Sunday, November 13, 2011

A New Way

I went to the SCBWI Carolinas conference in Charlotte this September (fun!) and was very fortunate to meet the fabulous illustrator David Diaz. It's taken me awhile to process how seeing his portfolio influenced me. His work (which is not the kitten pictured here!) really blurs the line between illustration and fine art.

What line? some of you may be asking. I've heard the arguments before. But, in my mind, there's a huge difference between creating art based solely on having an artistic experience and creating art for a book. Even a beautiful picture book. I once met a painter at the Vermont Studio Center who said (paraphrasing) painting is like taking a walk in the woods. You know where you're starting, but you don't know where you'll end up.

When you're illustrating, you must have some idea of where you'll end up, right? If the text is about a group of penguins on a journey to Hawaii, you can't do a self-portrait. I mean, I'd like to see your self-portrait. But your art director probably would not.

David Diaz is an illustrator. But he showed us all kinds of art, which looked totally free.

And made me take a closer look at my portfolio. And about how I feel about my portfolio. I think there are some great pieces there. But I want to find a way to feel more free. Have more fun.

So I got out my acrylics and my big brushes. I've been saving them for the day I have time to go into my studio and create art for myself. Which may be a long way off, if I truly want to publish my middle grade novel and my picture books and illustrate. (and I do!)

I used my acrylics and big brushes to paint this kitten for a picture book I'm working on. He's getting ready to leave his basket for the first time. To journey forth to new adventures. And have fun.
Just like me.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Just Imagine

Just Imagine..... a time when Dragons roamed the Earth. Sticking its awesome head between two turrets of a woeful castle. Because a Dragon with hideous horns is getting ready to hurl flaming fire at it and do other terrible stuff. But isn't the dragon beautiful.

That's what my daughter did. She drew this picture. She goes into her room, turns on an audiobook (Castle Corona by Sharon Creech is one favorite) and draws these terrible drawings. But great! Because dragons are terrible, but great. (Harry Potter I reference and I hope you all caught it)

 She also did this one:
And here comes the peasant girl in rather tattered looking clothes (note the patches on her pants!) who is going to slay the evil dragon.

I wonder if her name is Madeline?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What Audrey Niffenegger and I Have in Common

We both write? True. We both draw? True, but that's not what I'm talking about. We both wrote runaway bestsellers that were made into major motion pictures? Well, one of us did. Not me unfortunately. We both were presenters at the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in Burnsville, NC last weekend? Yes!
Of course, I was there with my FABULOUS critique group, The Secret Gardeners. Our panel was called What Makes A Successful Critique Group. Which was about how, for example, two members of the SGs recently secured wonderful agents. And how we all inspire, cojole and urge each other on to be the best we can be. And how we use incentives for success, such as champagne and chocolate. My stomach was all jumbly on the ride there while practicing speaking Slowly and Clearly, which is not my forte. I am LEARNING to be more comfortable with public speaking, but I am still in the uncomfortable stage. I was hoping less than 3 people would show up, so as not to be overwhelmed by a huge audience. Was Audrey Niffenegger experiencing these same emotions? We arrived in the Courtroom which was our venue in the small, adorable town of Burnsville and sat in what I suppose might be called the Lawyer Table. We did not want to be in the jury box, as one early-arrival audience member suggested. We're not that kind of critique group. About 15 people showed up. And they all looked nice. I read my intro about our group. People laughed at the appropriate times. We had a lively discussion. Everyone seemed interested. I spoke slowly. Afterwards, many people told us how much they enjoyed it. And then we all went to hear the brilliant Audrey Niffenegger. And she really is brilliant, her artwork is amazing, her novels are amazing, she read us some wonderful, funny stories. But I noticed one other thing about her.
(This doesn't look like her either. If her presentation had gone on for another two hours, I might have gotten it right) She is just a person. A sweet, down-to-earth person, from what I could tell after hearing her and seeing her for 45 miniutes, but also just a person. Sometimes her hair escapes from her hair band. Maybe she even sometimes feels nervous. And once upon a time, she was trying to get published and not wildly famous. She might have once been in a critique group, sharing her work and dreaming of the day when her work would be out in the world for everyone to see. So, if I could be a time-travelling writer and could go back to that time when she was working and hoping and not knowing if one day....Well, then maybe we actually have two things in common.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where I'm At

For years now, I've been getting older.

