Pony Rides: A Short Story

When I read a stories images often begin to take shape in my mind. Sometimes they are literal interpretations of the words, but sometimes (my favorite times) they take a more abstract form. Sometimes these images are more about the feeling of the story than filling in a “paint by sentences” image. When I put out a call for short stories a few months ago Beckie Mccord answered, and her story is one that took me back to other stories about adventure and kindness and warm summer days. These illustration are inspired by one of the first sentences in Beckie’s story, and by the feelings that it evoked. 

Beckie was kind enough to share her story here on the blog. You’ll find it after the process photos below. Enjoy!

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My first ideas were reaching hands, so I experimented with different hand positions in my sketchbook.

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After a couple of comments about the hands getting stung I decided to change the composition of the final image. Scary bee stings isn’t the feel I’m going for here.

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Each collage illustration begins with tissue paper silhouettes. In this case, lots of bees!

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All those bee shapes glued down and ready to go (with a hand thrown in there too!)

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The hand is taking shape with a few highlights, but shadows are what make the bee stand out.

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Finishing the bee details.

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She couldn’t have been more than nine. Just a little slip of a thing with chocolate braids and scuffed knees. We cannot know for sure if she was sweet but her pictures show her smilingly cute. It is probably safe to assume a certain measure of sugar as all the little bees came buzzing….

Her family loved to camp. Yosemite was the place to be in 1940. Bring the family to the wilds of nature. Lots of families joined in. Campfires and hiking and fishing and swimming. And pony rides. If you had the money. She didn’t. Her daddy was a preacher and with the title came nothing. No big salary. If you were a traveling preacher you got your dinner provided after meeting. Maybe a bag of apples to take home. Always there was enough food but not much else.
Poor for the Lord. Nothing extra. Certainly not pony rides.

She never even asked. It was enough for her to watch the ponies. She would lean on the fence and smile and wave as each pony clopped by her. She didn’t wave to the riders. Not because she was jealous. No, the riders didn’t even matter. All she could see were the ponies. She waved to them and smiled friendship smiles into their beautiful faces. Every so often a pony would toss his head and she felt honored by his acknowledgement of her. His soft eyes would reflect her admiration. Her heart would swell again with every pass. They shared that bond that little girls and ponies share. They understood each other. Friendship and devotion. And that was enough.

Sometimes she would see an empty saddle and there is where she would dream. She’d sigh as she watched that pony trot all the way around the circle. This was her ride. Her time to believe all the little girl longings for freedom. She could imagine the wind in her hair as she floated through the air on her noble steed. She knew without a doubt that life was best when lived atop a pony. She would watch and hardly dare to blink. And she would smile and sigh again.

If given the chance, she would stand this way for hours. Her friends always knew where to find her. They looked for her there when their camp chores were done and it was time to play. They liked playing with her. She was quick to smile and always ready for a laugh. Not too prissy. One of the boys except for the braids. She could climb trees quicker than a squirrel. Probably because she was so little. She could skip rocks and catch bugs. And she could belch. Oh, she was fun.

The boys would gather round her as she stood beside the pony pen. She would grin at them as they ran up with their dust cloud billowing around them. She enjoyed their rowdy camaraderie. A few more minutes, boys. Just a few more minutes. They knew that they could tease her away but they didn’t usually have the heart. If they waited just a bit the ride would shut down to give the ponies a rest and then she would wholeheartedly join their camp games. So they did wait. All arms and legs threaded through the bars of the fence. Shoelaces dangling while feet swung back and forth and back and forth. One would inevitably sit on top of the fence and would inevitably, but of course accidentally, get pushed off. They would tussle and they would wait for her. She was worth it.

She had come to expect these gatherings. Wherever she was, she was not alone for long. That pleased her. She liked sharing her happiness with her friends. She knew they liked the ponies. Clapping and whistling, the boys would take turns standing beside her to point out their favorite pony or to giggle at some rider. A pleasant daily routine.
It took her by surprise the day that no one came to join her beside her ponies. She wondered where they had gotten to. Oh well. She missed them but was quite content to stay right here.

They weren’t far away. Those boys. The thing she didn’t know was that they were all gathered without her. Clustered back amongst the trees just out of sight, they whispered as they offered up their grubby paws and clinked their coins together in one happy little pile. They had been planning this all morning long. Nobody knowing or caring who first had thought the thought. They put together what each one had to please their friend. Ten cents. All counted up. Just the right amount for one pony ride. Exactly enough to bring a smile.

It must have been funny to see them trudging up behind her. Not one boisterous group but a bashful line of fellows not quite sure what to do with their grins. A tap on her shoulder startles her. She didn’t even know they were there. She turns around a little puzzled but soon enough she sees why they are acting all so strange. They give their gift without a word and silently stand guard as she smiles and steps through the gate.

