Mentone, Alabama!! - And a surprise!

I am in lovely Mentone, Alabama right now! Anne McCleod and The Moonlake Public Library invited me to give three talks this weekend, here are the deets:
And here is the surprise: when they invited me, they didn't realize that I spent six summers in the heart of Mentone, Alabama at Skyline Ranch—so this has become a bit of a homecoming of sorts. I have such fond memories of my summers here and the magic that is Lookout Mountain. I'm thrilled to be back, and to share what I've learned. I'll post more pictures of this beautiful place, so stay tuned!

Graduation Day! *sniff sniff*

The Winthrop University BFA Illustration Students graduated today. I'm excited for them, but I'm also going to miss them. This was the first class that I had all the way through their upper level studies, so they feel like my kids! Here is a compilation of the ones who walked (click the image to watch on YouTube):
Here is the ceremony proper:
And Izzy and Josh waving 'hi'!
And them moving their tassles from the right the the left - GRADUATES!
I got some excited selfies with a few of them after the ceremony. Here I am with Quila:
And Josh:
And adopted illustration student Jordan:


Thursday night was their Senior Show too - this is what they worked towards all year. It was a very big deal! They held the event at Lenny Boy Brewery in Charlotte and invited in Creative and Art Directors from all over Charlotte and the surrounding areas. This is their official Debut!
     Here's Dani:
And Joy:
And David:
Hannah:
Marquila with Shaunie and Guye:
Sierra with her family:
And Izzy:
Go check out their amazing work on their Senior website "Synthesis": http://winthropseniorshow.com.
     It's bittersweet to send these amazing and talented people off into the world. It's been such a joy working with them and I know they are going to do great things—I can't wait to see what! I just hope they keep in touch!

Pixy Camera: Mind Blown!

The new Snapchat Pixy is the first drone camera I've seen that looks like something that could easily go mainstream. It doesn't record sound yet, but savvy social media folks can record sound separately and combine the two. (I imagine that will be the next big feature.) Sure, you can't use it in a high wind, and I imagine there are other limitations. Even so, this just looks like the future of photography! Click the image to learn more about it at GoodNewsNetwork.org.

A return to 2-D animation from Disney? Yes, please!

"‘Aladdin’ Animator Eric Goldberg Says Disney Plans Return to 2D Features. The famed artist is one of six subjects in the upcoming documentary series ‘Sketchbook,’ which champions the process of hand-drawn character art in animation." Premiered April 27 on Disney+.

Kali Wallace's HUNTERS OF THE LOST CITY

I so enjoyed Kali Wallace's new HUNTERS OF THE LOST CITY. It's a fantasy adventure with a strong underlying cultural commentary on isolationism. Kali stopped by to talk about it...
One of the strangest things about writing fiction is that often we don't know what we're trying to say until we've said it. That's what happened to me with HUNTERS OF THE LOST CITY.
      I first came up with the idea that would evolve into HUNTERS about twenty years ago. For years I had only a few scenes that never developed into a full story, not until I was brainstorming ideas for a middle grade fantasy novel and realized that I had a perfectly good premise sitting right there, unused in my Very Old Drafts folder, just waiting to be rediscovered.
      This isn't unusual for me; I often stew over ideas for years. What made HUNTERS different was the same thing that has disrupted everything these past few years: I started it in late February of 2020, with the alarmingly on-the-nose timing of somebody who had only the vaguest suspicions that she was about to spend a period of bewildering, alarming social isolation writing a story about an isolated community. (There was even a plague in the earliest drafts!)
      As a result, I put a lot of things into HUNTERS that I didn't realize I was including at the time. Frustration with leaders who lie and misinform because they value their own power more than the well-being of their people. Empathy for children and families trying to navigate a frightening world. Nostalgia for the wilderness and the winter that I had come to miss while living in southern California. And most of all a yearning for adventure and exploration, for getting out and seeing new places and learning new things about the world, something I had taken for granted until it became impossible.
      The book I wrote is not the one I imagined before I started, and it certainly isn't the story I first imagined twenty years ago in my college dorm room, but it's the one I had in me when I sat down to write. For all that we love to view writing and other creative pursuits as something apart from the world, as pursuits that require space and distance from humdrum reality, everything we create is always going to be in conversation with the world we are in and the lives we are living.
      Writing this book, over these past few years, has shown me that it's better to embrace that, rather than fight against it. Because creating the best work that we have in us in this time, in this place, made from all the pieces of the people are now, that's all we can ever do as artists working in an ever-changing world.

