Friday, November 30, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Can You Believe It's Been a Year?

A year ago in November, I wrote my very first blog post, inviting all of you to Please Come Flying. I can't believe it has been a year already! I've met so many interesting and nice people, been in touch with old friends, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. So *thank you* for reading!

As I look forward to my second year of blogging, I have a question for you. I have a pretty open format, right? Books, music, and a little something extra each week...

What is it that you like to read about most at Please Come Flying?

You can be as specific as you want...list a particular post that you liked, or a general type of post (poetry, music, movies, recipes, etc.) I always write about things that interest me, so now I want to know what interests you. :) Is there anything that you'd like to see more (or less) of?

Things to look forward to in December & January:
  • I'm going to reprise the Alternative Giving and Local Level series' that I did during the holiday season last year. If any of you have ideas for alternative gifts (things that move away from the traditional store-bought gift or things that "give back") or ideas about how to help on the local level during the holidays...please send me an email and I'll include it in my series (jcinfo *at* josephinecameron *dot* com).
  • I'll pass on a few Best Of 2007 lists that I think are cool. (Hey, maybe we'll even create our own!)
  • In January, I'll be focusing a bit on time management and the ever-present problem of how to keep balance in our lives.
Just for fun...
Top 5 most-popular posts at Please Come Flying since day one:

  1. Alice Munro: The Bear Came Over the Mountain (688 views!)
  2. American Songs 2 Sneak Preview: Oh Susanna
  3. Lullaby: I See The Moon
  4. Ruby Bridges: Through My Eyes
  5. Goin Home: Antonin Dvorak & William Arms

*Thank you* to all of you for reading. *Thank you* for the comments. *Thank you* for the links. You're the best. Really.

I'd like to send a special thank you to the following people and blogs who have kindly reviewed my blog, spread the word, or otherwise helped out during this first year of Please Come Flying:

Kevin from Alert the Bear (sadly on hiatus right now, but you can still read the archives)
The other Kevin from Confessions of a Trophy Husband
Bill & Reba from Hatchet Cove Farm
Stefan from Zooglobble
Bill from Spare the Rock
Shipyard (the Capt'n Eli's Strawberry Pop people!)
Jules & Eisha from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Amy from Red Fish Circle
Jewels in the Jungle

Here's to another 12 months!

In a cloud of fiery pale chemicals,
please come flying
to the rapid rolling of thousands of small blue drums
descending out of the mackerel sky
over the glittering grandstand of harbor-water,
please come flying.
(Elizabeth Bishop)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Harper Simon: Yankee Doodle

I've been slowly working my way through Song of America, the 3-disc compilation of "the history of America through music" put together by Janet Reno. Yes, Janet Reno. For real.

One song that I keep coming back to is the Harper Simon (Paul Simon's son) version of "Yankee Doodle". I never even *liked* "Yankee Doodle" was just one of those catchy but kind of annoying tunes with goofy lyrics that you learn when you're a kid. But this version really took me by surprise. And it made me do 3 things:

First, Harper Simon's dreamy, cool version forced me to actually like the song itself. You can listen to it on iTunes and see what I mean.

Then, it made me actually think about it. What day to day life must have been like for soldiers during the Revolutionary War, many who were just boys, gathered by the thousands to fight.
Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding;
And there we saw the men and boys,
As thick as hasty pudding.

Yankee doodle, keep it up,
Yankee doodle dandy;
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

There was Captain Washington
Upon a slapping stallion,
A-giving orders to his men,
I guess there was a million.
Finally, it made me look it up. Apparently, the song was written by the British and was sung to deride and make fun of the American soldiers. Funny how it has become completely co-opted and is such a firm part of the American tradition. This quote is from the Library of Congress website:
"Doodle," as found in old English dictionaries, meant a sorry, trifling fellow; a fool or simpleton. "Dandy," on the other hand, survived also as a description of a gentleman of affected manners, dress, and hairstyle. All taken, "Yankee Doodle" is a comic song and a parody. Indeed, the British made fun of rag-tag American militiamen by playing "Yankee Doodle" even as they headed toward the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
On an interesting side note, in February, Harper Simon is apparently coming out with an album that is a collaboration with Edie Brickell. Sheesh...think I'm looking forward to *that* one just a little bit?

Here's an NPR story on Janet Reno's Song of America.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Shaun Tan: The Arrival

First: Robert's Snow Auction #2 begins today! Check the sidebar to the right for a list of Auction #2 illustrators and links to their snowflake features.

Now, enough Robert's Snow illustrators mentioned Shaun Tan in their interviews that I finally picked up a copy of his new graphic novel The Arrival. And I have to say, hands down, it is *worth* all the buzz.

The Arrival is a story about immigration, and belonging, and finding a new home. The main character leaves his family, and takes a long journey to a strange land in the hopes of finding a better life for his family. This is a story we all know. In America, at least, there have been countless re-tellings of Ellis Island and other immigration stories in movies, books, plays, songs...the list goes on and on. Immigration is a huge part of our American history and mythology. But I've never seen the story told quite like this.

