Picture Books – Length & Layout

When I’m working on picture book dummies but I can never remember how many spreads I can have! I usually use Debbie Ohi’s templates. Although lately I’ve been marking down tiny boxes in my sketchbook that are literally thumbnail sized to help me explore pacing and page turns as I work through revisions. As illustrators we do have a number of options for using those pages. Most of the hardcover books in my own collection are 40 page self-ended. I asked around various kidlit groups and have been reassured that the vast majority of picture books are 32 pages. A browse through one of my local libraries revealed very few 32 page self-ended books but many 32 page separate-ended books but 40 page picture books were definitely not a rarity. If you’re not sure what I mean by self-ended, separated-ended, or endpapers there are links at the bottom of Debbie’s post that explain. I also found this endpaper Q&A with Cecelia Yung by Robin Rosenthal over at PenandOink very helpful. My conclusion: when writing, write with 32 pages in mind. When illustrating, focus on variety, pacing, and strong page turns. I thought I’d share what I’ve dubbed my Picture Book Layout Cheat Sheet – a handy little reminder of the possible options with examples that I can refer back to. If you’ve found other unique or interesting layouts I’d love to hear about them.

PB layout cheat sheet

The Gift of a Good Critique


We talk a lot about the importance of critiques in the kid lit community.

Ever had a critique that really stings? I find the ones that sting the most are those that have a good point (but a point I didn’t want to hear).

I’ve always loved drawing faces and two Christmases ago I decided to draw these little mini-caricatures on woodlice ornaments for a school fundraiser. They sold like hotcakes.


They were so popular that I decided to try selling them at an art show last Christmas. Again, they were popular and the more I drew, the better I got. I was pretty pleased with myself.

Then one lady asked if I would do a dozen ornaments for her entire family. But when I sent her a photo of the drawings she said that half of them bore no resemblance whatsoever to her loved ones. She was very polite and apologetic. Despite the rollercoaster of emotions, I sucked up my pride & offered to redo the ornaments. (And secretly swore that I’d never do portrait ornaments again!) The second time I did a pencil underdrawing and took even more time and care. She was happy with the new ornaments and was kind enough to purchase both the original rejected ornaments and the new ones.

I still do mini-portraits on paper & on ornaments but I’m much better at it now thanks to the lady who was brave enough to tell me she was disappointed. That my art did not meet her standards. I am grateful. As much as it stung, it was a gift that pushed me to improve.

This year, a customer said that she was so happy with her ornaments that she was showing them off and her friends could immediately tell who each portrait was.

So if you’ve received a stinging critique of your art or writing, consider how you might use it to propel you forward. And when you are asked for a critique, dig in deep and be polite but brutally honest (but use the sandwich technique because it makes it much more palatable).

Exciting Book News

Do you remember the sweet little pirate character I created a while back?


Well, we have some news…

Pirate Book Announcement

Pirate, Year Round will be published by Acorn Press in May 2019. As you can see we’re super excited! I’ve given her a slightly updated look & I can’t wait to share it with you in full colour. I’ll be posting peeks at my process & lots of updates on Instagram & Twitter (@marlalesage). I’ll also be posting news & updates here occasionally.


What I’ve Been Up to Lately

I haven’t blogged since February but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. My tag-line for the year 2018 has been Get It Done or Make It Happen. Which means I’ve been very, very, busy.

Besides working away on my writing & illustration projects, I’ve been hard at work upping my art game as well. In the spring I was commissioned to paint a mural to promote kindness at Gesner Street School. I hear the kids were thrilled to see their “Gesner Rock” in the mural.


I  participated in my first Plein Air Festival – Paint the Past at Kingslanding. It was really refreshing to get outside and spend an entire weekend painting. Meeting & chatting with the other painters was the icing on the cake. I plan to add the paintings to my Art Page soon. Here’s a look at my look from the first day. Stay Tuned for the final works!

Paint the Past 2018 day 1

I spent some time teaching art. Several classes to young kids and two sketching workshops for adults. Here’s a sample for one of the kids classes.

collage fruit sample

All this in addition to attending the SCBWI Canada East conference, a trip to visit the inlaws, summer camp (I love camp nursing!), & a family vacation/road trip. It’s no surprise that I’ve been feeling a little too busy!

Making the Most of a Lousy Situation

Lesage image 1
He didn’t mind me sketching but asked me to sit at his feet mid-sketch instead of on the chair.

Over the holidays my son had an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts. Thankfully, it was a slow reaction that responded quickly to treatment. He spent almost 6 hours in the Emerg’s trauma/recovery room hooked up to a monitor. Luckily, I keep my sketching supplies in my purse & my son grabbed his tablet on the way out the door so I was able to turn our visit into an extended sketching session.

