Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Illustrator's Process -- Laying Out a Quilt

Quilts are like paintings in fabric!  I enjoyed designing a recent illustration of a girl and her quilt.  Here it is with a preliminary sketch.  I think the vertical layout works best.....


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inspiration Boards for Artists and Writers

I love photos and sketches of artists’ studios. I love that artists and writers often surround themselves with inspirational ephemera—pinned or anchored by magnets onto bulletin boards. The collages of photos, notes and sketches have a beauty of their own. That they have a purpose—to help us to focus our thoughts, remind us of the project at hand, or inspire us with new ideas—is the frosting on the cake.

My friend, talented artist Donna Finkbiner, always had wonderful inspiration boards. On them were usually some of her delightful cat paintings and drawings, and art ‘scrap’ (to inspire her many other ongoing projects) usually having to do with cats, interesting architecture or other artists’ work she admired.

Surrounding ourselves with favorite images is always a fine idea—and one way to revive a flagging imagination, or just to cheer us up!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cats on Wednesday -- Alexis O'Neill and Friends

I believe cats are particularly good at being muses to writers and illustrators, and I would like to document some of these mysteriously symbiotic, creative relationships.

Definitions of ‘muse’:
• A state of deep thought, or dreamy abstraction
• Any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology, presiding over song, poetry and the arts and sciences

left to right:  Ebony, Cookie and Fudge
"plotting a bit of mischief"

Alexis O’Neill has been a generous friend and mentor to me. Her books (Loud Emily, Estella’s Swap, The Recess Queen and The Worst Best Friend) all explore the many aspects of friendship.
I wanted to find out about a trio of close friends in her life – her cats.

What are your cats’ names, and how did each one find you?
Fudge, Cookie and Ebony. Fudge took refuge in our garage after she had been severely bitten by either a dog or coyote. After all the vet bills were paid and the neighborhood scoured for a possible owner, this sweet cat became ours. We rescued Cookie and Ebony on their way to the pound. Energetic Cookie is actually my husband’s muse, sitting on his lap as he solves computer problems in the garage. And Ebony likes to stir up a bit of trouble, whacking the other cats on the noggin when they become too complacent about life.

Which of the above definitions of ‘muse’ best describes each of your cats?

Our “Three Sisters” preside over dreams. Some might say they hog the bed at night, but actually, Fudge, Cookie and Ebony are Dream Guards, chasing bad ones away so the good dreams have room to play.

In what way do your cats help you write? What is the most memorable contribution they have made to your work?

Exercise. That’s their contribution to my writing. Fudge is my “fetcher.” She knows when I’ve spent too long at my desk and calls me for a game of “Toss the Mousie Down the Stairs.” So I hop out of my chair, pull one of her glittery pink mousies from the basket that is overflowing with them. She crouches at the top stair and leaps for it when I toss it over her head. I go back to my desk. She scrambles up the stairs, mousie in her mouth and drops it for me. And so it goes for a good portion of the evening. Cookie and Ebony help with lifting exercises – they jump onto my desk to lick photos, tape and plastic bits, I lift them down. All this exercise keeps me tuned up for writing.

Do your cats have favorite napping or sitting places, and are they perhaps anywhere near your work space?

In the morning, the cats stretch out on the stairs in the sun, one, two, three, Cookie, Fudge, Ebony. Fudge then follows the sun around the house of the rest of the day, Cookie takes over the couch and Ebony sits as high as she can reigning over all.

Do you have a writing project your cats are currently helping with?

I wish! They are so lazy! They won’t even pick up a pen. They say they don’t want to ruin their nails, but I think they just like to see me struggle a bit. However, I will say that they are marvelous listeners. They are attentive when they hear my drafts, though pretty useless when it comes to helpful feedback since they say they pretty much love everything I write.

Questions for your cats (those willing to participate):

What are your real names, the names you feel reflect your true selves?

Cookie:  I’m a smart cookie, so my name is perfect.
Ebony:  My name is elegant – just like me.
Fudge:  I’m soft, sweet and comforting. What’s not to like about Fudge?

What led you to believe that your humans would make good hosts? Are they?

Cookie:  Warm laps.
Ebony:  Brushing my luxurious fur every morning.
Fudge:  Can you spell c-a-t  c-r-a-z-y?

