PLP #2 Susan Branch: From Her Heart to Yours

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Porch Light People: Individuals who are fully themselves. They are not influenced by “shoulds” from the culture or other people. They instead live from their inner light.

My second Porch Light Profile is about New York Times best selling author and illustrator, Susan Branch. Her cookbooks, calendars and memoirs have made her feel like a dear friend to thousands. Handwritten and gorgeously illustrated, they are a vacation for the mind. Filled with conversational style and inspiring quotations, they are an antidote for the harshness of life. Her 2015 memoir, The Fairytale Girl begins in her childhood and ends with the break-up of her marriage in the 1980’s. Like many women of that time, she had hitched her wagon to a husband. Although being a stay-at-home wife had it’s perks (she was able to turn homemaking into an art and honed her skills as a watercolorist) in the end it left Susan empty. All that centering around her husband, meant that she had no life of her own and no way to support herself. 

“Believing in myself was probably the hardest thing I ever had to learn to do.”

– Susan Branch

So where did Susan go from there? She went for a three month stay on Martha’s Vineyard and ended up never leaving. What she thought was a hiatus to nurse her wounds turned out to be an introduction to herself. She decided that the days of someone setting the tone for her life were over. On the island, she soon realized that her steady diet of news and soap operas were weighing her down. She turned off the television and decided the only news she needed to hear could come through her open window. To sooth her unrest, she began seeking the keys to life in biographies of her heroes and quote books. She learned the theme that ran through most of them was that the answers to your questions cannot be found outside of yourself. Heaven lies within. Now that she knew that, Susan’s search was over. It was time for her to take responsibility and get to know herself. 

In 2016, her sequel to The Fairy Tale Girl was released. She wrote Martha’s Vineyard – Isle of Dreams to help others transcend loss, follow their hearts and believe in their dreams. Hope lives in its pages. In it, Susan writes in detail of how she learned to live from her own center, “I learned that, for me, the key to making my dreams come true – the one that opened the door to the gift of “within” – was meditation.” Becoming an author and illustrator was a byproduct of self-discovery and living from her inner light. She didn’t have to map out a plan on how to make a living with her talents. When Susan found her heart, her life’s work found her. It soon came to her that realizing her dream of getting a cookbook published wasn’t about the dream world at all. Realizing her dream was about hard work. Happily, the toil is made much easier when you are doing what you love.

In her books and blog, she talks to her readers as if they are old friends. Because of that, over 56,000 kindred spirits subscribe to her newsletter and feel like they know her personally. Never one to market herself much, most of her followers have been drawn to her by word of mouth. In fact, that’s how a Hollywood screenwriter found her. A script for Susan’s books is now being shopped under an exclusive deal. If her fans are lucky (my fingers are crossed), the screenplay will soon  be made into a movie or a television series.

Go. Be. Love. The world needs you- Susan Branch  

Two summers ago our mutual friend, Margot Datz, brought me over to Susan’s house for tea. At that time, I vaguely knew Susan’s work, but I liked her right off the bat. She was warm and welcoming. Her house oozed charm right down to her mustached cat, Jack. I have since became a huge fan of Susan’s memoirs and cookbooks and can’t believe she wasn’t on my radar sooner. Her newest books, The Fairy Tale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard – Isle of Dreams, have become two of my all time favorite reads. How she writes about herself, and who she is, are one in the same. Don’t let the nostalgic cheeriness of her work lead you to believe she has no opinion of the world past her doorstep. She is a woman of heart and mind and doesn’t shy away from speaking her truth. I suspect this quality only makes her followers, or girlfriends as she likes to call them, love her more.

I based the above watercolor portrait of Susan on a photograph I took. The only snafu in the process was that after I had completed the art I discovered her hair was no longer brown like it been in the photo. Susan Branch had decided to let it go gray. No point in not being who you are.

