Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thinking About the Illustrations

Now that I've completed the first draft of my Milkweed Manor manuscript I've begun to think about the illustrations and I'm realizing what a challenge they will be - harder, I think, that any visual art I've done before.  That's because the same characters will appear in several illustrations and each time must be recognizable as an individual.   Also, there will probably be a need for more "action" than I usually do.  I typically gravitate to very still and balanced compositions.

So what I've decided to do is devote a chunk of time to each character in turn.  The first will be the main character, Colwyn the rat.  What I'm going to do is as many drawings of rats as I can until I really understand the way they're put together - the head and body shapes, length and thickness of tail, size and shape of ears, eyes, and nose, how the hands and feet work.  Then I'm going to define Colwyn's "look" and do several sketches of him in various positions, developing not only his appearance in a recognizable way, but also his personality as expressed in his face and body language.

This is a very tall order, but a great exercise in growing as a visual artist.  I'm looking forward to starting, which actually happened Thursday but will continue tomorrow and through the week.  I'll be scanning and posting the drawings.

Here's a little ceramic piece I did of Colwyn a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Milkweed Manor - The First Big Step

Yesterday I reached a milestone - I completed the first draft of my book, "Milkweed Manor."  I didn't need to print it out, but I wanted to feel it in my hands, and what a good feeling it was!  My manuscript!

I've written books before and four of them  have been published, but they're all been art instruction books.  Writing fiction, and fiction to be read to children, is quite a different ballgame!

Anyway, the next step is to complete the first round of editing.  But I've put is aside for a few days so when I come back to it, I'll have "fresh eyes."

Meanwhile, I haven't done any visual art for about a week, and I've been missing it.  I'll use these next few days for that.  Then there will be some photos back in the blog - seems so strange without them!

By the way, if anyone out there is interested in writing a children's book, I recommend joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.  There is so much information available through that wonderful organization.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Continuing on Little Owl

In the little owl's story in the picture storybook I'm writing, "Milkweed Manor," a storm destroys the owl family's nest and Thea gets separated from the rest.  So I thought shed needed a little pink bed jacket.  I made it from a scrap from an old chenille bedspread which I bought on Etsy.  Then I distressed it to look like it had been through a storm.  I may have over-distressed it a bit, but once it's done, it's done.  No way to undo distress!

I have a ways to go with this piece, namely working on the base.  For that I'm waiting for materials so I'll sadly be putting this project aside for a little while.

More About Milkweed Manor

It seems so strange, after 857 blog posts, to write one that doesn't have any images!  For a visual artist, this is difficult to do.  But now I am expanding my artistic efforts to writing and illustrating a book, "Milkweed Manor."  I can't say that I intended to write a book, but the idea evolved from something else, as is so common, I think, in the creative process.

I was pondering ways to add value to my ceramic animal character figurines and, since I nearly always had a little story in mind as I created them, I decided to actually write the story and include it in a tiny hand-written booklet that would accompany the figurine.  At some point it seemed a shame to only use the writing once.  And at the same time, the characters I found myself imagining were tied together.  They all lived in the same place - the forest behind Milkweed Manor  The idea for a book slowly worked its way to my conscious mind.

And I must say that I had a catalyst in this process.  At the beginning of the year I joined a coaching group for artists created and led by Nikol Peterman, called "Fearless Academy 2018."  It has been so helpful in so many ways.  I was working on defining my "body of work" that I wanted to concentrate on this year (in addition to continuing to produce pieces for my Etsy shop The Foxes' Garden} when Nikol nudged that seed into sprouting!
I never really thought of it as a children's book, but during a visit to Barnes and Noble, looking for books sharing the format of the one I had in mind, I found myself squarely in the children's books section.  This has taken some getting used to, but I'm almost there.

