Category Archives: printing techniques

A Tale of Two Foxes

My fox sisters celebrated a new edition in May and it seems like a good time to tell their story.

The first, eponymous, Zelda and Ivy book was published by Candlewick Press in 1998: three short stories about two fox sisters in one picture book format. Both the text and illustrations seemed to drop into my lap: gifts. But with further thought, I realized this material had been trying to become a book for a long time.

We all experience moments when life is larger than usual, moments full of emotion and humor that we recognize as the stuff of story. I gathered a critical mass of such times from childhood home movies and conversations with my sibs. I wanted to make a picture book that carried our growing-up experience: our neighborhood parades, and fairy dust and, maybe most importantly, our relationships. I am the middle of five children. I know what it is to be a bossy, imaginative big sister and an adoring, gullible little sister. I was pretty sure sibling rivalry could fuel the drama.

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I first worked with this material in a project called Summer Shorts. Here’s the dummy.

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It included four short stories about a family with five human children. It made the rounds at publishers and was roundly rejected. Years passed while I sold other projects and got started in the picture book world.

Meanwhile, Pierr Morgan, a NW illustrator, showed me this cool medium called gouache resist (directions: http://www.lmkbooks.com/fun/gouache.php). I liked how the reds popped. Why not revisit that sibling rivalry material – only with fox characters? I simplified, reducing the cast to two.

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From their debut at critique group, these characters seemed to have the juice. When Zelda and Ivy was published,  it received lots of starred reviews and SCBWI’s Golden Kite honors in illustration and text.

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I was invited to do a sequel. Then a third.

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When the fourth book, Zelda and Ivy The Runaways, came out in 2007, it had a leaner look. Candlewick’s marketing department had advised these stories belong in the early reader canon – thus we downsized to the standard 6 x 9-inch ledger size. That year ALA chose it for the Geisel Award. It was the same year my friend Kirby Larson won the Newbery for Hattie Big Sky. We were both in the ballroom in downtown Seattle when our awards were announced. Pretty exciting.

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Two more Zelda and Ivy titles have followed, and the earlier ones were reformatted from picture book to ledger.

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By the time I got to the sixth book, I knew Zelda and Ivy’s world as well as my own.

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As of May, all titles six are officially part of Candlewick’s Sparks series for early readers; each published as a slim paperback that fits easily into the backpack of a young reader.

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Revisiting Another Realm

“Birds and Woman’s Face”-Kenojuak

I visited my parents recently, and while I was there I spent some time looking through the books on their shelves. Most of them are the same books I grew up looking at when I was a kid, sitting in the living room of our house in Southern California. It was comforting to peruse them again, like looking at old family photo albums.

Some of my favorites are from my mother’s collection of Eskimo graphic art books (the proper term is Inuit, but her books are all from the pre-pollitically correct 1960s), and wouldn’t you know, these images that I’ve always liked so much were made using printmaking techniques – first introduced to the Inuit in the late 1950s.

“Two Men Discussing Coming Hunt” -Kavagawak

There is a great deal of humor in these images, but also great power and beauty. They are a vision into another culture’s world view – with high contrast and a wonderful use of negative space. Perhaps this is what happens when you live in a realm of ice and snow.

“The Arrival of the Sun” -Kenojuak

The Enchanted Owl-Kenojuak“The Enchanted Owl” -Kenojuak

This one below reminds me of Peter in The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats (one of the most perfect children’s books ever made).

‘Seal Hunter” -Niviaksiak

And looking at these books again, I realize this art likely influenced the direction my own work eventually took, although I didn’t see it until now.

“Polar Bear and Cub on Ice” -Niviaksiak

Image for Hello, Arctic!, 2002

A New Word: Solastalgia

I like words.  That’s a condition endemic to writers (along with an obsession with stationary supplies) but I don’t think it comes out in quite the way people imagine.  It’s not like I love a thesaurus, which, if used with too much enthusiasm, can produce writing  filled with inflated diction. No, writing like that, all tarted up, is not what loving words is about, at least not in my opinion. I don’t make lists of my favorite words and then look for random places to insert them in my writing. What I’m more interested in, in terms of words, is where they come from – their etymologies and how they made their way from one part of the world and one language group to another part of the world altogether, and how they changed as they moved through time and space. The Oxford English Dictionary handles etymologies brilliantly – I’ll take the OED over a thesaurus any day

Since I love words and their complicated provenance, it makes sense for me to be interested in neologisms – newly-invented words. The other day my sister told me about this one: Solastalgia. It looks a little like something that might send you to bed with the sniffles, or maybe like something in a 19th-century novel when the heroine requires “mustard plasters.”

