Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Changing Places

Dear friends and followers of Artist and 3 Cats blog,

I am changing the location of this blog to embed it within my new website! I love the new location and hope you will too. If you want to continue to follow my posts, there is an rss feed or you can like my Facebook page and follow my posts that way as well.

You may have noticed that I have not been very active on this blog. Well sometimes life becomes so active that there is no time for blogging. But I have a new post in my new home and on my "to-do" list for 2014, I am going to do more blogging. I look forward to your readership and comments in my new home.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Picture Book Tag: The Next Big Thing!

My brilliant picture book friend, Carolyn Fisher, tagged me for "The Next Big Thing Blog Tour", so I will answer some questions below about my next BIG THING, then pass on the Q & A to some more brilliant authors!

1. What is your next Big Thing?

When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky, 
Two Artists, Their Ballet, and One Extraordinary Riot

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Nine years ago I was sitting at Symphony Hall, waiting for the Minnesota Orchestra to begin. Leafing through the program I was struck by a photo of the composer, Igor Stravinsky standing next to the sad painted face of dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky as Petrushka. The photo was taken in 1911. I showed it to my composer husband, Matthew Smith, and said: “I wonder what it was like when Stravinsky met Nijinsky?” then I smiled and said: “Hey, wouldn’t that be a great title for a picture book?  When I got home that night I cut out the photo from the program, pasted it in a notebook, wrote down the title and began to write a lot of stuff that is no longer a part of the story at all. But it got me started! 

Stravinsky and Nijinsky, 1911

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Non-fiction picture book, though I wrote it to be read as a raucous and fun read-aloud for the very young up to the very old. 

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Adrien Brody would be the perfect young Stravinsky and Channing Tatum, who is an actor-dancer might be a good Nijinsky?

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When composer, Igor Stravinsky met dancer-choreographer, Vaslav Nijinsky, their collaboration on the the ballet, "The Rite of Spring" was so different and so new that it caused a riot to break out in the theatre during its premiere in Paris on May 29th, 1913 and revolutionized music and dance in the 20th century.

6. Who is publishing your book?

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Approximately 6 years.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

~ Ballet for Martha, Making Appalachian Spring, written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2010)

~ Jazz Age Josephine, Jonah Winter, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

From the first I LOVED the rhyming and rhythm of “Stravinsky” and “Nijinsky”. Their names seemed to dance and make music on the page even before the story began. I also loved their faces and wanted to paint them. And the more research I did the more I wanted to make the story work for a young audience and the more I wanted to paint every scene. And finally, as an art history major and as someone who made a living in NYC for many years working in museums, my favorite period of painting is the turn of the twentieth century when cubism, fauvism, expressionism, futurism all exploded our notion of how the world should be seen. Stravinsky and Nijinsky changed our notion of what music and dance should sound and look like. What a powerful and rich time for the arts. When I began the illustrations, it became clear that I would pay homage to many of my favorite paintings from that explosive time in the arts. 

10. What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
This year, 2013, marks the centennial since the premiere performance of The Rite of Spring on May 29, 1913. I think there will be endless opportunities to listen to the music on classical radio as spring arrives in the next several months, the perfect soundtrack to go with the book!

Now it's time to play tag! Stephanie Bodeen, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Wendy Orr, Anne Ylvisaker... You're it!

The Raft  
After a plane crash over the remote Northwest Hawaiian islands, fifteen-year-old Robie finds herself in a life raft, struggling to survive. 
August 2012, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan  

photo of "Growing Power"

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table
Jacqueline Briggs Martin
When Will Allen was a boy he hated farm work and wanted a "white shirt" job. When he grew up, he dreamed of city farms that would grow good food for city neighbors in cities around the world. How did Will Allen make this dream happen?
Fall 2013, Readers to Eaters

The Nim Stories
Two books in one: Nim's Island and Nim at Sea, the stories of a girl who lives on an island in the middle of the wide blue sea, with her father, Jack, a marine iguana called Fred, a sea lion called Selkie, a turtle called Chica and a satellite dish for her email.
April 2013, Allen & Unwin

Button Down
Ned, of the comically unlucky Button family, hasn't caught a thing in his life until he faces bully Burton Ward in a challenge to catch their town hero's football.
Fall 2012, Candlewick Press

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Painting Green in Winter

I welcome winter when it comes. I think I must have bear blood in me, because I like to hibernate in my studio when the flurries fly and the temperatures drop below 0. The sun pours in on sunny days, but mostly it is cloudy gray in Minnesota, which does not beckon me outside my studio-cave until the first signs of spring. I stay inside and paint.

Winter sun
And right now I am painting green. Not just ordinary green. The green that goes with a story by the author Mary Lyn Ray. Her stories are often quiet and soft- evoking a magic found when one communes intimately with the wonders of nature. It took me awhile to find just the right quiet and soft green for this story. At first it was too loud. Colors make sound and it is important to find the right sound for each story. Last winter when I painted When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky I deliberately chose bold bright colors that became louder and louder as the book progressed to the final chords of The Rite of Spring-- a very loud piece of music!

Bright green/loud green

But this winter, painting Deer Dancer, I have to be careful with my greens. They are earthy and subdued. More like the green of avocados than limes. Which is louder, avocados or limes?

Soft green/quiet green
Winter can be a very quiet time of year, so although it is gray and white outside, I am tuning into the hushed greens of another season and the silence of winter is helping me along the way.

Friday, January 11, 2013

When Mem Fox Came to Minneapolis

Though it feels like a year must have already passed, it was just two months ago that the wonderful author, Mem Fox came for a visit to Minneapolis. We had never met before this visit and yet we had just published a picture book together: Tell Me About Your Day Todayso there were lots of reasons to celebrate!

 Telling the story of illustrating Tell Me About Your Day Today
Our first meeting was at Wild Rumpus Book Store. It quickly filled with lovers of children's books and we took the stage. First I told the story of how I painted the pictures, then Mem read the story two times through. The second time the audience joined in for "The who, the what, the why, and the way..."

Mem Fox reading Tell Me About Your Day Today. 
Author and Illustrator together at last!
The second day of Mem's visit was a huge welcome party given by the rich and creative children's literature community of Minnesota gathered together by friend and author, Debra Frasier. Authors, illustrators, book sellers, librarians, teachers, and professors of children's literature brought food and stories to share. Mem made so many new friends. At the end of the party she said she could not wait to come back!

The party was ready and waiting for the guests to arrive.

Everyone brought delicious food to share.
The wondrous Debra Frasier welcoming everyone!
Books and flowers decorated the party.

Mem Fox and Susan Richardson, wondrous school librarian!
Mem Fox and Marion Dane Bauer,  wondrous author!
Mem Fox with a new fan!
The last day of Mem Fox's visit to Minneapolis she spoke at the University of Minnesota for Book Week 2012. Everyone who listened to her read her books aloud was transported to a world of magic where stuffed animals talk, pirates cry, and Koala mamas love their babies.  I could listen to Mem Fox read picture books for hours and hours. She truly knows how to bring words alive.

Mem Fox and our editor, Allyn Johnston
When Mem Fox came to Minneapolis I made a new friend. I hope she comes back next year!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Catching Up!

What a winter/spring it has been in my studio! Fiercely painting toward a deadline, I had to say no to friends, school visits, walks, gatherings, coffee breaks. I was tied to my painting wall and made it! The interior art went to the publisher for my book When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky  on time! I will write more about that book later. I am still recovering.
I am now turning my focus onto a book I illustrated Tell Me About Your Day Today, written by Mem Fox. It comes out the beginning of September, so it is time for me to update my website (not yet, don't look yet!), put together an activity guide to go with it, put together mailings, and in general, wrap my head around a book that I finished painting nearly a year ago. That is the interesting challenge of publishing for me. Unlike theatre or circus where all of your preparation and hard work are immediately appreciated with applause and bravos, there is a pause of about a year between finishing the paintings and manuscript for a picture book. Plenty goes on in that year! I receive mechanicals and proofs from the publisher along the way, as well as f&gs (folded and gathered copies of the book-- not yet bound) and my publisher is extremely busy with preparations to market the book and get it out into the world... as am I, now that I have some breathing time. So stay tuned... lots more to come on Tell Me About Your Day Today!
Cooper catching on the Flying Trape
While I have been illustrating on deadline, my family has been very busy too. Circus Juventas just finished its annual extravaganza--The May Shows, where nearly all of their 900 students, age 3 to 21, perform in the Circus arena in full make-up and costume. The hard work of students, coaches, and volunteers is put into motion to present an astounding, amazing, and beautiful show. My son rigged up in the rafters for every show and would catch Flying Trapeze in the end! With the May Shows over, it is time to get ready for Circus Juventas' summer show: SHOWDOWN. This means it is time to finish painting the sets and it is time for Cooper and all of the Summer show performers to kick in to high gear with rehearsals and practice. So glad I made that deadline!

Oberlin Spring Back, Ruby dances!
In the midst of the book deadline, I did take a quick break and drove with my family to and from Oberlin College in Ohio, where my daughter studies dance and choreography. She performed in two dance pieces. One of them she choreographed and danced a solo in. How could I miss this? It was fantastic-- we even got to view it two nights in a row in different places in the theatre. I loved seeing the dances from different perspectives. It was also great to see where she lives and meet some of her friends. 

Deadlines can unbalance one's life, but I am so glad I took some time to see Ruby dance, watch Cooper fly. This weekend I gardened. Finally I am finding time to smell the roses again.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Thank you, Mr. Sendak

Eating breakfast with my 16 year old son this morning, I mentioned that I had just read that Maurice Sendak died today at 83 years old. "What?" he gasped! "That's sad. Really sad." His reaction came directly from his gut and heart and mirrored mine- one of shock followed by sadness. How could Maurice Sendak die? Ever? 
How do you thank someone you never met in real life? Maurice Sendak was instrumental to my becoming a children's book illustrator. Not just because I grew up with his books, in fact his influence came much later. After I illustrated my first book, Mud, my editor, Allyn Johnston, sent me a gorgeous manuscript, Scarecrow, I went into an identity crisis. How could I illustrate children's books when my goal for so many years was to be included in the Whitney Biennial  someday? Then an artist friend of mine invited me over for a critique of her newest body of work. Large canvases with giant brightly colored babies floating on them greeted me as I entered her studio. Though the subject was babies, it had nothing to do with children or children's books. During the course of our conversation she shared with me the early influences that drove her to become an artist. From her bookcase she pulled a huge monograph. The Art of Maurice Sendak, by Selma G. Lanes. She also made a pile on her drafting table of all of her favorite childhood picture books. These beautiful books painted by illustrators were what inspired her to become an artist. She let me borrow the Sendak monograph, which I read from cover to cover and within a week the wisdom of Maurice Sendak had assured me that being a children's book author/illustrator was a worthy thing to be. I have my own copy of this book now, along with a collection of most of Maurice Sendak's books on my shelves for inspiration when I am illustrating my own books. Looking at my bookshelves, I see that Maurice is snug between the painters Milton Avery and William Blake, with books on the art of David Hockney, Rodin, Terry Winters, and Giotto nearby. He is in good company.

"Fantasy is so all-pervasive--- I don't think there's any part of our lives, as adults or children, when we're not fantasizing, but we prefer to relegate that activity to children, as if fantasy were some tomfoolery only fit for immature minds. Children do live in both fantasy and reality; they move back and forth with ease, in a way that we no longer remember how to do. And writing for children I always assume that they have this incredible flexibility, this cool sense of the logic of illogic, and that they can move with me from one sphere to the other without any problems. Fantasy is the core of all writing for children, as I think it is for the writing of any book--- perhaps even the act of living... There are many kinds of fantasy and levels of fantasy and subtleties of fantasy--- there is probably no such thing as creativity without fantasy."
-- Maurice Sendak

Thank you, Maurice Sendak.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dog-Days of Winter

Beach Lane Book logo and sign
created by the author/illustrator Marla Frazee
When the cool days of autumn turn into the cold days of winter, I welcome the coziness of being inside my home and studio. The double layers of storm windows are a quiet relief from the lawn mowers of summer and the constant noise of planes overhead and freeways nearby. But by the end of February, the air inside begins to feel stale and the constant rattling and throbbing of radiators wakes me too often in the middle of the night. I want to throw open the windows and let the fresh air in, but the thermometer is still reading only 21 degrees. So these are the dog-days of winter for me, when I begin to sing this song in my studio and dream of traveling to a warmer climate. I am in the midst of a deadline for a book, so there are no getaways allowed, but I can dream, can't I?

I have just finished a book with my publisher, Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. The book is called, Tell Me About Your Day Today and it is written by Mem Fox. I will write more about this book in future posts, closer to when it comes out next September, but right now all I want to share is my love for Beach Lane Books, a studio where two California editors work. It is a magical place where pictures and words come together to become gorgeous picture books and sometimes adventurous chapter books. I visited there last January and this is what I saw:
A pail and shovel on the steps to the studio.
A cozy entryway with an excellent message
for everyone in the publishing biz.
A table for work with colored chairs that seem to say:
"Sit here!" "No, here, sit here!"
and a window to see the sea from.
Shells on the windowsill.
A bike and books, lots of books!
More books and a bulletin board just waiting...
for the perfect pictures, quotes, and postcards!
Flowers, hummingbirds, and yellow finches!
Yep! When Minnesota's spring is still at least two months away, this is where I wish I were right now.

Where do you wish you could be right now?