Monday, August 30, 2010

Library Run: Judith Byron Schachner

In my search for new techniques to try, I had purchased "Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road," a conglomerate of art by different illustrators, and there I ran into the creator of little Skippyjon Jones: Judith Byron Schachner. I LOVE the textures and colors she uses in the Skippy books, so I borrowed as many books as my library bag could handle!

Artist/Author: Judith Byron Schachner

Medium: Acrylic, watercolor, ink, sometimes pencil accents

Books I Borrowed: "The Prince of the Pond," "Jimmy the Pickpocket of the Palace," (both by Donna Jo Napoli); "Staying with Grandmother," by Barbara Baker; "What Shall I Dream?," by Laura McGee Kvasnosky; "How the Cat Swallowed Thunder," by Lloyd Alexander; "Mrs. Emerson's Cook," "The Grannyman," "Willy and May,"  "YO Vikings!," and a bunch of Skippyjon Jones books.

My Thoughts: I put the books on the floor in chronological order, and thought it was really neat to watch Judy's style change and develop over the years. She began illustrating in a sort of Trina Schart Hyman-ey sort of way, then some of her characters' faces had the Steven Kellogg look, and then she seemed to have found her calling in the world of color through "What Shall I Dream?" and "How the Cat Swallowed Thunder," and "Yo Vikings!" all of which are quite colorfully complex yet not messy or cluttered. And then, then, she found her favorite style to illustrate in the Skippyjon Jones series.

My favorites? Absolutely "What Shall I Dream?," and "How the Cat Swallowed Thunder." Could not stop looking at them, and didn't want to return them. So I found them online and now I have my own copies! My favorite Skippyjon Jones book: "Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones." LOVE her dinosaurs, especially the T-Rex!

What have I learned from this? That it takes years and multiple stories to actually truly find what makes your heart sing. I can tell that she's a bit like me- she can draw well, is great with linework in pen and ink, but has a wacky stylistic side to her she wasn't so sure how to contain at first. I could go all day just doodling things and painting, but not actually come up with  a "masterpiece" per say. The stuff I work on without actually thinking about it ends up being my favorite kind, and it looks great! But how do I harness that sort of mindlesslazyfun look while still being serious about my art? How do I paint within the lines, but still feel like I'm coloring outside of them? It goes along with the way I work- if I don't follow my own schedule, then I'm happy. If I feel like I'm getting away with something mischievous, then I get great results. But if I don't pressure myself into getting anything done, I won't! How does one schedule fun?

And it goes to show that Skippyjon also does not like to follow rules... No matter how many times I've rotated that image (both on the pc and in Blogger), it refuses to face the correct way!

Doodles you've seen around my site...

Just re-posting these guys as doodles so they don't get lost without a tag. And, yes, even my husband wonders where this owl "thing" came from, but I can't help it- they're just too cute!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Call Me Crazy...

...but I'm pretty excited for classes to begin again!

I'm SO bad at getting things done on my own without having someone over my shoulder, cracking a whip, and the fear of disappointed teachers to push me forward.* I'm glad I know this about myself, but I think it makes me anxious that I am this way... How clever of me to figure out that the anxiety leaves when I get things done! Hurrah!

I've been preparing myself over the summer for the Dummy Book (or Book Dummy...potato, potAHto) course by not following my carefully plotted schedule in order or in the correct timing. Apparently I do my best work by going with the flow, whatever that may be at the time. Some days I go to work, yearning to be in my studio, and some days I have entirely off... and don't set my foot in the darned thing. Perhaps it has something to do with what I eat? They say cheese before bedtime will make you dream some weird stuff... Who knows? As long as I have some sort of plan for when I am in the mood, and a checklist to keep me moving forward!

Things I have accomplished for my Dummy Book:
  • A completed manuscript.
  • Text layout and pacing, in full-size, printed and in my binder.
  • Shrunken (1/4" size) text layout pages to use for detailed thumbnails, printed and in my binder.
  • A bit of experimentation with style and techniques. (notice above image...)
  • Some research and sketches.
  • Lots and lots of nifty ideas that I can't wait to implement!

