17 July 2016


Anarda and I, while still mired in the tail end of the Teen Summer Reading Program, are having short but creative little meetings to plan out our teen programs for the next six months or so.

One thing we always "celebrate" with some activity is Teen Read Week, designated by the American Library Association as the second week in October. In the past, we have featured a writing contest, and may do so again (we had a pretty brilliant idea yesterday); but this year we also came up with an idea to help us with display and give the teens a creative outlet to share their favorite books: Shelf Talkers.

You see these more commonly in bookstores (mostly independent ones) than you do libraries, for some reason. There will be a display with "staff picks" cards, and the best are not the typewritten ones on pre-made forms, but hand-made, fancifully embellished comments that draw your eye to the book and make you want to read it.

Rather than do a display (since at Anarda's branch she is lamentably short on display space), we decided to compromise and make them hang over the shelves like the pre-made ones in little plastic cases, but to encourage the teens to personalize them (and not use the plastic cases!). With that in mind, I made up a simple form.

I divided a manila-colored sheet of thin cardstock into quarters, at 4.25x5.5 inches. Then I put a dotted line across the short side at the 1.25-inch mark, so once the folding part is folded over the shelf and taped there, the shelf-talker itself will be approximately square. And then I looked at my list of books on Goodreads and made shelf-talkers for three of the books on there.

I already know what Anarda will tell me: "Some of us don't draw." So I plan to do a few more with simple embellishments like squiggly borders or lettering and no illustrations. But I had fun with these.

Manila cardstock, LePen 0.5, watercolor, colored pencils.

10 July 2016

A record of some successful programs

My friend Hubert, at the library, has a past as the manager of the bookstore at the Huntington Library, and is very good at both display and programming. After he moved from the children's department at our library, where he did awesome story times and decorated everything beautifully with the help of a skillfully wielded exacto knife, he became a reference librarian, and for a while he was frustrated because he had no creative outlet. But once we got new management, Hubert was allowed to cut loose and start creating adult programming for the library, and he has done it wholeheartedly and successfully.

His specialty is to find an interesting, topical nonfiction book that's just about to be published, and contact the author, the publisher, the agent, or whoever will get back to him, about doing an author event. He pursues authors whose works are particularly relevant to people in our city or region or county, and he does an amazing job of crafting and then promoting the events, with the result that we have had attendance of between 150-200 people at each of them.

Hubert had a birthday lately, and he has also been feeling down because he got transferred away from the Central Library to a branch, where he is trying to find his feet, so I decided he deserved a gift as a pick-me-up. So I checked the books from his three most successful programs out of the library, and I made him this painting of them to commemorate his successes. I hope looking at it reminds him just how great he is at this and encourages him to continue!

These were not the easiest books to paint: Rocket Girls was probably the simplest and also the most fun, because of the blending of colors; but The Last Innocents was a crazy combination of tiny black and white photos mixed with color, containing shots from the civil rights movement as well as shots of various Dodgers, and getting the illustration to look even a little like the cover, with those tiny figures in those blurry photos, was a challenge. I think Floodpath was the hardest to paint, however, because I had no idea what I was painting! I gave up on drawing it except for a very few defining lines, and just went in behind the lettering with watercolor and tried to mimic what I was seeing. There's water, and rocks, and part of a dam, I think? But it's a very dim sepia photograph with a lot going on, so I simply did the best I could to give the general idea.

I have linked the title of each book in the paragraph above to Hubert's reviews of the books on our Burbank Library Blog, as a reference if you are interested in them but also to note that in addition to being a great event planner, Hubert is an amazing, erudite, thoughtful book reviewer whose reviews lift our blog above the ordinary every time he writes one. You might want to check out the blog from time to time, if you are a nonfiction enthusiast with an historical focus.

Happy Birthday, Hubert!

09 July 2016

EDiJ #9

Today's prompt was "ghost stories." I was a little bit at a loss--hard to paint something that's invisible, right? But then I decided to multitask.

I read the first book in Jonathan Stroud's series "Lockwood & Co.," called The Screaming Staircase, with my 6+7 Book Club at the library, and I've been meaning to read the second book ever since it came out (book #3 is also published by now!), but haven't gotten to it yet. I decided to paint the book cover so that when I finally do read it, I'll have a little illustration to go along with my review for the teen blog.

