April Sketchbook Roundup

Surprise! I am actually posting this month’s sketchbook roundup on time! Half of April’s sketchbook pages were inspired by my trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, and it was a fun exercise to reinterpret a bit of the museum’s collection in my own way. Links to the original pieces are included at the end of this post, so you can decide how you would interpret them. (Let me know if you get inspired to create your own!)

Without further ado, please enjoy the April sketchbook…

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Happy Earth Day!

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The Secret Life of Bees

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Tayir, The Ruddy Shelduck

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Sky Bear

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A Cuckoo Against the Moon

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Mythical Bovine Amid Waves Viewing the Moon and Constellations 

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Viewing Monet’s Waterlilies

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Full Moon and Autumn Flowers by the Stream

I only have one book recommendation this month, or rather one author recommendation. Sue Monk Kidd! She’s one of my favorite authors, and has written so many books that I love. This month her novel, “The Secret Life of Bees,” inspired my finished bumble bee.

Ready to see the original Art Institute pieces? Click on the titles below to see each one and learn a little more about them.

A Cuckoo against the Moon

Dish with Mythical Bovine (Xiniu) amid Waves Viewing the Moon and Constellations

Full Moon and Autumn Flowers by the Stream

Water Lily Pond

March Sketchbook Roundup (with gifs!)

This month’s sketchbook is a little sparse since I’m still painting like crazy, but also because instead of adding new pages, I animated some older ones! A few of them are included as gifs at the bottom of this post. It’s the first time I’ve posted gifs on the blog, but I think I’ll be including more in the future.

For now, enjoy this batch of mini paintings!

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Sunset Over the Power Plant

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The Easter Bunny is Blue

Siksik the White Goat

Siksik the White Goat

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Spring Bee

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Monet’s Waterlilies – Inspired by an Art Institute of Chicago visit

Giraffe-in-progress

jackalope-1-animation jackalope-2-animation narnia-animation

I’m sad to say that I don’t have any book recommendations to go with my sketchbook pages this month. Not because I didn’t read, but because none of the books I read jumped out at me enough to share.

Last year I made a commitment to stop wasting my time on poorly written books, and so I started reading the best reviewed and acclaimed books. And what I’ve discovered is that excellent writing doesn’t always mean an excellent story, and it often means a depressing story. One beautifully written book I read recently was such an upsetting story that I had nightmares for a week. I’m still learning and exploring the balance between beautiful writing and captivating stories, which stories are disturbingly necessary and which stories are simply disturbing.

Tune in next month for at least one recommended book…but I’m hoping for a few more!

February Sketchbook Roundup

I’m a little behind in sharing February’s sketchbook round up, but that’s just because I’ve been doing so much painting! I can’t share what I’m working on now yet though, so here are my February sketchbook paintings – better late than never! (Find January’s here!)

Jureybon, the Little Mangy One

Jureybon, the Little Mangy One

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Belle da Cost Greene

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Sunset Giraffe

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Unicorn, an Ancient Symbol

Dancing All Night

Dancing All Night

Mikmik, the One with the Horns

Mikmik, the One with the Horns

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Ida B. Wells

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Kara Walker

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Mae C. Jemison

A few of these illustrations were inspired by books I loved this month, so here’s the list of my recommended February books, all in one place for your convenience!

  • Sunset Giraffe – “The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden” by Jonas Jonasson
  • Dancing All Night – “The Girls at the Kingfisher Club” by Genevieve Valentine

If you decide to read any of them, or if you can recommend a book I should read, please share in the comments below!

Making a Book From Scratch

I’ve share lots of process images of the making-of “Crow Brings the Daylight” here on the blog. You can see the thumbnails from the early concept stage and illustrations in various stages of completion. But I haven’t shared the process of physically putting together the book. Until now! It’s a long process, but ultimately it’s so rewarding to hold a book you made in your hands, and then to pass it on to someone else. Without further ado, here is the book making process in lots and lots of pictures!

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Bookmaking require lots of tools. For these books I used:
Bookboard 
PH neutral glue
Tissue paper painted with acrylic paint
Knives for trimming board and paper
Rulers for measuring
Pens and pencils for marking and signing
Needle and thread (not pictured)
Awl (not pictured)
Title stamp (the stamp is not pictured here, but you can see the result on the covers.)
Matte medium for sealing covers
Weights for pressing glued books as they dry (In my case, a few heavy books!)

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When you’re making lots of books you need lots of bookboard, which means buying giant sheets, measuring them and cutting them down! Bookboard is usually a grayish color, but for this project I painted one side yellow. Because the tissue paper I use on the covers is thin I wanted to make sure that any color that showed through would be beautiful.

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Three bookboard pieces are used for each cover, two large pieces for the front and back covers and one narrow piece for the spine. The pieces are carefully lined up leaving a little space between the covers and the spine so the book will open smoothly. Then they are covered in glue and painted tissue paper!

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Once the front is covered, the overlapping tissue paper needs to fold around the edges to the back. The first step is trimming the corners so the paper will lay flat.

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Then the glue is applied…

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…and spread! If you make your own book, be aware that the glue does not wash out of brushes easily. This one will go in the trash when the bookmaking is complete!

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The edges are quickly folded over and smoothed before the glue dries.

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When the covers have been wrapped they are stamped with acrylic paint on a hand-carved block of linoleum to add the title.

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A painted tissue paper crow is glued on each cover with matte medium, and the entire cover is sealed.

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Then it’s time for the interior pages! The pages come from the printer like this, they must be cut apart and trimmed to the right size.

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Once the trimming is finished each page is folded in half.

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Holes are measured and punched along the fold of each page.

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Then the sewing begins!

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The pages are each sewn to each other to create the inside of the book.

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Each spine is enforced with glue and a strip of fabric to strengthen the stitching.

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Little stitches show in the finished book, one of the details that makes a handmade book really special.

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When the cover and inside are finished, they are glued together! The front and back pages are each glued to the front and back covers, and the book is placed under weights to dry.

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When everything is dry the last step is to sign and number! There were 64 books produced, each with a unique, handmade cover. So if you got one, you’re one of the lucky few!

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Once they are signed, the books are ready to be enjoyed!

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With this kind of cover the book will lay flat so all the words and illustrations can be clearly seen.

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If you’re feeling inspired to make your own book, head over to YouTube and search for book making. You’ll find all kind of great step-by-step tutorials to help you get started!

 

All handmade copies of “Crow Brings the Daylight” have been sold, but you can still find the digital copy, with full color illustrations, here.

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

16 daylight explosion

“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!