Wednesday, August 26, 2015
When I first read the word of the week on Illustration Friday, People, there was Barbra Streisand's voice in my head singing "People who neeeed people...". My brain is very random that way. I then tried to get the song unstuck from my head and brainstorm. This is a word that has many possibilities, but I decided to use it on a sketchbook exercise that I learned a few years ago from a book by Carla Sondheim called Drawing Lab . The challenge is to make light marks and scribbles on your paper, and then look closely at them to see what can be made from the shapes- sort of like looking at clouds and spotting a rabbit or a ship. I took the assignment a step further this time by looking to see how all of the shapes could be faces and then added details. When I can't think of what to draw or I just need to kill time waiting somewhere, this is always a great way to get the creative juices flowing- and maybe even come up with a new character.
Friday, August 14, 2015
The word for Illustration Friday this week got me to thinking about the heart, or love, that is shown in picture books. As a child I wasn't much interested in sappy picture books like Love You Forever (the kid on the cover who has made a mess with the toilet paper- am I the only one who finds it a bit disturbing that the mother drives over to her fully grown son's house with a ladder to climb in through his window while he is sleeping and cradle him?). I preferred, and still do, books that show love in a way that is powerful but not overly sentimental- or creepy. In Where the Wild Things Are, though we never see Max's mother, it is she who Max wants to come back home to and she who forgives him by leaving his supper in his room. In The Runaway Bunny, when the little bunny decides he might as well stay with his mother and be her little bunny, she simply says "Have a carrot".
In my picture book Lots of Cats, a little witch named Margaret finds many things to keep herself busy- but she does feel a little lonely sometimes. Then one day a cat appears on her doorstep- and soon more and more are arriving. She loves having fun with her new houseguests, but when she loses her temper after the chaos of living with a dozen cats gets to be a bit overwhelming, the cats scatter into the dark forest. It's nice to be alone again- but after a short while she begins to miss her little friends and sets off to search for them. The above color illustration shows her happiness when she does find them. It was important for me to show her love, and the cats' love for her, in way that felt true. The heart of this story is a very simple one, and it is this: If you own cats, there will be times when they will drive you crazy. I keep superglue on hand for times when my two cats get the big eyes and start bouncing off walls, and something inevitably gets broken. But they also provide entertainment, companionship, and comfort; and those things outweigh all the craziness that occasionally comes with owning pets.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
The word of the week on IF, Pointy, gives me the perfect excuse to show an excerpt from the picture book dummy I am working on, POP!, about little porcupine's bad luck of having several "pointy" things pop his balloons. On his third attempt the porcupine, Quill, thinks he is quite lucky to get a special jumbo size balloon until he has to try and fit it through his tiny door:
But his door isn't the real threat to his balloon:
But his door isn't the real threat to his balloon:
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
There are so many possibilities for the word of the week on IF, but the first thing to come out of the doodles in my sketchbook was this little character with wild hair. I've just had a haircut, but I usually let it grow so long that it starts to feel a little like this guy's! I also gave him a book to show growth on an internal level, because I think that reading is one of the best ways we can grow to become more empathetic human beings.
It's a simple little drawing, but for me it was important because it is the first time I have sat down to draw in several weeks after having had a difficult summer losing both a dear friend and an aunt with whom I was very close to cancer within a few weeks of each other. My friend Nancy loved my work, and always told me that this piece I illustrated of her as a girl with her father outside their family restaurant was the best gift she ever received. My aunt was very encouraging to me as an aspiring artist and always kept her eyes peeled for opportunities that would give exposure to my work. While going through boxes of things cleared from her home I discovered that she had saved all of my drawings from the time I could pick up a crayon, down to the tiniest doodles on scraps of paper. I know they both wished me success in my goals to become a published author/illustrator, and I'm ready now to dive back into my work and make that happen.
Friday, July 3, 2015
I have a couple illustrations to add to the book cover project I've been working on. I love anytime I am driving and see a dog with their head out of a car window and ears flapping in the wind. It always looks like they are just having the best time ever. So the above illustration came out of the idea that if dogs could drive themselves, they would be in the car all the time (I have a friend who noted that this dog does not look like a very responsible driver- I don't think most dogs would be, so I guess it's a good thing that they are content to sit in the passenger seat)!
Inspiration for this illustration came from a bluesy children's musician who I adore by the name of Randy Kaplan. Among his many hilarious songs is one called Shampoo Me! about a shark that comes up through the drain while a kid is taking a bath, and he has an unusual request. My particular favorite of Kaplan's is a song called Roaches, about the little houseguests that inhabited a New York City apartment he once rented- but I didn't suppose that would make a children's book cover that looked like anything a parent would buy for their child (but if Kaplan ever decides to make his song lyrics into books, I will buy every one)!