We're all going through it, right? Though before I turned 40, I didn't give it much thought. Now I get out my mirror for a self-portrait and have to decide how many wrinkles to include. How dark to make the darkness under my eyes.

Include it all, I say! Because aging is what I plan to keep doing, as long as possible.

Acceptance is one thing. But how can I embrace the fact of getting older? Well, one way is to look at this drawing I just did, look beyond the wrinkles and see an accomplished artist with a strong line and a strong sense of rendering. There's real feeling here, the result of years of honing my skill, through many hundreds of drawings. And I can only get better, as I continue to work on my art (and my writing.)

So is it aging or is in improving?
I guess it's all in how you decide to look at it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Endless Drawing

I've drawn a multitude of self-portraits. Many portraits. Some street scenes. Millions of cats. But there's another kind of drawing I want to do more of.

End-less drawing. Not sketching from life. Not attempting to be an illustration. Not even a brainstorm for an idea for an illustration. Nothing to sell.

There's a great song called Doodlin' with the line:
Cause when you doodle, then your noodle's flying blind....

But I think it's more than that. Sometimes I have to draw without a goal, maybe for fun, maybe to access the strangeness in my mind. So I can see what's happening up there. Clear out the junk. Bring the real stuff out into the light.

I love the interaction between my brain and my hand which comes out through my pencil, pen or brush. Which I don't know what it will be until it's there in black and white. Surprise!

Can we ourselves surprise ourselves? I like to try.

Because it feels awesome when my noodle's flying blind. I need more of that freedom. Stream of consciousness. That's what Jackson Pollock was doing, right? I need to let my pen play. Just go. Just do it. Endlessly.....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

From the Mixed-Up Files of my Mind

From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is one of those hugely important, unforgettable books from my childhood. Two smart, funny kids run away to live for a week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art- what could be better?

Now one of my happy mommy moments is sharing favorite childhood books with my daughter, and did we have a great time listening to the audio book of The Mixed-Up Files! (yes, we did)

So when planning a trip to NYC, of course the Metropolitan Museum was part of the plan. I knew the fountain described in the book was no longer there- was it ever? I didn't think Michelangelo's Angel was real- was there a similar statue?

The first person at the Information Desk didn't know anything about the book. The second person smiled and handed us a pamphlet called "The Mixed-Up Files" Issue." We found out there's no statue such as described in the book. "The Fountain of the Muses" was once on display, but now you have to imagine it while looking at other museum fountains. The bed they slept on isn't on display, but similar ones are. We went into the Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries looking for a similar bed. We found a guard. "We read 'The Mixed-Up Files...' I said." She smiled and said, "That is a work of fiction, you know."

Says who?!!

The Fancy beds and writing desks were fabulous. "Let's run away," I said to Madeline. "No," she said, "but if you do, I'll know where to find you."

We had a wonderful time walking around the museum (and especially the Egyptian wing) thinking about Claudia and Jamie's adventure. We had our own adventure. We went to the cafeteria, of course. Madeline had a kids meal in a cardboard taxi cab.
"This is silly," she said. "I'm a little old for this kind of thing." Sounds like something Claudia would say. I only wish we could've ordered a sandwich from the Automat.

Looking over the pamphlet, we saw an insert: draw the room you would run away to and write a few lines about it, turn it in to the information desk and get a 'museum goodie.' Madeline drew and wrote about a room with a comfy bed and a cat. We went to turn it in.

The first person at the information desk didn't know what we were talking about, but she spoke to her supervisor. Now Madeline is looking forward to receiving her 'goodie' in the mail.

I spent a day with my daughter in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reliving one of my favorite books. I guess I already got my goodie.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cats and Balloons

Because life is so precarious... like a birthday balloon about to get popped by a cat's claw.

Because balloons are so colorful... reminding us to take joy in the everyday.

Because cats are so in the moment... reminding us to live in the present (and maybe you'll get a present.)

