Ashley’s Island

welcome

I checked two major items off of my bucket list last week – driving to Maine, and visiting Ashley Bryan on Little Cranberry Island. When Deb Taylor asked if I wanted to drive up with her, it was a no brainer. Prior to our departure, a large hurricane had barreled up the east coast causing minor damage to the island but briefly leaving people without power and water. The day that we drove up was perfectly sunny and calm.

The farthest north I had ever driven was to Boston back in 1999 when my mother took me on a college tour. BU was one of my choices. I had never given New England much thought outside of that. Looking back now, I don’t have any real explanation for my disregard of the great north, other than the fact that I didn’t personally know anyone from the region. In my mind, New York City was the edge of the world.

The first thing I noticed when we reached Maine was a purplish tinge that hung on the bare bark of trees lining the highway. I thought I was hallucinating from having been on the road too long with too little sleep, but when I asked Deb to confirm what I was seeing, she agreed. The trees were purple!

MaineHouseWe spent the night in Ellsworth and then headed out about half an hour east to catch the ferry in Bar Harbor the next morning. Bar Harbor was the picture of Maine I carried in my head from Time of Wonder. Our little ferry (a.k.a. the mail boat) carried us across to Islesford (a.k.a. Little Cranberry Island) in about fifteen minutes.

Robin and Dean waited for us at the dock with a small wheelbarrow-like carrier for our luggage. Our tour of the island began at “the mall” a restaurant, art gallery, tourist shop and rest stop all in one. There at the dock restaurant, I ate my very first Maine lobster roll. Heaven. I also caught a glimpse of Ashley! Deb and I went over to make our presence known and Ashley immediately invited us to come over to his house after lunch.

The house we stayed in was a larger late 19th century rusticator. It was a five bedroom country house that sat near the water and slept ten people. There were eight of us in the house for the week – two librarians, three teachers, a teenager, an artist, and a family friend with a wicked sense of deadpan humor. The wood was exposed, very much like Jonathan’s family treasure from Building Our House, and the house was decorated with lovely island accents and old family photographs.

I could barely wait to get to Ashley.

His charming island house was about a ten minute walk from where we all stayed. As with most houses on the island, it remained unlocked with a “come-on-in” policy. Deb and I headed over on our first day and were given a preview of his latest book, a collection of Langston Hughes poems (I won’t be more specific in the interest of publication privacy). Seeing the cut paper illustrations up close was a gift. The week we arrived was the week of his opening. Due to the hurricane damage, the big event had to be postponed. A tree fell near the museum that housed the work, but did not do any damage to the building, thank goodness.

DebAbbyThe rest of my days were spent reading and drawing. I woke each day around 8AM to a breezy 74 degrees or so. We would have coffee near the window while Abby worked on her 1000 piece puzzle. Robin would knit, and the rest of the house would quietly read. In the evenings we played trivia and card games. After breakfast, I would head out with my sketchbook to explore and spend time with Ashley.

paontingashleyOn my first day alone with Ashley, we compared sketchbooks. I shared my drawings from Africa and he shared his drawer full of sketchbooks from Germany and France. He shared his cut paper collages and I showed him my digital ones. His entire house was a museum. The walls were lined with books, toys, weavings, prints, and paintings. Airplanes hung from his ceilings. When I arrived, he was preparing a canvas to paint in the garden. We collected his morning materials and headed out. I drew. He painted.

A few hours later, we came in for lunch and I was able to meet Ashley’s nieces and nephews. Ashley graciously prepared bread, cold cuts, and cheese for us to lunch on. The big treat of the day, cranberry soda mixed with orange juice! We discussed the Kara Walker sculpture and the insensitivity to things misunderstood along with education and family. It was a lovely afternoon.

My observation of the day was that all of Ashley’s relatives had the “ey” sound at the end of their names. No doubt stemming from his famoly’s love of music. Once the table was cleared Ashley brought down the work from his latest book to which he exclaimed “Gather ‘round children!”. It was time to hear some poetry. And all of us “children” obliged and sat to listen and admire the vivid cut paper collages.

RopesBouysWe got a call after lunch saying that the museum was open briefly and we could head down to see the exhibition. I gathered Robin and the crew and we all bounded over to have a personal tour of the exhibit from Ashley. What a treat. The walls sung with color and art. There was a timeline of Ashley’s art and his 92 years of life, many selections from his hundreds of sketchbooks, a fantastic display of his handmade puppets, his amazing sea glass windows, and of course, original art from many of his popular books, including “Beautiful Blackbird”, “Let it Shine”, and “The Dancing Granny”.
The next day, after breakfast and reading (I made it through half of Octavian Nothing), I said goodbye to my friends and struck out to draw on the island. The docks were full of activity, so I plopped myself down and began a drawing of the Cranberry Isle Fisherman’s Co-op. It was the end of the work morning, so most were packing up and heading home. While drawing I met Stephanie Alley. After a bit of conversation I realized she was a famous Captain on the island and gave lobster tours on her boat. The next morning, I grabbed Abby and headed on down for a lobster boat adventure. Robin had mentioned Stephanie’s tours the night before and serendipity brought us together.

