Illustration for Liebovar, a Children’s Opera

I have worked with composer and librettist Misha Dutka before, illustrating the poster for his children’s opera The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. Recently Boheme Opera NJ performed a beautiful concert version of Misha’s full length opera Liebovar, or The Little Blind Girl, at the 1867 Sanctuary in New Jersey. Liebovar‘s plot has an opera-within-an-opera, and now Delaware Valley Opera Company plans to mount the short children’s opera that is within the larger story of Liebovar, in the fall. Misha asked me to do an illustration to advertise this performance.

Misha explained that the children’s opera involves the same young girl I depicted in the art for the full length work, a blind girl in a WWII concentration camp –

– but in this fairy-tale-type opera she is a poor peasant girl wandering through the woods, and befriended by various animals – a squirrel, a turtle, a fawn and a duckling. As soon as he described this I sketched a rough idea quickly, which he then approved:

I tightened up the pencil drawing –

and did a colored pencil color sketch first –

and then the final painting, in acrylic washes over prisma pencil, on illustration board. Below is the poster with text added for the event.

Hedgehogs with Violins

If you see hedgehogs playing violins and flutes, can spring be far behind?

Below is my drawing for the Lenape Chamber Ensemble’s upcoming Concert for Children in March. Lenape Chamber Ensemble brings together word-class musicians for local classical concerts and the instrumentalists also find time to do a one-hour concert for kids in between their professional performances – they talk to the kids about composers, play snippets of the longer pieces, and generally create an entertaining hour of the fun side of classical music. It’s completely informal – kids spontaneously dancing along to the music is encouraged – and children can chat with the musicians and see the instruments up close.

Highly recommended for an afternoon out with the kids or grandkids, to welcome spring!

Beanies and Knee Socks

I drew some vignettes of Catholic school life when my kids were in school, and I post them today to celebrate Catholic Schools Week. I went through Catholic school in the 1960s and 70s, and some of my teachers were still there when my children attended! I deeply appreciate my Catholic school upbringing, where we were always encouraged to excel academically and discern the spark of sacredness in every human being.

I send my special thanks to Nativity of Our Lord School, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School and Archbishop Wood High School for the wonderful, dedicated teachers, staff and clergy who surround our children with the beliefs and morals they need to create a good society.

My Scout Card for ‘Crossing Over’ from Cub to Scout

I have added to my line of Boy Scout congratulations cards – the two I have drawn for Eagle Scouts are quite popular sellers on my Etsy page – by drawing a whimsical illustration for young cub scouts who are making their ‘Crossing Over Ceremony’ from Cub Scouts into full Boy Scouts. I’ll add, the card is inspired by my two grandsons, who made their Crossing Over into Scouts. I’m very proud of them and their friends, who have completed their work as a Cub and want to further their knowledge and experience in BSA.

In my whimsical drawing style, I drew a friendly adult Eagle, in scout troop leader uniform, waving 3 happy little eagles across a footbridge in the great outdoors. This mirrors the Crossing Over Ceremony that young scouts go through when they ‘cross over the bridge’ from Cubs to Boy Scouts.

I first pencilled in a sketch of the scene –

I tightened up the drawing, scanned it & colored a printout roughly to work out the colors –

– and then transferred the drawing to illustration board, outlined in ink and painted it in with acrylic washes.

To see the finished card, inside message, and all other info and for purchasing, please see my Etsy shop HERE.

A fan of my cards who is a troop leader reviewed them this way: “These cards are exceptionally unique and well drawn. The messages are well thought out and brief, a good thing. I always add a personal message to the card as well, and there is room to do that. These are beautiful cards and an inspiration to the scouts receiving them.”

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 3

(To read Part 1 and 2 of this process click HERE and HERE.)

After I did rough color sketches for Laurie Nowlan’s entire book, I started transferring the drawings to illustration board and painting. I use prismacolor pencils to outline my characters and acrylic paint, thinned with water to the level of a wash, to paint the colors. You can get nice vibrant hues using acrylics, which brightened up the autumn pages at the beginning of the book.

This story follows two brother robins as they go on a southern migration to Florida, the twists and turns they encounter along the way, and how they help each other as siblings. They encounter a nasty storm, which knocks the younger brother, Robbie, for a loop.

The older brother, Ben, has trouble with one of his wings, and suddenly little Robbie is the sibling that has to look out for his older brother.

Robbie steels himself and finds the strength to get both himself and his brother out of danger.

And to see the sunny conclusion of the story, you’ll have to get the book!

Since the cover art is so critical to the appeal of a children’s book, the author and I went through several sketches of the cover illustration before we settled on the right scene and feel for it. We wanted Robbie alone on the cover, but did not want to give away too much of the climax of the story.

I envisioned Robbie swooping through the stormclouds with a determined, serious expression; and after discussion with Laurie we tried a more cheerful look and we both liked it better.

I did a color sketch and added some lightning to create a little more excitement –

and then painted the finished art.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 2

To read Part 1 of this process click HERE.

