Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blog Tour for Quacky Baseball – Interview with Illustrator Frank Morrison

Today I’m happy to be interviewing Frank Morrison, the award-winning illustrator of Quacky Baseball. It’s Day 4 of the virtual tour for the book written by Peter Abrahams and just released by HarperCollins. Quacky Baseball is the delightful tale of Thumby Duckling, who is nervous to be up to the plate – he hopes he won’t strike out and let down his team, the Webbies, who are counting on him to save the day. Frank Morrison has taken the delightful characters Peter Abrahams has created and added his own colorful, lively touch. We believe those ducks are playing baseball, with gusto and duck-itude. Booklist cited the “dramatic angles” in his “action-packed paintings.” I love the vividly painted spunky ducks.

A Renaissance man, Frank Morrison has had a life full of creativity. He began drawing at an early age and went on to become a graffiti artist as well as a skillful break dancer, dancing around the world with well-known music personalities. On his website he tells of his ah-ha moment while visiting the Louvre in Paris. And he is now a well-known painter and the illustrator of 16 books for children.

Quacky Baseball is about a rookie player in a duck-y baseball game. You also illustrated Out of the Ballpark, and I just learned you have a book in the works about the Negro League, due out next year. Is it safe to conjecture you are a fan? Did you play the game as a boy?

Yes, I have to confess I am a sports fan. I played T-ball when I was 8. I played high school football. I'm still watching Michael Jordan DVD's.

Tell us about your early experience as a budding artist. I believe as a teenager you channeled your creativity into graffiti art. You then became a very successful dancer. What role did art play in your early life?

Al Hirschfeld said, "An artist never stops drawing." I picked up a pencil at the age of 7 and I never put it down. Even while I was on tour dancing for Sybil and the Sugar Hill Gang, I brought my sketch book along. I would draw the passengers on the trains and planes. I would also compare black books with other writers in different parts of the country and overseas. Graffiti was another way for me to express myself. I found a way to merge the two. At the age of 17, I signed with Essence magazine. Essence published my work for ten years.

You’re a well-known painter whose work is in galleries and private collections. When did you get into children’s book illustration?

I received a call from a publisher in 2003. To work on a book titled Jazzy Miz Mozetta, for which I won the Coretta Scott King award.

No wonder, it's a delightful book! Early on were there any illustrators who inspired you to create books for children?

I have to be honest, back then I did not know any illustrators. The fine art world and illustration world were totally separated. I was like a fish out of water for a while.

How long do you usually have to paint the illustrations for a picture book? What's your preferred medium; your favorite thing about your studio?

It takes me three months to finish a book. I prefer to work in oil. My favorite incentive about my studio is when my children come down to check out what I'm working on.

Do you have a project in the works now?

I'm currently writing my first children’s book.

And finally -- do you still dance?

Yes, I can still get down!

Thanks, Frank! Looking forward to seeing more great illustrations from you and books you've authored, as well.

The Quacky Baseball tour is not over! Visit these sites for more Quacky fun and don’t forget to comment here and on the other sites for a chance to win a signed copy of the book.

Monday, March 28 - Megan Frances Abrahams - On Beyond Words & Pictures - interview with Kristin Daly Rens, Senior Editor, Balzer & Bray

Tuesday, March 29 - Julie Musil  - Julie Musil - interview with Thumby Duckling - the main character - via author Peter Abrahams

Wednesday, March 30 - Corey Schwartz - Thing 1 and Thing 2 - author Peter Abrahams on the genesis of Quacky Baseball

Friday, April 1 - Hilde Garcia - The Pen and Ink Blog - interview with author Peter Abrahams

Saturday, April 2 - Lori Walker - L.H. Walker - book review/synopsis with input from Lori's children

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Women’s History Month – Vicki León’s Treasure Trove of Women’s Stories

Vicki doing research in Egypt ...

