April Is For Spring Showers and Poems

April is National Poetry Month, which was started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets.

There are lots of fun ways you can celebrate poems in April! Here’s a little list:

  1. Write a poem.
  2. Read a poem.
  3. Participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 18!).
  4. Attend a poetry reading.

I don’t generally set out to write poetry, but sometimes a poem will overtake me and I’ll have to write it down. And I never claim to be a poet because I have a terrible fear of being a bad poet.

This is silly, of course, because one must start somewhere. Get all the bad work out to make space for the good.

To this end! I’ve given myself the challenge of writing a poem every day for Poetry Month. I’m a little behind, but as long as I end up having 30 poems by the end of April, that’s a lot of poems and a lot of good practice.

I’m also running a magnetic poetry contest at the writing center. It’s great fun! I especially love seeing people who initially protest the idea of writing a magnetic poem sit down and become entirely absorbed in the words.

If you’re not into poetry, chances are you just haven’t found the right poet for you–they come in all kinds!

You could start by listening to this little boy recite Billy Collins, or by checking out Austin Kleon’s newspaper blackout poems, or by picking up a copy of Mr. Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends (remember that!?). Maybe this could be your month to discover a new poet love.

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Including the Kitchen Sink

Let’s talk about Pinterest. Sometimes I will forget it exists for weeks, and then sometimes I’ll go on a binge in which I flood my followers’ feeds with pictures of quilts (sorry, Lauren!), forget to eat because I’ve read too many recipes, and view an inordinate number of cat photos (which I mostly don’t repin, of course. That would just get embarassing).

Here’s what I learned from Pinterest this week:

  1. If you look at the bottom of a bell pepper, you can find out its gender. Four bumps = female, which are best for eating fresh/raw. Three bumps = male, which are best for cooking. I tested this out and it appears to be true.
  2. If you yell “Andy’s coming!” in front of the Toy Story characters at Disney, they will stop what they’re doing and drop. Brilliant.
  3. Elephants are awesome. Also turtles. And this dog.
  4. People do funny things for the sake of beauty. Cases in point: a pore-cleanser that involves applying glue to one’s face, and a self-tanner that involves rubbing oneself with coffee grounds. Hmm.
  5. Somebody made a dachshund out of a banana. I’m pretty glad this exists in the world.

Now get off Pinterest and go do something in real life. Not the glue-on-face thing, though. I don’t endorse that.

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The Zoo, but Mostly Pandas

Last week I was in San Diego for a conference. The first day we were there, we went to the San Diego Zoo (which is also a botanical garden and wildlife conservancy!). Here’s what you need to know about the zoo:

There are pandas. There is a panda baby.

You can watch the pandas live on the panda cam. PANDA CAM, you guys.

The Galapagos tortoises were also quite charming.

But seriously. Panda cam.

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Summer School, Part 3: Picture Book Media

The second class I’m taking in the Children’s Book Illustration certificate program is ART 523, Picture Book Media. It’s taught by the fabulous Ashley Wolff. Her latest book is Baby Bear Sees Blue, and is completely gorgeous, using linocuts and vibrant watercolors to bring her characters to life.

The object of this class was essentially to try as many media that could be used in illustration as possible, in six weeks. Most of the time Ashley picked out reference photos for us to chose from, which was great because we didn’t have to worry about coming up with concepts for our illustrations, and were able to concentrate fully on whatever media we had chosen.

So here’s what we did!

We tried watercolor! (This is a sample board.)

And painted peppers using various watercolor techniques.

And did watercolor value/color studies from the portrait of a child.

And made color wheels.

We tried gouache (a kind of opaque watercolor)!

This is the first step of a really cool technique called gouache resist. You paint all the parts of your image that you don’t want to be black in gouache, very thickly. Then (this is a scary part!), you paint over the whole thing in india ink. Once that dries, you wash the paper. The gouache washes away, leaving behind just the ink; the parts you painted will retain a hint of the pigment from the paint.

Here’s the result! Pretty neat.

We tried acrylics! (This is another sample board.)

Then we painted a forest scene in acrylics, featuring orchids.

We tried scratchboard!

