Author Archives: Julie Paschkis

Many Moons

I just returned from a week in Maine. In addition to visiting my family, the sea, and the rocky shore, I also got to visit old friends whom I had not seen in many moons. I’m referring – of course – to books.



 

Shelves and shelves of books. I could remember just when I had met most of them. These books connect me to my family, to my younger self, and to the world.


 

Time moves in only one direction, but books are time machines. They take us back to when we first read them. They take us to new or old worlds.

Across seas,

The Story of Vania, Helen Pons

 

and under trees.



They take us home even if home no longer exists.


They take us on unsettling adventures.

Dare Wright

Eudora Welty said “The events in our lives happen in a sequence of time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily – perhaps not possibly – chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.”

Alice and Martin Provensen

The art and stories I have read, seen and loved (or sometimes disliked) provide intermittent sparks of revelation and inspiration. What books are sparks for you? What books offer time travel?

The Great Quillow by James Thurber, illustrated by Doris Lee

I hope that the my work will spark someone else. I can never create with that in mind; thinking about how something will be received is a quick way to kill the joy of making art. But in the abstract I hope that before croaking I can make time machines for someone else to ride.

Ed Emberly

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Go Outside!

It’s July. It’s good to be outside.
Step out!

illustration by Rudolf Mates from A Forest Story

Ride your bike.

Edward Gorey

Julie Paschkis – Out for a Spin

Everything is better outside. Eat outside.

illustration by William Steig for Sylvester

illustration by Hedwig Sporri-Dolder for Hinderem Bargli

Climb up high.

illustration by Alois Carigiet for Florina

Dive down.

illustration and poem by Julie Paschkis for Vivid

Dance around.

Yevgeny Rachev 1900

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

Maybe go fishing,

illustration by Chris Raschka for Fishing in the Air

or explore an island.

illustration by the D’Aulaires for Ola

Read a book.

Charles Knight 1809

Or listen to a story.

illustration by Rudolf Mates for A Forest Story

Take a nap on the grass.

illustration by Hedwig Sporri-Doldi for Hinderem Bargli

Or sleep outside for the whole night.

illustration by Kathleen Hale for Orlando the Marmalade Cat

Stop looking at this screen or any other screen. Go outside! You might even float away.

illustration by Wm Steig for Gorky Rises

 

 

Drink Ink

Schreibmeisterbuch is a nice chewy German word that means Writing Master’s Book.

My friend Claudia collects them.  These books date from the 1700’s and were used to teach penmanship. Some are printed and some are manuscripts. They are filled with examples of beautiful script,

and ornament,

and playful doodles.

Here is lettering from another of Claudia’s books, from a different part of her library. The delicacy and rhythm of the line contrasts with the solidity and singularity of the rose.

Here the lines become the flight path of insects.

All of these images inspired me to fool around with my own fountain pen again.

With a pen I have to pay attention and let go at the same time. If I am too tight the line has no life or joy. If I am not paying attention the line has no purpose. In every drawing I can see where I erred in both of those directions, but that leads me to draw again.

When I am drawing I think with my hand as well as my mind. A pencil line feels different than an ink line. (For more on that subject please go to this older post: Pencils, Pens and Brushes).

Today I type more than write. But there is joy to be found in real ink.

Saul Steinberg

In his blog The Technium, Kevin Kelly writes that old technologies never die. They continue to exist in some form somewhere on earth.

Drago Juric 1974

The old technologies are often slower but still fulfill their original purpose, often in a more pleasing way than the more modern iterations. Care for a boat ride, a balloon ride or a trip on United Flight 3411? It depends on why you are going.

Utagawa Yoshitora

I like that I can use the new and the old.

I can draw pencils with a fountain pen and scan the drawing, or take pictures from a schreibmeisterbuch with my phone and send them to you. Please raise your monocle and take a closer look at your screen!

Magic Spell

I have a new book out called Magic Spell.

Magic Spell is a book about spelling in all senses: the spelling of words, the spells of magicians, and the spells that people cast over each other.

