My Illustrations for the Children’s Book “A Grand Slam Birthday”

Now that the Phillies are in the World Series, it’s definitely time to write about a new kids’ book by my friend, author Chrysa Smith, and illustrated by me – A Grand Slam Birthday. Chrysa brings back the lead character from her book The Upside-Down Gardener, Dory Oslo, for a delightful story that makes a perfect birthday party gift for youngsters – or a holiday gift, since that season is coming up too!

Chrysa describes the plot like this: When Dory Oslo arrives at her cousin’s birthday party, nobody looks like they’re having too much fun. In fact, the kids are lined up against the wall. But Dory turns up the excitement once again as her cousin opens her gift and finds something that turns the party inside-out and into something quite unexpected—and FUN! Dory, her cousin Izzy, and their friends learn a thing or two about having fun, trying new things, and having confidence in yourself.

In illustrating Grand Slam Birthday I started with pencil sketching the whole book as usual, for example these double-page spreads :

Once Chrysa suggested adjustments to the sketches, I transferred the revised drawings to illustration board and started drawing and painting finished artwork with acrylic paint washes. Because of the birthday party theme and the surprise gift involved, it made for some colorful pages:

As you may have guessed, an impromptu baseball game figures into this story – Dory after all is a tomboy! It’s a fun story that also helps kids think differently about trying something they may think they’re “not good at.”

You can order A Grand Slam Birthday online from Chrysa HERE – and if your child’s school would like to have Chrysa do an author visit (in person or through zoom), she has some great programs that help teach and inspire the kids to write on their own. Send Chrysa a message to inquire about how she can spark the imagination in your students! You can also meet her in person, selling this and her other books, at the Warminster Kris Kringle Holiday Market this coming Saturday, Nov 5 from 9:00 AM – 12:30 PM, at 300 Veterans Way, Warminster, PA.

Drawing Biblical figures

I organized another Art+Faith Life Drawing session through my church and this time we had two wonderful models, husband and wife, who posed in our makeshift Biblical costumes so artists could imagine and draw scenes from our shared religious heritage, bringing our faith into our art.

We started with warm-up sketches of 5 to 10 minutes in length. I sketched on charcoal paper with prisma pencil..

Our models took a poignant pose of Mary Magdalen receiving counsel from Jesus. I drew this longer pose in pencil on charcoal paper –

While the models often posed together in a scene, time restrictions made it hard for me to get developed drawings of two figures, so I concentrated more on one or the other. Here is our model posing with ‘tablets’ as Moses below. It was really striking to see him standing in front of us – there is a grace in the draping of ancient clothing styles that does make you stop and contemplate: the gravity of their lives so long ago, the convictions they held that carried them through devastation. Drawing these faithful figures has an effect that goes beyond simple rendering.

My favorite from the day – an Evangelist.

My Poster Art for Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Gondoliers’ in June

Every year I design the poster for the Bucks County Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s musical comedy, and I’m excited that this year’s show will be one I’ve long enjoyed, The Gondoliers. It has the same wonderful songs and orchestrations as their other shows but with an Italianate flair, which makes the singing even more lyrical. The Gondoliers will be performed with the wonderful Bucks County Gilbert& Sullivan Orchestra accompanying, on June 17, 18 and 19 in Doylestown.

I started with some pencil sketches – at first I thought I’d put the major characters in the gondola and the minor ones running around a canal bridge in the background, but it seemed the minor figures would be too small – they are all great characters, after all.

So I tried packing everyone into the gondola! That worked fine, since the show is kind of a screwball comedy

In looking at reference photos of Venice, the buildings along the Grand Canal seem to glow in the sunlight at times, so I indicated in this rough color sketch how I’d paint them in loosely for the background. The gondola’s shadow in the water would give a lot of room for the necessary text of the poster.

I traced my drawing onto illustration board and painted the gondola & characters first –

And then painted in the sky, water and buildings, and dropped in the text.

More Madonna and Child drawings

A few more from a life drawing session of a model posing as Madonna and Child. The first is again chalk & conte crayon on toned pastel paper, the second is more a line drawing in prisma pencil on toned paper.

Sketching the Madonna and Child

I was very happy to be able to arrange a life drawing session a few weeks ago (before a nasty bout of sickness from which I’m emerging) to help celebrate the Christmas season – a lovely model who posed for as the Madonna and Child. This is one of the ways I hope to continue to bring art and faith together in my life.

Here are a few of the first quick sketches we did to loosen up, on plain paper & toned paper – we called these croquis drawings in art school. I used sepia chalk and conte crayon for these loose sketches. More drawings to come this week.

Logos for Youth Orchestra Events

The Youth Orchestra of Bucks County gives children in grades 4 to 12 the chance to meet other young musicians, participate in group activities, and get a taste of what it’s like to be in a real orchestra. I was happy to be asked to create some logos for their fundraising galas in the last few years.

The first gala, which was held virtually in the spring of 2021, had a Night at the Movies theme, and their coordinator suggested images of popcorn, theater curtains or movie reels. I came up with some ideas for them to consider –

They liked the popcorn theme, and with suggestions from their coordinator I developed a marquee-type logo for the final –

This year’s gala will be in person and has the theme Tropical Rhythm, so the coordinator suggested images of bright flowers, greenery and some type of rhythm instrument. I drew a basic idea and tried various fonts & details –

The coordinator suggested a great ‘tropical’ typeface and a revised logo for YOBC, and I modified the design to his suggestions, for the final logo.

He did like the toucan I put in the first design, so he may use that in the program book where some art is needed.

Bills! Bills! Bills!

I recently painted the cover art for another fun book by author James Miller, whose previous book, The Book of Jims, I also illustrated. This one is another compendium of historical figures having the same first name, William or Bill. Bill’s! Bills! Bills! is the title.

I started with a very rough pencil sketch of the Bills to be shown on the cover – William Tell, Buffalo Bill Cody, William the Conqueror, William Shakespeare, William Penn and Bill Clinton.

Jim also asked me to include a red-billed toucan, a spoonbill and maybe a hen, along with some dollar bills and cable bills, so I worked those into the drawing and tightened it up a bit by tracing it in felt tip pen.

I then made a rough color sketch, coloring in a scan of the drawing and placing the text.

I consulted with Jim on some details of the drawing & text and painted a finished illustration to drop into the design. He’s awaiting publication now. I think Bills! Bills! Bills! will be a fun & interesting read – especially to other Bills – but also for anyone who likes quips and quirks of history. 

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.

Children’s Classical Concert Returns!

I’m very happy to say that the Lenape Chamber Ensemble, a group of world-class musicians who perform several times a year for chamber music lovers in our area of Bucks County, will return to a live in-person concert for children on November 13 at Delaware Valley University. The Ensemble has been performing these delightful and educational concerts for kids for over 20 years; they play snippets of music from their adult concerts, teach the children about the composers and musical instruments, and even invite the little ones dance to the music as a finale – it’s just as much fun for parents as for the kids!

I always illustrate the flyer for the Children’s Concert with little animals playing instruments, and this fall is no different. The selections to be played will include parts of Telemann’s Tafelmusik, which was meant to played as entertainment at a banquet, so that became my theme. I started with a pencil sketch, and set it in the rainforest because I just wanted to have a toucan in the scene. I sketched monkeys playing the noted instruments, with a jaguar seated at a little table enjoying the music.

I traced the basic lines of this scene onto bristol paper and inked it in loosely with a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen. The finish is below.

For those who have attended before, please note the new time of the concert. I highly recommend this event to everyone – parents will love the informal and fun atmosphere and kids will easily learn to appreciate the beauty of the music and the joy of these musicians.