Monday, December 31, 2012

Quentin Blake

When you think of Roald Dahl, what images come to mind? The loose, sketchy watercolors of Quentin Blake of course. And I am pleased that not only is he still alive and doing artwork, but he will be receiving a knighthood by the Queen this year.
He has also devoted his art and time to many charities including murals in UK hospitals and an international organization called Survival International (supporting indigenous rights). Clearly a guy who is not only talented but a humanitarian as well.

And to top it off, you can buy Quentin Blake fabric/wallpaper. Quentin is a one man

Always good to see long term illustrators get the recognition they deserve.  And a good news story to start out 2013!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Books and Christmas

My family has been under the weather this week, so I'm doing more caretaking and movie watching than drawing or blog posting. However, once I got back on the web, I noticed two interesting articles that put an emphasis on books during the Christmas season.
One is from My Little Bookcase, a blog by an Aussie mom. It features a book-a-day advent calendar. That sounds like a great idea for next year!

The other is a fascinating NPR article about Icelanders and their relationship to books. It turns out that the Icelandic people are big on books---actual books not e-books (as of yet). And they only recently started getting into paperbacks. This time of year is especially important, since most of their Christmas gifts are books. They even have a word for it: Jolabokaflod or Christmas book flood. Imagine if the U.S. had this tradition.

Intrigued by these people,  I'm determined to read at least one book by an Icelandic author (children's books included) this year.  Any suggestions?

Happy New Year! (Or Gleðilegt nýtt ár!)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Vintage illustration

One of my side passions about kids books is vintage illustration. I've always had a nostalgic fondness for them, but only recently has it turned into a growing hobby.
Today while thrift store rummaging I found a copy of The Joke Book by Oscar Weigle and illustrated by Bill and Bonnie Rutherford. I'm really enjoying the bold craziness of some of these 1950-70's kids books. There's all sorts of silkscreen-like and ink action going on in this one. Here's the cover:

 I was disappointed however, when I tried to find out more about the Rutherfords. I noticed that they had several books to their credit (including Little Black Sambo and The Gingerbread Man) but no biographical information anywhere. This seems a little strange to me. There are other vintage artists out there for which biographical information is readily available. Alice and Martin Provensen, Eloise Wilkin, Richard Scarry, Gustaf Tenggren (Poky Little Puppy), Tibor Gergely (The Little Red Caboose) etc. But no biographical information for the Rutherfords at all.

It makes me wonder what happens to illustrators when no one remembers them? Who is keeping track of all these wonderful vintage artists?

If anyone has more information on the Rutherfords, please let me know!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tomie de Paola SCBWI Award

Technorati claim token: HV8F8S3RAX2P

Well I finished it, for better or worse. It's out there, my Little Women illustration for the annual Tomie de Paola SCBWI contest. In an earlier posting I mentioned that I chose the scene when Beth receives a piano from Mr. Laurence. Funny how once you choose a scene it does come together (with the help of my art buddies Lin Norman-Lyman and Brook Gideon). There were challenges, particularly in keeping the values distinct (it was supposed to be in black and white). But then again, that is usually my weak point anyway. So, no matter the outcome I enjoyed the process and it was good to dive into the world of grayscale.
It was interesting to see other illustrators artwork at Diandra Mae's gallery site. (My illustration isn't up yet, but I'm hoping to see it there sometime this week.)
I find it endlessly amazing at how people can take the same topic and render it completely different, even with the same the black and white parameters. Lots of great art out there!
I'm including in this post a few intermediate sketches that show how the piece evolved from thumbnail to finished art.
Early layout idea
Character studies
Finished sketch without digital treatment
Final piece

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pigs in bad sweaters

Thinking about pigs- in kids books that is. I was prompted to think about pigs when a blog posting brought them to my attention. Pen and Oink is having a contest: just name your favorite pig character and you could win a copy of Maurice Sendak's Bumble-Ardy. I hadn't given it too much thought, but when you think about it, pigs are everywhere in kids books.

In my brain library, I thought of Pig Will and Pig Won't (Richard Scarry), Wilbur of Charlotte's Web (EB White/Garth Williams), Babe: The Gallant Pig (Dick King Smith/Mary Rayner), Poppleton (Cynthia Rylant/Mark Teague), Toot and Puddle (Holly Hobbie), and Wibbly Pig (Mike Inkpen). Then there's the more recent, Olivia (Ian Falconer) and Piggie books (Mo Willems). But one of my favorite's is Benny (Barbro Lindgren & illustrator Olof Landstrom). In Benny's Had Enough the pig's expressions are priceless and the little stuffie he carries around is beyond repair. This is the second time (at least) that I've gone crazy over a Swedish character. The first was Boodil from Boodil My Dog. Which makes me realize that I'll need to devote an entire post to Swedish authors/illustrators someday soon.

