Monday, December 30, 2013


On Christmas Eve, the little church in the Vermont village I lived in always held a candlelight service.  When the service was over, many of us---whether traveling on foot or in vehicles---did our best to keep our candles alight for the trip home.  We wanted to carry our lighted candles ceremoniously into our houses; set them on our tables and our mantlepieces; light more candles from their burning wicks; preserve the light.  We guarded our little flames carefully during the journey.  They often succumbed to a gust of wind, or an inadvertent gesture.  Yet, always, at least one candle remained lit, and was there to pass its light back, and on, to the rest.
This is a Christian tradition, of course.  Yet the desire to bring light into the darkness, and love into sorrow, is universal, and is found in philosophies and beliefs all over the world.  During this time of the year, an old celestial cycle is ending, and a new one is beginning.  The lengthening nights have slowly turned, once again, toward the return of the light-giving sun.  Let's now grasp the light and love that is given to us, and take it with us.  Let's carry it into our homes, and into our hearts.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


I'm having a big sale right now in my Etsy store.
Spend $30 or more, and get 50% off your total at checkout.
Use coupon code SAVE50.
Sale ends on January 7, 2014.
Hope to see you there!
Once again:  Spend $30 or more at my Etsy store, and get 50% off at checkout.  Use coupon code SAVE50.  Sale ends on January 7, 2014.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I published this book many years ago.  The children who were reading it when it was published are now in their 30's, their 40's, or perhaps even their 50's.  But even though the book is now out-of-print, it seems that it still lives on in the hearts of those who read it as a child.  Someone will tell me, "It was my favorite book when I was 5 (or 10, or 4, or 8, or....)."  A grandmother or grandfather writes, "My daughter/son loved this book, and now I want to give it to my grandchild."
Recently I had the opportunity to see the flyleaf of a copy of this book...
...and the flyleaf of another copy of this book.  A colleague of mine, seeing the same flyleafs, wrote, "These inscriptions are very moving, and renew my faith in the tender, sacred quality shared between children and those close to them through children's books.  Seeing these handwritten notes is quite touching.  Yes, all the work and effort put into creating good children's books is so worthwhile."  Could we, as writers and illustrators of books for children, leave behind any better legacy?

Friday, December 13, 2013


I cannot resist---I must post a second birthday-of-the-month:  Ruth Gannett, born December 16, 1896.  One of the books she illustrated, MISS HICKORY, was one of my favorite books as a child.  In fact, it still is.  It's a story about stubborn prejudiced Miss Hickory, who is forced by unpleasant circumstances to make huge changes in her life, so that by the end of the story she is "heedless, headless Miss Hickory."  The black and white lithograph illustrations for this book were at least fifty percent of its attraction for me.

As an adult I discovered more of Gannett's work.  I marvel always at the clarity, boldness, vigor, and sure hand of her work.

What a little masterpiece!
And compare her own interpretation of Russian peasant culture with that of Rojankovsy's.  The two are different---but is one better than the other?  Yet though Gannett's work is of the same genius, quality, and calibre as other great illustrators I've highlighted in this blog, she is rarely spoken of.  Read a bit more about her at this link:  And please do read MISS HICKORY.  You'll not find a better tale (or novel, even) about having to face and accept the uncomfortable realities of life.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Feodor Rojankovsky was born in Russia on December 24, 1891, and after a life disrupted many times by WWI and then WWII, emigrated to the United States in 1941.  I've always admired his artwork, particularly for its wonderfully rich bright colors.
One of his gifts were the tactile illusions that he was able to portray.  I always felt I could reach out and stroke the fur of his kittens, or feel the damp smoothness of his mushrooms.  
Another wonderful aspect of so much of his art is the reference to the folk art of his native country.  His three bears, for example,  inhabit a thoroughly Russian peasant's home, with gaily carved furniture and utensils.
And he clearly was well acquainted with the animals he portrayed in his illustrations.  He's one of the few illustrators about whom I've thought, "If only I could illustrate like THAT."
Once again, I have felt quite frustrated as I've searched online for information in preparing this birthday-of-the-month post.  I've been stymied by the lack of online information about whatever illustrator I've chosen, and often an illustrator I've thought of is not anywhere to be found.  I've also been very disappointed to find hardly anything about female illustrators from these earlier times.  There were many women, too, in this field---women of great skill and reputation; and yet it's almost impossible to find anything at all about them online.  I plan to find some good old-fashioned BOOKS about these artists as I continue this series in the new year; and I also keep thinking that in my "spare time" I ought to begin creating an online treasury and directory, to honor and acknowledge these artists who were the founders, in a sense, of the great field of modern children's book illustration that we have today.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


