Friday, December 18, 2015

You Who Lift a Penny From the Gutter...

Last year, as some of you might remember who have been reading this, my daughter got married. It was a ton of fun, putting together all of the flower arrangements for her, helping with her dress, and the event itself was so amazing.

I wanted to give her and her new husband a gift of art that I would make, but with everything that was going on, the piece I had in mind just slipped among all of the things that needed doing, and I set it aside for their first anniversary.

Fortunately, the piece that I had in mind had enough power of vision in it to wait until I had time to make it. My daughter and her husband had gone to Victoria, Canada as part of their honeymoon. They took some amazing photos of Butchart Gardens which were so inspiring to me. I also saw among their photos a statue in the city which adorns the words of Victoria Canada's first poet Laureate, Carla Funk:

"You who
lift a penny
from the gutter
and with the same hand
point out stars,
find me."

this poem truly struck a chord with me, and I felt certain that if I created a piece of art that centered on those words, it would be a message from me to my daughter and her husband- my blessing - and my belief- in their love.

Among my daughter's photos, I also found one that was absolutely exquisite:

The photo of the creek with the wishing coins transported me to a magical place- and the Gardens really look like that. I could smell the fresh moss and pine needles, feel the cold stone, hear the trickling water, and it was so incredible.  Immediately I knew I had to create a piece that "married" the idea of the "pennies in the gutter" to the "stars". 

I thought about how that would reflect the poem. The coins in the painting were not pennies to lift "from the gutter," but they were the opposite- wishes thrown into a gutter, if you will, perhaps with the same purpose. Either the penny was lifted to save due to physical poverty, or it was lifted for luck. But either way, the point is the same- the notion of hope, that a person who was special enough to find hope in something as insignificant as a penny, and could also have a mind so open to believe in eternity- to believe in things beyond this world - and to believe in the promise of the future - was desired by the writer. In the painting,  My desire was to represent this back-and-forth reflection between the sky and the water through hope.

I decided to use the technique I had experimented before on both the New York Gapstow Bridge work and white feather painting - Gesso on board, and then acrylic, with soft pastel on top.

My first step was to sketch out the concept- I pictured this very same image of the creek and the coins at the bottom, but imagined the trees reaching up to the stars, literally as if the coins could be a "reflection" of the stars. Next I covered the whole thing with clear gesso.

In this case, the coins and the stars would be important. I decided to go ahead and use masking fluid for both so that they could sort of "recede", as stars do, once I removed the product. I could then go over the coins with some color to make them look more realistic.

Unfortunately at that point the piece laid dormant for awhile as other things came to the forefront, but I was determined to complete it for their anniversary. I found myself hesitant to put on the fist strokes of color- I think because this piece was so important to me. I knew I wanted to include the poem somewhere, and I played around with how on tracing paper. I was making the mistake of trying to see it all complete and make it perfect before starting.

Then,  when there just wasn't time to worry anymore, I just made myself start painting. Something, anything. Anything that "felt" right, lightly, with acrylic.

At that point I felt confident enough to paint in the sky. There was a bit of a dilemma as I made this in my mind: WHERE would the light theoretically be coming from? If I paint directly from the photo, It would seemingly be daytime, because that's when the photo was taken, under a deep canopy of shade trees. I really wanted that beautiful pop of light green highlighted moss in the upper left of the creek. But then, how could it be night time then, so the stars would be out? After some worry, I decided to create a world in my mind where a very bright moon was directly overhead. 

When I laid in the sky, I used mostly cerulean blue, with some mars black. I played around by putting some white to the right, and it gave a little mystery to the sky, so I left it.

After smoothing out the sky, I gave myself permission to really go for it with the acrylic. I even pulled out the palette knife for the stone, and got in some dimension. It was a lot of fun. 

I painted in some trees in the foreground and got the colors for everything mostly where I wanted them. This shows after the paint dried and I rubbed off the masking fluid for the stars.

For the coins, I removed the masking fluid, and then went over them with a brush with a little color, so that they'd look more realistic. Here are some really close-up shots of how that looked, and also how I added the soft pastel to pull out more color for the soft browns, mossy greens, deep blues and purples of the creek.

As far as putting in the words, it's funny, but the way the sculptor put the words of the poem in that tree sculpture is sort of parallel to how I might have chosen to do render the words.  (Although without the "ribbons" behind them) How wonderful to be looking at the words of the poem while you are looking at the stars. I wanted to allow that to happen in this piece as well, and also to champion the poet's idea of "finding". I liked the idea of "hiding" the words a bit, and through exploring the growth in the nature, finding a completion in the soul. 

