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Friday, July 27, 2012

From the Corners of the Brain

It's important for illustrators to do imaginative drawing from time to time. That said, what we produce might be regarded in a way similar to a dream: We are not really responsible for the content.

This sketchbook image started with the mindless line drawing of the female character, who seemed pleasant enough. When I realized that nothing was happening in the picture, the character on the right emerged as if from the darkest corners of my brain. Mind, he didn't emerge with enough clarity for me to actually draw his clawlike hand in a convincing manner, but in general you get the idea he is up to no good.

That's it. That's all I've got for this. So if it suggests a story to you, please share.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Speak to Me of Radishes

I feel some food-related posts coming on.

In the meantime . . . How do you feel about radishes?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Permission Granted: The Picture Book List

My children technically grew out of picture books more than a decade ago. I never did.

We had spent years indulging a sweet bedtime ritual of piling books upon the bed and letting words and pictures carry us off to foreign lands as we drifted to sleep. (I was always tired then, and usually fell out about the same time or just before the kids did).

But as they grew, and moved onto chapter books, I found myself utterly resistant.

Sure, I wanted them to be accomplished little readers, but I didn't want that to mean we had to give up the illustrations. I said something to that effect to a colleague at the time, the theater critic Marianne Evett. Marianne is a Renaissance woman, a lover of art and culture, and also the mother of children who, like mine, were well past picture books. Technically.

But when I admitted to Marianne that I didn't want to stop having the books around, she performed a magical service. She gave me permission to go my own way.

She acknowledged, almost casually, that she still kept picture books around the house. And why not? The best of them are poetic, funny, transportive, insightful — and full of artwork defined by those qualities as well.

And so it was that I kept buying picture books, and now collect them, though not in any scholarly way. I have no qualms about sitting down with one to revisit the story or to admire the artwork. This has more than a little to do with my decision to go to art school and study illustration, of course. But that's not what this post is about.

It's about doing for you, perhaps, what Marianne did for me. If you've been waiting for permission to indulge your love of picture books, then regardless of the presence or absence of a camouflage-providing child, I grant you that permission. Go to it. Go to the bookstore. Buy yourself something nice.

Without further ado, here's a list of 10 favorites. I could come up with 10 more, and maybe I will in the future. And by the way, all of these have the approval of my daughters, who still like picture books themselves, and who occasionally receive them as gifts from their mother.

Mama Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joose; illustrated by Barbara Lavallee. Gorgeous, vibrant illustrations bring to life Joose's message about the infinite love between a mother and child. The setting, in the Inuit culture, also speaks to a reverence for nature.

Olivia by Ian Falconer. This one's all about the title character's spunky personality. Falconer, a New Yorker illustrator, renders Olivia the piglet in expressive lines so winsome you'll have to lie down after reading. (Series)

Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Mark Teague. Here's another pig, but this one is a bibliophile named Poppleton who has moved from a booming metropolis to a charming little town and befriends a friendly llama neighbor named Cherry Sue. Teague is a splendid illustrator, and brings a gently humorous watercolor styling to the books. (Series)

When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang. Vivid, livid color palette and almost jarring painting style are just the right expression for this unusual story about what it feels like for a child — or anyone — when anger takes over.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen; illustrated by John Schoenherr. A father and child take a late-night walk in the woods to catch a glimpse of an owl. Schoenherr's elegant watercolors perfectly convey the magical mood of the adventure.

Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth. Muth's exquisite illustrations really make these three Zen tales, revolving around a clutch of children and their panda neighbor. Muth alternates between soft, crisp watercolor and a black and white brush-and-ink technique. (Series)

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell; illustrated by Patrick Benson. Three young owls must cope with their fears when their mother disappears into the night — only to return, as she always said she would. Benson's depictions of the young birds makes me want to climb into their tree with them.

Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow. This one is a throwback from Swedish storyteller Beskow, whose spritely woodland children commune with flora and fauna. The decidedly old-fashioned nature of the tale, and Beskow's gentle drawings, can make you yearn for a simpler time.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Before it was an animated movie that critics thought was weird-looking, "The Polar Express" was a gorgeously illustrated tale about Christmas and faith in magic.

Flotsam by David Wiesner. Having just returned from our all-American vacation at the all-American Jersey Shore, the setting of "Flotsam," I leave this for last on the list because I love it that much. Wiesner could not be more eloquent in this wordless tale about a boy who finds a magical camera washed up with the tide. I return to this book over and over to study Wiesner's gorgeous watercolors. I discover new details in imagery and narrative every time.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

American Idle

The seaside town of Stone Harbor, N.J., does not bustle with activity. A list of things to do there goes pretty much like this:

1. Run or walk the beach in the morning.

2. Lie on the beach.

3. Body surf or boogie board the lazy Atlantic surf.

4. Buy T-shirts and hermit crabs at the 5 and 10 downtown.

5. Shop at the surf shops and candy stores and jewelry stores downtown.

6. Drink or otherwise buy booze at Fred's Tavern.

7. Bike around town.

8. Watch for terrapin turtles crossing the access road from the mainland.

9. Run or walk the beach in the evening.

10. Stand in a very long line for ice cream at the Prohibition-era parlor called Springer's.

That's kind of the whole story. Oh, you can bring board games and have your computer around. There's a dated but not quite old-fashioned move theater in town. But you won't be bombarded by ads for parasailing or wet T-shirt night at the bars. You won't be beckoned to swim with the dolphins or participate in massive beach volleyball tournaments.

No. Things here are . . . slow.

Can you throttle back your own speed? Let the tide be your guide? Can you reach back to ideas of fun and entertainment that predate YouTube? Shake the idea that the only time well spent is time spent on hard-core doing?

It's harder than it looks. One of the reasons for this is that a more or less quiet vacation leaves you alone with your own thoughts — about the constancy of the sea, maybe, compared to the fleeting nature of youth.

Also, in the quiet of these days, you find out just how deeply rooted your mental to-do list is, and how uncomfortable it can be when you first try to set it aside. If you're a thinks-too-much type, you bring, even to a place like this, a 21st century mission to DO THE VACATION RIGHT.

Eventually, the sea lures you in. It figuratively forces you to abide by the Zen of its tides. It literally lures you in to feel the whirl of salt water around your legs and the thrill of a watching a wave aim right for you.

Jump the wave or ride it. Float and forget your to-do list.

There's no way to do it wrong.