Shaun Tan grew up in Perth, Australia, and is half-Chinese. His father came to Australia from Malaysia to study architecture. Themes of immigration and belonging and home have been a part of his consciousness as long as he can remember. When he began The Arrival, he intended it to be a short picture book for children. Instead, it became a graphic novel that took five years to create, and it speaks to people of all ages, all nationalities, all walks of life.

The Arrival is completely wordless. The pictures tell the story, in a frame-by-frame style that is more reminiscent of film than of comic books. And because there are no words, we are brought in to the story in a much more personal way. The strange land that he travels to would be strange to is a land of Shaun Tan's invention with tadpole-like creatures that emerge from pots and strange birds that unfold and fly vertically in the sky. Modes of transportation, food, even the buildings are all so odd that the reader feels just as disoriented as the traveler.

This is the genius of this book. When you are reading it, you can't help but begin to understand what it might be like to leave everything behind and start new. The excitement, the fear, the hope. It's all there. Here's an excerpt from an article Shaun Tan wrote about the book:

One of the great powers of storytelling is that it invites us to walk in other people’s shoes for a while, but perhaps even more importantly, it invites us to contemplate our own shoes also. We might do well to think of ourselves as possible strangers in our own strange land. What conclusions we draw from this are unlikely to be easily summarised, all the more reason to think further on the connections between people and places, and what we might mean when we talk about ‘belonging’.

Here is a page from Shaun Tan's website (scroll down to see many images from the book, and scroll down even further for Shaun Tan's comments about the book).

Here is a terrific interview with Shaun Tan from Fuse #8 (most likely the first place I read about the book when it came out in February).

Friday, November 23, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Another Art Auction

Auction #1 for Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure ends today at 5pm. For a complete list of the illustrators who have donated snowflakes for Auction #2 (beginning on Monday) please see the sidebar to the right. I've been checking the site, and there is at least one snowflake that has earned $500 so far! Auction #2 will include four of the artists I interviewed on this blog:
In other exciting online art auction news...

Some friends of ours have decided to begin the long, exciting, and expensive process of adopting siblings from Ethiopia. An artist friend, Heather Foster, has offered to help by auctioning some of her artwork online and donating the proceeds to the adoption fund. I love her cattle series!

If you are interested in either bidding on some great oil paintings or following the adoption process, please check out these links:
I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving! Our pumpkin pie was deeelicious!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Save the Music: For the Kids Three

Fids & Kamily: First off, the 2007 Fids & Kamily Winners were announced this week! Last year, the rock stars of the kids' music blogosphere (Stefan from Zooglobble, Bill from Spare the Rock Spoil the Child, and Amy from The Lovely Mrs. Davis Tells You What to Think) joined forces to set up a panel of judges and choose the best kids' music of the year.
For the Kids: For the Kids Three ranked #12 on the 2007 Fids & Kamily Awards list. I recently received a review copy of this CD in the mail from Nettwerk Music Group. Now, I was interested because Nettwerk is the uber-hip record label/music management firm out of Canada that has consistently gone against "traditional" methods of operation in favor of a more grassroots approach. They were one of the first to embrace DRM-free (digital rights management) music, believing that if you buy a song, you should be able to play it on whatever device you want. They joined in the fight when the recording industry sued a Texas teenager for filesharing...Nettwerk offered to pay all the teen's legal fees during the fight. CEO Terry McBride's famous quote was, "Suing music fans is not the solution, it's the problem." They were way ahead of the game even before waves of musicians began to drop their major labels like hot potatoes. I remember reading this article in Wired when Barenaked Ladies decided to ditch their label and go with Nettwerk for their management.

So with that history in mind, it's not too surprising that Nettwerk has been targeting bloggers as part of their marketing campaign for For the Kids Three. If Zooglobble gives it a "definitely recommended" and The Lovely Mrs. Davis has it in her Minivan Rotation, that's a pretty big buzz already (at least in the land of cyber-savvy moms and dads who pride themselves on music cred). And here I am writing about it, too...and that's, well, something.

The album, by the way, is quite cool. Definitely worthy of a #12 on the Fids & Kamily Awards. There are a couple misses on the album, but in general Nettwerk has gathered a bunch of hip, unexpected artists (like Moby and Hem and Over the Rhine) who generally perform adult indie-pop music and created an album for kids (apparently, the third in a very hip series). The music is a mix of traditional kids' songs (done very non-traditionally) and originals that will probably make you smile and dance around a bit. Highlights for me?
Bottom line: Even if you don't like kids' music, this album is worth looking at just to get a whole list of cool new artists to listen to!

Bonus: A portion of the proceeds of the album go to VH1 Save the Music Foundation, which is dedicated to restoring and sustaining music programs in public schools.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Opening Day! First Robert's Snow Auction Begins

Well, today is the day! The very first day of the 2007 Robert's Snow Auction. The online auction is broken down into three phases:
Auction 1: November 19-23
Auction 2: November 26-30
Auction 3: December 3-7

The first auction begins today at 9:00am and ends Friday at 5:00pm (EST). Minimum bid is $50 and all but $25 of each winning bid is tax deductible.

