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.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Tale of January

I'm closing a door on January today. I always look forward to it's promise of new starts. This year however, it was a tough month, as I worked through a book deadline, had to get a tooth crowned and also succumbed to some respiratory nastiness.  As a freelancer, you would think it's an easy decision to languish in bed and nurse a cold. No boss to check in with, right? I'm the boss! True enough, but it is also true that I am solely responsible for work completed. When I’m sick, the work still has to get done. It is more common to find me down in the studio, stooped over the keyboard, coughing and sneezing, with a mug of Throat-Coat in hand, rather than snuggled under the covers! Being sick is no fun at all, but the show must go on.

One of my favorite Beatrix Potter titles, “The Tailor of Gloucester”, published in 1902, takes a fantasy of many a freelancer, and runs with it. It's the story of a poor tailor who eeks a humble living, then finally receives a grand commission- a fancy waistcoat for the wedding of the Mayor of Gloucester.  Soon after the commission, the tailor falls ill and becomes bed-ridden. He is too sick to sew.  It looks like the coat will not be finished for the mayor. But, all is not lost in Beatrix Potter's world of animal friends around every corner. The mice that live in the tailor's studio take pity on him, and while the tailor lies sick in bed, they take it upon themselves to finish the waistcoat. A happy ending, as the tailor expects to be ruined by the unfinished work, but instead, upon returning to his shop after he recovers, discovers the coat, exquisitely completed.

Oh, how I wish I could train mice to finish up projects for me in times of illness! And I certainly know a few cats (and squirrels) that owe me, too!

The tailor becomes ill...

The mice, who the tailor has been kind to, set about and finish the sick tailor's work

The mice do a splendid job and the tailor goes on to be successful ever after.

My drawing board, with its permanent kleenex fixture

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hunting for Bruegel

As the sun fell across our yard late yesterday afternoon, the bare tree limbs and sky color made me think of a long-ago love, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. An early morning college art history class on Northern European painters was worth getting up for, especially to view the works of Bruegel.

"Hunters in the Snow" (1565) was one of six paintings Bruegel was commissioned to paint with a distinct seasonal theme*. This is early winter. I love the vantage we see from the hill crest. I love the tired dogs, the color of the sky, the woman crossing the bridge with her load of sticks. I especially love the soaring bird that leads my eye like an arrow to the village scene below. As one art historian put it, "It is a landscape warmed by the human inhabitants." It is indeed a meaningful visual record of life in winter, particularly for those of us who experience this snowy, cold season. I am warmed by the fact that one painter's work calls to this Iowan (and many others!) 451 years later.

*Five of the six seasonal paintings survive- a late spring piece is missing (isn't that wonderfully tantalizing?! Maybe it will one day be discovered, secreted in some country barn, under the hay bales, in perfect condition...)

Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Year, Post Haste!

I found myself a very busy illustrator the last three months and hope that 2016 unfolds at a more manageable speed. Today, some focused attention on home and work, blanketed by family love, and a snowy scene outside the windows.

To the next twelve months! May they be full of activity and inspiration, with time for rest and contemplation.

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