Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Favorite Picture Book of 2013

Mr. Tiger Goes WildMr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first became aware of author/illustrator Peter Brown with his lovely picture book from 2009, “The Curious Garden.” I’ve followed his output ever since and with his latest book, “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild,” he has become one of my favorite author/illustrators. Using minimal text in combination with his wonderfully mid-century style illustrations, Brown manages to tell a surprisingly complex tale of bucking the norm and being true to oneself. Mr. Tiger lives in a society of animals that dress in human clothes, walk upright and are rigidly formal in their polite behavior. But for Mr. Tiger, always being prim and proper is a boring way to live. One day, he has a wild idea - he decides to walk on all fours! Right away he feels better, but when he decides to shed his clothes and run wild, his friends lose their patience and ask him to take his wild behavior to the wilderness. Without spoiling the ending, I will say that I found the resolution of this fun tale to be a delightful surprise.
illustration by Peter Brown from "Mr. Tiger Goes Wild"

The double-page spread where Mr. Tiger decides to shed his clothes is ingenious in its design and simplicity. A large public fountain forms the center of the two-page design (see last image at bottom). On the left page we see Mr. Tiger diving into one side of the fountain fully clothed. On the right page, we see Mr. Tiger emerging from the other side of the fountain but this time, without his clothes. Then we notice his clothes floating on the water. Turning the page, we see Mr. Tiger, standing on all fours, without a stitch of clothing to hide his magnificent striped coat. There is no text, words are unnecessary. His stance and the smile on his face tell us everything we need to know - Mr. Tiger has at last discovered his own true nature.

In this beautifully designed and humorous book, Brown presents the reader with a thought-provoking array of concepts - the stagnation of conformity, the joy in being different, respect for the rights of others, and making compromises. I highly recommend this book, definitely my favorite picture book of 2013!

detail from Peter Brown's "Mr. Tiger Goes Wild."

Double-page spread from "Mr. Tiger Goes Wild."

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Monday, October 07, 2013

Doodler Doodling by Rita Golden Gelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rita Golden Gelman has taken a simple concept - a daydreaming girl doodling on her notebook paper during class, and turned it into a fun, tongue-twisting page-turner filled with great word play and escalating situations. The author is helped by Paul O. Zelinksy’s wonderfully zany illustrations. Zelinksy is one of the most versatile illustrators working today. His illustrations for this book are nothing like the Flemish style renaissance paintings he created for Rapunzel. Here he combines loose watercolor and ink drawings to create dazzling doodles that come to life as the girl’s daydreams get out of control. The story and illustrations climax with a double-page fold-out. This is a fun book that would make a wonderful read-aloud and the pictures are so much fun that kids will want to study them over and over again to see how they relate to the playful text.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Illustration Friday - Rescue

Final image
This week's 'Illustration Friday' challenge is the word "Rescue," and I am submitting a piece that I actually created three years ago. It was a piece I did for fun, my attempt at creating an image that looked like it might have come from a Little Golden Book.

I always loved the Richard Scarry books and his illustrations showing towns populated entirely by animals. In my illustration, an elephant is being rescued by a squad of dalmatian firemen.

Before I began painting (the final image was created in Painter 11), I created a few thumbnail pen and ink sketches in one of my sketchbooks.

You can see in the first rough sketch that I originally had quite a different look for the dog climbing the ladder. I didn't like his snout, so I changed it to a more boxy shape.

Once I was happy with my character designs, I created a cleaned up sketch. From there, I began filling in blocks of color, using Painter 11's chalk and pastel brushes.
Cleaned up sketch created in Painter 11

Starting to fill in areas of color

For the final stepped, I gave the elephant a warmer tone and some reflected light from the flames. This helped her to stand out more from the gray building. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Illustration Friday - Jungle

My illustration as a repeating pattern
This week's topic for Illustration Friday's challenge is "Jungle." Once again, I have submitted an older piece that I recently reworked into a repeating pattern.

This illustration started out as a portfolio piece depicting various animals of northern South America's rain forests. From the start I challenged myself to show as many animals as possible (including a few birds and butterflies). After consulting a number of photographic reference books, I came up with a sketch that wove the animals together into a leafy background, joined together and encircled by vines. If you scroll down, you can see images showing the progression of the piece.

