Author Archives: Margaret Chodos-Irvine

My Mazza Museum Memories

Steven Savage, me, Nina Laden, Lori Nichols, Peter Catalanotto – after our talks were done.

Last weekend, I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the Mazza Museum Fall conference at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio.

The Mazza Museum collection is the largest collection of picture book art in the world, with a holding of more than 14,000 pieces of original picture book art – and counting!

The Mazza Fall conference is a yearly event to promote literacy through picture books. It is primarily attended by teachers, librarians, and students – a pleasant audience for us picture book folk.

The event was organized by Benjamin Sapp, the Mazza Museum director. He also arranges a group tour of picture book artists’ studios in some part of the country every few years. He brought a group to our neck of the woods in July of 2017 which Laura Kvasnosky wrote about here.

During the entire weekend Ben was the epitome of gracious calm. If he felt the strain of hosting six artists and 275 attendees and overseeing troupes of volunteers (known as Mazza Enthusiasts) he didn’t show it.

I find public speaking to be like a roller coaster ride. I fret for weeks as I prepare. I worry about what might go wrong (I have my own personal repertoire of performance-anxiety dreams). I get a kaleidoscope of butterflies in my stomach as the moment gets closer. Then I give the talk and I think … That wasn’t so bad. It was actually kind of fun. I might do that again …

But all that aside, I enjoy these sorts of events because of the people I get to meet and the other artists whose talks I get to listen to.

Melissa Sweet is like a soft-spoken firecracker. I admire her and the care and discipline she puts into her process. There is so much love in her work for her subjects. I purchased a copy of the book she wrote and illustrated about E.B. White – Some Writer!. It is a beautiful and informative read.

Lori Nichols talked about her personal and professional growth rings and how her book characters Maple and Willow came to be. I felt at one point as if we were sitting in her yard with her under her beloved trees. Her talk was so engaging I (almost) forgot that my talk was up next.

Nina Laden (my fellow Pacific Northwesterner at the event) wove her talk through with personal tales of trial and perseverance, as well as envious shots of her Island studio.

Peter Catalanotto talked about how as a boy, he struggled with writing until a wise teacher told him to try starting his story with drawing pictures instead. Lead with your strengths. His story ideas often start with him asking himself “What if…”

Stephen Savage discussed the importance of composition (what he calls hierarchy) in imagery, especially in books with no written story as many of his are. Vertical lines on a horizontal plane are static. Diagonal lines and curves imply movement. The simplest of images can say a great deal.

In my 45 minutes, I talked about how Where Lily Isn’t came to be, from my early work through my time in London and my wordless letters with Julie Paschkis. Where I started, what I left behind, what I’ve brought with me. That sort of thing.

Although each of us had very different styles of presenting, there were some commonalities: We all mentioned events in our youth that formed our future selves as artists. We all spoke of our challenges and failures as well as our successes. We all talked about the importance of play in our work. And I believe we all showed pictures of our dogs at some point.

My Nik

Other treats for me included:

Meeting and sitting at the dinner table with this year’s Dickman librarian of the year, Christina Dorr. I love librarians.

Kathy and me and a photo of us with the other 2004 winners

Seeing Kathy East again, the head of the 2004 Caldecott committee. It was she who called me to tell me Ella Sarah Gets Dressed was receiving an honor award. She will always have a special place in my heart.

Getting my hand cast in resin by Daniel Chudzinski for the Mazza archives. A new and slightly macabre experience.

Finding an open spot to sign the signing wall at the museum – my mark is now there with so many artists whom I admire. Intimidating yet exciting!

My one regret is that I did not have a chance to tour the Mazza Museum itself. My appointed tour time was forgone due to bad traffic coming from the airport in Detroit and the rest of the time I was booked (no pun intended) tightly. However, I did manage a couple of photos on the fly.

Ed Emberly
Tomie dePaola

Thanks to Ben and all the Mazza folks for including me in their pantheon of picture book artists. It was a roller coaster ride I am glad I participated in.

Here we are demonstrating Steve’s principle of dynamic diagonals.

NEXT!

Following the trend set by Julie Larios and Bonny Becker in their preceding posts on this blog, here is a favorite poem of mine from my younger years, by Ogden Nash. I even posted a copy of it on the wall of my dorm room (I have long had a thing for dinosaurs) along with my collection of dinosaur memorabilia, my freshman year at college. Keep in mind that this poem predates the Night At The Museum movies by several decades.