What I'm really interested in is the characters and the way they live together in their little Community in the forest.  I've found that what I have in mind would fall into the children's book genre of the Anthology which is apparently (according to my research at least) not much favored by editors.  But after giving it some thought I have decided to forge ahead, banking on the value of authenticity!
So I'm aiming for about seven chapters.  I have ideas and notes for all of them, and have written the rough first drafts for four and am now working on the fifth.  Sometimes the writing seems to flow, and other times it's difficult.  But the flowing times are so wonderful that the hardest of "stuck" times are well worth it.

I'm absolutely itching to get to the illustrating, but I'm not going to do anything but preliminary character sketches until I have the whole thing written at the second draft stage.  It's so much easier and quicker, after all, to rewrite that to do a new illustration!
Thanks for listening, and I'd love to hear from you!

Little Owl

Now I'm working on my second needle felted animal character inspired by my emerging Milkweed Manor stories.  This is Thea, the little owl.  A large storm destroyed her family's nest and, even worse, separated her from her mother and brothers and sisters, hence the (Swarovski crystal) tear falling from her eye.

At this point I've completed the needle felting.  The wires you see sticking out from the underside of her feet at to allow me to attach her to a base.  And speaking of a base, for literally a few years I had the perfect piece of wood - a narly chunk from the base of an oak tree that my sister found - sitting on my kitchen windowsill.  Now I can't find it anywhere!  So frustrating, but it's just another problem to solve and I'll come up with something.

The next step will be to make her bed jacket.  I bought a few pieces of vintage chenille bedspread scraps on Etsy and I'll use one of those.  Then I'll have to distress it to look like it's been through a storm.

Lots of fun ahead!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Rabbit Gets a Sweater

The little needle felted rabbit I made over the weekend seemed to need something to brighten her up.  So I made her this little sweater from scraps of a vintage felted cashmere sweater.  I buy these sweater pieces on Etsy, and in case you don't know what the "felted" means in this context, it's simply that you run the sweater through the washer and drier.  The process shrinks and entangles the fibers so that when you cut the sweater apart the pieces don't fray - just like felt!  It's a great way to use old sweaters and I've seen pillows, quilts, and jackets made from patchwork of old felted sweater pieces.  The cashmere ones are especially nice.

I took advantage of the rolled edge of a raglan sweater piece to use as the edge of the collar and the edges down the front.  I just wrapped a scrap around her and went from there.  Then I used the narrow ribbing from the sweater v-neck to finish the bottom.  The closure is a vintage mother of pearl button sewn to the sweater over a satin bow that matches the cashmere.

I have her sitting on a stack of ribbon spools to show her size.  Also, I think the ribbon spools make quite an appropriate seat for her!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Exciting News - Milkweed Manor

Exciting News!  I, or I should properly say Colwyn the Gray, am writing a book!  It's been noodling around in my mind for a while and I've done a few pieces with the project in the back of my head, but now I've thought it out and I'm committed!  It will be my big project for this year.  I will be doing both the writing and the illustrating.

So what is it about?  The book is set in England in the woods behind the Cotswold manor house, Milkweed Manor, and takes place in Edwardian times.

All of the characters are animals.  Some of them are natives and others are newly arrived.  It's a collection of chapters about the various antics of these characters, loosely connected by the characters but not by an overall plot.  I'd say it's in the tradition of "Wind in the Willows" or the Beatrix Potter books.  It's not strictly a children's book because the language is that of adults, and I'm hoping that animal-loving adults will love it!  But older children would enjoy reading it and younger children would enjoy having it read to them - with a few vocabulary lessons on the side!

Colwyn is one of the main characters.  As a young rat he relocated from the Welsh Marches to the Cotswolds seeking a better life.  He arrived as an illiterate youngster but found he had a talent for and an interest in literature.  Inspired by the happenings around him, and taught to read and write by the Little Owl Thea, he became, at first an amateur, but later the official chronicler of Milkweed Manor.  And as the chronicler, he became known as Colwyn the Gray.

His book is entitled

Milkweed Manor
Tiny Tales of Love and Courage

as chronicled by
Colwyn the Gray