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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