Sunday, December 29, 2013

Milk First

It's cold here in the midwest, heading for sub-zero temperatures this week. A chilly afternoon makes a great excuse to cozy up and watch movies. Today we took in "Saving Mr Banks", currently in theaters.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is based around PL Travers (author of the classic Mary Poppins book series) early life, and a later time involving Walt Disney's vision to make Travers's work into a film. I love any film dealing with creative process. Those of us who are storytellers, why do we pick the themes we explore?  Horton Foote, a great American playwright, said that we don't choose the material we write about, it chooses us.  I was reminded of this in "Saving Mr Banks". What we create as writers and artists is never far from our core being. It's good fodder to ponder these last few days of 2013. I had a nice pot of tea over it this afternoon (milk first, as PL Travers instructed). I look forward to more chats about creativity here in the New Year.

PL Travers

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nesting After Christmas

Hope you had a happy one!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Straight ahead...Eastside Annual Art Show

I am approaching my tenth year as part of a local art show and sale. There are 22 of us scurrying around our studios right now, attending to last minute touches, pricing, organizing, questioning our sanity... At this point of preparation, less than a week out, there are times I wish I was anything but a participating illustrator. But the sale is usually affirming. People love to have art in their lives, and I love creating it. And it's fun getting out of my creative bubble and talking to the viewers of our work. See some of you there!

I design the postcard each year, using an Eastside artist's image of a cardinal (our official mascot) in his or her chosen medium. This year Patti Zwick created the fabric collage birdie.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Celtic Knot Unraveled

I enjoy doing the occasional logo marks. To be able to help a business develop a unique identity makes me happy. Usually my logo work is for local clients, which is fun to actually know and love the business involved. My latest was with an owner of a great local used book shop. Virtually 10's of 1000s of volumes are meticulously inventoried here. It also has a feature that all my favorite books shops have- store cats! There is nothing I like better, and always will, than to browse the shelves of a well-organized book shop, with cats lounging near by, in various states of slumber.

The owner has just done a brave and wonderful thing, buying a historic building in the Northside neighborhood of Iowa City to move her book shop into. She wanted a new mark to celebrate and she called me.

The client loves The Book of Kells, so she handed over a simple sketch of a celtic knot and said "In your scratchboard style, can you tie in a reader, cats and a book into this somehow"?

This is what I came up with.  The Haunted Book Shop (yes, kind of a Dickensian name but not to be changed) will be in it's new digs very soon, and my logo, by then completed with text, will help invite people over it's thereshold.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Prairie Trilogy

Always wanted to finish out a series on the prairie, with these gradient backgrounds. 
Tallgrass Sunrise, Tallgrass Midday, Tallgrass Twilight.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The promised bright greetings...

Finishing up my usual offering of birdlife art for an annual local holiday art show. This year, I went back to the Pacific Northwest for inspiration, where I was born and raised, and borrowed a bird or two. The Western Meadowlark is Oregon's state bird. Oregon grape abounds in the wild woodlands of the west coast states (a common childhood plant for me). Don't know how he'll be received by Iowans (we do get the occasional eastern meadowlark here) but bird lovers appreciate avian forms in general, no matter where they hail.

William Clark wrote a journal entry about the moment the Lewis and Clark's expedition spied the Pacific for the first time, "Ocean in view..Oh, the Joy!"

Perhaps it's what this little yellow songbird is singing about, too.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Silence is Golden

Today, I worked in silence. Usually something is going on in the background: the radio, music, the family. But we are getting a good rain this afternoon and it's nice just listening to it soak in. The golden foliage is lighting up the rooms, even on this gray day.  And not a lot of bird traffic out the window. Except on my drawing board. It does feel like we've turned toward the darker season today. Time for some bright greetings to be created!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Leaf Litter

Working on new greeting cards and needed some forest floor reference material. I do like this part of my job.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Slow Monday

Warmed up today with a little scratch of a snail. One of the employees at the coffee shop I sometimes work in helps me build my Spanish vocabulary. Caracol. Snail.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Studio en plein air

A few days a year, I get to take my studio outside. Yesterday was Autumn perfect. The river birch tree is turning; I set up right under it and scratched at a squirrel illustration. The cats found me. One of them wedged herself between my back and the back of the chair.  It was me and the radio and a cup of tea and a warm afternoon and doing what I love to do.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Growing like a weed

Compass plant, milkweed pods, asters and cricket....

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Descent of the Bumblebee

A little poem formed yesterday. As autumn becomes more pronounced, I think of that sweet melancholy often associated with this time of year.

Descent of the Bumblebee

Late slant of autumn sunlight
catches you browsing the last summer flavors.
Striped plush on banded armor,
your finely-tuned hoverings maneuver between goldenrod,
prairie jewel and the meager remains of Veronica.
Still robust and agile, your weight bows down each bloom.