Does your writer-person listen to your critiques of her writing, or does she pretend not to understand?

Cookie:  I’m okay with the first draft, but how many times does she have to read that thing to me?
Ebony:  Critique?  I’m supposed to do what?
Fudge:  She gets me. Here’s our code: Closed eyes = nice. Squinty eyes = huh? Big eyes = yes!

I notice your writer-person has never written a book about you. How do you feel about that?

Cookie:  Oh, but she has! She’s done lots of books about cats. But she tells me that “none of them are working.” Does that mean the cats don’t have jobs?
Ebony:  How does one capture my essence of elegance on the printed page? Impossible.
Fudge:  I like her story about the old cat, Skeeter, trying to get used to the new kitten, Patch. Someday, I’ll give her the Big Eyes code on it. But until then she has some work to do.

In addition to being the author of four books and numerous stories and articles, Alexis is the SCBWI Regional Advisor for the California counties of Ventura/Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo/Kern.  She is considered by many to be THE expert on the subject of school visits Find out more about her at and

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Library of the Early Mind -- and Those Who Create It

After the recent disturbing article in the New York Times questioning the current relevance of children’s picture books I was pleased to see a film made for adults about picture books which reaffirms the value of children’s literature.

It was a documentary shown at UCLA, titled The Library of the Early Mind—a grown-up look at the art of children’s literature. The filmmakers came up with the idea of the film—and the title—after reading an article in The New Yorker in 2008 by writer Adam Gopnik. In it he analyzes the meaning of Jean de Brunhoff’s The Story of Babar. At the beginning of the article Gopnik writes, “With Bemelmans’s 'Madeline' and Sendak’s 'Where the Wild Things Are,' the Babar books have become part of the common language of childhood, the library of the early mind.” The film is being shown across the country in a series of 50 screenings, and will hopefully be made more widely available in future.

Edward J. Delaney, who was on hand after the film to answer questions , directed the film and co-produced it with Steven Withrow, his former student of communications and creative writing at Roger Williams University. Delaney has said they had wanted to make a film for people who might not have shown an interest in children’s literature, to introduce to them writers and illustrators speaking of the experiences that had led them to the creation of their books.

There were several memorable interviews. Caldecott winner David Small spoke of his painful childhood and of the healing power of art. Jack Gantos talked about his time in prison and of the theme of absolution that runs through his Rotten Ralph books. And Nancy Garden spoke of the successful lawsuit to keep her novel (Annie on my Mind, about a young lesbian girl) in school libraries after it was banned and burned. There were also interviews with editor Arthur Levine (speaking about Harry Potter) and Jane Yolen (on being a prolific writer), as well as Jeff Kinney, Lois Lowry, Chris Van Allsberg and some 35 other writers, illustrators and publishers. I believe the individual artist/writer statements were compelling in their own right, but for those in the audience familiar with their work the film was even more meaningful.

The film, originally 45 hours (!) was shortened to 88 minutes. Hopefully the discarded footage will be made into another film or series of films. I know I would like to see more.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Re-Visiting Childhood Friends

My sister recently re-discovered a much-loved Golden Book Classic from our childhood—I Can Fly by Ruth Krause, illustrated by Mary Blair. This charming little book was loved by our whole family—because the little heroine reminded us of a new baby in our midst. So seeing it again was a delight.

The illustrations are, perhaps, not so new and innovative as they once seemed, but when a book (or a person) is loved, being a bit old and out of date doesn’t make them less lovable! So, with old favorites on my mind, I went in search of more Golden Books in my local bookstore. There I found my old friends—The Shy Little Kitten, The Saggy Baggy Elephant and Tootle! How I had loved Tootle! They were all so real to me—I loved them intensely. Harder to find might be some my other old friends—I greatly appreciated Marcia Brown’s version of Cinderella. I was already an art critic, apparently, and I considered her illustrations quite wondrous (I still do!) I was very taken with The Fuzzy Little Kitten which had fake fur on the cover kitten and—a huge favorite—Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet (about two hats!)

