I wrote this post in 2014. I’ve added some new images and thoughts at the end.
Here is the original post: Recently a friend suggested that I consider working on some of my illustrations in photoshop for the ease of trying out different solutions to a problem. I saw her point, but I prefer the point of a pencil, or the flow of a pen.
When I am illustrating or painting I start with an idea in my head. But once I start working on it other things kick in – my hand and the materials with which I am working. A line drawn with a pencil is different than line drawn with a brush. A line drawn with my hand is different than a line drawn in my head. Although a computer can recreate the looks of various media, I want the physical experience of interacting with real materials. I want to eat paper and drink ink.
Ink leads to scratches and blots, like this gongozzler by Ben Shahn.
Ink leads to elegant script and crosshatching as in this drawing by Saul Steinberg.
…or to elegant script and scratchy lines as in this Pennsylvania Fraktur for a Sam Book (psalm book) from 1809.
Ink is tempting, as in this drawing by John Coates.
A pencil will take you to an entirely different place.
James Edward Deeds ( 1908 – 1987) was an inmate of State Hospital #3 in Nevada, Missouri. He was also known as the Electric Pencil. He left behind an amazing trove of subtle and haunting pencil drawings.
Don’t miss the upper left corner of Rebel Girl…
I want to make art, but I don’t want to be the total master of the material. I want to see where the brush or pen or pencil will take me.
P.S. Here is a pencil poem by Todd Boss which I first saw on Julie Larios’s blog, the Drift Record.
I still work by hand although I use the computer to send and store my work. Technology has advanced so much in the last 8 years. I often can’t tell when I look at a book if the art was created digitally or manually.
I still prefer drawing and painting by hand because all of my senses are engaged. I might be able to recreate a dip pen line with a computer, but I like the feel of pressing on the nib. I can’t imagine this drawing (from 2015) deciding to come to me on the computer.
Sometimes I will use photoshop to edit out a blob, change a background, or change the scale of my sketches. But my ignorance might be keeping me from seeing the possibilities of the new tools.
I recently heard an artist explain how ProCreate allowed her to work more directly from sketches and make her work more free and intuitive. It made me want to try it.
If you are an artist how does the medium affect your creating? If you are a reader do you care or notice how the work was created?
Have your habits or creative processes changed as technology has developed?
Joohee Yoon relights the burning tiger in her book Beastly Verse from Enchanted Lion. Yoon’s tiger pulses with energy. She uses a limited palette – the colors vibrate. The shadows of the forest become the stripes of the tiger. The page folds out. First you see mostly the forest, then open the gatefold to reveal the rest of the tiger with fearful asymmetry.
Morris Hirshfield’s tiger radiates energy through the curving stripes of the beast, framed by the curving lines of the sky. This tiger is bigger than any mere tree, bigger than the hills.
Straight lines can be energetic too. Tiger leaps with big paws onto this soft rug, this new year.
This quizzical feline might not be a tiger. He wonders.
He is painted by Tatiana Mavrina. Her joyful style always reminds me to be free when painting.
Today’s tiger journey ends with another visit to William Blake.
Before the pandemic I became interested in Crankie Theaters. I wrote about them HERE. I decided to make a crankie theater production of The Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog by Oliver Goldsmith. To make it more interesting the audience would bark along. But then the pandemic struck. Gathering to bark (or meow) around a theater was unwise.
It occurred to me that a bark-along children’s book would be just as fun.
Goldsmith’s elegy is wonderful (you can hear it sung HERE). But its gentle mocking of piety didn’t seem clear or interesting to children. So I took one stanza of his poem and wrote my own story using Goldsmith’s structure and rhythm. Thank you, Oliver Goldsmith.
The book opens with instructions on how to bark and meow along.
The new story is about a lonely cat…
…who eventually meets a particular dog. Read the book to find out how.
They become true friends and companions. They travel paw by paw.
There are more dogs. More barking ensues…
and even more. Cacophany!
Just like it takes many dogs to make a chorus, it takes many people to make a book sing. I was lucky to work once again with the editor Reka Simonsen and the art director Michael McCartney at Simon & Schuster.
