrator it totally stinks to be looking for representation again. I question my judgment…frequently, about moving on from my last agent before I has another one in place. 

A very well know illustrator  gave me some advice about this once. Don’t jump off one rock until you have another one to land on,” he said. Very sound advice.  But this was really hard to do. Agent world is a small place and maneuvering on the down low wasn’t my style and near impossible for someone who hasn’t had a sale. I didn’t want to sound like a crazy writer/illustrator who couldn’t take criticism from their agent? Gosh, I hope not because I LOVE criticism!! I currently pay people to critique me! Along with my dedicated, amazing weekly critique group…love you guys❤️

There are many blogs, stories, and articles, about finding an agent, but not much about moving on from an agent. Especially a super nice, awesome, sweet, talented, we just weren’t on the same page agent. 

Working so hard to get an agent for 10 years and then deciding to give that up, just felt like a huge setback. An agent gave me legitimacy, even if we didn’t have any sales. At first I didn’t know what to do. So I wrote, and wrote. Angsty author at work! 

Now three years out, a pile full of critiqued, polished, critiqued again manuscripts, 2021 is going to be my year of submission. With a handful of lovely, promising rejections already in hand, (and a few revise and resend requests) it’s time to get back to work. 

Respectfully Submitted,

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Looking Beyond The New Year

Good riddance! Hasta la vista! 

I don’t know anyone who isn’t happy to see 2020 come to an end. As a health care worker, I am
at the top of that list. 

But does the end of 2020 end all of our problems? Hardly! 2020 was a spotlight for so many long existing issues. But, unlike many people, I don’t want to forget 2020. It showed me where my own weaknesses lie. What my soul is made of.  

Honestly I didn’t always like what I saw. Reluctant kindness, quiet judgment, straight up laziness, are just a few. Most people didn’t see any of these things. But I did. So this year I’m going beyond additional exercise and reading more books. Beyond January and 2021. 

Watch out Colleen...I’m coming for you!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

 I was the featured illustrator for KidLit411 for August! What fun! 


Here is my response the interview questions:

1.       I’ve always been an artist. I was a painfully shy, quiet child, and drawing was my way of expressing what I was interested in and thinking about. Most people would describe me as self-taught, because I don’t have an art degree. I have taken many classes, been to many lectures, conferences, retreats, and workshops, which have provided me with a good foundation. But my greatest education has been with friends, fellow artists and writers who all share their skills and experiences with me. They push me to look beyond my own experiences, and my art and writing have grown because of it. So I like to say I’m community educated.

I signed up for a children’s book illustration class at Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2006, searching for a way to share my art with other people. That class was all I needed! I KNEW that this was what I meant to do!

2.        Thank you for having ongoing opportunities for artists to show our work!

The brief for the contest specifically requested something with birds. I love to draw birds! You will often find a bird somewhere in my illustrations. Banners can be difficult because of the format, so I was trying to do something graphic with a lot of contrast. I limited the small details I love to do and went a litter bolder than normal. Birds are very curious and smart, so I tried to play off that with my illustration. Bright colors and pattern were the finishing touches.

3.       I love to study other artists. It’s been a long journey to figure out my “style” of art. At first I would just copy artists I admired. Some of my favorites are Barbara Cooney, Jeanette Winter, Grandma Moses, Matisse, Clementine Hunter, Erin Stead, Vanessa Brantley Newton, and Judy Schachner. Over time I figured out how to absorb at little bit of everything I loved and apply it to what I wanted to do. It has really taken a long time to get to where my art is today. The last few years I feel like I have finally found my voice as an artist and writer. But I love learning, so that is always evolving and growing! I LOVE patterns and like to add them everywhere.

4.       Process…Yikes! I am so interested in seeing other artist’s processes because I always feel like I am doing it wrong. I work traditionally, but I have started sketching on an Ipad. Everything always gets transferred to paper eventually.