I thought that there wouldn't be anything better than the incredible joy in making this piece but there was- and that was seeing the look on my daughter's face when I gave it to her. I am so gifted to have a daughter who just...
gets me.
and more than that, who really loves me.

It's also interesting that I found so much freedom in making this piece, that I might just do more with my own poems. You never know where the path takes you on this creative journey. You start down one way, looking at the ground, but then, there are also the stars.

Leaving this for you all as a Merry Christmas and thank you for reading my blog!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Frosty Feathered Friends

I recently completed several mixed media pieces on board, just using watercolor as a background and popping out the subject matter in soft pastel.. I'm finding this technique to allow rich layers and varied textures in the pieces, and I seem to quickly get the best of all the worlds.

Over the past few weeks I completed a series of "wintery" birds. This started with a simple feather as a gift. Symbolically, this little eagle feather was almost autobiographical. I'm learning a lot about the philosophies inherent in Native American culture, which tie the animal world, and really all of the natural world together with humankind. The feather connects the owner to the bird. In this piece I just took a piece of watercolor board I had laying in the studio, painted a background in watercolor and then made the little feather with soft pastel. It went really quick and it turned out to be a perfect Thanksgiving gift for a special person in my life.

After the feather, I made a cardinal in memory of my dad, just for myself, but after I made it I decided that the technique was so fluid and gave such good results, and also, that I was really enjoying focusing on the birds. I thought I should keep going and make several, to share with the people at Faith Arts Village Orlando for their holiday show. Here are a few that I made-


"Bluebird in snow"

"Cardinal in Snow"

"Snowy Owl"

They all were created in similar fashion as the little eagle feather- watercolor and soft pastel. I did use some colored watercolor pencil, and in some cases chalk pencil, on the eyes and beaks, to get more detail in. Each piece happened slightly differently as I tried to get the best effect. For instance,  I sketched the scene lightly in pencil, then painted in the watercolor background, rendered in the eyes beak and feet with either watercolor pencil, chalk pastel or both. It was really thrilling how quickly each piece seemed to come out of my hand. I really just had FUN.

After applying water to perfect the feet, eye and beak, the body of the bird was rendered with soft pastel. For the snowy owl above, I started with all the white, added in the grey shadows and blended, and then applied workable fixative. When that dried I went back in on top with more white highlights, and also the black feathers in the back. More fixative, then a final work of the white and final matte finish. For the cardinal above, I painted in the grey background and the grey shadows in the snow, went for the reds of the bird with soft pastel, drew the tree needles with watercolor pencil, sprayed fixative, and finished up with the white snow (the falling snow I made by rubbing pastel on rough sand paper and also drawing dots) and also covering up some of the tree needles and around snow with final coat of white pastel. Every piece was finished with a coat of matte fixative.

In the middle of pouring my heart into these works, some things presented themselves that reminded me of the fragility of life, and how are we are so connected to the animal world. And this shook me to my core. It even made me re-evaluate my entire lifestyle, in order to live a more honest life. It's funny how each foray into an avenue of art seems to make me understand who I am, despite myself. It can be a really scary and frustrating experience, but I know that is how it is supposed to go for an artist, and I've committed myself to that journey. And so be it.

I decided to donate a portion of my profits to the National Audubon Society. My dad used to love birds, and used to call me his "Little Chickadee". I saw that with a donation there I could symbolically "adopt" a bird, and they sent me an "adoption certificate" along with a plush black-capped chickadee that sings its call when squeezed. It came on my birthday. And I know that my late father helped me to paint each one of these pieces.

It was so surprising to me how many people resonate with the feathered friends, and also, how many people seem to have feathers follow them! I made so many new friends at the show. Many of the birds flew to new homes, and my soul was nourished into its next artistic adventure!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Painting the Flying Spirit of the Bird

When I last posted, I was following the feathers. They led me to the peacocks, and then, as always happens in the creative process,  I ended up somewhere I had not even imagined!

I was recently inspired to create some art for an exhibition hosted by the Orlando Museum of Art called "Animals!". It was funny that this exhibit came up, because I had put off creating my peacock painting in alcohol ink for a long time, the whole process seeming overwhelming. If you followed my last post, you'd see how I had struggled, but really wanted to move forward with this new medium, and well, how I was so enthralled by the peacocks.  The next logical step was just to DO IT, and the exhibit provided the perfect motivation.