Things I have yet to accomplish for my Dummy Book:
  • Wait, this list is too scary to put here.
  • Maybe we should just close our eyes for now and wait for it to pass...

Yes, there is still a lot to do, but I'm chiseling away at each piece little by little. And I'm recognizing that I need a sort of boss/teacher/someone-to-look-up-to sort of person to keep me focused, (because I'm so bad at that) so I am also thinking that finding an agent would be a good idea. That's my next goal, after January's SCBWI conference...find an agent!

Oh! And I thought of something dorky the other day...but I still love it anyway:

risd is my Hogwarts

Now who's going to turn that into a T-shirt for me??

*Something sounds off-ish about that sentence... MSWord didn't catch anything...but I bet WordyBirdy could figure out why!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Field Trip: Books of Wonder in New York City

Summer is ending, and school will be starting soon, so I'm taking advantage of every moment I can to see more, more, MORE! of the world of children's books. 

My latest adventure took place in the wonderful land of New York City, where steamy weather and blistered sandal-donning feet call for frequent stops to Pinkberry, and the discovery of Japanese Okonomiyaki shops!

I had one request on our visit:

to stop at the Books of Wonder children's bookstore on West 18th Street.  

So we did, and so far it is my favorite children's bookstore. We were greeted by an AMAZING window display that featured the actual dioramas used to illustrate Cynthia von Buhler's latest creation, "But Who Will Bell the Cats?" I was so intrigued and fascinated by both the display and her book that I have vowed to feature her work on my blog in the future.

Inside the bookstore, characters from beloved classics danced along the top shelves and on the walls, and an adjoining cozy little Cupcake Cafe allowed little ones to sit at animal-shaped tables and read while enjoying a snack. 

It was the perfect place to browse and read to my heart's content, and hubby didn't mind so much because there was ample seating for him to enjoy the air conditioned climate and relax a bit. 

Towards the back of the store was my main reason for visiting: a small gallery that showed a mixture of original art, prints and framed posters. I was excited to see some of the original art from the Wizard of Oz by W.W. Denslow. I was also happily surprised to see a piece by Steven Kellogg, whose work I've enjoyed but thought was a touch too messy for my liking, and was quite more beautiful in person than in print. (I'm learning that the printed versions, such as in Lisbeth Zwerger's art, are much more muddled and less vibrant than the original illustrations. This was indeed mentioned in class, and in most of the books I've read, but didn't really sink in until I saw it with my own eyes.)

Rare original antique books for sale.

Also for sale, Harry Potter books signed by both author and artist!
Anyone with $1500 to spare???
Although I could have spent my life's savings in that store, I carefully selected only two items, both of which were on sale. I've been wanting to read Brian Jaques' "Redwall" series, so his first book for $5 was a no-brainer. And the second book I picked up, called "Whiff," had a silly story line (which I found entertaining because the main character smelled bad), but the art mimicked that of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things are," line, color palette and all! I don't know if blatantly mimicking another's style is something that is looked down upon or not, but I liked it just the same. In fact, it is quickly becoming one of my favorites. 

All in all, a nice little visit to a nice little store. I wish it didn't have to be a few hours away from home, otherwise I'd visit so often I would become a regular piece of their wall decor!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Other Ways I Spend My Time: Spiderman Cake

Now, now, don't you fret! I'm still spending time in my studio, and I will let you know when I come up with something good! But for the moment, it is the land of Summer; of cookouts and parties, birthdays and cakes. So here's the latest buttery goodness. I LOVE edible art, don't you?

And to prove I will do almost anything for good art...
...I picked out all the green ones because they didn't match!

Happy Summer Everyone!  :)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Field Trip: Eric Carle Museum and R.Michelson Galleries!

Yesterday a few of my artist friends and I (and hubby, of else would I drive there in one piece??) went to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA.  It was a fun little trip to see some exceptional art, though I wish it was closer so I could visit each time a new exhibit comes along!  I forgot to take a photo of the front of it, so the image above is from cyberspace.