A scratchboard is made of a backing that is covered in a layer of white clay and then black ink. You then use a sharp tool to scratch away where you want there to be white. First we experimented with our tools on a sample board. Once we had the hang of it, we moved on to another board to create a finished piece (this is a picture of a loon).

We tried linoleum block printing!

Linocutting is similar to scratchboard in that you carve away all the parts of the image that you want to be white. You also have to work the carving in reverse, as the image gets flipped when you print it on the paper.

Here’s my print! Since the printing ink is oil-based, it’s easy to go in afterward and add color with watercolors–the black lines resist the paint.

Finally, we tried collage!

These are my sketches and chickens-in-progress. I cut out all the little paper bits first, before I started gluing. Then I glued it all with an adhesive called Nori paste (it’s acid free, and has a really pleasant smell and texture).

And here are my collage chickens in Kentucky Derby hats!

For our final project, we each chose an illustrator that inspires us, and we’re creating three illustrations in the spirit of that illustrator. I chose Virginia Lee Burton (you may know her as the author/illustrator of the Caldecott-winning The Little House), who is completely wonderful. I’m going to be illustrating scenes from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. I’ll post the result next week!

That concludes our jaunt through my time at school this summer. I hope you’ve enjoyed it! Don’t forget to check out part 1 (about Hollins) and part 2 (about my drawing class)!

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Summer School, Part 2: Picture Book Drawing Fundamentals

The first class I’m taking in the Children’s Book Illustration certificate program is ART 568, Picture Book Drawing Fundamentals. It’s taught by the lovely Lauren Mills, who has a portfolio of the most sensitive portraiture, sculpture, and illustration (to those of my friends who may be worried by such things, you might want to stick to checking out her illustration work, as her other work does occasionally feature classical-style nudes)–you may recognize her picture book The Rag Coat, which is one I remember loving when I was younger.

I’ve taken several drawing fundamentals-type classes in my life, and this was the first one that actually applied the basics of composition, perspective, proportion, etc., toward a particular goal–that is, creating an engaging image that communicates exactly what you want it to, in the manner you want it to. I suppose this is the true purpose of all drawing classes, but I have never been in a class where it “clicked” quite the way it did in this one.

This class was difficult for me because I tend towards a little wonkiness in my drawings, and it took a lot of patience to work with such precision. I am certain it was good for me, though. As with any venture, it is good to know and be able to follow the rules before making your choices about which ones to break!

Lauren started us at the very beginning, with basic perspective.

Then we began applying perspective to a generic bear character.

This was a revelation for me! I’d learned perspective before, but (as obvious as it seems now) I had never learned to apply the same principles not just to scenes and buildings, but also to bodies and characters.

To assist us with drawing our bears in perspective, and with light and shadow, we modeled characters in plasticine (a type of non-drying clay), and lit them inside cardboard boxes.

We did value and composition studies.

To begin drawing clothes and fabric, we started by copying a master drawing of a draped cloth.

Then we used that knowledge to give our bears clothes.

We began incorporating movement into our drawings.

We learned human proportions and studied movement by sketching these basic frames from photos of dancers.

We drew facial features and learned their placement on the face.

To help with drawing faces, we sculpted a head, starting with a basic skull shape.

We experimented with pen and ink, using a crow quill pen.

We copied master portraits using vine charcoal.

This was my first experience using charcoal, and I quite enjoyed it–it’s a very forgiving medium. Lauren described it as almost like sculpting, the way it allows you to apply tone, remove it, build it back up, and continue to work with it until you achieve the effect you want.

We acquired a ton of handouts over the course of the term, which I compiled into a notebook for future reference. I’m sure I will be coming back to this information for years to come!

For one of our final projects, we had a three-year-old (the daughter of a faculty member) come to the studio and model for us, so that we could learn how to take reference photos and practice drawing from them. Then we each picked out poses we liked, and planned a composition using our reference. This is the photo I chose to work from.

The planning stage.

And here is the final piece! I’m happy with the result–I feel like it truly reflects a culmination of everything we have learned this term, and I don’t think I could have produced this illustration before having taken this class.