I have always liked puzzles and wordplay. With a flick of your pen a word can change meaning completely – night becomes light,  a toy turns into a boy, a ball becomes a bell.

In 2012 I drew the character Aziz – a magician who was a mighty speller.

I wrote a story where Aziz performed prodigious feats of spelling. But it wasn’t enough. He needed an assistant. And the story needed a plot. Along came Zaza.

The story became about their relationship and their struggle.

In the beginning Aziz is the star, the main attraction.

He has all of the power and his beautiful assistant doesn’t even have a name. She does all of the dirty work – such as picking up fish, wrestling with a hose that had been a rose, or putting out a fire.

She goes along with this until he turns her wig into a pig. That is too much.

She lets him know her name, Zaza, and tells him that she can spell too. They fight over the wand.

A series of spelling battles ensue.

Aziz turns a bug to a rug to a rat to a cat.

Zaza turns his coat to a boat to a boot to a book to a rook.

They cast spells back and forth. The argument escalates and things get bad.  Beads become beans become bears.

Aziz and Zaza must learn to work together pronto.

And they do. TADA! A new show is born.

If a magic spell is done well it seems effortless. The same is true of a book. But with both (with everything) there is usually a lot of work behind the scenes. I rewrote Magic Spell many, many times in an effort to strengthen the story and to make the word transitions smooth. Before it was accepted for publication my critique group helped,  Linda Pratt gave advice and encouragement and Andrea Spooner gave helpful editorial feedback. After it was accepted by Simon and Schuster, Kristin Ostby and Liz Kossnar were wonderful editors. Art director Laurent Lynn added his magic touch including SPARKLES. Katie Johnson consulted to make sure that the spelling changes and word choices were appropriate for learning readers. Many people waved their wands and – voila – five years after Aziz fell out of my pen a book was born.

You can buy Magic Spell at your local bookstore or click here to buy it from Secret Garden Books in Seattle. I hope you will enjoy it.

Pysanky

Pysaty is the Ukrainian verb for writing. Pysanky are decorated eggs: the decorations are written with beeswax which resists the layers of dye.

My family has dyed pysanky for years. My sister Jan and her husband Greg host an annual neighborhood egg decorating party. I was inspired by the party and the eggs to write a book about an eccentric hen (P. Zonka) who lays beautiful eggs. Here is a link to an earlier post about that.

Last spring I went to eastern Europe with my friend Ingrid. Her friend Vova took us many places, including a surprise visit to the Museum of  Decorated Eggs in the Carpathian mountains.

It was egg-mazing, egg-zilerating, egg-xactly the place to see pysanky: old, new, simple, intricate, subtle, colorful, masterful, plentiful.

Pysanky are rich in beauty and symbolism. To the sun worshippers, eggs were magical objects representing the rebirth of the earth. The colors and the patterns of the decorations all have symbolic meaning. For example: the spiral, or snake, is a strong talisman of protection. If an evil spirit enters the house it will get trapped in the spiral.

The Huzkuls of the Carpathian mountains believed that the fate of the world depended on decorating eggs. If not enough pysanky were made each year  a horrible monster named Pekun would break free from his chains and destroy the world.  So please do your part and decorate some eggs! Here is a link to a youtube video that shows how. Have fun (and save the world).

P.S.: Here is a  glossary of mouth pleasing egg words for those of you that are more interested in pysaty than pysanky.
Malyovanky: Painted eggs
Krapanky: Dot eggs
Dryapanky: Scratched eggs revealing white shell
Krashanky: Eggs dyed a single color
Nakleyanky: Decorations glued on
Travlenky: Etched eggs
Biserky: Beads embedded in the beeswax.

Wordless Letters, part two

Last week Margaret wrote about our wordless correspondence while she lived in London. This week I am posting some of the letters that she sent to me.

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When we hatched our plan we decided that we would each send a wordless letter every Friday. We stuck with that deadline although Friday sometimes became Saturday. Having a deadline made us actually follow through on our intentions.