It's a charming horror-lite concept: An alternate London has inexplicably become infested with ghosts. They're everywhere--in houses, on the streets, and roaming the countryside. Only children and teens can see them or sense their presence, but they wreak all kinds of havoc on adults, even though invisible to them. So the adults quake indoors with all the lights on and all the doors locked, while the teenagers form up into companies and train to capture or destroy the ghosts, ridding people's houses of hauntings, poltergeists and the like. The series follows one company called Lockwood & Co., which consists of Anthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle, and George Cubbins, who gird up with silver chains and locking boxes (or jars) designed to contain the supernatural beings, and head out to spend the night in haunted mansions to do their thing.

I have a couple of books ahead of it, so I won't get to it for a while, but when I do, I'll be ready to review!

An interesting list for July

I've been sporadically participating in the "Every Day" Facebook challenges, although I never manage to make a sketch every single day. Still, the creative prompts occasionally inspire me, so I always join up and check in. For Every Day in July, though, I had a reaction to the list provided by this month's moderator.

There wasn't anything wrong with it...if you were white, over 50, and had roots in a rural or suburban lifestyle of a certain kind. Rather than make a list of things she thought would be good art prompts, she made a list of her fondest memories of July, and since July is the "home" of Independence Day, many of them included patriotic prompts (red, white and blue, flags, firecrackers) and summer nostalgia hearkening back to a simpler time and place (potato sack races, pollywogs, the County fair). As I said, nothing inherently wrong with it, but as I was perusing it, I thought about all the people for whom some of these things would draw a blank--non-Americans, to start with, and then people younger than 40, city dwellers who had never been to a County fair or seen a pollywog or knew who Smokey the Bear was, and so on. So, since the month hadn't yet started, I messaged her off-line (not wanting to say something potentially embarrassing to her in front of the 100+ members who had so far joined the page) and gently (I thought) suggested that the list might not be relatable to everyone.

The one prompt in particular that candidly set my teeth on edge was "Vacation Bible School." I thought it was inappropriate, given that many on the list might not be Christian, or might not have fond memories of that particularly American institution. (I certainly do not.) So I mentioned that to her, again trying to be tactful.

I got back a fairly pleasant message from her, saying that these were HER fond memories but anyone was welcome to substitute their memories if the ones she provided didn't resonate, to reinterpret the prompt to suit themselves, or to skip the prompt entirely if it made them uncomfortable. While this was a reasonable response, it did make me wonder why prompts would be provided if people couldn't relate to them...but I let it go.

Then she proceeded to post ON the list her dismay that someone had found her list "offensive." Since I had very carefully not used that word in my message to her, I found that disingenuous and self-serving. And of course there was an outpouring of sympathy for her, and a plethora of comments directed at my inflexibility, insensitivity, and lack of more important things with which to find fault. Fortunately for me, she didn't mention my name, so they weren't aimed directly at me, but still...not very nice.

So, when we got to July 8, which was the "Vacation Bible School" prompt, I made a picture to relieve my feelings. I hesitated about posting it, but then decided to go ahead, with an explanation to go with it:
At first I was going to skip this one, since for me (especially in retrospect) it is not a fond memory; but I decided instead to address it honestly. I was compelled to be part of a church from birth. At a fairly young age, I realized that Christianity wasn't for me, but my family gave me no choice in the matter, and where they went, I had to follow, until I was old enough to go my own way. So after 11 years of Vacation Bible School and three years of church camp, today I would like to share a sketch of what I would have liked to have been offered, had I had a choice.

I fully expected a hail of criticism and censure to rain down upon my head, but instead I got some unexpectedly refreshing comments. One person said she had left the group because she found the list "too American." Another asked, "Do lots of Americans go to Vacation Bible School? I find it a very strange concept." I got a "No kidding! I would have loved this summer camp!" and an "I love your humanist approach!"

Even from the people who had had good experiences at VBS and cherished their Christian backgrounds,  I got some nice shared memories followed by an "atta boy" for expressing my own. And there were a few who reminisced about parents who sent them and their siblings to church while staying home and getting drunk themselves, which made me realize there could have been far worse experiences than mine!

So--I'm glad I posted it. I never did "out" myself as the person who had "complained" (again, not my intention or my word), or said anything in response to the more unforgiving comments on that thread, but I imagine that a few people may have guessed that it's me, based on my Humanist Holidays bus!

I'm doing my best to reinterpret where I can (see my post above with the drawing of my neighborhood, with teensy little plastic flags, planted by the local realtor, in front of every house) and skip what I must. So I guess I am actually doing what the moderator suggested...but I look forward to another month with more universal prompts. (I really enjoyed the Beatles song prompts from June, which were, admittedly, a form of nostalgia for me! but which also had a more wide open interpretation.)