Even this lengthy post reflects only a fraction of the work we did in the last five weeks! It has been so challenging and so rewarding. We have one more final project before the end of the term: creation of a magical forest scene. I’ll post that one once it’s finished next week!

If you missed it, check out part 1 of this series, in which I introduce you to the magic of Hollins University.

Up next: part 3, Picture Book Media!

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Summer School, Part 1: Hollins University

I’d like to introduce you all to one of my favorite places: my graduate school, Hollins University, located in Roanoke, VA.

This is my third year attending Hollins during their summer term, pursuing an MFA in Children’s Literature. This is also my first year as a student in the Children’s Book Illustration certificate program. After this year, I’ll have two more summers left to complete my coursework.

We just finished week five of the six week term. It has been one of the busiest summers of my life, but I have learned an incredible amount in this short time. The next couple posts will give you a peek at what I’ve been doing in my classes.

The Hollins campus is stunningly beautiful. I like to tell people that it’s magical place here in the summertime, and hopefully you’ll be able to see why. Let me show you around:

The campus apartments (ok, so this isn’t so beautiful, but it’s home sweet home while I’m here).

Carvin Creek, which I cross every day on my way to the main campus from my apartment.

My first year here, there were some muskrats that lived in the bank of the creek. I had just reread The Wind in the Willows, so I was calling them water rats in my head, and spent a lot of time watching them. They’re mesmerizing swimmers. I’ve been on the lookout for them this year, but no sightings so far!

The Visual Arts Center (VAC), where I’ve been spending anywhere from 6-12 hours a day, working hard! This building also houses the school’s art museum, which is currently showing an exhibit of Clement Hurd’s illustrations for the bedtime classic Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown.

A glimpse of the studio space in the VAC.

The creative writing building, Swannanoa.

My favorite library!

The library, the chapel, the mountains.

The quad.

And some of the great details around campus.

I hope you enjoyed the little tour! Up next: Picture Book Drawing Fundamentals, and Picture Book Media.

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The Newbery Challenge

I’m setting myself a nearly-impossible challenge. You are invited watch my attempt! Here goes: I’m planning to read all the Newbery Medal winning books, and my goal is to finish the list by the end of the year (that’s 91 books!). Crazy, I know. But a little crazy is good for you.

I’m going to start at the beginning–in 1922!–and work my way to the present. As I go, I hope to write and post my observations about each book.

Here’s the list (I’ll add links to this list as I go):