Our new WUCON!

Saturday was our first ever WUCON as in Winthrop University Comicon - and it was A HIT!

There were several fun photo opportunities. Here are my students Tianna, Ave, and Alyssa with a fun backdrop.
And here I am with Iron Man!
Our print professor, Myles Calvert set up a small screen printing set up to share blank comic book pages, ready for story-makers.
All my illustration students set up tables to sell their wares. It reminded me a bit of "Bookmarks" at the Edinburgh College of Art. My students prepared for weeks, putting together comic books, posters, postcards, earrings, stickers (lots of stickers!). I bought way more than I should, but I think some of what I bought will be collectors items someday. Keep an eye on these talented budding creators! Here's Erin:
Guye:
Josh, David, and Ethan:
Kaelen (with Asher doing some shopping):
Michael:
William:
And Sarah, Maggie, and Reagan (who wore cool contact lenses):
I talked about Creating Graphic Novels and had a great turn-out with lots of questions from a very interested audience. I might have even gained two new illustration majors!
     My colleague, Prof. Jason Tselentis, also gave a panel with guest speakers Jonathan Belle, Asiah Fulmore (of Amethyst fame, and a WU alum), and Liana Kangas.
There was also a cosplay competition later in the day. I wasn't able to stay for that, but here's a sneak peek:

The keynote speaker was voice actress Tara Strong. Here's the full line-up for the day:
Honestly, there wasn't a lot of advertising that went out before the event, which goes to show how much interest there is in our area for a comicon. And now that folks know about it, and with more long-term advertising, I think next year is going to be three times as big. How fun to be on the ground floor for the inaugural year! Many thanks to Willie Bush and DSU for inviting me to be a part. I look forward to next year's WUCON!
#ArtsWinthrop

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Oh bravo - this was a fun read! Three separated sisters pulled apart by an abusive past are reunited by the return of the tower of Avalon. With it, they rediscover each other and innate powers they use towards improving the plight of women in New Salem, a town oppressed by a righteous Mayor, who isn't quite what he seems. This is a story of female empowerment as they grow into their strengths and the ability to right wrongs, to find love that actually means something, and to spread hope. The story twines through historical events of the late 1800s, lending just enough credence to make it all feel possible and believable. It left me feeling that I too might already have the words and the ways to share in the power. Fabulous! I highly recommend this book!

Gregory Maguire's CRESS WATERCRESS

I met Gregory Maguire years ago at Kindling Words in Vermont. He is the super nice and humble creator of the New York Times Best-seller WICKED, that was turned into the award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. But he writes other stories too, of course. His latest is for the younger set, about a small rabbit named Cress. Gregory stopped by to talk about his thinking behind CRESS WATERCRESS (illustrated by David Litchfield, who I interviewed HERE). (The photos are of Gregory's writing studio.)
My new novel, CRESS WATERCRESS, seems largely to be about grief and growing up. A rabbit family who, until the story begins has lived as a standard-issue family of four (Papa, Mama, big sister, baby brother), finds they have to move from their comfortable private warren when the father rabbit disappears and is presumed dead. They have to go downmarket, as it were, and take quarters in the shabby basement flat of a derelict apartment tree. As the season changes from late spring to early summer, Cress makes new friends, crosses the line with her mother once or twice, becomes fussed, lost, found, and fussed over. She sees that she can survive.

But one of the many strategies for her own survival that thread through the story is Cress’s observation that everyone else is making things—being creative. Her mother is a weaver. Lady Agatha Cabbage dabbles in dying her own fur. The hen escaped from a local farm can’t seem to help make eggs almost without thinking about it. “You just sit there until it comes out,” says the hen placidly, on how to make things.

And in the novel’s very final page, we see CRESS turning the page—as it is—and writing herself, writing about her lost father. The story of Cress’s survival is, in secret, this story: that only in trying to tell her grief can she get to the truth. In telling is the continuity of her father’s life; in telling is the continuity of her own. Under lots of levels of disguise—adventure and humor and the great floods of feeling that threaten to swamp the young—Cress’s story is the bildungsroman of a writer. She doesn’t feel herself aiming in that direction throughout her adventures, but that is where she is headed just the same. And why we have her story to read, when it comes to that.