This book is best read aloud with lots of barking. For story hour you could cut out a large red circle and yellow diamond to use as cues.
P.S. The Wordy Book came out in September. It was expected earlier but supply chain and shipping issues delayed its arrival. So The Barking Ballad came fast on its heels, although the creation of the two books was more spread out.
The two books are quite different. Thanks for looking at them both.
Distelfink is the delightful word for the birds in Fraktur. (The literal translation is thistle finch.)
Fraktur is folk art made by the Pennsylvania Dutch, mainly in the 1700 and 1800’s. I grew up in Pennsylvania and saw a lot of Fraktur. The ink seeped into me.
The word refers to the type of script which was used in baptismal and other documents in Germany. In the new world the Fraktur included script, and became increasingly decorative.
Fraktur were drawn with ink and watercolor and often included flowers and distelfink.
In 2016 I was in a bicycle accident and broke my arm. I was despondent because I couldn’t draw, until a friend suggested that I draw with my left hand. My left hand drawing was slow, wonky and pulled me from my sadness. I did a series of paintings I called Fracture Fraktur.
That fall I made a calendar to support the ACLU, drawn left-handed in my fracture fraktur style.
I included the lion and the lamb – made famous by Edward Hicks’s paintings of The Peaceable Kingdom.
Sales of the calendar raised a lot of money for the ACLU, so I have made one every year since then. I have continued with the same fraktur style, although I reverted to my right hand out of habit and ease.
Most of the calendar images have included the lion and the lamb.
I am currently selling the 2022 calendar called We Are All Connected. Thank you to the many people who have purchased them already.
My hope is to help heal the fractures of America with these odd frakturs. I hope you will get one by clicking here. Each calendar sells for $12, and all $12 goes to the ACLU. The printing is donated by G & H Printing, and Ingrid Savage contributes greatly to the shipping. Your many purchases add up to something larger.
Thank you for your help in this endeavor. Distelfink by distelfink!
P.S. Recently I took part in a live Instagram series called Art Out Loud OnLine, hosted by the Society of Illustrators and Enchanted Lion Books. It was archived. Please click here for a leisurely visit with me at my house and studio, along with Julian Snider and Madeline Feig.
The Wordy Book, as you might have guessed, is bursting, babbling, mumbling and billowing with words, beginning with the endpapers.
The book is a collection of paintings that I made over many years. Each painting is paired with an open ended question.
A word can be savored for its sound and shape as well as for its meaning.
When you hear a word the meaning usually arrives first; sometimes the meaning obliterates the other qualities.
In paintings those other qualities have time to surface; meaning can be fluid. The words bump into each other and they bump into the images in the painting. They ask questions as well as giving answers.
Some of the paintings were created years ago, and they inspired new questions. The Sea of Words was used by the King County Library for their Playing With Words program. What do you sea?
In some of the paintings the question came first and I painted a response to it. What do you see?
Can the inside be bigger than the outside? The dragon has other creatures inside of it, as do we. All of the words in the dragon also have a second word embedded inside them.
In the Ouroboros the end of each word contains the beginning of the next.
Some of the pages are plain silly.
Some ask for more thought.
Is this book for kids? Yes. (Although adults are allowed to enjoy it too.) When I was a child I loved words. A favorite book of mine was Ounce Dice Trice and I itched to read it. I hope my book will scratch that same itch for kids now.
The Wordy Book can be preordered now from your local bookstore, from Enchanted Lion or from Bookshop.org. It will be available in mid August – a good time to notice words, bathe in words, play with words and go astray with words.
p.s. Can you find the tribute to Ounce, Dice, Trice hidden in the endpapers?
p.s.s. Here is what Kirkus has to say about the book:
THE WORDY BOOK[STARRED REVIEW!]
Words and pictures connect in surprising, stimulating ways.
