Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


All week, I've been trying to respond to Sandy Hook. I was still reeling over the shootings in Clackamas, Oregon, so close to where my family lives. And then last Friday's news. This one, I can't absorb. My drawing board has been as blank as I feel inside. I've avoided media, even my beloved npr, and tip-toed in and out of Facebook. Turning to nature comforts me, as it usually does. A good walk in Hickory Hill Park with a friend, cutting white pine for Christmas decoration, and staring into warming fires have all helped.  I hope you are finding your way, too.

Today, I did sit down and do a few sketches. I've been working on a theme of how other animals prepare for dangers and work together in times of crisis. All sorts of instinctual behaviors exist, some humans can relate to and should perhaps even mimic.

Take many types of game birds, like bobwhite or quail. When sleeping at night, a group will form circles, tails in, heads facing out. They can be alert all at once if something threatens. They can sleep assured, warm and connected. Nature gave me solace in this image. We are not alone in tragedy. We are all part of a covey. Let's come together as a community and work to prevent these terrible events.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume...

I love the beginning lines of this poem. It sums up how I feel about the end-of-year preparations. 

I hope you are enjoying your rich mash right now.

To read the whole poem, please go to:


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Eastside Artist Show Next Weekend

Number nine for me. Stop by if you're local. A gift of a greeting card or a bird "orniment" if you mention you read this on my blog!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Getting ready for the annual art show next week. I'm working on some pieces inspired by our neighborhood wild places. The black and white work above is one I am currently finishing up; I'll color it today. It's of a wild place that used to be, but is no more.

This summer, a new subdivision was built down the road a couple miles from our house. The property had been mostly arable land, a former farm. A small woodland, or copse, bordered the side closest to the road.

I often used to cut through the property to fetch Lucy from school, using a well-used pathway that ran between the field and the wedge of woods. On many occasions, I saw wild turkey strolling the fields. Other times, deer would be grazing on the outer edge of the trees. Once, I found a substantial (three pronges!) deer shed. I have this antler in my studio. On frosty winter days, the view down the old path looked like a Currier and Ives greeting card. It was Long Ago Iowa, here in the Now.

A grand old white farm house was there and still inhabited. When I saw the house's front porch being retro-fitted with a wheel chair ramp though, I wondered if the farm's days were numbered. The acreage was sold a few short months later. A sign appeared announcing a public meeting to discuss the new owner's intent to build multiple dwellings. A group of us from a local park organization, Friends of Hickory Hill, rescued some wild ginger from the wooded bit of the property. The farm house was burned as part of a Fire Department exercise. The building commenced. And now, some very fine houses sit in the once fields. But I hold reverance for the place that I used to walk. I took a few photos before the developing began. Along with my imagination and memory, the new piece recreates a typical morning, looking toward the farm from Rochester road. It could have looked this way last year. It could have looked this way 80 years ago. Now, it's a different scene altogether.

But the turkeys and the deer and I will remember.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


We drove to Chicago the day before Thanskgiving, with plenty of late fall Illinois field and woodland to contemplate. I had my tin of colored pencils and sketch book and again I just doodled. Lucy came up with my title (she's taking Spanish in middle school!).

I am thankful for my family, warm cars and clear roads, nature, a big city preparing for Holiday, twinkling rivers, chutney on crusty bread, red wine, Michigan avenue store windows, and this place called the End of the Year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


A little doodle of an idea today while I was painting. Cat as birder.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day!

Let us not seek the Republican answer
 or the Democratic answer, 
but the right answer. 
Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. 
Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Nature Near and Far

If you're in the Cedar Rapids area this weekend, please stop by and say hello at New Bo Books.
Jackie Briggs Martin and I will share our picture books (celebrating nature near [the Iowa tallgrass prairies] and far [the high plains of Tibet] !) with readings and connected kid's activities.

The brand new New Bo Market is also in full swing across the street!
We'll make folding bird ornaments and Tibetan style prayer flags!

Nature Near and Far

Jackie Briggs Martin and Claudia McGehee
Saturday, November 3
New Bo Books
1105 Third Street, SE
Cedar Rapids

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Guest Illustrator for Bird-a-day!

When I discovered fellow illustrator, Washingtonian Kevan Atteberry, had embarked on a monster-a-day illustration challenge the same time I was doing a bird-a-day on my own illustration blog, a plot was hatched to play guest illustrators for each other one day during the month. It’s a way of connecting illustration through social media, a creative exchange made easier with all our network platforms. It also gave us a break from our own self-imposed subjects!

I love the benevolence of Kevan’s monsters. From snaggle fang to pointed tail, they are truly weird and wonderful, yet clearly soft-hearted creations.

