Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cats on Wednesday -- Happy New Year of Cats

Happy New Year, World! from Cats on Wednesday (and me).

Next year I plan to interview cats who share their homes with some writers and illustrators!  Hmmm.... I wonder what secrets they'll be able to tell us about their people and their people's work....

Hope we will all have a successful, prosperous, healthy and happy new year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Booklist Named Signed, Abiah Rose to Two Top Ten Lists for 2010

I wrote recently about the Top of the List selection on Booklist.  Today I'm happy to mention that my book, Signed, Abiah Rose, made two of Booklist's 2010 Top Ten lists.  The list of Top Ten Historical Titles for Youth was announced April 15.  I recently learned that my book has also been named to the Top Ten Art Books for Youth.  The honor of being on the same list with the likes of Karen Cushman, Richard Peck, David Wiesner and Sid Fleischman is amazing.  A wonderful gift for the holidays!

Alchemy and Meggy Swann. By Karen Cushman.

Ashes. By Kathryn Lasky.

Blessing’s Bead. By Debby Dahl Edwardson.

Crossing Stones. By Helen Frost.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. By Jacqueline Kelly.

Is It Night or Day? By Fern Schumer Chapman.

One Crazy Summer. By Rita Williams-Garcia.

A Season of Gifts. By Richard Peck.

Signed, Abiah Rose. By Diane Browning. Illus. by the author.

Take Me with You. By Carolyn Marsden.

Art & Max. By David Wiesner. Illus. by the author.

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Illus. by Brian Floca.

Bridget’s Beret. By Tom Lichtenheld. Illus. by the author.

Brontorina. By James Howe. Illus. by Randy Cecil.

The Django. By Levi Pinfold. Illus. by the author.

Mimi’s Dada Catifesto. By Shelley Jackson. Illus. by the author.

Paris in the Spring with Picasso. By Joan Yolleck. Illus. by Marjorie Priceman.

Signed, Abiah Rose. By Diane Browning. Illus. by the author.

Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World. By Sid Fleischman.  illus.

Tupac Shakur: Hip-Hop Idol. By Carrie Golus. illus.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cats on Wednesday -- Lost and Found

The end of the year is the time in the children’s literature world for the announcements to start coming in of awards and ‘best of the lists’.  On Monday Booklist announced their Top of the Lists Editors Choices.  The selection for Youth Picture Books is a delightful book about a cat, Nini Lost and Found, by one of my favorite illustrators, Anita Lobel.  Nini has appeared before in One Lighthouse, One Moon and Nini Here and There.  Happily she’s back for another adventure, daring to explore the world outside her snug, comfortable home.  I love the watercolor and gouache illustrations of the serious little cat and her inviting world.
Nini’s return home and her loving reception are reassuring and satisfying.  The theme reminds me of a much-loved cat of mine whose main ambition in life seemed to be to go exploring even though she was actually terrified of the world outside.  I had more than one fright when she scooted through an open door looking for adventure.  Fortunately she, too, really preferred her snug and comfortable home, and always came back.  I hope there will be more Nini books and think the editors chose a good book to top their list!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Wonderfully Crazy World of Maira Kalman

In the last few weeks I’ve been fortunate to twice see the excellent Maira Kalman exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center. I attended the pre-opening of the exhibit, which included a very entertaining conversation between Maira herself and Ingrid Schaffner, the curator of the show. I love the artist’s work and was both inspired and entertained by what I saw. I was already familiar with her wonderful children’s books and some of her editorial work, and this exhibit shows a wonderful variety of paintings, embroidered pictures, installations and magazine covers. Her loose, free and deceptively simple images can actually be quite subtle and sophisticated. What I love most is her freedom of expression.

During my second visit, with a group of SCBWI writers and illustrators, several of us spoke with the docent about that very quality. The wonderful loose quality of Maira’s style we surmised might be partly due to her decision not to ‘study’ art. She has stayed (purposefully) ‘naïve’ in her art style, though she can be quite painterly too. This may be what has enabled her to keep her creative freedom. She didn’t study the ‘rules’ one learns in art school.

Early in my art school training I realized that although the departing Art Center graduates were clearly talented and wonderfully trained, there was a similarity in their ‘look’ as well. Art school can do that. It can be worthwhile and at the same time take away something special. My friend Suzy suggested that art school can destroy that wonderful quality that we all have as children (and that we agreed that some of us spend the rest of our lives trying to regain). That is the simplicity, exuberance and spontaneity that Maira Kalman’s work still has. In my art studies I wanted to learn to accurately capture what I saw. Now I want to return to expressing what I feel.

Though Maira has a successful career in children’s literature (12 books), it’s been said adults may be her most appreciative audience. I find her work to be evocative, chaotic, irreverent, original, idiosyncratic, charming, hilarious, quirky, moving, joyful, vital, surprising and always creative. Though her work can sometimes appear ironic, she told us her work is never sarcastic.  Her paintings are like a sketchbook narrative of what she observes of her life and the lives of others she passes on the street. She has said, “My work is a journal of my life.” What a wonderful journal it is.

The exhibit, Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) is on view now through February 13, 2011 at the Skirball – see it if you can!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chemers Gallery Children's Book Illustrators Show

Both aspiring and professional illustrators know their most important time is spent doing their work. But of great value is the time spent visiting peers, attending classes, workshops, conferences and galley exhibits.

I love being recharged and inspired by other illustrators’ work. Seeing book dummies, finished books and original artwork is fun and enlightening. Below is a gallery of photos of illustrators speaking at this year’s Chemers Gallery event.