Talk about painting with words. Author/illustrator Paschkis plays with them, too, and encourages readers to do likewise. In the process, she explores the elasticity and seemingly endless possibilities of language. The vividly colored, wittily detailed, folk-style paintings on double-page spreads organically incorporate words into the artwork in wondrous, creative ways. Words frequently repeat in different sizes and colors; illustrated images include words that sound or are shaped like them, are variations of them, rhyme or nearly rhyme with them, sort of resemble them, are sort of spelled like them, etc. A bouquet of flowers in a vase sports roses exuding the scents of slumber, sultry, shush, and other evocative words beginning with S; on a daisy’s petals readers find dizzy, doozy, lazy, jazzy; lief, leap, life, and more decorate the leaves. Delightful words—many of which readers won’t know, and that’s OK—flex vocabulary and spelling muscles to the max and also enhance readers’ visual and auditory senses when the pictures are taken in. Furthermore, the spreads are connected to thought-provoking questions. Some inspired the paintings, or vice versa, and themselves contain examples of wordplay. Persons depicted have diverse skin tones. The book makes a great springboard for creative-thinking activities in writing and art units in classroom and library programs. Keep dictionaries handy. Endpapers abound with swirling words readers can savor (and look up).
In a word, a feast for the eyes, brain, and artistic imagination. (author’s note) (Picture book. 6-10)
A solo show of my paintings will be at the i.e. gallery in Edison, WA. for the month of June, opening this Saturday June 5th from 2-4 PM.
Here are many of the paintings for those of you who can’t visit in real life.
My paintings have always been connected to my work as a children’s book illustrator. Most of my paintings tell stories although they don’t have manuscripts. You can make up your own stories when you see them. This show includes a few series of work done over the past several years, before and during Covid isolation.
One group of paintings began with this character whom I call Aurinko (the Finnish word for sun). In this painting she has lots of feet so that she can travel far. Those feet were inspired by a Catalan print of La Vella Quaresma that hangs in the kitchen of my friends Karel and Nancy.
I imagined her in different settings and seasons (and with varying numbers of legs and heads).
I painted this series using a dip pen and waterproof ink, then added color. Here is a detail. What is summer without bugs?
The Fishermoon soon joined Aurinko.
And the mermaid. And various other creatures of the woods and waterways.
Another group of paintings was painted with gouache and pinpricks. These were from the heart of the pandemic – a time of isolation.
Here is a detail:
Another series is gouache and collage with simple shapes and bold colors.The paper for the collage elements is hand-painted. I began this series in 2019 and have continued because the strong colors feed me.
Here is a detail:
I made designs for giant enamel panels for Sound Transit in 2020 with this technique, playing with the idea of transportation. I will be redesigning them to be mosaics, so these paintings could be included in the show. You might recognize the influence of La Vella Quaresma again. Unlike that story, my character gets to keep and use her legs. She even gets new shoes.
The Skagit Valley is a wonderful place to ride your bicycle.
I hope that by bike, car or foot you can see the show in real life, or visit the i.e. website to see more work. Thank you.
On the last day of the show (Sunday June 27) I will be teaching a workshop where we will make paper lanterns. For more information on the workshop please click here.
Last week Julie Larios wrote here about our new book Delicious.
Her poems are tasty, and it was a pleasure to illustrate them.
It was a pleasure that lasted for a decade! Delicious celebrates street food, much of which is fast, but creating the book was slow. I loved her idea and poems when I first heard them in 2011. I then created sample illustrations using the technique of papercutting.
Julie and I submitted the book for publication in 2012 but the world was not hungry for it yet.
Years later Allyn Johnson at Beachlane had an appetite for this project but wanted paintings not papercuts.
With this painting I figured out my new approach. I began with Julie’s Oaxaca poem because of my deep love for the place – its art and food. (Here and here are links to other posts I have written about Oaxaca.)
Painting the images for this book was a trip around the world. It involved research about the food and also about the places. For example for the illustration about Senegal I looked at pictures of baobab fruit, bouye, bissap water and lots of Senegalese textiles which I referenced in the border and also in the bark of the trees.
SUMMER DAY (Dakar, Senegal)
Cousin, cousin – cold bouye?
Cold bouye from the baobab tree?
And icy bissap water for me.
My imaginary visit to Korea included kimchee and kites.
BEST FRIENDS (Seoul, South Korea)
First full moon day, time to play
You and I with kites in the sky.
Auntie brings us market meals:
mandu for you,
kimchee for me.
Food is joyful. Food is necessary. Food is a way to keep culture alive and to connect cultures. In my illustrations I celebrate each unique place as well as the food.
