Scotland and Kilts

Yes, they really do wear them here. I've been trying to collect random shots to prove it, which is actually rather hard to do as they are usually passing me on the sidewalk and I'm just not that fast with my camera phone. At any rate, I did collect a few. Here's my documentary of my first three months in Scotland, via kilts.
     The old men and wedding party members in kilts you might expect. I stopped both of these fine gentlemen on the sidewalk and took their pictures with permission. The first was heading to some sort of ceremony at a local, ancient church near Greyfriar's Pub. (I LOVED his bright yellow, purple, and blue - worn with pride!) The second gentleman was on Albany Street near our neighborhood. He was going to a wedding. You see a lot of that here - whole wedding parties wearing formal, matching plaids. It's quite a sight - so handsome! (And if you're really lucky you'll see the horse and carriage too - matching steeds in ostrich feathers - stunning!)
     I often see older men in full regalia on what seem like perfectly normal days.
Then there are the average kilt wearers - like Rugby players. These were walking in front of the College of Art on Lady Lawson.
And the random Scottish dude - wearing a kilt because, y'know, he's just Scottish and all that. This one passed me on the sidewalk on the way to school one day on Lothian Road.
I'm sharing these now because the weather has recently taken a turn and legs are obviously getting cold - on the men at least. I'm not seeing as many kilts as I did just a few weeks ago, although I still see plenty of heels and tiny pumps on the women. (How DO they do it!?)
     At any rate, I do love the kilts. Scottish men have great legs - and it takes a macho dude to make a skirt kilt look sexy. They all work it well. I enjoy the kilts - like this one spotted while heading home towards Broughton one evening.
Stan still says I'll have to bury him in one to ever see him in a kilt, but I'm still working on him...

Illustration Challenge #25

More awesome drawing challenges from my friend Kasia... Draw something while looking at the thing, but not at your paper. It's called a "blind drawing." You might surprise yourself!

Connecting Ideas

One thing that has become clear here at the University of Edinburgh College of Art is that nothing goes to waste. And I don't just mean things - I also mean ideas.
     Recently, we were assigned a project based on a field trip to a local museum - the Talbot Rice Gallery, Dovecot gallery and studio, and artist Luc Tuymans. I wasn't able to attend because I had a one-on-one with one of our visiting speaker/illustrators at the time, but I had recently been to the Museum of Modern Art II with my book binding class, so I went with that.
     We were to create a piece of art based on what we saw and how it influenced us. But we didn't have much time to do it (as in, I had about an hour first thing Friday morning). We're in the middle of a term paper deadline and the final semester review is looming, so this was to just be a quick and fun thing.
     And here's where my entire semester tied together.
     At the museum, they took us back into the archives where I saw Le Chants des Morts (The Songs of the Dead) - a book of poems by Pierre Reverdy, illustrated with marks made by Pablo Picasso. (CLICK HERE to see what it looked like.)
      I loved the idea of these simple abstract shapes framing the lovely words. So, I thought I'd do something similar. But how? I didn't have time to buy any new art supplies because the art store wasn't open yet. I had to punt. Then I remembered the project we did at the beginning of the semester. It was a performance art project where several of us painted symbols of our new home into a silhouette of Edinburgh caste all over an enormous piece of paper taped to a wall. We ended up with an enormous scribble of blue paper, which we were planning to throw away. Until I had the idea to make a cat and tape it to the window next to my desk. It's about five feet tall and looks amazing with the light coming through it.
We also had a lot of blue paint leftover. Score! I knew where the big brushes were kept since we'd used them for the performance piece as well. Score again.
     I made blue marks onto some bumpy watercolor paper I keep around then scrubbed the paint to get rid of any globs so that they'd dry quickly. In the process I ended up with some lovely textures marks (it was an old crusty paintbrush - gotta love it). Fellow student Michal saw what I was doing and said, "Hey, it's an 'e' for Elizabeth!" So, I flipped it over - no more "e." Ha! Fixed that!
     For the poem, I used the India Ink teacher Kasia has been having us use in our figure drawing class. I've loved making shapes with the ink and a simple paintbrush. Turns out it made for nice text too.
     I chose one of my favorite quotes by Steven Wright about his enormous seashell collection because I'll be using it in my TEDx talk, which I'll be giving in February (more on that later).
     In the end, all these ideas, experiences, and supplies came together and I made this.