I usually work at about 125% for finished art. I transfer my drawings to either Arches or Fabriano watercolor paper (cold press) with graphite paper. I paint with watercolor paint or gouache. Sometimes I use both! I prefer traditional gouache because you can use it like a watercolor paint, but I also use acrylic gouache. While I use Photoshop/Procreate for the drawing stage, and finishing touches, I like my paintings to be one big final piece. I always question this strategy when I have to start something over.

5.       Recently I have been creating dummy books for a few of my manuscripts. I currently don’t have an agent, so submitting on my own again has been scary! Without my writing group and a few close friends, I don’t know if I would have the capacity to stay focused and keep putting my work out there. Some days are harder than others. My writing group meets once a week and it really forces me to make time for my art and writing.

6.     Outside of my writing group and close friends, most people don’t know that I am a healthcare worker. On social media, I try and maintain my “life as an artist” image, but I need health insurance and regular paycheck! So from someone on the inside…wear a mask!!!

7.       You can find me online at

Website: colleenmuske.com

Facebook: Colleen Muske

Instagram: colleenmuske

Twitter: @colleenmuske

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

 I haven't posted in sooooooo long! Rest assured I am working away in my studio. Playing with gouache, making so new pieces to update my portfolio, writing, rewriting and drinking lots of coffee!

Check back soon for a post about getting an agent! I am happily represented by Rick Margolis of Rising Bear Literary. It has been several months since I signed with Rick and we have been very hard at work. More to come soon!

Happy pi day!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Who Do You Write For?

     I've heard Gary Schmidt speak a few times. To me, he was at his best at the Hamline MFA residency program lecture in July of 2015, where he paced back and forth, speaking without notes. A one man show. There was laughter, lots of laughter. A few tears, okay maybe more than a few. Impressed with his knowledge of history and endless stories, I thought I would never hear anything so eloquent again. I was wrong.
     On Sunday, Gary was the last speaker at the #NY16SCBWI conference. The person next to me was an illustrator. She was thinking about leaving and getting in line for autographs.

     "Don't leave" I said. "Stay. It will be worth it."

     "But I'm not a writer" she said.

     "It doesn't matter. Don't leave. It will be worth it".

     Gary was full of exceptional stories. He spoke about writing. He spoke about kids.

     "Who do you write for?" he asked.

     Gary explained who he wrote for. The kind of kid he wrote for. The kind of kid I was. The kind of kid I still am. When I am writing and trying to pull from my experiences and my emotion from that time in my life, I am that kid.

     Sitting on the runway waiting for the plane to take off, I reached in my bag and pulled out Gary's book Okay For Now. I started to read. It was snowing and the plane was delayed. I read. We had to wait in a long line to be De-iced. I read. Down to one runway for take offs and landings. I read. We waited. I read.

     The woman sitting next to me was carrying a HUGE bible, (about 17" x 11") weird, right? Occasionally she would look at me and I knew she was wondering why a grown woman was reading a book meant for middle school kids, but I kept reading. And when I asked her to turn on my light because I was too short, I am sure she thought I was reading at the appropriate level for my intellect. But I kept reading.

     When Lucas came home from the war and his mom greeted him, I cried. I cried because I am a mom and because I was the kid Gary writes for. In a voice used for a seven year old, bible lady told me it would be okay, we were going to take off soon.

     I finished the book, almost at the exact time the wheels touched down. I was home. On the way home from the airport, I told my husband about the kid I write for. It felt good to say it out loud.

     "I was that kid" I said.

     "Sometimes you still are" he said.

     Maybe that bible lady wasn't too far off. During that flight, reading that book, I was that kid. When I was eleven, a book changed me. It changed the way I looked at my life and gave me hope for my future.

     Thank you Gary D. Schmidt. Thank you for writing for the kid I was and sometimes, the kid I still am.

     So whether you write with words or with pictures, ALWAYS remember who you are writing for. You might be writing for me.