Monthly Archives: December 2017

Books and bad weather

Illustration by Karen Hollingsworth

Books and bad weather just seem to go together. It’s so enticing to settle in with a book in hand and snow, wind and rain at the window.

Illustration by Lorenzo Mattotti

It can be a moment of solitude…

Illustration by Samantha Dodge

or a moment that unites us.

Illustration by Vincent Mahe

Illustration by Adrian Tomine

Sometimes you can create your own shelter.

Illustration by Iker Ayestaran

Illustration by Michelle Riche

In my collection of images of books in art, reading in a time of cold and dark is almost always a warm, safe moment.

Illustration by Sasha Ivoylova

But not always.

Illustration by AJ Frena

But let’s not end on this chilling note. Here’s the perfect image for cozy holiday reading.

Illustration by Raija Nokkal

Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! Season’s readings!

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“Rare as Georgia Snow”

Winter Weather Deep South

Last week snow fell from San Antonio to Atlanta before moving up the Eastern seaboard to a more likely spot for a winter snowfall, New England. I know my good friend Leda Schubert was thrilled to see the snow fall in Vermont, where she lives (“the center of the universe,” as she calls it.) But across the country the headlines were focusing on the South: “Snow snarls flights at world’s busiest airport,” read the headline in USA Today (and don’t you’ love a good headline…”Snow snarls flights” – isn’t that poetry?)

Snow in Atlanta put me in mind of a beautiful poem by Kevin Young. It wasn’t written for kids, though I’m hoping we can all expand our sense of what kind of poetry is appropriate for kids. Read this one through. It’s simple, direct, it looks effortless. Certainly a 10-year-old child could hear it and think about it; not all poetry for kids needs to be rambunctious. The ending is a bit of a puzzle, but not beyond pondering – and why not let poetry teach children that life is puzzling?

As simple as it looks, there’s lovely music in the way the words flow and the sounds the words make. Music – melopoeia – that’s one of the three elements that poet Ezra Pound attributed to poetry. The other two are phanopoeia (the casting of an image) and logopoeia (harder to define.) I think of logopoeia as intellect – the mind coming in to play, usually discerning meaning behind the music and the image.

In any case, here’s the perfectly-titled poem. Ditty: “A short simple song.” Remember to read it aloud, and you’ll hear the music. And just imagine: a person rare as Georgia snow! The minute the poem starts with that opening phrase, you belong to it.

 

Ditty

You, rare as Georgia
snow. Falling

hard. Quick.
Candle shadow.

The cold
spell that catches

us by surprise.
The too-early blooms,

tricked, gardenias blown about,
circling wind. Green figs.

Nothing stays. I want
to watch you walk

the hall to the cold tile
bathroom—all

night, a lifetime.

 

Kevin Young, 1970

newspoet_kevinyoung03

Poet Kevin Young

By the way, it’s Poetry Friday. Diane is hosting the round-up over at Random Noodling. Head over there to see what other people have posted.

 

What I Learned from the 2017 Caldecott Winners’ Portland Panel

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Marian Creamer of Children’s Literature Alive introducing the panel. L to r: Marian in front, Brendan Wenzel, Javaka Steptoe, Carson Ellis, Gregory Christie, Vera Brogsol and moderator Steven Engelfried.

There they were – all five recipients of the 2017 Caldecott awards – seated for a panel discussion in Portland, Oregon. Usually a given year’s Caldecott winners appear together only at their ALA awards ceremony. But shortly after these winners were announced last January, my friend, Portland librarian Marian Creamer, who served on the awards committee, realized all five of the 2017 recipients had a connection to Portland. So she hatched a plan to gather them for a wonderful few days of events in her corner of the world.

Here are some remarks from these illustrious illustrators that stuck with me.

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Javaka Steptoe with Faubion PK-8 student.

First off, Javaka Steptoe whose book, Radiant Child, the Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, was given the top Caldecott medal. His illustrations were created in the style of Basquiat’s work: painted and collaged onto found wooden panels with repetition of iconic Basquiat images in Basquiat-bright colors.

Javaka said he begins his projects by looking for the story behind the story. For this book, it was the mother/son connection that spoke to him, “the basis of Basquiat’s humanity.” In the first stages of any book project, Javaka advises, “Let it be ugly: throw it up on a page, put it all out there, then scale it back.” His goal is to find “a balance of flavors.”

As he works through successive drafts, Javaka finds “better words and flow out of the chaos and jumbledness.” He concluded, “Put the work in – and also realize you have to give it up eventually. You gotta let it go.”

Javaka first visited Portland 17 years ago and “looks for any excuse to return.”

Next up, the four Caldecott honors.