NEXT!

I thought that I would like to see

The early world that used to be,

That mastodonic mausoleum,

the Natural History Museum.

On iron seat in marble bower,

I slumbered through the closing hour.

At midnight in the vasty hall

The fossils gathered for a ball.

High above notices and bulletins

Loomed up the Mesozoic skeletons.

Aroused by who knows what elixirs,

They ground along like concrete mixers.

They bowed and scraped in reptile pleasure,

And then began to tread the measure.

There were no drums or saxophones,

But just the clatter of their bones,

A rolling, rattling, carefree circus

Of mammoth polkas and mazurkas.

Pterodactyls and brontosauruses

Sang ghostly prehistoric choruses.

Amid the megalosauric wassail

I caught the eye of one small fossil.

Cheer up, old man, he said, and winked —

It’s kind of fun to be extinct.

I still enjoy the work of Ogden Nash – his wonderful play with words. However, in rereading this poem now, it does take on a more ominous meaning than it used to!

The Calico Jungle

I was at a friend’s house recently and she had a book sitting out that caught my eye: The Calico Jungle, by Dahlov Ipcar, published in 1965.

It was one of her favorite books as a child. She kept it and then read it to her own children (now adults).

It’s a quiet bedtime story, about a boy looking at all the “strange and wonderful” animals on the quilt his mother made for him.

It ends as he falls asleep and dreams he is walking through the calico jungle.

This friend of mine is an English teacher as well as a textile artist and quilter. Perhaps this book lies at the root of her adult pursuits? I wonder…

I wish I had seen this book when I was young, but I’m glad to discover it now. I will look for other books by illustrated by Dahlov Ipcar. Perhaps for a future post!

Beauty In Limitations: A Printmaker’s Perspective, Revisited

It’s been a busy week. So… this is a post I published here way back in 2012 – the early days of Books Around the Table. It amazes me that it has been seven years already.

. . .

I chose this post because I am moving away from being a printmaking purist and into the freedom of working with gouache paints and brushes. Nonetheless, I cut stencils to use as a base for my painting, so I guess I still prefer to work within the safety of limitations.

Denslow’s Mother Goose, W W Denslow, 1901

I have been thinking about limitations lately.

Like illustrations from old picture books before four-color photo-processing became the norm. The ones I’ve accumulated are mostly from the 40s and 60s and they seem have been printed that way to keep production costs down. An economy of expense leading to an economy of style.

Those images have a particular quality that I’ve always loved. The simplicity of an image made by building layers of color. The opposite of slick. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to printmaking. Printmakers are inordinately fond of process and tools you have to sharpen by hand. We think in layers. We are to painters what typesetting is to Microsoft Word.

Kees & Kleintje, Elizabeth Enright, 1938
Kees &Kleintje, Elizabeth Enright, 1938

Not that images like these were simple to produce. Each color had to be created on a separate overlay in black (or the photo equivalent). Often the print run was limited to two or three colors so overlapping was used to create more.

When you have to do the color separation yourself with specified colors, you have to create the mechanicals whilst thinking ahead to what the image might look like. You won’t know for sure till the finished page comes off the press.

Kees, Elizabeth Enright, 1937

The above images were printed with red, yellow, blue and black inks. The oranges and greens and other tones come from overlapping the transparent inks and using screen tones of those four colors. I know it sounds like CMYK, but the difference is that the color separations were all done by hand. There was no full-color image to start with ahead of time.

Rather than confuse you further by describing what I’m talking about, I will show you an example. The spread below demonstrates how three separate images overlap to produce a multicolor picture.

Woodcuts & Woodengravings: How I Make Them, Hans Alexander Mueller, 1939

When artists work under these limitations, I think a kind of magic can occur. I like the happy accidents that happen when colors overlap and registration gets a bit off. Some people would argue that you can get the same effect more easily using a computer, but there is too much control — down to the pixel — with digital media. There is no room for chance or Happy Accidents. The only accidents I can think of involving computers involve spilled liquids, and they are NOT happy.

Pierre Pidgeon, Arnold Edwin Bare, 1943
Ilenka, Arnold Edwin Bare, 1945
Mrs. McGarrity’s Peppermint Sweater, Abner Graboff, 1966
Josefina February, Evaline Ness, 1963
James and the Giant Peach, Nancy Eckholm Burkert, 1961

So how does all this inform my work?