She remembered that gift for the rest of her life. Each time told reliving the thoughtfulness of her sweet companions. They waved to her from the fence. And hollered. And clapped. Her sweetness rubbing off on them. Their sweetness impacting her, forever.

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If you enjoyed this story and want to read more of Beckie’s writing, follow her blog here.

If you’re interested in a print of this illustration, you can find it in the shop.

January Sketchbook Roundup

January is over which means I’m officially one month into my 2016 sketchbook “resolution” and I’m actually loving it. These little paintings have been so much fun, and I have some exciting plans for the February sketchbook. Until then, enjoy this little gathering of my first month of sketchbook paintings.

Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut

Little Women's Christmas

Little Women’s Christmas

From Libya to Mars

From Libya to Mars

Sunrise Over Stone Mountain

Sunrise Over Stone Mountain

A River Of Stars

A River Of Stars

Jackalope In Spring

Jackalope In Spring

Jackalope At Sunset

Jackalope At Sunset

Snowy Nights In Narnia

Snowy Nights In Narnia

The Search For Honey

The Search For Honey

If you’ve been following the sketchbook project on Facebook or Instagram you may have noticed that quite a few of these were inspired by books. Here’s the list of my recommended January books, all in one place for your convenience.

  • Hatshepsut – “The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt ” by Kara Cooney
  • From Libya to Mars – “How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World” by Steven Johnson
  • A River of Stars – “Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was” by Barry Hughart
  • Snowy Nights in Narnia – “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

If you decide to read any of them, or already have read some of them, let me know what you think!

Celebrating Daylight!

Once upon a time an illustrator (me) who sort of, kind of knew what she was doing set out to illustrate a book. The process was long, and fun, and frustrating, and exhausting, and exhilarating, and probably lots of other descriptors with maybe a few expletives thrown in.

I’ve tried to share that process here on the blog and through my social media, because I think the final product becomes so much richer when everything that goes into it is shared. So I’ve posted photos, written words and even made the occasional video to allow you into my studio and my process as best I can.

And now that process is coming to an end. I’m in the final stage. Books are being completed and sent out and I’m finally seeing the culmination of months of hard work.

Let me tell you, it feels great.

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Every time I package another book, seal it up in it’s envelope and drop it in the mail my heart has a little dance party. Every book I finish feels like a celebration.

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So, since I’ve shared all the other parts of the process with you, I’ll share this celebration with you too. It looks pretty much like this painting.

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Final painting

To get the full experience of the celebration it’s a good idea to eat some of your favorite chocolate (or other delicious treat) while looking at this painting and dancing to your favorite ridiculous song.

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Finished illustration in a finished book – hip, hip, hooray!

Thanks for celebrating with me y’all! And thanks to every single person who has bought a book so far. You’ve made this so much more successful than I dreamed, and given me lots of opportunities for celebration. I hope that when you open your books your heart does a little celebration too. :)

Can Art Feed The Hungry?

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Today I’m going to blog a little differently. Normally I post my process photos and talk about the painting, but this time I’m going to talk about something else. My Crow Brings The Daylight book officially releases this Friday (preorder here!) and I want to talk about a part of this project that I haven’t really mentioned yet. It’s actually one of the most important aspects of this project to me.

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I’ve sometimes doubted my journey in illustration because it doesn’t feel like enough. I believe that art is an incredible gift to humankind and no one should be without it, but a painting rarely puts food in a hungry stomach or gives illiterate children the gift of reading. So how do I feed the hungry, teach the world and create art? I can’t start my own non-profit (at least not yet), but I can share stories through paintings and give a little back at the same time.

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Twenty percent of all the profits from the sale of Crow Brings The Daylight are going to a non-profit called “Save The Children.”

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I love this organization for a few reasons. First, they work in 120 different countries, all over the world, including the USA. Second, they work hard not only to provide food for hungry kids, but also early education so that their chances of breaking the cycle of poverty are much higher. Third, an amazing amount of the money donated goes straight to their programs (89%!)

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If you want to learn more about where the money goes, check out this video, or watch this one for details on how they work in the USA.

I won’t change the world with this book, or feed every hungry child, but I can give a little back. And if you buy a book, you’re a part of helping me do that. (So thank you!)

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By the way, if you can’t afford to purchase this book, but would like a digital copy, please send me an email. Money should never be a barrier to sharing stories.

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And if you don’t want a book, but still want to give, you can do so at SaveTheChildren.org!

Maybe art can’t feed the hungry alone, but I hope that in this small way a painting (or in this case 19 of them) can make a difference.

Crow Whispers A Secret

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This was one of the first paintings I began planning for my Crow Brings The Daylight book. A composition very similar to this was among my very first sketches, back when this project began. The angle and the closeness are so odd that I wasn’t sure the idea would work as an illustration, and I kept trying to come up with different ideas. But nothing else had the same magic. I couldn’t get this image out of my head.

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The deadline for publishing the book came closer and closer and when I couldn’t put it off any longer I decided to just do whatever I wanted. And I wanted to paint my first idea.

