Dumping on 2020

 2020 was the Year of the Rat and it was a real %!*#$! stinker and needs to be dumped on!

2020 was the Year of the Rat, but as it turned out, it was really just one big stinking rat's arse of a year. I sincerely hope 2021, which according to the ancient Chinese zodiac is the Year of the Ox, will be a better year for the world and not full of BS.



Nature's Greetings

Nature's Greetings
Sending out holiday greeting cards that I illustrated has been a tradition for over 40 years. However, this year I agonized for weeks on whether I should even send out cards. And if I do create artwork for a card, what should I render? A cartoon? No. Something whimsical? No.

The pandemic, the tanking economy,
the passing of friends, a loved one battling cancer  -- like so many others, 2020 was a rough year for my family.

Ultimately, I decided to go ahead and create a card so my family and I could once again reach out to relations, friends, and business acquaintances with a personal touch. And I looked for
my muse where I have so often found inspiration and solace  – among the natural beauty and wildlife of the canyons of the West.

Best wishes. May 2021 be one of recovery, hope, love, and beauty for you and yours.


Know nature. Learn to be still.


A Jolly Howliday Children's Book

Fun Holiday Children's Book
Coyote Claus: A Southwestern Desert Tale
, is a
holiday children's book with a fun southwestern-themed take on Clement C. Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas. Now into its second printing!



Whip It

 Whiptail Lizard Sketch


Having grown up in Arizona, it used to be that I very rarely saw any reptiles for several months after Halloween. However, with climate change I now often see them throughout the year. And with high temperatures hovering near 90° most of November this year, the reptiles of the neighborhood have been actively out and about. That includes a large whiptail lizard that has been strolling around our house for the past couple weeks. Naturally, if nothing more than an excuse to take a break from assignments and projects, I had to do a watercolor sketch and a whimsical take on the desert denizen.

For the lack of a better name we have been calling him/her “Stripes.” Although Stripes usually takes a saunter around our desert yard in search of yummy insects to eat, she/he can really move it when motivated. Seems that some whiptails can reach speeds approaching 20 mph when sprinting. After watching Stripes run, I don't doubt it.


Know nature. Learn to be still.


Another Desert Backyard Visitor:

Scrappy Rabbit


The Sheep & the Turkey

 An Original Markix Fable
(I believe this is a rather fitting time to share
this short tale from a current book project.)

   One day several sheep, enticed by the site of a distant green meadow, wandered away from the flock and trotted far off the mountain path to graze. After spending several hours stuffing themselves on the rich, green grass, the sheep realized they were lost.

Panicking, they ran in circles, baaing at the top of their lungs, and crying uncontrollably. “The wolves will eat us!” they screamed. “We don’t know how to find our way! Is there no one to save us?!”

Hearing the panicked and distraught sheep, a turkey that was passing by hastened over to tell them how to solve their problem.

“I am the most superbly smart bird ever,” the turkey declared. “Just look at my beautiful feathers that show the world how smart I am. Listen to me and I will be your shepherd. I will save you from being eaten by the wolves!”

“Follow me and I'll show you!” he shouted. “The valley where you live is just on the other side of that big rock!” Then he hopped quickly over to the big rock and launched himself high up into the air. Unfortunately, being a large bird and a poor flier, the turkey went over the cliff on the other side of the rock and plummeted straight down into the river far below.

One by one the sheep rushed over and hopped on the big rock and leaped into the air. Just like the turkey, they all plunged down into the waters of the river below. All were swept away by the swift river current, never to be seen again.

Moral: Arrogant would-be leaders should always be questioned, not blindly followed.


Ballot Box Clip Art



Here's a ballot box clip art image I created for teachers at EducatorClips.com

Educator Clips is whimsical clip art that teachers and students can download for royalty-free use.

Click here to download the image.

 Vote early! Vote climate!


Lots of Tricks but Definitely No Treat

Trick or Treat Halloween Scorpion
Give me something good to eat.

Being a native Arizonan and nature artist, encountering venomous creatures of all sorts has been a rather normal experience for years. While it's not something I particularly enjoy, I’m rarely unnerved by their presence. Rattlesnakes don’t bother me because they are usually polite enough to let me know that I’m invading their personal space. Coral snakes always show their true colors, so I know to avoid them. And Gila monsters and tarantulas are really quite easygoing if you respect them and leave them be.

However, bark scorpions – especially mother bark scorpions with little ones in tow -- are another story. Having been the recipient of painful unprovoked bark scorpion stings and the unpleasant effects of the neurotoxins that go along with it, well, to say the least, I dread encountering bark scorpions!

Being small and nocturnal, bark scorpions have the nasty habit of stealthily finding their way into shoes, clothing, bedding, and furniture under the cover of darkness. Plus, they are not hesitant to sting first and ask questions later.  And late October seems to be one of their favorite times to visit our home uninvited and make themselves comfy in some dark corner.

Interesting Fact:

Bark scorpions, like most scorpion species, fluoresce in the dark under ultraviolet light. It seems a chemical reaction in the outer layer, or cuticle, of its exoskeleton makes this phenomenon possible. However, very young scorpions, and older scorpions that have just shed their exoskeleton so they can grow, are rather soft skinned and don't glow under black light until their cuticle hardens.

