Monthly Archives: November 2012

Drawing in Blue

sketch by M Chodos-Irvine

Yesterday I sent off a revised, “tight” dummy to my editor at Beach Lane Books for Boom Boom. Today is a day of reprieve – I can take a bit of a break before I hear back from her, but it’s too soon for me to start worrying because I haven’t heard from her yet.

So here I am, rearranging the furniture in my brain to focus on writing today’s post.

Since I am fully immersed in illustrating Boom Boom, it’s hard for me to think about much else, so you are going to get another how-to from me today.

When working on final drawings for a picture book, I use a technique I picked up from watching Sylvain Chomet talk about animating The Triplets of Belleville in the video extra that came with the DVD. If you have not yet seen this French animated film, you have missed a witty masterpiece. It’s rated PG-13, (there are some naked ta-tas spinning briefly in the opening sequence, and a bit of implied mob violence), but the film’s rating is deserved most in that its sophisticated, satiric humor isn’t built for young children. If Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is a Three-Musketeers bar, then The Triplets of Belleville is Cuisses de Grenouille. (Really, see the movie).

Anyway, in this “making of…” video, Chomet demonstrates how he first draws his sketches in non-photo blue, and then hones in on the refined outline in black, which is the only color the camera will read. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a copy of that video on line, but I did find something similar in this clip about his animating The Illusionist.

Chomet says finding the right lines is “discovering something” that was already there, like Michelangelo freeing figures in marble. I am in no way trying to imply that I am on the same level as either of these artists, but I always feel like I’m trying to carve out an image when I draw, so this approach struck a chord with me.

This is my humble, homey version of what Chomet and Michelangelo do.

A photocopy of my rough:

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A blue line drawing on tracing paper over the photocopy:

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The blue line drawing alone:

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I haven’t gone to black pencil on the above sketch quite yet. I will do that once I have the editors go-ahead on the full dummy. In the drawing below, I’ve gone halfway using a darker blue pencil, inching my way towards black.

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Then I scan my blue line drawings into Photoshop, adjust the gray-scale levels to eliminate some of the lighter blue, and place the images in the dummy lay-out with InDesign. It’s not exactly what the animators do, but it works for me.

BB 6-7 kids

Well, during the time it took me to write this post, I heard back from the editor and have full approval to proceed with the final art. That was a short, but welcome reprieve! Back to work!

Leftovers

Leftovers….

It’s Leftover-Turkey Day, and I’m still thinking about things I’m grateful for, not the least of which is leftover turkey. I did some thinking about gratitude  yesterday, of course. I made a mental list of things I’m grateful for, and the list got quite long. Primarily I feel dumbfounded by how lucky I am to be loved by the people I love.  Most of yesterday, in fact, I thought I would write about that today – the mutual admiration society that reigns supreme in my family – for my Books Around the Table post.  I wanted to look at how strange it is that some writers write from the discontent brought on by a lack of love, and other writers (the lucky ones) write from the safety and  joy of an abundance of it.

Whether longing for love or nurtured by it, writers often create characters searching for some kind of love and acceptance. That longing is “the desire line” of a story. The need for love makes the world go round, and it’s certainly the engine of the carousel that literature spins around on.  So love – withheld or generously given -  was on my mind yesterday and lingers there today. And there’s no doubt those mirrored generative forces are an acceptable topic for a blog about writing and (tangentially) about where creativity comes from.

But I also spent a lot of time this last week thinking about Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eleanor Roosevelt at a family Thanksgiving….

…and Eleanor Roosevelt voting, 1936

She’s been on my mind since the election – what an active, bright, caring, conscientious woman she was – and since seeing Ken Burn’s thought-provoking new documentary on PBS about the Dust Bowl.  Even before watching that, I had been turning over and over in my mind what Maria Popova quoted over at Brain Pickings from the book Roosevelt wrote titled You Learn by Living: 11 Keys for a More Fulfilling Life.  I especially like the line from Don Quixote which was a favorite of Roosevelt’s (“Until death it is all life”) and the long passage Popova quoted in which Roosevelt expresses her thoughts about happiness:

Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: ‘A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.’

But there is another basic requirement, and I can’t understand now how I forgot it at the time: that is the feeling that you are, in some way, useful. Usefulness, whatever form it may take, is the price we should pay for the air we breathe and the food we eat and the privilege of being alive. And it is its own reward, as well, for it is the beginning of happiness, just as self-pity and withdrawal from the battle are the beginning of misery.