There were three exhibits, the first featuring Eric Carle's work, the second featuring the Leo Lionni's art from his book, Geraldine, the Music Mouse, and the last was a collection of work by the AMAZING Lisbeth Zwerger.  I emphasize the amazing part, because although I've always enjoyed her art, I had never realized how absolutely miniscule her pictures actually are! My friends and I oooh-ed and ahhh-ed at her teeny tiny details, and winced as we tried imagining ourselves working the way she does. Such elegance, with just the right touch of whimsy!


Then we made our way to the museum's personal library of children's books. We could have stayed there for days, but the gift shop and our stomaches were calling.  This was just a third of the books there:

After a lovely lunch of deluxe sushi rolls at Osaka Japanese Sushi & Steakhouse, we walked to the R. Michelson Galleries on Main Street. They have a wonderful collection of art for sale that includes an entire section of children's book illustration, and what a range it was! It was so great to see original work right there in front of us- to see the texture of the paint and the subtle pencil lines beneath the color. I didn't get any photos there, either, but check out the site since you're already online.

A few things I learned or was reminded of
on our little Field Trip:

1. Less is definitely more. 
Eric Carle, Leo Lionni and even Lisbeth Zwerger all had the right idea- they knew when to leave things out, when to walk away, when enough is enough! I overwork my art most of the time, probably because I just get caught up in the moment. I'm having fun! But I need to learn when white space should remain white space and when a nice flat wash doesn't need to be interrupted by unnecessary little details. Gotta remember to KISS my art! (I know you already know it, but there's always one in the group... Keep It Simple, Stupid!)

2. Writing in the margins is actually okay!
As I work on little pieces to find my true style, I've been penciling in margin notes to myself of what colors I'm using, my likes and dislikes about certain pieces, and ideas for a better image. I was surprised to see that Lisbeth Zwerger also writes in the white space outside her crop marks, though hers are usually color notes and start and finish dates. It was certainly refreshing, and even a bit comforting, to know that I'm not the only one, and that it is okay to do. I wouldn't be surprised if this sort of information also added value to each piece as well!

3. Cover art is important, but the spine of your book is too!
This I sort of knew already, but since I generally don't go to the library and browse for books (I order them online for pick-up), it didn't really hit me until we were looking at books in the Eric Carle library.  I was pretty overwhelmed by the sheer amount of books, and had no idea where to start.  So I just grabbed what looked interesting based on the spine colors and font, and even pattern. (I am also realizing that I am SO image driven, that I forget to actually read the books I pick up lately.) And now that I think of it, (because I also shop online), this same thing probably happens at bookstores, big or small. The best way to store a book is not the best way to sell a book, so us artsy people have to really think out of the box to get our stuff noticed. Good to know!

4. Doodles are art, too, you know.
This is going to sound silly, but let me explain. I have a terrible habit of neglecting to care for my sketches.   They are just little doodles that get tossed around in my bag or thrown into a pile.  My biggest problem is that I can't get myself to work in a sketchbook.  The paper is too white and new, and it puts too much pressure on me to come up with some masterpiece.  Plus, I like to conserve and re-use as much as possible, and I can't justify scribbling onto a brand new sheet of paper.  So I use things like the backside of junk mail, old menu pages from the restaurant, and cardboard cut from shipping boxes, and those things naturally get thrown around a lot. Those things also yield the best work! So I was surprised to see the sticker prices of sketches drawn by Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, or other artists. Granted, they are rather famous people, and I very much am not. But those sketches made me think twice about the horrid way I treat my earliest renderings, and how bad they would look behind a frame. Perhaps if I learned to value each and every step of the process of my work a bit more, I would exude a sort of valuable aura in my finished pieces, and therefore have better work? Hmmm... I really wonder!

Overall it was a great day, and the three artists went home just dying to get into the studio. There is nothing like seeing some fine original works of art to get the creative juices flowing!