I remember first seeing an Uppity Women book in the bookstore of the Huntington Library. I felt like giving a cheer – what a fabulous title, fabulous subject and fabulous woman who had written such a clever and enlightening book! I later met the fabulous woman herself at an SCBWI retreat and have since attended her very entertaining and helpful non-fiction workshop. I am pleased to be interviewing her for Women’s History Month. Vicki León is the ‘uppity’ author of nine books on women’s history. Her forthcoming ‘encyclopedia’ called 4000 Years of Uppity Women, will be published this fall by MJF Books in hardcover and e-book formats.

When and why did you first decide to write about the fascinating, unusual and amazing details of the lives of women in history?

As a 10-year-old, I already had a burning curiosity about the girls and women of long ago. In the 1950s, however, I found little to read except standard fare about Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and a few other gals, most of whom came to bad ends, according to the books I devoured.

Later, as a young woman, I was lucky enough to live for years in Spain and other countries around the Med. Visiting archaological sites, exploring ancient ruins, strolling through walled cities, I got to walk in female footsteps of long ago. It really fired my imagination. Eventually fortune favored me again-- I studied with two professors who taught me about the underpinnings of history, and gave me the tools to become a historical detective.

If you could go back in time, which woman you’ve researched would you most like to meet?

Tough choice-- I’ve profiled over a thousand women. One triumphant example I love is Lavinia Fontana, a 16th century Italian painter who enjoyed spectacular success. She got prestigious, juicily-paid commissions from royals and from the Pope, did gorgeous self-portraits, won fame, received medals, painted until she was 62--and to top it off, she talked her spouse into being a house-husband for what turned out to be 11 children!

Along with the admirable ‘do-gooders’ from history, I also have a sneaky admiration for some of the ‘do-badders.’ Take Catalina de Erauso--I call her “the nun turned top-gun.” At 15, she broke out of a Spanish nunnery, threw together some male duds, and got to the New World, where she terrorized Panama, Peru and Chile for two decades. Even when finally caught for various crimes, she turned it around by confessing to a bishop that she was still a virgin! It being 1620, that won her admiration instead of a hanging. It’s a great tale---and she wrote her memoirs, which survived and make superb reading.

I’m surprised to hear that her account is still around. Did you find any more women who’ve left something tangible in our times?

Yes, and that brings to mind my biggest gripe. I do a great many speeches and workshops to groups of women eager to learn more about their foremothers. But I often hear them comment along the lines of, “What a pity that nothing has survived from the gals of long ago...”

On the contrary! I’ve found countless primary source examples from these women. They are amazing. Books like Catalina’s memoirs; paintings like those of Lavinia (over 135 are still around). There are other artifacts--from a legal document signed by Cleopatra VII to the huge “Old Glory” flag sewn by Mary Young Pickersgill (now gracing the Smithsonian).

What is strangest occupation you’ve come across for a woman?

In ancient times, one of the weirdest jobs had to be the gal who played the water-organ for each of the gladiatorial matches. During the Crusades, bizarre but vital work was done by the washerwomen who accompanied the Crusader armies. Their task: to de-louse the men daily! Virgin reconstruction specialist was another unusual niche. An Italian doctor named Trotula described this in her compendium of medical works that are still around.

Which woman has impressed you most by her achievements?

I would love to time-travel to the first century AD and spend time in Alexandria, Egypt, with a woman whose exact name we don’t firmly know—she was called Mary Profetissa, Maria the Jewess, and other monikers that may be pseudonyms. She was an alchemist, out to find the Philosopher’s Stone. I first found her in an unusual way; in Spain, I once tried to make flan and needed a double-boiler---which was called a ‘Mary’s bath’ in Spanish. Turned out that 2000 year ago, that long-ago Mary had invented the double boiler, along with the still and other inventions which turned the alchemy craze into the hard science of chemistry. Besides writing her profile in an Uppity Women book, I got to explore alchemy further in my latest nonfiction, called How to Mellify a Corpse.

Any tips for beginning writers of non-fiction – for instance, how best to approach experts?

We live in an ideal age for such matters, since we are all connected cybernetically. It’s child’s play these days to contact experts--to reap the benefits, however, the writer needs to approach with courtesy, timeliness, and enough knowledge to ask intelligent questions.

