I've been thinking a lot lately about inspiration, things that left an indelible mark on my memories, things that inspired me to create. I really hadn't realized it until after my second book, "Still (A Winter's Journey)", was in print as to how much it parallels this book..."The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats.
I really don't remember how old I was when I first got this book. I do remember being in grade school at St. Mary's in Morris, MN when I got it, and I remember getting it through Scholastic Books. Getting the flimsy, tissue paper thin Scholastic Books order form in school was a monumental moment for me as a child.
Being able to pick out a new book was something magical and rare...there weren't exactly a ton of book stores out there on the windswept prairie back in the late 1960's! But I remember what caught my attention from all the other tiny little book pictures in that circular was the cover. There was something about that little boy in the red snowsuit that peaked my interest.
The story centers around a little boy named Peter who wakes up one morning to find that it has snowed overnight! His normally dirty inner city world has turned into a winter wonderland and he sets out to explore and have an adventure. First he builds a snowman, then makes snow angels, climbs a snow mountain, makes patterns in the snow with a stick...he generally makes the most of this snowy day. Later that night, he dreams that the sun has come out and melted all the wonderful snow! But much to his relief it was only a dream and a fresh layer of snow greets him the next morning!
Ezra Jack Keats used a technique of mixing opaque watercolor with paper collage to create incredibly expressive yet simple illustrations. His use of color was remarkable! The vibrant red of Peter's snowsuit against the wintry landscape and the crystal clear blue sky is so striking. And the snow was not white... it was a kaleidoscope of muted blues, purples and pinks.
This deceptively simple story has a lot to say. It does what every good picture book should do, it transports the reader and listener into a special world created by the author and once there, he lets you follow Peter through his snowy adventure.
This book reminds me that I have much to learn about story telling and illustrating, sometimes I need to learn when to stop telling and start showing.
So that is the story of Ezra Jack Keats "The Snowy Day". If you haven't already enjoyed this book, I urge you to go out and purchase a copy for yourself to share with a special child in your life. And while you're at it...purchase a copy of one of my books as well!!! Just kidding!...but seriously if you feel compelled to do so, it would be greatly appreciated!! No pressure...really.
This is as close to a wintry scene as we have had here in the upper Midwest...not exactly the stuff of Bing Crosbylegend!
A part of me, the sentimental, romantic side of me, missed the atmospheric wonder and soft holiday glow that the snow provided as a backdrop to the season. The other part of me, the jaded, realistic side, thoroughly enjoyed not having to shovel it or drive through it every morning on the way to work. I was in heaven!!
It seems the artist and writer in me, the part of me most connected to the carefree days of childhood, yearned for the snow. Visions of frosted window panes and snowflakes like goose down ran endlessly through my mind. That part of me wanted to be immersed in the solitude of the new fallen snow...but it seems that part of me doesn't reside within me like it used to.
Blame it on age, life, lack of free time...well, free time away from dozing in the recliner. Sometimes what ambition and energy I do muster, I need to focus on trying to accomplish all the other endless chores I've let pile up around here. I seem to no longer have time to be childlike anymore, and that's rather sad to admit.
And so we embrace our brown Christmas, we take it for all it's worth and enjoy the fact that our outdoor decorations won't be frozen into the ground until sometime in March. And besides...we can always dream for next year!
As a child, before the world became complicated, I remember Christmas as a season of lights in the darkness.
I woke up early that morning tucked deeply beneath the warm familiar blankets on my bed, I was lost in a world of half dreams. I could see the warm glow of Christmas lights reflecting through the lacy patterns of frost on my bedroom window, I thought of everything and nothing all at the same time. I was six years old and it was the morning of Christmas Eve Day!
If I close my eyes now as a worn and somewhat jaded adult, I can still see and feel those images of Christmas. The warm and magical glow of colored lights against the cold, empty darkness of December. As I lay there, I remember hearing the soft sounds of holiday music as it crackled through the speakers of the old AM radio down in the kitchen. The tune was so sweet and familiar...but now has been lost to my memory. I stepped from my bedroom and into the hallway, up the stairwell the soft radiance of red and green shimmered from the lighted tree down in the living room, my mom always made sure that the Christmas tree was lit first thing in the morning. Framed against the grey blue morning outside, the tree was a beacon of Christmas! It was a symphony of red, green, blue and gold as the strands of long silvery tinsel reflected and danced with the colors of the lights. Time worn glass blown ornaments gleamed like priceless trophies against the needles of the majestic evergreen. I could scarcely speak as I was mezmerized by the all encompassing, Christmas celebrating beauty of it all.