Lesage image 2
It was interesting to revisit the same subject but with a series of close-up views. 

Six hours is a lot of sketching time in a small room with no view! Perfect for re-visiting my subject with different approaches and media. He was a great model & such a trooper! No tears and an extremely positive outlook despite the scary situation.

Lesage image 3
He changed positions so I tried again with a brush pen but he decided to get more comfortable .

I’d never choose the Emergency room as a sketching location but I am glad that I had my sketching supplies. Sketching helped relieve my anxiety and pass the time. And the sketches are a nice memento and reminder of a lesson learned: Read the Label EVERY TIME!




Drawing From Life


I spent a few hours last night making these ornaments at an Art Sale. Drawing faces is my default, no thought mode & I’ve also taken a liking to drawing pets. Plus, I prefer to draw tiny so this really is the perfect product for me. Sketching people live (in front of the recipients or gift-giver) is very rewarding. The kids always light up as they watch your scrawls and scratches turn into them. Adults are impressed too. I’m brave & dive right in with a permanent marker – no pencil planning – and the sketches are done in less than 3 min. All those years of doodling faces in the margins of my school notes are finally paying off!

Getting into the Holiday Spirit with GIFs.


I’ve been toying with the idea of animating one of my illustrations for a while. So when the prompt for the Make Art That Sells holiday contest arrived in my inbox, I couldn’t resist. The prompt is to illustrate your favourite beverage with a festive touch & I’ve been on a London Fog kick lately (Earl Grey tea with steamed milk & vanilla syrup). The contest winner will have their illustration animated by someone on the MATS team but since it was on my mind anyway I decided to use the opportunity to learn! It was so much fun to create! I hope you enjoy my gif to you. 😀

Happy Valentine’s Day!


It’s Valentiny time again! I almost didn’t enter Susanna Hill’s contest because I’m tired, I’m busy, & I have a lot of projects on the go. The usual! But then I got a little carried away making Valentines for my family – I made 5 & there’s only 4 of us! So here’s a quick little 87 word Valentiny & Valentine just for you.

(The rules: Valentine’s story for kids where someone is confused – max of 214 words. You have until Feb 14th to enter. Lots of great prizes too!)


“Brains… Brains…” The zombie smiled at Zack. Then it moaned again. “Brains… Brains…”

“Eeek!” Zack hid behind a tree.

The zombie shuffled closer. “Brains… Brains…”

Zack darted under the slide. The zombie stumbled after him. “Brains… Brains…”

Zack dashed under the picnic table. The zombie followed. “Brains… Brains…” It stretched one arm down towards Zack, a heart-shaped box in its hand.

“Brains… Brains… I love you for your brains,” it said. “I mean, will you be my valentine?”

“Oh!” Zack laughed. “That’d be nice Zonya.”


12 Days of Christmas in New Brunswick

My entry for Susanna Hill’s 6th Annual Holiday Contest (259 words) along with some very quick sketches. I found  the  format to be a bit challenging & some of the days might need explanation if you’re not from NB! I hope you’ll take the time to read some of the other entries over on Susanna’s Blog.

The rules: Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) using the basic format/concept of The Twelve Days Of Christmas!  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 300 words.  ENTRIES TO BE POSTED BY MON, DEC 12TH.



Last year my parents said to me, “We’re going to spend Christmas ‘down home’ with your grandparents in New Brunswick.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“You don’t mess with tradition,” I spouted, “unless it’s a trip to Disney!”

Dad frowned.

“Watch your tone young man.” Alas, I had no choice. 13 days before Christmas I boarded a plane.

Twelve days before Christmas my grandma fed me 12 Mrs. Dunster’s Donuts.

Eleven days before Christmas my sister gave to me 11 potato chips.

Ten days before Christmas my mom took me to see 10 works of art.

Nine days before Christmas my brother shared 9 chocolates from Ganong.

Eight days before Christmas I helped my uncle haul 8 loads of logs.

Seven days before Christmas grandpa drove me over 7 covered bridges.

Six days before Christmas my aunt took me to see 6 great whales at the NB museum. So cool!


Five days before Christmas great-aunt gave to me 5 fresh lobsters. Yuck.

Four days before Christmas my father took me on 4 freezing ferries. Brrr.

Three days before Christmas my cousin taught me 3 french words. (Bonjour, merci, and salut.)

Two days before christmas I got to feed 2 chickadees.

On Christmas Eve I left Santa a bowl of Chicken Bones and a cup of tea because I thought it might be a nice change from milk and cookies.


On Christmas morning I found Santa’s note:

Dear Jim,

I hope you enjoyed getting to know your roots. I certainly enjoyed the Chicken Bones. Merry Christmas!

Your Pal,



Hope you Enjoyed! Have a Very Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!!!