Hogmany and Happy New Year!

This is my last post for 2016. It was a year full of both amazing highs and devastating lows for all of us, I know. I'm rather glad to see it over as I look forward to a bright and shiny 2017—a clean slate to try again. Meanwhile, I think Stan and I did a pretty good job saying goodbye to 2016. We've already begun a tradition. Last year we stumbled across a Chinese restaurant with a great view over Princes Street and the Hogmany torch parade. It was the perfect way to experience it, so we went back again this year.

As we eat, we keep an eye on the far end of Princes Street for the parade of torches (which begins up on the Royal Mile). I can hear the bagpipes - here it comes!

Right by our restaurant!

Our view was perfect!

It lasts for quite a while, so after we enjoy our Chinese feast, we move down into the fray. Here is the parade in front of the Balmoral Hotel.

The wind was whipping, so we darted around a corner back towards St. Andrews Square (our square). I've been so busy I hadn't yet enjoyed a hot toddy at the pop-up skating rink pub.

We decided to do something about that!

I ended up with a hot chocolate with a shot of Bailey's - very nice. And what a lovely place to hang out.

It was just enough. Afterwards, we headed back to our flat knowing full well that one of the best places to watch the fireworks on Calton Hill is right out our very own window.

So, goodbye to 2016 and welcome 2017! I wish us all buckets-full of happiness and easily achieved goals followed by validating successes!

Happy Hogmany! (Happy New Years!)

From Scotland.org: Why do the Scots call New Years 'Hogmany'? Most people know that ‘Hogmanay’ is the Scots word for New Year, but there’s no consensus on why it’s actually called that. Some believe it originated from Gaelic or Norman-French. Here are some of the theories:
‘Homme est né’ means ‘man is born’ in French
‘Hoog min dag’ means ‘great love day’ in Flemish
‘Oge maidne’ is Gaelic for ‘new morning’
‘Hoggo-nott’ is a Scandinavian word for the feast before Yule (the Scandinavian word Yules meant New Year, as opposed to Christmas)
The Anglo-Saxon term for ‘holy month’ was ‘haleg monath’
Whatever you call it, I hope you have a Happy New Year filled with wisdom, peace, love and joy!

PS - Did you know the famous song was written by our famous Scotsman, Robert (Rabbie) Burns? Stand in a circle, cross your arms across your body and hold hands with your neighbor to sing along!
Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And old lang syne?


For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
And surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
And picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
Since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
Since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
For auld lang syne.



I adored THE ARABIAN NIGHTS as a kid, so I was thrilled when Nat Geo Children's Books asked if I'd like to see their recent incarnation, Tales from the Arabian Nights: Stories of Adventure, Magic, Love and Betrayal, written by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Christina Balit. Christina stopped by to tell us a bit about how she works.

e: Hi Christina, what is your creative process and what is your medium, can you walk us through it?
Well I work in a very tiny room at the top of an old stone house in the middle of the Kent countryside in England. Its packed to the rafters with everything I need and because of the way I work I don't need a great deal. Everything I illustrate is done by hand so first and foremost I need all my reference books (of which I have thousands on shelves throughout the entire house) and a table and a comfy chair. I have two chairs actually...so I make sure that I switch from one to the other throughout the day to change my position and keep my back moving.

      I have a very disciplined routine when making a book. I will have worked out in advance exactly how long I have been given to make each image in a book depending on the deadline that I have been set. First thing I do is read the story and then study the space that I have been given to fill with a picture. I also have various instructions that have been given to me sometimes by an Art Director or publisher that I also have to pay attention to and I start drawing. I used to make all my drawings on thick cartridge paper in the old days and deliver them by hand to my publishers here in the UK, but things have changed so much now with computers and I can now deliver sketches by email to anywhere in the world! I still draw everything by hand but now make them onto tracing paper instead so that I can lay out the drawing over the text panels that I have been sent to make sure my sketches fit correctly into the layout.