After many years of cooking, this feast is ready. Hot dog!
STADIUM DOG (Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Franks with relish
at Fenway Park,
going, going, gone-
and home before dark.
I hope that Delicious will lead to real shared meals and experiences. You can purchase the book many places including Elliott Bay Books here.
Last spring I started creating coloring pages and posting them on my website here. It was a way for me to offer something to people who were suddenly home all the time (kids and adults). And it was a way to steady myself in a wobbling world.
Now, a year later, I have posted more than 150 drawing pages. They are all available to download for free here.
Recently I picked 21 of my favorite pages and made a new coloring book.
You can buy the coloring book at JuliePaprika for $10. (Click here). The pages can be colored with pencils, crayons, markers or paint.
You can make up your own stories for the images as you add color.
Because I used to be an art teacher, I hope that you will also make your own drawings from scratch. Here are a few prompts for starting a drawing. These are some of the ways I jump start myself.
Draw a shape and repeat it many times. Then decorate that shape with doodles.
2. Draw a straight line. Connect another line to it. Keep adding lines and see what happens. Various dimensions might appear.
3. Write a word so that the letters fill the whole page. Decorate the letters.
4. Draw something that is laying around your house. Don’t worry if your drawing is wonky or strange. If you wanted a perfect picture you could take a photograph.
5. Draw a line and repeat a similar line next to it, over and over. You can do it with many shapes (like these leaves), or just one shape over and over. The little irregularities and variations of the line as it repeats will make your drawing interesting.
I hope that you will have fun creating your own drawings, and adding color to mine. And I hope that as the world opens up there is still time to draw or be contemplative in other ways.
p.s. Today’s blogpost comes with dessert. Here is a recipe/painting of strawberry rhubarb pie by my niece Zoe Paschkis. You can see more of Zoe’s work on Instagram ( click HERE) or Etsy (HERE).
Pianos are splendid. Here is a book that explains with brio how they came to be.
My friend Julan Chu, a gifted pianist, lent me a fine, shiny piano. It felt wrong to have it and not to play it, so I began to take lessons again last January.
Julan Chu -portrait by Julie Paschkis 2003
My lessons became virtual when the pandemic arrived, and they also became more important to me. The discipline of practicing scales and pieces has been an anchor (a metronome?) during these strange times.
In the book Dancing Hands, Margarita Engle tells the story of the pianist, composer and singer Teresa Carreño, who immigrated to the U.S.A. from Venezuela during the Civil War. This book tells the story of the power of music in light and dark times- like a piano it conveys a whole range of emotions. Click here for a link to the illustrator Rafael Lopez’s fantastic blog about how he illustrated the book.
Although I am practicing and playing through dark and cloudy times, you wouldn’t illustrate my attempts with vivid blossoms. My hands stumble and squawk more often than they dance.
But it is interesting to try, and it is satisfying to see incremental change. Every once in a while I can make music.
Petr Vasilievich Miturich
When I am at the piano I need to let everything else go, which is difficult. I realize how fractured my attention has become. Practicing requires presence.
In May Christoph Niemann published a graphic essay in the New York Times about the solace of learning piano as an adult during the pandemic. (Click HERE for a link.) He brilliantly illustrated the pain and the pleasure of the practice. Now he has turned that essay into a book: Pianoforte.
His illustrations are perfectly compressed ideas – succinct, funny, and true to my experiences.
He shows the frustrations …
the side benefits…
and the ephemeral pleasures.
I had to include actual music in this post! Please click HERE for a link to Ballade No. 15 , composed by Teresa Carreño, played by Alexandra Oehler.
And here is a link to the website of my fantastic piano teacher, Carrie Kahler. She teaches young children as well as adults. Because the lessons are virtual you could sign up no matter where you live.
What has kept you going during the pandemic? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Thank you.
Books Around The Table is the blog of Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Laura Kvasnosky, Julie Larios, Julie Paschkis and Bonny Becker. We are a critique group of children's book authors and illustrators who have been meeting monthly since 1994 to talk about books we are working on, books we have read, our art and our lives. We invite you to sit down with us around the table and join the conversation.