Thursday, December 29, 2011

Going to Take an Ornamental Journey...

In need of drawing time today, I sat by the Chirstmas tree and did some quick line renderings of the ornaments. Poor things only get out once a year, so it was a nice way to appreciate their detail.

Earlier, our daughter remarked (in that disdainful teenager way), "Mom, the tree always looks the same". Yes, I guess we could go all Decorator Theme different each year, like maybe the white tree with hand-blown glass owls and eggs I saw in a posh gift shop in Chicago last week. But I love the sentimental connection with so many of our ornaments. Some go way back (before our teen was even a twinkle!) There are the dried citrus slices that I made the first year we were married- still translucent and evocative of simple times. Small, feather-light copper letter stencils, each with one of our initials, wave slightly in the warm currents of the house. There are wooden snowflakes and straw stars from Germany and velvety birds and shiny fish...Some are even made with the then-small fingers of the Disdainful One herself!

My friend Melissa makes fabulous doll ornaments- some with animal heads, others are human (one looks like Emily Dickingson!). I have several of these creations. They are clothed in begiling little print dresses and clutch a small item, a wreath or a holly leaf.

One of my old-timers is a tiny white angel; "The Macaroni Angel" we call her. She is made entirely of dried pasta, painted white. Her body is a penne or rigatoni; her wings are one bow-tie pasta; her arms are an "elbow" variety (of course), as are her tiny ringlet curls! It kills me to study how finely someone once made her long ago for a church bazaar.

Another anticipated face is one of those teensy chenille santas, glued into a gilted milk weed pod. The use of a treasure of nature to nestle a santa into has always charmed me.

Our tree will be up for the 12 days of Christmas, a family tradition (we put our tree up later than most, too). Then one by one, these miniature wonders will be stored again until next December. Sweet dreams, ornaments!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day Walk

Still no snow this year. It is a mild, sienna brown Christmas. As the Whos in Who-ville proclaimed long ago, "Christmas comes, just the same", snow or no snow. The photo is of our usual "sledding hill" this afternoon, the location inspiration for my current header illustration.

Mild winter weather can enhance a comtempletive tone to a walk- when one is not busy concentrating on keeping warm. My mind slips to the inner warmth that is created by this holiday season and the coming New Year, bright before us like today's blue sky.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I saw three ships come sailing in...

on Christmas Day in the morning.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Eastside Artist Show in Progress

A lot of nice people are buying local this year! Thanks for the support and thank you Patti Zwick for being our resident photographer as usual and documenting our booths, including mine this year.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Woodland Salon Style

I've framed a few small prints for the show Friday. I love how they look in a group as I've been organizing them. Foxes and owls and tree and butterflies, gathered for the moment like a little woodland community! Each one is ecomonically sized, with a frame to match image personality. They would look good as singletons, especially in a smaller room (nursery or study), but also in multiples, hung salon-style. Pick up one or six this weekend!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Regard the card!

One of my favorite parts of getting ready for the Eastside Artists show is sorting through a folder of "goofs" I've collected all year; prints that were off-centered, art marked with muddy kitty paw prints [Bad Kitty!], paper flaws, etc. Instead of filling up the recycling bin with them, I work around the blunders and turn these images into greeting cards. I match each piece with lusciously colored envelopes and cut cards to appropriate sizes. Some have rather "creative" gate folds and unusual dimensions to get the best composition, but it's what makes them unique. I then sort them into packages of four, usually themed around a season or location or mood. I call them "Artist's Choice" collections. And though they may seem random, I do think about how I put them together to sum up a whole from many parts. I like reviewing my old work with one eye on that graphic design sense of color and size. And I also like the idea that a goof becomes an opportunity.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cardinal Confessions

I've been fixated on a small item for the upcoming show- I've loved making these little paper cardinal ornaments this year. At two bucks each, dollar for dollar, they will not make me rich. It's knowing that this flock will fly out to people's houses that makes me happy. I've made a few owls, too. I think the three dimensional aspect is a nice break from my usual flat art world. If you come to the show, mention that you read this on my blog and I'll give you one if I'm working at the time!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Eastside Artist Show- this week!

I'll be again one of the the twenty-two artists at the downtown Iowa City Eastside Artist show this coming weekend.

As I package and price new items, it seems a blink ago I was doing this for last year's gig. Kind of like that movie "Ground Hog's Day", where the characters wake up each day to the repeat of the same day before! Participating in this annual event has a way of warping time.

Please drop by if you're in the neighborhood. I'll be sharing some new art that will be at the show soon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The first color of winter

First snow today. Just a dusting, bravely clinging to the hollows. The welcome white of December.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Patterns from November

Some images at the close of this 11th month of our year 2-0-1-1. The woodlands are already sleeping under blankets of soft violets and ocres.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


"In a picture I want to say something comforting."

—Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Artichoke Love

Working on a whole basketful of veggies for a local client. I am reminded how much I love artichokes. This job sometimes made me hungry.

Friday, November 11, 2011

We Will Remember Them

When November brings,
The poppies of Remembrance Day...

Mark Knopfler,
Remembrance Day

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Herky Reads "Where Do Birds Live?"!

Debra Dorzweiler, a media specialist extraordinaire at Penn Elementary in North Liberty, Iowa, invited Herky the Hawkeye to her school library recently where he got caught in the stacks reading about one of his favorite subjects! Next book of birds, I will add more raptors, Herky...Thank you, Deb!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Irish's Woods

Finished a new illustration. Its horizontal, "bottom-of-page" quality would be good for adding text to- that type guy I heard a few weeks ago has me thinking of graphic design again. I may fuss with this later.