Here's the photo from the last post of the incredible creature that I chose to render.

Unlike the earlier alcohol ink works that I had done, I decided that with this one, I'd use a couple of different little tricks to help me start. First, I used some watercolor to sketch in the image of the bird. This way, I could always pull it up with some water if I wanted to make changes before starting on the alcohol ink. Then I did something else new- I used some masking fluid to outline the bird, thus letting me be a little more free with creating the background. I was surprised at how much it looked like an angel!

The next step was dropping in some different greens, and brown, and blotting them with paper towel to get a first layer that was homogeneous. I knew I wanted the top level of the bird to have a different treatment, so I focused on creating sort of a horizon line. Then I just had some fun dropping in some other colors to create shading within the greens.

This next photo shows what happened when I also dropped some rubbing alcohol to mix everything up.

I went at the colors as they mixed with a little brushing with dry brushes, and some blotting with paper towel, to create this look.

At this point I decided that the background needed to have a little more definition of darkness under the wings, to help the bird stand out from the background. I played a little with that. Also in this picture you can see how I started to put in the upper part of the background. My thought was to make it appear more like "sky" while the bottom looked more like "earth", and the bird itself and the activity of its flight was the transition. The technique I used for the sky was to drip some colors on the left edge of the paper, and lift the paper to let it run to the other side. You can see how things started to get a little messy over the peacock's head, but I knew I was covering that with bold and dark colors, so that was ok. I played with the sky until I liked the look.

Here's how it looked when I removed the masking fluid. Still a lot of work to do.

This was the tough spot for me- to just get bold and start dripping color for the bird. However, Once I told myself to loosen up and do whatever needed to be done for the whole piece, including working more on the background, so be it. I started light to dark. I decided to use even more layering of color and drops of alcohol ink to make the "earth" part of the background interesting.

Next came a critical point in the piece for many reasons: I worked in the very dark feathers behind the orange ones, and started to do the detail of the "eyes" on the peacock feathers. I started to get really frustrated and went back and forth washing over and erasing things and redoing them several times. Once during that day I was reading and happened upon this quote by Robert Henri: "Paint the flying spirit of the bird rather than its feathers." Reading that gave me permission to really let my hand knew it was supposed to do all along.

Here is the piece as finished- I ended it with more work on the wings, tail, and doing some free splattering of fun. and I think he was finally flying!

I was so honored that this work, plus two others were selected for the show at the Museum, which turned out to be an amazing show, and so thankful that they were received wonderfully. Now, I'm inspired to create more!

Please comment if you have any questions!!!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Playing with Peacocks, and Discovering Alcohol Ink

Well, I was going to wait a bit til I had more work done with a new exciting medium that I discovered, but I thought I'd take a break from what I'm doing to put it down in writing.

It all started last spring when I met a fellow artist at an event at the Orlando Museum of Art. I did not recognize her, but I did recognize her work, and as we conversed I discovered that she too was a lover of Yupo paper! As we discussed our techniques, I told her how I was unhappy with some watercolor brands, and asked her what she uses. I learned at that time that she uses alcohol ink! Apparently, though, a lot of people do. It is a permanent medium, unlike watercolor on the Yupo that could, conceivably, be washed away.

This is how it always seems to happen with me- I usually stumble upon something accidentally that the whole world seems to have known since the dawn of time, and I feel kind of silly.

Immediately, I thought of a subject that I had been wanting to capture. When I was visiting an aquarium last spring with my sister, I saw this incredible giant octopus. I stood there mezmerized for what could have been half an hour, and I know she wanted to move on, but I just couldn't stop studying it. So I took a video to capture it a bit.

Well, I figured what an APPROPRIATE subject to test out alcohol ink on, an octopus!! The Orlando International Fringe Festival was coming up, where I have shown my art for several years, and I took that as a goal for finishing the piece to submit for the show. It would be a perfect venue, I figured, since the spirit of Fringe is to move beyond your comfort zone as an artist and discover something new.

I really had no idea what to do. All I knew was that the inks worked similar to the watercolors, except that instead of being soluble with water, I would have to use alcohol, and/or a mixative. I went to my favorite store near me, Art Systems, to see if they had the materials, and I figured it was meant to be because they only had 5 colors, which happened to be the exact ones I would need to complete the work. I did have to pick up a black from another store, but I had most of what I would need. I picked up a spare set of watercolor brushes, and went to work on a new pad of 9 x 12 yupo.