The Season of Lights, for me, is not only a serious time of year, but a magical one.  From my earliest memories, I imagined what other creatures might do when we nosey humans were not staring at them.  As I lay in bed at night waiting to fall asleep, I could hear the sounds of mice as they began their daily nocturnal activities within the sturdy walls of our old brick house.  I felt certain that they had their own everyday lives, just as I had mine.  I extended that conviction to all of the non-human world around me---our diary goats, the rabbits and woodchucks of the fields, even the spiders and ants industriously working in the garden.  I also was convinced that all that fauna must have their magical times, just as we humans had ours.  I created this piece of art, using pen and ink with watercolor, in memory of that childhood belief...a belief that I see I still hold in my child's heart.  I'm offering giclee prints of this image through my Etsy store:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


As days shorten, and dark nights lengthen, we humans turn to lights to mark the season.  Even more southern cultures---though they live amidst a more subtle change of seasons---celebrate with light, in anticipation of the return of longer days.  As for me, growing up in northern New England, where the winter nights are dark and endless---well, if I had lived in earlier times, I would have whole-heartedly participated in religious and magical rites designed to entice the sun to return to the frozen earth.  Instead, being a supposedly more modern creature, I've treated this topic often in my books.  One example is TALES FOR A WINTER'S EVE, which I created intentionally to honor the winter solstice as it would pass through my beloved rural Vermont community.
The sun setting over a frigid and snow-clad community was a signal to folk---animal or human---that it was time to scurry for home, warm hearths, and tasty stews.  But it was also a symbol and a reminder of the setting of one season, and the advent of another.  
It was a signal to settle in for the long winter to come---in burrows, nests, hollow trees, or clapboarded buildings---that were hopefully well-stocked with food and fuel.
Brief forays out into the darkness and cold added zest to the long waiting.
But there was always the blessed fire and light on one's return---where one could warm one's toes, sip hot cider, and tell stories to pass the time.
And at the very end of the day, we hoped that for everyone---furred, feathered, scaled, or naked---there was a cozy bed, a goodnight hug, and comforting dreams of the return to light and warmth.

Monday, November 25, 2013


This was my Thanksgiving illustration from the book FATHER FOX'S PENNYRHYMES, a collection of poems written by my sister Clyde Watson.  Much of that book---both words and pictures---alluded to Clyde's and my childhood experiences as we grew up with six brothers and sisters in a rural Vermont setting.  This illustration was no exception.  The long table here was the table, made by my father, that we all sat around (and sometimes squabbled around) at mealtimes.  The captain's chairs in which Mother and Father Fox sit are the same chairs that my own parents used.  The piano in the background, the interrupted sewing project on the rocking chair, the bulletin board festooned with fox kits' art, even some of the clothing---I took all of these details verbatim from my own childhood.  In fact, the only real difference I can now see between my childhood reality, and my illustration, might be that our ears weren't quite as large and furry---and if we had tails, we kept them hidden.

I wish you all a Thanksgiving full of love, the community of family and friends, and "cake upon the table."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


 I always thought it would fun to have a store---perhaps there are shopkeepers amongst my ancestors.  I also love holding Open Studios, but there is a limit to how many times a year the creative work space can be bundled away to make room for a party.   With the internet, however, it's now possible for me to have a never-ending Open Studio, and run a shop, without ever leaving my physical studio or disturbing my ongoing creative work.  I've just opened my Etsy online studio shop:
 I'm starting out on a small scale:  a few Christmas cards...
 ...a few out-of-print books with either accompanying prints...
...or with enticing decorated envelopes in which to present them...
...and my favorite---a small 6 oz. mug with a couple of cavorting foxes adorning its side.  All of the art was designed and executed by Yours Truly, of course.  My shopkeeper mind is bubbling and bursting with more ideas for things I could make to put on my virtual shop shelves.  My other more sober mind is saying "Let's just wait a little while to see how this goes before we do anything more."  In any case, no matter which mind-set prevails, right now I'm having fun!  Please drop in for a visit---I can offer you some virtual tea and cookies!

Monday, November 18, 2013


Gustav Tengrenn was born in in Sweden on November 3, 1896.  
I first discovered his illustrations as a child when I read The Pokey Little Puppy.  
I later discovered more of Tenggren's Little Golden Books, as well as other children's books.    I was entranced by his work, right from the beginning.  But well into my adulthood I was unaware that I had barely scratched the surface as to this artist's accomplishments.  