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I loved getting something in the mail every week and I never knew what it would be.

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This one comforted me when our dog Lily died.

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Some explored new tools such as a pen nib.

img_3975img_3971

Here is the other side of the teapot conversation –

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and the squiggle

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Some were three dimensional, or collaged from scraps of labels, or made of fabric.

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I enjoyed the exchange as it happened. But yesterday when I gathered everything  to photograph, the accumulation of letters and images amazed and moved me. Our small idea grew into something bigger – a record and testament of our friendship and of time passing. Giving and getting were both gifts.

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Birds, Bees and Bumps in the Road

In February I will be in a group show at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery called The Birds and the Bees.  Lots of you know I was in a bike accident and lost the use of my right/write hand for a few months. I had agreed to take part in this show before the accident and thought that I would have to back out. But I started noodling around with my left hand and found that I could still make art.

Paschkis fracture-fraktur

It was odd: I could barely write out a grocery list, but I could paint or draw. The process was very slow but the awkwardness of it made it an adventure.

fraktur-horse

I was inspired by fraktur: stylized Pennsylvania-German paintings, mostly from the 18th and 19th century. My wonky left handed drawing seemed a good fit with this art form.  I sent an image to the BACART gallery and asked if they would be open to my left handed self in place of my right handed self. Yes!

Paschkis fracture fraktur

Fraktur suits the Birds and Bees show because although the images are romantic they are also slightly askew.

Paschkis head-in-clouds fraktur
Some of the images are about the plight of love and some are about the pleasures of love.

Paschkis drawn-together fraktur

Paschkis night-is-long-fraktur

Paschkis loves-arrow fraktur

paschkis do-not-deceive-fraktur

Valentine’s day can be alienating for single people so I also drew one fraktur for a happy person who is not part of a couple.

Paschkis solitude-fraktur

What I learned from doing this work is that good things can come from dismal situations. The accident hurt and slowed me down, but that slowness allowed me to try something new. I was replenished.

Paschkis renewal-fraktur

Is there a word for the good things that can arise from bad situations? Perhaps sluck would suit: luck from something sucky. I welcome your linguistic suggestions.

The paintings for this show were done with gouache and ink on handmade cotton paper from India. I hope that if you are nearby you can take a ferry to BACART on Bainbridge Island for the opening on February 3, 6:00-8:00. You can see this work and the work of 14 other pollinators. The show will remain up until February 26.  Thanks.

Paschkis eyes-fraktur

 

 

First Light Thoughts: Paul Fleischman

I have been lucky enough to illustrate two books written by Paul Fleischman: Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal and First Light, First Life. The writing in them is gem-like: much information is compressed into something brilliant. Each word matters. Today Paul is a guest blogger, writing about how the many strands in his writing developed from his life.  The article shows how his writing is infused with more than you notice at first. It’s like a soup broth that has been made of many ingredients. You can no longer see all of the ingredients when the broth is done, but you can taste them.

first-light-cover

Here is Paul’s essay. For more of his writing go to  www.paulfleischman.net.

………………………………………………..

With its braiding together of creation motifs from around the world, First Light, First Life might seem to have been rushed into print to counter the nationalism that’s erupted into political life.  If only my crystal ball were that clear.  In truth the book came from far in my past, and all our pasts.

“A man is known least to himself,” wrote Cicero.  The same holds true for our cultures.  Immersed in them, we can’t get an objective view and tend toward thinking they’re universal, or should be.  Many are the societies whose name for themselves means “the people.”  I accepted unthinkingly the white, upper-middle class world of Santa Monica, California that I grew up in.  We were “the people,” our lifeways confirmed by the programs we watched on TV.  Everyone lived in the suburbs, didn’t they?  But then I became aware of alternate possibilities.