I had looked on the internet a bit, but honestly there was very little to teach me how to do what I wanted, so it was going to have to be complete experimentation. I honestly had no idea if it would work or not.

The first thing I did was to pour out some of the inks in separate wells of a palette, and literally brushed them on the yupo. I discovered pretty quickly how different the alcohol ink was than watercolor (at least as far as using the same brush-on techniques I was used to) because:

1) It dried REALLY fast, even the inks I was using in the wells of the palette, so I had to work very quickly. Once the ink was squeezed out of the little tube, I had only a few minutes to sop it up and lay it down onto the painting.

2) Unlike the watercolor, there really was not a complete "erase" ability. In other words, if you made a mistake and tried to pull up the ink with alcohol, there would still be some pigment left on the paper, it wouldn't be completely white. But:

3) It did allow for layering since it did dry fast.

4) The bad part too was that it was really messy - as in permanent messy- and everything smelled like a doctor's office.

So since I didn't have a lot of time to worry, I just brushed out an abstract version of my octopus that looked like this:

From there, I just played around with squeezing out more pigment, and the only detail I really concerned myself with was the eye. The main reason I thought that alcohol ink would be fun for the octopus was dropping pigment and alcohol for all of the little suction cups, and I was right. 

However, I did learn early on that there was not a lot of control. The size of your "drop" depended on the size of the dropper obviously, and just a little tiny dropper size really bled big. 

I thought about getting anal about it and upset, and figuring out how to fix it, and then I decided to 

So in the end the piece turned out looking like this: 

And I liked it. Keep in mind that this photo really doesn't explain it well. There was a lot of glare as I took the shot.  A better one, though with less detail shows it as it hung at the Fringe Festival a couple of weeks later: 

I titled it "Dancer in the Deep", because it stuck with me that the lady at the aquarium described the octopus we were viewing as having a real personality, and she said she was happy that she was "dancing" for us.

And the cool thing is- the art was claimed before the gallery even really officially opened, and I was told that it went to the Fringe Festival's President of the Board of Directors. I was COMPLETELY HONORED and overjoyed. 

Well, this new medium, with its bold colors and dreamy effects had really taken ahold of me in terms of its possibilities. 

After Fringe, I was floating a bit creatively, and frankly really just busy with the children's book promotions and marketing, as well as beginning some new books. I did not know where I would be heading fine-art wise.

Then I decided to again, follow the feathers.

Before Fringe, I had gone to an event at the Polasek Gallery and Sculpture Gardens where they had brought in some birds of prey to view, they had a bird exhibit, and an exhibit about the peacock as the Winter Park Logo and its history. While speaking with the curator and sharing my "feathers" inspiration (as outlined in this blog previously), she mentioned a place in town where a man raises birds, and she encouraged me to get ahold of him- maybe he would sell me some feathers, and share some info with me that would be inspiring.

I was a bit hesitant to follow that path, as I really didn't know this fellow. But, I took a chance and decided to call him up, and he invited me to visit what he described as his "bird sanctuary". He raises peacocks, and the property was just beautiful, on a lake in downtown Orlando. It was a little sketchy, I'm not going to lie. However, in the end I was blessed with a lot of his spirit and love of nature shared to me. 

The first thing that happened when I got there was that there were a lot of peacock feathers hanging around. He gathered them up, gave one to me, and told me to look at it as I turned around in different angles from the sun. He said that it was impossible to paint it. I nodded my head, but inwardly I decided I'd try to prove him wrong.

He brought me on a tour of his property, including a beautiful lake on one end with some incredible lily pads. 

The flowers were incredible. I wish I could describe it to you, but it really is impossible. He plucked them from the lily pads and had me smell them. I smelled the purple one and can only describe it to you like heaven. And then I smelled the blue one, and again, I can only describe it as heaven, but it was completely different, and I can't explain how that is possible. He had a wonderful way of explaining that that scent was what Moses smelled as a baby floating down the Nile, that brought me to tears. He had, earlier, made honey from those flowers (he showed me where he had kept bees and made honey years ago). Later he put them in water and I got to bring them home!

He had some incredible peacocks outside, and I got a photo of one with his wings open that was breathtaking.