Because balloons are transparent... letting light in is how they shine.

Because cats are silly!

Because I like cats.

What's your favorite reason for balloons and/or cats?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's Been Awhile....

...since I made some art for art's sake... or for my own sake... or for, dare I say it, FUN! I've been so caught up in trying to get published, finish another portfolio piece, working on my latest PB dummy, etc, I almost forgot.

I forgot that I love to draw and paint and sometimes it has to be:


So when I was deciding what to do with my daughter today- thinking we should go on some meaningful memorable mother/daughter hike or something- I instead said, "How about we take some watercolors outside and paint in the yard?"

It was a beautiful day. I wanted to do a self-portrait (for fun!) When she saw me get out the mirror, she said, "What? You're not painting something in the backyard? Then I won't either." So she painted a dinosaur, asking alot of questions, such as 'how do they know what color dinosaurs were?' They probably guessed, I said. Then she asked why I put blue in my face, when there isn't any blue there. I see every color in my face, I said. (she'll understand when she studies the Impressionists)

Her painting time was much shorter than mine, so I had some guilty feelings when she was running around trying to get my attention and my attention was elsewhere. But that's okay! I don't feel guilty anymore. I did this painting (this is the part I could fit on my scanner) and I'm happy.

Next time I might paint dots, or swirls, or get really wild and do a totally blue self-portrait.
The important thing is: I'll have fun doing it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Last Minute Poetry Month Offering

This is the illustration that's in the May/June issue of New Moon Girls, a very cool magazine that's all about empowering girls.

And, in honor of poetry month, which is almost over but we've enjoyed you and look forward to having you back next year, here's a post-Easter Egg poem.



Something’s rotten at my house,
I mean, it really stinks,
a tell-tale and unwelcome smell:
an egg’s gone bad, methinks!
We search throughout the kitchen,
desperate to locate it,
I find a mushy chocolate bar,
(my little brother ate it.)
Our quest continued through the house,
it lead us to the den
the smell got even smellier,
My father found it then.
And yet, my mother wondered,
how did it rot so fast?
That egg took time to fester,
but Easter had just passed.
We saw the egg so moldy,
twas then the truth came clear,
this was the one stayed hidden,
from our Easter egg hunt-last year!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cat Drawings - Learning from the Pros

I haven't posted in awhile partly because I just reentered the (paid) workforce- at my local library in the children's section! I am shelving books which is similar to housework only someone's paying me to do it. And now I get to be around children's books alot!

But also because I've been illustrating more than writing. Which seems to use a different part of my brain.

But I'm back. (big sigh of relief, right?!)

I'm working on a PB about cats. And so I'm looking at some of my favorite cat artists.

Starting with Arthur Howard- (and I would post his website, but I can't find one) He illlustrated all those fabulous Mr. Putter and Tabby books by Cynthia Rylant (along with tons of other great books including some he also wrote.) And talk about excellent writing and amazing illustration perfectly wed! Don't you love Mr. Putter and Tabby- and not a kid in sight. And, no, Tabby is not the kid- she's an old cat who mostly snacks and sleeps. Just lovely, fun books about friendship. And napping.

Anyway, Arthur Howard's (my hero) cat illustrations. Here are two. I love tabby. And I love his style- loose and lively, but also right on the money cat-wise. I mean, this guy can draw! But he's having fun doing it. And we have fun just looking at it.

I guess that's what great picture books are all about (ok, they're easy readers, but you know what I mean....)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hank's Tattoo

I try for a line a day- or two or three - some bit of sketching, doesn't matter what.

Actually, I don't even have to try, because I doodle. But I also do self-portraits, or draw Madeline while she's drawing or reading, draw in the cafe. And don't forget the cats.

Sometimes I go out and listen to Hank playing music- this time with fellow guitarist John Corbin at a fabulous wine bar in downtown Asheville- and I draw the musicians. They're hands are in constant motion and they make weird faces. My hand moves quickly, too, trying to capture their energy.

This one's got a little something never before seen in any Hank rendition- his tattoo. He insisted I include it, even though it's actually on the other arm. Poetic license, he said.

