Sunday, September 26, 2010

From the Sketchbook...

I took another exercise from the book Drawing Lab by Carla Sonheim, in which she suggests making a visit to the library and browsing the shelves for a few minutes until something should catch our eye. It was up to us how much time we wanted to spend sketching from the inspired book or books.
I have no trouble finding inspiration at the library. After a few minutes I came across a book on Topiary Gardens. This appealed to me immediately because (if I have failed to mention before) trees are among my favorite things to draw. I love the shapes, the branches, the negative spaces, and the variety- everything about them. I'd never studied topiaries in detail so I thought it would be fun to try drawing them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I wanted to share this photo of my nephew Noah taken at ArtSplash, an annual Labor Day festival held on the Missouri River. He'll be four years old this week and I was thinking today about the months leading up to his birth and how I was so excited to become an aunt, and I thought about all the things I wanted to eventually share with him. Encouraging him in art has been easy- drawing, painting, collage, he loves all of it. I feel very lucky to be the aunt of such a wonderful little person who is growing up so fast!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Illustration Friday: Star Gazing

When I was a kid I did a lot of star gazing- old movie stars that is. This was before specialty cable channels like TCM- most that I saw were checked out from the library. Judy and Mickey were my favorite, but I also loved the comedy teams like The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, and Laurel and Hardy.

I've been wanting to do some kind of Laurel and Hardy drawing for a while now, and when I saw the topic for this week I had an idea. Drawing caricatures is something I find challenging and haven't taken time to do many of them, but if there ever were a pair of people who would be fun and interesting to caricature, it's these guys. And they have been, by many artists- including several from the master of caricature Al Hirschfeld. Even in one of my favorite books by Maurice Sendak, In the Night Kitchen, the three chefs are all Oliver Hardy. I was delighted by that when I would read it as a kid.

I looked up both of their bios and listened to an interview that Stan Laurel gave in the 50's. He said that he loved to be out on his boat fishing whenever he was not in the studio, which gave me the idea for him to be catching his stars with a fishing pole. He also said that he was so thankful for his fans, and he responded to every single piece of fan mail personally throughout his entire career. I love hearing things like that- a wonderful, talented human being. Both of them were, and this was a fun little drawing to pay homage to a couple of stars that I've enjoyed gazing (and laughing) at since I was a kid.

If you'd like to see a little more of the detail just click on the image to enlarge it!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Contours and Scribbles

Today I tried lab #31, Scribble Drawings, from the book Drawing Lab by Carla Sonheim. Directions were to make random marks on your paper, adding loops or curves for interest. Then study them, perhaps turning the paper to get a different perspective, to see if you can see the beginning of something like a face or an animal. Very fun and a good challenge to see how inventive I could get. This will be a fun, easy drawing exercise to continue whenever I'm stuck in a waiting room or airport and need a good boredom buster!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"One Cat Leads to Another." - Ernest Hemmingway

Or the alternative title of this piece, " What happens to your furniture when you own cats!"

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Sketchbook: Dutch Inspiration

A few weeks ago I took a trip across the state of Iowa to attend the IA-SCBWI conference in the Quad Cities. Along the way I planned a few sightseeing stops, one of those being the town of Pella (I made it a week before hundreds came for their annual tulip festival.) The tulips were absolutely stunning, lining every street and the town square. What I was even more surprised by was the beauty of the Dutch buildings and homes (and the trees, I loved those trees!) The entire downtown area looks like it could be a village in Holland (and having always wanted to see Europe, I got to pretend for a few hours.) The rain didn't bother me as I walked around in awe with my camera (although it IS difficult to hold an umbrella and take photos at the same time!) and then did some sketches later (in a warmer, drier place.) I'd been inspired by the colors, dress, and the architecture of the Dutch and would love to do a finished illustration featuring them. Next weekend I'll be at an SCBWI illustrator get-together in Orange City, another Dutch town a little closer to home, and hoping to do some more sketching!