After our morning adventure, I found myself back at Ashley’s house. I hadn’t planned to bother him that day, so I sat outside on the curb to draw his home. No more than fifteen minutes had gone by when he and his dear friend, Suze popped out of the house to head over to the museum and greet fans. I was still drawing when he returned home an hour later. Being extremely hospitable, Ashley didn’t just disappear inside his home. He came out to make a few notes from the painting he began the day before, which ended up being my cue to come on in for a spell. Knowing that he had already had a long day, I excused myself shortly after he settled inside.

My last day on the island, I was itching to make a strong portrait of Ashley. I struck out to his house mid day and let myself in to an empty house. Though his door was open to me, I still felt strange hanging out in his empty home. I went outside and finished an earlier drawing and by the time I was done, Ashley appeared. It had been another long day for Ashley and he was expecting more guests, so I didn’t force myself. We had dinner plans at the house that evening, so I headed back to read more of Octavian, which turned into a delicious nap in the sun next to the picture window.

Dinnertime came and we all rallied around Ashley. Dean prepared a wonderful brisket that he had brought over by the mail boat. We had been all abuzz over it throughout the week. Ashley sat and announced, “okay, draw me!”. No pressure there. I made three miserable attempts at a portrait and gave up. During dinner, when the plates were cleared and dessert was brought out (Robin prepared a delicious lemon ice box pie), I grabbed my drawing book and began again, finally capturing Ashley’s spirit.

AshleyhandDeb and I said our goodbyes the next morning and headed back to Bar Harbor, passing along the boat ticket to Robin and Dean’s daughter, Julie. What a treat. “A Visit with Ashley Bryan” will be on display until September 20th on Little Cranberry Island. If you can head over, I highly recommend it.

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Stepping Outside

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I just put a second coat of stain on half of my deck. It’s been three years since I moved into this place, and until this summer, my backyard remained unfurnished and unused, which is a shame because it was one of my favorite features of my townhouse. This summer I committed and purchased patio furniture from IKEA, but once I laid everything out, I realized that the deck floor was coated with years of mucky grime and algae. After giving it a much needed scrubbing; once the wood dried, the deck also needed staining and sealing. My virgo sun couldn’t let the work go unfinished.

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Oddly enough, I always tend to begin big manual projects at the end of a book. Right now I am putting the finishing touches on my next project with Lee and Low, and like my deck, now that the spreads are completed, I am noticing little things that need adjusting (this is of course before I turn it in and have my editor and art director notice other little things that need tweaking). Fortunately, this book is 80% digital, so unlike my other books, making changes won’t mean completely redoing spreads. On the opposite side of that coin, I can tweak until the cows come home if I let myself.

Working on books is not always fun for me. It’s work, and like all jobs, you have great days and really sucky days (when you wish you had become an accountant). I find that exercise and manual labor give me more good days than bad. When I was finishing work on Bird, I compulsively decided to paint my half of my Brooklyn apartment. Now, with this new project, I am creating a backyard oasis. There’s something to be said about getting outside of my head (which is often messy and filled with cobwebs and dark spooky shadows) and completing a small to medium-sized project to help propel me through the end of a book. I wish I could channel that energy into cleaning my house, but that is never a small project.

The virgo in me loves to work, loves to complete things, loves to help people, and loves to be good at stuff. I was born under a productive and communicative sign –  along with Michael Jackson (MJ FOREVER!!!), Beyonce, soccer champion Ronaldo, and Mother Teresa. When I am not allowing myself time to go outside and play, I become paranoid, stressed, and a bit depressed. I also indulge heavily in sugar (honeybuns give me life!) which leads to weight gain, which leads to lethargy, which kills productivity, which then makes me a crazy person. Summer is a time for renewal. I run and do yoga 5-6 times a week, put down the carbs (okay, most of the carbs) and celebrate the outdoors. It’s also the time when I can fully focus on my art and finish projects. This cycle of growth, productivity, and then self-destruction is one that I am vehement about changing for myself.

