Sunday, June 29, 2014


Though you may not know her name (I did not until I did my research for this post) you certainly are familiar with her work.  She was France Isabelle Brundage, born June 1854: creator of so many of those sweet Victorian images floating through our Victoriana-hungry culture.
You perhaps are more likely to know of Lynd Ward, born in June 1905: illustrator of some of our best-known children's books:  The Biggest Bear; Johnny Tremain; The Little Red Lighthouse and The Great Gray Bridge.

I am grouping these two illustrators in one post for a couple of reasons.  First, I wanted to highlight the incredibly wide range of artistic expression found in children's books. This variety is present not just in contemporary books; it is there as well in books from earlier generations.

I confess that the images I'm posting do not show the dramatic differences between these two illustrator's styles that I'm wanting to highlight! though the differences become quite clear when one looks at the bodies of work of both, and considers the subject matter of the two. But there's another reason I am grouping these two illustrators together: they both had at least one other side to their work.  
Brundage illustrated classic works for children in a style quite different from her sweet Victoriana---illustrations that are not familiar to today's audiences.
And Lynd Ward---considered a precursor and mentor of the modern gothic novel---created a body of tortuous, nightmarish images that is far removed in content from his work for his younger children's books. In fact it was difficult to find pieces from one of his wordless books that I could comfortably post on this family-friendly blog. 
The reality is that children's book illustrators---like all artists---express their creativity in multiple forms: some pleasant, some unpleasant, some, perhaps, downright horrible. But why should that be surprising?  Artists, children's book illustrators included, are simply expressing visually, for the rest of us, the complexity of being a human being. I urge you to do your own research into the work of both of these outstanding artists. As for the layout of this post, and my valiant attempts to make it legible for my readers---Blogger, I concede defeat.  You have won---but only for the moment---in this battle of graphic design.

Monday, June 9, 2014


The middle-grade protagonist of my current project needs a talisman of some sort to carry with him as he escapes from an abusive orphanage---the only home he's ever known---and sets out to make his way in the world. This talisman would have to be something quite small. Something that would fit into a pocket. Something that could be concealed from the prying eyes of harsh matrons and overseers. Something that he happened to find in the labyrinthian halls of the orphanage. Something that could also fall out of a pocket. I just couldn't figure out what this talisman was. Then I decided that if I went looking at actual objects, my character might whisper "That's it!" into my ear when I came to the right one.  
I began my talisman-hunting at Antique Trove, one of my favorite places to haunt.  Seemingly miles and miles of dealer booths, with displays of everything and anything that can be fit into a building.
I found a small tin box with a hinged lid.  In my story it couldn't be a tobacco tin---but it could be a tin for peppermints, for example. "This might be it," I thought.  Then it occured to me---maybe this was only the box in which he kept the actual talisman.
So my next visit was to my local Goodwill, another of my favorite places when one is looking for the unexpected. Maybe a ring? A bottle cap? A spoon? A 
I wasn't struck by anything at Goodwill, so I went on to Target.  Since my protagonist ends up at a diner, perhaps there'd be some sort of small kitchen utensil that would fit into his tin box. But there was nothing that seemed remotely suitable.

Back home once again, I thought about a key...a coin...a stone. But there was no whispering, no voice that said "THAT'S IT!"  In fact, I began to doubt whether he had a little tin box at all, either empty or full.  In other words, back to square one.  So was this a failure?  Not at all.  I now know that his talisman is REAL, not just a figment of my imagination. I see him carrying it; holding it; hiding it. I just don't yet know what it actually is. But I do know for sure that, one of these days, he is finally going to show it to me.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


I recently came across my very first wallet. Unsnapping this flap reveals a coin pouch.
Unsnapping the other side opens up the wallet to a few credit card slots, plus a full-length slot for bills.
And although the outside is faded now, under the flap the wallet's original wild colors still glow.  
At some point, I replaced the wild wallet with this one.  Same size and shape.
More slots for cards---probably the reason I switched wallets, given our culture's obsession for credit, gift, and identity cards.  A few additional slots, a zippered pocket.  But no wild colors. Not very...exciting. 
Time marched on, and once again it seemed necessary to graduate to this larger wallet, the one I am currently using.
Room for lots more plastic, a larger zippered coin section, multiple slots and zippered pockets for all the records, slips, receipts, and other paper detritus that trails after our daily lives.  Forget about wild colors.  This is just plain...well ...UGLY.  Not to mention bloated and heavy.
What does this have to do with writing and illustrating?  As I look at my first wallet and my last wallet, side by side, I think of my earliest days as a writer and illustrator, and compare them with my experience today as a writer and illustrator.  Those earliest days did feel colorful, exuberant, playful. Manageable.  Just like my first wallet.  Today, years later and after more than 100 books, the business of writing and illustrating often feels---like my current wallet---subdued, serviceable, heavy, stuffed with too much extraneous detritus. Almost a burden at times. Not much room for playfulness.
And I wonder---is there is a way to go back to the feel of my earliest writing and illustrating days? A way to discard some of the detritus and weight? A way to make room for excitement and play? A way to include exuberance and color? Is there a way, in fact, to use that wild little wallet once again?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


I've always loved mice.  As a child I listened to their nightime whisperings as they scurried within the double walls of our old brick house.  When as an adult  I moved from one house to another, it seemed mice were always there. I could not resist sharing this poster today.  It's based on my illustration from IS MY FRIEND AT HOME, Native American stories retold by John Bierhorst, and starring one of my favorite creatures. 

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