Illustrating the Maasai

Almost ten years ago I illustrated the African folktale The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel for the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project. I learned much about the work of MCEP in doing this book, an organization that helps to build wells in Kenya and pay for education of women and children. I helped frame the actual story, which involves all animal characters, by suggesting we start the story by showing a common Maasai family tradition: the grandmother gathering the grandchildren under an acacia tree to tell stories. A friend of mine asked me to make this cover illustration into a notecard for her. I’ve just added it to my Etsy line of illustrated cards, and it can be seen and ordered here.

This is pack of 8 notecards (blank inside) and 8 ivory envelopes. Printed on the back of the notecard is a description of the scene: “The artwork shows the Rift Valley of Kenya, a region of many Maasai villages. A grandmother making bead jewelry while seated on a cowhide tells her grandchildren a folk tale in the shade of an acacia tree. An enkaji – a home made of mud and sticks – is behind them. A father and son herd goats in the background, and behind them is a fence of acacia branches, which encircles the villages to keep wild animals from entering.” When I drew the illustrations for this book I had the kind cooperation of several Maasai visitors who explained specific cultural details in the drawing, so the scene is authentic.

The 8 cards (same illustration on each) in this pack are 5 1/2″ wide by 4 1/4″ high, which is a typical ‘invitation’ size notecard, taking regular first class postage. The cardstock is made from partially recycled paper and the cards are printed in the USA.

If you would like a notecard of this sort customized by me to include your personal message or a custom-drawn illustration, please contact me through my Contact page to discuss your ideas and my illustration fees.

I am happy to say that The Lion, the Ostrich and the Squirrel is in schools and libraries in Maasailand, and is especially useful because the story is written in both English and Swahili. The book is available for purchase, with proceeds going to MCEP, here.

Illustration for a YA Book Cover

A recent commission of mine was to make illustrations for a novel written by a middle school student. The student has ADHD and is also a gifted and eager writer. He writes insightfully about fitting in with middle school culture.

After reading some chapters and poems that comprise the book I decided to create a sketch for one poem that is set under a tree – its theme seemed to encompass the message of the book. I thought it could be used inside the book as a page illustration with the poem, and perhaps could be used for the cover as well.

I designed my rough pencil sketch looking down from above the main character under the tree, so it would work on a page and also with the title if needed. I hand-lettered the title with ink and brush.

The family of the author liked the image and wanted it for the cover, but thought some extra middle schoolers should be added. I drew a circle of friends separately –

and dropped them into the tree scene.

Then I colored the art digitally and reversed out the text – the finished book cover is below.

A Storyteller and his Neighborhood Book Project

A children’s book that I had a part in has been selected by Doylestown Bookshop to be part of their “Local Author Partnership Program”. It will be featured in the bookstore during the month of March, and I’d like to explain its unusual journey to publication.

I helped with this unique type of book project this past summer and fall. Professional storyteller Ray Gray asked me if I could help coordinate a children’s book idea that he had – to take one story out of his storytelling repertoire, have a group of children from his neighborhood illustrate the story, and put it all together into published book form.

It was delightful getting to know Ray, whose career in storytelling at schools, festivals, and performance venues reaches back to pre-digital technology days, when he had to haul props and his own audio and visual equipment that was rather ahead of its time. To prepare, he transcribed his children’s story “Ice Cream Mud” into a manuscript and I laid it out in book dummy form. His local neighborhood has many families with schoolchildren, and their parents were supportive of involving their kids in this project.

The parents and 8 or 10 children, ages approximately 7 to 13, were invited to Ray & his wife Nancy’s lovely home one evening to kick off the project. Ray told his story Ice Cream Mud, which was based on experiences with his son when he was young, with great emotion and humor to the children. Then I led them through questions about the main characters and how we might all draw the horse, donkey, goose and cow. The kids had fun choosing one identifying item of clothing for each animal – a top hat, an apron, etc. to make the characters unique and appealing. We gave each child drawing supplies and pages of the story, so each one had several scenes to illustrate. Since summer had just begun, we instructed the children to draw their pages through their summer vacation and we would gather together again in the fall to put everything together.

When all the artwork was completed I scanned the pieces and put the book together for printing through an online publisher. The final book is colorful and a delightful read, and is truly a community effort! I hope it inspires more stories and more drawings from these neighborhood kids as they grow, and from other children as they read this and imagine what they can create in story and pictures.

Again I’ll mention that Ice Cream Mud has been selected by Doylestown Bookshop to be part of their “Local Author Partnership Program”. It will be featured in the bookstore during the month of March. Make sure you stop in to see this positive one-of-a-kind creation!