LePen .05 and watercolor.

04 July 2016

Mundanity inspired by grandeur

I follow an artist on Facebook who lives Ireland. Someone once told me that my drawings reminded me of her style, so I checked her out and, immensely flattered by the comparison, started reading her posts and enjoying her art. This week she did a sketch of a place called Tyrone House, in County Galway, which happens to be the view from her front door. I commented on what an inspirational view that must be, and then contemplated the view out my front windows, which is of a suburban row of saltbox houses just like mine. But then I thought, why not just sketch what's in front of you? So I made a sketch of my view and shared it with her, and now with you.

Saturday I dropped by Continental Art Supplies to pick up a new sketchbook, and in addition to getting one of my usual 9x9-inch ones, I decided to also get a long skinny one--6x12-inch--so that I could make myself start learning proportion and perspective by drawing low wide things and tall skinny things, which are the backbones of urban sketching. 9x9 is great for still life or little constructed scenes or book covers, but for a landscape, not so much.

I'm still not great at guesstimating what's going to fit--my plan for this was to include at least three houses, but I just can't draw small enough, it seems. Still, this was an accomplishment for me. It's ironic that my art teacher at Valley College, Carol Bishop, made us work large (18x24) in an attempt to keep us from being "itsy," as she called it. She meant for us to see the big picture and not get invested in the tiny details. I guess I took that lesson on board, because drawing small is hard for me. But on balance it's probably better that I learned to go big first.

Speaking of sweeping landscape orientation, here is Róisin Curé's drawing that inspired me to make this one. I think you'll agree that the vista is a bit grander than Bassett Street!

Didn't she make a lovely sky? I'm sure the Irish would enjoy an occasional cloud-free cobalt sky like we have in California, but the clouds certainly make for nice artwork.

Oh, and since it's Independence Day, I included the little flags a local realtor stuck into our lawns.

26 June 2016

Beatles' Song Prompt

I wasn't planning on doing an EDiJ sketch today, but my Kindle ran out of juice in the middle of my book, and after I finished washing a drainer-full of dishes, I decided to take a different kind of break.

This is from a photo off the internet, and there was no credit with it, so my apologies to whoever took this great reference photo! Perspective is always a challenge for me, so this one was good for me to attempt to get that vanishing point thing down. I didn't quite achieve it everywhere, but I made the background a bit vague on purpose to obscure that!

The prompt was the Beatles song "She's Leaving Home." Off to the big city! LePen 0.5, and watercolor. I tried my hand at a little spatter to make the sidewalk paint look a little more realistic, some of which worked like I wanted it to...I'm going to have to ask someone who puts spatter into their paintings regularly just how they DO that.

25 June 2016

Storybook Houses

There's a row of houses in Burbank that I've always wanted to draw. I drive by them regularly--they're on Hollywood Way, close to the entrance to the Warner Bros. Studios lot. I've always thought of them as the houses of the Seven Dwarves, because they're so tiny and so funky looking. But...I'm always in a hurry to get to work, so I never stop.

This morning, however, I woke up at 6:30 feeling energetic and inspired to do some urban sketching, so I decided to jump in the car, go draw the houses, and then try out a breakfast place in Burbank that is so popular I have never been there, because the line is always out into the parking lot. I drove to Hollywood Way, found the row of houses, and encountered an unexpected obstacle--no parking! I finally found a spot in front of two of the houses; they are spaced out along the street, two or three together, flanked by other, more regular-looking housing, and then another two or three in a row.

My original plan was to do several of them at once, but I forgot the big sketchbook in my haste to get out the door, and had only my 9x9-inch one, so I settled for exploring the details on just one. I remembered to put in "entourage," as James Richards calls it, by adding the dog walker, which is intended to give scale and interest.

I drew the house, and then watercolored. I was pretty pleased with myself, because all I brought with me is my Altoids tin mini-palette, which has only four colors in it (blue, yellow, rose, and brown--I forgot to refill the turquoise), and I managed to mix most of the colors I needed fairly adequately.

After I finished, I drove up the block and around the corner to Bee Bee's on Pass Avenue, and got there by 8:30 a.m., only to discover that people in pursuit of breakfast at their favorite place apparently wake earlier than I normally do on a Saturday--the place was packed, and there were about 30 people standing outside waiting for a table!

So instead, I drove home, made myself some scrambled eggs and potatoes and a big cup of coffee, and relaxed on the patio. And all of this before 9:00 a.m.!