Soon, I will find you, some cool, near-frost morning,
nestled in the petals of your final gathering place,
close to deep slumber but not quite,
perhaps already in Dreamtime.
And I will mourn your descent as much as any living thing.

But for now let me dwell on this warm moment,
and you,
full of lavender and light,
lifting yourself off
towards that next season.

Monday, September 30, 2013

For the last day of September

“He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.”

 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Outside my studio window today. She was asking to be scratched!

Friday, September 27, 2013

An apple by any other name...

I love the cultivar names of fruits, especially apples. I imagine if you are a botanist/orchardist, naming an apple is as satisfying as naming a baby!

At my local orchard there are dozens, each one sounds like the title of a poem. There's Autumn GoldHoneycrisp, Cheiftain, Wolf River, Empire, Red Baron and my favorite Song of September. And indeed, they sometimes do taste like poetry.

I'll be out at Wilson's this Saturday, from 10am to 11:30am, demonstrating scratchboard and having art activities on hand for kids of all ages.  Stop by and tell me what you would call your apple and why....

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fast Falling

September is my favorite month. I like to savor the subtle changes in season and culture. And always, I welcome this "new year" of routine. But this year, September has flashed by, helped by relentless high temperatures that snuck past even Labor Day, unexpected travel and new school schedules and soccer actvities.

So I'm trying to catch up and stop. I'm recording mentally and graphically what I love; smelling the harvest, hearing the departing geese, feeling the cool mornings on my skin, tasting comfort in that hot cup of afternoon tea, and enjoying autumnal hues just beginning to show.

I'm not late. I'm ready, mind and pencil poised.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Göteborg, red, blue and grey

Returning from a trip to Göteborg, Sweden, I compile the colors of this city. 

Blue for the sea and sky. 
Red for the sturdy buildings and bastions of brick (red, also, for the mirth of the people). 
Grey for the cobbled streets and water vessels.  
Pale yellow for treasured light.

A lovely city with its face to the ocean winds. I enjoyed my time in its streets. 

And now to draw.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

An apple a day...

Working on a new work of Wilson's Orchard, one of my favorite local places. Not only does the orchard feed the bodies and souls of many of us here in the region, it is also an integral part of many animals, insect and bird lives.

A couple years ago, I made a print of a pair of indigo buntings set in late summer/early fall. I've always wanted to do a four season Wilson's Orchard series and this summer I got around to "Spring".  It features robins and full nests and blossoms and pink trees and a fresh blue sky. Plus an orchardist inspecting the early growth, if you have sharp enough eyes to find him!

 Here is the scratchboard black and white line work...color coming soon.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Smoke, but no fire

Currently in Iowa, it's hotter than Hades. Close to the 100° mark. Not much fun being outside. But I hate feeling pent-up inside all day. Walking through the woods in the cool of the evening is a pleasant option, much better than a noon jaunt. Under a canapy of oaks, there is a significant reprieve from heat.

On such a recent walk, I wasn't expecting to see anything new blooming in Hickory Hill park, but to my surprise I spied a stand of Indian Pipe. Maybe it was the slanted golden evening light that highlighted the grouping. But there they were.

Indian Pipe is one of several common names for this plant. It is also called Ghost Plant or Corpse Plant, all three names quite descriptive. Pale and ghostly, the plants themselves are such oddities. I've illustrated them before (as part of the foreground to a spread in the Woodlands book) but I used photo reference in the rendering. I was excited to see them in person, like finally meeting a friend face-to-face. Although Indian Pipe look like fungi, they are not. They don't produce chlorophyll like most plants however, thus their white palid, anemic and delicate look. They apparently grab nutrients from decaying material surrounding them.  Since these disconcerning warmer temps make me worry about nature in general, to be reminded of how simply observing something new in nature refreshes, it makes me re-commit to advocating enviromental awareness for young people. So, it's take a kid on a walk in the woods week, even if that kid is 14 (or 40 or 80) years old! Even if it's a bit warm out. And keep your eye out for Indian Pipe.

This is the illustration from the Woodlands Counting Book, the 11 Indigo Bunting page.
Indian pipe can be seen in the very foreground of the piece,
sticking up right up from the edge

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Friday, August 16, 2013

Native Sons

Several indigenous prairie plants grow in my garden, lots of coneflowers, grasses, butterfly weed, etc. Joe Pye Weed is one such tall native with purple cluster blooms. Butterflies are especially into them. I took a photo of a gorgeous swallowtail enjoying some nectar on my Joe Pye outside the studio recenty.

Joe Pye is such a friendly name. I've often wondered who Joe Pye actually was, as plant nomenclature  fascinates me. A quick Wiki turned up a suspiciously lack-luster explanation, so I found a reputable prairie plant site and read a well researched article (backed by primary sources) that gives the most possible origin of the name. Looks like there was a Joseph Pye, aka Shauqueathquat, an 18th century Mohegan who lived in Massuchesetts. He was also a well-known herbalist. The plant mentioned as Joe Pye weed shows up in one of the earliest American botanical guides (and an even earlier mention of Joseph Pye, the individual, in a diary dated 1787).