What are you working on now?

I’m doing two books at once: a third nonfiction for Walker Books on biology, sex, and weird medicine in ancient times; and an updated, expanded compendium of the “best of the best” uppity women for MJF Books. It will appear in hardcover and e-book form this fall, I’m told. Both projects offer wonderful chances to expand more on my passion for telling more stories about unsung women from our past. Lucky me!

Thank you, Vicki - can't wait to read your next book! 

Vicki’s website and blog can be found at

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Women’s History Month + Cats on Wednesday = Women Painting Cats

Artists have included cats in their paintings since the ancient Egyptians. These influential 17th-20th century women artists all found inspiration in the elegant, mysterious and elusive cats who served as their muses and their models.

Judith Leyster - Dutch, 1609-1660

She was a leading 17th century painter who was successful and famous in her lifetime. She belonged to a group of courageous women who tried to break into the male-dominated art world. In 1633 she was allowed to join the previously male-only painters’ guild.

Sophie Gengembre Anderson - French, 1823-1903

Married to an English painter, she gained fame as a pre-Raphaelite painter and had a talent for painting children and animals.

Berthe Morisot - French, 1841-1895

As a woman, Morisot was not allowed to join art institutions, but was noticed and respected for her talent. She joined the Impressionists and exhibited with them. She continued to paint all her life but was never a commercial success.

Mary Cassatt - American, 1844-1926

Discouraged by society and her father from pursuing a career as a painter, she moved to France where she found success in the Impressionist movement.

Suzanne Valadon - French, 1865-1938

Daughter of a laundress, Valadon worked as a waitress, circus acrobat and model (posing for Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir). Learning to paint by watching the Impressionists, she became a well-known, respected painter in her own right.

Paula Modersohn-Becker - German, 1876-1907

At the turn of the 20th century she was an influential avant-garde artist and an early German Expressionist. She was more interested in art than domesticity despite pressure from all sides to marry. She did marry, and died giving birth to her first child at age 31.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Women's History Month -- Amelia Bloomer: the Woman, the Project, the List.....

With little schooling, Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894) became a teacher at 17. While still in her 20’s she began a lifelong career which included writing, publishing, social reform, activism for women’s rights, and lecturing.

Self-described as "shrinking" and "bashful", she developed into a determined, energetic and independent-minded woman.  She worked to promote schools and libraries and women's right to vote.

Reading about Amelia Bloomer I’ve realized that unintentionally I wrote about a fictional character (Abiah Rose, of Signed, Abiah Rose) who was a contemporary of Amelia Bloomer.

And I set the story in the Genesee Valley, which is not far from Seneca Falls, where she lived and published her influential newspaper.

Being chosen to be on the Amelia Bloomer Project 2011 List of Recommended Titles is a great honor, as the four stated criteria for selection are “significant feminist content, excellence in writing, appealing format and age appropriateness for young readers.” It was my wish to tell an entertaining story first and foremost, while quietly honoring women in history who have struggled to be recognized as people, with talents and abilities and dreams that may be influenced, but not limited, by their gender. Being on this list is important to me – I achieved my goal …. with Abiah, and for Abiah.

My sincere thanks to the Amelia Bloomer Project, with heartfelt appreciation to Amelia Bloomer, the woman.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Women's History Month -- The Quilters of Gee's Bend

A Gee's Bend quilt......

I used to sew and quilt – I even worked in a quilt shop.  I’ve recently enjoyed reading about Gee’s Bend, where six generations of women created a succession of bold, geometric and sophisticated quilts in an isolated African-American community in Alabama……

My painting of a young quilter, inspired
 by the women of Gee’s Bend

Their improvisational skills were passed down from mother to daughter, creating artful interpretations to satisfy a practical need. Discovered by an art collector, a collection of 70 quilts were first exhibited in 2002. The next year the Gee’s Bend Quilters’ Collective was founded, owned and operated by the women of Gee’s Bend themselves.  They created and sold their own work, signing each quilt. And in 2006 the U.S. Postal Service produced postage stamps commemorating quilts made between 1940 and 2001.