Also I got to have a whole lot of fun with a bunch of baby peacocks, and learned that they are not shy of people, or cameras. :)

Well, when I decided to pick up the alcohol ink again, I wanted to work on all of this, as it was just so beautiful. The flowers were the first thing I approached. I did look a bit more online, and saw a lot of people approaching work with this medium by dropping the color directly onto the paper, thereby sidestepping the problem of having it dry in the wells of the palette. I decided to try that this time. I'm going to post a video I took as I was working, but please keep in mind that I was (and am) still experimenting, and as I look at this now I realize how painfully slow I was still working.

 Also, as I will show you later working from light to dark was something I had not mastered yet, and there are some things that can be done with this. Here I did not use the palette at all. I had bought a couple of more colors, including a green that was more olive-toned. I dropped it down with a bit of the brighter green and in the end realized I had to use quite a bit of alcohol to lighten it.

The piece turned out kind of cool. It didn't look like the flowers I started with, but I don't mind because it's all in the game of learning, and the end work turned out pretty. I called them "Lotus Flowers" because of the biblical reference that was rendered by the bird breeder, and I love all of the spiritual folklore of the lotus flower. It was so neat to see the actual flowers close up at night and open during the next morning. 

The other thing I discovered was that really, working with 91% rubbing alcohol is really the only thing that works. the 70% doesn't cut it for lightening pigment once its down, and the higher concentration really cleans the brushes better.

The next piece I wanted to play with was a peacock feather- something colorful and easy to recognize, and I knew, like the octopus, I could play with it a lot and still have its spirit shine through.

Before starting the new piece I got some squeeze bottles with tiny nibs to use for very small amounts of pigments so that things wouldn't bleed too fast and get out of hand. I also had seen online about using some q-tips, so I got those to experiment too, and laid out everything knowing I would work just as fast as I could, having everything easily accessible. The right kind of alcohol, plenty of paper towels, etc. It was getting easier and I was learning how to be prepared.

After some more research I learned how to lay in some background, lightly, and then go for the layer above. The piece changed a lot as it went but I played just enough to make it look like I had captured the spirit of the feather.  I had so much fun thinking of the spirit of the incredible work of art that God made to hypnotize the lady bird as she looks into those blue eyes, maybe this is what she sees....

Next I am tackling that incredible peacock as he flies. I know that has the potential to be overwhelming but I plan to approach it in the same way as these, with no expectations except to let myself be free and "go with the flow" as it were...

And I like to think that maybe, sometimes, painting exactly what you see is not the goal. Maybe that's how I proved the peacock guy wrong- you CAN paint a peacock feather, if you don't LOOK too much, but FEEL it flying in your heart.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Knitting Together "A Blanket Quite Rare" : The Story Behind the Story

It all started with this.

The original concept

You know all of those expressions which are meant to profess truth and boost your spirit,  like "God answers every prayer, just not in the way you may expect."; "Follow your heart"; and one of my favorites from Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase"? Well, if you took all of those sayings, and every one like it, and wrapped it up in a big giant tangle, that 's how my story, "A Blanket Quite Rare" started. 

I didn't start out expecting to make a book at all. About 5 years ago, my youngest son was knee-deep in discovering his passion. We had discovered an amazing children's theater company which changed his life starting at the young age of 9. I'm not sure if it was a coincidence or not that at the same time, I was also embracing my passion for art, while shedding an old skin of a career and way of seeing things that was not serving me, and my life was being opened up in that direction in ways it never had before. My son and I were both learning the value of having faith in one's own self and voice, and trusting your heart. It was truly an incredible time, that we will both remember forever. 

I would spend a lot of time at his rehearsals,  loving the little theater family with which he was involved, helping out where I could and loving all the kids, as I do. I had also begun teaching art and violin during that time, and it was a true renaissance of my heart. During the time my son was performing with the children's theater, a beautiful baby boy was born into our midst, and he was at the rehearsals, smiling and clapping and cooing.

Well, everyone knows I'm a sucker for babies, and they just get me in the mood to make stuff. During the time of the "Seussical the Musical" show, I hung out at rehearsals and knitted a baby blanket, conceivably with the purpose of presenting it to a special baby, maybe the theater baby if it got finished while we were there. I picked out a color that reminded me of Dr. Seuss, just to be in the right frame of mind, and started knitting. Exactly one week before the little theater baby's first birthday, the blanket was finished. Perfect timing! I could give it to him for a present!