As I get older, I aim to be active throughout the year. Many of us artists, though wonderful and creative, can fall into cycles of sadness, self-doubt, and inactivity easily. We work in isolation sometimes also live in isolation. Stepping outside of our heads and selves is key to staying positive and creative. Taking care of our physical bodies is crucial to keeping things in balance. Namaste homies!

Welcome to my blog SCBWI members! I hope you find some of these posts to be of use~

Making vs. Marketing

Earlier this week, I received this e-mail from a good friend of mine, Maggie Suisman, asking how to balance marketing work with making work. I think this is a question that many of us ask ourselves, so I thought I would share a bit of my own experience.

Hi Shadra!
I just saw your article on your blog “Just Keep Working”. You were so honest — and how helpful to be reminded that I am doing this first and foremost because I love making art. My summer break from teaching has begun and I am diving into the submission process for my dummy, Aysa Reads and my general portfolio. I have a few questions I thought I might send your way in case you might have a moment to share your thoughts. One is when a creative art director or other people at publishing companies say they are interested in looking at artwork (such as Chad Beckerman does in the 2014 SCBWI list of publishers) should I send in tear sheets or should I print the whole dummy and send it to people who do not provide an email address?

Secondly, how do you divide your time between marketing and creating new work? I feel like I could spend all of my time trying to find a publisher but perhaps it’s better to move on to the next project and keep updating my portfolio and making a new dummy.

Though everyone will have a different answer to this question, here are my thoughts:

Hey Maggie,

It’s great hearing from you!

In my experience when a creative director says they are interested in looking at artwork, that primarily means tear sheets. You can send a query letter along for the dummy. I would clearly label the samples from your dummy so that they know you write as well as illustrate. Art directors are typically not interested in seeing dummies because they are not the ones who would work on a story with you. In a smaller house, however, you may find art directors with a bit more say on the editorial side as well.

I would save your dummy for editors.

I wish I could say I don’t market anymore now that I have an agent, but that is only partly true. Lori, my agent, handles the promotion at this point, but I still do a ton of marketing for the books. I spend time mostly sending postcards to schools, libraries, and bookstores. I try to  that type of work in the evenings after my studio day is complete. Labeling and stamping postcards is a great activity to do in front of the television (or in bed). As far as new work goes, since I am working on books, I do spend most of my days making new work. I keep a mandatory eight-hour studio schedule, typically 9-5, but in some cases, the time gets broken up from 11-7, 10-6, etc. and most days, I work well past my 8 hour schedule, especially in the summer when I am not using so much energy for teaching. I also work on my writing alongside illustrating other people’s stories. The most frustrating part of it all is having many ideas bubble to the surface but not being able to work on them immediately because of other projects and work. I still keep notes on those ideas and try to revisit them later.

I don’t get to do much personal work these days, but I do try to sneak in at least one piece of my own in between book projects…just to stay sane.

Yes, you should absolutely work on more projects instead of putting all of your eggs in one basket. I submitted four or five stories before I sold a manuscript. Looking back on those first attempts, there are a few ideas that I do want to revisit, but in some cases, I don’t have the energy to deconstruct and approach them from a fresh perspective and before they can be published, I can honestly say they need more work.

I would also just make more images for fun. I didn’t get my “big break” until I abandoned the idea of making “sellable” work. I became more playful in the images I was making and I stop putting so much pressure on myself to make perfect art. Doing so opened up a whole new vocabulary for me and helped me tap into the fun of art again. Those images were the ones that excited publishers and helped me get my first book.

Even my first sold manuscript came from playing. I watched a commercial that I loved and wrote a story in response to it. It wasn’t highly personal at the time but I think that’s what made it successful. I wasn’t taking myself so seriously.

I hope that helps!

All images © Maggie Suisman. You can see more of Maggie’s work at www.maggiesuisman.com.

Ladies and gentlemen . . . the amazing Pat Cummings!

DSCN0088When I was in graduate school at SVA, I was able to choose an advisor during my thesis year. My choice was Pat Cummings. I asked Pat because I had been reading her books and admiring her art since “Just Us Women” appeared on Reading Rainbow in 1984. I went on to fall in love with C.L.O.U.D.S. and fueled my passion for breaking into the field with her “Talking with Artists” series. Not only has Pat been a great role model through her work and life, she has also been an amazing mentor and friend. I sent a few questions her way to host our conversation here on Living the Dream. Initially I hoped to do a video chat and post it to my Youtube channel, so in lieu of that live conversation, I will insert a few footnotes here and there, à la Junot Dìaz. Without further ado, Pat Cummings.

