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.

A Building that No Longer Exists

The Doylestown Historical Society helps to preserve many aspects of my hometown’s past, with speakers, tours and printed publications, and a very important part of that mission involves researching the historically significant buildings in this town and nearby communities. I was recently asked to develop a sketch of a building in the borough, which is no longer standing today – a shoemaker’s shop and home.

Adam Dick and his wife, originally from Germany, had six children born in Doylestown and by 1870 they were living in the borough, in a building whose left half housed their boot and shoe shop. Old maps show the house on the corner of E. State and Pine Street with a one story front porch on the shoe shop side. By 1891 the two-story wood frame house now had a one story back porch with a tin roof. The Historical Society’s researcher is Kurt Spence, who has restored many historic homes, and he sent me part of an old lithograph of the town with this tiny representation of the house from the rear –


I started with a rough sketch of the basic shape of the house, with questions for Kurt.

Happily Kurt has the building experience that I lack, and so with his corrections I replaced the front porch gable with a shed roof, and added a roof gable to the house side of the building, for the second sketch. But I still had some questions.

Finally with some finished suggestions from Kurt I was able to render the version below. It’s unfortunate that the present site is now a parking lot, but we can at least imagine a fairly close version of what our borough boot and shoe shop may have looked like in the late 19th century.

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.

Devour a Book

Today, March 5, 2020, is World Book Day. I have a card for that!

If you buy a lot of books as gifts because you know kids & adults who love to read, you might want to have a pack of my ‘For Someone Who Devours Books’ so you can tuck a funny notecard into their gift package. My notecards are available in my Etsy shop HERE.

While you’re at it, take time to sit down and start reading a book yourself today! The last one I read was the children’s book The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, a charming read for kids and grown-ups, and I’m in the middle of a book about Ernest Shepard, who illustrated A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books, also a delightful journey.

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!

Sketches from ‘The Wind in the Willows’

I’m reading the classic children’s story by Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows, and feel compelled to sketch the book’s abundantly delightful characters. Here’s pencil sketches of Rat busily composing his poetry, and Badger leading Mole and Rat through his warren, after their near-disaster in the late night snowstorm.

More sketches to come from the thoroughly charming world of Mr. Grahame.

Phillustration Award

Every year the Philadelphia Sketch Club, historically the oldest club for artists in the country, holds a juried illustration exhibit, Phillustration. I am thrilled that one of mine was awarded second prize in the show this year.

The illustration I painted for Lodging Magazine, Office Churn, was among many other creative and colorful pieces in a show I highly recommend visiting. The exhibit runs thru November 24 and Sketch Club hours are Wed, Fri, Sat & Sun 1 PM – 5 PM and the venerable brick building that houses the Club is at 235 South Camac Street, Philadelphia PA. their website is http://sketchclub.org/ I also congratulate Joe Kulka, whose Smokey Bear art took top honors in the Advertising/ Institutional category. Sketch Club President Rich Harrington, a terrific illustrator in his own right, warmly welcomed the crowded room full of artists and emceed the reception with plenty of good humor.

My New Yorker cartoon was also accepted into the show, and I got to chat with John O’Brien, a creator of many many New Yorker cartoons and covers, at the reception, as well as Eric Fowler, the archivist at the Society of Illustrators in New York. A number of other Bucks County Illustrators Society members were accepted into this show, including Lauren Walsh, Joe DeVito, Joe Kulka, Piya and Christina Wannachaiwong (who also ‘exhibited’ their adorable new baby boy at the show), Mark Schaeffer and Dennis Wise. A few snapshots of our BCIS members’ work from the show:

Drawing with Kids and Parents at the Michener Museum

From “Let’s Visit New Hope” illustrated by Pat Achilles

I’m happy to say that I was asked by the Michener Museum here in Doylestown to lead a fun and imaginative drawing class for families in November. Unplugged Sundays @ The Michener is a program the museum sponsors to get kids into art, and their parents are encouraged to hang out and get creative too.

My 2 hour class will be about Illustration and Storytelling. I’ll show some of my illustrations and how I create them, then we will chat about the theme ‘Going on a Journey.’ We’ll look at how other artists have made stories and pictures about journeys, whether they are by foot, by bicycle, or spaceship or submarine – and then we’ll break out the wild and colorful museum art supplies and draw our own adventurous journeys!

This drawing workshop is for children ages 6 and up, and we invite parents/guardians to stay and enjoy the fun too – working together is encouraged! The workshop is on Sunday, November 17 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and pre-registration is required, as seating is limited. The beautiful Michener Museum is at 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA, and parking is right next door at the large Doylestown Library parking lot. Unplugged Sundays @ the Michener is sponsored by The Leff Family Foundation.

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.