Some of the animals included in my design are: Brown Capuchin monkey, Two-toed Sloth, Silvery Marmoset, Brazillian Porcupine,  Greater Bulldog Bat, Murine Mouse Opossum, a Jaguar and her cub and a Quetzal. I was going for a sort of vintage children's book feel so I took a little liberty with how some of the animals look. In other words, I tried to make their faces a little cuter.

After completing the rough sketch, I began to block in some color.  I painted the image in Painter 11 and in order to be able to easily make changes in positioning and color, I used lots of separate layers. I continued to add layers and to block in colors and refine shapes, adding darks and lights as I went. I worked on this illustration on and off for several weeks during 2009 and 2010.

My original pencil sketch
In June of this year (2013) I resurrected the image and turned it into a repeating pattern for printing on fabric that I sell through my Spoonflower shop. Creating a repeating pattern out of a finished illustration was a bit of a challenge and I went through a lot of trial and error.  To do this, I opened the image in Painter 12 and captured the original image as a pattern.  When Painter asked me to name the pattern I was also able to select an offset.  Since I didn't want a straight across grid-looking pattern, I chose a 50% vertical offset which would stagger the image when it repeats. Once I had the pattern saved to the pattern library I went to the pattern menu and selected 'Check out pattern." This brought the pattern up as a native Painter rif file that had edges which would automatically tile.  In other words, when I painted off of the right edge, the same line would continue to paint in the correct location over on to the left edge. The same thing would happen for the top and bottom edges. Working in this mode is very memory intensive and it helps if you have a lot of RAM installed. I have quite a bit, but I still saw my brushes slow down when they approached one of the edges.

Every once in a while I would stop and save the image in two formats - as a native rif file so that the tiling would continue to be active when I reopened it in Painter, and as a photoshop file so that I could open it in Photoshop and quickly create a sheet where I duplicated the image several times to see how various elements along the edges were lining up.  When I was happy with how everything was lining up, I again saved the final version in Painter as a photoshop file. After opening it in Photoshop and making last minute adjustments on brightness and saturation levels, I saved the image as a jpeg for uploading to Spoonflower.
Initial color blocking with the sketch visible on another layer

Starting to add darks, more defined edges and smaller details
The finished illustration

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Illustration Friday - Robot

My original, finished robot pattern
It's been a while since I've submitted anything for the Illustration Friday weekly challenge, but when I saw that this week's challenge was "Robot," I couldn't resist.  Coincidentally, I was working on an update of a robot pattern that I had originally designed for my Spoonflower shop. My aim was to create a fabric design with some kid-friendly, retro-looking robots.

My original pattern featured 5 different robots (plus one that was repeated within the basic repeat module). Below, is the sketch for their original design. To the right, is the finished color pattern showing how it repeats. To the finished version, I added some textures in Photoshop to help give the image the feel of vintage cloth.

If you scroll down to the bottom, you can see my updated version that uses the original robots, plus a couple of new ones.

The original sketch for my robot pattern

A test, using the sketch, to see how the pattern lined up when repeated

For the updated version, I added two more robots, and lots of little gears to fill in blank spaces. I also changed the color scheme.

My recent updated robot pattern where I added two new robots and lots of gears

A sheet showing how the new pattern repeats

Friday, June 21, 2013

Open This Little BookOpen This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What Jesse Klausmeier’s “Open This Little Book,”  lacks in plot, it makes up for in cleverness and creativity. This is one of those books that is so clever in its concept that I found myself thinking, “I wish I had thought of that.” Klausmeier and artist Suzy Lee have come up with a book that makes the page turn an exciting event and have so smartly integrated it into the book’s concept that this is one book (like a pop-up book) I can’t imagine ever working on a Kindle. Part of the genius of this book is the change in page/paper size as the book unfolds. The title page itself is smaller than the page that comes before it and each page after that gets physically smaller until you get to the middle of the book where the pages start getting larger again. Now this may not seem like a stroke of genius to you, but the author and artist have brilliantly combined this size-changing concept with a simple series of events that will teach kids about size relationships, colors, animals, patterns and the joys of reading. One thing that I didn’t even notice on my first read was that the color palette changes as the story goes along. Each turn of the page adds another new color until the reader gets to the final illustration where the reader is rewarded with a beautiful illustration that uses the entire rainbow spectrum of color that we’ve been slowly introduced to. Suzy Lee’s illustrations, which in a few places remind me of William Steig, are charming and the last illustration in the book is so delightful, it gets my vote for best children’s book illustration of the year! This is a really clever and fun book.

