Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Sneak Peak at one of my Hedgehog Bakery Coordinates

I've had hedgehogs and baking on my mind for a while now.  It probably started with these super-cute hedgehog cookies I made way back in December 2013 after seeing the idea pinned on Pinterest.* (As you can see, my hedgehogs were a bit too well tanned...that's what happens in Australia in the summer if you don't watch out!)

Then I went into a phase of prickly animal omelets.  Porcupines, hedgehogs, spiny anteaters...

Their spines didn't really help when it came time to defend themselves from the breakfast fork.  

The problem with food art of course is that after the meal is over and the dishes are done, your creation is gone.  So it was time to do something a bit more...lasting.  But still hedgehogs and still food-related.

So I started on a fabric collection: The Hedgehog Bakery.  Because hedgehogs are adorable and baking is delicious...and the thought of all the mischief a crew of hedgehogs could get into while baking up some cookies or brownies or a cake?  Irresistible.  

The collection in full won't be unveiled until the start of October but Spoonflower has a free fabric swatch day for their poly crepe de chine fabric on September 3, 2015 (USA) so I'm making one of the coordinating prints public.  If you want to grab an 8"x 8" swatch for free on the 3rd, go for it.  It's a ditsy print (meaning tiny, scattered, and multi-directional) with hedgehog paw prints about 1/4" big. Find it here!


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Oh my omelet: Sloth

What would you like for breakfast?

Many people would pick something simple.

Like a fried egg.

An omelet.

Or even oatmeal.

Not here.




Sounds yummy.  

But watch out for those sharp claws...

Toasty chorizo toes and tasty tree-toast.

Because who wants a boring omelet for breakfast?  

Not I!

I'd rather go on a wild sloth hunting adventure.  

Rumor has it you can find them up in the trees if you look hard enough.  

Yeah, we like to play with our food around here...

Even if it isn't an omelet.

Got some left-over mashed sweet potato and cauliflower rice?  

Then you've got breakfast.  Sloth style.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

What's on my bookshelf today?

Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney -- This is a lovely rhyming book for when the kitchen seems as far away as Pluto to a child alone in bed.  Just because Mama is busy in the other room doesn't mean that she doesn't love you or that she won't come back! 

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney  -- This is a story of learning to play nice and learning to get an adult when someone isn't playing nice.  I love the personality in the colorful, heavily textured illustrations and intriguingly, if you compare the illustrations in this book with Llama Llama Red Pajama you'll notice the characters are very similar in style but the media is very different...I love the heavy canvas texture when you really study the illustrations! 

Bear about Town / Oso en la ciudad by Stella Blackstone and Debbie Harter, A Barefoot Spanish & English Bilingual Book -- This is a story for learning your days of the week and the names of places in whichever language, but it was the illustrations that pulled me to it, vividly colorful, at a distance feeling a bit like they are that flat, blocky 2-D computer-style but actually full of pattern and texture.

Olive, the other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh -- This is a Christmas story about finding a new, unexpected calling in life that lets one take advantage of one's natural skills and is pure eye-candy from a modern, computer-graphic design standpoint.  I love the cover design with the dangling dog smack in the middle of the title and the illustrations themselves have an adorable, funky, misshapen wonkiness to them. 

Monday, April 14, 2014


"Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera."
You can cut the flowers, but you can't stop spring.
- Pablo Neruda -

Over the past few weeks Spring has been spreading like an army marching into a barren and subdued land.  A land unwilling to put up any resistance to the overwhelming power created by warmer temperatures and longer hours of sun.  Initially it was just a few scouts.  A wasp, emerging slowly and clumsily from his over-wintering hideaway.  A tick to remind us that no matter how strong and tall we are, we can be brought down by something tiny.  Daffodils bravely emerging from the ground just in time for the last snow of the season.  

Then there is the morning I do a double-take at the forest floor.  I blink.  Squint. What I had thought brown now appears green.  Misidentification of color is a disconcerting thought for someone who uses color daily to express oneself, so I take a closer look.  Thousands of tiny green shapes have emerged out of the blanket of decomposing leaves.  From experience I know that many of these will grow into thorny vines and a dense carpet of poison ivy, but for the moment they are merely waiting.  Spring has won.  It has descended upon a land already waving brown-white branches of surrender.  It could take its time now, if it were so inclined, but that isn't the nature of spring.  Spring is too busy unfurling, sprouting, opening, growing, reaching, blossoming, and budding to pay attention to our attempts to grab it, capture it, or slow it down.  Spring is here now but it knows summer is fast on its heels.  Carpe diem, Spring.  