Uninvited Home Visitor
Bark scorpion fluorescing under UV light before
being returned to the desert from which it came.



This seems like a fitting time to repost this... 

The Quack Frog, an Aesop Fable
     Once upon a time a frog came forth from his home in the marsh and proclaimed to all the beasts that he was a learned physician, skilled in the use of drugs and able to make well every disease.  A Fox asked him, "How can you pretend to prescribe for others, when you are unable to heal your own lame gait and wrinkled skin?"


Monsoon Beetle

Palo Verde Root Borer (Derobrachus hovorei)
From my Little Things of Nature Portfolio -- Sketches Afield.
Know nature. Learn to be still.

It looks scary, but the sight of this beetle is a welcome sight to many of us Arizona natives because it usually means that the summer monsoon and the chance for a thunderstorm or two has finally arrived.  When summer moisture makes its way to the desert, this clumsy flier — usually about 3 to 3.5 inches long — takes wing after spending three or more years in its larval or grub stage to find a mate. 
They are harmless to people and pets in spite of their frightening appearance. 


Scrappy Desert Rabbit

Scrappy Desert Rabbit

Taking a break in the shade of a brittlebush.
From my Little Things of Nature Portfolio -- Sketches Afield.
Know nature. Learn to be still.

Meet Scrappy, a frequent visitor to our desert backyard and mother of a couple of recent additions to the neighborhood. The rumpled and pierced ear make her easily identifiable.
Update: 1/24/23, I created a coloring page and wrote a short piece about how Scrappy became sort of a mascot for my late wife while she was undergoing cancer treatment.



So Uncommon and Fluffy

A fledgling Mexican Spotted Owl. A rare glimpse of a fluffy youngster of an endangered species. From my Little Things of Nature Portfolio -- Sketches Afield.

Know nature. Learn to be still.


Wildfire Survivor

Banded Gecko

Banded Gecko from my Little Things of Nature Portfolio -- Sketches Afield.
Know nature. Learn to be still.
Recently emerged from its refuge beneath a rocky outcrop into the hazy moonlit night, this diminutive desert dweller was observed among a charred landscape. The man-caused fire that just swept through the area will only heighten the struggle for survival in an already hostile environment.



Car Parts for Kids

Illustrations for the May/June 2020 issue of click magazine for kids 3 -6 years.


More Sonoran Desert & Colorado Plateau Coloring Pages

(Please note: This content was created during the COVID crisis. The SCBWI no longer hosts the pages.) As part of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Digital Directory for Remote Learning Resources COVID-19 Project, I have created a webpage and have been adding coloring pages as time permits. Here are some of the recent additions available for download:
Plants and Animals of the Sonoran Desert and Colorado Plateau

Here's the direct link to my coloring pages featuring the Plants and Animals of the Sonoran Desert and Colorado Plateau: https://whimsicalillustrator.com/fun/

And here's the link to the SCBWI's Digital Directory for Remote Learning Resources: https://www.scbwi.org/digital-directory-for-remote-learning-resources/


Life (and Art) on Earth

Life on Earth Illustration by Mark A. Hicks

A spread illustrated by me for ASK, the magazine for kids with curious minds. April 2020 edition.



Observing Earth Day by Observing Nature

Little Things of Nature art by Mark A. Hicks

 A sampling from my Little Things of Nature portfolio. A series of postcard-size watercolor sketches of some wondrous little things of the natural world observed afield.

Know nature. Learn to be still.


Art, Desert Beginnings, and Someday

Slides and artwork from Mark A. Hicks, illustrator

      Long ago, on April 9th, 1985 to be exact, I quit my newspaper graphic artist job and began my full-time freelance art career. Young, with a big imagination and a head full of thoughts of someday, I set off to pursue illustrating for children’s books and other publications. I also had a dream of someday bankrolling my talent into creating a retreat for myself and other artists in some yet-to-be-determined place in my native Arizona.

It all started in an ideal location a few miles north of the then lightly-traveled Carefree Highway north of Phoenix. Seeking an inspiring place to work, my in-laws graciously let my wife and I put a small manufactured home on one corner of their 10-acre cholla cactus-filled desert property. My wife was planning to start freelancing as a writer so it was a perfect time to make the move from the city.

The location wasn’t very convenient for mailing off illustration samples or obtaining art supplies (at that time, it was a twenty-mile drive into Phoenix.) However, it was quiet and definitely inspiring. Only a scattering of small houses and mobile homes dotted the landscape to the south. The rough dirt road that ran by the land would only occasionally be driven on by a rattly old truck hauling potable water to residents farther down the road. To the north, directly across the road, was an open, undeveloped landscape filled with cactus, creosote bushes, and palo verde and mesquite trees. Not far was a rugged desert mountain covered with stately saguaros. Blue-purple mesas and mountains in the distance completed the vista. The sky was bright blue during the day and magnificently star-filled at night. It was the perfect location for aspiring creatives and nature lovers. Here, I imagined, on this open land, artists, writers and nature enthusiasts like us could come to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the desert.

