Category Archives: Illustrating Children’s Books

Editing

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“Boldly and bluntly simplify the subject so as to reveal its true essence.”
– Kiyoshi Saito, (1907-1971)

I have spent the last three months preparing to move from Seattle – where my husband and I have lived since 1986 – to London, England. I fly out at the end of the month. These last few weeks have been a lesson in letting go.

I have been going through everything we own to clear the house for incoming renters. I have picked up every object, pondered it, and decided whether to ship, store, or discard it.

This has gotten me thinking about the process of editing.

Editing your life is like editing your own personal narrative. I am an accumulator by nature, but not a collector, nor a hoarder. The difference is that I enjoy getting rid of stuff, if only to clear the clutter to let the better bits shine.

When I am writing I follow the same process. I have less confidence in my words than my imagery, so I don’t mind keeping my words to a minimum. If I can prove to myself that every word has a reason to be there, I feel I have created the cleanest, least cluttered prose possible. It’s less risky that way. Clear the knick-knacks off your literary shelf.

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In my artwork I am constantly editing and revising. I strive to follow the words quoted above. Kiyoshi Saito is a contemporary Japanese woodblock artist and a master of selective visual editing in his imagery. Choosing what details to include and what to leave out reveals the aspects most elemental to an idea.

Get rid of the lesser bits. Pack them away or let them go. Only set your choicest pieces out for display.

My next post will be written from the UK. Just think of me as the Books Around The Table foreign correspondent for the foreseeable future. I look forward to exploring new territory and sending back the best bits to share with all of you!

And now, back to packing!

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Chiaroscuro

UA-Spring- L llustration-1928

Recently, I was looking through a French magazine from 1928 – L’Illustration – and came across a series of images of the seasons. The artist is not credited, unfortunately, but the work is a lovely example of the chiaroscuro printmaking approach.

Highlight and shadow. Clear and obscure. Chiaroscuro has always been one of my favorite terms and techniques in art. In printmaking specifically, chiaroscuro refers to the use of high contrast tones, usually in a monochromatic field, to indicate volume. The technique goes back to the early 1500s, and began as a method of mimicking in print the look of chiaroscuro drawings.

These artists created so with such a limited tonal palette. So simple, yet so complex.

Ludolf Businck-Moses with the Tablets of the Law

Since early books were typeset and printed by hand on presses, woodcuts were the best method of illustration. They could be inked and printed repeatedly using the same methods used for printing the type. As long as books were printed on letterpresses, chiaroscuro woodcuts continued to be used.

Bartolomeo Coriolano-Battle of the Giants

Bartolomeo Coriolano- Sleeping Cupid-mid-17th century

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes-c 1523-27

Each tone required a separate block to be cut. Here are three plates by Christoffel Jegher from The History of Wood Engraving that deconstruct a two-block chiaroscuro woodcut.

Chiaroscuro demo 1

Chiaroscuro demo 3

Chiaroscuro demo 2

Though now largely forgotten as a technique, chiaroscuro was common in illustrations through the early part of the last century, until offset and color lithography printing technology became more common. Woodcuts & Wood Engravings: How I Make Them, by Hans Alexander Mueller (1939), illustrates beautifully how to make complex images from only two layers of color.

H A Mueller

It is amazing to see how two flat images can create so much depth when combined.

H A Mueller 2

These two illustrations, from Designs For You – To Trace or Copy by F. J. Garner (1950), also use only two tones to indicate volume and pattern with concise efficiency.

F J Garner-bottle design

F J Garner- gay tie designs

“Bright Water,” by Elton Bennett, is a serigraph print from the later half of the last century. He used only two screens, with some color variation in the ink application of the lighter color, to create this print of water flowing through boulders.

Elton Bennett-Bright Water-1950s

I was inspired to try this chiaroscuro technique in lino-cut for an illustration I did for Unix Magazine many years ago (note the floppy disk).

M Chodos-Irvine-Unix Mag

I think you can still see the influence of chiaroscuro woodcuts in this relief print of mine “Minotaurus” from 2010.

Margaret Chodos-Irvine-Minotaurus

I’m not sure how chiaroscuro could be applied in illustration for children’s books. It seems too monochromatic for today’s day-glo, technically enhanced, 3-D world, but maybe it will be something worth exploring one day as a calmer alternative.