The Bucks County Book Fest

The 2nd annual Bucks County Book Fest will take place in lovely Doylestown, the county seat, this Saturday and Sunday Oct. 12 and 13, and I’m happy to say my artwork will be seen in a few publications there.

The Bucks County Writers Workshop‘s inaugural issue of its historical and literary magazine Neshaminy will be sold at the open-air book market on Sunday from noon to 4 pm. It features short stories and poems that revolve around our area’s rich history and famous residents, including pieces about Dorothy Parker, Oscar Hammerstein, Pearl S. Buck and a never-before-published interview with James Michener. I was happy to be commissioned by the BCWW to illustrate the articles about Michener and Parker, and contribute a frontispiece illustration of the Neshaminy Creek, with a subtle reference to the Lenape tribes that lived by its banks.

You can see my pieces below – click to enlarge.

Some of my illustrations for children’s books will also be at the Book Fest, courtesy of author Chrysa Smith, for whom I have illustrated The Upside-Down Gardener, Once Upon a Poodle, and a series of children’s books called The Adventures of the Poodle Posse. Chrysa will also be at the open-air book market Sunday, and I’m sure she’d love book lovers to stop by and to buy local [books]!

A few of my illustrations for Chrysa are below – click to enlarge.

I’ll be around the market too! I’m not sure what I’ll be hawking yet, but probably some of my Christmas cards (you can see some here) and my notecards for birthdays or any occasion when you are giving a book as a gift –

Hope to see you at the Book Fest! There are many other events both Saturday and Sunday – a Lit Crawl, readings for children, a writer’s workshop and an illustrator’s workshop – check out all the events at their site here.

“The Upside-Down Gardener” Book Premiering December 5

upsidedown_gardener_frontonlyI’m happy to announce that Chrysa Smith’s new children’s book, with illustrations by yours truly, will be introduced at a book launch at Lahaska Book Shop in Peddler’s Village, Lahaska, PA, on Wednesday, December 5, starting at 7:00 PM.

Chrysa describes her story this way: ‘Determined city girl Dory Oslo unwillingly agrees when her mom tells her she should plant a garden. How could something grow in their city plot with only a piece of sun shining above the buildings? Her determination to wake up those plants is strong and what follows is nothing short of a miracle. Only something highly unusual is happening, or is it? This story uses gardening as a tie-in to discussions about not giving up, trying something new, being a strong-minded girl and of course, the beauty of nature itself.’

udgdetail_1The public in invited to join us at the launch and enjoy some light refreshments. Chrysa has asked me to talk and show a bit about how I planned and created sketches and finished art for the book, and we will both be there to sign purchased copies. Please join us – you can get a lovely book perfect for 2nd to 4th graders, or for reading out loud to younger children, and then get a jump on other holiday shopping by strolling though lovely Peddler’s Village!

upside_down_gardener_detail1Another sneak peek into the book: it takes place in Brooklyn, and there is definitely some fantasy going on – as you can see from the flowers starting to bloom right in the NYC subway!

For directions to Peddlers Village, click HERE . The Lahaska Book Shop is near the corner of Old York Rd. and Carousel Lane, which you can see on the map HERE – there is a parking lot just outside the shop, with other larger lots around Peddler’s Village.  Other holiday events at Peddlers Village are HERE .

 

 

 

My Cover Art for ‘The Upside-Down Gardener’

As promised in yesterday’s post of pencil sketches for this new children’s book, here is the full color cover art –

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I will post more sketches and info on the book as it nears completion!

 

My cover art for a new children’s book

My friend. author Chrysa Smith, has penned a new book for children, with illustrations by me. Titled The Upside-Down Gardener, it takes us through a little girl’s first attempt at growing a garden in her Brooklyn, NY, backyard.

I started with a rough pencil sketch of the lead character Dory looking upside down at some of her flowers –

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And then after checking some photo reference I refined it to a more anatomically correct stance –

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We want the urban setting to be apparent, so I widened the view to show the backs of the rear buildings a bit –

 

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– and tomorrow I’ll post the full color finished art.

Online Dating Illustration

I recently went through my Big File of Past Illustrations and came across some fun ones from before I had a blog, so herewith:

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I drew this a number of years ago for the cover of a book about finding your mate online when you’re over 50. It’s drawn in black prisma pencil with some watercolor and pastel. I think the author is still in the business of matching people up!