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*Coming up next: Profile of singer/songwriter, Rodney Crowell

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

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Introducing Porch Light Profiles

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ― Howard Thurman

Welcome to Porch Light Profiles. This year I’m shifting the focus of my blog to writing about men and women who allow their light to illuminate the world. What do I mean by that? I mean people who know who they are and express their inner selves to humanity. This expression always brings them joy and manifests itself in their life’s work. I’m discovering that if you follow what most excites you, the right people, resources and opportunities will appear to help you share your gifts with the world.

Although “Porch Light People” are a part of all walks of life, I’m going to begin by focusing on artists. For me, it’s easiest to see this principal in action in them. Growing up they learned the same societal belief most of us did: you must find a career path that will earn you a living. Yet the flame inside urging them to create, burned so brightly it was impossible to ignore. Instead of asking, “How can I support myself?”, they said, “If I don’t do my art, I can’t go on.”

Doing what makes your heart sing, seems like a good way to starve in the logical world. We may reason that the only sure way to keep ourselves safe is to follow the cultural rules of survival. Often, that means turning your back on doing what makes you feel alive. Some get so good at suppressing what brings them joy that, sadly, they lose touch with it. They never learn that paying attention to the “still small voice within” is what will help them succeed. Those who have a wide-open connection to that voice are who I’ll be writing about. They know their work flows through them from another source. That doesn’t necessarily mean they take part in a formal religion. What it does mean is they don’t control the process, but let something greater than themselves take the reins.

Here are some questions I hope to answer over the next few months:

Do we all have an inner guidance system that will direct our path if we listen?

Can you make a living by following your heart?

What happens when you give into fear and move away from your passion?

Can following your bliss lead to your life’s work?

Is doing what we love and answering our calling the same thing?

In these profiles, I hope to give evidence that it is safe to share your deepest self with the world. In fact, I believe that is what we are here for. Being who we are and doing what feeds our soul is our life’s work. When we allow ourselves to shine, the world can’t help but be drawn to us. Our life has become a prayer. In that state of being, it doesn’t take a lot of thought or planning to figure out how to share your gift with others. Like moths to a flame they will find you.

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*Coming up next: Profile of New York Times best selling author, Anita Moorjani

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

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The Importance of Magic

Do You Believe in Fairies? black line

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W.B. Yeats

I drew this mixed-media illustration of Steven Spielberg back in 1996. He’s been a favorite movie maker of mine since I first saw, ET. In my art I have a young Steven pictured as Peter Pan.  The words “Do you believe in fairies?” come directly from J.M. Barrie’s book Peter Pan and Wendy. In the story, Tinker Bell was dying because she drank poison that was meant for Peter. As she was fading away, she whispered that she thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies. Peter jumped up and shouted to children everywhere, “Do you believe? If you do, clap your hands. Don’t let Tink die!” For those of you who don’t know the story, yes, Tinker Bell pulled through. Believing is a powerful thing.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Mr. Spielberg believes in fairies and all things magical. I do, too. I’ve learned to cultivate enchantment and to be open to being astonished:

I believe in miracles.

I believe that imagination is more important than intelligence.

I believe a child’s capacity for wonder is gold and should be guarded as such.

I believe good always overcomes evil, and if you’re lucky, you may live to see it.

I believe if you can dream it, it can be done.

I believe that someone is going to do it, so why not you?

I believe you are born with all the gifts needed to fulfill your life’s purpose.

I believe all your answers can be found within.

I believe that what you are looking for is looking for you.

I believe you’re never too old manifest your heart’s desire.

I believe that you shouldn’t limit your dreams. Just follow your bliss. What you end up doing may not have even been invented yet.

“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ― Roald Dahl

Steven Spielberg has joined forces with Disney to bring Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant) to life. It will open in theaters on July 1st. I am already counting the days. The more I feed my sense of wonder, the more possible the impossible seems. Letting ourselves be enchanted, conjures the spark that ignites the flame of possibility. Without hope we would wither away into mundanity. For it’s true, without a little pixie dust, it’s death for most of us.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Dreams Take Care of Themselves

 

Click to purchase signed prints of  "Beach Dreams"

Click to purchase signed prints of “Beach Dreams

The above painting, captures the innocence of childhood and my love of Martha’s Vineyard. I have traveled to the island every summer for the last 17 years. It’s hard to write about its splendor without sounding cliche. Although there is much that is upscale on MV, there is also raw beauty woven throughout. All I can say is the President and his family vacation there for a reason. Illustrating a child worn out from play, slumbering on the beach, is my way of bottling the island’s magic. Just looking at this picture, brings me right back to the warm sand and soothing sound of the sea.