     Surprisingly, I actually love the way it turned out! During our feedback session someone suggested I do a series of them. I figured it would be a wonderful way for me to get down into the screen printing studio, so I've done it! More on that soon. Meanwhile, who knew!? I'm suddenly an abstraction artist!
     Gads, I love it here.

Friday Linky List - 27 November 2015

From NewStatesman via Fantasy Glasgow: English magic: How folklore haunts the British landscape

From BuzzFeed Books via SCBWI British Isles: If White Characters Were Described Like People of Color in Literature - Surely there must be more appetizing pale foods than mayonnaise, cauliflower, and tapioca?

At Gotham Writers via SCBWI Belgium: Elmore Leonard: 10 Rules for Good Writing. Short, sweet, yup.

From HuffPost via SCBWI Belgium: How To Think Like a Writer

The Trailer for Alice Through the Looking Glass

From OMG Facts: 5 Things You Didn't Know Grimm's Fairytales And Will Now Think About All Differently - interesting.

From the BBC: Orpheus Underground...Novelist Neil Gaiman explores the intricacies of the Orpheus myth, the timeless story of art's place in trying to recover the dead.

From Arts.Mic via Stumble: 14 Brilliant Pieces of Literature You Can Read in the Time It Takes to Eat Lunch

At the poke. Elizabethan Superheroes. They've made the rounds before, but they're worth another look for my costume design friends at the University of Edinburgh.

At The Picture Book Den: Looking at the illustration of eyes in children's picture books - Peony Lewis

At BoredPanda: Fairytales Come to Life in Magical Photos by Russian Photographer Margarita Kareva

Laura Ljungkvist's SEARCH AND SPOT ANIMALS - Guest Post

Search and Spot, Animals!
by Laura Ljungkvist

      I can’t believe that search Search and Spot, Animals! Is my tenth book. It takes such a long time between completion and publication of a book, that getting the box with your 20 copies is a moment full of excitement and a little angst. What if I don’t like it?
      Going back to my editorial illustrating days, I always had a hard time looking at my things after they are just published in a publication or wherever it was. I am so hard on myself. So, after a quick glance, I put it away in a drawer in my flat files and when some time had passed and I look at it again, I can be more neutral and less emotional.
      So it was with sweaty palms that I opened the box Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt. What if the colors were off. What if the bugs were impossible to find, what if….?
      Of my ten published children’s books, 9 are written by me. I was asked to illustrate Mem Fox's book, Yoo-Hoo, Lady Bug! a couple of years ago. It was a search and find book but with Mem’s beautiful writing. I enjoyed doing that so much that I got the idea to do my own “search and find book”.
      One of my teachers in art school once said to me that I have a fear of white space. He was right. If you look at my body of work, the art tends to fill up the space. As a child I was drawing patterns and obsessively filling page after page.
      I also drew lots of animals, especially horses. I have many, many animal drawings, in my drawers going back to my childhood. So, my “search and find” book was going to be a work of love – patterns and animals! Voila – Search and Spot, Animals!
           When everything has been approved and agreed on with my publishers team on a book project, it usually takes me about 3 months to do all the final artwork for a children’s book.
      However, my first 2 children’s books are painted in gouache, and it took me a whole day just to paint half a background or the pattern on a dress. When I got a MAC computer and started working in Photoshop things went much faster. Unless I scan in a drawing made on paper, I have a drawing tablet with a special pen that acts just like a mouse, so I am still drawing, I’m just using a different pen - “Digitally drawn”!
      Very often I find that things “come to me”, and I get ideas and inspiration as I am working and going to final on a book. That’s why I try keep sketches quite general, so I am not too “locked in” but can allow those ideas to flourish.
      One of my favorite spreads in the book are the horses. That spread is a perfect example of doing something that I think is beautiful, and getting that extra idea for the text, concept and questions as I am working.
     I like the challenge on this spread. Readers are asked to find different colored horses. Some horses have a solid color and some are drawn in just a line. Could lead to some interesting questions for children? I a horse really pink if it’s drawn with a just a pink line?
      And then there are the dogs! Try and find the photographed French Bulldog!