      Once my drawings are complete I photograph them carefully using a good digital camera and I send these sketches via email to my designer. He/she then uses these sketches to place them within the books grid design and I then wait on feedback from 'the team' - which is the publishing house itself, the author ect., ect. I then make any changes requested and once the sketch is fully approved I prepare to paint. I do this onto watercolour blocks, which already have the edges gummed down in advance. It's very important to find the right paper as it has to absorb the water and not resist the paint in any way, which can happen and be a disaster. I then trace by hand my original drawing onto the water colour block and begin painting. I use Windsor and Newton watercolour paint tubes only as they have extremely pure pigments and are very concentrated. I also mix into the paint some gouache for opacity (to make the colours a bit thicker) and gold inks. I love using gold inks as they make the original art shimmer but of course re-producing the gold in print can be an expensive process for the printers unless they are planning to add a gold foil in reproduction.

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again? I’m looking for your definition of “Heart Art.”
Well to answer this I have to think back to what I always loved in illustrations when I was little and pouring through books. And that was beautiful drawing and exquisite detail. But then I didn't have access to all the computer art and digital animation that children have now and books were all we had. But regardless I really think little people love searching for the magic and finding all the little bits and pieces that are sometimes too small to see on a first look. The hidden treasure within the breath-taking awe and wonder of hand made work. Children instinctively draw onto paper and try to make art until they no longer believe they are any good at it, so they instinctively appreciate the loveliness of an illustration.

e: Did you have any tie to the Arabian Knights - what’s it like to illustrate such a classic?
Very much so! I actually spent large chunks of my childhood in various parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. I went to a small nursery run by some lovely nuns on the banks of the Euphrates in Baghdad, a primary school in the deserts of Abu Dhabi (long before it became a city and it was a small barasti village on a peninsula on the Arabian Gulf) and an extraordinary Quaker school nestled in the mountains of Lebanon. It was a great background to my visual memory.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I've been working on two new stories for children - which are based on Babylonian myths and I've also been writing a play (for adults). Furthermore, National Geographic are hoping to produce a further Treasury of Bible Stories soon so that should be just great fun.

Thank you Christina! These are LUSCIOUS!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Happy New Years 2017

     IThank you to all of you for your kind emails and loyal support throughout 2016. I'm so grateful for every one of you and I wish you all a new year filled with hope, wisdom, peace and joy. 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 over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. 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.

VIDEO: Rick Steve's European Christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all! Have a pleasant watch of Rick Steve's Christmas in Europe. Click the image to watch on YouTube.

Merry Christmas!

Take a break, take a breather, and COLOR for peace of mind today! I have lots of free holiday coloring pages available HERE (or click the image).

Jo Weaver's LITTLE ONE

by Jo Weaver

e: What is your medium?
I generally work with willow charcoal and a putty rubber on slightly toothed paper. Willow charcoal is very soft which makes it difficult to get crisp lines, but it has a wonderful texture to it and is great for tonal work. I love the earthiness of charcoal. And there is something deeply gratifying about producing a whole artwork with only one little stick of burnt wood!
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
This is a tricky question and I’m not sure I can answer it very eloquently. I think that the emotional response an illustration provokes in the viewer is what makes it magical, rather than any specific technique used to create it. For me, one of the most important ingredients of a truly magical illustration is relationship, or rather the depiction of a connection between characters. This could be between two or more characters in the illustration or between the reader and a character. I consider the environment, the setting for the story, to be a character in itself. Because often books are about the relationship between a character and their environment. Certainly this is a big theme in my own work. A magical illustration, I think, often has a strong sense of relationship in it.
e: What was your path to publication?
My path to publication probably began way back in my childhood with my absolute adoration of AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh. The joy I experienced in pouring through those books and copying E.H. Shepherd's drawings sparked a life-long love of illustrated stories. But it took me a while to turn my hand to illustration professionally. In my teens I turned down a place at art school because I couldn't visualise where it would lead me. I never wanted to be a fine artist and somehow illustration had never occurred to me. Throughout my twenties I worked in international development and as a support worker for homeless people. I loved my job, but had always had a quiet desire to follow a creative path and had started painting pictures for friends and family. My brother picked up a leaflet in a local cafe advertising evening classes in children’s book illustration with the artist/author Claire Alexander. It was the first time that book illustration had entered my mind as a possible career and it was a bit of a lightbulb moment. I took the class and loved it so much I decided to apply for an MA in Children’s book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. I had no formal arts training and my portfolio was pretty meagre at this point, so I was astounded to be accepted. The course completely transformed my artwork and story-telling capabilities. For my final degree project I began to work in charcoal for the first time. Up to this point my work had been very mediocre watercolour, but the moment I picked up a stick of charcoal, it took on a life of its own. My editor at Hodder Children’s Books, the lovely Emma Layfield, happened to visit the college towards the end of my time there. She had a look through my portfolio where she met my charcoal bears and offered me (and them!) a book deal – a very exciting moment!
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I hope that that book has a meditative quality about it. When I was creating it, I always had a sense of quietness in mind as something for the reader to take from it. I believe that there is magic to be founds in stillness, and in maintaining a strong relationship with the natural world. So aside from the story about a mother and her little one, I hope that the book promotes a sense of calm and connection to nature. Jo's studio...
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I’m currently working on two books - one is the follow up to Little One, for Hodder Children’s. I’m not sure I can say much more about it yet but I am enjoying it enormously. The other is a very different project. Endorsed by Amnesty International UK, its a novella by the wonderful writer Gill Lewis about the power of music to overcome oppression. Its protagonist is a young Syrian refugee. Its a deeply moving and important story which I feel honoured to be illustrating. It's wonderful working on two such different projects and between them I think they pretty much cover what would be my dream project.