Beach Dreams was an illustration commission for a poem. I was given free reign on how I depicted it, so I drew from my own experience. Dreaming has always been such a big factor in my life. The little girl sleeping is my way of saying the more you relax into your dreams, the more you allow them to come to you. If given a chance, dreams take care of themselves.

Below Beach Dreams from conception to final art.

My model "sleeping"

My model “sleeping”

Preliminary sketch

Preliminary sketch

Watercolor wash

Watercolor wash

Adding the details

Adding the details

Final art

Final art

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Four Reasons to Self-Publish Your Children’s Book

Sharing my the books in my heart with children has been a dream of mine since childhood.

Sharing the books in my heart with children has been a dream of mine since my youth.

I wished more than anything in the world to be a writer. – J.K. Rowling

I’m a children’s book author and illustrator. I’m not alone in that. It seems like everyone I talk to has a picture book inside them just waiting to be written. We children’s writers are passionate people. We love words and have tales to share with the world. I have two picture books I wrote and illustrated that where transformed into iPad apps a few years back. Parents and their kids loved Glory in the Morning and Love You to the Moon and Back, so I decided to try to have them published traditionally. There is nothing like snuggling a child in your arms while reading them a storybook, right? Thus began a three year process of submitting my books to publishers and agents. Over and over again, they were turned down. Most of the rejections were sweetened with compliments about my art, but no one thought my stories were marketable. I had all but given up on my dream when I heard an interview with author Hugh Howie. He self-published his mega successful science fiction novel, Wool and sold it on Amazon. What really peaked my interest is when he explained how cost effective self-publishing can be today.

Here are some surprising things I’ve learned that may give you the push to walk through the indie publishing door:

1) These days it’s nearly impossible to break into the traditional publishing world. The main reason for this is that book companies need a certain number of sales guaranteed. They are in business to make money and with the high cost of advances and printing they’re much less willing to take risks. That means submissions from unknown authors, who lack a robust social platform, hardly gets a glance. Nowadays, most publishing houses only read manuscripts submitted by agents. Finding a literary agent is as difficult as finding a publisher, unless you are a celebrity, of course.

2)  Publishing houses expect authors to market their books. Book companies don’t do the marketing for their titles like they did ten years ago. No longer are authors assigned a publicist to arrange interviews and book tours. Authors are expected to do that themselves. They’re also expected to have a social media following to initiate sales. In light of that, I know of quite a few successful, traditionally published authors who have decided to self-publish and pour their social media energies into promoting their indie book.

3)  Amazon makes self-publishing easy and economical. Amazon has partnered with print-on-demand publisher CreateSpace. With no set up fees, all you need to do is upload your book to CreateSpace’s website to have it printed on demand (in America!) and sold on Amazon. This seemingly daunting task is made easy with all the help they provide. They give you access to all the tools needed to design a book cover and upload your manuscript in the proper file format. Any questions will be cheerfully answered by their around-the-clock, knowledgeable phone staff. Because I had the ability to create my own illustrations, the only money I had to put out was to have my book edited. It’s a great feeling to have a royalty placed in my account whenever one of my books is sold on Amazon.