Pat, you have been illustrating books for over 30 years now. My first memory of your work was in the Reading Rainbow Book, Just Us Women. You were one of the only people of color on my radar who made books about children of color that were more whimsical and didn’t solely focus on history. Can you talk to me a bit about how you entered publishing and the motivation behind the books that you have created? 

I had been to see a bunch of publishers, not realizing that seeing one editor at a publishing house did not mean you’d really covered the whole house.  So it had been hit and miss.  There was a newsletter back then (this was the early/mid seventies) published by The Council on Interracial Books for Children.  They highlighted an illustrator or photographer on their back page.  When they ran my work, an editor at one of the publishing houses I thought I had covered called me and said she had a book for me. I had NO idea how to start but I didn’t want to let on that I was clueless.  So I did what seemed reasonable.  I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who had once dated Tom Feelings.  So I called him up, explained my situation and he took the time to walk me through how he put a book together.  He was working on The Middle Passage.  It was 1975.  That book came out in 1995.  He was my hero when it came to deadlines.1  (Be kind, Shadra.)


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Has there been any time in your career where you wanted to stop writing and illustrating books? If so, what kept you going?
Nope.  There have been times I wanted to stop drawing and just write. But not permanently. I just wanted a change of pace.  There are too many stories I’d like to get to so I can’t imagine NOT wanting to tell them.

You work closely with SCBWI, The Highlights Foundation, and The Author’s Guild. How does this work inform your book making?
I was actually someone who was anti-groups when I was in college.  It took me a while to realize that others had invented the wheel already.  When I had thanked Tom Feelings profusely for helping me, Tom said, ‘Just help someone else when you can.’  I took that to heart.  I joined the Graphic Artists Guild and later, SCBWI.  I found that anytime I shared something I had learned about the business, I invariably learned more.  Every organization I work with, The Authors Guild, SCBWI, The Eric Carle Museum, Highlights, The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation…all of these groups…are immersed in the children’s book business in different ways.  So I’ve learned a lot about business, about the craft of making books and I get to constantly see the new work that is coming from puppies like yourself. (Please, Louise puts you about one book away from graduating from Puppy status).

You just published a gorgeous version of “Beauty and the Beast” written by your husband, Chuku Lee. I first met Chuku in C.L.O.U.D.S., how was it working with him as a model to working with him as an author?


Why, thank you ma’am for the kind words.  You know how long that book took to finish.  Chuku used to be a magazine editor when I met him and he was doing cover interviews with folks like Muhammad Ali and Andrew Young. Aside from being a writer and editor, he had served in the Foreign Service as a junior office in Paris. So, when I found an original French version of Beauty and the Beast I wanted him to translate it and do the retelling. He wrote up the story and sent it in to our editor, Barbara Lalicki at HarperCollins. I warned him that the way it worked in publishing, he would have to crawl across hell over broken glass to get to a final version because editors were very exacting. But Barbara only asked for one minor change and then said, “It’s great.”  I think the years of journalism paid off.  Writing lean, mean text is the way to go these days and his retelling was elegant and lyrical.  He has no idea how unusual his experience was.

As a model, he’s learned to be very patient and accommodating.  I’ve had him standing on furniture at 3am so I can get an angled shot. As the author of the book he was a cheerleader and kept me motivated when I thought I’d never finish.2  Because this wasn’t his usual endeavor, he didn’t seem to feel any pressure about seeing the book finished.  So he never mentioned that I was taking decades to get it done.

Can you talk a bit about the setting of the book? Why Africa and more specifically, Why Mali culture?
I’ve been fascinated by the Dogon for some time.  Their masks and traditional costumes are graphic and richly colored.  But, beyond any specific tribe, I’m attracted to the imagery of a host of cultures and West Africa was an ideal inspiration.  I remember seeing the opening scene of Coming to America with Eddie Murphy. 3 A mythic African kingdom is depicted, very opulent and very Hollywood and I loved the idea of combining African imagery with a fairy tale theme.  When I looked at the architecture of the Dogon, it held elements that I thought would be fitting for a castle where the Prince turned Beast might live.  Along with the African inspiration though, I wanted to capture some of the mystery in the Jean Cocteau film version of Beauty and the Beast.  I wanted to capture some of the magic in that film, with the watching faces in the architecture and waiting hands that provided whatever Beauty needed.

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As a professor, you have mentored many successful illustrators, from David Ezra Stein, to Julian Hector, and myself, to name a few. You also take on a teaching role with SCBWI. How important is the work you do in the classroom? Do you consider teaching as much a part of your legacy as storytelling and being an artist?

