The Awards

Nope, not the Golden Globes or the Emmys. I’m thinking about the ALA awards, of course.

This year, for the first time, I participated in a local mock-caldecott group. Though I was only able to attend a couple of the meetings, it was a great experience, and one I hope to continue to participate in for years to come. The group’s organizer gathered materials from the Caldecott Committee handbook to help us understand how the librarians who choose the winners review the many, many candidates. Because this award is for the artwork, and because it requires the art to be ‘distinctive’ and to add to the story beyond what the words reveal, we followed the Committee’s methods for looking at the art both on its own and in conjunction with the text. First we ‘read the pictures’ (covering or ignoring the words), then we paged through backwards, examining each spread, as well as end papers, and front and back cover. Then we read the story aloud, and finally we paged through the whole book again.

This process really opened my eyes to the myriad ways in which the images expand the story. By examining the images without reading the words, I was more able to tune in to the artist’s choices and sometimes the reasons those choices were made. Some books literally have additional subplots, inside jokes, or punchlines that exist only in the images. Others use color, texture, energy of line, page design, page turns, and rhythm to expand upon — or sometimes contradict — the words in the text.

I found myself daunted by the genius of many illustrators, and surprised that some books I’d seen as ‘simple’ were actually the result of many subtle but brilliant design decisions. Even more interesting: a few books seduced me at first glance through their sheer beauty, but fell apart when it came to enhancing the text. I work pretty instinctively, and I hope that by exposing myself to, and closely studying the work of some of the great illustrators out there, I will grow in my own ability to illustrate beyond the text and create books that are greater as a whole than as a sum of their parts.

The big winner, Locomotive, was not reviewed by our group, though I am  not sure how we overlooked it! Perhaps we paid less attention to nonfiction than we should have. I have been a fan of Brian Floca’s since I was a few classes behind him at Brown and he had a great little comic strip in our campus newspaper. Even back then, at 19 or 20, he was clearly a master draftsman. I was in a class with him in the illustration department at RISD, but he probably wouldn’t remember me because I was too shy back then to say hello. Anyway, I love his books and am off to add Locomotive to my collection. Hope my favorite local bookstore (Greenbean Books on Alberta Street — don’t miss it if you’re in Portland!) still has a copy!

Filling the well

I’m in my studio, anxiously awaiting feedback on a current project. Anxiety makes it difficult to focus productively on the various things I could be working on, so I decided  to shift out of anxiety mode by getting lost in some studio play.

I’ve had a yen to try my hand at sculpture for months now. I’ve never done much of anything 3-dimensional, but I guess the time has come to explore a bit. I think I want to try carving small sculptures at some point, but I had some air-dry clay on hand, and started playing with that before the holidays, making ornaments with my son. When I met with my critique group for our January retreat, we made some little figures from clay as a way to loosen up.

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Today I made the pleasing abstract shapes below. When they dry I will paint them and string them together into a giant bangle, or maybe wind chimes if they make a pleasant sound. I made a little bowl, too, but I’m not so happy with that. I am still getting to know this material.

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After that satisfying little exercise I moved on to painting. This is how I work when I am not making illustrations: big and messy. The painting below is a work in progress, started about 4 hours ago. I’d guess I’m half done. But I’m at that scary moment where I like my start and I am getting attached. Danger, danger! Don’t get attached. It’s bound to get uglier before it is complete and it takes courage to make a pretty start ugly. Courage and faith that I’ll be able to transcend the ugly and find a resolution that is deeper, more layered, more interesting than just pretty.

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For the record, this painting is acrylic on 27″x27″heavy, handmade Khadi watercolor paper.