4)  The power has been given back to the writer. If you have a story to tell, it’s a wonderful time to be alive. Self-publishing gives authors creative control. My gratitude runs deep for CEO Jeff Bezos of Amazon. From what I see, he is bending over backwards to support indie authors. He has given us the tools to take the stories that live in our hearts and put them into the hands of readers. He’s made it possible for me to publish my books when the cost of printing thousands of copies through offset printing was not an option for me. Now every time someone orders one of my books on Amazon, CreateSpace digitally prints and ships it to the purchaser at no cost to me. The only downside is there is no option to have hard cover editions made. I got past that disappointment when I remembered Beatrix Potter, author and illustrator of “Peter Rabbit” fame. After she couldn’t find a publisher, she decided to dip into her savings and self-publish her little gem of a book. The high price of printing made her settle for publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit with a color frontispiece and black and white interior woodblock engravings. After her book begin flying off toy store shelves, it was picked up by publisher Frederick R. Warne and made into the beautiful full color edition that is still in print today.

If you are a frustrated children’s author, ready to take a leap and see your story in print, I wish you much success on your journey. Who knows, maybe you will be the next big success story with publishing house representatives lined up at your door waiting to sign you on.

Reading an expensive hard cover copy of  "Glory in the Morning" before I discovered CreateSpace.

My niece and nephews reading an expensive, (I could only afford to have a few printed) hardcover copy  of “Glory in the Morning.” Today, thanks to CreateSpace and Amazon, an affordable version is in the hands of children across the country and across the ocean.

This story also appeared on MariaShriver.com — THE most inspiring place on the web.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Jeff Bezos and Amazon: Making Authors Dreams Come True

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My grandson’s mom reading my self-pulished book to him.

It’s become popular these days to badmouth Amazon, but I happen to love Amazon and their CEO, Jeff Bezos, in particular. They are what made it possible for me, a 59-year-old author/illustrator, to share her books with the world. After my children’s picture book apps found an audience, I longed to see them in print. I submitted them to countless publishers and agents and most times never even received a rejection letter. Self-publishing was the only avenue left to get my stories into kids’ hands. Upon discovering the astronomical costs of that, my dream seemed doomed.

Choose yourself!  James Altucher
I thought having my apps made into books was hopeless until I heard an interview with author Hugh Howey. I learned that after being unable to find a publisher, he self-published his best seller, Wool, through Amazon. He explained that Amazon has partnered with print-on-demand company, CreateSpace. They make it possible for authors to upload their book files and have them printed on demand (in America no less). That means when one of my books is sold on Amazon, CreateSpace prints and ships it to the buyer, and I receive a royalty. The most amazing part of it is there are no upfront costs. The only downside for me was that the books are only available in softcover. It was easy to let go of my longing to have hardcover versions when I reminded myself of Victorian author/illustrator Beatrix Potter. She, too, decided to self-publish her childhood classic, The Tale Peter Rabbit, after having no luck finding a publisher.  Printing was so costly, Beatrix had to settle for a color frontispiece with interior black and white woodblock engravings. She was at peace with that because she knew the most important thing was to get her book into the hands of readers. I shared those same feelings about my stories. So as of November 2014, Glory in the Morning and Love You to the Moon and Back are for sale on Amazon. I’m happy to report that people are actually buying them for their children and leaving great reviews.
What’s dangerous is not to evolve.  Jeff Bezos
There is a lot of talk about the rise of Amazon being the downfall of the printed word. Yes, it’s true their online sales are shaking up book companies. With the digital age upon us, at some point that was bound to happen anyway. I believe the dismay in the publishing industry comes from Amazon giving the power back to the authors. Suddenly, the gatekeepers of the book world fear their relevancy and creatives have a voice. Many blame Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, for the loss of jobs in publishing and the folding of bookstores. To me that makes about as much sense as being upset when Gutenberg’s printing press came on the scene because the monks who illuminated bibles would be phased out. Progress is a scary thing to the inflexible, but it always ends up expanding our lives.
As an author who was beginning to wonder if she was washed up, I’ve found a new day has dawned. No longer am I at the mercy of the powers that be in publishing. I am extremely grateful to Amazon for making it possible for me to share my stories with the world. Thank you Jeff Bezos for empowering artists. You’ve made it possible for us to choose ourselves and make our dreams come true.
My "Glory in the Morning" is Kendall's favorite book.

My “Glory in the Morning” is Kendall’s favorite book!