The problem is, I can’t quite figure out how to tie that in to writing, which is what this blog is all about, except to say that I believe everything we ponder makes us better writers. We are, after all, writers in the world. It is just as valuable to ponder honesty (well, actually, honesty makes us better writers) as it is to ponder point of view.  It’s valuable to thinki about doing our best (yes, again,  better writers) and about loving people (isn’t that what empathy is about? and doesn’t empathy make us better writers?) and a sense of usefulness (which gets us out of our heads, sends us out into the world, and makes us better people, which makes us better writers.)

Am I’m stretching to make a connection? Maybe I just wanted to write about Eleanor Roosevelt, no matter what. I tend to like adding a lot of ingredients into every soup I make.  I do know, on this day after Thanksgiving,  that I’m still revising my what-I’m-grateful-for list, making it just a bit longer. Today, I’m adding Eleanor Roosevelt, Ken Burns, Don Quixote, and Maria Popova to the list. I’m grateful to be list-inclined.  I’ll add that to the list.  I’m grateful I’m a writer – well, that was on my list already.  And not to bring the tone down, I hope, I will say I’m grateful there is both leftover gravy and leftover stuffing  – yumm. And when I eat my leftover-turkey-on-leftover-dinner-roll sandwich later today (and leftover turkey soup for weeks to come) I’ll probably still be adding to my list. I’ll have come up with a few more leftover things to be grateful about. Thanksgiving is just as much about leftovers as it is about the main course, because Thanksgiving is all about abundance, whether it’s food, or food for thought.

…and more leftovers!

Autumn Roses and The Hukilau

“Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.” –Itzhak Perlman

Last June I started spending most Thursday mornings with the Mother Pluckers, a group of ten women aged 48 to 80 who have been strumming ukuleles and singing together for about four years. They are an amazing bunch, with a wealth of experience from their other, non-ukulele lives: jeweler, psychologist, university professor emeritus, artists, retired middle school teacher, art quilt maker, photographer, world-class sailor. What they have in common is their dedicated effort to learn new stuff on the ukulele, to make music together.

Making music: l. to r. Margaret Liston, Carolle Rose, Danielle Carr and me.

Today four of us provided the soundscape when the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Wells Fargo Advisors gave a ten-year old boy and his family a trip to Hawaii. The whole 35th floor of the Wells downtown offices took on a South Seas flair: the reception area a tiki hut, a corner office done over as an undersea grotto, the big conference room luau-ready, everyone in Hawaiian garb.

The boy, who is battling leukemia, seemed at first overwhelmed by all of this – or maybe it was our lusty rendition of The Aloha Week Hula? He hid behind his father. But he warmed up as we launched into The Hukilau and he donned swim goggles and ‘swam’ into the undersea room, searching for gifts under the hip-high balloons. He seemed quite pleased with the shave ice and pineapple pizza luau, as well.

Back home, Izzi and I headed out for our walk. There’s a bite in the air, and I expect there will be frost tonight. I clipped the last baby roses so we might enjoy them a few days longer. And I thought how here I am in the autumn of my life, still trying to bloom. And how my sisterhood of strummers shows the way. Writing, like music, comes out of the ideas and insights, skills and experiences that we gather through all our days. In fact, that’s how this blog post came to be.

Some Bears


I
 should be writing about donkeys and elephants. I have already voted by mail and I am waiting for the election on Tuesday with fear, dread and a tiny bit of hope. Maybe, like me, you can hardly bear it. So here is some ursine distraction.

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Georgy Narbut’s bear is plump and solid despite having no shading or variation of tone in his body – just a well drawn form. The curve of the belt defines the bulk of the belly.


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Beth Van Hoesen’s perfect snout.

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Can you see Callisto hidden in Margaret Chodos-Irvine’s print? She is there. 
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These three bears in their shimmering izbushka are by Yuri Vasnetsov.
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Anonymous hung this bear in a tree and it has been there for centuries now.

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Tarnation and Angel, from Swamp Angel illustrated by Paul Zelinsky

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Little Bear by Maurice Sendak

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I hope these bears give you pleasure. Please vote for your favorite bear. Unlike in political contests any bear that you vote for wins.