Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Oh The Places I Go!"

Working with the young artists.
 I recently had the good fortune of being invited to Pinewood Elementary School in Monticello, MN.  In life, sometimes one thing leads to another, and that's pretty much how this whole visit started. During school conferences last fall, my niece Tammy gave her daughters teacher Mrs. Stoick, a "glowing" review about me and my books. Her teacher was intrigued and decided to contact me about doing something at the school.
 I painted these canvasback ducks back in 1986!!
 Her class would be involved in submitting designs for the Federal Jr. Duck Stamp program. This program is based off the prestigious Federal Duck Stamp competition that is held every year here in the United States.  Artists from across the country are invited to send in their designs. From these designs, a panel of judges will select a winner which will be turned into a stamp. These stamps are then sold to hunters, conservationists and anyone else interested in helping environmental programs in the U.S.
The Jr. Duck Stamp program was started to let school age children get involved in the arts as well as a conservation based program. Mrs. Stoick thought I would be the perfect person to help inspire and teach her students a little bit about waterfowl and design.

Drawing some examples of duck bills.
I must admit my wildlife art skills felt a little rusty at first. All the paintings I brought were from the 1980's! Seems I've spent the last few years working mainly on artwork for book projects. But once I started doing a few simple drawings for them, it all seemed to fall back in place for me artistically.

Me and my great niece Savannah.
The kids were great! They seemed genuinely interested in my work and what I had to say. I explained a little bit about design and the differences between different species of waterfowl. They then worked on their own designs while I went around the room and gave them some help. I even got to sign some books for my great niece Savannah. All in was a wonderful day!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Lentil" by Robert McCloskey

 This is the third in my series of children's books that inspired me...
Robert McCloskey was born on September 15, 1914 in Hamiltion, Ohio. He is best known for creating such children's masterpieces as "Make Way for Ducklings" and "Blueberries For Sal". But it was this book "Lentil", his first book as author and illustrator, that first caught my attention as a youngster.

 McCloskey had such command of his artistry, his pen and ink work was remarkable! There was no need for color with pen skills like this.  As a child, I was drawn to the exaggerated expressions shown on the faces and in the body language of his characters, they nearly jumped from the pages of his books. There was such fluidity to his drawings, they had a rhythm and motion all there own...I found them to be utterly fascinating. There is a certain sense of timelessness that black and white illustrations can evoke, a feeling I tried to capture in my first book "I Hear the Wind". I wasn't sure if I had the patience to do all the illustrations in pen and ink like I first envisioned, so I rendered them in black and white acrylic paints. I was happy with the results!

"LENTIL" is set in the fictional small town of Alto, Ohio. (Which was loosely based on McCloskey's own hometown) The story involves a boy named Lentil who, because he could not sing or whistle, learns to play the harmonica. One day the town started to buzz with word that Colonel Carter, the town’s most famous former citizen, would be returning. Everyone was happy about this except Old Sneep, who was a very bitter and despicable sort of character.

All kinds of festivities were planned to welcome Colonel Carter home, including a brass band which would greet him at the train. When the train finally arrived, the only sound heard in the town was the sound of Old Sneep sucking on a lemon!  The old man knew this would make the musicians pucker up and be unable to play their instruments. A very confused and disappointed Colonel Carter stepped off the train, where was the great fanfare he expected? Not effected by the sound of the slurping Sneep, Lentil puckered up, blew on his harmonica, and filled the air with lively music! The story ends with Colonel Carter and the rest of the town continuing the celebration... even to the delight of Old Sneep!
Robert McCloskey died on June 30, 2003. He was a master of illustration. I will forever be inspired by his work and his contribution to the world of children's literature.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak

Ah yes...books that inspired me, part 2. This one is pretty obvious, in fact, I'm sure 99.9% of all the folks of my age group will list this one somewhere on their all time list of favorites. Hey, what's not to like?!  