Abigail Marble is the first illustrator I featured for this event, and her snowflake, "Making Snow" is available in Auction #1. If you missed her interview and stunning watercolors, you can catch up here.

In the sidebar to the right, you can find links to features and information on all the other snowflakes in Auction 1. These snowflakes make wonderful, original gifts and 100% of the proceeds will go toward sarcoma research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Happy bidding!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: I'm Thankful for Homemade Whipped Cream!

Anyone who knows me at all knows how much I love, love, love Thanksgiving. I love a day dedicated to family, coziness, and eating. I love my family's cheesy tradition of going around the table and telling "something you are thankful for." I *especially* love pumpkin pie!

But every year, I also try to remember that there are plenty of people who are not having such warm and cozy Thanksgiving rituals. Please, this weekend when you are doing your grocery shopping, toss a few extra items in your cart and donate them to your local food bank or homeless shelter. Or go a step further and put together an entire dinner basket for a family in need, offer to cook for an elderly person, or invite someone without family in the area to your home.

To make your food bank donation most useful, please check with the organization first to see what they need. For instance, our local food bank is looking for the following items:
  • stuffing mix
  • fresh potatoes, yams, celery, apples, etc.
  • vegetables, fresh or canned
  • pie crusts, filling (pumpkin, cherry, etc.)
  • evaporated milk for canned pumpkin filling
  • crackers, cheese, nuts, etc.
  • rolls and butter
  • turkey gravy
  • turkeys, or cash donations to go towards the purchase of 80 turkeys
If each of us contributes just a little, just think of the joy we can spread. And isn't *that* something to be thankful for?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Wrote a Hit Song! Contest Winner: The Storm

It's been a while since I've announced an I Wrote a Hit Song! contest winner. The most recent winner is Sophie, age 6. Sophie wrote a song about a storm that is really quite cool. Check out how she's using the melody and sounds of the guitar to mimic what is happening in the lyrics. Great work, Sophie!

I love to encourage this kind of creativity, and you can help. Please stop by I Wrote a Hit Song! when you have a chance and leave a comment for Sophie to tell her how you liked "The Storm." (And feel free to peruse the other great songs from previous winners!)

If you know a creative person under the age of 12 who might like to submit a song, here are the rules. If you need inspiration or songwriting ideas, you can visit the Activity Room at the Songwriting for Kids website or take one of the SFK Club Monthly Songwriting Challenges. Winners are picked randomly and receive a Songwriting for Kids t-shirt and a free CD!

Always leave 'em singing...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Robert's Snow: Lee White Interview

Here is my last Robert's Snow feature...and what a snowflake! Bidding begins Monday the 19th, so you've still got some time to make up your mind about which flakes you're going to bid on. Thanks a million to Jules & Eisha for dreaming up and organizing the Bloggers for a Cure features. I really hope we can help break *all* the previous Robert's Snow fund raising records!


According to his website, Lee White's foray into illustration happened by chance. That's hard to believe because his dream-like style is so obviously well suited for illustration. His colors are bright and eye-catching, yet the mood is soft and inviting...even comforting. His characters and landscapes are strange and mysterious, yet humorous and very likable. Every illustration not only tells a story, but then takes it to the next level. In his most recent book, Brewster the Rooster by Devin Scilian, the farmer isn't just startled by the rooster's crow, he is startled sky-high, flung off his ladder, paint flying, legs splayed, nose red with embarrassment (and probably a little anger). This kind of illustration doesn't just move the story along, it brings it somewhere else entirely.

Lee White studied illustration at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He has created illustrations for huge clients such as Apple Computers, Disney, United Airlines, and has illustrated eight children's books. House Takes a Vacation and Brewster the Rooster both came out this year, and are definitely worth the read.

Lee was kind enough to answer some questions for me:

How did you get started as an artist?

I started as a photographer working for an ad agency in Atlanta, Georgia. I learned all about lighting, composition and color through this medium which has helped tremendously in illustration. I went from photography to graphic design where I eventually started my own company. I gradually drifted from graphic design to illustration and haven’t looked back since!

What inspires you?

So many things. I really love landscape painting, although I don’t get to do it very often because I’m so busy all the time. The colors and light that occur naturally are so amazing that I often ache because I don’t have the time to capture the image with paint.

I’ve been teaching at the college level for the past two years and really love that. College is an ideal situation because you are dealing with ideas and concepts that you can’t explore in the commercial art world where there are budgets and deadlines.

I’d say the most inspiring thing to me above all else is stories. A good narrative is all I need to really get my brain working and I love that feeling. That’s why the beginning of a project is always the most fun for me. Just sitting down and exploring imagery and ideas is so exciting to me. The hard part is the actual production of the ideas once the “newness” has worn off.

Who are your favorite artists?

Luckily I happen to be friends with some of my favorite artists and they always keep me focused on constantly improving. People like Chris Applehans, Catia Chein, Khang Le, and Yoko Tanaka are some of my favorites. In children’s books I’d say Shaun Tan is really doing some amazing work. He’s really pushing boundaries which I think is always good.

What is your ideal workspace?