So here is Kevan's delightful feathered friend! For more of Kevan's work, and for a look at my monster part of the deal, please go here to Kevan's Facebook page:

What Kevan said about the process: "When Claudia approached me about a "daily feature" swap, I was intrigued. She was doing a "Bird-a-Day",  and I was doing an October Monster-A-Day; just like I did last year. It is a practice in discipline for me - as well as a way to exercise my creative chops. Although some mornings I was/am certain the well has run dry. I am enamored with Claudia's scratchboard technique and a birder for the past 40 years, so my answer to her was "Yeah! Let's do it!" So today, the 24th of October, here is my bird. An unidentified species with a taste for demon bugs."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hands-on Book Festival

Tuesday, October 23, I will be sharing illustration and book art tid-bits with 
200 Des Moines, Iowa children at the Des Moines Public Library for the
Rotary Club sponsored Wonder of Words Hands-on Book Festival. 
Author Sarah Prineas will also be there.
Plenty of scratching will be going on!

For more information, see

Birdies 16, 17 and 18 enjoy a story-telling cat

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blue Jay and Sumac

The understory at Hickory Hill park was aflame with red sumac last week. Several blue jays were flying and hopping around in them. The contrast was stunning. Inspiration for Bird Number 15.

Monday, October 15, 2012

How to scratch a magpie


Big news from the studio! A short demonstration video has been produced, giving you a glimpse of my process at the drawing board. I'll post it permanently later on the side later, but for now...

Thank you Charlie, father-in-law extraordinaire, for perfect lighting, all around camera and production expertise and shared enthusiasm for art and birds, angry or otherwise. Please visit his website of stunning photography. www.charlesmcgehee.com
(Magpie, number 14)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A fellow Etsy artist just created these lovely origami cranes with my wrapping paper. Please check out her other works of paper art. I'm calling these birds 12 and 13!

Thank you, Nancy!


Friday, October 12, 2012

No. 11, Downy Street

This is a collage experiment using natural materials. Downy woodpeckers often crawl up and down our river birch, seeking out their insect dinners. I scanned some of the peeled bark and layered my illustration on top. Hmmm. The effect is kind of cartoon-ish, although the texture of the bark is quite cool!  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Blackbirds, stitched and scratched

Today I post of birds in other's art. I love seeing birds as inspiration in different mediums, different styles, different eras, even different millenia!

Even though I can hardly mend a sock, I love textiles and know so many gifted quilters and weavers and knitters. When looking through art history, I admire in the older quilts a certain palette that speaks to me of comfort in nature.

On a trip to New York once, I visited the American Folk Art Museum. Their textile collection is stellar. Quilts bear out stories thread by thread, generation to generation, bird by bird. Here's an image from a quilt made between 1858-1863, by an unidentified artist who lived in the vicinity of Albany, New York.  This quilt is entitled "Bird of Paradise",  for the flamboyantly feathered guy in the center of the piece. My eyes are drawn to the more pedestrian black birds tending to their nest.

I reached into my archive and also share my world's version of the same muse. Bird number Ten.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Blackberry fall

Number six. Crow and blackberry leaves.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cardinal and swamp white oak

Birds four and five! Cardinals and swamp white oak.

I learned a new tree yesterday. I literally worked outside on what may be one of the last warm days of fall. I set up at the picnic table and just drew and sketched. On a break I wandered around the garden a bit. I kept seeing these fallen leaves, broad and roughly shaped like an oak, but with lobes that were round and closely, evenly spaced. I couldn't quite i.d. them. They were so classic! I found the tree in our neighbor's yard. Definitely an oak, but what kind? No "fresh" acorns that I could find, so I googled the leaf shape and I think it's a swamp white oak. They're native to the midwest, and seem to thrive in dry, lowland sites where this one is, contrary to what you would think by it's name.

So, quercus bicolor, thanks for reminding me that nature is always surprising and teaching. You also gave my cardinals a place to hang out in this latest installment of a-bird-a-day.

Studio Outdoors
Swamp white oak; cute little lobes, huh?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fall Finch

Bird three, goldfinch in fall plummage.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Bird a Day

It's October! Trees are aflame here in the midwest and cooler, sweater wearing temperatures have arrived. Animals, including humans, are sensing the change and general down-shift in nature. After our extremely hot summer, this seasonal time of pause is most appreciated.

Lots of birds are already on the move in their annual migrations. I look forward to, and yet always feel a bit sad, when I see my first goosy "V" in the air. What an incredible feat, those winging over vast distances above land and water to reach their winter homes.

All this bird flight inspired me to start my first personal illustration challenge, a creative migration so to speak. No secret that I love to draw birds, so I thought for the month of October I'd post a bird a day. Don't know if I'll be "birded out" by Halloween, but I'm game to see how a daily assignment feels. Okay, let the tweets begin! Check in with suggestions of favorite birds!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Done with part of a big project this afternoon. Just the rough sketches of the job, but this bit is always the most draining. The weather is impossibly autumnal and lovely, so it will be nice to lounge in the sun late afternoon now. 