Once I had drawn all the pages of Laurie Nowlan’s Robbie to the Rescue! as pencil sketches, I scanned all the drawings and colored them in roughly so both the author and I could see the placement of color throughout the book.

Early on when Laurie and I discussed her main characters, we had decided there should be some little bits of clothing to humanize Robbie and his older brother Ben. Laurie liked having Ben wear a baseball cap, and perhaps big sneakers for Robbie, to make him look smaller and younger and maybe a little clumsier than his older brother. In initial sketches I had given them orange and red jackets, thinking they’d stand out in green foliage – then when I started doing pages I realized it was autumn in the story and the leaves would be those colors. So I switched their jackets to blue and green.

The story has a number of scenes that take place during a rainstorm so I tried to vary the spreads between pages that bled off the sides and vignettes where there was white space around the illustrations, as well as full double page spreads where it was warranted, to keep the scenes from looking too similar.

Laurie suggested that the storm scenes should stay very blue and gray, so that at the end of the story when there are beach scenes, the change to sunny warmth would really be apparent to the reader. I agree it worked really well.

After this stage I started painting finished art for the book. I’ll write more about that, and about developing the cover art, in Part 3.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 1

I recently completed illustrating a new children’s picture book, written by Laurie Nowlan, Robbie to the Rescue! It’s a lovely story about brother robins and how they help each other through the younger brother’s first southern migration. I think it’s a very good sibling story, with lots of touches that happen between real brothers and sisters, so many children will relate to it.

I first spoke at length with the author about how she imagined the characters and the flow of the story. Laurie is a retired teacher and has been writing for a long time so she had already given this much thought. I di some black and white and color sketches of the brother birds and more or less used them as my prototypes when developing the page art – although you’ll see some colors changed.

With the author’s suggestions I laid out the text and drew pencil sketches for each double page spread. I drew a very loose pagination, which just helps me visualize a variety of page setups before I design, like this –

Then I drew pencils of each spread like these samples.

I’ll explain the next steps in the process in my next post.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

Free Coloring Book for Children

Last year I created some artwork for Mike DeSantis’ CPA website and in the process Mike introduced the idea of using a little cartoon of his dog as a friendly mascot for the business. Mike had used “Bart the dog” as a fun part of his business before, telling long-time clients that Bart helped around the office – he even gave Bart a phone extension on the menu!

After the pandemic hit, Mike searched for an idea that could honor the workers in healthcare and also help children through a worrisome time in their young lives. In thinking about the Bart cartoons on his website, he came up with the idea of a coloring book for youngsters that would teach safety tips on staying germ-free during flu season. The book, called “Keep the Germs Away,” is dedicated to all the doctors, nurses, hospital workers and first responders who risk their lives on the front lines to help others, and I drew the illustrations.

Mike has donated 100 copies of the book to Doylestown Hospital’s Children’s Village. Each coloring page has a simple suggestion supporting good hygiene for children, and features Bart the Dog, the friendly mascot of DeSantis & Co., P.C. The director of Children’s Village, Teri Windisch, said of the gift, “Our kids and families loved the “Keep Germs Away” coloring book from Mike. What a great way to reinforce what they have learned during this tough time!”  The coloring book is also available to anyone for free download from Mike’s website www.descpa.biz and he’s allowed me to put it on my site too, free on this page HERE. So get out your markers and sharpen up your pencils!

Free Coloring Sheet for World Bicycle Day

Anyone can download my bicycle coloring sheet below for free, to celebrate World Bicycle Day! See the link below the drawing.

A young girl goes on a fantasy adventure under the sea – what will she find? Download, print and color this picture – maybe add your own secret treasure to the scene! Can you make up a story to go with your artwork?

I’d love to see any children’s finished art – you can email a snapshot to me at achillesportfolio@gmail.com.

Click on this link to download, and then print –

achilles_undersea_drawing_coloring_sheet-1Download

Icon of Poodlehood

I’ve illustrated six children’s books for author Chrysa Smith’s Adventures of the Poodle Posse series, a string of stories that details the wags and whimsy involved in raising a bunch of very personable pooches. While each book focuses on one or two poodles who wander into the saga, the one constant character is Mrs. Flout, the bouncy lady whom the dogs have ‘adopted’ as their mom.

Chrysa visits schools to read her books and promote reading and writing to youngsters, and often for Catholic Schools Week and Read Across America Week she is busy traveling and presenting. She delightedly receives quite a few hand-drawn pictures from the kids of her poodle pals, but this past week’s surprise was unique: one particular teacher dressed up as Mrs. Flout (whose hair is uncannily similar in texture to a poodle’s) and sent Chrysa a photo –

I think when you start having people dress up as the characters in your books, you have really done something special. Congratulations, Chrysa! Mrs. Flout is now an official Icon of Poodlehood.

Chrysa’s books have all received the Mom’s Choice Award, which honors excellence in family-friendly media. If you know some youngsters who love fun stories and especially if they love dogs, please take a look at Chrysa’s selection of fun books on her site HERE.