H A Mueller-Ex Libris

 

Days o’ The Week

Days o the week pattern

Routines don’t seem to be part of my genetic coding. My brain must be lacking the necessary programing that makes repetition easy and comfortable. I can do it, but it doesn’t come naturally.

Unlike my husband, who gets up in the morning and proceeds with his usual, ordered, getting-ready-for-work tasks, I get up, and invariably think, What now? Should I take a shower first, or go get some breakfast? Or maybe I could read a bit more in that book I started last night before I get up… There are so many possibilities.

Maybe being self-employed and able to set my own schedule is responsible for this deficiency, or maybe my inability to naturally settle into a routine is why I’m self-employed.

It’s different when I am working on a book contract or illustration job (when I know exactly what I need to do each day – work till the project is done), but right now I don’t have any deadlines pending, so when I get to my workspace, I often can’t decide what to do first. I should probably work on that story idea I’ve been playing with, but working on that print I started last week is so much more fun than writing, but I also want to decorate this box I have with cuttings from old cookie tins… Sometimes I feel like I flit around my studio like a butterfly in a rose garden.

This is not something I am proud of, or even particularly happy about. I envy people who don’t have to think so hard about how to proceed with their day.

For example, consider the early American settlers (well, the women anyway) who followed the prescribed adage that divided their existence into seven tasks, one for each day of the week:

 

Monday = Wash

Tuesday = Iron

Wednesday = Sew

Thursday = Market

Friday = Clean

Saturday = Bake

Sunday = Rest

 

Iowa State historical society

Granted, that was a time when doing the wash took from dawn till dusk, and this arduously tedious life was probably not terribly fun, but can you imagine having only seven things to worry about accomplishing each week? No emails to answer, no dance lessons or soccer practice to take your kids to, no meetings to prepare for and attend. And a whole day set aside just to relax, without your needing to feel guilty that you aren’t being more productive.

I’ve been thinking about this idea – having one chore for each day of the week – but instead of household duties, I wonder if I could organize it to be a more work-related guideline for someone like me, who has a lot of creative things I want to do, and even more that I should be doing, but who has difficulty making decisions and getting into a regular routine.

So, how about a week that looks like this?

 

Monday = Write

Tuesday = Draw

Wednesday = Design

Thursday = Make

Friday = Sell

Saturday = Read

Sunday = Rest

 

Only one task per day, like a pioneer woman who has to sweat away at drafting her designs before sunset. I will still have to figure out how to still get all my emails answered and errands run and meetings attended, plus the other twenty-three items on my to-do list – not to mention housework! – but maybe I’ll try this new schedule out, at least during my usual working hours.

Simplify. Concentrate. Limitations can be useful. Narrow walls make it easier to focus straight ahead.

Is this idea even possible in our modern, hectic world? Am I crazy to attempt such a strict regimen considering the lack of imposed structure I am used to?

We’ll see. I’m not going to start embroidering it on any tea towels quite yet…

Sunday dishtowel detail

Fishtails

Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale-mermaid

Contemplating bird wings for my last post got me pondering other animal attributes we humans envy, which then led me to thinking about mermaids.

Arthur Rackham-To Hear the Seamaids Music-A Midsummer Nights Dream

I’m not sure what it is about mermaids that is so alluring. Is it our fascination with beings that can exist in multiple realms? Why else would we fantasize about having fishtails instead of legs? Personally, I think I’d rather be able to fly like a bird.

Fortina

Yet, when I was a young girl I dreamed of being Marine Boy‘s helpful mermaid friend, Neptina – or at least getting hold of some of that oxy-gum . . .

Marine Boy and Fortina

The mythology of mermaids goes back thousands of years and across multiple cultures.

Russian print-mermaid and merman

Mola-mermaid fishing

Mexican folk art hanging mermaids

Jose Francisco Borges-Iemanja

Often they were considered dangerous, luring men to their doom with their sensual beauty and seductive voices.

Medieval mermaids besiege ship

They were known to be vain, fond of looking at themselves in mirrors and combing their hair.

Medieval mermaid with mirror

Some theorize that what early mariners saw as mermaids were actually manatees.

