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.

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.

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.

Illustrations for a New Literary Magazine

The Bucks County Writers Workshop and with the Doylestown Historical Society are developing a historical literary magazine by local authors, called Neshaminy. If you live in our area you know that the Neshaminy Creek is a tributary of the Delaware River and runs for about 40 miles, entirely through Bucks County.

Don Swaim, an author and radio personality, is the head of the BCWW, and it happens that probably 20 years ago my father became part of a writing club that Don also headed, so I was acquainted with him. When I heard about the project I asked if there were any need for an illustration or two in the magazine, and Don quickly assented, so I’ve drawn a few requests for him.

The first issue of Neshaminy, which should be published in early October, features a never-before-published interview with world-renowned author James Michener, conducted by Don. I drew this ink wash portrait of Michener for that piece, based on several photos I researched of the author.

Don thought a painting of the Neshaminy would be a nice frontispiece for the magazine, so I took some photos in the Castle Valley area of the creek. I imagined the art spilling over from left page to right, as in this first pencil sketch, base on my photos —

I made a tonal sketch with gray markers, below, and added a Lenape Indian in the distance, drinking from the creek. The Lenape lived in this area before Europeans settled. The word ‘Neshaminy’ means the place where we drink twice in the Lenape language.

The final ink wash painting for the frontispiece is below.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the published magazine, because at a launch party at the Historical Society a few nights ago we heard a bit about the prize-winning entries into the magazine, and they all sound like wonderfully interesting stories, some fiction, some non-fiction, some poetry. I’ve been asked to do one more illustration for this issue, and I’ll write about that as soon as it is finished.

My Art at the CB Chamber Expo

I’m very pleased to say I have joined the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce, a rousingly active organization of business people who are productively involved in every aspect of the Bucks County community. My good friend Debbie Wagner, who owns and runs the outstanding graphic design firm The Graphic Edge, described to me the CBCC’s great benefits to local business owners, and I felt it would enhance my work and connections to join.

Once a year the chamber hosts a business expo, and I welcome the chance to display my work and meet other business owners, so you will find me at my booth there. The CBCC Business Expo will be Tuesday, May 14, from 2 pm to 7 pm at the Student Center Exhibition Hall, Delaware Valley University. The University is at 700 E. Butler Avenue, Doylestown, PA. I designed the postcard below, featuring my illustration work, to hand out. The back has a few of my gag cartoons, and I’ve created a slideshow of my gag cartoons to run on my laptop throughout the expo.

In addition to meeting and learning about your local business owners, you can also enjoy some goodies from generous CBCC members, including Annie’s Water Ice, Tru-Brew Coffee and food from Applebee’s. Also, Fine Art Appraiser Lauren Travis will do free verbal approximations of value for a Fine or Decorative Art item from 2 pm to 5 pm.

Capping off the day will be the Chamber’s Largest Business Card Exchange of the Year – from 5 to 7 pm, in between networking with new colleagues, all can enjoy complimentary food courtesy of Chambers 19 Bistro & Bar with wine courtesy of Buckingham Valley Vineyards. Major event sponsors include Provident Bank, USI Affinity, My Benefit Advisor, NJM Insurance, and Delaware Valley University. This entire event is free and open to the public – I hope you stop by to see me!

BCIS Hosts Illustrator David Wiesner

The Bucks County Illustrators Society and the Lahaska Bookshop will host a talk and book-signing by Caldecott award-winning author-illustrator David Wiesner this Thursday evening, April 4 at 7:00 PM.

David Wiesner is the author and illustrator of many childrens books such as Tuesday, The Three Pigs and Flotsam, and is a three-time winner of Caldecott Medals, which recognize distinguished American picture books for children. Mr. Wiesner will speak about his illustration career and how childhood memories and  images influence the stories he creates. He will sign any of his books purchased that evening. This event is free and open to the public.

Please take a moment to g HERE to register for the event – it is free, but registering will give the Lahaska Bookshop an idea of how many people will be attending, so they can provide enough seating.

The event takes place at the Lahaska Bookshop, located at 162A Peddler’s Village, Old York Rd. (Rte. 263) and Carousel Lane, Lahaska, PA. There is parking in front of the shop, with other lots nearby in Peddler’s Village. For further info contact 215-348-4837 or bcillustrators@gmail.com.

“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 .