Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What's in season?

Life flies by like a shooting star through an inky night sky...

On this warm August afternoon, I am trying to keep to my "to do'" list, one being update my website! I caught up my content and decided to check out my neglected blog. Such a great place to write long, wax poetic, record observations, and share inspirations. I miss it. I'm re-dedicating to twice a week offerings, to see if posting adds to my production. The more mindful of belonging to a community of bloggers and readers, artists and learners, book lovers and creators, illustrators and writers, the more I may produce. At least I will once again have a more detailed record of my studio time. We shall see how this goes.

Back to the drawing board, today I am changing a summer scene into a fall one for a client who has a seasonal advertisement I update. It occurs to me that I like to illustrate subjects in nature best when they are currently in season. Being able to pick a coloring leaf or ripened blackberry to study makes the drawing more vibrant. Like eating fruit and veg during its real growing season just tastes better (we just had our first Iowa corn fest last night and the flavor was astounding). Not always is this practical- I've illustrated many a summer prairie for a deadline in January!- but when I can, it feels nice.


Monday, February 20, 2017

A creek story is born, word by word, picture by picture...

Although the finished art and final story edits whizzed off to the printers long ago, "Creekfinding", written by my pal Jacqueline Briggs Martin, is just starting to hit the shelves. 

Holding a book you've been part of creating for the first time makes me feel like a proud parent. An entity that came together one element at a time- word by word, picture by picture, page by page- is now whole. 

The magic of a picture book lies in its joint creation. From separate wells of creativity, the author and illustrator create in a wondrously woven process. One person's work does not exist without the others and yet, together a story is born.. . I love how enthusiastic readers confirm a successful match!

The Australian Children's Book of the Year Award Committee annually honors author and illustrator  jointly for one single book: “The award [is] made to outstanding books of the Picture Book genre in which the author and illustrator achieve artistic and literary unity..." 

I love this. “Literary Unity” is a good way to put what most picture book teams aspire towards (and somewhat easier to achieve when you are both author/illustrator!). If a picture book has a different author and illustrator, the process is more complex, yet rich and rewarding. The words do come first, but as smooth as a baton exchange in a foot race, the story then transfers and expands from the words to the pictures. In the end, good words and good pictures should tell a story that comes together harmoniously over the finish line. 

A picture book manuscript may take years on and off to write, but the illustrator lives quite intensely, immersed for many consecutive months producing the pictures. The amount of detail to the story-line decided by an illustrator (visual setting and character placements, pacing, actual page lay-out ) is it’s own act of creation. I can attest that when the illustrations are complete, the parental feeling about the story is as strong for the illustrator as it is for the writer. 

So happy birthday to our book, word by word, picture by picture, page by page.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Monday, October 10, 2016

A museum, an artist and an osprey

Last summer,  I was busy thinking up sketches for "Creekfinding", my latest picture book written by Jackie Briggs Martin, due out next spring. Jackie's first words told about a place in time, before written language, that formed her story's location.

How does a creek get lost?
especially a creek that started long ago,
with a spring that burbled out of the ground,

and tumbled itself across a prairie valley.

The words felt "epic" to me, hinting of the quiet geographic and geologic drama that unfolded slowly over millennia. My illustrative thoughts went cinematic; an aerial layout for this opening spread came to mind. I pictured immediately a grand bird's eye-view of this lush land. Maybe the viewer could be above the bird- what a vantage!

What kind of bird would I use? One that would be appropriate habitat-wise for the setting. An eagle, perhaps? Eagles are certainly seen in this kind of area, but perhaps too predictable. An osprey, I had not drawn. They are magnificent. That's what I settled on, although I was not familiar their ways or plumage at all.

I love natural history museums and we have such a good local one in the University of Iowa's Museum of Natural History. I've sung it's praises before, but it truly is the best place to research birds and animals, and that's where I go when I want authenticity on illustration detail. I emailed the collections person and she said they had several stuffed Osprey specimens and some "skins" (feathers and body shape preserved) that I could look at.

I made an appointment at the museum and tucked my sketchbook under my arm. The museum staff was ready in the lab, with several Osprey specimens "flown in" from their archived perches, eager to meet me!

It is a gift to look at a bird up close. Even when that individual is long gone (some of these specimens in the collections are over 100 years old), I still marvel at the privilege. Osprey are lovely, with speckled lighter heads and banks and banks of walnut brown body feathers nestled tightly together in impossible precision. The talons speak of their strength and beauty. Shiny amber eyes once detected the slightest movement from miles below. As I drew a few details and recorded some features, I felt I was adding to this creature's original story by my interpretation of his earthly remains. There would be lift to his wings again, spread to full span, and he would scan above the driftless valley, as he did long ago, in search of a tasty trout lunch.

From the University of Iowa's bird collection

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