As the years passed and the magic of Santa sadly faded away, I remember going for walks in the muted blue grey shadows of dusk to see the neighborhood lights. I saw rows and rows of lighted roof lines and scattered illuminated trees, plastic Santa's and snowmen seemed to march through the yards, each one calling out "Merry Christmas!" I could see the trees inside the houses glowing warmly and brightly, wreaths and bells and candles and holly...the air itself seemed to glow with the colors of Christmas. And then I would pass a lighted nativity, the solemn silent figures stood in reverence through the dark and lonely night...waiting for the star to shine again.
Now as I am older, I still look for the lights of Christmas. We take our children out for rides to see the magic and listen to the music, each of us remembering these things in our own different ways. Sometimes we run so fast at this time of year we forget to look, we forget to dream, we forget to remember. We forget the magic we once all had inside us...and we forget to look for the lights of Christmas.
See the lights? There are always lights at Christmas. Shining through the windows, there above the stable. Silent Night. The dreams we have at Christmas will always shine within us like lights against the darkness...at Christmas time.
I should really make this quick, as now is the time to get ready for Christmas. I know I have a number of things I should do today, always something left to buy, or bake, or see, or make...
Thing is... Christmas will come no matter what we do... or don't do.
Such is the season I'm afraid, we have been warned since damn near Halloween, so why do we now seem to run out of time. I can't really say what we expect though, all these time restrictions are more or less self imposed, it is by choice that we stress ourselves out over this. So what's the point you might ask?
I suppose this is just a personal note to myself, and to whoever else might be reading this, to just stop for a moment and breath.
Okay...feel better now? Great, now just relax and have a Happy Holiday Season and a wondrous New Year!!!
This album, "The Perry Como Christmas Album", is forever etched into my memory. I consider it a recording masterpiece.
Now I know there are those naysayers who don't necessarily think of this as a good thing. In fact they would probably presume that this would be a sign of a deeper more troubling mental condition...the condition known as chronic lameness.
But who am I trying to kid...I just love Christmas music! From the day after Thanksgiving to midnight on December 25th, I'm going to be listening to the stuff and enjoying every sappy frickin' minute of it! I think it all goes back to a ritual my family used to do during the Christmas season, I don't really remember how it started, but I remember these moments as being some of my fondest memories of childhood. I remember how we would turn off all the lights in the house, well, all the lights except for those that pertained to Christmas, and we would then bask in the glow of the multi-colored, tinsel laden, ornament covered, star topped Christmas tree! And our soundtrack?Why our beloved collection of Christmas albums!
Perry Como, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby...nothing but the classics! We would heap these treasures onto the old turntable, sit back and let the music take over. Typically there would be some conversation of course, usually between my older sisters and my mom, but usually it was nothing too overly pressing. Of course various snacks would appear, my mom would bring out cookies or candies, there was no lack of feasting for us at this time of year!
But mostly, it was about the lights and the music. Our tree, typically a live tree, was wired with the largest, most heat emitting bulbs on the market. The fresh smell of pine in our house was also a by-product of the sap in the tree being super heated to nearly the boiling point...I'm surprised the whole thing didn't spontaneously erupt into flames! Our music was recorded on vinyl, non of this digitally remastered, compact disc, high definition crap...we reveled in the warmth of their imperfections!
It was at this time that I would truly be immersed in the sights and sounds around me. Watching the snow falling gently outside the window, it danced passed the colored lights above the front door, and then slowly dissolving into the darkness of the night. Listening to Perry Como singing "Ave Maria" and realising that this was the most beautiful thing that you had ever, or maybe would ever, hear in your life.
It was a magical time to be sure, a time to gather as a family and listen to the sounds of the season, a time tosimply enjoy the simple beauty of Christmas.
It was then at that moment, when we were all lulled into the sweet transcendence of Christmas bliss, that my dad would flip on the kitchen lights as he came into the house after work saying, "Hey, who turned all the lights off!" The cold slap of fluorescent light shook us all out of our trance, but only for a moment..."Turn that light off and come into the living room!" we would all yell.