They arrived through the air.  At eleven years old, I received a shortwave radio.  Suddenly my world’s boundaries shot outward.  My classmates got their news from Walter Cronkite; I got mine from the BBC, Radio Peking, Radio Australia.  I listened to the latest Beatles hits on KRLA but also to the pulsing, odd-sounding scales of music from the Middle East.  Each station was its country’s chamber of commerce and culture.  I heard programs from Norway in praise of saunas and Radio South Africa’s repeated explanations of the many benefits of apartheid.  English was one tongue among many here.  Listening to languages I didn’t understand showed me the purely musical side of words, something that would inform my writing style decades in the future.  Every house should have a shortwave.

Paul and his shortwave radio

Paul and his shortwave radio

And so it was that in high school I began slipping into churches for the first time in my life and sampling their services.  I watched my neighbors and did what they did, fumbling to find the hymn that was being sung, dropping down onto the kneeler when they did.  The same impulse must have led me to attend my first folk dance.  The small room was packed with college students dancing in lines to music from Bulgaria, Israel, Sweden, French Canada.  The songs were in 4/4 rhythm, then 7/8, then 13/16, some played on instruments I’d never heard.  I knew none of the steps, but I was hooked.

Though I concentrated on English and history in college, I found myself studying mythology and folklore on the side.  I memorized Greek myths, filling the hole left by my secular youth.  I pored over the bizarre customs and religions in The Golden Bough, James George Frazier’s tour of the world we’d all come from.  And then came one of those right-book-at-the-right-time moments: opening Patterns of Culture by the anthropologist Ruth Benedict, a portrait of the differing values encouraged by the consensus-minded Pueblo Indians, the belligerent Dobu of New Guinea, and the reputation-obsessed Kwakiutl of British Columbia.  For the first time I felt I had a view from above of my own society and its heavy weighting toward individualism and competition.

I finished college in multi-cultural Albuquerque.  Living there again years later, I attended the right party at the right time, during which a woman appeared with a loop of string and did the opening move of cat’s cradle.  She held it out to the man beside her and though none of us had played this string game since grammar school, he remembered the next move.  The string came to me.  I was surprised that I remembered as well.  The woman I turned to had grown up in Nepal.  Amazingly, she too knew the next move.  Though we’d come from many places, it was as if we’d had the same childhood.

These many tributaries flowed into Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, a weaving of Cinderella variants from around the world into a single strand, a testament to diversity as well as the commonality of the human condition.  That book in turn led to First Light, First Life.  Cinderella’s story is folklore, but creation accounts are something more.  Believing or not believing them matters.  What matters for me is the larger truth: that our beliefs vary widely and that the culture around us is only one square in the quilt.  And what a marvelous, many-colored quilt it is.  Children are never too young to learn this.

The same goes for adults.  The urge toward group identity and exclusion of others is strong.  Borders, walls, and cultural superiority have always been an easy sell.  It’s easy as well to see where these lead when stoked: to intolerance, scapegoating, war, genocide.  Gaining altitude and perspective has never been more vital.  Books, like hot air balloons, can lift us above the walls we’ve built around ourselves.  I salute the writers who taught me to see beyond borders, and the teachers who brought me their books.

 

Vote Now!

Is worry about the upcoming election making you feel like this?

1825 British illustration

1825 British illustration

Well, stop worrying and vote now. Vote here! Today at Books Around the Table I am presenting you with an election.  There are two slates of candidates: Cats versus Mice. Each slate has 7 candidates (aka illustrations), picked because I like them. In the comments please vote for either the CATS or the MICE. You can explain your vote if you would like, or not. No photo ID is required.