I'm riding in the car with my mom and one of her friends who tells us a story of her son. "He came home one day and said, 'The fields were so green they hurt my eyes.'"  The fields we are passing at the time are a green typically reserved just for Ireland but temporarily allowed to clothe Tennessee farmland.  

Spring's banner might be green, but it brings with it all the colors of a sunset.  The Kentucky fields we pass the next day form swaths of purple and yellow.  The interstate on both sides of the "Welcome" signs are bordered by miles of redbuds.  My beloved forest floors, once white with snow, once brown with leaves, once just-freshly green with tiny hints of plants to come, is now sprinkled with tiny jewels.  Spring beauty.  Elegant, serious trillium.  Tiny violets hovering a scant three inches out of the leaves.  A chance to use those vivid colors in my artist palette that had begun to feel like a waste of space.  No.  Spring has come and with it color.  

I too surrender, trading my thick coat and flannel shirts, the diminished pile of firewood, and my recipes for snow ice cream for short-sleeves, watercolors in the woods, and breezes through the window.  Welcome, Spring.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Books for Young Inventors

This morning, temporarily deprived of my ability to continue working on digital revisions to the children's book about New Zealand that's in progress, I sat by the fire and read The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis.  It's the story of Julian who is given the chance to be a normal person instead of a nerd when he starts a new school.  His nerdiness sneaks out despite his best efforts to blend in (lots of giggles at the start there) but then in the end, he finds friendship, a place in the world, and a way to be happily himself.  No more details. Just go read it.

If it wasn't for the fact that it is a library book, the book would have instantly received a sacred (and competitive) spot on my shelf reserved only for books that I absolutely adore and will definitely re-read again and again.  As it is, it's happily renewed, so I can read it at least once more before the snow melts and I actually have to return it.  And I really hope that Ms. Eleanor Davis is busy writing a whole series of these books because it's got all the elements I love for a graphic novel AND for a middle-school inventor:  great pictures, fantastic layouts, humorous banter, mystery, lots of practical and not-so-practical inventions, and so much packed into the illustrations that you'll still be noticing new things after several re-reads.

I think I should reserve a spot for Eleanor Davis' book on the shelf right next to the rest of my classic invention stories.  Thankfully all of the rest of these come as a series and I have quite a few of the books from each series.  (Ms. Davis, can I bribe you with one of the oatmeal-raisin cookies in the fridge to hurry up the next book?).  The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook will be the first graphic novel in the "wacky books for young inventors" section of my bookshelf.  Read on to see what's already there:

My older brother and I adored Hick's Alvin Fernald Books when we were kids.  Like Secret Science Alliance, lots of giggling and laughing while reading is required.  Who had possession of which books was highly debated and it was safe to say that Alvin was our hero.  

The Danny Dunn books were another chapter-book series.  The main character (and friends) would get themselves in a pickle and have to get that time they got sealed into an automated house!

To get an idea of the age of the Tom Swift books, you should know that I got started reading them because they were childhood favorites of my dad's.  So my introduction was a box full of very aged hardback books from my grandparent's house, the kind with the tan pages you turn ever-so-carefully and dust that is imbued into the ink itself.  Now they have a super-cheap collection of 25 of them you can get with one click for your Kindle.  Unlike the other series, I would reserve Tom Swift for older or highly accomodating readers. First appearing in 1910, they can't help but show that they were written for a different generation.  That doesn't stop them from being fun to read...the one about the giant magnet is my top favorite.  

Finally, as a post script of sorts to the list, a last book that isn't on my shelf of must-reread-again-and-again books for young inventors age 8-infinity but that would be if I knew where it was (I suspect one of my siblings has it on their bookshelf).  Homer Price isn't a full-fledged series, but there is a sequel (yay!).  For some reason, when I think of Rube Goldburg machines (complex machines to do simple or pointless tasks), this is the book that immediately comes to mind.  I think it's the donuts.  I love the illustrations, the humor (noting a theme, are you?) and the innovation.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Love isn't the only thing that's blind...

I think my mind is still on how we grow as artists.  This week I’m thinking about the role critique plays because I know next week I’m going to be getting some feedback from my illustration critique group on the latest storyboard* and characters I submitted to them.   You’d think I was dreading hearing a long list of things that are wrong with my images, but I’m not.  I’m dancing impatiently on my toes because I can’t wait for their feedback.  You see, love isn’t the only thing that’s blind.

Art is blind too.  Specifically, artists are blind.  We get so involved in the artwork that we are working on, that we quit noticing things.  A line is a little crooked or the colors are too dark and we can’t tell because the image in our heads blends with the image our paintbrush created.   Or, sometimes it’s the opposite that happens.  We are so involved in the artwork that we can’t see it as anything other than our very imperfect creation.  Like when you have a speck of dust in your eye—it doesn’t matter what beautiful vision is in front of you.  All you pay attention to is that-which-is-wrong. 