One of my daughters says there's also a new (to U.S.) show on Nick Jr. featuring a pig family: Peppa Pig. Very much in the vein of Maisy by Lucy Cousins (also a UK import).

Then there's my own strange pig doodles
that always seem to wind up in bad sweaters:

Pigs are a great resource for showing emotion. Some animals seem to be easier to anthropomorphize (say that fast 10x) than others. Try putting a cute face on a naked mole rat and you'll see what I mean.

Oh, wait.... someone did. Hah!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Picture Book Magic

I've been participating in Tara Lazar's online challenge PiBoIdMo,  which is an unpronounceable acronym for Picture Book Idea Month. There seems to be a plethora of online writing and illustrating challenges out there this month. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), SkaDaMo (Sketch a day month), Illustration Friday (the weekly on-going grandaddy of them all) and even NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) for those who still can't get enough.
I've been tempted to do many of these, but PiBoIdMo is one I enjoyed last year and am doing again this year. The daily posts by guest authors are inspirational, entertaining and sometimes even rewarding (i.e.goodies). It's amazing what does or doesn't come out of one's own brain on a daily basis. I'll be listening to NPR or someone will email an article to me and there it is. Either it becomes a children's version of the topic or it will send me off on a tangent. Guess there's something good to be said about having attention deficit.
Then there are days where I sit at the dining room table in the a.m. and think what can I do with this broken, headless tiny mermaid that my kids left here? There has to be a story in this. Or maybe the lack of a story is a story in and of itself.

After a while I notice themes or (ruts, lol) that I get into. Why do I mostly focus on one character with a problem? Are all stories basically the same? How can Mo Willems write a whole book about a pigeon driving a bus or Jon Klassen a bear missing a hat and have it turn out amazing? Where is the magic book powder that we can use to sprinkle on our creations? Answer: Of course there's no powder you (picture book) dummy.  It's a process, not a product. Something no one wants to hear: put in the hours people! Eventually something comes out of it. You may have to wade through 50 pages of gunk before a little gem pokes through.

But all in all, it's worth it. The online cameraderie is what it's all about.  A little reminder that, no you're not the only one who thinks up whacky ideas and hopes to entertain children and/or make a living. And maybe some little picture book magic develops!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Over and Over

I just read an online article in the Horn Book which was very moving. It's a tribute of sorts to Charlotte Zolotow, the 97 year old children's book writer/editor by her daughter Crescent Dragonwagon. It focuses on Charlotte's Over and Over, in which a girl slowly learns the rhythm of time and the seasons. Crescent then compares her mother's slipping awareness of time to the girl's unfolding awareness of time. Throughout the book, the girl asks "What comes next?" and her mother provides answers. But in 2012, the tables have turned and Charlotte looks to Crescent for time references.

It's very well written and perceptive about time and aging. It brings up such questions as where do our spirits go as we age? Do we check out or just stop being so obsessed with the craziness around us; instead noticing the eternal and natural? Apparently Charlotte was a very type-A woman when she was younger: writing and editing up a storm. Now at 97 she has relaxed into her old age and enjoys small but profound things. It seems that as we age we go back to being our child selves, both physically and emotionally. Noticing the little things, our awareness shifts inward and that relentless struggle of adulthood lessens.

I hadn't read anything by Charlotte Zolotow prior to picking up Over and Over at a library sale. What caught my eye was the illustrations (guess I do judge a book by it's cover!). The illustrations were done by Garth Williams, one of my favorite illustrators. I love the softness and intimacy of his work. And the Halloween spot reminds me of my childhood.

Among the holidays there's a passage about Thanksgiving:
"What comes next?" she asked her mother the next day.
"Thanksgiving," her mother said. The little girl woke up one day to a delicious roasting smell and the fragrance of pies. That afternoon her grandmother and grandfather and uncles and aunts all came to her house for dinner and afterward they sat in front of the fire and cracked open walnuts and ate the soft sweet kernels.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Little Women

Working on the beginnings of a project: the Tomie de Paola annual illustration award for SCBWI. The start of a project is both exciting and nerve-wracking for me. I don't like the blank slate feeling but on the other hand I love researching projects. I like illustration rather than fine art because there's usually a guideline involved. The client or the project sets a limit ie: a picture book about teenage ferrets or an educational coloring book set in Nepal. Then my favorite part, the research begins. Googling away, learning new things. This is always fun.
Then I have to put a limit on it. Let the sketching begin. Unfortunately, even the best illustrators (and I'm not putting myself in that category) have to begin with roughs. And rough they are. One has to swallow pride and accept that the first efforts look like dog food at best.