National Geographic-manatee love shot

Really? Those poor sailors . . .

But by the 17th century mermaids had moved from the feared to the fantastic,

Merbabies birdbath at Versailles

Mermaid fountain at Versailles

the romanticized,

John William Waterhouse-A Mermaid

landing eventually in the realm of fairy tales, the most famous being Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Vilhelm Pedersen-The Little MermaidAndersen’s story was a tragic tale of misguided love and sacrifice, a subject of many beautiful illustrations.

Arthur Rackam-Fairy Tale mermaid sillouettesJeannie Harbour-Little Mermaid

Maxwell Armfield-The Little Mermaid

Edmund Dulac-She Held His Head Above The Water

And then Disney got hold of her and she became the insipid creature many girls now idolize. At least Neptina had some spine.

Disneys Little Mermaid Wallpaper

One day at an outdoor community pool about five summers ago my daughters and I watched, mesmerized, as a young girl wearing a mermaid tail lowered herself into the water and started swimming around, mermaid style. From a distance, she looked amazingly realistic and the scene, in spite of it being set in a chlorinated, square enclosure, was charming. After she removed her tail (the pretense looked like hard work) we went up and spoke to her. She said she got the idea and the DIY mermaid costume instructions off of YouTube.

Currently you can find thousands of videos online of people “mermaiding.” My teen-aged daughter follows a site called Project Mermaids where models and celebrities pose for photos in elaborate mermaid costumes to demonstrate “how precious our ocean and beaches are.”

Maybe it’s not just the idea of being able to exist in multiple realms that makes us envy those with wings and tails, but also the idea of defying gravity, either underwater or above ground.

I guess it’s human nature to want to be more than human.

Unknown artist-mermaid

 

 

Wings

Birds placemat

“Birds have wings; they’re free; they can fly where they want when they want. They have the kind of mobility many people envy.” – Roger Tory Peterson

I must be one of those people to whom the famed naturalist was alluding. I find that things with wings, especially bird wings, have a special attraction. Real birds fascinate me. How they have evolved, the way they communicate, their behavior. And of course, how they move. This attraction extends to other winged creatures as well – angels, putti, mythological characters. Anything with wings on it seems imbued with magic.

Cherubs-Neopolitan-mid 18th c

Have you watched the PortlandiaPut A Bird On It” skit? Now, I enjoy the humor in that show as only a true urban Northwesterner can, but since that episode aired, I can no longer indulge my bird love without a twinge of shame. Damn them. Don’t they understand that we just envy birds’ mobility?

M Chodos-Irvine -Get Out Of Jail Free charm

So bear with me while I bare my feathered soul.

There is something about birds that I find comfort in. I don’t collect birds like a philatelist collects stamps. Rather, such items accumulate around me like pigeons around a cafe. They inspire me. Why shouldn’t I want bird imagery on things I have around me in my nest, so to speak?

Such as outside my window, on a metalwork piece by artist Deborah Mersky.

Deborah Mersky-Crow metal hanging

Or on the walls of my home, as in one of my favorite paintings by Joe Max Emminger, “Bird Moon.”

Joe Max Emminger-Bird Moon

And on jewelry.

MOP bird pin

Blue bird and moon pin

Winged school bus pin

Japanese bird badge mount set

I also have amassed a large number of bird related postcards.

I H Jungnickel-Der Hahn als Festordner

Bill Reid-Haida-Raven and the First Men

Pablo Picasso-The Dove

Claude Coats-Disney production image for Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs

Crows-detail of Japanese screen-c 1650

Ruan Sidi-Jinshan folk art-Ducks Eat Rice

Along with this page from a Mary Poppins “Magic Paintless and Dot-to-Dot” coloring book by J. LaGrotta and E. Eringer for Disney Inc.

J LaGrotta and E Eringer-Disney Mary Poppins Magic Paintless and Dot-to-Dot

Of course, the works some of my favorite children’s book illustrators have wings too.

Julie Paschkis:Julie Paschkis-Word Bird-Flutter and Hum

Leo Lionni:Leo Lionni-Tico and the Go copy

Lizbeth Zwerger:Lizbeth Zwerger-Swan Lake

Wood engraving is a beautiful medium for portraying the delicacy of feathers. These are some of my favorite prints in that medium.