“Daphne’s Hand”, Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Well, like I said, I’m a printmaker, and printmaking isn’t the most practical illustration technique in which to work. Nonetheless, it is worth it to still leave room for chance in my work. Images like these remind me that working within limits can have positive, even beautiful, results that could not be achieved in any other way.

Still Life: The Show

Last weekend, May 11, was the opening of the Troika Still Life show at the Bitters Co. barn that I wrote about last month. Troika is what Julie Paschkis, Deborah Mersky, and I call our joint collaborative endeavors.

The barn is a beautiful old building near the town of Mt. Vernon in the Skagit Valley of Washington State. The slanted ceiling is high and the beams and rafters are dark, aged wood. The weather for the day was clear and sunny. Light streamed through the windows at both ends of the space. Bitters Co. is owned and run by sisters Katie and Amy Carson, who design beautiful and useful goods made by craftspeople from around the world. 

Here are some photos from the installation:

The hanging of the first of our three fifteen-foot long collaborative stenciled banners:

Julie is looking for the best spot for her larger-than-life paper lady.

She found it!

Here, my daughter Ella is helping fill the pockets in my “Correspondence” piece.

Katie Carson has just helped install the hooks to hold the dowels to hold my “Cream Top” and “Sugar Shirt.”

And here are photos from the day of the opening! (I forgot to take pictures during the event itself, but here are photos of the work before and after attendees were there).

Julie’s paper lady welcomed our guests.Our three “Cloud Banners” graced the center of the gallery space.These are some of Deborah Mersky’s collaged clay prints.

These are two sugar lift prints by Deborah.

Julie installed a wall of cut paper pieces, painted and poked.

Here are two more paintings by Julie.

This is my Entwined I piece, knitted from twine.

This piece is titled Correspondence. It is sewn from cotton batiste fabric, and includes 33 pockets that hold letters and cards that my mother and I wrote to each other over many years.

Below is Loneliness, sewn from denim, but maybe I should have titled it “Solitude.”

And Workmen’s Circle, also sewn from denim. Six pairs of continuous jeans – each right leg becomes the left leg of the pair in front of it. This piece required a lot of planning and engineering on my part. Added plus: it spins in the breeze.

And outside the barn hangs one more banner. Three wheels of Troika. 

The show will be up till May 27. The barn is at 14034 Calhoun Rd. The hours are 11-4 daily. 360-466-3550. The new Bitters Co. shop is in La Conner: 501 1st St. Call first to make sure they’re open if you plan to stop by.

Still Life: In Progress

I have been working on pieces for a joint art show with two great friends and artists, Julie Paschkis and Deborah Mersky. The show opens May 11th at the Bitters Co. barn in the Skagit Valley, WA. Julie, Deborah and I have a long history of collaborating on art for items that we have then had produced to sell, but this will be our first art installation together. We call ourselves, TROIKA.

We always start out by setting a theme. Our theme this time is ‘Still Life’. Still Life is defined as “a painting that features an arrangement of inanimate objects as its subject.” We often see comestibles, flowers, glassware, ceramics and textiles and other household items laid out on a surface in a domestic setting.

Still life as a known art form goes back to paintings on the walls of Egyptian tombs from the 15th century BCE. The French call it nature morte, which translates, literally, as natural death. There is a connection to memento mori paintings, the purpose of which is to remind us that we too must die. So, not just a bunch of pretty flowers in a vase.

My mother died three years ago. I have a small sugar bowl and creamer set that belonged to her. The set sat in the kitchen cupboard when I was growing up and to my childish imagination they looked like some kind of exotic candy. I don’t remember my mother ever using them. They held a certain mystery to me: Where did they come from? Why did she never use them? Where they from her past life? Her first marriage? I have since asked my father and brother, but no one seems to know (nor care).

I wasn’t sure what medium I wanted to employ for this project, but I thought I wanted to use fabric in some way. I started by testing different approaches with the glass creamer set as subject matter. I imagined I would eventually use them as part of a larger, more varied, traditional still life arrangement. I experimented with many fabric swatches and painting and drawing media.

I never made it past the sugar and creamer set. Those pieces alone became my focus for several months. But nothing I had produced seemed like the right direction to go in. Painting or drawing on fabric didn’t feel right. Only a couple of the swatches – the ones that involved stenciling – intrigued me.