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This non-fiction picture book by Michelle Markel is a fascinating and important look at an era of America’s history that saw the rise of the labor movement and life-saving changes in worker’s conditions. Told through the eyes of young Clara Lemlich, a recent immigrant who finds work in the garment industry, this is a story of one young girl’s struggle to make a difference in the world. With her father unable to find work, it’s up to Clara to help support the family. When she gets a job stitching blouses in a garment factory, her eyes are opened to the unsafe and unfair working conditions that women (and men) of the day were forced to endure. For example: if you pricked you’re finger and bled on the cloth, you were fired; if you were a few minutes late you lost half a day’s pay; the doors were locked and every night the workers were searched to make sure they hadn't stolen anything; three hundred girls had to share two toilets. Disgusted by these unfair practices, Clara urges the other girls to fight for their rights. This is a book about standing up for what you believe in, not backing down and showing the courage of your convictions. These are lessons that shouldn’t be forgotten and are as important today as they were one hundred years ago when this story takes place. The story is beautifully complimented by Melissa Sweet’s mixed media illustrations that combine watercolor and gouache with collaged and stitched pieces of cloth and torn paper.

One of Melissa Sweet's mixed media illustrations

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Friday, June 07, 2013

A Little Book of Sloth

A Little Book of SlothA Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re not yet a member of the Sloth Appreciation Society, you will be after reading this adorable non-fiction book by Lucy Cooke that immerses readers in the world of orphaned and injured sloths. Filled with sweet photographs that are guaranteed to make even a curmudgeon smile, you’ll learn fascinating facts about the Bradypus or three-fingered sloth with their Mona Lisa smiles and their two-fingered cousins, the Choloepus who, according to the author, look “like a cross between a Wookie and a pig.” One of the things I learned  from this book about these adorable creatures is that sloths, unlike other mammals, can not regulate their body temperature. Consequently, sloths, like reptiles, need to bask in the sun in order to warm up. I also didn’t know that sloths are slow and slothful due to their diet. Cooke informs us that in the jungle, they eat slightly toxic leaves which don’t give them much energy. Because it takes them four weeks to digest a meal, they need to take it easy to stay free from painful indigestion. As fascinating as all of these facts are, I think the main attraction to this book, at least for kids, will be the adorable photographs of Buttercup, Wally, Honey, Sunshine, Sammy, Velcro and the other cute sloths that fill these pages with their cuddly personalities and sweet smiles.

Below are some of Lucy Cooke's photographs from "A Little Book of Sloth."

Mateo with his plush toy, Mr. Moo
Sunshine and Sammy
Baby sloth in a special onesie

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Dream Friends

Dream FriendsDream Friends by You Byun
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In "Dream Friends," artist You Byun’s debut picture book, a lonely girl named Melody has a special friend. As you may have guessed from the book’s title, the catch to their friendship is that Melody and her friend can only meet in her dreams. It’s an idea filled with promise and Byun has beautifully captured a child’s surreal dream world in her muted pastel colored paintings. With their slightly over-sized, bean-shaped heads, the character design in “Dream Friends” reminded me of the children in the animated film “My Neighbor Totoro,” (Melody's large dream friend, is also not unlike Totoro). The story itself is very simple and half of the book consists of scenes of Melody romping with her Dream Friend in their dream world. I do wish there was more development of Melody's character, but seeing that this book is meant for very young children, it's understandable that story and character development are secondary to the lovely illustrations. Even though the story may seem simple, the book does deliver a heartfelt message. In the end Melody learns that by taking inspiration from her dreams, she can find happiness, magic and friendship in her waking life. I suppose it's a lesson even grown-ups can learn from.

Below are two of the dream vignettes featured in You Byun's picture book, "Dream Friends."

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re a collector or even if your just someone who occasionally saves a memento from a cherished event, you’ll love Paul Fleischman’s “The Matchbox Diary.” The book opens with a colorful illustration by Bagram Ibatoulline, a double page spread depicting a sunny room, filled with antiques. An old man is inviting his great-granddaughter to choose something from the room so that he can tell her a story about it. What she chooses is a cigar box filled with small matchboxes, each one containing a saved memento. The first one that the child opens contains an olive pit and with that, her great-grandfather begins his tale of his boyhood life in Italy and how his family journeyed to America. As a young boy, the old man’s collection began when he was inspired to keep a diary. But, since he didn’t know how to read or write, he began saving objects connected to a memory. As he shares the contents of each matchbox, the old man’s story unfolds. A matchbox containing a bottle-cap is linked to the first time he made a trip to Naples and had a drink from a glass bottle, a matchbox filled with sunflower seed shells is a reminder of the long voyage from Italy to New York. Each of these memories is accompanied by one of Bagram Ibatoulline’s magnificent illustrations. On one side of the page we see the matchbox with its contents that trigger the old man’s memories. On the other side of the page is a beautifully rendered scene that shows us the event connected to the memento.