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Calling Out My Angel

Maggie

Maggie

Every visible thing in this world is in the charge of an angel. – Saint Augustine 

I have to begin this post with a disclaimer: I know what comes next may sound crazy. Even so, it is my truth. Some months ago, my guardian angel was introduced to me in a dream. The image I saw was so vivid, it’s stayed with me ever since. I began toying with the idea of having her likeness made into a figure by a fine art doll-maker I came across on Etsy. Vilma is from Lithuania and her one-of-a-kind creations speak to me. I contacted her with my request and a description of the angel. In her reply she asked me to send her a sketch. For me, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

As an artist, my illustrations always stem from life, meaning I use photographic references. I may add magical elements to the piece, but they are always based on photos. I need to do that to get the realism that my muse demands. I was a little leery about drawing an image that lived only in my mind, but I decided to give it a shot.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. – Michelangelo

Maggie Sketch

When my pencil rendering was finished, I posted it on my FaceBook fan page. I was surprised by how much interest it received. Quite a few of my followers said they were excited about seeing the finished art. Today is “ta-da” day, the day I’m sharing my angel with the world. I know the anatomy isn’t perfect but I’m satisfied that I’ve captured her essence.

Many people are curious about what I learned from my angelic encounter. First off. my guardian’s name is Margaret but I call her Maggie (which is fine with her). She has green eyes and auburn hair (that may explain my mini obsession with drawing and painting redheads).  As you can see, her robes are pink and coral, colors I would have never chosen on my own. Did you notice the star on the top of her head? She told me she wears it for special occasions such as Christmas, my birthday and the birthdays of those I love. I learned from Maggie that I share her with others in my life at times. By that, she meant if I’m concerned about someone she will do what she can to help. She also said that if I loved myself more it would make her job so much easier. That surprised me and has made me really work on how I treat myself. The most important thing she imparted to me is the more I invoke her help the freer she is to be a part of my life.

Getting Maggie’s likeness down on paper has made her real to me. It’s a comfort to feel her presence. I try and remember to ask her for guidance because she sees the big picture. I’m sure some who read this will believe I was given a gift while others will think I’m delusional. Sure, it’s occurred to me that my dream sprung from an overactive imagination. Then again, I just may have taken a peek into eternity. Whatever the cause for my guardian angel’s materialization, I’m going to go with it. Believing we are all watched over and guided makes life so much easier.

There exists another world, an invisible world, real as our own, it is all around us: it is peopled with angels: they travel with you and play a part in your lives. – Pope Pius XII

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

My Christmas Wish

Christmas in the Blue Room

Christmas in the Blue Room

You gotta have a dream,

If you don’t have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true? 

― Rogers and Hammerstein, Happy Talk

I have a goal I visualize every year in December. I want to illustrate the White House Christmas card. My dream took root when I received a Christmas card from the Clinton’s in 1994. They began sending them to me after I created a portrait of their daughter, Chelsea. The card painted by Thomas McKnight, grabbed hold of me and I thought, “I want to do that.” Since that time, during each presidency, I’ve submitted card concepts to the Office of the First Lady for consideration. All the rejections I’ve received have been gracious and none have deterred me.

If I can dream of a better land,

Where all my brothers walk hand in hand,

Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true? 

― Walter Earl Brown, If I Can Dream

The full color rendering above is my favorite holiday card concept. It’s entitled, “Christmas in the Blue Room.” That’s were the official White House Christmas tree is displayed each year. I drew it when President Bush was in office.I couldn’t resist incorporating the Bushes’ dogs Spotty, Barney, and their cat, India, in my illustration.  I love the idea behind this piece. America’s children gathered around the official tree speaks of the melting pot of souls that makes our land great. That they are hand in hand signifies unity. We are all one in this country. Children are born knowing that but it often fades when they begin to model themselves after the adults in their lives. My art shows the beauty in the contrast of our citizens. It speaks of the innate love for each other that we’re born with. As adults, how do we cross the boundaries of fear and intolerance to join together in peace and friendship? The quickest way to get there is through the eyes of a child.