If there were a magical pair of glasses that solved this problem, they would sell like hotcakes in every single art store and online.  But glasses don’t help.  Luckily there are other things that do!

Setting the painting or artwork aside for several hours or several days helps. 
I have a tendency to hate the artworks I create when I first create them.  After a few days, however, I kind of “forget” that they are mine and start appreciating them just as artworks.   I start noticing the bright colors or the lovely composition and the wonky lines and flaws just become stylistic choices.  Alternatively, sometimes I set a picture that’s in progress aside and when I come back to it I see immediately the solution when before all I had was the nagging feeling that something was wrong. 

Using a mirror to “flip” the image helps.

I was chatting on Skype with overseas family while I worked on this tree image.  To their confusion, I kept excusing myself so I could run the painting into the other room.  Why?  Because the other room had a large mirror where I could easily see the mirror image of the tree branches.  My eyes wouldn’t tell me where the balance was off or which branches were too thin, but the mirror would.  I’m learning how to use some digital art tools, and the program I’m using the most will flip an image in just two stylus clicks.  No mirror required for the high-tech!

External feedback from other people (critiques and helpful comments).
A lot of people will look at your artwork and say things like, “Oh, that’s beautiful” or “You’re so talented.”  Those people are good fuel to keep you going…but sometimes you need someone who, when you ask them to, will just tell you like it is in a specific, helpful way:  “The face is too round,” “Don’t you think that looks too light?”,  “Have you considered making her hand bigger?”, or “She looks a bit angry, don’t you think?”  I treasure the people who I know will be honest with me when I request it, because they let me “see” my artwork when I’m blind to what’s going on—of course, that doesn’t mean I always act on what they say!

Squinting or using one eye.
There are a lot of artists who do this.  I don’t really.  It doesn’t tend to help me.   But it should be on the list because sometimes you don’t have time, a mirror, or other people…when that happens, you’ve got to have something in your tool-bag to fall back on!

When you see "talent", look behind it for some of these techniques for avoiding art-blindness.  They’ll be there.  And, to watch the process in action, check out this video about a first grader drawing a butterfly.  There’s a metamorphosis so dramatic you might as well be watching the caterpillar itself change.  If you have friends who think they can’t draw or you yourself think you can’t draw, watch it thinking, “That could be me.”  Go ahead.  It’s only six minutes.  

It's called Austin's Butterfly:  Building Excellence in Student Work and is by Expeditionary Learning. Watch it on YouTube or, if you prefer, here's the same video on Vimeo.  


*If you‘ve ever watched the special features of an animated film, you might have seen a storyboard there since they are used extensively in animation to plan out the movie.  Since mine are for picture books, I just do one sketch per page (although I will group two pages together when they share an illustration and you can see both pages at the same time…this is called a “spread” because the illustration spreads across the pages).  It lets me see the whole book at once so I can make sure the illustrations have variety.   Here's an example of one I posted on my Facebook page a while back.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How To Draw A Cat

Right now I'm working on illustrating a children's book.  One of the characters appearing on every page is a cat.  Now I can draw a cat.  Circle for the head, triangles for the ears, a cute little upside down triangle for the nose, three little whiskers on each side of the cat's little chiny-chin-chin.  But my standard little cat wasn't cutting it...and unfortunately for me, at the time I didn't have a cat around to draw from. Not that it would have helped. Have you ever tried to pose a cat?  Here, kitty-kitty, stand with one leg here and one leg there.  Angle your head to the side.  Just a little bit more.  No, don't run away.  No, I don't want you to twine around my legs, I want you to pose!  Look, cat, if you aren't going to pose you definitely can't lay on top of my work.

Do you have a cat around?  Go ahead.  Try getting it to pose.  I dare you.

So I muddled through drawing my cats in the storyboard and immediately after finishing, I set about drawing cats as part of an art-warm up.  Twenty cats before breakfast?  No problem...those Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest "cute cat" videos and images actually counted as work!

But it made me think about all those moments where I've drawn a cat and people have said, "Wow! You're so talented!  I wish I could draw like that."

They didn't see me as a kid practicing diligently from "How to Draw" books.

They didn't see me redrawing lines and erasing wrong lines.

They didn't see me studying cats for the shape their bodies make standing, walking, stretching.

They didn't see the pictures of dogs, bears, and furry creatures that help me make it look easy when it comes to drawing cat fur.

They didn't see the frustration caused by my expectations for my own cat-drawing abilities rising parallel to my skills so that even as I improved, my perception of my abilities stayed the same.

They didn't see the cats that, despite all my best efforts, didn't quite turn out as expected.

They didn't see the twenty cats before breakfast.