The New York Times described the Gee’s Bend quilts as “some of the most marvelous works of modern art America has produced.” Their designs have been licensed, emulated and re-interpreted, marketed as kits, magnets, ties and coffee mugs.

Unlike many of the Early American homemakers, whose art is appreciated but whose identity is unknown, the originators of the Gee’s Bend quilts are known. Their makers are not anonymous. They’re from Gee’s Bend. And their works are signed.

I’m the guest blogger today at Kidlit Celebrates Women’s History Month 2011.  It’s a special blog set up this year to commemorate women in history with guest posts from members of the children's and young adult literature community.  Check it out!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The World of John Frame and his Fragments of Tales

Where do ideas come from? In the case of John Frame they can come in dreams. Four years ago he woke abruptly and in the half-dreamlike state between sleep and waking he found the characters, scenes and story of an elaborate project forming in his head. Three Fragments of a Lost Tale, an exhibition of five years of work on his dream creations—sculptures, photographs and a stop motion film he has begun—is now at the Huntington Library in San Marino through June 20, 2011.

I have long admired the work of Brian Selznick, especially the books in which he seems to express a fascination with automata (which I also find intriguing). The Invention of Hugo Cabret and The Robot King both include characters created with bits of found objects (as in The Robot King—glass, pebbles, marbles and keys with a music box hidden away in his chest for a heart. Selznick has written that Hugo Cabret was inspired by an automaton in a museum collection, damaged by fire, which upon being refurbished could draw four different pictures and write three different poems as well as sign the name of its maker.

I believe John Frame’s imagination has surpassed even the brilliant Brian Selznick, though they both have created magic. A truly Renaissance man, Frame has created a world apart with a cast of characters (some fully articulated) from wood, metal, found objects and aged and stitched bits of fabric. In the hands of a lesser artist the figures might have been grotesque or alarming. But instead they are poignant, sympathetic and even familiar beings. The unusual puppet-like figures are infused with so much artistry that what comes across is a deep sense of soulful humanity hiding behind their glass eyes. I want to know what will happen next in their wood, metal and cloth world.

Frame has said that his favorite quote is from John Ruskin:

“Fine art is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of man go together.”

Created by Frame’s hands, envisioned in his head, these figures speak to our hearts. They are so beautiful, it’s painful……

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Women’s History Month – International Women’s Day

As an author of a children’s book focusing on a girl’s self-esteem and personal fulfillment, I was inspired by Tuesday’s 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

A decade ago the global celebration of this event consisted of only a few gatherings of women. After Australian Glenda Stone created a global web site, events grew from a handful to thousands planned this year -- events organized to inspire and laud women’s achievements and advancements throughout the world.

“To make a difference, think globally and locally. Make every day International Women’s Day. Do your best to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.” - Glenda Stone

While advances have been made in 100 years, there are still many issues of inequality to address in every aspect of women’s lives. And on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day the United Nations Foundation says “girls count”, too.

“One of the most powerful figures in determining the shape of our world today is an adolescent girl, who is part of the largest youth generation in history. …..we should re-dedicate ourselves to ensuring that every girl is educated, healthy, skilled, and empowered. Investing in their today is investing in our tomorrow.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cats on Wednesday -- Cat Burglar Cat

A real cat burglar is much in the news lately. The now-notorious Dusty has been dubbed by his neighbors ‘Klepto’ because of his constant thieving of a variety of items from their yards and back gardens. He has now been ‘outed’ by television reports which exposed his theft(s) of some 600 items in the last three years.

Animal Planet Network installed a camera to document his nightly forays. Eleven thefts in one night is his record so far. Bathing suits are Klepto’s Dusty’s favorite item but he has collected an amazing collection of loot, including shoes (both of them) and towels (as large as bath towels) which he drags home with difficulty. Luckily neighbors have taken the crimes in stride and now know just to go to Dusty’s house to retrieve their lost belongings. Any item not claimed will be auctioned to help humane society charities.