Who can say why children love the books they do? Their imaginations are boundless, they choose to believe what they read is real. They are hungry for stories and eager to climb right into those stories themselves—accompanied by a round-faced cat, a smiling train or a hat with long eyelashes. Once we grow up, books may never again be so comforting, so passionately loved. And though e-books are here to stay, I can’t believe that a ‘book’ that you can’t comfortably snuggle up with will ever be remembered with such joy.....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Flintridge Book Store and L.A. Parent Magazine Host Mother/Daughter Book Party

I’m very interested in girls’ issues, girls’ empowerment and books for girls. So when Catherine Linka (writer, and children’s book buyer at Flintridge Bookstore) invited bloggers to come to an event at the bookstore for mothers and daughters, I was happy to go. L.A. Parent magazine joined together with the bookstore to host the mother/daughter Author Book Party, highlighting mid-grade and young adult book authors. Ronna Mandel, associate editor and book reviewer at L.A. Parent, was on hand too, co-hosting and representing the magazine. She blogs about books at Good Reads With Ronna.

The event was well-attended though the day was cold and rainy. It was great to see so many girls chatting with their favorite authors and perhaps finding new favorites as well. The books ranged from historical to contemporary and even fantasy. (There were also refreshments and prizes.) The first hour and a half was devoted to books for grades 3-6.

The writers for this age group (3rd to 6th grade), were Kathleen O’Dell (the Agnes Parker series), Naomi Hirahara (1001 Cranes), Carol Hughes (The Princess and the Unicorn), Carol Hennesy (the Pandora books), Randi Barrow (Saving Zasha) and Gayle Brandeis (My Life with the Lincolns).

The authors who had books for 6th to 9th graders were Cecil Castellucci (Boy Proof), Sherri Smith (Flygirl), Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures), Amy Goldman Koss (The Girls), and Morgan Matson (Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour).

Below are some photos I took of the bookstore, authors and bloggers. I enjoyed the authors’ informal sessions – learning about them and their books. It was a well done, successful get-together for mothers, their daughters and the authors of some of the next books that girls will be reading.
Carol Hughes

Kathleen O'Dell

Carol Hennesy
Randi Barrow and Gayle Brandeis

Sherri Smith

Cecil Castellucci

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Maurice Sendak Painted a Mural!

I was delighted to hear a report on National Public Radio about the recent donation to the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. A brother and sister (Larry and Nina Chertoff), decided to donate a wall from the bedroom they had shared as small children because of the mural which had been painted on it fifty years before. Why? Because the artist was family friend Maurice Sendak.

Maurice Sendak, 1961
The mural is a whimsical parade led by a dog (looking like Sendak’s beloved terrier Jenny, immortalized in his Higglety Pigglety Pop). Following ‘Jenny’ is a boy with a drum; another boy with a horn; a red bird; a lion in a party hat holding a parasol labeled Larry and Nina; a girl with a pennant and the sun on a string; and a bear in a top hat and ruff. Some very familiar Sendak characters!

The NPR segment included an interview with a relaxed and pleasant Sendak who spoke of the "happy time" in his life when he painted the "only mural I have ever done" for the "darling little girl" and "darling little boy"–Larry and Nina. About the mural he said, "I never had painted a mural before and I didn’t know how to paint a mural. I didn’t know how to prepare the surface."

I painted several murals myself a few years ago and I also didn’t know how to prepare the surfaces, how to make them last. I didn’t know how the Renaissance painters created theirs either, as Sendak remarks to interviewer Robert Siegel. Today there are books of instruction. I couldn’t find one when I did my murals and perhaps it doesn’t matter if they have not withstood the test of time.

Luckily Maurice Sendak’s charming 50 year old mural has survived as well as it has. Since removal to the Maurice Sendak Gallery at the Rosenbach Museum, conservators have started work on repairing any damage. Visitors can watch the process every Wednesday (at specified times) until the end of March and witness the mural being restored to its original charming glory.

Thank you Larry and Nina!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Last Salute to Tricycle Press - Part 2

As a postscript to my last entry, here's a photo of some of the good folks in the editorial department as they finished up the last days of Tricycle Press.  I had sent cupcakes and they sent their thanks, and goodbyes!  I'm sure we all wish them well in their future careers (and I hope they all stay in publishing!)

left to right:     editor Kim Keller, editorial assistant Genny Mcauley,
publisher Nicole Geiger, editor Abigail Samoun.   Photo by Jo Taylor