Wednesday, January 31

Spoilt by all the fun...

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That's what I was... spoilt! Spoiled by those two days of whirlwind socializing out in the real world with real people. And that makes the return to the 'Fortress of Solitude' all the more difficult. Freelancing means being alone I think. Let's not forget, the ultimate punishment in prison is serving time in solitude... it ain't easy.

I know, I know, I can leave any time I like... I can go out and about... but in fact, there are hours and hours and days and days when the freelancer is basically stuck at home alone in their studios.

I used to dream about an ideal shared studio. It'd be somewhere downtown or at least in a lively location, with coffee shops, bookstores and lots of things to make one feel connected to the working world of commerce. I'm not sure I could afford to pay rent on such a studio though... and then I'd probably start bitching about someone down the hall playing Led Zepplin and drowning out my Vaughn Williams.


SO... that leaves the one salvation to the equation... WORK! Lose one's self in work... that's it. That's all we can do for most of the day.

I was musing the other day about how whenever someone is truly seeking something, it somehow will appear out of nowhere. This really played out for me last week, as the world seemed to almost be projecting my every thought. I was up sketching in my hideaway cafeteria... working on my usual wonderful productive dozen sketches, when suddenly this woman sits down a few tables away. At once I realized she was the exact perfect model for a character in my new book... and she was sitting in the exact correct position that she appears in my rough sketch! Talk about coincidence! Well I wasted no time in sketching her out... and got just the exact missing touch of reality that I was searching for.

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Then on the way home, there appeared another character outlined exactly in a cloud in the sky... standing in the exact pose I had been struggling with in another scene in the book. It all seemed quite providential. This picture isn't the same cloud, of course... though now that I look at it, I see a very fun character's face in this cloud. Can you see it too? Sort of a Voltaire type fellow with a big nose looking up towards the left?

Ever notice how clouds seem to try one's patience... never changing... then you look again and they're totally different?

Sunday, January 21

Books, books, books, books, books...

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Just back from ALA mid-winter... and was that a trip! Books, books, books, books, books.... and editors, editors, editors, editors.

Believe me, here in Seattle it's only once every blue moon that they hold a national book event, so I wasn't about to pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity.

I got to meet tons of editors from most all the places I've been sending in work. So it was flattering to have them recognize me and have a face to go with my drawings and stories. There's nothing quite like a face to face meeting, instead of just letters and emails. I even discovered that the editor of my new book for Penguin was there! So we got to meet and go over some of the basics of my new book.

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It was very cool to see all the books by all the illustrators and authors I know from online, in just about every booth I visited. It's a small world of bookmakers. I also met some authors and artists from my online groups. I even met a local artist one who lives right in my neighborhood. That makes it even a smaller world.

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I got to chat up all kinds of famous publishing folks... Cooper Edens, who is republishing classic picture book illustrators, Alexi Sherman the star of native american writing.. and I even met Grover from Sesame Street! I used to do tons of work for Children's Television Workshop.

I kept wandering down new aisles and discovering new publishers that I'd scarcely heard of before. From the looks of it, there are hundreds of publishers churning out children's books by the thousands.

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Anyhow, it was fun... even if I did start feeling like a homeless person lugging 45 pounds of book catalogues by the end of the day. Note to self... next time bring a rolling wheeled suitcase. I now have dozens of catalogues, half a dozen freebie booklights, bags, card decks, water bottles, pins and generally about all the 21st century trinkets that they traded the island of Manhattan for.

Wednesday, January 17

Hummingbirds in the Snow



Now here's a wonderful natural metaphor for hope... the brilliant flash of hummingbirds in the cold of winter. Even in the depths of snowy winter, these flashing brilliant creatures arrive like magic.

The amazing Anna's Hummingbird lives year round here in the Pacific Northwest. Even after watching them for years, their wonder never fails to delight.

They are such otherworldly creatures... so magical... buzzing around with aerial acrobatics. The humming of their wings is amazing in itself... you can feel it on your face when they're close. Sorry my digital camera doesn't have sound... (and that it's out of focus for part of the movie).

Trying to catch them on film requires either total luck or reams of patience. Basically they only fly down to challenge the intruder (me) on the first visit out each day. After that they mostly ignore me. And they only feed once every 15 minutes or so... since they've evolved to wait that long for their flowers to 'refill' with nectar. So that can be a difficult thing to time.