     My goal was to make different kinds of challenges for the reader. In some searches you have to turn the page and find what you are asked to look for on the next spread. In some cases there are some animals shown and you have to find them on the same spread. Then there are searches were you are told in the text what to look for.
      And then, there is my favorite thing that I try to do in all my books. One final search that makes the reader go back and search through the whole book again! So much fun!
      The follow up to “Animals!” is just completed, Search and Spot, Go! It’s full of boats, helicopters, busses, bikes and tractors. So now I’m waiting to open open another package with sweaty palms - test prints (or f&g’s as we say).
     Oh, BTW, I loved “Animals!” when I opened the box! It accomplished just what I set out to do and I had so much fun doing it!
Check out Laura's groovy studio space with her dog Lola:

Process vs. Deadlines

One thing the University has wanted of me, has been to see my process. This may sound easy, but it's been a major shift in the way I usually work. Why? Because for most of my working career I've been dealing with deadlines. Deadlines don't allow you to meander and try various ways of attacking an end goal. With a deadline, you think something through in your head and you go for it. Then you send it off and get paid.
     Books are a slightly different beastie in that I always made tons of sketches, and sometimes played with some new digital methods, but it still didn't go quite as far as this.
     Here at the College of Art, they've asked me to show my process - that part that happens in my brain. They've also asked me to meander and try different media, styles, techniques before deciding which might work for my current project. Basically, they want to see my brain on the outside.
     Once I figured that out, I was able to dive into this new way of working and document it. In fact, one of our required projects is an almanac - basically, a diary of our process.
     So I bought a gorgeous sketch book and I started putting my ideas into it. It also includes sketches, images of influential books and art, pictures of various workshop projects, etc. Judy Schachner would call this a 'character bible' - she's done one for every one of her books. But until now, I didn't really get it. Happily, I'm starting to.
     It was also the reason they had us take a book-binding workshop - to learn to create an almanac (or bible) from scratch. Between my sketch book and my handmade book, I didn't want to create one more book, but I did want to collate these creative volumes. So, for my almanac project, I created a box to keep these two items in. I also might include other floaty things like pretty feathers and leaves.
     It turns out there is a ton of skill involved in making books and boxes - and a ton of little tricks of the trade. (Read my post about book binding here.) I will forever have a greater appreciation for these handmade treasures. My box isn't perfect, but I'm pretty darned proud of the end result.
     Here is is just opened, revealing the caramel paper lining inside and the two books - my sketchbook and handmade book, which will soon be full of Trickster paraphernalia (more on that soon).
Here you can see how the books pull out.
And with the books pulled out. I opened my handmade book so that you can see how the end papers and decorative details tie in with the box design.
My next step will be to make labels for the books and the box itself. I've cut a lino block, which reads "e's process, a.k.a. e's brain on the outside." (I used the easy carve board - which I will never use again - pah!) And I cut out the word Tricksters, which I will use for a new (to me) printing method - collagraph. More on that soon, too.
     In the mean time, I have so enjoyed being able to take the time to explore various methods and run down different rabbit holes. Using glue sticks and scissors speaks to my inner creative child. I hope I can keep it as part of my process in the future. It's so much FUN and makes me feel like a true artist!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Gobble Gobble!

     Thanksgiving isn't a holiday in the UK, although the idea of a day dedicated to giving thanks is thought to be charming. And there are plenty of Americans on this side of the pond trying to create that classic family feast. Although, finding a turkey can be difficult!
     CLICK HERE for more Thanksgiving-themed coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Sam Lee on Song Collecting

I love the passion Sam Lee shares in his experiences of collecting ballads and folk music. This is the journey I feel I'm on (but more so with stories than songs). It's all about valuing our history and recognizing the archaeological treasure that exists in our oral traditions. So interesting!
Thanks to Terri Windling for bringing him to my attention!

Illustration Challenge #24

I've been taking a figure drawing workshop from my friend Kasia here at the University of Edinburgh. She's a truly fabulous teacher and pushes me to try new things. So here's one for you... draw something with one line. Don't pick up your pencil until its done.
     And feel free to share a link to your piece online in my comments, if you like. Or keep it to yourself - these are just exercises after all!

Friday Linky List - 20 November 2015

From StumblUpon: 13 Vital Reminders For Writers. (Ignore the last one.)

From SLJ's and Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes: Calde-Snacks - "So I decided to ask the 2015 Caldecott class to name their favorite snack. I heard back from most. Their answers were nothing short of enlightening."

From the Scottish Book Trust: They Whys and Hows of Creating a Reading Den

From SLJ & Travis Jonker's 100 Scope Notes: We Publish Caldecott Winners - interesting!!!

19 Amazing Caterpillar Transformations - click on the images to see what these caterpillars look like as butterflies. Which do you think is prettier? VERY cool!

From The Children's Book Academy Blogettes: "Staying Found when you Feel Lost" - Boy, can I relate to this one!