Yet using fabric as a backdrop wasn’t enough. I wanted to make something out of that fabric. Those who know me know I make a lot of my own clothing. I also teach sewing. My maternal grandfather was a tailor and my paternal grandfather was a sample-maker for Hattie Carnegie in New York. Garment-making is a thread that connects me to my heritage (pun intended).

So, what if I created garments for the show? What if the theme for me became Still Life-Size?

That idea excited me.

I envisioned garments that represented how I feel connected to my mother. How I am connected to others. How people connect to each other. Momento Mori in apparel form.

Everything connects in one way or another.

And back to the sugar and creamer set again.

It is all work in progress thus far. Those of you who live in the area can come to the show and see the finished work for yourself. For the rest of you, perhaps I will post again after the show is completed.

In addition to creating our own individual work for the show, Julie, Deborah and I together collaborated on three 45-foot long banners that will hang through the center of the barn (and there is that creamer again). Julie posted on her Mooshka blog about our process in making them if you want to read more. We will be leading a workshop the day after the show. Here is the information if you are interested in attending.

Plates of Flowers and Fruit

I am traveling this week, so I have pre-arranged a post for you. It’s actually a borrowed post from a friend of mine – Jennifer Kennard. Jennifer is an artist, graphic designer, book maker, book lover, book collector, and lovely person. She has a blog called Letterology, from which this post was taken. I chose it because I have been using stencils in my work lately. And it is still Winter and the flowers and fruit make me think of warmer, brighter seasons.

The 19th Century Book Plates of D.M. Dewey

Title page for one of D.M. Dewey’s specimen books. S

Dellon Marcus Dewey (1819-1889) was a bookseller, publisher and art patron in Rochester, NY before he became one of the 19th century’s most enterprising businessmen, printing and selling colorfully stenciled book plates of botanical illustrations “for the practical use of nurserymen, in selling their stock.” He employed teams of immigrant artists and colorists in the mid-1850s to paint and stencil several thousand botanical plates of various ornamentals, trees, shrubs, fruits and vegetables. By 1859, Dewey’s price list contained some 275 different plates. Once completed, the colorful book plates were assembled into handsome octavo catalogs and portfolios customized for the traveling salesmen known as “plant peddlers” of the floral and nursery trade. Dewey was not the first to devise this practice of providing botanical illustrations to sell seeds and plants, but he was the first to expand the process by relying on the time-honored stencil production process which came to be known as “theorem paintings.” Prior to the development of chromolithography, this multi-layered stencil process was the most striking and effective method of producing colored multiples at the time. Although quite rare now, Deweys’ polychromic watercolor artworks can still be found in complete book sets, and continue to be valued for their exquisite beauty. This 1875 plate book of 91 images shown below was sold on eBay a year ago for about $400. S

To produce each stenciled image, artists would use transparent watercolors to build up areas of tone and color. Stems, tendrils and small details such as the small, red paint strokes seen on the peach above, were painted freehand for added effect on many images. The stencils were most likely made of paper, but brass could easily have been used and would have endured much longer. Paint and inks were carefully applied through these stencils using a brush or dauber of sorts—creating vivid color tones and values as layers were added. A similar process to this, called porchoir, was later popularized in Europe in the early 20th century, however that process relied upon a printed “key plate” to which stenciled color was applied. Greater detail of the “theorem” stencil and brush process can be seen in the grape images below. 

Source In the wake of Dewey’s successful enterprise, the nursery trade flourished in Rochester, NY, bringing with it many imitators of botanical plate books. Skilled craftsman and printers soon followed and by 1871, the first chromolithographic company opened in Rochester, which forever changed the landscape of the nursery business in the US.

Small newspaper ad and advertising envelope for D.M. Dewey’s “colored fruit and flower plates.”S

This 1872 D.M. Dewey plate book shown above appears to be stenciled plates. Later editions, such as this handsome edition below were entirely printed with chromolithographed plates. This stenciled book happens to be in reasonably nice shape and still available here for a rather large sum. I just have my eye on that sweet grape arbor below.