Actually, the word “Solastalgia,” coined in 2003 by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht, is a condition similar to nostalgia, with a twist; it occurs not when you are far from home and long to return, but when you are still home and feel the loss of home due to the changed nature of the landscape or environment in general. My sister and I are now convinced we suffer from this condition, since we live in a world so changed from what we remember – we are constantly looking for the landmarks that have disappeared, we keep longing to repair the damage and restore a well-loved spot to it’s former health.

Take Elger Bay, for example, midway down Camano Island in Puget Sound, with its old waterfront cabins from the 30’s (no indoor plumbing, no electricity) replaced now by 6000-square-foot mansions. Signs have gone up saying “Private Beach, Keep Off.” The trees are gone, eagles are gone, driftwood has been replaced by cement bulkheads. The cabin my great-grandmother built with her husband is gone. But what we’re feeling isn’t nostalgia. We’re not longing for a simpler time. This is the heartache (or “psychoterratic illness”) of searching for a landscape that once was whole and now is damaged. Solastalgia (a mix of the root word solacium, meaning comfort, and -algia, meaning pain.)

I don’t imagine that word will  make it into my writing for children any time soon. But what an interesting word it is.  Also, terrible.  I might try writing a story about a girl who is homesick even when she’s home.

All because I heard about a new word and looked it up.

[ADDED NOTE: The Australian blog mentioned in the comments below - Healthearth - has a wonderful explanation of solastalgia - click here for a link. This is the blog of Glenn Albrecht, who first developed the concept of solastalgia and came up with a name for it.]

Beauty In Limitations: A Printmaker’s Perspective

Denslow’s Mother Goose, W W Denslow, 1901

I have been thinking about limitations lately.

Like illustrations from old picture books before four-color photo-processing became the norm. The ones I’ve accumulated are mostly from the 40s and 60s and they seem have been printed that way to keep production costs down. An economy of expense leading to an economy of style.

Those images have a particular quality that I’ve always loved. The simplicity of an image made by building layers of color. The opposite of slick. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to printmaking. Printmakers are inordinately fond of process and tools you have to sharpen by hand. We think in layers. We are to painters what typesetting is to Microsoft Word.

Kees & Kleintje, Elizabeth Enright, 1938

Kees &Kleintje, Elizabeth Enright, 1938

Not that images like these were simple to produce. Each color had to be created on a separate overlay in black (or the photo equivalent). Often the print run was limited to two or three colors so overlapping was used to create more.

When you have to do the color separation yourself with specified colors, you have to create the mechanicals whilst thinking ahead to what the image might look like. You won’t know for sure till the finished page comes off the press.

Kees, Elizabeth Enright, 1937

The above images were printed with red, yellow, blue and black inks. The oranges and greens and other tones come from overlapping the transparent inks and using screen tones of those four colors. I know it sounds like CMYK, but the difference is that the color separations were all done by hand. There was no full-color image to start with ahead of time.

Rather than confuse you further by describing what I’m talking about, I will show you an example. The spread below demonstrates how three separate images overlap to produce a multicolor picture.

Woodcuts & Woodengravings: How I Make Them, Hans Alexander Mueller, 1939

When artists work under these limitations, I think a kind of magic can occur. I like the happy accidents that happen when colors overlap and registration gets a bit off. Some people would argue that you can get the same effect more easily using a computer, but there is too much control — down to the pixel — with digital media. There is no room for chance or Happy Accidents. The only accidents I can think of involving computers involve spilled liquids, and they are NOT happy.

Pierre Pidgeon, Arnold Edwin Bare, 1943

Ilenka, Arnold Edwin Bare, 1945

Mrs. McGarrity’s Peppermint Sweater, Abner Graboff, 1966

Josefina February, Evaline Ness, 1963

James and the Giant Peach, Nancy Eckholm Burkert, 1961

So how does all this inform my work?

“Daphne’s Hand”, Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Well, like I said, I’m a printmaker, and printmaking isn’t the most practical illustration technique in which to work. Nonetheless, it is worth it to still leave room for chance in my work. Images like these remind me that working within limits can have positive, even beautiful, results that could not be achieved in any other way.