Here's a photo from my drawing board. It almost looks like my table is outdoors! Not a bad idea- I've thought about building a conservatory/glass studio before! In my dreams...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

SCBWI-Iowa Illustrators Show

Along with 10 other children's book illustrators, three of my originals will be on show (prints as well as the orginals can be purchased) for a few weeks at the Gilded Pear Gallery in Cedar Rapids. If you're in the area, please stop by and take a peek! An opening reception is planned for this Saturday, September 29th, at 4 p.m. 

I am honored to be part of this show, along with these talented artists listed below. We are all members of the regional chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Candace Camling
Jeni Reeves
Dorothia Rohner
Natalie Groves
Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Patty McGrane Harms
 Jane Metcalf
Becky Wirfs
Peggy Gratton and
Erin Taylor

The Gilded Pear
808 Third Street venue SE 
Cedar Rapids, IA 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Ciha Fen

Billows of chalky dust kicked up through the early morning sunlight, as several cars (including mine) made their way down the loose-graveled country road. On Saturday, September 22, the first day of autumn this year, we were all heading toward an appropriate place to mark an equinox, the dedication of the Ciha Fen Preserve in rural Johnson County, Iowa.

This new conservation site is 80 acres of sand prairie, wetland and oak savannah, the Ciha Fen being the Crown Jewel. Ciha is the name of the family who most recently owned the land. A fen (an Old English word meaning mud or muck) is a rare and special wetland feature created by the actions of ancient winds, ice and rocks that carved, grinded and fashioned our part of the Midwest millennia ago.  When moving underground water bubbles up through the dense sandy matrix left by glaciers, large floating vegetative sponges of wonder are formed and a fen is born.

An incredible array of animal and plant life live here, cool critters I ache to illustrate. Blanding’s Turtle (“Looks like a ‘gater in the water” said one biologist), the (non-venomous) eastern hognose snake (with little upturned snouts for digging in sandy soil) and six-lined race runners (seeking out rooms in rotten log hotels)- have all been noted. Magnificent, fragile plants are also present in their season- Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses orchid, rice button aster, fringed puccoon and mousetail plant. The fen is fringed by a fantastic mixed canopy of white and black oak and a sand “short grass” prairie beyond. Invasives linger and alas, prosper too. A team of conservationists are making efforts to thwart them.

Friend and colleague, author/geologist Jean Prior Sandrock wrote wonderfully clear interpretation of the rather complex water chemistry that makes up the Ciha Fen. Her text is on the permanent marker installed at the site.

This place is about time. The time it took for the fen to form. The time it takes for a white oak acorn become a 40 foot high tree. The time involved in the human effort to change the land. The time we now set aside to conserve and appreciate this pristine rarity of nature.

Thank you to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Johnson County Conservation Board in helping to make the Ciha Fen accessible to us. Please visit with a soft step and reverent eye; the fen will give back a deep sense of well-being and belonging.

And I hope I have TIME to create some illustrations inspired from the place! Meanwhile, here are some photos of the place.


The Ciha Fen of Johnson County, with authenic September Blue sky above. 

Friend Jackie takes in the program with the crowd

Each acorn is a thought...

Dappled light and ancient oaks

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My type of window dressing!

New Bo Books, located in the Czech Village area of Cedar Rapids, is a lovely and welcome newcomer for our regional community. Yes, I am a little bias about book shops. I love them. This one does seem special, like stumbling into a specialty shop of another era or world, akin to the thrill of entering one of the shops on Diagon Alley.  Not only can you find thoughtfully selected titles and a cozy place to browse, but the Elegance of Place is so pleasing. It's diminutive size only sharpens your experience.  There is a coffee shop and cafe a stone's throw from the door. In October, a space for a market place will be completed across the street. There are new eateries and other businesses cropping up all around. And CSPS (short for the historic Czech-Slovak Protective Society), an active arts and performance hall, shares the romanesque, turn-of-last century building where New Bo is located. The Czech and Slovak National Museum is only 5 minutes away (and right now has a couple of stunning exhibits on Alfonse Mucha's work and an international children's book illustrator show). Truly, this part of town is rising it's phoenix, after the devastating floods of 2008.

Currently at New Bo, check out their seasonal window display of much charm. Used books have been transformed into pumpkins, twists of typed pages into leaves. It's a work of art unto itself. Here's some images and please notice what picture book is poking out of the bag, being scrutinized by the paper bird!

From recycled word to pumpkin
"A Woodland Counting Book" is honored to be included in the dressings!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tea Time

So many friendships nurtured with a simple cup of tea...

Autumn time and I'm reaching for the kettle in the morning more and more. Clink! To cooler weather, to the healing of our parched grounds, to a healthy, high snow pack this year...but first, to the coming season of tea.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September Sky

A partial sky-scape, to remember lives left incomplete.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

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