Photos from Pella:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Teddy Bear's Picnic

I love the old song The Teddy Bear's Picnic. I think it would make a great picture book, as there is a lot of room for an illustrator to tell a story beyond what the words are letting on about these bears and what goes on during their picnic in the woods. Here are a few of my initital sketches from thinking about what the bears would look like and what activities they might be doing.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Bed is a Boat, Part Two

This is a companion piece to the My Bed is a Boat illustration that I posted previously. I'm planning on having postcards printed with that illustration on the front and I needed a black and white image for the back. I wanted to use the same children but it took several sketches because I was trying to decide how I could continue this "story" on the back of the postcard. I decided to put them safely back in their room, but there are details to suggest why they might be dreaming such a dream- a toy train and sailboat, a pet fish, and curtains in the same polka dot pattern that they use for the sails.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Bed is a Boat

During one of my exhibits in 2005 I received a message that a children's musician from Minneapolis had looked at my work and really liked a painting titled My Bed is a Boat, inspired by a Robert Louis Stevenson poem. Fast forward to 2009, when I received an email from him saying that he was ready to work on the lullaby album and hadn't gotten the image out of his head of that painting. The size of that painting would not have worked well for a cd format, and I figured it could use a good update anyway, as I have grown a lot as an artist in the last six years. I still wanted to give the mood of serenity and wonder, but I wanted to add a sense of place. In my original painting there are only bare hills in the distance.

In the new version, it's a warm and exotic locale- palm trees, a tropical bird and turtle, and mountains in the distance. As I have said in previous blogs, music has a strong impact on the creation of my work and with this illustration I found myself listening to Stan Getz- that smooth 50s jazz that you'd expect to be playing in some sleepy little club in the wee hours of the morning somewhere in South America. I added two children instead of just one in the beginning simply because it made the composition more dynamic, but it really gave the illustration less of a lonely feeling and became more about two children sharing the wonder of a new, adventurous experience together.

Dress-Up Time

This is a quick little illustration I did as a birthday gift for the mother of the children I nanny a few days a week. I've spent many hours observing these two little girls, and I decided to go with one of their most popular activities, dress-up. The three year old likes to pretend she is a princess and dance around while the baby enjoys examining all of her pretty accessories.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

When I was eight years old my family took a trip to California- and the mother of all amusement parks, Disneyland. My sister and I were each allowed one souvenir to remember our visit, and I chose an Alice in Wonderland tea set. I think it was the box with it's colors that excited me more than the actual tea set, though. I grew up loving all of the Disney films including that one, but it wasn't Alice that drew me to the story- it was Wonderland itself that I found to be the most intriguing character, and I was absolutely fascinated by all of the strange and unusual shapes and colors in that curious land.

It wasn't till I got a little older that I discovered the woman behind all of those wonderful colors that I loved, and she quickly became one of my favorite artists. Her name was Mary Blair and she was a color stylist and concept artist for Disney in the 40's and 50's, contributing to Alice and other classics like Peter Pan and Cinderella. The colors she used were completely unrealistic... I loved that. No one before had ever used color the way she did. A green moon, purple grass, red trees. It's no wonder her use of color and unique style was a perfect match for Wonderland, a place where nothing is as it seems. Here are a few examples of Blair's work and a photo of the artist:

When I found out that my local theater was putting on a youth production of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, I jumped at the chance to use a "Mary Blair" palette, which meant blue-greens, yellow-greens, red-violets, blue-violets, pinkish-lavenders, and so on. Shades of purple played a big role in my designing a color scheme for the set- it's a color that has the ability to evoke a sense of mystery, magic, and whimsy, and that was the mood that I wanted for this setting. One of the other elements of Mary's work that I wanted to bring in was her use of black- in combination with the other brighter colors she used, she gave Wonderland a dark and curious atmosphere without it being scary enough to frighten small viewers.

Designing a set, I have found out, is a huge undertaking and I broke it down into steps early on so I wouldn't get overwhelmed. I had my inspiration, a list of the scene changes, and I spent a few days creating a small model out of a shoebox and models of the moving set pieces (I hope to have that to post up someday, but it was lost somewhere in the theatre during the process). Afterwards I took my model to the paint store where I collected about a hundred of those paint chip cards (the employees must have thought either I had a really big house or I was extremely indecisive!) and I spent about a week getting it narrowed down from 100 to about 12. Here's the color charts and a couple of my little set piece models that didn't get lost:

Another thing I have learned about set design- you have to work fast. There isn't much time between productions, and time to prepare for the Alice production was cut even shorter due to the many blizzards this winter. But the other thing I've learned- it always gets done, the show always goes on. With a set. Here are some photos of the finished design:

Believe it or not, I actually painted the forest scene on that sliding door curtain in about three hours. I don't think I have ever painted anything that fast- it was still drying an hour before the opening show.