When my time wasn’t occupied with art assignments or trying to convince publishers to give me something to illustrate, I would head outside. There, with my wife as a co-adventurer, as much time as possible was spent hiking and observing the desert flora, fauna, and geology. Rabbits, coyotes, skunks, cactus wrens, hawks, owls, roadrunners, quail, as well as numerous reptiles were regular visitors to our unfenced land. Among those reptiles was one particularly large Gila monster that sauntered across our space early one morning that would inspire Gila Ben, a cartoon character and Arizona-themed coloring page website.

Unfortunately, the time we lived out there was too short. Life intervened and altered plans and delayed dreams. That beautiful open landscape I once lived adjacent to is now a mega development. The desert has been bulldozed and covered with cement and asphalt. Strip malls and thousands of houses fill the space. With the exception of an occasional unwelcome rattlesnake or coyote, gone are many of the desert animals that once roamed freely. The quiet has been replaced with a cacophony of car traffic and leafblowers. Exhaust fumes hang heavy in the once fresh air. The night sky is now so illuminated from street and house lights that only a handful of stars are visible. I'm sure that most of the current hurried residents are unaware that awe-inspiring scenery and peacefulness once existed there.

Looking back, I have accomplished a lot. I have illustrated many children’s books and much more – it just didn’t pan out quite the way I so vividly envisioned it would. However, although I am many years older, I still have a big imagination and a head full of thoughts of someday and a dream of establishing a retreat for artists. 

Daisy Mountain in the rain 1985. Copyright Mark A. Hicks
Daisy Mountain Cloudburst
(A view from my studio window in 1985.)

In October 2017, my wife was diagnosed with hereditary cancer caused by a BRCA2 mutation. On June 26, 2021, my wife died in my arms from the cancer. It was a journey through the deepest, darkest corners of hell for her, for me as her caregiver and for our adult daughter. Hopes and dreams were wiped out. Hereditary cancer changed everything.  Many stories and illustrations on this blog speak of the awfulness of cancer and grief, how it all could have been prevented, and my efforts to prevent others from suffering the same fate.

I still have the dream of an artist retreat. But now it includes the hope of making it available to cancer patients and their caregivers. And my creative imagination is still there, but not as strong. Also gone is much of the whimsy that was so much a part of my art for so long. Ripped away by the untimely death of my beloved wife, co-adventurer, and muse. 
I hate cancer.


SCBWI Connects to Keep Students Learning

(Please note: This content was created during the COVID crisis. The SCBWI no longer hosts the pages.) To help keep students learning, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has reached out to published members for remote learning resources you can use in virtual classrooms, for home-schooled students, or yourself! 

The SCBWI, of which I'm a longtime member, has created a directory that has hundreds of resources by published and listed (PAL) authors and illustrators that includes activities, art lessons, audiobooks and ebooks, bilingual resources, online book readings, emotional and mental well being projects, podcasts, teaching guides, and virtual visits and workshops. 

By the way, I have a page in the "Art Lessons" section call "Coloring Pages Featuring Plants and Animals of the Sonoran Desert and Colorado Plateau." It features images to color as well as and facts about southwestern flora and fauna. I will be adding a new page every Wednesday for as long as needed.

Here is the direct link to my page:

Sonoran and Colorado Plateau Coloring Pages by Mark A. Hicks


In the Power of Soap and Science (and Art) I Trust

I'm just an artist so it's not much, but if somebody needs any royalty-free clip art to make infographics that might help to flatten the curve of the current COVID-19 pandemic you are welcome to it at my website www.EducatorClips.com. Stay healthy please!

Royalty-free clip art for use for to make an infographic that might help flatten the curve of the current COVID-19 pandemic


Sonorasaurus Coloring Page

Sonorasaurus Thompsoni Coloring Page
The Sonoraurus, which is related to the Brachiosaurus, was estimated to have lived in the middle Cretaceous Period about 100 million years ago. It was believed to have been about 50 feet long and nearly 30 feet tall. Sonorasaurus Thompsoni is Arizona’s official state dinosaur.

Click here to go to the download page at my Arizona website, www.GilaBen.com.


Dinosaur Valentine

Dinosaur Valentine Delivery by illustrator Mark A. Hicks
Dinosaur Valentine Delivery

This image was created several years ago for a set of Valentine's Day cards for a major greeting card publisher. After a successful run it was retired and the rights reverted back to me.
Dinosaur Valentine Delivery is one of my favorite whimsical paper product illustrations. It is now being prepared for inclusion on folioMARK.com, my online stock image gallery and is available for licensing. Please feel free to contact me via my website, folioMARK.com, for more information.


The Lonely Diner

Ever feel like you are on an uncharted desert island while waiting to get served sometimes?

This vignette is one of hundreds of illustrations now being prepared for inclusion on folioMARK.com, my online gallery of my work as a full-time freelance illustrator for 40 years. The Lonely Diner will be available for licensing for publications or you can purchase the original artwork

UPDATE: The launch of folioMARK.com has been indefinitely delayed. See this post to learn why.