You’re a teacher so you must know how satisfying it is to be able to help others bring their stories to fruition.  I think some people are genetically encoded to teach others and I recognize that in you. 4 When I told Tom that I would help others, I think I meant it sort of metaphorically.  But I found it so satisfying to see projects come together and to see people start their careers that it truly became a large part of what I do now.  I LOVE storytelling and I love just about every aspect of this business.  So, when I see others who have the same passion for it, it’s pretty easy to encourage and help them connect to publishers.  I feel proud of the folks I’ve worked with who have gone on to create wonderful books.  But I can only advise.  Their successes are all based on their unique talents.

With someone like yourself, and all of you phenoms out of SVA.Taeeun Yoo, Lauren Castillo, Anna Raff, You Byun, Lisa Anchin…the list goes on, I remember having the impression that the future was crystal clear and right around the corner for you. When you start out, the problem with being in the trenches, working like crazy, is that it’s hard to see what’s ahead and it might feel like it could take forever.  But to anyone like myself who has been in the business a while, talent glows in the dark. 5 So, I always remember how Tom Feelings helped me and I try to pass that on.

Can you talk a bit about your process? What are some of your favorite tools? What do you love the most about making art for picture books?

Eeeek.  My ‘process’ is pretty much a hot mess.  I doodle for days.  I collect the doodles, compose a slew of layouts, discard half and put together a smorgasbord of images to discuss with my editor.  Usually, I feel my way along a dark corridor, downloading images from dreams, things I’ve seen, music, travels….doodling and then, refining the doodles.  Eventually, I pick variations, stick them into mini dummies and then blow them up to refine further.  I go through about three or four dummies at least. 6 When I have layouts I like, I start final drawings in whatever order appeals.  Those final drawings are done by hand but in a photoshop, layer fashion:  a hand here, a horse there, a house on yet another piece of trace paper.  I assemble all of the scraps on my drawing table where I’ll have drawn an outline of the open book.  After I’ve arranged the various elements within that frame, I put a piece of trace paper over everything and make a final ink drawing.  That drawing I copy onto Fabriano Artistico hot press paper, the heavy stuff….300 pound I think.  I use paper that is forgiving because I tend to abuse it.
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With the drawing done in light pencil (usually 3 or 4H), I usually do washes of the background colors or any underpainting first.  Then I feel my way along in terms of color.  If I’ve put down an olive green, I might feel I need a rust next to it.  Even if I’ve done color studies, I tend to just go with my gut once I start painting.  It surprises me without fail, that after the book is done I’ll see there was a particular palette specific to the book.  Only rarely have I set out with an intentional palette.  I use watercolor and gouache pretty interchangeably, go in with color pencil, smooth things out with pastel, hit it with anything that seems called for and then spray the whole thing heavily.  I don’t recommend this.  What I do know is that I may start a page with every intention of being light and washy and loose and then things get brighter and juicier and tighter and I swear that the next book will be light and loose.7

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The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign has been a hot topic for a few weeks now. As a maker of diverse books for children and a luminary in the field, what are some of your thoughts on this issue? 

The percentages haven’t changed since I’ve been doing books.  I came in after a wave that included Tom Feelings and Jerry Pinkney and Walter Dean Myers and Mildred Pitts Walter and others.  They were prolific new voices.  But back in the day, it seemed like I knew every single illustrator and writer of color and could call them up.  The field should not have been that small.  Today, there are more creators of color but the percentages of books featuring people of color has apparently diminished despite the wide range of work covering a wide range of topics, being created by a wide range of people of color.  The disparity can’t be corrected by people of color.  There still exists a mentality that a child will only appreciate a book with someone of his own race on the cover and that is what needs to change.

As a black woman, I think a lot about the lack of black women picture book artists working in our field. Do you have any thoughts on why African American women seemingly aren’t pursuing careers in picturebooks as much as their male counterparts? 

We could be at this for days.  I have this talk in class every semester. Not just about African American women though…about all women.  Here’s my thinking and it is unrefined and preliminary at best:  There seem to be a grillion-to-one women-to-men at every children’s book conference and in every class.  But the industry is heavily male when it comes to the talent.  What I see in class informs my thinking.  If you critique a woman she might take your advice, she might reject it.  But when challenged or critiqued, some decide it is not working for them, that this may not be the business for them.  Men don’t seem to get as easily discouraged.  This is a pretty amateur observation based, I think , on one dance I went to in high school where the guys never retreated to a corner or went home if a girl wouldn’t dance.  Men seem genetically encoded to pump themselves up and get back in the fray….even if a casual observer would consider them delusional about their gifts.  Women need a bit of that chutzpah.  What helped me, and the trait I see in the women I know who get published, is a no holds barred passion for the work.  I left school with the attitude that this is what I would do.  I heard all of the stories about folks who ‘got discovered’.  But what I’ve found over time is: male, female, black, white, whatever…you have to throw everything you have at this if you want to do it.8

I could ask many more questions, but I will end with one more. What advice do you have for illustrators working today who are trying to sustain a career as long and successful as yours has been?

