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!

Boris Lee's REMEMBER

Boris and I studied together in the MFA in Illustration at the Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh. I have such fond memories of watching Boris work. This first picture of him is how I think of him, covered in pastels. It seemed an unusual choice of media at the time, but as Boris grew into it, I realized the pure genius of his work. So, I am thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to help him celebrate the publication of his first picture book, REMEMBER. It's not yet available in the USA, but I still wanted to share. All the way from Taiwan, Boris stopped by to tell us about his work and new book.
     PS: Fun factoid: Boris was the model for the father in my book, CROW NOT CROW!
     Take it away, Boris!

by Boris Lee

     When I was a little kid, I liked to be alone. I wasn’t interested in playing with other kids. Instead, wandering around the house and exploring the surroundings were the activities I liked to do. Day by day, I developed the habit of constantly observing the world and imagining the possibilities of life. Later, I expanded my imagination by reading books. I gained so much comfort and strength and excitement in stories. Therefore, I decided to become a story creator, since I wanted to inspire other people and share happiness as other authors did to me.
After years of studying, I changed my career goal from a pure writer to a picturebook author & illustrator. In the beginning, I was intrigued by the image-text relationship, then I fell in love with the potential comforting effect of picturebooks. Hence, I made a decision to study Illustration MFA in Scotland.

Before my student days in Edinburgh, I thought being creative was to create works that were mysterious and enigmatic to the viewers, even though sometimes it meant the viewers couldn’t easily understand the works.
However, my idea of creativity has had been changed in Edinburgh. Upon my arrival at Edinburgh College of Art, the city, the master programme and the people I met offered me a unique life experience. Meanwhile, I chose oil pastel to be my main material for executing creativity and imagination. I started to see and think things from new perspectives, as well as to express my ideas in a simpler and more direct way.

Now, in my opinion, being a creative person means being an inspirational person. To be inspirational, I believe it is less important to be a skilful artist to present visually detailed illustrations but to touch people with sincerity. In other words, I want to make people feel life, feel the emotions, feel themselves.
In my picturebook Remember, I drew landscapes and the process of journeying with thick and heavy brushstrokes to convey the feelings, especially the feelings of loneliness and being left. The colours play another role in conveying the emotions and the meaning of the story. The text is short, as I want the readers to feel the story in illustrations. Although I did put some symbols and used metaphors in the book, not knowing them won’t stop the readers from understanding the book.
It is the feeling that matters. Once I feel something, I start to be curious and to have questions, then I would imagine the answers, which would become stories. All stories and inventions are begun with a tiny feeling. A feeling will become an inspiration, and inspiration will lead to creativity, this is my belief.
From e: There he is, still at it! :)

SUPER-Show at Winthrop Galleries!

Recently, we had an enormous event at Winthrop University - three art show openings on the same night! There was the "A Dream Deferred" show (based on the Langston Hughes poem, the Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, and a Faculty Show. They were displayed in the Lewandowski Gallery, the Rutledge Gallery, and the Elizabeth Dunlap Patrick Gallery respectively.
Charlotte artist (responsible for the "Black Lives Matter" street mural) Dammit Wesley curated the Dream Deferred show and acted as DJ for the evening. Here he is with Prof. Jesse Weser.
The crowd was BIG - this photo doesn't do it justice.
Here are the awards being handed out at the Juried Exhibit.
And it was a BIG DEAL. Lots of artists and art lovers came all the way from Charlotte. There was even a proposal! (Thank goodness she said, "yes"!)
Here is the new fiancé, Afton Brown, with her piece, "Diversity Hire." (She had a good night!)
I also loved this piece by Shadae Tompkins.
One of our students, Ethan H., played an enormous part in putting this show together and helping to hang it. Here he is with his favorite piece "TrapMental"...
"TrapMental" is by Charlotte muralist Abel Jackson, who, it turns out, is the Godfather to another students, Marquila W. Here they are in front of his piece.
There was so much amazing work, it was a truly spectacular evening. We need to combine openings like this more often. It was so much fun! If you're in the area, I do hope you'll get a chance to come by and see them. The shows will be open through March 7, 2022 at Winthrop University in McLaurin Hall and Rutledge. #ArtsWinthrop

Heidi Stemple's ADRIFT

We are all trying to find our individual peace and sanity in the midst of this pandemic. Heidi Stemple writes books, of course. Her latest picture book speaks directly to this feeling of separation that we've all been experiencing. She stops by to talk about it. Welcome, Heidi!