My ideal workspace is actually my current workspace. I share an old Victorian 4-square with another illustrator and we work on book projects all day. Portland winters are great because it’s rainy outside but our studio is nice and warm. We are on a commercial street with lots of funky shops and cafes so the coffee is always close by. Working in a studio with another person is one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’m a very social person so sitting in my house alone all day makes me a little crazy!

In your newest book, Brewster the Rooster by Devin Scillian, the funny, colorful illustrations bring such flair to the story. For instance on the first page, the words read “His championship cries won the blue ribbon prize/each year/at the Kansas State Fair,” and the illustration shows not only Brewster proudly receiving his first prize ribbon, but also a disgruntled pig who won second place, and the pig’s owner (a man with a villian’s moustache and top hat) leering jealously at Brewster’s family. As an illustrator, how much leeway do you have with the story? Do you always have room for improvisation?

I’m glad you noticed that! One of the best parts about book illustration is that you get to tell other parts of a story that might not be written into the book. In your example the text focuses on Brewster wining the blue ribbon, the next question I ask is “what was that like for the other contestants?” Then I come up with a disgruntled pig who had to settle for second place. Some of the stories in children’s books are so extreme that it’s fun to put people in the illustration reacting to what’s going on.
My publishers have normally given me a tremendous amount of freedom when it comes to making the art. This is partly because some of the stories I get are so, um, weird. Like the book Stop that Nose!, it’s about a guy's nose that flies off in a monster sneeze. It would be hard for an editor or art director to be too strict when it comes to the art because there is no clear way to handle imagery like that.

How did you come up with your snowflake design for this year’s Robert’s Snow?

I didn’t want to do a traditional scene with a snowman or christmas theme. Although these scenes are great for the intended use, I wanted to put a little more personal spin on mine. I wanted to make it mean something in relation to why “Robert’s Snow” exists in the first place. My dad died from cancer a few years back and so I’ve seen the battle with that first hand.

I began thinking about what it’s like to live with someone knowing they have such a great battle ahead. The feeling that you may lose them was always around with my father, so that seemed important to me as well. My imagery is symbolic of that feeling.

The girl in the boat is in less than ideal surroundings, but is holding tightly to the gift. That gift represents life. We all have to have faith in that gift when someone we love is battling the disease. She has her eyes closed to represent the blindness we have in not knowing how the situation might turn out. I know this snowflake deals with difficult ideas and imagery, but I didn’t want it to come across as depressing, so that’s why I chose a warm/bright color palette.

I like how the piece turned out because hopefully it makes people think and come up with their own meanings and interpretations.

Once you began, was there anything especially interesting, challenging, or surprising about the project?

Working that small is always a challenge. I really like working with such a weird shape. It changes the way I design and was very fun to do. I also like the fact that I get to be somewhat abstract in the imagery which is something that’s a little hard to do with a book because you are trying to move a story forward.

What advice would you give to young people interested in becoming an artist?

The most important advice I can give is to come up with your own interpretations on stories and narratives. Why bother making another “average” piece of art when you can make something unique and special? This idea is why I’m trying to slow down my output some on the professional level and make pieces I’m really proud of.

I would also recommend learning the technical side of drawing and painting. It’s alright to end up drawing loose and painting abstractly, but having the solid background goes a long way. It gives you choices that you might not otherwise have. For instance, If you can REALLY draw and paint you have your choice with how an image is painted. You can paint really tight and lifelike, or you can stylize the characters (which I like to do!). You want the choice to be yours versus being limited by your ability.

Lastly, I’d like to say that keeping a balanced life is very important. If you focus only on art, there is so much you could be missing. The extra things in your life can contribute greatly to your art. The world is a beautiful place with all it’s color and texture, people and cultures. Really try and soak it all in and let your art reflect it!

Here are some great Lee White links:

Here are the other snowflakes featured today:

How you can help Robert's Snow:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wilson Rawls: Where the Red Fern Grows

I loved chatting over email with Amy Schimler about her dog Beans (see yesterday's interview), and it got me thinking about my favorite dog book of all time. We had to read Where the Red Fern Grows in 5th grade, and I have to admit I was completely dismayed that we had to read a "boy book." I struggled the whole time to distance myself from Billy, Old Dan, and Little Ann, probably flipping my permed hair and muttering "this is *so* stupid" and "who cares about a couple of dumb dogs?" under my breath about 20 times. But I remember sobbing at the end. Despite all my efforts, Wilson Rawls managed to draw me in to his story and make me care. How could you not?

Years later, Kevin and I drove cross-country and listened to Where the Red Fern Grows on audio book (*expertly* read by Anthony Heald I have to say). This time, with a fresh MFA under my belt, I listened to the language and storytelling. And I won't mince words: the book is a masterpiece. A classic coming of age story, told from the point of view of the adult looking back at his boyhood, but with all the intimacy and honesty and exuberance of youth. It's a story with joy, peril, hard truths. It's a story we can all relate to, even if we never had dogs or lived in the Ozarks or went hunting in our lives. It's a story about growing up.