It is as huge a cliche as you’ll ever hear:  Do what you love.  It won’t feel like work.  It won’t ever get boring.  You won’t ever retire.  If, bless you, you one day sell the worldwide film rights to your little picture book and make a grillion dollars, you’ll wake  up the next day and still want to tell another story.  And it will be fun.

Thank you Pat for all that you do and have done for us puppies!
I certainly would not have made it this far without you and your work.
To see more of Pat Cumming’s work visit her at www.patcummings.com.
You can also find her on facebook.

 

1. For those of you who want to become book illustrators, a book typically takes six months to a year to illustrate, but as I tell all of my students, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Do your very best work and if that means slowing down a tad to ensure your best work, then by all means, do so. Do be realistic about your working process and let your publisher know well in advance how long it will take you to finish. Tom Feelings’ The Middle Passage is an amazing work of art that transcends the label “picture book” by all accounts. You can see more of his work here. (Fast forward to 31:00 to hear Tom in his own words).

2. I speak to my students often about choosing a partner wisely. Male or female, choosing a partner who respects you and your work is crucial to living a long and artistic life. Being an artist is a long and lonely road for most, and there are times when the going will get tough. You will need people in your life, be it a mate, friend, family member, agent, editor, audience, -heck, even a loyal pet will work, to help build you up and remind you that this is work that needs to be done.

3. YES!!! She’s your queeeeeeen to beeeeee! One of the greatest movies of all time. Eddie Murphy and the Hudlin Brothers made black folk so beautiful in their films.

4. I grew up in a family of educators. My mom was an english teacher before becoming a guidance counselor. I also find it funny that many illustrators and authors that I have met over time were raised by teachers. Oh man, I want to make that a book now.

5. I am so thrilled you saw the talent in me then and helped nurture and support it. I was walking around in the dark back then, reaching for stars that I wouldn’t see. I have students like that now, who are amazing artists and storytellers. I drag many of them into the light, but like you, I can only push so much. At the end of the day, they have to find a way to kick the door in for themselves.

6. Again, marathon, not a sprint.

7. Ha! This is hilarious. There is nothing light and loose about your personality. You are bright and vivid in personality and it shines so clearly in the work that you make. It is stunning work, no matter how you arrived at it. Though, the work you did earlier, was lighter and looser. I bought a copy of My Mama Needs Me a while back and was interested to see how much your work has changed from that book and Just Us Women. It’s not a criticism, just an observation. Your use of color is amazing to me.

8. I have this talk too in all of my classes. I ask my students their thoughts about women in the field, people of color in the field, etc. For African American artists though, I wonder if because there aren’t many historically black universities that offer illustration courses. I am seeing more POC at MICA, where I teach, but the numbers are still pretty low. When I was looking at colleges, I didn’t even consider historically black universities because I didn’t know of any illustrators who were making books that graduated from Howard, Spelman, Florida A&M, etc.. As for women, yes, I see so many more in art school, at SCBWI conferences etc., but I tell my students all the time, they have to stand up and be seen. They have to be persistent, and they have to be super confident. As I said in an interview with Sam Weber earlier this year, “if you don’t know that I’m not awesome, I’m not gon’ tell you I’m not awesome”.

Summer Mode

Ahhhh summer “vacation”. I am buried in my studio finishing up the next book. Though close to the end, there are still many miles to travel before I can put this thing to bed. July will be a welcome month of travel as I rinse my mind and eyes a bit after having been in the same coffee…work… mode for so long. In early July I am planning on heading up to Maine with Deb Taylor to visit Ashley Bryan and The Ashley Bryan Center. It should be a nice road trip and I am hoping to bring my mom along for the ride. She and I haven’t had an adventure together in a long while and though we live separate lives hundreds of miles away from one another, I try to give her a glimpse at the magic in the life she helped me create whenever I can.

10389673_903044693055012_7893752252069337250_nAfter that, I am planning to head to Seoul for a couple of weeks. I will be working on sketches and ideas for a new project by then and am thrilled to do so in the studio of my dear friend Taeeun. While in Seoul, I am also looking forward to meeting with Tantani Media, the publisher of my first Korean language book, The Dancing Shoeshine Boy, which has now been published in Chinese and Xhosa (pronounced Kosa) language. In August I will be planning for the new semester and organizing ideas and business plans for Jump-In Studio, Inc. I am officially recognized by the government as a business entity now, so I should probably do something with it along with book making and teaching. I have some ideas brewing. My family wants me to come home for a bit, but after spending so much on travel in July, that trip may have to wait.