Friday, June 26, 2015
The idea for this illustration started out as a sort of wondering. What if there was a beautiful bird who lived it's entire life indoors- given affection from it's owner and good food to eat with plenty of snacks, but it also had it's home in a tiny cage and could only see the outside from a window. What if there was another bird who looked identical to the indoor bird, only it had lived his entire life outdoors- with the freedom to fly and go where it pleased, but doing so alone and fending for it's own food and shelter through good weather and bad (not to mention fending off cats!) What would happen if the two birds found each other one day? I like creating illustrations where there are questions without answers. But I think I would like to know what becomes of these two birds, so it is a story that I would like to write down and tell soon.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Vacation is the word of the week on Illustration Friday, and it's also a word that has been on my mind lately. On a shelf beside my drafting table I keep a couple of ticket stubs from a trip that my family took to Disneyland when I was eight along with a little promotional pin that I won for their 35th anniversary celebration and the one souvenir I chose, an Alice in Wonderland tea set. That vacation to California holds a lot of happy memories and it is a place I would like to return to someday, which is why I keep those things in a place where I can see them often. The date on the stubs reads June 15th, 1990- 25 years ago this week. For this illustration I was brainstorming who could use a vacation, and I thought of the worker bee! I suppose I am a bit of a worker bee myself- on top of my regular job I usually spend 60 to 80 hours a month in my studio. Of course, there is so much joy that I get from illustrating that I have never thought of it as work... still, a little time away for a vacation on a beach would be okay with me!
Friday, April 24, 2015
I've recently been commissioned by a company in Hollywood, California that rents artwork and props to create fifteen (cleared) book covers that will be available for television and film use. The only instructions I was given were to leave room for the titles (which I plan to hand illustrate and add later) and to keep them fairly simplistic because a camera would not be able to pick up on a lot of little detail. The funny thing is that even though these aren't real books, they are giving me real story ideas for what happens to the book cover characters I am creating. These are the first two of the fifteen- it will be exciting to see which television shows or films they show up in!
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
When I saw that the word of the week on Illustration Friday was strong, what came to mind is how strong creative people must be to be able to do what they do. Strength to share their work with the world and make themselves vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure; strength to tune out voices from people who are not supportive or understanding, strength to try an unfamiliar technique or medium, and the strength to spend many, many hours in isolation honing their craft.
When I feel down about a particular rejection or string of rejections, there are people who will tell me not to give up. The thing is, I don't know how to do that anyway. I've never even considered it, because I feel so passionately about the art of picture books and being a children's book illustrator is the only thing I have ever wanted to be (really, I don't know what else I would do). I don't think there is weakness in feeling sad or frustrated when the rejections seem endless. But there is strength in not allowing those feelings to linger too long, in picking oneself up and doing whatever works best to get back in the positive, creative frame of mind. Reading always seems to help me do that, so does music. There is a line from a Jim Croce song I like that goes "ain't nobody ever had a rainbow baby, until he had the rain." They are words I try to keep in mind every time I open my mailbox to find another rejection.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Monday, March 16, 2015
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Here are a couple of color images from the newest story that I have been working on about a little porcupine who would very much like a balloon of his own, but many unexpected things (bees, birds, clowns, himself) make it difficult for him to keep them from popping.
My nearly wordless book was partly inspired by my love for comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. Because their films were silent and told mostly through actions and emotions, with only a few words appearing on the screen, I think they are very similar to the art of the picture book. I love the surprise element of their films- when you think one thing is going to go wrong, it turns out to be something else. A perfect example of that is a scene from a Buster Keaton short called One Week, in which Keaton is attempting to move his house on wheels across some train tracks, with disastrous but very funny results. Check it out here.
Growing up my dad introduced me through his record collection to many musicians of the 60's and 70's, including James Taylor- but Jellyman Kelly was one of Taylor's songs that I serendipitously discovered on my own while watching Sesame Street. I love it's nonsense lyrics (I read that the song came out of a poem that his five year old daughter Sally wrote at school). It came up on a playlist recently while I was working on another project and I started to think about who Jelly Man Kelly and Jenny Mulhenny were, and why is there a big question as to whether she will let him come home? I decided Jellyman Kelly must be a jelly salesman- only he eats more than he sells, and makes a big sticky mess in the process. Jenny Mulhenny is his wife and she likes to boil hot water for her tea. The answer to whether Jellyman Kelly can come home? No! (At least not until he sells the rest of that jelly and cleans himself up)!
Here is a link to James Taylor singing the song on Sesame Street. I give you fair warning if you take a listen- it is quite infectious and you will most likely be singing it to yourself the rest of the day!
Monday, February 16, 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Monday, January 12, 2015
(click on the image to view it bigger)!
The things on the table were telling Blin "The journey must begin!" Happily, Blin would not be alone. Friends of all sorts are always welcome. But where would it start? Where would it end?
This is the text that was sent to me last September by Tomie dePaola, as part two of the contest in which I was a finalist. The instructions were to illustrate the text using any medium with a size no larger than 11 X 14.