Thoughts on Boundaries


Rather than setting New Years resolutions, several friends chose a "word of the year" to drive 2022. My word is "boundaries." That may seem like a rather contentious word at first glance; but it's all about self-care. I don't know about you, but I am a "Type A" personality. I am extremely driven and get a lot done. There are a lot of good things about being a Type A personality, but there are some negatives too. You've probably heard the saying "If you want something done, give it to someone who's already busy." The idea is that busy people are good at organizing and completing tasks and can easily accomplish one more thing on their agenda. Type A's tend to also have a hard time saying 'no.'
     I didn't mind being that person so much when the only person I answered to was me (I wrote and illustrated children's books as my sole career for over twenty years). But now that I am working with and for others, it's becoming clear that I'm a "get it done" sort of person. Which means, I'm being handed a lot to get done. These aren't always my projects and obligations, these are other people's projects and obligations.
     While I scramble to establish a good reputation and get my feet under me as a new academic, I have said 'yes' an awful lot - to committees, to "quick" favors, to extra-curricular items. I thought that's what you did. Until I began to realize that there are a lot of people who don't say 'yes' very often, who say 'no' an awful lot—or simply don't say anything at all. It's also quite the revelation to understand that just because someone asks you a question, doesn't mean you are obligated to answer. (Politicians are especially good at that last idea.) There seems to be fine line to walk between saying either 'yes' or 'no' too often.
     Through observation and exhaustion, I've come to realize that the only person who will make sure I don't take on too much is me. People will keep asking—that will never stop. So, if I'm to carve out space to get my own projects done, I have to learn how to say 'no,' how to set healthy boundaries.
     One of those boundaries is with email. Technology has become pervasive in our lives. It's brought a lot of good, but it's also meant we never get to unplug. Weekends and holidays seem to be fair game for work emails. I think France has it right; they now fine employers for sending work emails on weekends. Since that law doesn't yet exist in the US, it's up to me to shut it off when I go home at the end of the day and on weekends. There is nothing in my world that cannot wait until regular business hours.
     Another boundary is work itself. Again, email plays a part. By being available via email all day long, I face constant interruptions on the work that requires focus. Recent studies have shown that constant disruptions lead to poor performance. People need time to truly pay attention to a project to do their best work on that project.
     Of course, the last boundary will come from asking myself the simple question of "who am I really doing this for?" Is it to please others, to keep a roof over my head (necessary), or to please myself? Sadly, the answers may lead to some tough decisions in my future. I like getting so much done. But I have to realize I am only one person with one lifetime and I need to cut myself some slack. I need boundaries.

Winthrop Promo Video

I was asked to help with this project months ago and never realized it was actually being put to use - too funny! Here I am giving a shout-out to our Design program at Winthrop University (click the image to watch on YouTube).

US-UK Sketchbook Swap!

So, my friend Julia Patton and I had this crazy idea to have our illustration students take turns filling sketchbooks and then swapping them with each other between Winthrop University (in the US) and the University of Sunderland (in the UK). Julia had already purchased a bunch of Moleskins for a project, so her students went first. Then Julia got a big freelance job (I mean BIG/HUGE!) and had to leave her position. So, her colleague Nick Lewis stepped in. We zoomed a few times to talk about it and he pulled everything together on his side. We talked about a general timeline, but then things got busy and I completely forgot about it... until one day, this fun box arrived at my office:
OMG! A few students were around when it arrived and we ripped it open, squeeling with joy. Inside were about 18 moleskins with a few pages in each covered with fun illustrations and introductions.
Inside, students talked about where they live in the UK, their homes, and their friends:


They filled the books with their favorite music, artists, websites, and hobbies:
So, of course, my students did more of the same:









Some of the artwork was really amazing!
Since Nick wrapped up the books with a cat the first time, I thought I'd do our own version:

I even included a teacher sketchbook this time!

The box is on its way to the UoS as I type. We can't wait to see what comes back for the next round of our Sketch Book Swap!