At Jonathan Bogart (via SCBWI British Isles): Exist Yesterday: French cartoonist Jean Ache, “Little Red Riding Hood” after seven different painters, from Pilote, 1974. Groovy!

From The Slate Book Review - A Conversation With Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass author on loneliness, Romanticism, the meaning of the "young adult" label, and why we all want daemons.

Dana Simpson's UNICORN ON A ROLL - Guest Post

Guest Post
by Dana Simpson

      Sometimes a unicorn turns up and changes your life. It happened to me.
      Some background: I wrote and drew a web comic called “Ozy and Millie” for ten years. I never meant it to be a web comic. I had visions of newspaper syndication in my head. I still have a stack of rejection letters from that time, in a drawer.
      I had nearly given up on that dream after a decade, though. I ended the strip and began assembling my portfolio to maybe pursue some other ways of making money from my art. It turned out that my 20-year-old self, who thought getting syndicated might happen quickly, was being a touch unrealistic. And then a friend told me that Universal Uclick was holding a talent search competition, one of the prizes of which was a development contract for a potential syndicated strip. And I thought “I’m as qualified to win this contest as anybody on the planet.”
      So I scraped together a 14-strip sample of a proposed new strip. I settled quickly on a protagonist: a dark-haired, freckle-faced little girl, who may bear at least a passing resemblance to a young me. I didn’t give her a name; I just called her “Girl.” Which was also the title of the strip. The concept was, she spent all her time hanging out in the forest with various talking animal friends, all of whom were called “Bird” or “Rabbit” or “Dragon.” They didn’t go by actual names, so neither did she. I still think that’s funny.
      I recycled some Ozy and Millie scripts, to get to 14 strips. It wasn’t a fully formed strip concept. It was a seed.
      And I won the contest, so I had to make the seed grow into something.

      Once again, my expectations were unrealistic. (I had just beaten a whole bunch of people in a contest; possibly it went to my head.) I thought “I’ll just flesh out this 14-strip sample, and it’ll get launched in papers, and that will be that.” It wasn’t that easy.
      I had to send in 30 strip roughs per month. So I started doing it. And the notes I got back, at first, were…less than encouraging.
      Among other criticisms, I kept hearing some version of “I don’t know who your main character is.” Which was fair. I didn’t know who she was either. Like all my characters, “Girl” was basically me, and I wasn’t even sure who I was at the time.
      I was in the final phase of settling into a new gender. I had spent the previous few years moving myself from male to female, in the process resolving a lifetime of tension with myself.
      And when you do that, you have to reinvent yourself. Who are you on the other side of that divide? It’s a particularly salient question for a writer. And it was one I discovered I had no answer for yet. I quite simply didn’t know what I wanted to say, anymore. Or how, or about what.
      And so I flailed my way through a year of development, trying various ideas. My protagonist acquired the name “Phoebe,” after I was advised that a strip called “Girl” would be impossible to google.
      But I was told that the work I was doing was not good enough to syndicate. And I had to concede that was right. I got scared I was going to blow the opportunity I’d been trying to get for so very long. And then one day, a unicorn showed up.
      At first, she was meant to be part of a one-off strip. The gag was that Phoebe is contemplating aloud whether an expectation is realistic…pan out, and we see she’s discussing this with a unicorn. Ha ha. But then the unicorn wouldn’t leave.
      I didn’t want her to leave, either. I saw immediately that the unicorn was exactly what the strip was missing. So I wrote her into some more strips. I named her Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, a name I got by typing my own name into an online unicorn name generator.       I knew quickly all the things she was. Vain, cheerfully arrogant, sometimes wise in a hoof-gazing sort of way. And when I made her Phoebe’s best friend, I understood who Phoebe was, too. Their relationship clicked, the strip launched, and now it’s in a lot of newspapers, and the two book collections have been successful. And that’s how I made “Phoebe and Her Unicorn.”
      But Marigold didn’t just show me who Phoebe was. Marigold and Phoebe together helped me find who I was, as a writer and as a woman.
      I’m the lady who makes the unicorns. And I have the best job in the entire world.

Dana's workspace.

It's beginning to look a lot like...