Then a good friend introduced me to Disney films like Snow White. (No, I never saw these films until I was an adult---but that's another blog post.)  
Tenggren was a major contributor to these films, creating huge amounts of artwork, and of ideas (though he was never credited at the time).  I was stunned by the visual power and beauty of these films, particularly the backgrounds and scene settings.  
"Ah," I thought, "now I've  seen the complete range of this artist's work."
But when I began searching the internet for more information about Tenggren, I was---well, embarrassed because I saw that there was much more of Tenggren's art and his innumerable styles and prolific output that I had never seen.  I realized that all my life I had actually known hardly anything about the person whose talent I had admired for so long.  And I was also completely bowled over by the diverse range, the beauty, and the superb excellence of his art.  I hope you already know more than I did about Tenggren's work.  Or if you don't, I invite you to embark on a journey of discovery with me, and learn more about this incredible master of art-making.  To get you started, here are a few links (though the internet is disappointingly sparse in its information about this illustrator, and in fact about almost any illustrator from earlier eras): 

Monday, November 11, 2013


The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression will be hosting its annual holiday auction of art from children's books later this month. The auction begins November 26 and ends December 2 (  Proceeds from the auction go towards support of ABFFE's programming and advocacy work.  This is your chance to purchase art by some of today's finest illustrators of books for children, while supporting a worthy cause.  My donation will be the art that I created as a demo for my previous blog THE 3-COLOR PALETTE.  (Blogger will not let me add the link here, but you can find the post on the Blog Archive list at the right.)  I can't think of a better use for this little piece than to ask it to help out with the ABFFE'S efforts.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


I've been emphasizing that one does not need a huge palette in order to achieve a variety of results. (See my earlier posts on this topic:  I was reminded of an exercise that my grandfather Ernest W. Watson suggested in his book ERNEST W. WATSON'S SKETCH DIARY:  try painting with a palette of just 3 colors.  I chose yellow ochre, light red, and Winsor blue as my palette for this demonstration.
I started with this little ink drawing of a figure I drew for the book I LOVE MY BABY SISTER, by Elaine Edelman.
In this version,all 3 colors are of fairly equal importance.  Notice that although only 3 colors are used, the effect does not feel at all "limited".  On the contrary, it is very colorful.
In this version, the 3 colors are again of fairly equal importance, but the overall effect is rather different from the first example.
In this example, the blue is clearly the dominant color, and there are only bare touches of the red and yellow.  But again, the effect does not feel "limited".  You will notice that all 3 of these images do consistently "go together" in the sense of feeling as though they are from the same pictorial family.  This is one of the huge boosts the illustrator receives when using a limited palette.  A limited palette almost automatically produces art that is consistent throughout a book or project.  And once again, in this post I'm preaching my strong belief that the artist does not need a huge array of materials in order to produce beautiful work.  Instead, I suggest that the artist choose carefully a small arsenal of high-quality tools, and then learn through trial and error how to get the absolute most out of each one of them.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


In my previous blog MY PALETTE I talked about my physical palette, and the choice of pigments that I lay out on that palette.   There is one other way we can define this word palette:  the color scheme chosen for an individual piece or book.  It's important to remember that a limited number of colors on the physical palette does not mean a limited number of color schemes available for one's art.  In fact, I myself start with a limited choice of colors on my palette, and then focus on an even smaller selection of colors out of that palette from which to create a color scheme for a project.  The illustration above, from my book LITTLE BROWN BEAR, was created from the list of colors I gave in that earlier blog   (  For this image, I used all of the earth colors from my palette, plus a green, and a couple of reds. But I hardly touched my purple, blues, and blacks.
In contrast, for this illustration, from my book JAMIE'S STORY, I avoided the earth colors almost completely.  Instead, I focused on my purple, rose, cerulean blue, and cadmium yellows.  Greens were created from the blue and the yellow, keeping all the colors cool, clear, and vibrant. 
In this illustration, from WENDY WATSON'S FROG WENT A-COURTING, I also stayed away from the earth colors, but concentrated this time on all the variations of blues, greens, and yellows that I could come up with.  Touches of pinks and reds warmed the image, and the color scheme overall is one of pastels---very suitable for this spring-time tale of love.
In this illustration from FOX WENT OUT ON A CHILLY NIGHT, I've gone back to my earth colors, but have also relied heavily on reds and yellows.  And the color itself is strong, deep, sturdy, and vigorous---no pastels here.  A very appropriate approach for this old American folk song.
In this illustration from John Bierhorst's IS MY FRIEND AT HOME, I relied very heavily on all of my earth colors, especially yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and light red, to reflect the Southwestern locale, but I also incorporated a strong element of darkened blues, purples, and greens.  These acted as a cool counter-balance and framing device for all the warm earth colors, and also echoed that cold, dark aspect of the desert.  

Several examples of what can be done with the same limited palette---and I've barely scratched the surface.