Friday, October 29, 2010

The Thinking Chair
A post in honor of Picture Book Idea Month - November 2010 #PiBoIdMo

Productivity is everything. I produce therefore I am.

But before I can crank it out, I've got to think it out.

Thinking looks a lot like not doing anything at all. I know this because I've been caught thinking more than once in my life. It wasn't pretty. "Are you okay?" "Why don't you go out and do something?" A couple of years of that and even the most intrepid thinkers join the ranks of the doers and start accomplishing something. Anything. And learn to think on the sly while getting stuff done.

But sometimes I really need to sit down and think. I know my last post was "Stand Up and Get to Work" but this is different. This is about sitting down and getting those ideas that will lead to work.

I set up a chair just for thinking. It's a little kooky but it's working so I'm sharing. Don't worry about going out and buying a chair just for thinking. You probably have something on hand that would work out just fine. Look in the garage or attic. Shopping for the perfect chair would only serve as procrastination. Plus spending money might set up an obstacle to sitting down and doing some serious thinking.

My Thinking Chair is just a canvas lawn chair souped-up with some pillows. The great thing about a lawn chair is that I can fold it up and prop it against the wall when I need the space.

Having this place devoted to thinking helps me focus and validates the process. When it's time to start, I sit myself in the Thinking Chair. I keep a pad nearby. I keep coffee nearby. I think. I calm down and don't become overwhelmed by what is or isn't happening. This chair is where I give myself the chance to work things out. It only takes a few minutes of thought to fuel a good work session. Once I've allowed myself the time to think, to figure out what I want or need to do at that moment, I'm free. My mind is allowed to work. It's amazing what is already in our brains. Thinking is like rummaging through drawers and finding all kinds of great things we forgot we had. Sometimes I'm amused at what my brain spits out when I let it take over, when I get out of it's way with all my demands to get something done. It's like a patient friend that guides me, "You knew it all along. You just needed a chance to put it together."

The Thinking Chair is like a flag to alert the entourage: when they see me in it, they know that short of a fire or gunshot wound, I am not to be disturbed. This is serious business: brain cells are synapsing perhaps even reproducing. (I don't know if that's true but it could sound impressive in an authoritative tone of voice.)

Thinking gets a bad rap. It resembles sleep or spacing out. You run the risk of being called "lazy". Ugh. The "L" Word. But dare to sit in your Thinking Chair and think.

I think therefore I am therefore I produce.

I want to wish everyone a great Picture Book Idea Month. Here's to many thoughts sprouting lots of ideas (at least thirty!). And I want to thank Tara Lazar for thinking it up and bringing it all together for a second year.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Stand Up and Get to Work!

I used to paint in oils a lot and my paintings got bigger and bigger. Then I started working in gouache in an attempt to do more sketching and experimenting instead of the very finished work I was doing on canvas. When I moved house, I had an attic space to work in but it wasn't very big so I opted to continue in gouache as I really didn't have the space for backing up and looking at my work (plus the smell and mess wasn't working for me either).

So I began painting in gouache on paper at my drafting table and worked smaller and with more detail. I painted a series of paintings of views of the airport and this style captured these moments. It worked. Eventually I found myself hunched over my paper on gouache going further and further into details. But I wanted something different for a picture book text I wrote and have gone through a series of attempts, trying to recapture a looser feel that I felt the story needed and that I'd be able to carry through 32 pages.

My last blog post shows one of the character studies from those attempts. I wasn't happy with the work then I began thinking about oil painting. I've realized that I miss the physical aspect of working in oils; standing up while I paint at an easel, moving in front of the painting and backing up. I decided I just had to stand up and paint in gouache over my drafting table. I'm using bigger brushes and a kid's set of big gouache pastilles on regular old sketch book paper. The big tools make it hard for me to get into details. The thin paper forces me to not go back in too much because this quality can't take too much going over. And standing up keeps it big: gestures, modeling. I'm physically engaged with what I'm doing by backing away.

It's harder to do tiny details standing over a piece of paper with a big brush. I was especially tempted to sit down for the little girl's face but I had to resist and I'm glad I did. I'm much happier with the result.

I think backing off and restraining our need to tweak it just a little more is important in lots of aspects of life. Writing while standing might be a bit much but perhaps the same idea can be applied by writing uninhibitedly: no editing that first draft until it's done and been left alone for a week or so. Or writing in a notebook outdoors instead of on the computer in the office for a change.

Now I'm going to get up and get some work done! What do you do to shake it up and push it to the next level?

D'abord, je veux m'excuser pour le dernier blog où dans mon hâte j'ai oublié d'écrire un petit mot pour mes amis francophones.

Aujourd'hui, je voulais simplement faire voir encore mon travail de recherche des personnages. J'ai changé ma façon de peindre un petit peu, secoué mes méthodes afin de faire ce que j'ai envisagé. Les habitudes s'installent et parfois j'ai l'envie de m'en débarrasser donc au lieu de rester assise à table de dessin, je me lève et je peins debout avec les pinceaux plus gros et la peinture en pastille énorme (destiné aux enfants) avec un nombre limitée de couleurs. Je utilise un papier de bloc sketch. Comme ça, j'arrive de porter les gestes moins minutieux, de limiter les détailles et d'éviter le désir de faire les images trop réalistes.