I'd love to have been a Quaker woman of this age, and converse with Joe Pye some sunny late summer afternoon about this flower or that root and thank him for lending his name for the common term of Eupatorium purpureum!

Link to the Joe Pye article posted on the Prairie Works blog is below...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Observations on a walk through Hickory Hill Park while trying to unjam my creative block

1. Dragonflies riding the thermals
2. Woman on run
3. House cat with fresh bunny in mouth (or, did it really not have a tail? and therefore, 3. Small bobcat transferring kit somewhere)
4. Ripe mulberries and wild grapes
5. Forming wild rose hips
6. Dark colored butterfly with blue trim (must look up)
7. Deer, raccoon and dog prints by the creek bed
8. Neighbor on a cell phone, with speaker on
9. Kids in the creek looking at stuff
10. black beetle with long probiscus

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tale of an afternoon in the studio

Our nearby woods offers joy and inspiration most of the time, but occasionally I see nature the way I wished I didn't have to- birds lost of storms, an injured deer, that pitiful bit of rabbit remnant...

Today a cat, who shall remain anon, brought a small rabbit to the studio door. Really, the cat was more curious than hungry, as the bunny lippet-ied around her. It would have been quite a large meal, so I'm not sure it was intended as lunch. After securing the feline inside, I scooped up the bunny. Unharmed and docile, it let me carry it up to the hinterlands of our woodlands in my hand.  I deposited it in a safer (let's hope) locale.

I know it was just a dime-a-dozen rabbit, but up close, it was so extraordinary. Striking eye markings, soft mottled fur, blinky brown eyes. Very beguiling at this age.

I thought about Beatirx Potter and the tame Peter she kept in her Victorian nursery. As her pet, she sketched him at her leisure. Hmm, bunny in the studio?  Not a practical thing for me at the moment, but I did make this little pencil drawing directly after release. Beauty in small, simple furry package.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What Georgia and I saw at 35,000 feet

Last week we flew to the Pacific Northwest to visit family. Over the Rockies, I noticed these lovely clouds outside my exit window seat, number 27 A. Like flattened meringues piped from a pastry bag, they were rounded and uniform. I could see the corresponding cloud shadows below.

It reminded me of one of Georgia O'Keeffe's great pieces "Sky Over Clouds IV".  It is a huge canvas- as big as a garage door, or more. It resides over a stunning stairway in Chicago's art institute. Of this work, Georgia said "Not my best and not my worst." It is one of my favorite O'Keeffes. She must have liked clouds, too.

Here's a colored pencil sketch of my own, the very clouds I saw, and a shot of Georgia's work taken on one of my recent trips to the Institute.

Sky Over Clouds IV @ the Art Institute.

Friday, July 26, 2013


Not a native, but this garden lily called Stargazer is one I look forward to blooming every year. Some of the attraction is the name. I don't feel right if I haven't contemplated the stars in a while. Enjoy this one's celestial connections, coming at a perfect time to view your summer night skies.

Monday, July 22, 2013

One person's roadside weed is another's garden of inspiration...

It's Queen Anne's lace (Bishop's lace or wild carrot) time in Iowa. Aside from it's unpleasant invading nature, a field of these blooms, backlit by a July sunset, says summer to me. This year I've captured the ubiquitous roadside plants in a small square composition. Along with a few other invasives, thistle, clover, vetch, and those wacky little buckhorn plantains that have seed heads like cone shaped pencil eraser tops, Queen Anne's lace figures into our mental picture of many regional landscapes almost as much as the native plants do.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

An Illustrator is Nice...

A little shout-out to one of my favorite illustrators who passed away this week. Marc Simont's work graced many picture books. He won a Caledcott (1957) for A Tree is Nice (written by Janice May Udry), the title a sentiment I still whisper to myself when lost in a moment of natural world reverie. I love the picture of the snoozing granny and reading mother under the shade.

A lesser know picture book called "Glaciers" is a non-fiction work, written by Wendell Tangborn. The original printing of this book was illustrated by an artist with a realistic, yet a bit ho-hum pen-and  ink style. I accidentally ordered this one online when I was trying to track down a picture book I had borrowed from the library. This library copy had been a reprinted version a few years more recent, with Marc Simont as illustrator. "Glaciers", with Simont's renderings, bursts with feeling. His sensitive line quality and an added human elements made you want to explore the icy worlds.  With the two books side by side, I was able to see what illustrations for me evoked a story rather than just instructed on facts.  I appreciated Marc Simont's great talents even more.

I see his influence in many contemporary illustrators today. He has left a mark in me as a reader and artist as well.

Marc Simont

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