My Gilbert & Sullivan Artwork

I’ve just completed designing the show program for the Bucks County Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s June production, Trial by Jury and More! This production is a melange of two comic operettas and some magnificent overtures and solos from Gilbert & Sullivan.

I’ve been pleased to paint the poster illustrations for a number of these G&S shows, which I then use on the program cover as well. It’s a pleasure to get to know the witty and comical characters in these operettas – and they are truly operettas, with some dialog but a lot of gloriously operatic sung music. I really recommend these shows for anyone who loves classical music and good theatrical humor.

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My illustration for Trial by Jury and More includes the characters Mr. Cox, a hatter, and Mr. Box, a printer, who unwittingly occupy the same rented flat because one works all day and the other all night; they meet unexpectedly and both are furious with their landlord for double-dipping on the rent – until they discover they are, or were, also engaged to the same lady and neither wants to fulfill that contractual obligation! Also depicted in this cover are characters from Trial by Jury: Angelina, the tragicomically jilted bride, and the Judge, who is instantly smitten with her. Together these 1-act shows make up the operatic musical comedy Trial by Jury and More!  and it is set to open in two weeks, on Friday June 16 here in Doylestown – all info is on the website here.

With my art for HMS Pinafore I shoehorned the main characters into a tiny rowboat for comic effect: the gallant sailor Ralph Rackstraw kissing lovely Josephine and Captain Corcoran carrying his sunny Buttercup, with ornery Dick Deadeye paddling them through the waves and Sir Joseph admonishing them all to be quite polite. My husband played Sir Joseph in this show locally, and friends may see the resemblance in my rendering of him.

For Princess Ida I stood our stalwart princess front and center, and in the background her bastion for women, Castle Adamant. If you look closely you can see the brave fellows clumsily scaling the castle battlements – Hilarion, Cyril and Florian – who engage the theme of this battle-of-the-sexes play. For some elements of Castle Adamant I was inspired by the design of Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine, and you may notice I incorporated male-female symbols into the castle windows.

For the Patience illustration I painted sweet, sensible milkmaid Patience listening skeptically to the florid words of poet Bunthorne. (I enjoy that G&S often chose hilariously Dickensian character names.) Meanwhile the lovesick maidens of the village cling and swoon on Bunthorne, with even Lady Jane and her cello getting drawn into the undertow. There’s a lovely small magnolia tree in my neighborhood that I used for reference in the Patience art.

In all these illustrations I painted with acrylic paint on illustration board. If you’d like to see my sketches leading up to these paintings, I wrote about my process – Trial by Jury here, Pinafore here, Princess Ida here and Patience here. Leasing of my artwork for other productions is available, and inquiries can be made through my Contact page.

 

The Basics of Book Creating

makingofabook_detailMy friend, author Chrysa Smith, has written up a great basic guide for anyone considering writing and publishing a book.  Chrysa has written for many years for magazines and blogs, and of late she has become a popular children’s book author, making regular school visits all over the Northeast to discuss her stories and conduct writing workshops for young writers. She has a lot of excellent experience.

Chrysa asked me to draw up a cover illustration for this ebook, The Making of a Book: What to Know, What to Do – available now for an incredibly low cost at Amazon – and she had an image in her head for the art. She suggested a person typing on a typewriter – how old-school! – with various accoutrements of the writer in view as well.

1chrysamakingofabook_sk1detailI pictured the image as looking down from above on the writer – I didn’t want to show a face, because that makes it a bit too specific. It’s been a long time since I used a typewriter, so I had to look up some images on google to make sure I got the details right!  I then thought about other hallmarks of the writing process – motivation (cup of tea), critique (red pencil markups), and frustration (crumpled paper), and added them into the pencil sketch.

1chrysamakingofabook_sk2Chrysa made a few suggestions, and I sent her a rough color sketch, with her title text inserted, and she approved that for final art.

I drew the finished art in one of my standard techniques, using black prisma pencil for the outline, on illustration board, and then painted in washes with thinned acrylic paints. I made the cover into a high-res jpeg and Chrysa inserted it into her ebook file, then uploaded it to Amazon.

As an illustrator I’ve spoken to many people who have ideas for books, with topics ranging from trends in their industry to creative stories for children or adults, and I’ll now be happy to recommend The Making of a Book to them.  Chrysa concisely explains traditional publishing, the exploding self-publishing market, ebooks and the all-important marketing phase of book 1makingofabook_coverart_lowrespublishing.  And she gives clear, real-life tips for authors that will prevent problems they could encounter further down the process, saving them time and resources. Her website, if you’d like to read more about her books and events, is here.