e: Thanks Jo! Can't wait to see them both!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Merry Christmas from Scotland!

     It's time for us all to take a break and believe in magic once more. Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and a new year filled with joy, good health, and personal successes! CLICK HERE for HOLIDAY-THEMED coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up for alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...

THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA! Makes a GREAT teacher gift! Click the cover to learn more!
     Don't live in Georgia? Check with your local bookseller - Sterling has a version for each state.

     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.

Santa Two-Up

I can't believe I caught photos of this! I've seen lots of random Santa hats around Edinburgh lately, but these were the most outrageous ones.
Two people on a motorcycle is called "Two-Up"! Perhaps this is Santa-up!

VIDEO: Christmas Book Recommendations

Barb Landgridge recently visited WBAL-TV in Baltimore to talk about some great books to buy as gifts this holiday season. The best part? The Baltimore NBC affiliate really understands the value of talking about books and reading and promoting both! Click the image to go watch on YouTube.

We got us a Christmas Tree!

Last year we didn't brave the adventure of buying a Christmas tree, but this year we decided to give it a go. We headed down to a nearby Christmas tree lot.
But their prices were high and the trees looked a bit scrawny. We would have had to buy a stand for it and we didn't know where we'd keep it the rest of the year... etc. etc. So we ended up buying a LIVE tree from the nearby florist - whose prices were surprisingly reasonable, and it came in its own bucket. Course, Stan had to carry it home uphill for a mile... No taxi for him!
It fit just right...
And we actually had enough doodads and such around that the place decorated up rather nicely. (I included a red and white stripey straw from a recent lunch - it's stuck in the tree.)
It was definitely worth the effort. So nice!
And it has joined all the other Christmas tree lights we can see in our neighbor's windows. Festive! Happy yule y'all!

Friday Links List - 16 December 2016

From Muddy Colors - a great gift idea for artists: Making [Home-made] Walnut Ink - Groovy!

Pantone's Color of the Year has been announced: GREENERY

For the students and teachers among us, check out McSweeney's Post-Election College Paper Grading Rubric - hilarious!

From Brightly: Books Like Harry Potter: 10 Series to Read Next

From Muddy Colors: Things I Learned From Creating 122 Paintings in 11 Months - Greg Manchess on Above the Timberline

From 100 ScopeNotes: 2016 Librarian Lump of Coal Gift Guide

At Authors.me: Little Pickle Press is rebranding to March 4th

From Picture Book Builders: Four Part Series: Editors at the Top! (Begins with Neal Porter - read them all!)

From The Times: Books of the year: children's by Nicolette Jones

From Sotheby's: Icons of Children's Illustration (on auction!)

From EMUs Debuts and Debbi Michiko Florence: Great Gifts for Writers - good list!