 A sketch I did during the Clinton Administration. Family pets Buddy and Socks snooze under the official tree.

A sketch I did during the Clinton Administration. Family pets Buddy and Socks snooze under the official tree.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Divine Calling

It is in by believing in roses that one brings them to bloom. – French proverb

We all have a divine calling, a purpose we were born to fulfill. Afraid to let nature take its course with our dreams, we roll up our sleeves and map out our future. Step by step we’re determined to make it happen. There’s a serious flaw in this type of thinking. Rather than moving us to our heart’s song, it keeps us stuck.

How can that be? Because in believing you have to make your passion happen, you’re limited to only what you’re capable of imagining. A more certain way to reach your goal is by envisioning what your life would be like if your longings were already realized. Indulge yourself. Start acting as if you’re already there by finding a place of trust within, a place where you know your dream is being brought to fruition. Live as if it’s already happening, and the physical world just has to catch up. Opportunities to transport you will unfold without your “help.” They will materialize as if by magic. And all you have to do is let go and dream.

Stay in the now. Work on an aspect of your heart’s desire daily. For me, today, it would be sharing my art by writing this blog. For my nephew’s wife Jamie, it’s about being the best mother she can be to baby Calvin. For Harriet Tubman, it was saying, “yes” to her calling to guide slaves to freedom in the north. She didn’t worry about unforeseen dangers on her journey. She relied on moment-to-moment guidance from her maker. By believing in our dreams, without agonizing over how to bring them to pass, we leave room for the divine to work out the details. That’s my interruption of the idiom, “God is in the details.”

In Linda Ronstadt’s new memoir, Simple Dreams it’s clear all she ever wanted to do was sing. How her gift was shared with the world wasn’t something she was consumed with. By keeping her focus on the joy of singing, her heart’s desire materialized, in a big way. Not many of us clammer for that kind recognition. But what we all do share is the desire to bring the rose we are born with to bloom. By loving that rose and leaving the particulars of its flowering to God, we leave the door open for him to out dream us. And out dream us he always does.

My nieces Collette and Andi were happy to pose  as  Degas ballerinas for me.

My nieces Collette and Andi were happy to pose as Degas ballerinas for me.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

The Clock is Ticking Fast

Turning Back Time “The clock is ticking fast. Burn the candle large.” – Diane Sawyer

I thought I’d be further along in my career as an artist by now. When I was a girl, I dreamed of the fruits of my talent being respected and compensated monetarily. I saved drawings with Cray-pas on Manila paper to make it easier for my biographers after I died. At age 57, I’ve had some measure of success. A painting I did of Oprah hangs in her home and my portrait of Chelsea Clinton was displayed in her mother’s private study when she lived in the White House. What is lacking is the kind of recognition that includes a steady income. Without a husband to support me, I would have thrown in the towel long ago. In retrospect, I’m shocked I didn’t realize how difficult it is to make a living as an artist sooner. That glitch in my perception may well be part of my gift. Surely without that kind of naivety I would have given up long ago.

Last week long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad gave me new hope.  She calmed my fears of being washed up. If she can swim from Cuba to Florida at age 64, a feat she failed at 28, surely it’s not over for me. Entering the third act of my life can only give my work more depth. My experiences over time have added a vibrancy to my art that was absent in the struggles of youth. I’m refreshed by Nyad’s assurance, ”Never, ever give up. You’re never too old to chase your dreams.”

No matter how uncomfortable it is, keep stretching, keep believing. Risk is an extension of self-love. If you were born to sing a song, sing it. Whatever gift you were born to give, give it. Live it. It’s no accident we can’t turn back the hands of time. There is a season for everything. The gift you came to share may just have reached its full gestation and is about to be born into the world. And in perfect timing your audience waits…ready to receive it…with open arms.

Reference photo for the above illustration from my soon to be released book app, Glory in the Morning.

Reference photo for the above illustration from my soon to be released book app, Glory in the Morning.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

www.sueshanahan.com