I won't say more. Just go read it. Even if you're all "grown up" like me and you've read it before. Read it quietly to yourself in an afternoon, listen to the audio book, or read it aloud to a child. Get lost in the story. Cry at the end. It's worth it.

"When I left my office that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me. To begin with, everything was too perfect for anything unusual to happen. It was one of those days when a man feels good, feels like speaking to his neighbor, is glad to live in a country like ours, and proud of his government. You know what I mean, one of those rare days when everything is right and nothing is wrong." (the opening lines of Where the Red Fern Grows)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Robert's Snow: Amy Schimler Interview

Here is another great snowflake for Robert's Snow. I'll be featuring Lee White on Tuesday, and you can check the sidebar on the right for all the rest of this week's snowflake features.
"Hanging Popcorn at the Beaver Lodge" by Amy Schimler
available for auction: November 26-30


I want to live in Amy Schimler’s art. I want to hang out with the industrious beavers and catch the fireflies hiding in the grass. Her whimsical snails, raccoons, frogs, and birds are welcome in my house anytime. And I’ll tell you the secret why: every time I look at them, I can’t help but smile. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen a particular image…there is something so inherently joyful about this work.

Amy studied painting and fiberarts in Boston at the Museum School of Fine Arts and Massachusetts College of Art. She continued her studies in textile and surface design at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her designs can be found on all kinds of surfaces: children’s books, wrapping paper, fabric, t-shirts, the list goes on. Her clients range from Target and Baby Gap to Robert Kaufman Fabrics, Fisher Price, and UNICEF. In fact, a brand new Amy Schimler fabric line titled Creatures and Critters is due out in January (you can see a sneak peek on her blog). Amy's blog, Red Fish Circle, is definitely worth the'll be rewarded with glimpses into works in progress, new paintings, and even bunny slippers. You won't be disappointed by a visit to her website, either.

And to top it all off, her studio sounds magical. Read on to find out more...

How did you get started as an artist?

I think I have always considered myself an artist, even as a child. I started to take it seriously, however, when I joined a cooperative clay studio in Cambridge MA in my early twenties. I worked as an occupational therapist professionally, returned to art school to study painting and textile arts, raised a family, and finally was able to support myself full time as an artist. The best part of the evolution for me was that I got to experiment with a lot of different media; clay, metal, paint, fabric dyes. When I took my first textile design class at RISD, I was hooked.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by so many different things; Children's artwork, the textures and patterns found both in nature and man-made materials (peeling paint, rusted metal), my dog's comical shadow, color, great lyrics, vintage fabrics, ethnic textiles. Honesty inspires me.

Who are your favorite artists?

Some of my favorites are Milton Avery, Maira Kalman, and Sara Fanelli. I particularly like Picasso's sculptures and ceramics. I am drawn to both naïve and narrative artwork.

What is your ideal workspace?

My ideal workspace is quiet, light, and spacious - I never seem to have enough room - I really like to spread out. I live in a small township that is a designated nature preserve. When I walk outside my door I am surrounded by blue herons, swans, beavers, owls, and a captive audience of quacking ducks. It is really beautiful and inspiring.

Your whimsical, colorful designs have shown up all over the place: books, greeting cards, gift wrap. And now, you're starting a new line of fabrics with Robert Kaufman. How did that come about? Are there special considerations you have to make when creating designs specifically for fabric?

Because I was doing textile design for the apparel market it was a natural transition to license my designs specifically for fabric. Robert Kaufman has a line that was a good fit with the type of design that I do. I am very excited to be working with them. When designing for fabric, the end use needs to be considered; for ex. will it be used for quilting, as children's clothing? There are limitations with the number of colors and complexity of the design depending on the printing process used.

Your animal designs are *especially* endearing and appealing--were you around a lot of animals growing up, and do you have any now?

Thanks. I think I addressed this earlier when I was describing where I live. I am surrounded by wildlife. I also have always been a dog owner. I presently own an Italian Greyhound, Beans, who is my studio assistant. She is almost completely blind and fairly deaf, but offers a lot of support. She still walks, more like prances, with a proud hop to her step. Her grace and fortitude inspire me.

How did you come up with your snowflake design for this year’s Robert’s Snow?

I had just finished an illustration of a beaver lodge. I really enjoyed creating it and thought it would be fun to continue that theme. The paddle shaped tails worked great with the shape of the snowflake! Also, I just love the idea of the beavers chomping down on the popcorn while decorating their tree.

Once you began, was there anything especially interesting, challenging, or surprising about the project?

I loved having the opportunity to work off of the computer. Many of my commercial assignments are digital, so I really enjoyed playing with the paints.

What advice would you give to young people interested in becoming an artist?

First of all to produce work that you feel good about and that reflects your personal voice. I think it is so important to keep growing. There is no end point as an artist. It is a constant journey of exploration and growth. I think to be able to make a living as an artist your desire for having a creative lifestyle has to outweigh the difficulties you may face.

Perseverance is key. There will be rejection because your particular style will not appeal to everyone.

Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about you and/or your work?