 

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Vera Brogsol scored Caldecott honor recognition with her first picture book, Leave Me Alone, the tale of a grandma who yearns for a place where she can knit in peace and quiet. Born in Russia in 1984, Vera came to the US at age five and worked many years in animation. Like the babushka in her book, she relishes time alone and the opportunity to work on her own projects.

Vera emphasizes she works slowly. “Projects become a part of you, like a limb.” She looks for projects that will challenge her, to help her grow and understand herself.

Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 2.57.16 PMVera’s fellow Portlander, Carson Ellis, author of Du Iz Tak, is flat out inventive. This is a book written in a language spoken by insect characters; a language made clear by repetition and context. The illustrations move the story along with delightful surprises at each page turn. Carson is the mother of two young kids and wife of indie musician Colin Maloy of the Decemberists. She keeps a slush pile of pieces that she revisits to see if any of it “can go anywhere. Everything I do is over-complicated and I have to simplify.” She circles back to the slush pile to see if any ideas are ready to “flesh out properly.”

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Gregory Christie and me.

Greg Christie spent three months painting in the Portland arts environment, in the time before he opened a bookstore/gallery in Atlanta. His book, Freedom in Congo Square, recounts a chapter of slave history in New Orleans. The rhyming text by Carole Boston Weatherford, tells of the slaves working day by day, leading to a Sunday gathering for dancing and music in the city’s Freedom Square.

“Anywhere you go in the US, New Orleans is unique,” Greg said. “Its unique urban energy was forged in African American culture.” Greg has illustrated over 60 children’s books and lots of album covers as well. He used a combination of collage and acrylic gouache on this one. He paints his final art over a loose sketch. “I like to give myself room to keep energy in the painting.”

His reason for creating children’s books? “I do these books because I want there to be books I wish I had as a child.”

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Brendan Wenzel is based in Brooklyn, NY, but his book, They All Saw A Cat, came out of his experience of living three years in SE Asia. The illustrations reveal the ways that various creatures (flea, snake, mouse, skunk etc.) see a cat, as well as how the cat sees itself. Brendan says he was aiming to “create a sense of healing through understanding our different perspectives.” That is exactly what these illustrations do. Also, this book has my favorite first line, “A cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, paws and ears.”

Brendan worked with Michael Curry, Portland’s creator of large puppets, i.e. Lion King, for four months.

The Caldecott 2017 panel was introduced by students from Grant High school and Riverdale Elementary and moderated by Steven Engelfried, Library Services Manager, Wilsonville Public Library. In the following days, the five visited Faubion PK-8 school in NE Portland and worked with students on art and writing projects.

I met Marian Creamer – who dreamed this up and made it happen – about 20 years ago when she was a school librarian at Riverdale Elementary and I a visiting author. Though she is retired from her school library, she continues to work tirelessly to bring kids and books together.

Marian was struck by something she gleaned from these five Caldecott winning books as a whole: “A multiplicity of viewpoints can coexist, and differences of perspectives are evident without preaching. Children are the best judges of discerning what is true and relative.”

Yes!

Marian’s non-profit organization, Children’s Literature Alive, sponsored the Portland events. If you would like to join me in supporting Marian’s work, leave a note in the comments and I will send you her contact information.

 

Ideas Beget Ideas

I’ve been asked “Where do ideas come from?”

For me, ideas beget ideas. It’s hard to begin anything. Every idea can seem stupid and dismissible. But once I start working even a slight idea can take root and grow. To put it another way – whatever I am making has its own ideas and talks back to me. I just try to start a conversation.

That is true within any individual painting or illustration. It’s also true from painting to painting. The more work I do the more I want to do – the ideas bounce off of each other. When I am busy I have too many ideas to implement. When I actually have time the ideas sometimes wither or run away, and I am bereft. They like being part of a crowd.

I love illustrating books because the words take me to new places, and each book is a complete journey. But the finished work has to deliver on the promise of the sketches. For my whole life as an illustrator I have continued to paint pictures that are not part of books – just because they (I) can wander off in new directions. This feeds back into the books and allows me to grow. It is also just plain fun.

Here is the cover of a new book – VIVID – that will be coming out next summer.

Painting that cover led me to these explorations of color.

I bought some white ink for those paintings, and that led to more explorations with black and white ink.

sisters 8x8

 

stretch 7 x 19

The act of painting points me in new directions.
ms weathervane 15 x22 All of the art in this blog post will be in a show at the i.e. gallery in Edison, WA from December 2-24th. The gallery is open every Friday-Sunday, and by appointment.
I hope you can come to the show (opening Saturday December 2 from 4-6 PM).

I’m not sure where ideas come from – but for me they multiply when they can bounce off of each other. I’d like to hear your comments on whether your ideas like to be in crowds, or whether they flourish more in solitude. What stops you? What keeps you going?

Here is a poem by Anne Stenzel, from her new collection called The First Home Air After Absence.

combustion stenzel