On Saturday I had a small book signing at The Children’s Book Store here in Baltimore. The turnout was pretty small, but it was great to spend time with my family and my best friend. Other families that did show up spent time learning the wax resist technique I used to make many of the pictures in Please, Louise. Today, I received the nicest e-mail from one of the attendees that made my day.

It was so great to meet you on Saturday at the Children’s Bookstore.  I really enjoyed hearing about how you produced your beautiful drawings in Please, Louise.  And drawings aside, your lovely manner and enthusiasm are infectious.  You outshine them!

 I wanted to tell you that I took your book today to my local library, Little Falls Library.  I am friends with the manager there.  I showed him your book, which is not yet in the Montgomery County system.  He really liked it and is going to try to acquire it for the County.  In addition to being a beautiful book, it has a great message and he liked that you are a local Maryland illustrator.  As a patron of the library, I also will put in a request for the County to obtain your book, but I am confident that Mr. Lewis will be able to make the necessary arrangements for Montgomery County to purchase your book and distribute it to their libraries.

 When I went to purchase your book at the bookstore on Saturday, the bookstore owner said your sister had purchased it and had said to give it to the next buyer.  It was very kind of her.  As a sister myself and a mother of girls, I know how strong that bond between sisters is and how we want the very best for one another.  Would you kindly tell your sister that I said thank you.  I have tried to share the gift she gave me.  Who knows where it will lead, but I am hoping that many children will enjoy your book as a result.

 Thank you also for the poster, which is delightful.

The woman that she mistook for my sister was actually my best friend of twenty-three years. I had no idea that she did this, but it was one of those moments that made me realize how important that relationship is to me. I try to hold on, or “collect” as my friends sometimes accuse me of doing, people who I really like and see something reflected back at me or an opportunity for growth on both sides. As I get older though, I’ve learned that sometimes one should just appreciate brief meetings along the journey and leave it at that.

Summer Reading…and a little fun.

School finally ended. I took a week off to empty my brain of all things MICA and am now ready to wrap up this book. My plan was to finish et the end of the semester, but like a few of my students, I fell shy of my original goal by about three pieces. Those that follow me on facebook know how excited I get about my students and their work. My Advanced Book Illustration class ended with a bang with their end of semester reading to students at the Enoch Pratt Library. What a treat! You can see a few pics from that day on the MICA blog.

Since school ended, I read Matthew David Olshan’s “Marshlands“, an allegory of the excesses of empire. I liked the story and felt that Matthew did a wonderful job of painting the portrait of life in the desert marshes. I did feel that there was an emotional distance from some of the horrible punishments inflicted upon the inhabitants of the land. Some of the described tortures hit hard, but there was still a calmness in the reporting. I wondered after I read it, if that was the reason I was able to read it so quickly. I never needed any distance from the story, and with the backward story structure, my interest was held throughout. 

The structure was a little disorienting at first. While reading it, I was lost and knew that the experience of reading it would be akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle…which bothered me a little at first, but again, the visuals of the story wer
e so rich that it stayed with me. I do enjoy stories that make you wait for answers later. I don’t enjoy being spoon fed details from beginning to end.

I am now finishing “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz. It is mesmerizing, but pretty taxing. In contrast to Olshan’s calm and matter-of-fact telling of Marshlands, Diaz’s storytelling is full of colorful language, historical footnotes (still told in a conversational tone) and current cultural references that crack me up, but also wear me out. It’s a sad sad story of one Dominican family and how they came to continue their lineage in the US showing us what it meant to live in the time of Trujillo and how long-lasting and far-reaching his dictatorship was. Diaz intersperses the story with Spanish phrases (that make me wish I paid more attention in Spanish during high school). Fortunately, my Spanish is decent enough that I can keep up without having to translate too much, and most of the phrases are easily understood in the context.

Next up, I will read “This One Summer” by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. I plan to digest some NK Jemisin and Danzy Senna on the recommendation of Deb Taylor. I also want to reread “The Summer Prince”, another story that had me disoriented at the beginning, but which I fell in love with completely by the end.

As for my own books, well, I am finishing one project and then beginning another, both written by other authors. After that I will begin work on my first story where I am author and illustrator. This summer, alongside my making and reading, I will write as well. No ideas are bursting forth at the moment, but my mind is too focused on current projects to allow any other story ideas to bubble up. I am sure that once I finish this book, my mind will relax a bit.