Regarding Red Fox, I know exactly the spot in Hickory Hill Park- known as Irish's Woods once upon a time- I used for background. There's a patch of birch close to the trail and I love the chalky white bark.

This new Red Fox in the Woods and the Pheasant Hill piece are both on my Etsy shop site available as small prints:)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, our Teenager

Thirteen years ago to this day, our daughter was born. On October 25, 1998, Dan and I spent some time at Wilson's Orchard, then a walk at Lake Macbride, followed by a pork tenderloin sandwich at Joensy's in Solon. It was the sandwich that probably heralded Lucy's arrival at 11pm that night. I can't believe she is now a teen.

I created the illustration above for her announcement. Inside, we listed all the cool Lucys we knew; all the literary ones (from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, EM Forster's Lucy Honeychurch in A Room with a View); to others from various arenas: TV's I Love Lucy; Lucy Australopithecus, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Lucy from Peanuts and there are more. She lives up to all her namesakes in one way or another. Happy Birthday to our Lucy.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Baby board books go Big

Daughter Lucy and I were in Prairie Lights Books last week and I noticed a re-issue of The House in the Night- the Caldecott picture book winner from a couple years ago. It's now in board book form, but it is immense- thick as an Iowa pork chop, maybe two inches or more. Regard the middle photo- I have one of Sandra Boynton's classic board books on top for comparison. AND, other new board books close by were equally as chunked out. Not for little hands anymore. Then, also very weird to me is a new thing called a "lap book", which is a board book but a standard PICTURE BOOK size, like 14" by 16". Lucy is holding another re-issue, of Goodnight Moon. Lovely as a small board book, but this new lap book rendition is gi-normous. They are odd, because they are too heavy for a child to open easily themselves. And that is part of the charm of a board book. What gives? Board books should be one of the last genres- if ever- to go digital, as they are meant to shared with the very young and give these smallest of "readers" a chance to explore Story on their own terms. But I'm not sure if making bigger board books is all that good a trend. Maybe making picture books these extreme size board books- morphing the two kinds of formats- will give them both more staying power. What will the face of story-telling look like for the youngest in the next few decades?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Soft as an owl feather

Today, the rain is at my studio window, driving a few more leaves from the trees. Time to get out all things cozy: sweaters, comforters, wraps... Recently, I received a wonderful knitted shawl the soft brown shade of a saw-whet owl. Just in time for the change in temperature. It inspired an illstration. Check out the full story behind my shawl- and see picture of it!- at my writer and illustrator (and extraordinary knitter) friend Michelle's regular column for Lion Brand Yarn.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Leaves; something to be desired

Some fallen leaves look scratchboarded by nature. Check out the black veins on the crimson maples. Found on my morning walk.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Coffee, l love, but black tea is in my DNA. I drink it in "the midday sun" for sure (a nod here to Englishman Noel Coward and his odd Colonialist lyrics.) I have a cuppa with milk and a small biscuit almost every afternoon. A personal ritual like this is the reward (or the distraction) of an afternoon's work.

Recently, my favorite tea pot came up missing. I know, how can a ceramic teapot just disappear from a household? Every cabinet searched. Every corner examined. No tea pot. During summer, I drink less hot-from-pot tea, so I'm not sure when I last saw this beloved vessel with the most exquisite turquoise glaze. I've illustrated this tea pot I was so fond of it. No one who lives here is giving me any details of it's departure. I'm suspicious. Anyway, it's gone now, and I accept the loss. So I bought a replacement yesterday at the Artisans Gallery. It's another ceramic one- the artist's name escapes me, but I will locate it and post it later. It's a beautiful round shape, very much a Brown Betty with an earthy glaze. So I've call her Betty, my new tea pot. I hope she brings forth many a good cup of tea, and conversation and inspiration in the years I have her. Come by for a cup, even if you're not a mad dog, or English!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Oh, Wondrous Type

Book Art royalty came to Iowa City last week. Matthew Carter, legendary type designer, gave a lecture at the University of Iowa. Carter is known for creating many well-known type faces we use and read daily. One of his largest clients is the New York Times- he does the iconic black letter for the newspaper masthead.

Listening to his lecture made me think of art school, when I pondered the very being of a letter; its shape, flavor, history. I cut my graphic design teeth on Carter's beautiful letters. Snell Roundhand is still a favorite:
Carter, his silver pony-tail adding a visual serif to his elegant personage, talked about homage to ancient type. He is known for taking very old faces- think Roman times, and the early printing alphabets- and making them modern. A flat top to a “t” here, a higher x-height there. Names like Bodoni, Fruitiger, Caslon are to many of us just names of fonts, but they were all real people, designers of type, whose work lives on through Carter. Carter says he is informed by history. He likes to “marinate” himself in these studies. And it’s not about copying. “Accuracy is not the truth”, Carter says, quoting Henri Matisse. He makes type faces for the 21st Century eye to play upon and enjoy.

Born in the U.K., Carter lays a rose at Caslon’s 17th century tombstone whenever he visits London. Now that is paying respect to a vocational ancestor.

To read more about Carter's interesting take on Kindles and other reading devises, visit this profile in the Iowa Review:

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

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