Sarah van Niekerk:Sarah van Niekerk-Jacobins in a Bay Tree

Eileen Mayo:Eileen Mayo-Two Doves-1958

John Buckland-Wright:John Buckland-Wright -Endymion-1943

This is a wood engraving of the sculpture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace by an uncredited illustrator, used as an advertisement for air power. It came from the now defunct scrap file at the Central branch of the Seattle Public Library.

Winged Victory of Samothrace-Airlines determine the destiny of nations-artist unknown

There are wings of inspiration in all sorts of places. I took this photo of some old airline signage from the Boeing Museum of Flight.

Boeing logo bird arrow

I went to Paris recently. Paris has wings everywhere you look.

Winged monument Paris

Winged Victory statue Paris

Wall decor painting - Louvre

So by now it shouldn’t surprise anyone that bird imagery shows up often in my work.

M Chodos-Irvine -Dreamer

M Chodos-Irvine -Cycnus

It helps to have some good reference materials. I have accumulated a number of  bird books, but there are a few that I use often. Birds In Flight, by Carrol L. Henderson, has excellent photos of birds on the wing. Any bird book by Roger Tory Peterson will be good. The World of Birds, by Peterson and James Fisher has good structural information, such as this page on the anatomy of the wing.

R T Peterson-wing anatomy

The “How To Draw” series from the 40s includes a handy instruction book on drawing and painting birds.

How To Draw and Paint Birds cover

Hunt makes it look so easy.

Lynn Bogue Hunt-How to Draw and Paint Birds-pg 14

Audubon’s illustrations are fun to peruse. His birds are placed in the most awkward positions, yet they are graceful in their own torqued way. I guess this is what you get when you are drawing from death, rather than life.

Audubon-White-tailed Kite

Birds and wings and feathered things. They tell a story of flight, of soaring, and of freedom. May they inspire you to make great art. Or at least put a bird on something.

Jean Honore Fragonard-The Cage

More Magic

If you played along with my post about drawing your way into a story by sketching animal characters, (http://booksaroundthetable.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/magic-formula-how-to-write-illustrate-a-picture-book/), you have a couple of likely suspects ready and waiting in the wings for the action to begin. I bet your characters are already making suggestions and you have some ideas about where this story’s going.

lilac663

A character ready for center stage.

Next step is to focus on your characters’ “out-of-balanced-ness,” the aspect of the character(s) that the story will grapple with and depend upon. Norma Fox Mazer, who I was lucky to teach with at Vermont College of Fine Arts, called this out-of-balanced-ness the character’s “deprivation.” I like her term because it points to a need or void in the character that the story will address.

So think about it. What do your characters need? This could be anywhere on Maslow’s pyramid: basic needs like food, water, and sleep; safety needs; need to belong; need for esteem, and/or self actualization needs like morality, creativity and justice.  Be as specific as you can. Then craft a story situation that puts this deprivation front and center.

You already have clues in your character sketches. Keep drawing as you think about what your characters need. It helps to give them names and special objects. For instance in Zelda and Ivy, Zelda’s baton is important to both Zelda and the story. It becomes the symbol of power.

Z&I"2Let'splaycircus."447

“You can be the fabulous fox on the flying trapeze,” says Zelda. “I will announce your tricks.” From Zelda and Ivy.

You can summon more pieces of your story by drawing your characters in their surroundings, or by collecting photos of the place the story will take place. For instance, for Frank and Izzy Set Sail, I collected photos of Lake Magiore in Italy.

54-306

F&I.lkmagiore665

From Frank and Izzy Set Sail.

At the same time, make notes about how they might talk to each other, keying in on points of contention and agreement. Can you put this in dialogue?

The machinations of story do not require you to know the whole when you begin. As you keep gathering images, and drawing, and writing snippets that you think might belong, eventually you realize you have enough on the page for the story to begin to speak.

Then all you have to do is listen. It really is kind of magic.

Another Alice

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 1

A few weeks ago, Maria Popova published a post in her wonderful Brain Pickings blog featuring the illustrations by Ralph Steadman from a 1972 edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.