Participating in Robert's Snow is particularly meaningful to me. I overcame a diagnosis of Hodgkin's Disease twenty years ago. It was a very challenging period. I sometimes find it interesting that the work I choose to do is so light and seemingly carefree. I think I enjoy living in this happy colorful space. It is an honest expression of the absolute joy and gratitude I am experiencing in my life. I hope my artwork passes that forward.

Bean's Cartoon Shadow:

Here are the other snowflakes featured today:

How you can help Robert's Snow:

  • Thank Amy Schimler for donating her time and talents and let her know what you think of her snowflake, "Hanging Popcorn at the Beaver Lodge" Amy says on her contact page: "Don't be shy!"
  • Check out the other Blogging for a Cure snowflake features: a schedule is updated weekly on the sidebar to the right, and previous posts can be found at Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast (Thank you, Jules & Eisha!)
  • Visit Robert's Snow to view all the snowflakes (not all the snowflakes were ready in time to be featured by Blogging for a Cure, so be sure to visit the official site so you don't miss any)
  • Bid on your favorite snowflakes during the three auctions held Nov. 19-Dec. 7
  • Spread the word! Tell your grandmother, your neighbor, your postman. Send them a link to this post or to any Robert's Snow post.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: My Favorite Squash Soup Recipe

It's definitely getting colder here in Maine. Car windows frosting up, heaters kicking on, hats, scarves, and sweaters emerging from storage. Here's a tasty recipe I like to make to take off the chill...

Pureed Butternut Squash Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger, peeled & chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 3/4 pounds small butternut squash, prepared (either cubed in 3/4 inch squares, uncooked; or bake ahead at 450 until soft and scoop out the flesh)
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion until
fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, & squash; cook,
stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in 4 cups
water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer until squash is tender, 20
minutes. (If you pre-baked the squash, you don't need to simmer so

Puree soup in 2 batches. When blending hot foods, allow the heat to
escape to prevent splattering. Remove the cap from the hole of the
blender's lid, and cover with a dish towel. Stir in juice and 1 1/2
teaspoons salt.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Robert's Snow: Matt Tavares Interview

And here's another snowflake for the Robert's Snow auction. Bidding starts on November 19th...Let it snow!
"Sunset Over Manana Island" by Matt Tavares
available for bidding: November 26-30

A couple weeks ago, we had some friends over, and their 9-year old son walked into the living room and beelined to our coffee table to pick up a book. "Cool!" The book was Matt Tavares' Oliver's Game, which I had picked up in anticipation of this profile. Now really, what baseball-loving child *wouldn't* be drawn to these meticulous, breathtaking illustrations? There is so much great detail in Matt Tavares' work...even my husband (a Cubs fan) got quite absorbed in the sepia-toned details of old Cubs pennants and memorabilia on the walls of Oliver's grandpa's store.

Matt Tavares has published 6 books with Candlewick press, including a great version of Grimms' fairy tale, Iron Hans, just out this Fall. His work has been showered with Parents' Choice Gold Awards, a Massachusetts Book Award Honor and the International Reading Association Children's Book Award, just to name a few. And he lives right here in Maine!

Visit Matt's blog for a peek into his sketchbook, and to see how he created his Robert's Snowflake from beginning to end. In addition to creating this lovely snowflake for the auction, he kindly agreed to answer some questions about his work, his process, and his snowflake:

How did you get started as an artist?

I've always loved to draw. When I was a kid, I spent countless hours coloring and drawing. I had an amazing art teacher in elementary school named Barbara Gagel. My mother spoke with Barbara when I was in kindergarten, and told her that I was interested in art, but she wasn't sure how to help me with it. So Barbara really took me under her wing, and gave me extra art lessons after school, and every now and then she even took me and a friend to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She went way above and beyond what any teacher should be expected to do, and really helped get me get excited about art. It also helped to have two supportive parents who were always interested in seeing whatever picture I was working on. Who knows, I might have still become an illustrator if I didn't have such supportive parents, and if I didn't have Barbara Gagel as my art teacher in elementary school. But maybe not. That's why my first book, Zachary's Ball, was dedicated to Barbara, and since then I've dedicated books to my mother and father.

I got my start in children's books in 1997, when I wrote and illustrated a picture book as my senior thesis at Bates college. That book, Sebastian's Ball, eventually turned into Zachary's Ball (after much revision), published by Candlewick in 2000. When I look at the original pictures from Sebastian's Ball now, I'm actually amazed that anyone from Candlewick actually wanted to publish it, because some of the pictures are really awful. But thankfully, they saw potential in it, and here I am ten years later working on my 8th book with Candlewick!

What inspires you?

I'm inspired by my two daughters, and by my wife Sarah. I'm inspired by great books, and great art. On a day-to-day basis, I think the thing that inspires me to get up early every day and get right into my studio is the fact that I love the whole creative process, and I love being able to spend my days making books. I feel very lucky to be doing what I'm doing, and I want to make sure I work really hard so I don't screw it up!

Who are your favorite artists?

I love a lot of the art from the 17th century, like Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Some of my all-time favorite illustrators are Arthur Rackham, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and N.C. Wyeth. As for current picture book illustrators, I'm a big fan of Brian Selznick, Kadir Nelson, P.J. Lynch, and I'm incredibly jealous of David Wiesner, both for his amazing books and for his room full of Caldecotts.

