Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Rock-Solid Story

Last week, the guys from B&D Rockeries built a long wall along our driveway to stabilize the steep slope below the house. While they were down there working, I was up in the house constructing a revision of my middle-grade novel-in-progress.

B&D is a partnership between Neil Eneix, 62, and his dad Clayton, 81. Neil sets up their projects and Clayton runs the installations from his seat high in the track hoe. By manipulating levers that control the big boom, the dipper and the jaws, Clayton can land an 800-pound rock with the precision of a mama bestowing a kiss on her baby’s forehead.

I watched them lay out the materials: soil for filler, and the one- and two- man rocks. Then, in 20-foot stretches, they started to build. Working with both the track hoe (Clayton) and shovels (the rest of the crew), they cleared the way for the new wall by digging into the hill, working around big tree roots.

Rocks were placed one by one. Clayton selected from the rock pile with an expert’s eye. Then he maneuvered the track hoe to lift each rock, turn and lower it into place. At the jaws end of the track hoe, Mark, who’s in his 40s, settled the stones in place, making smaller adjustments. Clayton and Mark have been working together for nine years and seemed to communicate telepathically. Mark’s son, David, 22, shoveled to backfill as the wall grew. Four generations working together to build our wall.

Our new rock wall has a traditional, purposeful design. The biggest rocks were laid first, creating a sturdy base along the bottom. Next came the smaller secondary rocks filling the voids between the big stones, and finally the top course, providing a flat and finished top. As Neil told me later, “Every rock has its home.”

The B&D Rockeries Crew

Back up in the house, I considered my novel in stretches, too: beginning, middle, end. It’s the middle that has my attention lately. The big stones are in place and seem to have found their homes, but I am playing with the secondary pieces, moving some around, discarding others, finding new pieces that are a better fit. I’m trying to find a combination of chapters and scenes and beats and even words that builds a story as interdependent as our new rock wall. A story where every piece matters. In a way, I am working across generations, too. This story has roots in my father’s childhood. If only he were still here to pull the levers and guide the construction.

The rock guys completed our wall by early afternoon. In one day they built a thing of beauty and utility that will be here long after we’ve left the scene. I can only hope to create a story as enduring.

Our new rock wall

Space: The Final Frontier

Nature and I abhor a vacuum. I tend to fill up every bit of space with pattern and color.

But I am often drawn to art that has room to breathe in it, like this 1958 snowstorm by Selina Chonz. The space allows you to appreciate the patterns.

This next illustration was done by Lotte Schmiel in 1935. The background floats into the shapes; she allows your imagination to complete the edges of the objects.

As does Margaret (Chodos-Irvine) in this illustration for Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet Wong. Your eye creates the edge of the tee-shirts and also connects the shirts from stripe to stripe.

Lizbeth Zwerger is a master of space. Her composition pulls your eye around the painting. All of the space allows you to notice the grace and perfection of her lines.










For a while I was taking piano lessons. My friend and teacher, Julan Chu, told me that I needed to pay attention to the rests as well as to the notes. Lately I’ve been trying to leave some rest for the eyes in my paintings, at least some of the time. This image is from my book Apple Cake, coming next fall.

The images I’ve posted here all share the quality of spaciousness. There is also a secret sub-theme. Can you guess it?


P.S. For those of you in Seattle, there are some upcoming events I would like to tell you about. We have added an Events page to this blog where you can find out about the launch party for Mooshka and other exciting activities to come.

Bowling for Dinosaurs

A question I often get asked is, Do I use photos to draw from when I illustrate?

The answer is Yes and No. I try to draw from my imagination as much as possible, but there are times when a photo captures more details than my imagination can conjure up.

For example, when I was working on Dinosaur Thunder by Marion Dane Bauer last year, I drew many of the kid images without photo reference.

Children are my favorite drawing subjects. I love the expressive way they move.

But Dinosaur Thunder has a scene that involves bowling angels. If it was dancing angels or sleeping angels, I could probably have managed it, but bowling is not really my thing.

So I invited my friend Todd, a former bowling team member, and his kids to join me and mine at to our local bowling alley. I was able to get some valuable shots that day. It’s the little details that make all the difference.

Todd. My bowling angel.

And the shoes. I had to get reference for the shoes. My eldest daughter modeled these stylish gems for me.

This is how the image turned out.

Thanks to good friends, cooperative children and a decent camera, I was able to get details necessary to embellish upon my imagination. Sometimes you just have to go out in the field and do some serious research.

I have more dinosaur tales to tell, so stay tuned for future installments…

Here’s to Amazement

Robert F. Bukaty - Maine Cold

I’ve been reading One Hundred Years of Solitude again. I read it every so often – usually after a long period of rain in the Pacific Northwest. The book acts on me like a tonic.  I love the way the inhabitants of Macondo, the village Garcia Marquez creates for the novel, see ordinary things  as wondrous. A magnet, a magnifying glasses, a cake of ice  – the ordinary is extraordinary. Sure, a young woman can float off into the sky – but ice? Ice is a miracle.

Here’s how Garcia Marquez describes the moment a gypsy giant brings ice (hidden in a pirate chest!) to Macondo:

          Disconcerted, knowing the children were waiting for an immediate explanation, Jose Arcadio Buendia ventured a murmur:

“It’s the largest diamond in the world.”

“No,” the gypsy countered. “It’s ice.”

Jose Arcadio Buendia, without understanding, stretched out his hand toward the cake, but the giant moved it away. “Five reales more to touch it,” he said. Jose Arcadio Buendia paid them and put his hand on the ice and held it there for several minutes as his heart filled with fear and jubilation at the contact with mystery

It’s easy on a day-to-day basis to allow the mystery or ordinary things to sink below the surface.  But  part of the joy of reading Garcia Marquez is that wonder  is refreshed. We come away ready to see the world with new eyes.

The photo of the bird above, taken by the wonderful AP photographer Robert F. Bukaty, has the same effect on me.  How unexpected it is – the bird’s breath in the cold Maine air, the frozen whistle.  That photo is a poem.

Which reminds me: April is National Poetry Month. I’m going to read some poetry.  And write some poems.  I might go out and play with magnets or buy a magnifying glass or hold an ice cube in my hand.  I’m going to try looking with fear and jubilation at what surrounds me.  Christopher Fry, the British playwright, once said that poetry “is the language by which man explores his own amazement.”  I’m going to go exploring.