Over the first few weeks I did a lot of thinking about who the character was, who his friends were, what the things on the table would be, and why he would be taking a journey. I started to develop a story about the main character, Blin, who has grown up in a place where everything is gray. While wandering one day he comes across a gathering of trees growing pails of paint in many beautiful colors, and there are also plants nearby that grow brushes. He builds his house beside them and sets to work painting everything around him with color. Curious animals, who were also gray, begin to appear and they become friends and fellow painters. When their work on one side of the stream is complete, they gather supplies from the work table to begin their journey making the rest of the world. I wanted a bit of mystery and so I left the question as to where it will end unanswered, but the tall mountains in the distance hint that it will not be the easiest journey.
Once I had my idea set, I could start with sketching.
I decided the main character would be a little old man who would have a little house.
After I was done with sketching and laying out the composition with several rough drafts, I turned my attention to color. My medium of choice is usually colored pencils, but since I was making a story about characters who are painting I decided that I would use a combination of colored pencils with watercolors. I wanted the color side of the illustration to be vibrant, but in my experimenting I decided that if I went too bold it would clash with the black and white side. I needed a way to tie the two worlds together and started looking at some of Maurice Sendak's work. I love the way his illustrations could be colorful and soft, and that was the look I wanted for my piece. I also usually work in a limited color palette, so finding a way to illustrate something like the work table that is covered in many colors of paint without details getting lost was a challenge and I spent quite a bit of time getting it right.
The black and white side posed another new challenge, as when I usually work in b&w I use graphite pencil alone. But for this illustration I used a combination of watercolor washes and various shades of cool, warm and French gray Prismacolor pencils.
My heart and soul went into this illustration over the two months that I worked on it. I decided to have my main character smiling and looking back at his work as he steps upon the rock to cross over the stream, because that is how I feel when I complete a project- proud of what I have accomplished, but also ready to move on to the next idea!
Monday, December 22, 2014
Every year I have the same one wish for Christmas- snow. It's hard to get into the holiday spirit when you look out the window and see lighted trees and decorations surrounded by dead grass and dirt. Growing up in Iowa, most years I have gotten my wish. This year it has been rainy and gray, and with a few days left till Christmas I am still hopeful!
Thursday, December 18, 2014
I have been drawing these fluffy white dog characters in one form or another since I was a kid. As I was cleaning out a drawer in my studio recently, I came across some light sketches of them that I had started a few years ago. Since they fit the theme of the holiday season, I decided to finish them!
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The word for Illustration Friday this week fits with a couple of illustrations that I have done that were inspired by the Robert Louis Stevenson poem My Bed is a Boat.
My bed is like a little boat;
Nurse helps me in when I embark;
She girds me in my sailor’s coat
And starts me in the dark.
At night I go on board and say
Good-night to all my friends on shore;
I shut my eyes and sail away
And see and hear no more.
And sometimes things to bed I take,
As prudent sailors have to do;
Perhaps a slice of wedding-cake,
Perhaps a toy or two.
All night across the dark we steer;
But when the day returns at last,
Safe in my room beside the pier,
I find my vessel fast.
Monday, November 17, 2014
I don't remember the first time I was introduced to Oz, perhaps age three or four. The story of a Midwest girl like myself who goes on an amazing adventure must have captured my imagination, however, because I have been intrigued with Oz ever since.
When I was seven and old enough to read on my own I checked out the book by L. Frank Baum from the library- and as much as I loved the movie and Judy Garland, I loved the book even more. Quickly I went through Baum's 13 other stories about the land of Oz and it's many wonderful inhabitants. Jack Pumpkinhead, Tik Tok, and the Patchwork Girl were a few of my favorites. I spent quite a bit of time as a child thinking about how much I would like to go to Oz and visit these characters.
Here is photo of me in the first grade wearing a Dorothy costume for Halloween:
And here is a photo of me in the second grade, wearing the same Dorothy costume for school picture day:
Recently I read a biography of L. Frank Baum called Finding Oz, which detailed the events in his life that led him to the eventual success of his American fairy tale The Wizard Of Oz when he was 43 years old. Pieces of his failed careers as a chicken breeder, traveling playright, castor oil salesman, and store owner/ newspaper man in Aberdeen all found their way into his story. There were also inspirations for The Emerald City from the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and a strong female protagonist in Dorothy from his famous suffragist mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage.
As an aspiring author/illustrator I found particular inspiration in Baum's optimistic outlook that endured through his many failures- he never stopped telling his stories to children and he never gave up hope. I had heard from different sources over the years that initially Oz was rejected by fifteen different publishers. This is a story however that Baum most likely embellished, because the book explains that he only had one handwritten manuscript (where is that now?!) and it would have been highly unlikely that it would have been sent to so many houses. He had success the previous year with Father Goose, His Book and his publisher was ready to take a chance on Oz.
I'm glad they did.