2012     Dead End in Norvelt,Jack Gantos
2011     Moon Over Manifest,Clare Vanderpool
2010     When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
2009     The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
2008     Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, Laura Amy Schlitz
2007     The Higher Power of Lucky, Susan Patron
2006     Criss Cross, Lynne Rae Perkins
2005     Kira-Kira, Cynthia Kadohata
2004     The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
2003     Crispin: The Cross of Lead, Avi
2002     A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
2001     A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck
2000     Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis
1999     Holes, Louis Sachar
1998     Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse
1997     The View from Saturday, E.L. Konigsburg
1996     The Midwife’s Apprentice, Karen Cushman
1995     Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech
1994     The Giver, Lois Lowry
1993     Missing May, Cynthia Rylant
1992     Shiloh Phyllis, Reynolds Naylor
1991     Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli
1990     Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
1989     Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, Paul Fleischman
1988     Lincoln: A Photobiography, Russell Freedman
1987     The Whipping Boy, Sid Fleischman
1986     Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan
1985     The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley
1984     Dear Mr. Henshaw, Beverly Cleary
1983     Dicey’s Song, Cynthia Voigt
1982     A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, Nancy Willard
1981     Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson
1980     A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832, Joan W. Blos
1979     The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
1978     Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
1977     Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
1976     The Grey King, Susan Cooper
1975     M. C. Higgins, the Great, Virginia Hamilton
1974     The Slave Dancer, Paula Fox
1973     Julie of the Wolves, Jean Craighead George
1972     Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien
1971     Summer of the Swans, Betsy Byars
1970     Sounder, William H. Armstrong
1969     The High King, Lloyd Alexander
1968     From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg
1967     Up a Road Slowly, Irene Hunt
1966     I, Juan de Pareja, Elizabeth Borton de Treviño
1965     Shadow of a Bull, Maia Wojciechowska
1964     It’s Like This, Cat, Emily Neville
1963     A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
1962     The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare
1961     Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O’Dell
1960     Onion, John Joseph Krumgold
1959     The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
1958     Rifles for Watie, Harold Keith
1957     Miracles on Maple Hill, Virginia Sorensen
1956     Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham
1955     The Wheel on the School, Meindert DeJong
1954     …And Now Miguel, Joseph Krumgold
1953     Secret of the Andes, Ann Nolan Clark
1952     Ginger Pye, Eleanor Estes
1951     Amos Fortune, Free Man, Elizabeth Yates
1950     The Door in the Wall, Marguerite de Angeli
1949     King of the Wind, Marguerite Henry
1948     The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pène du Bois
1947     Miss Hickory, Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
1946     Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski
1945     Rabbit Hill, Robert Lawson
1944     Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes
1943     Adam of the Road, Elizabeth Janet Gray
1942     The Matchlock Gun, Walter Edmonds
1941     Call It Courage, Armstrong Sperry
1940     Daniel Boone, James Daugherty
1939     Thimble Summer, Elizabeth Enright
1938     The White Stag, Kate Seredy
1937     Roller Skates, Ruth Sawyer
1936     Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink
1935     Dobry, Monica Shannon
1934     Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women, Cornelia Meigs
1933     Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, Elizabeth Lewis
1932     Waterless Mountain, Laura Adams Armer
1931     The Cat Who Went to Heaven, Elizabeth Coatsworth
1930     Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, Rachel Field
1929     The Trumpeter of Krakow, Eric P. Kelly
1928     Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon, Dhan Gopal Mukerji
1927     Smoky, the Cowhorse, Will James
1926     Shen of the Sea, Arthur Bowie Chrisman
1925     Tales from Silver Lands, Charles Finger
1924     The Dark Frigate, Charles Hawes
1923     The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting
1922     The Story of Mankind, Hendrik Willem van Loon

I’ve read 23 of these books in the past (but I will be rereading all of them!). How many have you read? What is your favorite Newbery winner?

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Love and Physics

My lovely friend Jess posted this on her Facebook the other day. I loved it, and I especially loved that it is a bit of wisdom straight from her father! Here it is:

There is no conservation law for love. It can be created in ever-increasing amounts.

(If anyone is curious, the law of conservation of energy is one of the laws of physics. It states that the total energy in an isolated system will always remain constant. Energy can move or change form within the system, but cannot be created or destroyed. Thank goodness that people are not isolated systems–however we may sometimes try to be–and that love defies science!)

This morning I was still rolling these words around in my head, so I got out my sketchbook and began, as Mina would say, “taking a line for a walk.” I’m going to do a scary (for me) thing now and show you my scribbles:

I was playing around with the idea of a little machine that walks around creating love where it’s needed. So, here’s where the lines went:

Thanks to Jess and to her dad for the inspiration!

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Dinosaur Giveaway Winner!

By the ultra-scientific paper-pulled-from-a-hat method, Rachael is the lucky winner of a golden dinosaur!
He says “rawr!” That means “I love you already!” in dinosaur.
Here’s her comment:

Di-no-saurs are di-no-mite and covered in glitter they’re such a delight!!


I want to especially thank Colt (we’ll call him the runner up?) for representing my male readership with his comment:

I don’t know why I want one or where I would put it but they are strangely interesting to look at!

The answer to “why” is the glitter. The answer is always the glitter!
Thanks to everyone who entered!

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Dinosaurs and a Giveaway

This evening I thought, “I should do something.” So, I started looking through a little box of crafty-type objects and turned up a few of these guys:

I think I picked them up at a dollar store intending to make them into some kind of silly thing one day.
It turned out that today was the day, because I remembered these glittered Christmas deer.
I think you can guess what happened next.


One of these guys is going to go live with my friend Heather, who always needs more dinosaurs in her life.
Another one is going to come live with one of you, dear readers! All you have to do is leave me a dinosaur- or glitter-related comment. Isn’t that fun!?
I’ll pick a winner at random on Wednesday. Rachael is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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