And then something magical happened. I had a flash of inspiration to write a story to go along with the blanaket. One of my dearest memories of the days when my children were little, were those bedtime stories. Precious and unequaled memories. I believe wholeheartedly in the value of reading to a child, what literature can bring to a child's life, and to the relationship between parent and child. I knew that this little boy's mom felt the same way, and I wanted to give that to them. How precious, I thought, if he had not only had a special blankie, but a bedtime story to go with it too.  And that's how the book was born.

I only had a week. What to do?

The first book creation

My earliest sketches had to do with how a very young child might relate to a special blanket. Many of us who are parents know how that story goes. One of my children had a blanket that was loved so much that it is now the size of a golf ball, all knotted up and in a ziploc bag in my dresser for memories. They are their security. In my book I wanted the little boy's blanket to be that security, but also, something else. The colors and the look of the blanket were just so beautiful that it looked like it could be magical to me. So I searched for something more...

Many people have been asking me if the story or the drawings came first.  It's hard to explain exactly how it came together. The best way to explain is that I sketched the story the same way I sketch out art or architecture- I normally write words to the side of my drawings anyway, because I want to describe thoughts. In this case, it happened almost the opposite, but still they came together. Instead of the words describing the drawings, the drawings were describing the words. But I didn't try and put it into final rhyme form initially. I did think rhyme would be good, but I just scribbled down a story in picture and words as quickly as it came to mind at first.

My preliminary scribbles included a young boy, around age 3 or 4, and his blanket, which, as in real life, he had received for his birthday. I believe that's where the idea for having the book read in anapestic tetrameter came from (Dr. Seuss style :) ), because I was able to write "There once was a boy with a blanket quite rare that his mother had told him was made with great care." 

From there, I thought of the closeness and security he would receive from the blanket, and then for the final outcome, I chose a transformation story. I had a bit of trouble coming up with what the transformation would be. I thought of having the child using the blanket as a part of his own imagination, but then, somehow the idea of the storm and the sun changing the color of his skin came into play. After that, it all seemed to literally draw itself. Once I decided to create his world after the rain, it truly was miraculous how fast and freely it came together. 

After initial sketches the rest came together pretty quickly. I went to some watercolor paper with pencil, then pen, and after erasing the initial pencil marks, colored in with colored pencil. I used my "Inktense" brand pencils, which are very bright and rich, and I got amazing results. As I worked on each page I just pinned them up on my studio wall. It was glorious.

The finished work, which I had titled, "The Boy and His Magic Blanket", was comprised of eight full-page illustrations (prints) in plastic sleeves in a 3-ring binder, with the text just hand-written. Each illustrated page was on the right, and the text was on the left, with the exception of one full-spread in the middle. It was rough, but I was really happy with the way the story turned out and the illustrations. Although my life was very busy, I somehow managed to complete the story book in one week, and altogether I was really proud and happy to give both the blanket and my very first storybook to the birthday boy on his first birthday at the beginning of 2011.

Over the next few years, I made some copies of my original story book and shared it with other little kids as well- neighbors and friends. My little students loved looking at the pictures, as did their parents, and I had a lot of encouragement to have the story published. 

Although I thought it was a great idea, at the time, I didn't have the time or the resources to do so. I did a little research into book publishing and what was involved over the next couple of years, but it all seemed to require me to spend quite a bit of time preparing the book, making copies, mailing it out to publishers, and waiting for replies. Or, the self-publishing route would have taken money I didn't have at the time. So, the story sat, and I shared it when I could at a few small public readings and with friends. 

My dad had written a storybook for me when I was a child, and this book was in fact in many ways inspired by that. -

"Growing Up in the 30's" by Charles Geotis (unpublished)

I really liked the way he did his letters, and I made up a version of the story book that had colored pencil letters surrounded in ink. They looked like yarn to me when I did them, and so I embellished the text pages with drawings of strings of yarn. The first page had the needles and ball of yarn. In the end, that ball of yarn and needles would become little icons on the dedication page and blank page at the end of the book.

Getting published

In Sept. 2013, a friend and I were at a pet fair in downtown Orlando, where lots of people had booths of all kinds showing their goods and sharing their interests. I met D.G. Stern, who was an author and publisher, and had written a series of children's books based on his own dog, "Upton Charles". I had a nice chat with him and Upton, telling him about the story book I had written and illustrated, and we exchanged cards.

A few weeks later, he had contacted me asking that I send him the book to see, as he was very interested in it, as well as another that I had conceived of. At first, I didn't follow through, but after a few months, I watermarked the digital art and sent him the illustrations and text. That December we met, and he gave me the stipulations and changes that would need to happen to turn it into a published book.