Qu'est-ce que vous faites pour remuer les automatismes dans votre travail ?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

NaPiBoWriWee and Beyond

Last week I participated in the National Picture Book Writing Week invented and organized by the dynamic Paula Yoo. I did it last year too and I'll do it again next year. It's like everything else; the more you do it the better you get at it. I wrote 7 first drafts of 7 picture books. Might seem easy but the hardest part at times is sitting down, taking out those ideas that have been rattling around in the dark corners of the brain and putting them to the test. Do they hold up on paper? Not always but that's okay because then you can move on. And the other ideas, the ideas that start to look promising— they need revision but that's okay too. I'm always happy when I do something, move it all forward even a little bit and in the context of this challenge it was fun. Paula was rooting for us and provided tons of support and advice. And then there were the other participants: I met some great people in the 'comments' on Paula's website and on twitter. I attempted new things and learned some too. What's not to like?

This week I'm getting back to what I was doing before the NaPiBoWriWee madness began. Some painting and a picture book dummy. I revised the story in places so that requires new illustrations then I decided I needed to rethink the couple of paintings I had already done for it… hmmm

This is another study for the main character.
I'd changed my mind while doing it so this is really for working things out.

Now I'm going to go back and start over. Don't worry! I will figure this out. I'm pretty sure. :-p

This is a little painting of a subject I've done before as an attempt to develop an illustration 'style'.

I've since bagged the idea of working that way… got to keep it natural, me. So I redid it as an exercise to get back to where I was before I started fiddling… That's what you see here. And I'll probably do it over again.

Next week my daughter will be taking a big trip with her Latin/Greek class to Greece and so I'll have lots of uninterrupted time to work. Let's all keep our fingers crossed I use my time very wisely!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


This is a little gouache I just did to send to my mother for her birthday, painted from an old photo from a batch she sent me. I love the intimacy of the pose. I love all the memories it brings back. I remember the furniture and objects in the living room and even that wood paneling that was so popular back then. It makes me think of the person taking the photo too; my father. I see him with an old rangefinder camera taking pictures of all five of us kids growing up. I like that he saw my Mom and sister sitting there and felt that the moment was worthy of a photo. This is life. All those little moments.

I hope Mom likes her gift.

Une petite parenthèse pour faire voir un tout petit tableau à la gouache que j'ai peint pour l'anniversaire de ma mère. Enorme nostalgie pour moi. Les petits moments de la vie qui sont quand même poétique...

Thanks for passing by.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


This is a character study for a picture book I wrote. It isn't definitive; I need to take it a lot further. What emotion do you think the girl's face and posture express? There is no right answer. I'd just like to know what you think.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Kid, Goats, Pigs: Kids' Illustration work

A little show 'n tell!
This work is from personal references. (I can turn any kind of outing into a quest for illustration reference materials.)

First in pencil:

Another version in gouache:

This is a fast gouache that I went back in and touched up with pencil:

We named these piggies Pretty & Gorgeous!

It's good to be back at the drawing board. Now I need to work on some sketches for a picture book I wrote. And revisions to the text.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I thought I was in a rut lately until I pictured that word in my mind and saw, well, a rut formed by, say a wheelbarrow wheel and realized that the rut came from doing something over and over. I looked it up in the Oxford American dictionary and it said "a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive..." and since I've been decidely unproductive but not behaving as I habitually do, that word did not really apply. I only wished I was in my lovely dull habit of painting and writing, productive or not. I wasn't doing anything. Blah. So I looked up "doldrums" and found that definition #2 applies: "a period of inactivity or stagnation." Ahh, I saw myself here. The first definition and synonym is depression but I wouldn't go so far as to say I've been depressed. Not in a clinical sense anyway. But I got to thinking some more (plenty of time for thinking when one is stagnating) and I realized that during these doldrums I was actually doing something and here is a list:
  • I thought about all the things I wasn't doing and wondered what would become of me.
  • That hurt my head so I slept.
  • I read The Twilight Saga, all four books so that, in the words of my Twilight-crazy daughter she and I "could be on the same page."
  • When I wasn't immersed in Bella's life of cataloguing the various facial expressions of Edward (he's got like a trillion different smiles each with a very different very deep meaning behind it), I was knitting. I was determined to use up all the odd ends of skeins dating back to my teen years (I kid you not) so I knitted a scarf for aforementioned daughter. I used up a lot but not all of the yarn.
  • Started knitting another scarf for no one in particular. I realized I enjoyed the lack of rules, the tiny decisions about which color to use next, just row after row of listening to the radio.
  • Read "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott and fell in love with it.
  • Started reading "Breaking into Freelance Illustration" by Holly DeWolf. I was keeping in touch with illustration at least!
  • I finally planted the three bulbs I sprang for during a school-trip fundraising drive. I'm now enjoying that tiny effort as they give off a beautiful scent.
  • When I finished all four Twilight books I started The Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld. They were a gift and much to my surprise I was hooked and read all three. Fantasy isn't my favorite genre but I'm glad I tried it.
    I have my doldrums to thanks for that.
So I didn't move those picture book texts forward, didn't revise that dummy book, didn't get moving on that illustration portfolio. Nope. But the doldrums allowed me to do a few other things and while I'm not saying I don't regret this period, because I do, I decided to stop being so hard on myself and tally up what I did when I wasn't doing "anything". And now I'm coming out of it. I've joined a new gym, have borrowed arm-fulls of picture books from the library and wrote about them in my reading log and I've taken out those texts and dummy book and will face revision.

So now I'm wondering, what do you do when you aren't doing anything?