Tuesday, May 31, 2016


No, not that kind of trial, involving sweat, tears, blood, and suffering. Rather, trials as in "trying-outs". Experiments. When I am starting on a new book, I often make multiple trials of the media I might use. Sometimes trials will involve ink, pencil, or paints. Sometimes they involve the paper, as in these examples.
For the trials in these photos, I cut samples of 8 different papers, and applied brush and watercolor in the exact same way to each paper. Going from left to right in the photos, I labelled my trials: "Wash", "Scrub", and "Drybrush." Wash is a straight watercolor wash. (Note that under this "wash" sample I wrote "pimples as it goes on." This paper was disqualified immediately.) Scrub is what I sometimes do with the brush if I want to remove some color. (This is also a good test for the resiliency of the paper under multiple washes and re-workings.) Drybrush is using the brush with watercolor very dry, so it acts almost like a colored pencil. (Another note: the different color of some of the drybrush samples here is a trick the camera played. In real life they are the same color as all the other samples.)

These trials were preliminaries to the illustrations for "The Cats In Krasinski Square", a picture book written by Karen Hesse. Such trials can be tedious and time-consuming (if for example one needs to let them dry overnight) but they are always worth the time and trouble. And they are just as valuable whether one is working with hand tools or on the computer. Much better than finding out mid-illustration or mid-book that one's media are not up to the task.
And sometimes---if the media insist on behaving capriciously, or one is unable to find any media that satisfy one's inner vision---these trials can in fact become "that other kind of trial". Such is the life of the conscientious illustrator.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Physical messes in my studio don't bother me. It's because I know I can clean it all up if I'm willing to take the time. And in fact I do clean it all up, periodically. I can manage physical space.
Managing my time is something else...akin to struggling through a never-ending jungle of brambles in the middle of a dark night, or hand-to-hand combat with an infinitely-headed hydra.

A further difficulty is that time feels amorphous to me---shape-shifting, impossible to pin down as to dimension or duration, smell, taste, or texture.

So I am trying something new. A 3-ring binder, with calendar pages, to-do lists, steps needed, notes---timetables and schedules for all projects and tasks, all in one place. Will this help? We shall see! 

NOTE: I've never been good at time management. On the other hand, I've always managed to meet my publishing deadlines, and I HAVE published more than 100 books. So perhaps whether this "helps" or not is...beside the point!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


The British author and illustrator Edward Lear was born on May 12 or 13, 1812. ( I was having trouble finding an American artist with a May birthday whom I had not previously featured.)

 I thought I knew all about Lear. He was the creator of those clever limericks
and silly illustrations. Right?

To my amazement, I discovered that Lear was also a very serious artist/illustrator of birds. In fact, he was "one of the greatest ornithologists of his time" and his work was published in bird books, and compared favorably with the American James Audubon.
His images of other creatures, created as illustrations for books and for prints,

are equally masterful.

But there is even more. Lear was an accomplished landscape painter...
...drawing his subject matter from sites and scenes he saw and sketched during his many travels.

His paintings are skillful, competent,  and hold their own with any painter of this genre and style.

But it was when I looked at some of the sketches Lear created during his travels...
...sketches which he would use as reference for the paintings he composed once he was back in his studio...

...then I got a glimpse of the real genius of this artist.
Captured in just a few lines, with quick washes and strokes of color, sketches are an artist's most intimate and personal expression.They also are the clearest indication of a visual artist's ability and skill.
Edward Lear: landscape painter, "the British James Audubon", musician, composer, traveler and observer. And by the way, an author and illustrator of nonsense. When I see one of his delightfully silly and quirky images, I now have a completely different understanding of the artist behind them.




Monday, May 9, 2016


My last blog post was in January...the dead of winter. Four months later, spring is in full bloom. I've allowed a HIATUS, a time of silence...not something we creative people are supposed to indulge in, these days. The modern world, being of very short memory, demands to hear from us, about us, of us, every day---lest it forget us.  Like many of my colleagues, I do my best to comply. But the creative life does not always cohabit easily with daily self-proclamations. 

During these past four months, I put together a new book project---manuscript, dummy, and five spreads of finished art---which my agent is now peddling.

During these four months, I also closed down my summer studio. After years of commuting between two different work spaces, I was ready for the ease of having everything at hand, all in one place, all the time.

And during these four months, I finally sold the house and studio where my Dad (http://www.aldrenwatson.com) had lived and worked for thirty years. It was time for me to let go of his space, his presence, and his mentorship.
My hiatus has left me dis-encumbered, re-focused, with my potential book knocking at publishers' doors; and with a new book well underway on my desk. As to whether the world out there has forgotten me after my four months of silence---time will tell.