First off the bat, Mr. Stern told me that the book had to be at least 47 pages (front and back) long, in order for it to be a thick enough spine to be shelved at Barnes & Noble, where he is affiliated. We went through the story as it was written, and he gave me some wonderful suggestions as to how I could actually make the book longer, using what I already had. For one thing, there were many pages of text that were pretty long, and it would be easy for me to break them up into two separate pages, and also, add more illustrations.

Also, he encouraged me to create more "spreads", and we brainstormed about how this could occur. Here's an example of one change that was made- the text would eventually end up digitally on top of the art.

By the time our conversation had ended, I had such a great vision of what could be, and I was really beyond excited to make it happen. Although there were a few intermediate thumbnail sketches to help me visualize a lengthened story, the revised story almost made itself. I went straight to my kitchen table which had been extended to accommodate my family for Christmas,  took everything off of it, and spread out all of my original drawings. Among those originals, I added in blank pieces of paper where I thought  extra illustrations and story could go, to make up the 47 pages. 

It was an incredible moment of fierce creative energy in a very short time, and before long I had what is pretty much the final story, with rough illustration sketches and an extended poem. I laid the pages out end-to-end and taped them so that they would make an accordion-style "book" and worked from there with Mr. Stern.

We went back and forth quite a bit at that time to establish the story line and agree on the text. Also during this time I had to create a design for the cover of the book. I decided to change the name from "The Boy and his Magic Blanket", because I didn't want a potential reader to misinterpret the book by the title. The blanket isn't really "Magic" in the sense of a lot of fantasy books, and I thought about alternative names. I came up with "A Blanket Quite Rare", based on the initial stanza of the book.

I wanted to create a cover that would literally "wrap" around the book, and have the blanket continue around. At first it was going to be the blanket only, but I decided to include the boy on the cover. I liked the idea of him coloring, imagining the world, and without spoiling the narrative of the book, I feel like this cover is a nice sort of "ending" to the story, if you will, with the boy back in his room, under his blanket in the evening, remembering his day.

Of course I wanted to include some toys he might have surrounding him. I had to include the trains, because my boys were crazy about those toys (as was I!) when they were little. And for the rest, I actually went to the toy store and looked around the boy section. My husband was there, and he had even more fun than I did, telling me exactly the right toys that the boy would be interested in. I had fun taking lots of reference pictures. :)

I was really happy with the final cover art. I had the art scanned and took some time creating the cover (right side) in photoshop with the title so that the publisher could promote the book in some "coming soon" ads. 

From there, once the concept was approved, I set about to create the illustrations in the book. I only had eight original illustrations to work with, and from those, I had to come up with about 30 more to create the entire book. Some of the illustrations were tricky, because I had to be consistent in the new drawings with everything from the old drawings, with everything from where pictures were on the wall inside the boy's room, to the actual technique used in coloring creating the art. It was an arduous process, but I enjoyed every single minute of it. 

I was lucky because at the time, my son was in high school at an arts school 45 minutes from home, and I just stayed near his school and worked on the art while I was down there. I found what worked the best was to add plastic sleeves to my art portfolio, and put the original art in the order where it would be in the book, and create a "book" of originals to carry with me. Where there were new pages, I stuck in a blank piece of watercolor paper. I worked on the blanks to various degrees where I could, getting them each through stages of pencil, ink, watercolor pencil, and finally washing in the watercolor with a wet brush. 

My studio was the library, McDonald's, Denny's, Panera, and anywhere that didn't mind me sitting for 4 hours at a time or so, for the cost of a muffin and a coffee. 

(you get the picture. ;)  )

Of course, I also loved working "en plein air", when I could swing it.

During the Orlando Fringe Festival in May of last year, 2014, I was close to being finished with all of the illustrations. It was really fun sitting at the Visual Fringe volunteer table working on the book, sharing the art and upcoming story with everyone.

There were many changes and creations to both the cover and interior that occurred, and the creative process was very rich, going from text to visual art and back and forth. I couldn't even begin to describe it all in a blog post. Maybe one day I'll write a book about the book!

So, the drawings were done soon after, and then, came the hard part...

I wasn't quite prepared for the whole digital operation, and I must admit that I was more than a bit anxious about it. The initial hurdle was to have all of the illustrations scanned, and I had to experiment with a machine that would create the best final image from the paintings. I ended up going with a local printer for the process. It was a small cost, but it was a very important part of the process in order to end up with quality that showed off the paintings well.

