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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Self portrait of a busy illustrator!

I AM still here! I compose blog posts in my head all the time, but getting thought to keyboard hard to commence. Life is full and I am working well, yet this year has driven my creative energies in many different directions. This photo was created at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art. An inviting space with a light table and simple instructions allowed me to create this piece, this Me, fragmented yet content! Maybe an artist needs to have her art-making time challenged in order to more appreciate her place. And perhaps it also helps her to get to another level of image making.
Know that one of my favorite moments is realizing
I have all day to make art.
Another favorite moment is sharing art with others.
Hopefully, these two favorites will intersect more often.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Happy New Year's, Nature

A long absence here on my blog reflects a very hectic spring. A culmination of many good things- including three picture book contracts in two years- have left me a bit fractured to write. But while it seems like the endless marathon at times, projects do end. I love finishing up a long commitment and, like the light of dawn, new opportunities begin to become illuminated.

I'll be picking up the studio and putting order back into a few areas of life. Meanwhile, cheers to the spring, nature's New Year!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Snowflakes and sun

This month, while the snow fell outside, my drawing board transported me back to the July sun and a visit to the site of my on-going picture book project, "Creekfinding" (passionately written by my good pal Jackie Briggs Martin).

It was hotter than heck on that mid-summer day. My husband and I stopped for quick directions to "Prairie Song Farm" in Allamakee County, IA.  The farm is located in the tippy-top northeastern corner of the state, or the "The Driftless Area" as it is referred to, due to some unique geological characteristics. Dusty farm roads and sparkling creeks bordered the property's swaths of green prairie and field. Brook Creek, a small but significant waterway, snakes through the acreage. It is the subject of the book's story.

When at all possible, it is golden to actually visit the places where your non-fiction book projects are set. Not only being able to take some solid reference photos, just standing and listening to the land is invaluable. It helps create a relationship between me and the subject matter. Because an illustrator lives with a book for many many months, forming a bond early is helpful! And turns the snowflakes outside into black-eyed Susans in my illustrations.

flora by the creek
yours truly on the prairie

A bug's eye view, creek-side.

Transferring impressions of the day

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Cozy: Illustrations of Comfort

I have a pop-up, one-evening-only exhibit at a local gallery venue this Friday. "First Friday" is sponsored by the University of Iowa Museum of Art. They invited me to present an informal little collection of works around a theme. I chose "Cozy", as many of my winter pieces embrace this feeling.
The Danish embrace a concept called “Hyyge” (pronounced “HU-ga”). It loosely means an experience that gives us a feeling of social coziness.  Sitting in Iowa City’s Java House, with your hands wrapped around a steaming hot latte and chatting with good friends, as it gently snows outside? That’s hyyge.  Lounging back in soft comfy chairs at FilmScene, watching the latest Oscar Shorts? Hyyge. Drinking wine and viewing an art show on a chilly evening? That’s hyyge, too! Hyyge has to do with ordinary comforts elevating our daily lives, in small but pleasurable ways. Often, winters elements enhance hyyge.

Cozy is hyyge’s English word cousin.  Capturing scenes of Cozy is a fine challenge for an illustrator. The colder season brings a unique sense to an illustrator’s palette that highlights cozy elements of our world; soft natural light, fire-side glow, plush fabrics, warm drinks and cuddly animals.

The images presented at the exhibit have achieved a feeling of coziness for many viewers. They were created for various applications in the commercial art and published book world, and also for my own enjoyment. May they give you a window into my sense of hyyge and coziness.

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