I'll call it a few extra lines. And, bam!, there's your tatoo.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Self-Portrait as a Wicked Witch

Well, maybe not a self-portrait in the strictest sense, but I think it captures my essence.

Because sometimes I feel like flying off on my broomstick beneath a crescent moon. Feeling the wind rushing through my hair. Turning people into toads.

So I guess I could call this a self-portrait of my alter ego. Because, when I'm not busy being a wicked witch, I'm an illustrator. Or a writer. A mom, of course. Sometimes I'm even a good witch.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In Honor of Dr. Seuss....

I thought I'd share my Ode to Spring. A little early, but I know you want it....
Plus March is my birthday month, which means I get to do anything I want.

What is this thing called Spring
that makes the sparrows sing,
the crickets crick,
the chickadees chick,
the hummingbirds hum,
the grasshoppers strum,
the pigeons coo,
the owls Who.
I hear them all conspire,
to form a backyard choir,
where peepers start to peep...
Don’t they know I’m trying to sleep?!

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Character in Search of a Plot

Recently, I decided to enter a regional illustration contest. So I did some sketches, based on a doodle, based on a glint of an know how that works.

And I came up with this girl. Wow! So much personality. She even has a fabulous cat sidekick. But she does not have a plot. She does not even have a name.

Because I wasn't working on a picture book. I was merely thinking, doodling and sketching for a contest.

But now she's in the world, and, I think, she's begging for her story to be told.

I usually start with a basic (written) idea when I'm working on a picture book. Or a plot. Or at least a title. I've never started with a drawing. But I'm willing to try something new!

How do you get started on a picture book? Have you ever had a Character in Search of a Plot? Tell me- how did it end?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Giving Up

Recently, I received a bit of disappointing news. Yes, I've gotten a steady stream of rejections for the past several years. But this was one of those situations where you seem to see a glimmer of light at the end of your alarmingly dark tunnel and say... oh, could it be....might it be....? And then just as the light grows a bit brighter there's a cave-in and the darkness descends even darker than before. And you wonder if anyone's going to dig you out. Or are they all having one of those great potlucks that ends in a rousing game of pictionary? Without me?! It's just too cruel!

So what did I do with my bit of depressing news? Why, I contacted my writers group, the Secret Gardeners. And they, of course, all hastened to remind me that I am, in fact, fabulous, and I have to keep writing and my day will come and those who've eschewed me will be sorry, etc.

So turns out I'm not giving up. Of course I'm not giving up! I'm not the type of person who gives up. I'm the type who has to keep writing, drawing and submitting. Plus I've come too far to give up. I can dig myself out of this eensy-weensy cave-in. I can keep going.

I have to. The Secret Gardeners are expecting me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

OMG, my daughter can draw!

Madeline and I drew these cats. Two are copied (which makes us copycats) from Nick Bruel's ( wonderful Bad Kitty books. (and he is a very nice guy in addition to being such a great writer/illustrator, I know because I met him here in Asheville!)
She starred the ones she likes best. I like the two that seem to be sitting on top of each other best.
Those cats have attitude.

Bad cats are fun to draw. Playful cats are fun to draw. Curious kitties, fancy ones and very alert cats, like the ones Madeline drew here. These rather serious cats right here:


Sometimes you have to wonder why you would draw anything but cats.

I'm just glad Madeline and I can be artists together.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Self-Portrait #572

I admit it. Snow days have got me down. Feels like I should love nothing better than more time to hang out with my beautiful daughter.

Well, yes, we've had some fun. But mommy's getting antsy. And what I realize is, I Need My Alone-Time. I'm feeling transported to when she was a baby- which I loved so much, of course, cuddling that little bundle of sweet-smelling sweetness. But it also brought out a restlessness in me that made me wish I was a seahorse or a penguin, and the guy was in charge.

Then we scored a playdate at a friend's house. I thought I should write, but I felt so emotionally discombobulated. So I did this self-portrait.

Centering, that's what it is. Art that nobody's going to buy. Because it's just between me and my sketchbook, myself and I.

When she came back from the playdate, we had a good, long cuddle session on the comfy chair. Because she was back. And so was I. Know what I mean?