Earlier this year I had the privilege to work with a local non-profit, Next Step of West Michigan, to create a story-page, coloring sheets, and coloring post-cards for the nifty Log House Bird Feeder Kit that they invented. The feeder is made from scraps of cedar from other products that they make. The kit goes together without any nails or glue and makes for a nice project to do with a child. In one small box, there are quite a few activities for kids to work on - assembling the feeder, coloring the pages, coloring the postcard, and writing and mailing the postcard. At this point it is available locally, but they hope to find a nationwide outlet soon. Nice work Next Step!
I read the Wind in the Willows every Winter and it never gets old. I have been trying to write something in praise of the book, but all of my writing seems meager and shallow or like a bad copy after I read a passage from the Willows. So I'll just put a few quotes below and let the strength of Kenneth Grahame's writing convey what I am struggling to say. One of the joys of the book are the little side observations Kenneth Grahame makes here and there throughout the book. Here are a few of my favorites:
The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him, and he thought that he had never seen so far and so intimately into the inside of things as on that winter day when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off. Copses, dells, quarries and all hidden places, which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves and their secrets pathetically, and seemed to ask him to overlook their shabby poverty a while, till they could riot in rich masquerade as before, and trick and entice him with the old deceptions. Chapter 3 - The Wild Wood
We others who have long lost the more subtle of the physical sense, have not even proper term to express an animal’s intercommunications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word “smell,” for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting, repelling. Chapter 5 - Dulce Domum
Most of the low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea table, absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor shall capture - the natural grace which goes with perfect unconsciousness of observation. Chapter 5 - Dulce Domum
A couple weeks ago I finished my last school visit for this year. School visits are always a high point for me. Every school is a little different, each has its own look and feel and way of doing things. It is a lot of fun and an honor to be able to be a part of a school's day and it is inspiring to meet the fine teachers and librarians doing such great work every day.
Here's to all the great students, teachers and librarians that I had the privilege of meeting this year. May 2019 be a good year for all of you!
A few years ago I was at a soccer match and was impressed by how often the ball just needed to get walloped to the other side of the field. In a tense situation, when my team was too close to their opponent's goal, they just needed to get the ball as far from the opponent's goal as possible. They didn't need to be precise, they just needed to move the ball out of the danger zone.
Sometimes in conversations, when I am feeling nervous or am struggling to express an idea, I just blab some words, throw something out there and that loosens me up so I can yammer my way to the point. That is definitely how it is in the beginning stages of a creative project, I just need to get an idea down, a loose sketch or a disjointed story, something I can work with.
It was a close match, up to the end, and every time they knocked the ball to the other end of the field it seemed pretty desperate and we in the stands were relieved when our team managed to do it.
That is how it feels in the beginning stages of a project, pretty desperate. A wild abandon, "I don't know what to do, but I have to do something." I am not sure why it feels that way. I don't have anything to lose by creating something bad. I am not in a soccer match, I am sitting alone in my studio and won't show it to anyone if I don't like it. So why panic? I suppose it is the fear that the first draft will be as good as it gets.
There are those who play for money, babe,
there are those who play for fame,
there are still those who only play for the love of the game.
That is T-Bone Burnett, from the song Killswitch. The name doesn’t seem right for such a beautiful song, but I have never been able to understand what the song is about. The concluding lines that I quote above fit so well with the music, I never mind not understanding the rest of the words. It serves as a good reminder for me that the only lasting pleasure that can be had from work of any kind is the work itself.
Earlier this week I mailed off the last bits of illustrations, including a cover and the end-papers. It is finally done! The illustrations for this book took an entire year to make. My other books have only taken six months (even that seems like a long time). For this book I went back to using ink and watercolor. With Green Pants I used pencil and watercolor for a softer effect, but for #4 I wanted the added definition and 'pop' that ink brings.
For the traditional artists out there, I'll note that I made a big switch from the toothier cold-press watercolor paper to the smoother hot press. For some reason I was very hesitant to make the switch even though it seemed like a pretty obvious choice. I suppose I thought people would be impressed that I made detailed drawings on the textured cold-press. "What a tough guy!" Nobody really noticed or cared, so I drew this book on the smoother paper. It made it a lot easier. My pen tips lasted a longer and I was able to achieve more detail.
Sometimes I wear bright, loud socks and assume people take me for a slick, cutting-edge, "creative." Maybe that isn't the case, either.