Soon we would all be gathered together again in the colored darkness, my dad would hungrily cut up cheddar cheese and summer sausage to eat with crackers... and the happy sounds of Gene Autry would once again fill the air! Merry Christmas!
And so it begins...another holiday season. Creeping upon us like a sack carrying, soot covered figure in the middle of the night, it seems to catch us while we are sleeping. There is so much about the Christmas season that is artificial, cliche and overtly commercialized, but there is also so much that is personally original and genuinely real.
Christmas is about memories, either real or imagined, memories that often times define us as human beings. As a child, Christmas was a time of light in the darkness to me, it was the quiet times I remember the most.
Christmas is also about traditions, a link to where we come from. From the foods we eat to when we opened our presents. Oddly enough, my mother always made that fine German staple of lasagna every Christmas Eve. She wasn't a woman stuck on ethnic tradition I suppose, rather she made something we all liked instead of the traditional German potato salad and carp. So lasagna became our traditional Christmas Eve meal! "Buon Natale!!!!"
Every year we strive to make this "The Best Christmas Ever!!"...a Christmas to end all Christmases. But why? Maybe it's the desire to recreate an ideal that we've been grooming in our minds for years, trying to bring back a bit of our childhood, the reasons are many.
"And so this is Christmas...as John Lennon once wrote, ...and what have we done?" "Another year over, and a new one just begun." The message is simple and so should be the holiday, I myself hope to follow this example...for once. "And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun. The near and the dear one, the old and the young."
The turkey sits in the fridge, slowly thawing, getting ready for the food frenzy that is in two days...the feast of Thanksgiving! Everyone seems to love this holiday, a day to overeat, watch television and sleep...sounds like heaven to me!!
I personally enjoy the planning and preparation of the meal. There's something so basic and traditional about simmering the nasty bits, (the heart, liver, gizzard and turkey neck),in water, onion, celery and garlicthe evening before to make stockfor the stuffing. Oh sure...you can buy chicken stock, but why let those perfectly good organ meats go to waste?Stew those bad boys up! Let them simmer for hours until the entire house is filled with the savory aroma of Thanksgiving!!
I love getting up early Thanksgiving morning to start cooking, seasoning the bird and getting the sausage and mushrooms ready for the stuffing. Having a couple cups of freshly brewed coffee with my lovely wife is also part of the morning celebration...which eventually turns into a couple glasses of wine as the feast begins to take shape. Having a glass of crisp white zinfandel at 10:00 a.m. makes the holidays even more special!You can't cook gourmet without wine.
Turkey, sausage and mushroom dressing, Yukon gold mashed potatoes with homemade turkey gravy, acorn squash, brussel sprouts, buttered corn and soft dinner buns...oh heavens yes!! Cranberry sauce? Of that I am unsure. I have never really been a fan, though I do enjoy a cold glass of cranberry juice cocktail...maybe this year he will give cranberry sauce a try.
Afterwords we will all gather for pumpkin pie with whipped cream...as is the American thing to do!
So enjoy your Thanksgiving anyway you want to. Watch the parades, have a little wine, sleep all afternoon...oh yeah, I guess there's football on somewhere. Enjoy!
I recently submitted my newest book entitled "At the End of the Day" for nomination to The Minnesota Book Awards. I haven't received my official e-mail confirmation yet, but I'm fairly confident that my package of five books with nomination form and entry fee have made it safely to St. Paul, MN.
I go into thiswith the full realizationthat I haven't got the slightest chance in hell of ever winning this thing, but I figure that at least it will get some good exposurefor my new book. I'm not trying to be overly modest or anything here, I'm just being realistic. Who knows, maybe I'll be surprised...but don't count on it.
We all like to be recognized for our talents. Most artist, whether they admit to it or not, can trace their passion for what they do back to a need to be noticed. I can trace my own identity as an artist back to kindergarten when my teacher gathered the entire class around me during art period and proclaimed "Looks like we have quite the little artist here!" I had found my purpose.
In the world of children's book illustration, the Randolph Caldecott Medal is as good as it gets. Winning the Caldecott gives an illustrator instant recognition, countless new admirers and a whole lot of reasons to be noticed! When my first book "I Hear the Wind" was in production, I dreamed about it somehow beating the odds and winning the Caldecott! My rise to the top of the literary world would be the stuff of legend! My name would suddenly be mentioned in the same context as Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburgor David Wiesner. I would be immortal! I then read the submission guidelines...