Detail of an illustration by Bagram Ibatoulline
from "The Matchbox Diary"
Prior to this book, I knew Ibatoulline’s work from his splendid 2003 collaboration with Paul Fleischman, “The Animal Hedge.” Ibatoulline’s illustrations in that book were inspired by 18th and 19th century American folk art. The illustrations in “The Matchbox Diary,” are the complete opposite in style. The illustrations in this book are done using acrylic gouache in a photo-realistic style, similar in a way to some of Allen Say’s books, such as “Grandfather’s Journey.” Ibatoulline’s illustrations in this book are marvelously detailed, the kind of illustrations that will reward you with repeat viewings. The renderings of the matchboxes are so carefully done, that you can almost feel the worn edges and the crumbling cardboard. The detail in the sepia-toned flashback scenes really help bring the past alive. This is a wonderful book, not only for introducing the concept of a diary to a young child but also perfect for exploring memories and in explaining the immigrant’s experience.

Detail of an illustration by Bagram Ibatoulline
from "The Matchbox Diary"

Detail of an illustration by Bagram Ibatoulline
from "The Matchbox Diary"

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Illustration Friday - "Yesterday"

Click illustration to see it larger
As someone who has a hard time of letting go of his past, I’ve often associated the word “yesterday” with a feeling of nostalgia. I especially get nostalgic for my childhood, a time when I was closer to my sister and lived in a home where I felt safe and secure. I didn’t come from a perfect family, we definitely had our dysfunctional problems but I won’t go into those problems here. Despite our dysfunctions, I felt cared for and loved by my parents and even when I was younger, I think I knew they were spoiling my brother, sister and me.  

I was sick a lot as a child and because of this I missed a lot of school. My bedroom became my refuge and safe haven. I was a shy and inhibited child, afraid of much of the real world and my room, with all of its books and toys, became the only place where I felt safe and secure. I remember thinking that I would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life in my room. 

For this week’s Illustration Friday challenge, I’ve drawn an affectionate portrait of the way I remember my room.  It represents ‘yesterday’ to me because I often feel as if my childhood in that room took place only yesterday. I find it hard to believe that it’s been over 40 years since I could legally be considered a child. It really does seem like yesterday that I was curled up on my childhood bed and reading the Oz and Narnia books.

I’ve tried to include a number of things that were actually in my room at one time or another. I always had a lot of stuffed animals and dolls on my bed, a few of which I’ve shown in the drawing, including a Raggedy Ann doll, a plush green snake, a large dalmatian, several bunny rabbits and a teddy bear.  Above the bed, sitting on the headboard is a large papier mache cheetah that I made when I was 11 or 12.  On my walls I had thumb-tacked several posters, including a reproduction of a 1920s poster for  “The Thief of Bagdad,” starring Douglas Fairbanks (shown on the wall behind the cheetah). I remember I also had a poster showing a ruined castle in Ireland (you can see a portion of it on the right edge of my illustration).  The floor was made up of linoleum tiles in various shades of speckled browns and tans.  For awhile I had a large, oval braided rug that took up most of the floor space.  At the base of my bed I remember having a decorative green cardboard box that had a flowered lid. There were often newspapers stacked on this box because for a while I used to cut out and save the ads for my favorite movies.  The curtains on my window were beige and patterned with green, blue and tan representations of colonial shop labels and broadsheets. My room faced our backyard and from my window I could look out on to our backyard with its oval swimming pool and the brown mountain that rose up a block away from our property.

Even after I moved away from home in the late 1970s, my parents continued to live in this house so I often returned for visits.  Some time in the mid to late 1980s disaster struck my room in the form of a busted water heater which was in a service porch behind my bed. When the water heater broke, it flooded my bedroom, damaging many of my record albums and anything else I had stored on the floor. The linoleum was also damaged and had to be replaced. After this disaster, many of my things were put in storage and moved to other parts of the house. From that time on, my room never felt the same again. It no longer looked, or felt, like the room I had grown up in. 

I created the illustration using Painter 12's "Real" watercolor brushes and a customized "Pen" brush.