From Bookshelf: Read Din bookcase and f Bodoni light - Oh! I want me one of these!!!


A Letter for Bear
by David Lucas

      I've been asked about "heart art" - what gives something soul? Writing and drawing come from the same place for me - I love patterns - patterns of words and patterns of shapes and lines. And I look for resonant patterns, patterns that seem to have all sorts of echoes.
      Picture books are many layered - and the hidden layers echo on frequencies I am hardly aware of. A common experience for me is reading one of my stories, long after it was published, and thinking: "That's what it's about!"
      Even the simplest ideas keep their secrets.
      A Letter for Bear is a simple tale of a lonely postman, doing his job, delivering letters but never getting any letters himself. Night after night he sits in his cave alone, with his cup of soup, staring at the dark.
      All my story ideas are autobiographical, and on one level the bear is my Dad.
      My Dad never had any friends. Not one. He was a lonely obsessive, talented at drawing and making things, but fatally unable to reach out. The real miracle is that he had six kids. But then he met my Mum when she was very lonely, and they were both very young, both misfits in their way. (She had been an elective mute as a child.)
      But although she really grew and now lives a full, wonderful, happy life, he had such severe emotional difficulties that he progressively alienated all of us.
      An example: at 18 months old, my little brother became seriously ill and had to have an emergency operation. Parents weren't allowed to stay in hospital with their babies in those days - so you can imagine what a horrible experience it was for my Mum - having to leave her baby alone, in pain and distress. Dad drove home, my Mum in the seat beside him, and naturally she was crying. Dad couldn't stand it. They stopped at a red light, and he pushed her out of the car and drove off, leaving her at the roadside, miles from home.
      It is hardly surprising then that ultimately he ended his days living in a 'cave' alone, staring out at the darkness, like the bear in my story.
      Bears are solitary creatures, harmless in general, but dangerous and vicious when threatened. But why did my Dad feel so threatened?

      I've just been reading 'The Autistic Brain' by Temple Grandin, and it confirms my view that Dad was autistic: good at a very narrow range of tasks, with an intense eye for detail, but bewildered by human interaction, forever misreading social cues.
      The difficulty for autistic people is information overload. And emotion is particularly hard to deal with - it can't be systematized, pigeon-holed, it cuts you to the core.
      Dad was intensely aware - but so intensely aware that what might seem a manageable situation to most people, was to him like bombs going off inside him.
      His instinct was for self-preservation. So he did things like push my Mum out of the car - even though she herself was so upset. In fact, precisely because she was so upset.
      My love of pattern, my eye for detail, and my own social clumsiness (especially when I was younger) probably place me somewhere on the autistic spectrum myself.
      Temple Grandin suggests at the end of her book all sorts of ways that autistic people might learn to reach out to others successfully (she is autistic herself).
      As I grew up, I realized that one way to talk to people was simply to make a conscious effort to ask questions, to try not to talk about myself so much.
      I might often fail, but that basic principle - of seeing human interaction as a patterned transaction of give and take - is just the sort of structured 'rule' that a high-functioning autistic person can really internalize, and visualize.
      Being an author, in fact, is being professionally manipulative - trying to understand the various levers of the heart. What makes people respond - or not. And writing stories has certainly helped me govern my own emotions, and understand myself and others much better. I find writing much more difficult than drawing for these very reasons - and it has a dangerous fascination for me. I often focus on writing when I'd probably be better off just getting on with drawing.

      Poor old Bear, in my story, does find an answer to his problem: in his job, in what he is good at - delivering letters. He writes to everyone on his round, inviting them to a party. His letters are like me learning to ask questions. He doesn't sit there forever waiting for the world to meet him on his terms, he reaches out.

      And this being a children's picture book, everyone responds warmly.
      In the final scene he realizes all the letters in his sack are to him: he has Christmas cards from everyone. Understanding my Dad's autism helps me feel more compassion for him. And I think of those little daily tragedies, like the time he gave me a completely blank birthday card, saying: "I haven't had time to sign it." Or the time, when I was older and I met him in town (typically we'd arrange to meet in a bookshop) and I suggested we go to the pub for a drink.
      "I'm not thirsty," was his reply.
      He was a funny old bear.