What is your ideal workspace?

My studio is pretty ideal. It's at home, so I don't miss too many major events, like my daughter's first steps. But I can close the door, and be in my own little world.

When I'm drawing or painting, I'll put on some music (usually something somewhat mellow, like Elliott Smith, Ben Folds, or Aimee Mann), sit down at my table with my picture in front of me, my iced coffee to my left, and my paints, brushes, water, and pencils to my right.

When I'm writing or researching, I usually don't listen to any music, and since all I need is my laptop or a notebook, sometimes I like to go sit at a coffee shop in town while I'm writing. It's good to get out of the house every now and then.

Your fantasy books Iron Hans and Jack in the Beanstalk are in full-color, while your baseball books are in black and white or incorporate a very subdued sepia effect like in Mudball and Oliver’s Game. What are the challenges and benefits of each medium, and how do you decide which method to use for each project?

My style/process has changed a bit with each book I've worked on. I didn't plan it that way- it's really been dictated by each story. For example, I was originally going to illustrate Jack and the Beanstalk in black and white. But once I started working on it, it became clear that the beanstalk just needed to be green, and the golden harp just needed some yellow, to make it shine like gold, and Jack's world needed to be a bit dreary at first, and bright and sunny at the end, etc. So I ended up using color.

But for a book like 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, the whole idea was to make a book that looked like it was from the early 19th century, when that poem was first printed. So black and white made sense.

I try to keep an open mind with each new project, and that way I don't get stuck in any one style, and I can keep changing and growing as an artist.

As for challenges and benefits, black and white is tricky because you have less to work with. But, in general, it's quicker, and I always love how monochromatic art makes your brain work a little bit- you know the sky is blue and the grass is green, even though it's drawn with graphite.

Working with color tends to take me much longer, because there are just so many more variables. I'm definitely getting more comfortable working with color, and at this point, there are just so many more things I can do with color than with black and white. Still, I'll probably do more black and white books.

How did you come up with your snowflake design for this year’s Robert’s Snow?

My family took a trip to Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. It's a beautiful place, so I decided to bring my snowflake, and I painted a scene from the deck of the house where we were staying. I liked the idea of someone hanging my snowflake on their Christmas tree, knowing that it was painted on a warm summer day, on an island off the coast of Maine.

Once you began, was there anything especially interesting, challenging, or surprising about the project?

I'm used to working on rectangular shaped surfaces, so working on something snowflake-shaped was tricky. Plus, it kept raining, and I was working in watercolor. So that was a bit of a challenge. While I was working on it, it felt great to know that the work I was doing would help raise money for cancer research. [Definitely wander over to Matt's July and August blog archives to see the snowflake as a work in progress.]

Everyone must ask this: How did you become such a huge baseball fan?

I grew up near Boston. 'Nuff said.

What advice would you give to young people interested in becoming an artist?

Draw, draw draw. And keep drawing, even after you draw something that you think is really, really bad. Draw from life. Ask a friend or family member to pose for you, and try to draw them. Even if you want to be an abstract artist, or a painter, or a sculptor, or a computer artist, first learn how to draw.

Here are the other snowflakes featured today:

How you can help Robert's Snow:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Band of Horses: Detlef Schrempf

Band of Horses' lovely song "Detlef Schrempf" was featured on last week's NPR Song of the Day, and it is definitely worth checking out.

I first got hooked on Band of Horses because of their song "Funeral" from the album Everything All the Time. That song made Nic Harcourt's Best of 2006 list and I was struck by the band's mix of Jane's Addiction-style vocal delivery and Pink Floyd-esque wash of sound. There's a nostalgia, melancholy, and brightness wrapped up in their songs that sneaks up on you and moves you more than you might expect.

"Detlef Schrempf" is a bit more restrained, and doesn't have the full majesty and build of "Funeral" but nonetheless, since I heard it last week on NPR, I find myself heading back to the site and listening to it on repeat. NPR's Stephen Thompson describes the music well:
"...each song functions as a dreamy, instantly recognizable mini-anthem, epic in sound but still restrained in the right places"
You can listen to Detlef Schremf on Song of the Day here.

Monday, November 5, 2007

J. K. Rowling's New Book

For all the Harry Potter fans out there...have you heard about J.K. Rowling's new book? All seven copies of it?

Yes, J.K. Rowling has created seven copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard (hand-written and illustrated by the author, no less) and has given six of them away. The seventh is going up to the general public for auction. Can you imagine the mad bidding that will take place?

The Longstockings are holding a contest to see who can guess how much the book will sell for.

My guess? 1.5 million. Seriously.

While you're at The Longstockings registering your guess at the astronomical selling price, check out their great interview with Anna Alter, and see how her Robert's Snow flake was created from start to finish. Very cool.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Robert's Snow: Holli Conger Interview

I'm very happy to present another snowflake for the Robert's Snow auction. Remember, bidding starts on November 19th...just a couple short weeks away!

