Friday, September 30, 2011

Pheasant Hill

Here's one of the color studies from a new pheasant piece I've been working on. A little neighborhood park called Pheasant Hill was a favorite of mine when Lucy was a toddler. It is a perfect place to play in the sand, have picnics and swing. Ahh, I remember those sweet fall afternoons!

Today, I think about the colorful game birds that roamed the same land a few decades ago. The common pheasant was introduced to the Midwest in the mid-19th century.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Illustration Workshop shout-out!

Thanks to those who joined me yesterday at the University of Iowa's Museum of Natural History for the scratchboard illustration workshop. I enjoyed hearing (scratch-scratch) and seeing so many scratchboarders working in one room! It was a pleasure to look around and take in everyone's unique styles. My gratitude to the UIMNH for organizing our "models" from their collections- the short-earred owl and the albino thirteen-lined ground squirrel in particular. Also, for giving us a bright, cheerful classroom to meet in.

I'm not sure I mentioned the kind of pen I use to re-ink or add details to my pieces. It's the Rapiograph/Koh-i-noor technical pen series. It gives the smoothest and best color match to the EssDee scratchboard.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wings to learn

I write and illustrate about nature a lot, usually from observations made close to home; the changing seasons in Hickory Hill Park; seeing great flocks of birds migrating south; a prairie sunset bathing the entire horizon red...The larger theme, of the importance of maintaining a healthy environment in spite of increasing human-made challenges, motivates my work in children’s books to help connect young readers to their outdoor world.

It is easy to draw and write about nature as the perfect coneflower or through the humorous antics of squirrels. But not so easy to depict nature as a rabbit screeching out in the night, or the ruined nest and broken baby birds found after the thunderstorm.

Nature gives us all kinds of experiences that teach and test.

Recently, we waited excitedly for a monarch chrysalis to hatch. It had attached to the side of our garage and was visible from many angles. This individual was a late bloomer, but we’ve had a warm summer, and a bumper crop of butterfly weed helped create a bumper crop of caterpillars. So, as the evenings cooled, we anticipated this farewell “arrival” to summer.

One morning, the chrysalis color turned from cloudy green to transparent, a sign of change soon to come. After gyrating and pulsing a bit, the chrysalis split open. Out popped a small dark creature, folded like origami at first, but unfurled within seconds. We let the new butterfly rest, and throughout the day I checked on his progress. Alas, after several close inspections over the hours, something looked not quite right with his wings. They seemed askew, almost flip-flopped. My neighbor researched on-line and found the discouraging news that some butterflies wings get bent in the process of merging. Once dried in a curled or bent position, they will not straighten and aren’t capable of flight. Other monarch hatchings we’ve witnessed in our garden end in the heart-lifting sight of the butterfly’s first ascent. This time, it wouldn’t be like this. A butterfly that can’t fly is not a joyous thing. As I watched the butterfly’s elegant antennae extend and body fluff to full size, attached to the regally colored, useless wings, I felt blue to the core.

There are humane methods of euthanasia, but I decided to give the natural process a chance. So, Butterfly stayed in our screened-in porch (on a geranium plant) that night. I feed him honey water, which he lapped up with his long proboscis tongue. The next morning I transported him to warm spots in the garden, and gave him fresh flowers to crawl around and breezes to feel. I was surprised how substantial butterfly bodies are, in size and strength and grip. Except for the pin-wheel arrangement of his wings, he was perfect. He tried robustly to activate his wings (a profoundly sad sight), to no use. I brought him in as the sun went down and wondered what to do next. Nature answered. He was now much more sluggish than he had been during the day. Perhaps because the wings didn’t work, it compromised other systems in his body. By morning, he had died.

So I record this small, brief life here. It was a privilege to observe a butterfly so close for a couple days. It reminded me again to enjoy the everyday details of nature, even the small butterfly flitting from flower to flower, for these indeed are gifts.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cat-Day Afternoon

I'm having an off-studio day. Bouncing from project to project, I'm getting nothing crossed from my to-do list. The cats are distracting me, leaping on my table, stretching over papers, catching insects, wandering in and out.

I've had tea already. A productive atmoshere is within my grasp. But it is lovely outside and one tends to think of how few of these warm days are left. Summer officially comes to a close this week.

Maybe I will study the inside of my eyelids for a moment. Yes, perhaps I'll find inspiration there on this lazy September day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Caffeinated creativity

A new to-go cup for the Java House of Iowa City was out this week. Kind of a comic strip palette this time, with nods to good friends, literary notables and a subtle reference to our great location in the City of Literature (read the newspaper headline featured on the cup.) Go get a cuppa to go!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

An Honorary Minnesotan Illustrator for a Day

Minnesotans are a great bunch. All that natural rough-hewn beauty inspires their creative souls to carve out wonderful stories and images. I'm happy to be included in their literature family this weekend at the 12th Annual Celebration of Minnesota Children's Book Authors and Illustrators at the Anderson Center in Red Wing. The link below has the details, but it looks like a full day to enjoy and connect with children's books in all forms. Presentations and illustrator slide shows begin at 12 noon. My talk is at 3:30 pm with author Anne Ylvisaker- a real Minnesotan! Anne's the reason I'm part of the festivities, as we collaborated on the little baptism book last year. Check it out if you are up north! The Red Balloon Book Shop will be on hand with plenty of children's book to take home, too.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Today, I played with my vegetables and did a quick scratch of some gift eggplants we received. What type/font is most Eggplant-y? I liked this Giddy-up and it's twine-like flourishes. Such a funny veggie.

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