Before you go any further, read her post. Then come back here. Then go read more of her posts if you haven’t already.

I didn’t know Steadman illustrated Alice In Wonderland, but I should have,  because I own a copy of his Through The Looking Glass, also published in 1972, that I bought on a trip to England in 1975 (Steadman’s Alice In Wonderland is mentioned on the book jacket flap, but what 15-year old reads  jacket copy?). It is one of my Most Valued And Beloved Books. Here are more of my favorite images:

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 2The Jaberwock, with eyes of flame. Steadman is also a political satirist.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 3

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 4

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 5Notice how he uses the gutter split to advantage. Perfect for a story set in a world of reflection.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 6

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 7

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 8 Steadman takes the commonly accepted view that the White Knight is Lewis himself.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 9

When I was first starting out as an illustrator, nearly thirty years ago, I tried out pen and ink as a medium, a la Steadman. The image below was for The Clinton Street Quarterly, a small publication from the 80s out of Portland, OR. It is humbling to look back that far in my professional history, but take it as a tribute to my love of Steadman’s work.

Chodos-Irvine Marcos

Magic Formula: How to Create a Picture Book

This time up, I considered writing an advice column about what to do when you’re waiting for an editor’s response. But then I decided it’s more interesting to look at the work itself: making books. Over my next few blogposts, I plan to lay out a process for creating a picture book, using examples from my published and as-yet unpublished work.

PART ONE: CHARACTER.  Let’s start with character. Good stories need intriguing characters, characters that sparkle with their very own inward and outward expressions of self: looks, mannerisms, substance, personality quirks and out-of-balanced-ness.

franksketches

Rough sketches for Frank of “Frank and Izzy Set Sail,” exploring gesture.

My characters are usually an amalgam of people I know, their traits exaggerated and edited for maximum dramatic impact. I am especially interested in duos, for the interaction and conflict possibilities. Also, I think it’s easier to draw animals than people.

ct27

Thumbnail sketch of Frank and Izzy.

So, Dear Reader, if you want to play along, start by drawing a favorite animal. You can anthropomorphize a little or a lot. Look through family movies and photos for lively gestures and expressions and try to transfer what you see to your animal. Notice how other illustrators do this. (Paul Schmid, Arnold Lobel, James Marshall to name a few.) Hilary Knight’s Eloise illustrations are great inspiration for childsize action gestures. Another strategy is to google photos of famous duos, (i.e. Lucy and Ethel, George and Gracie Burns, Sonny and Cher…), and try to capture their interaction in your characters.

lucy.ethelmice660

Rough sketches for future characters based on Ethel and Lucy.

I like to do these sketches on tracing paper. It’s easy to erase and rework. Once I have several pages, I hang them on the wall to consider. I think about proportions. Heads to bodies to legs and arms. Do this and pretty soon you’ll have a rough, generalized look for your characters.

Z&Iproportion

Rough sketches of Zelda and Ivy, finding proportions.

It’s impossible to draw pages of the same characters without starting to sense story bubbling up. Sometimes these ideas come out of “mistakes” in the drawing. For example, maybe the line you’ve drawn for a smile gives the character a devious look. Go with it. Think about what that character is up to. Your mind will start spinning story.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Pay attention. Note overheard conversations that sound like your characters. Keep track of situations that provoke an emotional response in your own life, the funny, scary, sad, annoying, angering stuff. Write down anything that seems made for these little characters you are brewing.

My next turn to blog here will be Feb. 7. Using these preliminary drawings and notes, we’ll move toward constructing the story.

Babies

In honor of the new year, which is only three days old, here are some pictures of babies and children.estremoz doll

This is a happy little sculpture from Estremoz, Portugal. Maybe the mother had arms once.

In very old paintings the babies often look peculiar. The face of Duccio’s  baby Jesus face is old, although his feet are young.  The same is true of the Giotto. Why?

Duccio_The-Madonna-and-Child

I have read that the babies look old because the society had a different conception of childhood, but this explanation never made sense to me. If you have ideas about this, please leave a comment.

GiottodiBondone_Madonna_and_Child

I think that maybe the babies look like the artists looked. Another possibility is that the more detail you put into a face, the older it looks.