So famed is the handsome six year old part-Siamese that he has been flown from California to New York to be on television. Dusty’s story has been told on TV and radio around the world. He is scheduled to be guest of honor and grand marshal at a fund-raising pet parade for a local humane society.

Dusty now wears a bell on his collar to warn possible victims he’s at large. It hasn’t worked yet.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

For the Love of Libraries: Shelves Emptied of 16000 Books

Economies all over the world are suffering and being forced to cut or even eliminate services. Public libraries are on that list of cuts in many places. Last month I heard a story on National Public Radio that was both upsetting and uplifting.
The library in a small town near London, Stony Stratford, was being threatened with closure (along with 400 others in Great Britain). A Facebook campaign suggested that, as a gesture of their support for their library, every library user check out the allowed number of books. The shelves of Stony Stratford’s library were quickly emptied of all 16,000 volumes. The books were checked out at a rate of about 375 an hour, it was estimated.

An army of authors and other concerned library patrons traveled throughout the country, holding demonstrations against the closures. Children’s book author John Dougherty was quoted: “If you lay off your staff and sell off your library buildings, then when the good times come you have nothing.”

British author Philip Pullman spoke on the attempts to replace librarians with volunteers. This is at issue in many communities, so Pullman’s comments are timely for an American audience as well. “The librarian is not simply a checkout clerk whose simple task could be done by anyone and need not be paid for. Those who think that every expert can be replaced by a cheerful volunteer who can step in and do a complex task for nothing but a cup of tea are those who fundamentally want to see every single public service (shut down).”

The point of all the British demonstrations was to voice the importance of their library, their need for it, their love for it and what a void its closure would leave in their community. This protest received global recognition, which speaks both to the interest and the concern of people everywhere when libraries are threatened, and the lengths to which people will go for what they believe is important. I have been following their campaign and recently read that due to the efforts of Stony Stratford library patrons (and those who championed their cause) their efforts paid off, and their library has been given a one year reprieve.

We need to support our libraries. On March 8 there is a chance for voters in the City of Los Angeles to save city libraries from further cuts and restore eliminated services (without raising taxes) by voting yes on Measure L.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Blog's Birthday!

Today is the first year anniversary of Out of the Paintbox.  It's been a great year! 

Virtual greetings to everyone reading this, and thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Women's History Month -- Lady Limners

March is Women’s History Month, and a chance to recognize a more authentic view of history than many of us have been exposed to. This is a month to honor the women who have historically had their achievements overlooked, undervalued and sometimes denied.

This blog is about children's books, writing, art (and the occasional cat!) -- and it’s about women’s achievements in the arts and elsewhere. I wrote a book which was inspired by the many 18th and 19th century women folk painters who worked in anonymity. Here are five of those early folk artists who were not anonymous, who have been identified and have found their way into art history books:

'The Tree of Light' - Hannah Cohoon (1845)

HANNAH COHOON was a Shaker whose paintings are bold and visionary. There are indications she did not fit comfortably into the Shaker way of life, with her strong sense of self (she signed her paintings).

DEBORAH GOLDSMITH’S story was romantic and tragic. Poverty forced her to become an itinerant painter. Moving in with a family whose portraits she was to paint, she met her future husband. She continued to paint until her marriage, but died soon after.

EUNICE PINNEY’S paintings have been found in greater numbers than those of any other woman folk artist. She didn’t become a painter until she was a mature woman with five children, but her watercolors are appreciated to this day.

RUTH SHUTE was a painter who traveled both alone and with her painter husband, selling her work from town to town.

MARY ANN WILLSON lived on a small farm, created her own paint out of brick dust, vegetable dyes and berry juice, but managed to sell her paintings over a wide area.

The theme of the Women’s History Project for this month’s celebration is “Our History is Our Strength.” A quote from their website press release is “Learning about women’s tenacity, courage and creativity throughout the centuries is a tremendous source of strength.” These artists were strong, creative and tenacious. A study of women’s history will supply strong role models for today’s girls, in full measure -- if we spend the time it takes to look for them.