Only hardcover books were eligible for consideration. My book had been hastily released in softcover after being delayed for almost two years, I was in fact, ineligible. I was crushed. It was eligible for The Minnesota Book Awards, much to my relief, and so I sent it in hoping for the best. And guess what? It didn't win a thing! Not even honorable mention!!
And so again I will try for literary immortality and hope the judges decide in my favor. This book was released in hardcover, so I may even submit it for the Caldecott Medal this year. Keep your fingers crossed...but don't hold your breath!
This is what I call my creative place, my atelier...my studio. In this little 5 x 6 ft. space, tucked neatly between the upstairs railing and the wall, I sit and create artwork for my various book projects. The space itself could be considered wasted space by most people, I suppose one could shove a dresser or bookcase back there, but it just seems a little, oh I don't know...out of the way.
My drafting table was a cast off from my wife's workplace, no one else wanted it, so she brought it home. It fits perfectly between the railing and the wall! My cheap, imitation wood, three drawer filing cabinet, (I've had that thing for years, I think I bought it at Shopko) also fit like a glove. Even the office chair was a freebie...my entire studio just sort of fell together, a bunch of rejects that fit perfectly in a wasted space, just wonderful!
I have a little radio/cd player tucked under the drafting table for music, though I usually hear every sound that goes on downstairs from the open stairwell directly to my right anyways, I've dropped more than a few paintbrushes and pencils down those stairs. I have a window a little off to the right as well, we had to put a tiny jog in the railing to compensate for it, otherwise the railing would have ended up in the middle of said window. But that's okay! That tiny jog allowed the perfect spot for my cheap, imitation wood, Shopko filing cabinet. Things do happen for a reason.
And so there I sit, wedged in the corner between the stairway and an over sized dresser at the end of our upstairs bedroom. It is rather cozy I must say, sometimes a bit of a squeeze to maneuver around in that tiny space, considering that I am not the most compact person on the face of the earth. But it's my space, my place to create, to paint, to think...to dream. I should really go there more often, but sometimes the ambition to get up there needs a little prodding.
I sorely realize that I would be a much better artist if I would only sit down and sketch once in awhile, just do a painting for God's sake!! I seem to be a binge artist... I can spend months away from my drawing board, but once I get in the groove of doing some illustrations I can spend countless hours involved in my work. I feel a little rusty at first, but as soon as I get back into the swing of things I seem to make some artistic progress. But once the project it complete, I'll be gone for another couple months, that just seems to be my way of doing things.
Typically I get back into the mood to paint at this time of year, which seems to be happening now, I've got a number of illustrative ideas running around in my head right at this very instant!!
I hope to tackle an older story this winter, I created a number of illustrations for this story in the past...most of which don't impress me anymore. I thought I was done with this story a couple years back, but now I know I can do better...it's time to get back into that wasted space and start working again!!
Well...here it is!!!Fresh from the printer and ready for the best seller list! Well at least hopefully to a bookstore near you.
It was a long wait, but I'm thrilled with how well it turned out, the colors are fantastic! My next plan of action is to send it out for hopefully some good reviews and to submit it to the Minnesota Book Awards and hope they see some merit in it. Would be a nice honor to win, can't say my chances are all that great, but you never know unless you try.
This book was originally slated for release last spring, but due to circumstances beyond our control, it was delayed until late October.
So to all my loyal fans out there, here it is...enjoy!!!!
I was saddened to hear the news of the death of Mr. Ernest Peter last week. Ernest left this earth after 93 well spent years, quite an envious accomplishment in my book. Ernest, along with his wife Judith, have been the driving force behind Stemmer House Publishers since 2003. It was also that same year that Stemmer House agreed to publish my first book entitled "I Hear the Wind", it would be the first book for the new ownership.
Craig Thorn IV
The editor-in-chief at that time was Mr. Craig Thorn IV. It was Craig who first showed interest in my work. Every other publishing house I submitted "I Hear the Wind" to sent me rejection letters, but Craig saw something in those black and white illustrations that he liked. Not only was he the acting editor at Stemmer House, he was also a member of the English department at Phillips Academy in Andover. The e-mails and phone conversations we shared while editing this book were an exciting learning experience for me. He made me feel like my words were actually worth reading. He made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I could be a writer. It was after the editing process was finished and the book was in production that Craig informed me that due to health issues he wouldn't be active in the day to day operations anymore, that was in late April...he died of cancer in June.