CHRISTMAS! Edinburgh is a huge tourist destination when it comes to Christmas and Hogmany (New Years), so they start early and go big. Happily, because we ended up living on the far side of downtown from the University, I get to walk through the festive decorations nearly every day. And I get to see them in their best light, because yes, the sun sets by 4:30 now - it is officially winter. But Edinburgh makes up for it by lighting the town with over-the-top LIGHTS!
     Remember the flags which used to hang above Rose Street? They've been replaced by strings of blue lights. I walk along, behind tourists who stare up with smiles at how beautiful it all is. Heck, I'm doing it too - while plugged in happily to jazz or holiday music on my iPod.
And right in the heart of it is the most stunning Christmas staging of all - The Dome restaurant. On the Rose Street side, they set up their massive Christmas tree.
On the George Street side, they wrapped the pillars with garlands of greenery, ribbons and light.
Inside, the lights are even more spectacular. Truly, I don't usually go in for that sort of thing, and yet, it took my breath away.
There isn't an inch in this elegant old building (built in the late 1700s) that hasn't been adorned in some luscious, luxurious, spectacular way.
We stopped in for drinks at the bar and to gawk, but we have to return for dinner - soon! Because if this place doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, nothing will!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Puss in Boots

     More like two kittens in MY new boots! Winter has hit Edinburgh and my old boots weren't cutting it any more. I'm so happy to have some nice new, DRY and WARM boots now!
     CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of six literary awards. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

I am a STUDENT!!!

I was recently emailing with my Aunt and I kind of loved what I shared with her. I was exhausted at the time that I was writing and it caught the emotion of what I'm experiencing right now. For those of you who have asked for more about the experience of being here at school, I give you this...
Gads - I am a student! Stan thinks it’s so cute how I study with piles of books around me into the wee hours. I sit on the floor drawing sculptures at school. I try not to get ink or paint on my clothes by switching shoes and putting on grubbies in the studios. In other words, yes! I am a student! An overworked, way behind, frustrated, confused, working-my-butt-off STUDENT!!!! We had our mid-semester review about two weeks ago and it was a kick in the butt to experiment more, stretch myself more, push myself out of my comfort zone and basically get messy! It’s so much work, but OMG, I’m having FUN!!!

That said, in and around school, we’re going out to dinner with friends a good bit, still enjoying the heck out of this fabulous town. And we’re starting to hunker down for winter. The WIND is something here! Umbrellas don’t work when they’re inside out! I’m getting quite good at taking buses. But it’s still marvelous and the weather is mostly quite mild. The sun goes down at 4:30, but then the Christmas lights come on. This town is stunning!!! We really do love it here!
P.S. - Boris, a fellow MFA in Illustration is to my right. He's brilliant! Here we are discussing illustration with an Art Director from Italy.

Steve Light's Creative Space

So there's a very cool new website called All the Wonders. It's where I found this great video of Steve Light in his workspace, talking about his craft. Click the image to watch at All the Wonders.

Book Binding at the University of Edinburgh

Along the lines of sharing more of my learning experience here at the College of Art, I will share our book binding workshop, which began last Thursday. It is just for the MFA/MA in Illustration students, so there are just eight of us total. Jane Hyslop set up a wonderful workspace for us to share her obvious passion. Here were some of the examples she shared - all treasures that looked like normal books from the outside, until you opened them up and were surprised by all their clever tricks.
Here were the supplies: paper, awls, butter knives, bone knives, thread, needles, etc.
For all that I am passionate about books, I've never taken a book binding course. It was a blast! We first learned a simple method of sewing a signature (group of pages), then moved up to slightly trickier ways to work. This was my attempt at the Japanese Book Binding method. I used some nice sketch paper for the interior and heavyweight watercolor paper for the cover. I was pretty happy with it. In fact, I may paint a nice design on the front and give it to a friend as a Christmas present.
Then we moved up to a real, hardcover book design. Everybody got into it. We bought fun papers and experimented with different sizes, colors and textures. Cutting the paper down to size was a large part of the job. Here are Ailsa, Lily, and Narudee getting their projects ready. (Ailsa had done this before so was a little farther ahead than the rest of us.)
After the pages were folded and assembled, we learned how to sew several signatures together. Here are Catherine, Boris, and Jane.
     By the way, several countries are represented by my fellow classmates (2 aren't in the photos), but we have: England, Taiwan, Thailand, Chile, Scotland, France, and the US. It's part of what makes this experience so fun!
     I'll try to get a good photo of my work-in-progress for you. Meanwhile, most of us got our signatures together and the binding tape glued on. Next Thursday, we move on to the hard cover!

Update: Here is the final product - MY BOOK!
Okay - so it looks like a big black square - but it's so much more than that! Check out the inside, which is full of different kinds of papers on which to keep my ideas. I am so proud.