Heidi E.Y. Stemple
ADRIFT, illustrated by Anastasia Suvorova
Crocodile/Interlink Books

A few months ago, my significant other said to me, “I don’t get how you can drive for hours with no music on.” I had never had to put into words how a creative brain works before, so explaining it to him was revealing, even to me. A writer’s brain, I told him, is never still. It’s always working things out. Plotting, untangling, creating new… I need the quiet to allow my thoughts the space to wander in and out of, around, and through a story. It never feels that I am in control of the process. It feels more like I am observing my own creativity—watching, listening, taking mental notes.

I feel pretty lucky that I grew up in a family that valued creative thinking. Even as kids, my parents (author Jane Yolen and computer professor/birder David Stemple) encouraged us to be out in nature observing then writing and drawing about those observations. We often created field guides of real and fantastical creatures living on our 15-acre farm. So, for me, creativity and creative thinking has just always been part of how I move through the world. I didn’t start out writing as a job, but I have always written.
During the pandemic, especially the early parts, it’s my impression that writers could be categorized into one of two camps: those who felt completely creatively blocked, and those who wrote like covid magically opened some flood gates and words just flowed out. There are lots of factors as to which camp people fell into, but I fell pretty solidly into the latter. I wrote a ton. I wrote for myself and I wrote manuscripts, some of which are, now, on their way to publication. I think this is partly because of something I say to friends who find themselves in various difficult situations (divorces, sicknesses, teenagers, pandemics, to name a few) and are worried about trying to write. Something I truly believe: the work will save you. Creativity (in my case writing, but this translates to all types of creativity) can be a life raft. It can be an escape hatch or a hiding place. I’m not saying you should be writing the great American novel if that’s not your thing. I mean allow the fears and sadness out onto the page. For me, that’s my ideal therapy.
One of the things I wrote early in the pandemic was ADRIFT. It is now a gorgeous picture book illustrated by Anastasia Suvarova and published by Crocodile/Interlink Books. But, in the beginning, I wrote it because I needed to feel less alone. I needed someone to hear my fear and share it. I needed hope. And because I was taught at an early age to be fearless about creativity, I didn’t think too much about it -- I just wrote. This is not to say the words on the pages of the book are the words that I wrote in the first draft. We all know that’s not true. But, when I first let the words fall from my brain into my fingers and onto the keys of my computer, I didn’t do so with expectations and a marketing plan. I just allowed it. There is a certain freedom and pureness to that type of creative thought that I don’t think you have if you get too bound up right away in thoughts of publication. But, if you are in the habit of this free creativity—if you cultivate it and remain open to it, even if you are writing for an assignment (as I am now for a new book) your creative brain will take over and not allow you to overthink.
How can you use this in your own creative life? First, don’t worry if you aren’t writing. The muse is never gone. She is patiently waiting for you to be ready. Be open. Offer yourself grace. Shut off your inner editor and critic. Write something just for you. Write a list poem. Turn your grocery list into a song. Enlist your kids or your friends to write something with you—pass it back and forth forwarding the plot. Make a field guide of real or fantastical creatures outside your home.
If you are reading this, you are likely like me. Creativity is what keeps you sane—what gets you out of bed and walking forward. Even in hard times. Even when things feel dark or scary. I talk about quitting writing as a job at least once a week. I mean, it’s not exactly a regular paycheck (having just sold my 40-42nd books, you’d think I could rely on some income, but no…I’ll keep my day job as a literary assistant, thank you very much) and the constant rejection can beat you down. But, my brain isn’t wired to not create. I’ve got stories brewing that will eventually beg to be on the page. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. For now, if you need me, I’ll be sitting in the quiet, listening to the characters in my head.

Coloring Page Tuesday - Blue Footed Boobies in Love

     I love sharing cute animals in love for Valentine's Day, but I wanted to share unusual animals this year. Look them up before you color them—the Blue Footed Booby is a remarkably beautiful bird—especially when in love!
CLICK HERE for more Valentine's Day-themed coloring pages.
     Remember, I create my coloring pages to draw your attention to my books! For instance, my board book Merbaby's Lullaby!
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     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.