Monthly Archives: February 2014


picasiette exterior

Last week my husband discovered a book at Goodwill about Picassiette. From 1938-1962 Raymond Isidore covered his home and property in Chartres, France with mosaics.

picasiette summer house picasiette patio picasiette interior

He was given the nickname of Picassiette which means both “plate stealer” and ” Picasso of plates.”

picasiette coupleHe created beauty from materials that would otherwise have been thrown away.

picasiette detail

In 2004 I illustrated a book by Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker called Bottle Houses: The Creative World of Grandma Prisbrey. (It is out of print now, but still available used.)

Bottle Houses coverTessa Prisbrey also created a world out of materials that she scavenged – bottles, old dolls, pencils and broken dishes. She called it Bottle Village. You can see a video about her on line.

Bottle Village 1973

She made buildings from old bottles and filled them with her collections.Paschkis Prisbrey pencils

Paschkis Prisbrey pencil house

I visited Bottle Village before working on the book. Much of it was damaged by an earthquake, but much of it survived. While we were there a hummingbird followed us through the site, so I included it in many of the illustrations.

Paschkis Bottle Houses p.15

I didn’t get to see the kittens that she dyed with food coloring but I could imagine them.

Paschkis Bottle Village wall

Grandma Prisbrey transformed trash into treasure. Her life included a lot of sadness, but she seemed to transform that grief into creativity.

Prisbrey portrait Paschkis

Here in the NW corner of the map, Tim Fowler is creating a wondrous world.
Here are some of the figures in his yard.Tim Fowler mosaicTim Fowler mosaic

Tim Fowler sculpture

He has been working on a great mosaic wall for years.

Tim Fowler wall

Tim Fowler wall

Eventually the wall will surround his lot, but it includes windows.

Tim Fowler wall

If you are out of town you can visit Tim through this videoIf you are in Seattle, wander by 26th and Howell in the Central District and say hello.

Tim Fowler sculptureI hope this post will inspire you to make mosaics and to be happy when a beautiful dish breaks.  Here is a how-to video for a mosaic picture frame;  you could adapt the technique to other surfaces.

Tim Fowler gate


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

Love: That Old MacGuffin

Book - HeartHappy Valentine’s Day, Everyone!

Love, love, love…ain’t it grand? Especially for writers, since nearly every work of literature has at its most fundamental level something to do with love – the finding of it, the loss of it, the overwhelming and transformative pressure it exerts, the thinning out of it or the strengthening of it by degrees, the confusions of it, the comforts of it – whether it’s love of self, of a friend, a lover, a family member, a community. Sometimes it’s love of a place, which can be just as strong as love of a person. Often falling into it is the inciting incident, though just as often falling out is the denouement. Sci-Fi, mystery, thriller, literary fiction – it doesn’t matter what genre – love is almost always there, whether at the surface or flowing along at the river-bed level of the narrative line.

Since poetry’s narrative line is shorter, or sometimes not even there, it addresses momentary fascinations wrapped up in interesting and seductive language – that’s a different thing altogether. Not that poetry is fundamentally flirtatious. There are many deep, determined, and long-lasting love poems. But they are usually brief.


I think that’s because a poem wants to come out out singing. Happy lovers have their sweet duets, disappointed lovers  have their Blues. But are momentary fascinations at the heart – no pun  intended – of fiction? No. Fiction by its very nature engages us in something more prolonged.

Last Sunday the New York Times published (in its Book Review column “Round-Up”) a collection of thoughts from well-known writers about what literature has taught them about love.  Here’s how the column was presented:

Recent studies suggest that reading literature may make us smarter and more empathic, even more civic-minded. But what can literature tell us about love? Writers in a variety of genres share the books that taught them about love — and a few that led them memorably astray.

The list of writers who responded includes Hilary Mantel, Gary Shteyngart, Natasha Trethaway, Ann Patchett, Com Toibin, Jeanette Winterson and Khaled Hosseini, among others.  David Levithan tells us about reading Weetzie Bat. Colm Toibin insists he hasn’t learned anything about love from literature (though how intriguing to say, “Teaching us is one of literature’s afterthoughts; it is fiction’s bored sigh.”)  My favorite answer comes from the novelist Charles Baxter.

Charles Baxter, who knows a thing or two about a thing or two....

Charles Baxter, who knows a thing or two about a thing or two….

No wonder I love his stories so much, when he’s the kind of person who can say this:

“What literature teaches us about love is so multifarious as to be self-canceling. Shakespeare, for example, tells us that love is comical (“As You Like It”), passionate (“Romeo and Juliet”), disgusting (“Troilus and Cressida”), ennobling (“Antony and Cleopatra”), and is probably the most significant part of a young person’s sentimental education (the sonnets) even when it degrades the one who loves, as it usually does. Ovid assumes that everyone wants to love and to be loved (“Ars Amatoria”) and then to get free of the whole mess (“Remedia Amoris”). In Wagner’s version of the Nibelungenlied, Alberich the dwarf gains power by renouncing love. You get out of the game, you achieve mastery of an undesirable variety. But, as the musical comedian Anna Russell once observed, Alberich wasn’t going to get any love anyway, so he might as well renounce it.

Love is therefore a MacGuffin: It has no meaning of its own but gives a particular meaning to every situation. Anything you say about it is probably true, and the opposite will also be true. It’s beautiful and destructive in “The Iliad,” fecund and creative in the “Vigil of Venus,” plain stupid and scary (“Madame Bovary”). Love serves as the locus for sentimentality and domestic piety. In its name, terrible things are said.

One thing’s for sure: As a force, it changes people into fools. Or royalty. Or: It doesn’t change people. Take your pick.”

I agree with Baxter (or do I ♥ him?): Nothing about the nature of love in stories is nailed down or inert. And nothing says that as a writer you have to be consistent in your attitude toward it. Shakespeare (whoever Shakespeare was) didn’t feel the need for consistency. One play leaves you feeling like love is all the matters…

"My love is deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have...." (Romeo and Juliet)

“My love is deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have….” (Romeo and Juliet)

…and the next teaches you that love is for fools.

a-midsummer-nights-dream-william-shakespeare4“Methought I was enamored of an ass.” (Midsummer Night’s Dream)

As writers, we need to acknowledge love’s presence  in our stories, don’t we?  We won’t all write “love stories,” of course.  But we’ll always need to understand that stories – characters and the choices they make (doesn’t that define the word “narrative”?) – turn on love or the lack of it.

Try asking yourself this question: What will your readers learn from you? Before you can answer that, you need to sort out the answer to the initial question: What has literature taught you about love?  Answers (in the comments) much appreciated! And while you’re thinking about it, you can read the NY Times column here, and you can even let the Beatles (50th Anniversary? Amazing) serenade you for a bit. If you want to see what the KidsLit people are posting for Poetry Friday, you’ll find the round-up at Linda Baie’s blog, TeacherDance.

All you need is love,
all you need is love,
all you need is love, love,
l♥ve is ♥ll y♥u need.

flower love and peace

More Magic

If you played along with my post about drawing your way into a story by sketching animal characters, (, 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.


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, whom 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.


“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.



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.