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Sometimes the first ideas are the best. Most of the time it’s your 100th idea, but sometimes that first image tells the story better than months of brainstorming can.

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In the end this image was one of the easiest to paint. Maybe it’s because I spent so long planning it, or maybe it’s because a white background saves lots of time. Or maybe it’s just because I really wanted to paint it.

This image is also one of my favorites.

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It turns out that the odd angle is an awesome angle, and the extreme close up zooms in on exactly the part of the story I want to tell.

So the moral of this story is: If at first your idea seems too strange, try to come up with more ideas, and if those don’t work it probably means you should try that weird first one out.

Ok, maybe I shouldn’t use the first moral that pops into my head….give me a few months to work on that one.

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A final page from “Crow Brings The Daylight” with words by Forrest Davidson.

P.S. If you made it down to the end of this blog, I have a little secret of my own for you. The digital version of the book is now available, and you can preorder it here!

Daylight Lands In The Arctic

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“The ball of Daylight shimmered and sparkled as it fell from the sky. It looked as if the light had almost disappeared. And Anuqa, The Wind, howled and blew again in triumph. The tiny ball of light dropped to the ground at the feet of the people and shattered in a brilliant explosion of light that lit up the entire world. And Anuqa, The Wind, turned into a gentle breeze then disappeared.”

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You, my dear readers, may have noticed that I love to work with color, but I usually avoid pastels. Maybe because they feel too much like nursery colors, or maybe just because I like the depth in darker colors. For this painting however, pastels were the way to go.

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I wanted to capture the feeling of light exploding onto the Arctic plain. A cold, barren landscape lit by warmth and teeming with life for the first time. I need the animals to feel light, like they could easily travel across the tundra with the spread of the daylight until the Inuit’s whole world was illuminated.

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I also wanted this painting to echo an illustration from earlier in the book – Crow Tells a Story. The animals aren’t the same, but the two illustrations bookend the story in many ways. They capture the telling of the story, the moment of hope imparted, and fulfillment of the resulting promise…the promise of daylight.

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The finishing touches are being added to the book, and pre-orders will be available in just a few days, so stay tuned!

Coming In For A Landing

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In many Inuit stories, Crow is a bit of a mischief maker. He plays tricks to get his way and sometimes it’s a little unclear if Crow is a good guy or a bad guy. In Crow Brings The Daylight, Crow definitely falls under the good guy category for the Inuit people, but he still plays a few tricks. Namely, he shrinks himself down to sneak into a house with a ball of daylight.

This illustration is the moment of shrinking, when he hides himself on a girl’s collar and rides his way into her home. It’s there that he spots the ball of daylight and eventually makes himself large again in order to steal it.

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Painted tissue paper, cut and ready to be glued.

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Arranging the pieces

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Gluing the overlapping layers

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All the pieces glued down and ready for the next step

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First add highlights

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And also shadows.

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A few more adjustments, and the painting is complete!

 

Crow Snatches The Light

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If you haven’t already realized that I’m painting the illustrations for this book all out of order, this one should give it away. I finished “Crow Carries The Light” a couple of weeks ago, but this illustration I just finished comes a little earlier in the story. This is the moment when Crow steals the light from a pair of chubby baby hands.

I know, I know, stealing balls of daylight from little babies is generally frowned upon. But Crow had good intentions. Or mischievous intentions. Or maybe a little of both.

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The basic shapes

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Glueing them down

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All glued down, ready for details

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Highlighting the hands

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And starting to bring out the shape of Crow’s wings

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Complete!

Crow Tells a Story

This is the story of my most ambitious collage painting yet. It’s the story of many tiny pieces of painted paper, many hours of painstaking brush strokes, many marks adjusted and readjusted.

It’s also Crow’s story. The story of a world where daylight illuminates animals and plants, rivers and streams, a world beyond the cold and the dark of the arctic ice. A world that stirs hope and longing.

And both of these stories are told here, with pictures that hopefully speak much more clearly than any pile of words.
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If you’re interested in a print of this piece, you can find it here. It’s the only print from Crow Brings the Daylight that will be available before the book’s publication, because honestly I just love it too much to wait.

Crow Carries the Light

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Crow carrying the light through the darkness.

I chose to illustrate the story of Crow bringing daylight to the Inuit people for many reasons, but one of my main inspirations was the simple beauty of the story. Light coming through darkness, kindly carried to a people who need it. In many ways I think this illustration sums up that part of the story. The light is traveling to a new land, and it’s nearly ready to burst upon the new horizon.

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The string, cut out of painted tissue paper, ready to be glued down.

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All the pieces cut and ready to be assembled.

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Pieces glued down and awaiting the details.

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I love bird feet, they’re so wonderfully creepy and beautiful all at once.

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The feet are shaped, the crow is taking form, it’s getting close!

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And the illustration is complete.