I love these awkward children painted by Henri Rousseau.

rousseau

rousseau child

Why do her legs disappear into the meadow? Did Rousseau just run out of space?

henri rousseau

This serene child in red was painted by Ammi Phillips.

ammi phillips

When I draw babies I sometimes just do a shorthand baby – real features seem to weigh it down and make it unbaby like.

Paschkis the King and the Baby

Simple cartoonish drawings can feel real. Crockett Johnson makes Harold feel real and alive by his body language, even though the few details are odd.CrockettJohnson

Margaret (Chodos-Irvine) includes very little detail in this baby from Only You, but the body feels just right. You can imagine holding this baby.

chodos irvine baby

Maurice Sendak has lots of detail AND the babies in Outside Over There look like babies. Except that according to the text they are goblins, not babies.

sendak goblins

Neither babies nor years stay brand new for very long. Time flies.

And sometimes babies fly too, as in this devinette.

devinette

May you have a Happy New Year, filled with new projects and new hope, and maybe even new babies. (But not flying babies).

Anthropomorphing

Denslow-Mother Goose-Humpty Dumpty Anthropomorphism is the act of attributing a human form or to a non-human object or being.

I have been trying my hand at anthropomorphizing (it is as hard to type as it is to say) but I have yet to be hired to illustrate a book with non-human characters. So far my books have always portrayed children (with a few semi-sentient toys).

M Chodos-Irvine -Ella Sarah Gets Dressed cat toy

A few years ago I created some sample illustrations for “Zoo Shoes,” a charming story by Amy MacDonald.

M Chodos-Irvine-ZooGiraffeHighHeels

Amy and I pitched the manuscript and the illustrations around for a while but we failed to find a publisher for the project. Still, it was a good exercise for me to play with anthropomorphization (that’s as hard to type as it is to read), and someday, I hope these two lovelies will have a story of their own.

M Chodos-Irvine-Isadora and Martha

Anthropomorphism probably goes back as far as storytelling. It is standard practice in mythology and folk tales – Coyote, Raven, Spider, Mother Nature. It must be innate for humans to project human psyches into everything we perceive. Aesop’s Fables, Mother Goose, Br’er Rabbit –  these tales allow us to critique human foibles without offending anyone specifically. It’s like seeing someone else’s reflection in your mirror,

JJ Granville- Dog Days

which is very useful in storytelling to children.

Dr Seuss-Yertle the Turtle

Perhaps children can see themselves in animal characters more easily than human ones because animals are often small and misunderstood and vulnerable.

Plus animals are cute and kids like cute things (and so do their parents).

The Provensens-The Giant Golden Mother Goose-3 Little Kittens 2

Garth Williams-Bedtime for Francis
Ian Falconer-Olivia

L M Kvasnosky-Zelda and Ivy and the Boy Nextdoor

Another advantage is that animals can be identified by their characteristics without bias or prejudice. An aardvark with self-esteem issues can then help us learn the value of accepting oneself and one’s nose.

Marc Brown-Arthurs Nose

Animals also have no racial identities, so any child looking at a picture book can identify with a little bear,

Sendak-Little Bear

and animals can be foreigners in Human-Land without having to be identified by their nation state. They are clearly from Animal-Land, and that is enough.

Jean de Brunhoff-The Story of Babar

In case you want to take a stab at this approach yourself, the steps to anthropomorphization are simple:

Give upright posture, some cute clothes, a hat.

Paul Schmid-Pearl

Kevin Henkes-Chrysanthemum

R Scarry-Lowly Worm copy

But most importantly, give whatever non-human subject you’ve chosen the facial and emotional expressions of people.

Hardie Gramatky-Little Toot

Pretty much anything can be, and has been, anthropomorphized in picture books.

Laurie Keller-Arnie the Doughnut 2

David Small-Hoovers Bride
Glasses Who needs em-Lane Smith-Viking 1991

Are there disadvantages to using anthropomorphism in picture book illustration? Not that I can think of, except perhaps running the risk of making your characters too cute, or worse, too human.

However, let it be known that there are dangers inherent in anthropomorphism itself. We must not expect everything we portray as human to behave accordingly.

Garth Williams-Push Kitty

Some restraint is wise.