With this year's Tomie de Paola project, illustrators were given three books to choose from: Tom Sawyer, Little Women or The Yearling. Now I have read none of these books. Yup, I'm illiterate... no, of course not (hah!)....just grew up under a bush in the outback. Hey, I've read David Copperfield, Huck Finn, and Phantom Tollbooth but none of those others. Somehow it escaped me. So, I chose Little Women. I always had a soft spot for the Transcendentalist/Concord bunch plus I liked the idea of illustrating 19thc. clothing. It was hard reading at first, with all the constraints placed on women in those days. Thank god for Jo, the only rebel in the family. She pulled me through the book. All in all, I'm glad I read it and I may even re-read it with my girls.

Then I had to choose a passage from the book. This was difficult, since there were so many possibilities. One could go in a million directions. I chose the moment Beth receives a piano from Mr. Laurence. She's such a humble character and loved music, so it will (hopefully) be a touching scene.
My roughs are so rough that I hesitate to include them here. But I'm including them here just to prove how infantile the beginning stages are in any project. I wonder if well known illustrators had such trouble. Did Maxfield Parish or Norman Rockwell ever produce such sketchiness?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ugly, fat pipsqueak....

Well, I was going to write about my earliest children's book memories and I suppose I can still do that. But I just read an eye-opening interview with Maurice Sendak in an online magazine called The Believer.

He reveals all sorts of tidbits in this interview about his childhood, family, the children's book world, and Roald Dahl (he didn't like him, which I found both weird and interesting). One quotable item: his image of children's book illustrator is an "Ugly fat pipsqueak of a person who can't be bothered to grow up."

It's strange how I wasn't introduced to Sendak as a child. I don't know if my parents weren't aware of his books or they deliberately edited them out due to their "harshness". It wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered him and though it's blasphemous to say it, he's still not one of my favorites. I totally respect his work, and think he has some great viewpoints, but his style just doesn't "float my boat" as they say.

What books did I love? One of my earliest favorite books was "We Like Kindergarten"  featuring the art of Eloise Wilkin. I really identified with this girl. She was in kindergarten and loved art just like me. I still like her chubby kids despite what some might say about the cuteness factor.

Another fave early book was "One Morning in Maine" by Robert McCloskey. I love the picture where Sal discovers her tooth is gone. That image is emblazoned on my mind forever.
Of course, there's Dr. Seuss with all his wacky words and crazy characters. I especially remember the wet pet from "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish".

Later I had a membership in the Children's Book of the Month Club, where it was Christmas one day a month. Some of the books that stuck with me were "Lyle, Lyle Crocodile", "Harry the Dirty Dog" and "Cannonball Simp".
It makes sense that I loved Cannonball Simp. He was an underdog (literally) and for some reason I always identified with those types. Here is a clip of someone reading it:

Later in my teens I started to discover so many wonderful kids books I can't even begin to name them. But I will mention some of the illustrators that I wish I had known sooner: Richard Scarry, Alice and Martin Provensen, Wanda Gag, Garth Williams among others I'm sure I'm leaving out.

So Maurice, I find myself becoming an ugly, fat pipsqueak. But that's okay.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Welcome to my blog!

Pull up a chair and get your favorite hot beverage: black tea, white tea, espresso, chai, cappucino etc. Today is the debut of my blog about the kidlit world. Let me begin by saying that despite the word "Cuppa"  in my blog title I'm not from Down Under, though I would love to visit there someday.

Also, I'm not an expert in the kidlit world. This is written from the perspective of a kidlit illustrator/writer who is freshly minted.

That being said, I hope to entertain, inform and otherwise engage my readers. If anything written here is worthy of comment, please feel free to drop me a note.


This is a recurring theme in my life. As a mom of feisty twins, I hear "no" quite often. My brain is overly occupied with how to "get people on board" any given situation. So, when it comes to my own resistance I find I'm just as petulant as a 9 year old (or maybe a two year old)! No, I don't want to do a blog! I don't care if everyone else is doing it!

And here I am, joining the fray. And why? Because I've convinced my 9 year old self that it's a way to become connected, become noticed (for better or worse), to participate and to show my level of commitment to this undertaking called "Kidlit".

As a compromise to my whiny self, this will be a once-a-week blog in the hopes that "less is more" and I don't run screaming from my happy kidlitcafe!