Released in 1963, this book revolutionized children's picture books. But the literary establishment of the day was not quite ready for this revolution it seems...the book was banned by many school libraries and at first dismissed by the critics. But somewhere along the line, someone in the establishment realized, "Wow! The kids really seem to like this funny little book about monsters."  Apparently opinions changed in the literary world..."Where the Wild Things Are" was awarded the Caldecott Award for the best illustrated children's book for 1964 and has gone on to be one of the most popular and iconic children's books of all time.
 As a child, I was mesmerized by this book. Maurice Sendak's illustrative style was so original and amazing. His use of line is so lyrical as it flows effortlessly across the page. I remember being impressed by his use of pen and ink, of how he as able to achieve such depth and fullness in his characters using a simple art pen and watercolors. His intricate use of detail is what inspired me to draw, his vivid imagination inspired me to see things in a different way.

Most children can see a little of themselves in Max, the main character in this book. Sometimes our playfulness could get a little out of hand, sometimes we needed a time out to settle us down...but what happens during that time out is left up to our imaginations. But in the end, after all our bad behavior, we would still be welcomed back home with our supper waiting for us...and it will still be hot.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"So What the Hell am I REALLY Doing?"

So here we are...starting a whole new year! Full of new energy and positive ideals, ready to make a change for the better!!!!!!!!!!  Yeah really.....
So what the hell am I really trying to do? What am I trying to accomplish with my small time book career? Why do I keep doing what I do? Obviously it's not the money. God KNOWS it's not the money. One of the first things I ever learned about children's book publishing is that if you're doing it for the money...DON'T DO IT!!

My third book was released last fall to not a whole lot of pomp and circumstance. No release parties, no book signings, not a whole lot of anything. Truth is, I really am tired of trying to be my own publicist. My publishing company really doesn't do much in terms of advertising or promotion, they never really have, most of the time I'm just happy that they want to publish my stuff.  But after years of trying to chase down reviews for my books and trying to get some book signings going, I've realized it's just a bunch of hard work...and I'm just feeling tired. What ever happened to the joy of creating? What ever happened to having time to do it? Why did I get into this in the first place?

...and so I've started working on a new book. 

I have no idea of whether or not my current publisher is even going to continue releasing new material or is even interested in this book. I'm not all that sure of what their business plan is since one of the owners passed away last summer. His wife is continuing with the business, but I'm not really sure if her heart is into it anymore. I'm really not at liberty to be making a lot of assumptions on this situation I suppose, I just have this gut feeling that a change is in the works...and I may not be included in this change.
I guess I'm just doing it because I want to.

The story itself has been written and revised a couple times, fact is, I wrote this little ditty  several years ago. I've always liked this story and decided to bring it back to life, it seemed like the right time to do it. I have no deadline this time, I have no expectations of what it should or shouldn't be...I'm just trying to make the most of what I have to work with. 
Now I'm into the illustration mode. I'm dusting off an old, incomplete dummy I made of this book and am reinventing my vision of this story. The dummy I made was pretty limited, but it did have some good illustration ideas that I am now expanding on.  I've decided to try to be more inventive with this story, and I've decided to be more patient. I must admit that my artistic skills are quite good, but must also admit that as an artist I'm rather lazy. Sometimes getting from the inspiration stage to the completion stage can be a struggle...who am I's always a struggle!! The urge to get it over with is overwhelming when you have limited time to begin with. Sometimes I feel that if I don't get it done within a certain amount of time, it will never get done. So I slap dash everything together at the last minute or go the easy route illustration wise.  Being an artist doesn't give you the magical power to simply create perfection at the snap of your fingers, it's mostly a lot of time consuming work. Not that I don't enjoy it mind you, it just takes time, time that you sometimes don't have. 

So that is why I'm closing, because I've spent way too much time on this here blog thing today. Too much time venting about things most people could really give a damn about...too much time wasted on being noticed.

Sorry if this wasn't the optimistic message you expected.  I guess I could whip up some satisfying and uplifting ending to this post...but I don't think I have time for that.