"Santa Junkie" by Holli Conger

available for bidding: November 26-30


Holli Conger separates her work into three distinct styles: Painterly, Clay, and Junk a Doodles. All three (even "Painterly," though not as literally) focus on three-dimensional, bright, and whimsical characters. Everything she creates has personality. Even something as flat and immobile as pizza comes alive in her hands. After learning a bit more about Holli and her work, I began to believe that her work is so alive and full of movement simply because it is reflecting her own bustling life and personality. View Holli Conger's portfolio.

Holli has a BA in Graphic Design and Advertising, and
works on everything from magazines and children's books, to greeting cards and CD covers. She is constantly busy and writes three blogs, all of which are great fun to read:
  • A Girl Who Creates: an online journal of sketches and new and old works in progress in various stages of completion
  • Big and Little Art: fun art projects you can make with your kids
  • Living the Creative Dream: a chronicle of Holli's creative life that is inspiring and useful to anyone who is trying to make creativity their business
I'd like to thank Holli Conger for taking time out of her busy, creative world to answer these questions...I hope you'll enjoy her answers!

How did you get started as an artist?

I have always loved art but it wasn’t until eighth grade career day that I knew I could really do it for a living. A graphic designer came to our class, and when I graduated high school I went straight on to get my degree in Graphic Design and Advertising. I piddled here and there in illustration but my main focus was design. It wasn't until I was pregnant with my daughter in 2004 that I decided to really pursue an illustration career. This would allow me to be able to stay home with my daughter without giving up my career. Switching my focus over to illustration also allowed me more fun and flexibility than design work. With my design business I had to meet with clients (which honestly I didn’t care much for) and with illustration, I really don’t have to do that. All my communication if done by email and sometimes by phone. I think I’ve only met one illustration client ever and that was someone local. I love what I do and the freedom it’s given me to be with my family.

What inspires you?

My daughter and all the cute paraphernalia that comes with having a child inspires me. From the shows she watched to the unicorns on her pajamas, there’s always something creative that comes out of it. I intentionally watch children’s shows with her to see what she reacts to and what colors and subject matter are on screen. I have to say that Sesame Street has by far been the biggest idea generator for illustrations.

Who are your favorite artists?

That’s a good question. I go in spurts as to who my favorites are. My old school list consists of Picasso, Matisse, Andy Warhol, and Lichtenstein. My base list of all time favorite illustrators is probably Laura Huliska-Beith, Sachiko Yoshikawa, Richard Johnson and Jimmy Pickering just to name a few. I tend to like a more wacky and wonky styles of illustration.

What is your ideal workspace?

Well, I’m building it right now [click for pictures]! It should be done by Thanksgiving and I’ll have plenty of room to stretch out. Right now I have my studio in a spare bedroom. With my new studio being tucked out of the way and off the kitchen downstairs, I’ll be able mentally separate from my work more and also not be tripping over toys trying to get to the computer. I can’t wait!

You have so many great projects going on all at once (Junk-a-Doodles, illustration, all your various blogs, plus family and probably a hundred other things I don’t know about)—how do you keep a good balance?

I think I’ve mastered the mother, wife, career thing. And sometimes I don’t know how I do it. I seldom wear myself thin but when I do, I know the only thing to do is pull back from my work. I work pretty much every weekday in some fashion or another and when I have deadline crunches I usually get up early and start working before the family is up. That seems to be the best working time for me because I get a jump start on my day.

I manage my time pretty well and know how long projects will take me. I work quick and multi-task so that’s why I can take on as much work as I do. I work better having five projects at once rather than just one at a time. I did have 15 different deadlines in 4 days earlier this year that was really rough but I got them all done and checked them off my list. I love checking projects off my list!

How did you come up with your snowflake design for this year’s Robert’s Snow?

I had a little santa sketch from last year that I just built upon. I knew I wanted to do it in my Junk A Doodles style but knew I couldn’t do too much detail because of the limited snowflake size. I took my sketch and then began to find junk that would work for different elements.

Once you began, was there anything especially interesting, challenging, or surprising about the project?

My 3 year old daughter likes to help me with my projects so she painted my background for me. I think she’ll be really disappointed when she doesn't see it on the Christmas tree this year.

Since you live in Music City, I have to ask this one: Do you listen to music while you create, and if so, what is your favorite art-making music?

I do listen to music while I work. I have to have some kind of noise going on for me to set my work pace to. I don’t listen to country though. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, I just prefer other genres. Right now I’m going through this big band/swing/jazz phase. Soon I’ll be listening to Christmas music non-stop.

What advice would you give to young people interested in becoming an artist?

Just follow your dream. I did a career day even at an elementary school last week and a little girl liked to draw but she can't draw certain things right. I told her that it was ok, because she drew them in just her own style. A lot of illustrators draw cats, frogs and bears differently so it wasn't a bad thing if she did too.

Is there anything else you'd like the readers to know about you and/or your work?

Once of my goals as an illustrator is to be an inspiration to others and help them follow their creative dreams. I have a blog I created for this called Living The Creative Dream.

Here are the other snowflakes featured today:

How you can help Robert's Snow: