20 July 2014

Sunday in Pasadena

My cousin Carol Sue turned 75 this month (doesn't she look good?), and her daughter, Kirsten, came up with the idea for "the girls" (Kirsten's two sisters, her two best friends--who are like daughters to Cos as well--and me) to take her out to a fancy tea at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. We did this once before with the family, for my mom's 65th, I believe it was, only then it was called the Huntington Sheraton. So the seven of us had reservations today at 1:30 for the Chocolate Tea, aka Tiffin at the Langham.

Coincidentally, one of the meet-up groups to which I belong was doing a two-part sort of sketch-crawl today, in which they started at Castle Green in Pasadena (click the link if you want to know more about that site), and moved on to Echo Park for a picnic lunch and more sketching later in the day. So I went early and did a sketch at Castle Green, and then proceeded to the Langham for tea with my cuz!

I joined a couple of meet-up groups in the hope of making some new artist-type friends, but I'm not sure how well this is going to work out. My impulse when going out to do plein air sketching is to find an aspect I like as quickly as possible, and then sit down to sketch. But the leader of this group wants us to thoroughly explore all our options before we start to work, which has meant that for the three meet-ups I have attended, we have spent 45 minutes (or more) wandering the site and about 45 minutes making art. I think I will probably go on my own in the future, so I can maximize my time, because I don't have so much of it that I can afford to dither!

Anyway, here is my sketch of Castle Green, which I did in pen on site and then added color once I got home after the tea. And also a few photos of tea at the Langham--quite decadent!

I didn't remember to take any reference photos while at the location, so I had to find something online to do the color--so the shadows are probably not correct. My perspective is terrible (my friend Bix taught me a trick about "elbows down, knees up," but I'm still not good at it), plus that weird entryway with the bridge to the main building is really hard to draw! But it was a fun exercise. And my reward was PASTRY!

06 July 2014

Thinking about dummies

No, I'm not insulting someone, I'm talking about THE dummy, which is to say, a mock-up for a book. When you make a book, you first have to figure out how many pages you need (title page, verso page, colophon? Start your story on the left-hand page or on the right? Acknowledgments at the front or the back? etc.), how much artwork there will be (different for a picture book than a chapter book, which this one will be), where it will fall in the book, where the type will go in relation to it,  whether the type will FIT with all the artwork you have envisioned and, if not, whether you would prefer to cut the story or cut the artwork or make the book bigger (a cost consideration for the publisher, so you don't want to go hog-wild)...

So that's what we've been working on (loosely) in my illustration class last week and this. This week we were asked to bring some color artwork, maybe incorporating some type, so I tried a layout. I don't think it's going to work, because after seeing the mess the printers and/or binders can make of things that travel across the fold, I don't want to go there; but I did like the idea, so I tried it out anyway. It's not exactly how I envisioned it (when is it ever), but it's a good start towards thinking about all of these problems and how to solve them.

The Adventures of Beatrice, Part One: The Quest for a Roof

I had to scan this in two parts and then stick them together in Photoshop, because the art was too big to fit on my scanner, so the line (in pencil) is the actual center fold and I tried to eliminate the overlap line with my Clone Stamp Tool (somewhat noticeable, but better than it was). And of course, the type was set separately and placed on the background, which is why the color is interrupted behind it. That would be continuous graduated color in the book.

Given all the things to think about: the probable necessity of rewriting your book and redoing all your artwork half a dozen times (or more) until it's right; sending it to a publisher or eight and being lucky enough to get picked up; fulfilling all of your editor's expectations (which will probably mean another batch of alterations); how long it takes to get the whole thing typeset and color corrected and assembled and printed; waiting to see if it's successful, which is the turning point upon which your future career will rest…given all that, I'm amazed at the number of successful children's book authors and illustrators in the world! You really do have to be a persistent person who will keep plugging away, who won't give up, who will stick to your vision and refuse to be told you're banging your head against a brick wall…and you have to be willing to do that knowing that there is no immediate gratification (it's sometimes a year or more after you turn in your manuscript that your book is released, and meanwhile you better have moved on to your next project!) and that it's not exactly a lucrative profession!

Given all of that, I'm not sure I have what it takes. But I'm going to take it edit by edit and painting by painting and page by page, and see where I end up. I don't know when that will be…it may end up being career number…four, is it? after I retire from the library…but at least I'm beginning the process. And that's thanks to Deborah Nourse Lattimore, who IS one of those persistent visionaries, and who inspires us all weekly to do better. I'm so honored to be studying with her.

29 June 2014


Steampunk is a fairly new phenomenon in Young Adult Lit world, even though the original steampunk has been around for a while. It's a bit confusing as to where it originated, because it can be considered a retroactive term; although the word itself may have been coined by science fiction writer K. W. Jeter in the 1980s when he was searching for a genre title for his work, early examples would include the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells; Fritz Lang's film Metropolis in 1927; and the CBS television series The Wild Wild West, which aired in the 1960s.

The genre includes recent science fiction that is set in a recognizable historical period (most commonly Victorian or Edwardian), in which the Industrial Revolution has begun, but has taken a slightly different turn than the one it did in reality. This is probably its most restrictive definition, but the genre has expanded to include fantasy, alternate worlds, dystopian works…in some ways it seems like you can include some Victorian fashion and some steam- or spring-propelled machines and gadgets, and label it steampunk.

The best known YA books in the genre are probably Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy (in which a weird combination of the mechanical and the organic are melded to create fantastical living creatures) and Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines quartet (featuring giant mobile cities that roam the landscape "eating up" smaller cities). More recent additions would be Catherine Fisher's Incarceron and Sapphique, Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices books (Clockwork Angel, etc.) Kady Cross's Steampunk Chronicles (The Girl in the Steel Corset, and three more), Gail Carriger's rather silly series that begins with Etiquette and Espionage, and Stephan Bachman's disturbing story The Peculiar.

A certain group of kids (and perhaps a larger group of adults) are enthusiastic proponents of this genre. I have liked isolated books within it, but am not, in general, a fan. What I do like, however, is some of the fashion. Who doesn't like velvet, leather and lace, especially when tricked out with corsets, gears and goggles? (I found this "Steampunk Librarian" online by "ghostfire" on DeviantArt.)

So since we are focusing on science fiction this summer at the library (for our teen summer reading program), of which steampunk is one sub genre, we decided we'd find some way to craft it up with a steampunk theme. This brings me to today's photos: a steampunk gift for Anarda, my co-teen librarian. I found a bigger, cooler, more versatile (because not boxed-in) steampunk gears stencil, and an old art apron, which I washed and bleached so it looked like new, and made her a steampunk smock to wear at our craft events this summer.

This technique is super easy--just lay down the stencil, get a stencil brush (flat-ended with stiff bristles), pick up some paint on the brush, pounce it off so it's not too wet, and then pounce it up and down inside and all around the stencil. I mixed red and a metallic gold on this one, to give it a little depth and interest. Let it dry, then 24 hours later throw it in the dryer to "set" the paint, and it's subsequently wash-and-wearable.

I also tried out this stencil using my spray bleach technique on an old gray t-shirt, but it's in the wash right now so I'll post it later--if it turned out! The bleach is a lot harder to control--and therefore easier to mess up--than this dry-brush paint technique.

15 June 2014

Noodling about

Well, on the down side, no housework achieved this weekend.

On the up side…

Tried out a bleach-spray process for decorating T-shirts using steampunk stencils, for a workshop we're doing later in the summer with our teens at the library… (you definitely should wear gloves and goggles for this…and keep paper towels handy!)


And tried out some character sketches for a story book I'm considering…

09 June 2014

Haste makes waste

Odd title for a blog post…but I am referring to drawing skills. Which I have not cultivated in a long time. I have also, I discovered when I started trying to draw, come to rely way too much on photos off the internet, and while they can pinch-hit, nothing compares to live models, with which I haven't practiced in a long time. And when it comes to imagination, I'm great at assembling disparate items into a whole to make something new, but I have no original thoughts re: drawing!

In fact, I will confess here that sometimes, when I want to make a painting, I cheat by doing a trace of whatever it is I want to paint, just to get an accurate shape/outline, and then I paint, because that's what I enjoy.

So now that I need those drawing skills, my haste in glossing over them in favor of getting to the painting means they are nowhere to be found! I know I used to have some…or at any rate, they were better back a while ago...

I'm taking an illustration class this summer, and our assignment this week was to go home and do some preliminary sketches of our characters. The characters I selected are cats, and I am discovering that cats are hard to draw! You wouldn't think so, when you look at them as a series of shapes, but if you get them just the slightest bit wrong, it sticks out like a sore thumb, because we all know what a cat is "supposed" to look like.

So--I did a bunch of really bad sketches this week, which I'm not going to post here, and then I did a couple I kind of liked, and then I gave in and did a quick painting to make myself feel better. Which I did, but not much, because it didn't further me in my quest to discover my characters OR to regain my drawing skills. So…it looks like I'm in for a long slog to find both.


12 May 2014

Imagining the characters from books

For 6+7 Book Club at the library, we're reading Across the Universe, by Beth Revis. The massive ship Godspeed is setting out across space, bearing a large sampling of humans to colonize a new planet. The trip is expected to take 300 years, so there are waking personnel who will live out their lives on the ship, and will create generations to come after them, all in service of ensuring that those persons important to conquering the unknowns of the planet--the scientists, the militarists--can make their voyage safely in frozen, cryogenic sleep. Seventeen-year-old Amy's parents are two such persons, and Amy is along for the ride as "nonessential cargo" because she didn't want to be left behind to grow up without her parents.

But something goes wrong, and Amy is abruptly awakened from her frozen chamber some 50 years too soon. It's powerful, violent imagery as she struggles to animate, to escape the cryogenic fluid, to pull the tubes from her throat and the IVs from her arms, and to get out of the box before she drowns.

With the constant cross-breeding of the generations has come a uniformity of brown hair, brown eyes, and light brown skin, so Amy's red hair, green eyes, and pale skin are an anomaly that can't be missed as she moves about the ship. I had a picture in my mind of Amy just as she was unfreezing and the blue fluid in which she was immersed began to drain away, and tried to transfer it to paper. (Minus, of course, all the tubes and wires, because they don't really lend themselves to this Sleeping Beauty imagery, do they?) It's never quite as I pictured it, but…here's Amy:

27 April 2014


I had the idea today, at the very last minute, to do a little sketch of the Burbank Central Library for my boss. Our assistant director, Helen, is retiring after 30+ years, and the library supervisors are taking her to breakfast tomorrow morning, her second-to-last day!

She spent much of her career working in this building, so I thought it would be fun for her to have this. I'm not great at architecture (angles and perspective make me crazy) and this is some challenging architecture! This building is supposed to be a classic example of "Modernist New Formalism"(huh?) from the 1960s, but what that consists of is a LOT of different textures! There are bricks, there are tiles, there are posts, there are roof cut-outs, there are see-through patterned brick thingies, there are honeycomb walls in front of windows…all kind of a nightmare to draw. So rather than try to reproduce it exactly, I followed the example of others and tried to suggest rather than faithfully duplicate...but some of it was not too successful. (Fortunately, there was a LOT of foliage to hide a multitude of shortcomings.)

Still, it gives the flavor of the building, and perhaps Helen will like it as a small memento of her career.

If you want to see a document about this style of architecture, go here. Some lunatic is trying to get this building declared an historic resource. If he had to deal with the ancient plumbing, the noisy air conditioning, the lack of electrical outlets, the dicey elevator, and the horrible lines of sight inside, he might think differently!