Oh! I do plan to get out and about in July. I will head to Maine with my mom and Deb Taylor to visit Ashley Bryan and The Ashley Bryan Center in the first week of July and after that, I will head to Seoul to visit with Taeeun and work on sketches for the next book. So, big plans ahead.

What are you reading this summer?

Louise and Liz!

Head on over to Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s blog to hear more about Louise and win a free copy of the book! For those of you who don’t know, Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an author and illustrator of picture books and most recently, a novel! She is Illustrator Coordinator for the Southern Breeze region (AL, GA, FL panhandle) of the SCBWI – the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (for which she established an annual Illustrators’ Day, gallery shows and sketch book events), is a Board Member of the Georgia Center for the Book (for which she helped establish the inaugural “25 Books All Young Georgians Should Read” list), and has been an adjunct professor of beginning and advanced illustration at the University of Georgia. During the summer months, she is Associate Professor of the Picture Book Design class at Hollins University (Roanoke, Virginia) in both the Certificate in Children’s Book Illustration and MFA in Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books programs. 

Check out her latest award-winning book, A Bird on Water Street, along with her wonderful web site (don’t miss coloring page Tuesdays) and blog, on which I am featured today.

Thanks Liz!

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A Bloom for Gloria

 

gloria1

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by Rebecca Bradley to add to an online tribute for the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. Each artist was given a name and asked to design a flower for that young lady. My tribute is for Gloria. As a childless woman, I can’t even imagine what the mothers of these girls must be going through, but I can certainly imagine the loss of a cousin, a sister, or a friend.

Blooms of Nigeria will continue to blossom for each of these girls and so will our hearts.

Surprise and honor

It has been a looooong week and semester. In a few days I will say goodbye to the very first group of students I taught. I can’t believe that I have been teaching for three years already. It has been a great experience so far. I’ve had more good days than bad, and more students I truly enjoyed helping than those I just wanted to send on their way. I’ve helped get some people published and helped make a few connections between the community at large and MICA’s illustration department. It’s a fantastic job, and I work with a fantastic group of illustrators.

A few weeks ago, I received this:

letter

What an honor and a surprise. We all work hard at MICA, and the greatest reward for us is watching our students grow into productive and capable artists. To know that students appreciate the hard work that we do is the best bonus we teachers can receive.

I am so grateful for this honor. Thank you students, & MICA family. Congratulations to the class of 2014!

Now for that massage . . .

Just Keep Working.

Getting publisDogwoodclosehed is a HUGE accomplishment.But where most civilians (non authors & illustrators) think that a book deal means buckets of money and leaving behind a legacy, those of us in the trenches know that getting a book published is only the beginning. Looking back to my late twenties and thirties, all I wanted to do was be published, to get some recognition, to finally call myself a real illustrator. There was so much sacrifice and hard work that led up to that moment, but I shared the journey with a bunch of amazing illustrators and friends and my life changed in ways that I never imagined. Now, in my not so early thirties, with a few books under my belt, my priorities are shifting.

I think most creatives aspire to become greater at what they do. There is always a bigger goal, whether it be to sell a certain number of books a year, to win a certain award, or to get more press coverage for the work. . . there’s always something. My illustrator friends and I now obsess over sales figures and marketing strategies instead of just being able to focus on the work. It isn’t an easy business, and with trends moving more and more towards digital books,we are all working with a big question mark over our heads. Will the book sell? Should I send out more promos? How many school visits can I do this year? Can I afford a book tour? Will bloggers write about the book? Is my work still any good? Am I getting worse!?!? Can I work faster and make more books? Should I go digital?? The litany of worries go on and on.

If you’re anything like me, there’s also the doubt that comes AFTER you’ve sent the promos and made the appearances. Was that time well spent? Should I have been funnier? Did they really enjoy the book? Will anyone else buy it? Did I waste money on making those promos? Should I just stop making books? It will probably never end.

My very first class of sophomores are now graduating. I have seen so much growth in their work and personalities and it has been an inspiring ride. I have been able to contribute to many dreams, and though the road is still long for them, I have no doubt that they can make it if they stay dedicated. Many hope that making the work gets easier. My snarky professor answer to that is always, “not if you’re any good”. It is always painful, but you persevere and you make magic. There will be great successes, and there may be great failures. You might be famous and you might not. But every now and then when you are making something that makes you lose track of time and circumstance, you’ll remember why you love it and what brings you to the drawing table each day. Just keep working. Keep creating because you love it. There is no secret to longevity other than that. You’ll win some and you’ll lose some, but keep striving to do your very best work and everything will fall into place. . . I hope. ;-)

-for Matthew, our pessimistic realist