If you are interested in seeing more of Mary Blair's work, there is a wonderful book called The Art and Flair of Mary Blair. Also, a few years ago someone had the genius idea of putting her concept work from Cinderella, Alice, and Peter Pan into children's books with retellings by well-known children's authors... I drool over every single page. They're all available on

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Green Gables

The Green Gables is the oldest restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa- it opened in September of 1929 and recently celebrated it's 80th anniversary. The restaurant is a landmark here in town and is known for it's "world famous" hot fudge sundaes (they really are good!) and matzo ball soup (also really good!) There have been thousands of fond memories made and stories told from the servers and loyal customers over the years about their experiences at the Gables. I got to hear many of them when I worked there as a waitress my summer after college, and last spring I came to live with the Seff family (who owns the establishment) and heard many more. I'd been wanting to do some sort of illustration of the restaurant, partly because it's such a well-known and loved place, and partly as a gift to the Seff family. Last fall I got ahold of a photograph of the restaurant taken around the time that it opened- there have been additions made to the building since, but this is how it looked originally:

I inquired with the family as to the original color of the building, so I could make things as accurate as possible, but I was just told "It's always been some shade of green." I suppose that makes sense! So, it was really left up to my imagination.I purposely chose the girl and her father as my characters, because I remember being a child and what a treat it was to have a "date" with dad, to go somewhere special with a parent and have them all to yourself (siblings at home) for an hour or two.

Today is the birthday of my friend Nancy Giles- it was her father Albert Seff who opened the Gables over 80 years ago, and I really kept her in mind during my work on this.

Friday, February 5, 2010

New York City!

All the years I dreamed about going to New York City and last week actually being there- I had to pinch myself. I don't know if it's my love for Art Deco architecture, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, movies like Miracle on 34th Street or Breakfast at Tiffany's, or books like James and the Giant Peach that brought on my fascination with this place, but it seemed like this almost mythical city until I was actually standing there in the middle of it all.

And then it still seemed unreal. My hotel was sandwiched in between the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station (!!) and I wasted no time the second I got there throwing my bags in my room and running as fast as I could across the street and through the doors of the iconic Grand Central. And then I couldn't move for about ten minutes... it's called grand for a reason. I've seen it in movies and famous photographs a million times, but to stand there in person... WOW.

I came back through the next evening after a day of illustrator intensive workshops and sat on the steps with a little sketchbook and started doing some gesture drawings of the characters walking in and out. I love to people watch- and there is one of the best places for it. A big sign was posted that said sitting on the stairs was strictly prohibited- I sat anyway, and figured I would draw what I could until somebody told me I had to move... which turned out to be about ten minutes later. Still, I got these:

A side note: the guy in this last one I had to sketch out of the corner of my eye. He seemed like the type of dude who might pummel me if he caught me trying to draw him.

I was very busy with the conference but made time on Sunday night to go back to Grand Central. It wasn't nearly as busy as it had been on Friday evening, and no police officer came and told me to move so I stayed for over an hour and got this down:

I could've spent an entire day there and done a dozen drawings, and there were a hundred more places and people I saw during my short stay that I would have loved to have captured in my sketchbook... there just wasn't enough time. I really did love it there, and I'm glad I had at least enough time to bring a little piece of it home with me in these drawings.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Big Sneeze

A birthday party with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs... this was the theme that was assigned for a workshop at the SCBWI conference in New York City this coming Friday. Each illustrator was asked to decide who the party would be for (Sleepy, Grumpy, Bashful, etc.) and our illustrations would all have a different emotional tone, depending on the character we chose.

I wanted it to be an original idea and present it in a unique way, and I wanted it to be... extremely impressive! But my mind was a blank. Luckily I had about four days of being snowed in during the Christmas Blizzard 09' to think about it- and since one of my gifts was a new sketchbook, I put it to use right away jotting down any ideas that came to mind.

I went through each character and imagined what their party would look like, and wanted to choose the one that I thought had the most interesting scenario. I knew that I also wanted my illustration to have action (the words from Walt Stanchfield's book Drawn to Life were ringing in my ears- "Draw Verbs".) I landed on Sneezy, and once the little light bulb popped on over my head and I had my idea, I grabbed my sketchbook and jotted it down as quickly as I could. This is what it looked like... I don't know if anybody else would be able to make this out, but I knew exactly what it was and I guess that's the important part!

I'm looking forward to the conference and to see what my fellow children's illustrators have dreamed up!