David Diaz demo drawing

David Diaz

S. D. Schindler
Patrick O'Brien

Julie Paschkis
Julie Paschkis

Julie Paschkis cut paper

Gennady Spirin

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cats on Wednesday -- A Trio of Cat Books

Children’s books about cats are always popular. Many of us cat lovers enjoy them, and their intended audience (children) certainly love them. At the Chemers Gallery illustrators’ event I attended last weekend there were three examples of lovely, but very diverse, cat books illustrated by two of the featured illustrators.

Cat Dreams
One of them was Cat Dreams, by Ursula K. Le Guin – a charming book about a napping cat. The model for illustrator S.D. Schindler was his cat, Furball (a very attractive calico with green eyes). Schindler is also the illustrator of Le Guin’s marvelous Catwings books as well as more than 50 other children’s books.

Fat Cat
Where is Catkin?

Also representing cats in the gallery was another favorite illustrator’s books – Julie Paschkis’ Fat Cat and Where is Catkin?

I hope to get back to the gallery to study the original illustrations more closely before the exhibit ends.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I Meet My Favorite Illustrator at a Gallery Show

Saturday I attended the annual Chemers Gallery Children's Book Illustrators Show and Signing in Tustin.  The show included demonstrations and a display of books and original art by five exceptional illustrators, working in various styles and mediums.

I was particularly excited about the inclusion this year of one of my most favorite ‘illustrator-idols’, the master illustrator Gennady Spirin, who came with his son Ilya (also an illustrator) as translator. Illustrators always want to know details of artists' processes and mediums, so it was gratifying when Gennady answered questions from the audience. We learned he does his gorgeously detailed, often quite small, paintings without a magnifying glass. He doesn’t even wear glasses, ‘thanks be to God’. He uses all mediums but prefers watercolor, especially for illustrating books. He has every imaginable size of brush and prefers Russian sable, which he says will last him through two books whereas other brushes will only last through two paintings. He likes Windsor and Newton paints, but also uses Russian watercolors (though they have fewer color choices).

Who inspires him? So many artists he couldn’t pick just one, but certainly the Renaissance masters. About his beautiful, graceful calligraphy, he feels it’s part of his art. He has designed most of the title calligraphy for his books. He professed dissatisfaction with all his body of work. He enjoys the process, but he always wants to do better and better and grow as an artist.

Of course original illustrations are always better than the work in print. Gennady Spirin’s originals are breathtaking.

The gallery exhibit and sale continue through December 18.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sketching in Tea Rooms and Coffee Shops

I’m sure there have been artists sketching in taverns, pubs, tea rooms and coffee houses since there first were such places. One of my favorite spots for sketching is the Gypsy Den in Santa Ana, an arty and charming restaurant/café in a part of town that is very artist-friendly, with lofts, studios and galleries.

The Gypsy Den has long, floaty pale curtains in interesting colors, lots of oil paintings on the walls and occasional live music. It’s too far for me to visit often, but I go there any time I’m in the area. It’s a great place to sketch or to write, and I’ve included a couple of drawings I’ve done there. I’ve been inspired lately to seek out more cozy places to sketch, closer to where I live. Sketching is a great way to train your eye, to experiment and to grow as an artist.

I’ve recently been inspired by an excellent blog (Urban Sketchers) of artists from six continents whose drawings are an ongoing record of their surroundings, done on site. They are sketching their world ‘one drawing at a time’. I’ve always admired artists who sketch regularly. I intend to be one of them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cats on Wednesday -- Therapy Abroad

I find cats therapeutic – definitely mood-lifting, which of course enhances their value to harried deadline-plagued illustrators or plot-blocked writers. The longest periods of time I’ve been without a cat have been the extended times I’ve spent in Europe. In London I was staying in a comfortable little B&B in Bloomsbury. Only one other family (English, but recently forced by circumstances to leave their home in the Middle East) were staying in the hotel over Christmas. The hotel owner had a sweet-tempered, placid black and white cat named Tibby – a bit overweight from being spoiled by too many years of guests who, like us and our neighbors down the hall who had tried every day to lure the cat into our rooms with treats. We took turns – a rivalry of sorts – trying to get Tibby to spend time with each of us. Comfort companionship, entertainment. Every day the long-suffering landlord’s son would climb the stairs and knock on each of our doors. “Do you have Tibby?” he would ask. One or the other of us probably did.

Another cat, a grey cat, was encountered for only one day, when cheering was needed. She had bounded across a meadow in Switzerland, very purposefully and joyfully and with what looked like recognition, to cheer up three Americans going for a dejected walk in the countryside. She appeared to understand English perfectly and communicated cheerfulness so thoroughly that recovery was very quick and life’s problems soon solved.

So to tie in with my coffee shop theme this week, there are cat café’s in Japan. For about six years they have been very popular little establishments. Tea, coffee and smoothies are available, but the big draw is the cats, which provide a different kind of pick-me-up. Merchants there have come up with a solution for pet-starved over-crowded, can’t-keep-cats-in-your-apartment citizens of Tokyo who need the comforting, cheering and charming company of cats. There are quite a few of these cafés, where there’s a nominal fee for spending quality time with the cats. The cafés look very pleasant and clean in the pictures I’ve seen and very few actual refreshments are in evidence. The patrons have to take off their shoes and wash their hands before entering the cats’ presence and can’t disturb sleeping cats, pull tails or be uncivilized in any way! Sounds good to me.

I am without a cat for the time being – I’d love to visit a cat café right now!