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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Place to Play

A sketch from my sandbox

Carlo worked a 10-hour shift the other day. And still, when he got home, what he really wanted was to pull on his tennis shoes and run off for a couple hours of ping-pong at the club. (Yes, there are such clubs, and yes, these are serious table tennis people.)

The kind of day he had would not have inspired a similarly energetic reaction on my part, but in general I get it. Every grownup needs at least one sandbox. The ping-pong table is his.

A funny thing happened the other day during my portfolio critique at the children's book conference. An art director noted that work derived from my sketchbooks was generally better than work created as Illustrations with a capital I. This is not the first time such as an observation has been made, and I am far from the only illustrator with this issue. Years ago, a newspaper colleague was scribbling on a piece of scrap paper in a meeting and, in about 90 seconds, came up with a simple line drawing that became a cover illustration for a story we'd been discussing in that meeting.

For many of us drawn to pens and pencils and such, our sandbox is a sketchbook or the back of an envelope. It's the one place to recapture the freedom of play we found in childhood.

Where is your sandbox?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ok, so this weekend at the Northern Ohio Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Authors & Illustrators conference (biiigggg inhale), I had many nice encounters and heard inspiring, smart, professional artists. One of the most inspiring talks was by Christopher Canyon, a southern Ohio artist who seems to reinvent himself with each new picture book.

This is another short post, the purpose of which is to say to artists and illustrators, simply "Go to his website and see how Christopher Canyon and his equally astounding artist-wife, Jeanette, have made what looks like a beautiful life doing beautiful work that enhances the lives of children."

And also: I had to buy his Christopher's picture-book version of John Denver's "Sunshine On My Shoulders," because 1)He did a great slide show talking about the making of the book, 2)It's an inspiring work that, as he points out, isn't about anything happening, but about a feeling, a situation that sets up an interesting challenge for illustrators, 3) he played guitar and sang the song for us, and 4) the whole experience spirited me back not only to the 70s, but to that very particular kind of freedom that characterized being a kid out in nature int he summer.

Bravo.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Children's Book Conference

This is a re-run because I've been gathering intelligence from the Northern Ohio Society for Children's Book Authors & Illustrators. More later ...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Going Places

Sometimes we have the illusion that we're standing still. It's only when we look back on where we were that we can see that — oh! That was a PATH I was on!

I am looking forward to the time when I look back and can say — oh! That was a PATH I was on! And it was a GOOD one!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Returning Your Call

Have we ever been less careful about communication than in this, the communication age?

How easy it is to put the return call or message on the to-do list, then let it sorta slide around down there while more important things happen.

I do it.

You do it.

How do I know you do it? Just a hunch.

So today, fueled (I'll admit) by a recent spate of unrequited communication, I am going to examine my own return rate.

Do I owe you?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Circling Back

Years ago, before art school was a twinkling in my eye, I took a continuing ed class with the wonderful Lou Grasso, during which we had an assignment to illustrate Red Ridinghood. The picture second from the top has appeared on this blog at least once, and maybe more, because I ended up liking a lot about it. There were things that went (perhaps accidentally) right, especially the girl's expression.

Last night I was playing in my sketchbook and thinking about fairytales and I started to wonder what I'd do with the same general idea if I were to execute it six years after the first. The image at top is the one in my sketchbook. (Sidebar on sketchbook: It's the beautiful leather one I got at the Ann Arbor Art Fair this year, but alas it was gotten — TWICE! — by Roscoe, and has been slightly damaged. Grrr.)

Anyway, I might mess around a bit more with different scenes from the story, or I might take the new sketchbook image and develop it into a new finished illustration. We'll see.

The idea of circling back to an earlier project can be liberating when you don't have other ideas, or just something to do out of curiosity. Who were you when you drew that thing the first time? Who are you now?

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Drawing from Memory

A woman walked by a window outside a restaurant where I was lunching a few weeks ago. She looked 60ish, and her bright red lipstick highlighted the retro structure of her face. (What does that mean? I don't know, exactly, but her face looked like it was constructed for the mid-1950s.) She was not especially attractive, yet she carried herself with an air of utter confidence.

I could've pulled out my sketchbook, which I had with me, but it would've meant pulling my attention away from my lunch partner, which I wasn't willing to do.

This is the sketch I made of the woman a day or two later. It wouldn't hold up in court. It wouldn't help police identify the person I saw, I'm sure. But it IS an accurate record of my impression of this woman — her attitude, the general lines of her face and the almost absurdly old-fashioned hairstyle.

If you like to draw, I recommend adding this kind of drawing to your repertoire, if you don't already use it. Many of us bounce back and forth between observational drawing (great for practicing accuracy) and imaginative drawing (making stuff up! yay!). This lies somewhere in the middle, and endures as a record not of what we saw, exactly, or what we conjured up, but of how something hit us. And if we practice this with people, we end up with a bunch of potential characters for stories, comics and whatnot.

Especially whatnot. Very important ...