Day glow neon colors flash from their head caps and necks. The colors seem as unreal as the rest of their magic tricks. It is explained that this supernatural sheen is created by microscopic bubbles in their feathers that act to reflect light by the same means as a highway marker. This little film just barely manages to capture a bit of it.

At night they puff up into balls of fluff... yet I still feel sorry for them sitting out there in 15 degree weather. Apparently they go into a state of torpor, so I guess nature provides a way for them to bear it. The reason they can live here year round is that they also feed on sap from pine trees... and there's no shortage of those around here.

When two or more hummers get together, their antics are truly extraordinary. They go whizzing straight up 40 feet into the air, in tight twisting circles... and then come buzzing straight back down. Each trying to drive the other out of their territory. But the lucky winner sits faithfully outside, almost like an outdoor pet... and can usually be found on the same two or three branches.

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The painting is one I did up thinking to try a new market niche... along the lines of Cicely Mary Barker. Just one of those tangents that never quite worked out... but maybe someday.

Wednesday, January 10

Scraps & Jam

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What is art? I've decided it's mostly escapism... at least for me. It's either escaping TO someplace or escaping FROM someplace.

It's creating pictures and stories to escape from the world I'm in... or it's drawing or painting a picture of a place I'd want to escape to.
Imagination is the band-aid of comfort in a painful world of reality.

I suppose the proof that this is so is to just see how much more work I seem to get done the miserabler things are in my 'real' life. Just a little imagination can smooth a bit of jam on the hard burnt toast that day to day reality hands out.

Obviously it's easy to draw the conclusion from all this introspection that the artist must be spoiled, precious, overly sensitive... a whiner, a hopeless dreamer and afraid of the real world. To all of which charges I plead guilty.

But enough philosophy!

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Here's some of the new books I'm working on. Looks just like a pile of scraps doesn't it? That's because it IS just a pile of scraps. This is how I luv to work... just drawing bits and pieces... at a tiny size or any size I like. I just draw what I feel compelled to draw... whatever feels fun and right to draw. Later on I'll patch it all together effortlessly and effectively in Photoshop and InDesign.

And the best part of working like this is I can ride my bike up to a cafe and hang out and draw away for hours and hours. Escaping the penitentiary of the old studio every now and then feels like a working vacation... believe me I already spend enough time in that room. Happiness is an empty cafeteria table by the window... with a pile of blank tissue paper to draw on, a 2B pencil, eraser and a good book. Oh... and a cup of tea. The hours are filled with the joy of creativity.

Turns out I get to go the ALA midwinter meeting here in Seattle next week! That ought to be a nice day out from the padded cell. I've never been to one of these book events, as they are rarely ever held in Seattle. What fun!

Thursday, January 4

Freelancing & the Puppies at the Pound

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It occurred to me, halfway through my Cheerios, that the puppy pound is am entirely apt metaphor for freelancers as a whole.

I mean here we all are at the pound... all trying to entice art directors or editors to notice us... and take us home to a cozy warm little book.

Some of us are just naturally charming... some have to impress the prospective owner with our ability to do tricks and roll over on command. Some of us are Noble and Heroic... some are Silly... but we're all basically kind of beggin' and at the mercy of the whims of our prospective owners.

Wooof! Look at me! I can do a backflip...
Wooof! Look at me! I have a shiny red collar and cute pink nose
Wooof! Look at me! I have a cute ear that flops over my eyes and I'm really nice

We mail out cards with our pictures... we take out ads in expensive datebooks with more of our pictures. Hoping all the while that someone will fall in love with the shine on our nose and take mercy on us and invite us into their nice warm kitchen. That's where we've heard we might expect bowls full of canned food and our own special doggy bed and we get to lick every nose in sight... and get taken to the park twice a day.

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So every now and then a publisher might pick us out from the pound and take us home for a few months... just till the book is done. But then we most always have to go back... back to the puppy pound... back barking along with the rest of the pack. But thankfully there is a white truck that pulls up with bags full of educational kibbles and magazine kibbles and other kibbles that get poured into trays and pushed under the door every now and then.

Or... the sly pound puppy can sneak out of the pound altogether... and sneak along the avenues to find a home of their own... by writing their own book and drawing pictures for their own stories. That's what every pound puppy always wanted in the first place anyhow... a home of their own as an artist and not just beggin' for scraps.