Next was the scary process of working in Photoshop. I was a little familiar with the program, but fearful of what other hurdles I might have to overcome in the process.  I had done just a little bit with inputting the title of the book on the scanned cover art. But, there were a lot of snags as I got into the process, and I'm ashamed to admit, I did get quite frustrated at this point. 

I was lucky that my daughter is incredibly proficient at all digital art, having graduated in computer animation. Photoshop was a piece of cake for her. In fact, she had the capability to input the work into InDesign, which was the final format the publisher required. However, she was planning her wedding and also working a new full-time job, and I hated to ask for too much time. So I muddled through. There were days, weeks, that I just ignored it because I couldn't figure it out. But one day, there was a weird "aha" moment, and everything just worked. I'm not going to say it was easy, but somehow I figured out at least how to adapt the 9 x 12 originals into 8 x 10 pages, align the new illustrations with the older, original ones which were slightly different sizes that were adjacent to them, input text, balance the color, etc. 

As we approached the printing process a few more snags came up, but they were easier to overcome. There were several, dozens, maybe hundreds of times during the whole process from beginning to end, where I was just going to quit, to let it lie. I would just run out of energy, or impetus, or ambition, or just get lost in the tangle of knots. And then I would take a deep breath and take another step, and somehow, make it through. There were snags between me and my publisher over which words to print, and we had to get over those hurdles.

As they say, the devil is in the details. But then, it all seemed to scramble out all at touches, digital changes to make things work with the printer, and then, it finally started to get real to me when Neptune Press sent over the final cover art, ready to send to the printer. 

When I received the books in April of 2015, I can't even explain how it felt to you. I really can't. It was completely surreal. I don't know what I expected, but for some weird reason I was not expecting to be a published author until the book was in my hands. And it was so incredibly beautifully printed - the quality was beyond what I could even imagine.


This year I was back at the Visual Fringe volunteer table with the real thing in hand and life was flipped upside down for me. Or really, right side up. I was over being shocked at being an author. Now, all of the love that I had put into this effort was shown back to me. As if I had poured all of my energy into a bowl and closed it, and it opened and shone on me like the sun. It happened when I saw the faces and the indescribable JOY of the kids coming to me, that discovered the ladybugs and frogs and birds. Pure paradise.

And when this little guy started to read my story aloud to me, I completely lost it. His parents were really gracious in letting me excuse myself and mop up the tears and collect myself. I told him he really should be a performer and asked him to start again, and I got a bit of him on video.

I felt like there would be nothing in this world that will ever top that moment.

So what's next for me? A lot of people have been asking if there will be more books, and yes, I do hope so! I have been planning a book which includes my "Watercolor Zoo" for a long time, perhaps an alphabet book...

And, a friend suggested that I create a "girl's version" of "A Blanket Quite Rare" with a girl and a tutu. I'm having fun creating a story about a little feisty girl named Winnie who only likes to wear tutus on her head.

I'd also like to create a book from memoirs of my own childhood, centered around the most special of neighbors as I grew up, Tony, who taught me how to read (at age 3!) and write, and a zillion other things, including all about gardens, and discovering the blessings of the earth. And his wife, Anna. I'm thinking of titling it what they always said to me, "Anna Banana, Tony Baloney and Lisa Pizza Pie". :)

Reflecting back on the beginning of the story, it's really hard to believe how far the journey has taken me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that yarn would eventually turn me into a published author. But I must say, having come full circle, from trying to create a smile on that first special baby's face, to now being called to share the ladybugs and frogs and rainbows and imagination with lots more kids, I just feel so OVERWHELMINGLY blessed. 


I have one more skein of yarn from that original blanket, and I've been knitting it together for an example for when I do readings of the Blanket Book. And just like when I stitched together that original blanket almost five years ago, I'm just thanking God for His incredible blessings.

Because that big tangle of sayings is true. Creativity takes courage. Faith is tough. I don't like to take those first steps when I don't know where they will lead me. Following your heart can cause you the greatest joy, but also can cause you the greatest challenges and pain. 

It's funny, but now I realize how brilliant my dad was, and as he shared with me in that book that he made for me, I know that I need to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, with God at my side, and those tangles will unravel just like they're supposed to. It's just so awesome to be called to share that with the kids like he did. I guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. :)

"Growing Up in the 30's" by Charles Geotis (unpublished)