By 1881, Dewey’s company offered over 2400 varieties of book plates of plant specimens. In the wake of his successful enterprise, the nursery trade flourished in Rochester, NY, bringing with it many imitators of his botanical plate books. Skilled craftsman and printers soon followed and by 1871, the first chromolithographic company opened in Rochester, which forever changed the landscape of the nursery business in the US. Confident that chromolithography was the solution to “a greater variety and better plates,” Dewey consolidated his nursery supply business with the Rochester Lithographing and Printing Company in 1888. One year later he died, “but the demand for plate books did not” according to Tim Hensley of the Urban Homestead, and “no less than a dozen Rochester printing companies would follow in his wake.” Hensley points out that each printer had a style uniquely their own as they each employed their own team of individual artists. Some particularly stood out such as the work of the Stecher Lithographing Company (1887-1936) who went on to produce posters, labels and trade cards for seed companies. The Stecher plates of the Salway peach and Le Conte Pear below from Hensley’s site, Rood Remarks, are so exquisite, I find it difficult to believe they are chromoliths. I’m fairly certain they are a combination of chromo and stencil artwork of the tendrils and leaves. The last image of the Greensboro peach printed by the Vrendenburg & Company of Rochester is most certainly a chromolith plate. They are all mighty fine fruit plates. 

Posted by Jennifer Kennard at 6/03/2014

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Library Love: The Final Episode

Last week Seattle hosted the 2019 Midwinter American Library Association Meeting. Thousands and thousands of happy librarians arrived to be impressed by the latest books, info-gadgets, and literary comers.

Seattle loves its librarians. We are home to the company that created the librarian action figure, as well as the librarian it’s based on, Nancy Pearl (hey it’s not a stereotype, it’s Nancy!).

But, what town wouldn’t want to host thousands of happy librarians?

I just finished reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, which I highly recommend. Reading it gave me hope in the form of the endurance of libraries. They persist all over the world. They survive through war, poverty, fire, technological revolutions.

Going to the library with her mother when Orlean was young left a lasting impression on her. Reading her descriptions of those visits reminded me of going to the Hunt Library in Fullerton with my parents when I was little. The Hunt Library left a lasting impression on me. I could still lead you today to the Dr. Seuss shelf in the picture book section (it was always a mess), and the Greek Mythology books.

The Hunt Library was Norton Simon’s gift to the city of Fullerton. It opened in 1962 next to the Hunt Foods Corporation campus where Simon had made the fortune that funded his art collection. The library was designed by William Pereira, the architect known for the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the Disneyland Hotel.

Simon exhibited works from his art collection on the Hunt grounds and in the library. I grew up taking it for granted that all libraries had Giacometti sculptures outside and Picasso prints inside (I liked the Giacometti, but I was not impressed by Picasso’s later period works).

In 1964 Simon proposed replacing the library with an art museum, but Fullerton officials turned him down. He went to Pasadena and opened the Norton Simon Museum there instead.

While still on the high of renewed Library Love from reading The Library Book, and believing that libraries will live forever, I learned that The Hunt Library closed its doors in 2013.

What?

Lack of funding. Poor location. Concerns over a growing number of transients.

It is hard to compare my memories of the library with the recent photos.

Last November the library was designated a local historical landmark. It will not be torn down. It may be sold.

Where does a library go when it dies? It becomes a church. Or maybe a homeless shelter. Or a community center. Or an art museum. But it will not be my library ever again.

Dear Hunt Library. You will always be the library closest to my heart, even if you have ceased to exist.

Out with the old…

…in with the new!

Once a year, I like to send a few cards out to clients and people I don’t see very often. I make cards for the Winter season or the New Year.

This year, I made two. This was the first one.

To me it says, The old year is over. Time to take out the garbage. But perhaps it is too negative a sentiment.

So I made another one that is perhaps a bit more optimistic.

You can pick whichever you prefer!

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for less garbage and more good things to come in 2019!

Materials used: gouache, colored pencils, rubber stamp and ink, makeup sponge, makeup brushes, and sparkly eyeshadow powder on paper.

Gratitude from A to Z

Last night, while waiting for the feast to begin, a friend told me about a solution one family found for the discomfort of reciting what they were thankful for at the Thanksgiving dinner table each year — they began a tradition of going round the table giving gratitudes in alphabetical order, A to Z.

This sounded like such a good idea to me that I am going to begin it here, and I invite you to add gratitudes as well, beginning with the next letter in the alphabet from the one before. Let’s see if we can make it all the way to Z…

I am grateful for Adaptability, Avocados, and All of you who take the time to read our posts.

Will you Be next?…