Both these men gave me an opportunity at something I had only dreamed of, a chance to be published and a chance to share my words and pictures with the world.
After Craig died, Ernest believed enough in my work to publish two more of my books, with the prospect of doing a fourth. Now with his passing, his wife Judith seems poised to carry on. I haven't heard any definite plans, but they are moving forward with my newest book entitled "At the End of the Day". Time will tell as to what will be the future of Stemmer House, I can always speculate...but that would be a waste of time.
For now, I take time to salute these two men who believed in me and decided to give me a chance.
Okay...so I lied. The new book didn't come out in late spring like I promised, it didn't come out in early summer, or even mid summer! And the way things look, late summer is looking pretty frickin' shaky as well. Let's face it, I have no idea when this thing is going to see the light of day!!
Well that's not exactly true. I was informed by my wonderful compositor Michel Newkirk that it was indeed either going to or is at a printer somewhere in the U.S.A. That much I know is true.So I will sit and wait with the rest of the world until that fateful day when my twelve author copies (as stipulated in my contract mind you!) arrive on my doorstep. Michel has been a wonder through this whole project, my lifeline to the status of my book. She has supplied me with countless e-mails that have led me through the entire lay-out process for the book, for that I am forever grateful!
The proofs she sent me were amazing! I'm really excited to see this thing become real and not just a PDF file on my computer. My only hope is that the printer is able to do justice to the full, deep color of the original artwork, something I was not totally over joyed with on my last book entitled "Still (A Winter's Journey)". "Still" looked okay...sort of like old sepia tone photographs. But when I realized how much of the varied blues tones didn't come through in the final printing, I was a little heart broken.
But I've come to realize, unfortunately, that sometimes things don't work out they way you would like them to. I wish my first book entitled "I Hear the Wind" would have been released in hardcover as originally planned. Even my publisher has agreed to that fact, he now admits that not releasing that book in hardcover was a mistake. I wish that at least one of my books would have been included in the Library of Congress catalog, all the other books released by Stemmer House at the same time were, but not mine. I wish my publisher would be a little more motivated on my newest book. They haven't even submitted an image to Amazon yet for the books page, and the book description from the publisher states... "Reflections on the passing of summer's day." REALLY?!! That's the best you could come up with?!! I was extremely underwhelmed with that lack of effort. They even had the title of the book listed wrong...it's called "AT the End of the Day" not "The End of the Day". I wish my books could have had more national exposure and been sent to Publisher's Weekly or Booklist for review. I am eternally grateful to the smaller yet just as important book review sites that have reviewed my books, but getting a starred review from Booklist can have libraries all over the country buying your books.
I'm sorry for coming off as a bit of a sour puss on this subject, I guess I've dealt with and accepted these realities over the last five years, I should keep listening to those inner voices that tell me..."You should consider yourself lucky and be grateful for all the success you've had... at least you've been able to get published!!!!" But sometimes isn't it nice to maybe, just maybe, get what you really want instead of settling with what you're given? Maybe on the next book...
So when is the new book coming out? Hopefully soon...I'll try to keep you posted!!!
It suddenly dawned on me one day...don't I have a blog or something like that out there? I seemed to have woefully forgotten about this whole blog thing I started.
So I decided I'd better revisit this thing and see if I even remember how to post on here. Obviously I did, so here goes nothing.
I am currently wrapping up work on my newest book entitled "At The End Of The Day" which will tentatively be released some time this spring...most likely late spring, say like sometime in June. The editing process went on a little longer than I'd like, a lot of major changes where made, but I think we finally reached an agreement on the text. I then set about the task of doing the illustrations, which included rethinking some of the already completed illustrations. I needed to see if they still fit into the revamped manuscript. Being able to work on this full time would have been wonderful, but since I'm restricted to working on this in the evening and on weekends, my time is somewhat limited. The process went well and I am now working on the final illustration, I'm thinking it will involve fireflies, something magical and captivating I hope.
I have posted above a close-up from one of the newest illustrations. It involves dandelions as you can see and it really turned out well in my opinion. So I hope to finish up soon and get this all off to my publisher so they can get this book going.
Well, I'd best close here, but I promise to keep all of my loyal blog fans up to date with all things Greg Budig!! You are eight of the greatest blog followers around!!!!