Drum roll please: Here are the CATS:

Kazan the Cat: Russian Lubok 1700s

Kazan the Cat: Russian Lubok 1700s

Japanese woodblock, 1850's

Japanese woodblock, 1850’s

Orlando the Marmalade Cat by Katherine Hale

Orlando the Marmalade Cat by Katherine Hale

Paschkis Acrobaticats

Paschkis Acrobaticats

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

Tiger by Morris Hirshfield

Tiger by Morris Hirshfield

Kotofei Ivanovich by Tatiana Mavrina

Kotofei Ivanovich by Tatiana Mavrina

Piccolo please, here are THE MICE:

Rudolf Mates

Rudolf Mates, A Forest Story

Paschkis Mouse

Paschkis, Mouse in Love

Maisy by Lucy Cousins

Lucy Cousins, Maisy

Lizbeth Zwerger

Lizbeth Zwerger, Alice in Wonderland

Arthur Rackham Rodents

Arthur Rackham Rodents

You know who

You know who

Ignatz

Ignatz

Thank you for voting. On Tuesday I will tally up the answers and declare a winner. The wait will finally be over.

Tuesday night results: Thank you for voting. It was a squeaker but the mice won the Books Around the Table election – 15 to 14. As I write this my heart is heavy from the results of the real election. It isn’t over, but it is dire. I am stunned. Where do we go from here?  What do we do now?

First Light, First Life

Hot off the presses- here is First Light,First Life: A Worldwide Creation Story, written by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by me, and published by Henry Holt.
first-light-cover
Paul wove together creation stories from 24 different countries. My job was to connect these stories visually. I did that with form and with color.
The book/ the world begins in darkness.
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The story moves from land to land (and sea) as the world begins and becomes populated with people and animals. On each page I looked for the visual connections between the cultures. The paintings become lighter as the book progresses, and there are also gradations of light within each painting.
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This book took a lot of research. Every page took me down a different path, and every page was worthy of a lifetime of study. These are not merely stories from different cultures: they are often sacred stories. I treated them with care, and I hope I did not blunder.
first-light-14-15 I drew on the folk art of the various cultures – including textiles, sculpture and painting. I tried to be as true and respectful to each culture as possible, while interpreting that inspiration and making the pictures my own.
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For every page I gathered books; they piled up in my studio. I visited museums when it was possible. I also collected images from the internet  and compiled several pages of images for each painting. For example, this is one of the pages of reference for Peru.
peru research
I read about Peru and it seemed that Paul was referring to Inti, the sun god, along with Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo.  Reading Greek myths, I realized that Paul was referring to Prometheus and Epimetheus, and I looked at Greek vases to figure out the style.
first-light-22-23 greek vase

There are parts of the creation story that are joyful as life unfolds, and there are parts that are scary. The devastation reaches across cultures and takes many forms.
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The style of the page from Mozambique is based on batiks and on Shetani carvings found there. The spider refers to the myth of Mulungu climbing to the moon on a spider web to escape the rampaging humans.The idea of faces in the lightning bolts was from a mask from the Kwele people of Gabon. The faces in the bolts are Kwele and Fang masks.

Here Coxcoxtli and Xochiquetzal are being warned by Titlacahuan (Tlaloc), and on the other side is Noah’s ark. The flood pours from one culture to another.
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Redemption and rebirth also take many forms. Here is the aftermath of the flood in California and in Iraq.
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I couldn’t tell if Condor was a person or a condor (bird) in the myth, so I contacted the Wiyot tribe and they told me that both ideas are true: Condor was a man but also a bird. So I drew Condor and his sister/wife with bird heads, but sitting like people. I referred to traditional Wiyot basket patterns and echoed them in the water. While researching Condor I also learned of the true and terrible massacre of many members of the Wiyot tribe in 1860.
wiyot
Here are some images from Iraq.
flood utnapishtim

As I delved into the research I was amazed by the richness in the stories, and the peculiarity of the details. I was impressed by Paul’s ability to create one unified tale out of so many sources, and by the way he compressed the myths without flattening them. I hope I was able to honor his text and the myriad stories within it. Just like the creation myths, life contains light and dark. This book celebrates the way those strands are woven together, within and between various cultures. I hope that when you look at this book you will be inspired to look further into all of the myths, stories and history that are included. I hope that we have planted some seeds.
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…the back cover sums it up.
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You can buy First Light, First Life at your local bookstore, or click here to order it from BooksInc., or here to order it from Amazon.