Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mission Control

It won’t actually be mentioned in the book but what this guy is thinking is, “I wonder what would happen if I push this button?”

Monday, December 3, 2007

Space Race

What can I say? If I had hired someone to run this blog and they were posting at this pace, I’d fire them. But there is no support staff here at the studio, and no one to blame but yours truly, and the moon. I throw the moon in the mix there because the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing is coming up in 2009, and I have an oversized (thank you, Atheneum) picture book that must hit the shelves by then. For years this has been a story that I’ve wanted to tell, and these have been drawings that I’ve wanted to make, and so I wake up every day thrilled to have the chance to do it. And then I look at the calendar and the nausea kicks in. Well, NASA made their deadline (barely), and I’ll make mine. It’s just a matter now of seeing about the barely.

Robert's Snow

A sincere thank you to all who bid on the Lightship snowflake as part of the Robert’s Snow: For Cancer’s Cure auction. Thanks especially to the redoubtable Fuse #8 for blush-inducing publicity before the auction got underway, which no doubt helped to drive up the price, and to J.T.F., who bid with greatest gusto. And if you’re sitting there feeling sorry that you missed out on all the action, nurse those regrets no more! The final auction is underway from today through December 7. Have at it!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Texas Book Festival

This weekend (November 3 and 4) the Texas Book Festival sets up again on the grounds of the state capital in Austin. I’m glad to be on the roster this year. It’s a great festival, its only problem being that there are more authors to see and hear than time allows. As for me, I’m at the children’s story tent on Congress, Sunday the 4th at 11:00. I’ll be reading from The Racecar Alphabet and Lightship (one book about vehicles that go fast, and one book about a vehicle that doesn’t go at all). If you’re around stop by and say hello. Attending my spiel will also give you a good chance to beat the mobs and to get a good seat for the great Mo Willems, who’s up at 11:30. The size of the Pigeon’s crowd will help keep my ego in check — but it probably won’t beat a few years ago when I was at the signing table next to John Bemelmans Marciano, who was there with copies of Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales. That book features on its cover (1) Madeline, (2) Christmas decorations, and (3) the Alamo. I bear John no ill will; he’s a smart and talented and nice guy (and he’s dating a friend of mine, to boot). But going up against Madeline, Christmas, and the Alamo in Texas in November — it’s not work for the easily discouraged.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Finalmente, finito!

Friends, if you’re as amateur a blogger as I am — and admittedly that’s pretty amateur — then sometimes you let those big blog moments just pass you by. For instance, after beating the quasi finito, quasi finito drum for a while there, you’d think I would post the grand finito finale the moment the ink dried. Well, sometimes life gets in the way. So, for those of you keeping score at home, know that after the prolonged bout of cover design discussed below, The Hinky-Pink headed off to the printer a couple of weeks ago. It’s out of my hands now! This blog now goes pretty quiet on matters Hinky-Pinkish. We’ll pick this thread up again as the publication date approaches, when information about the book might actually mean something to someone other than myself, Megan, and the good team at Atheneum. Till then: Ciao, amici.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quasi finito, ancora

Reader, this blog has not the bandwidth to show all of the The Hinky-Pink cover sketches that have been circulating among Team Hinky-Pink of late. Sometime back, when the cover for The Racecar Alphabet was going through design after design after design, my editor, the great Dick Jackson, reassured me, “Oh, these things always go through the contortions of the damned.” And so now with The Hinky-Pink. But the good news is that we are at last arrived at a cover which I actually quite like. The last element that needed approving (received today!) was a revised The for the hand-drawn title. Other illustrator blogs (and, all right, sometimes this one) will show clever little offhand sketches that try to make you think that everything that comes off the pencil is a small glory. Here and today, though, we are not afraid to show the type of stuff that really eats the hours in this line of work. It’s the The.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Alfred H. Peets, 1920-2007

Until I read this obituary of Alfred H. Peets, I confess that I had no idea that there was a Mr. Peets behind Peet’s Coffee. No idea that a single individual had done so much to introduce quality, high octane coffee to North Americans. The man probably did more for the arts in America than all the Guggenheim Fellowships ever given. Assuming that his last cup was decaf, we say, rest in peace, Alfred H. Peets.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Quasi finito

I’ve been blogging blogging blogging about Lightship here, but off the Internet I’ve been finishing work on drawings for The Hinky-Pink, by Megan McDonald, a fine and funny folk tale-ish story of a young seamstress, set in Florence, Italy. Just a few weeks ago I thought that I was running at least a little late with these drawings. In what may be a first, though, it turns out that I am just about on time, which to a publisher is as good as early. Still, the book, which will come out next year from Richard Jackson Books/Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing (try saying that ten times fast), has been a long time coming, and I am grateful to Megan for the patience she has showed as the process has dragged out. In the best of circumstances an author can wait about two years to see a picture book text turned into, you know, a picture book, and The Hinky-Pink has been cooking for longer than that.

Given the above you might think that at the end of the strada it’s all relief and huzzahs here. The truth is that these big projects more often end with a whimper than a bang. And that’s no metaphor. This will sound a little dark, given that I love my work, but look at those pictures of our heroine Anabel up there, struggling to finish an important sewing gig. That pose is from the heart, reader. Illustrators and authors invest a lot of their professional and even personal hopes in their work, and several ironies and trials await those raw and vulnerable feelings at the end of each undertaking. First among them: By the end of a full-sized project like this you’ve logged so many hours at the desk that you can barely remember what you were trying to do in the first place, and yet it’s not until the whole thing is finished that you really get to see what you have in fact done and, more poisonously, could have done. Add to that the fact that in this line of work (“work”) you get about one shot on stage per year, and that's if you're lucky, and you can really crank up the pressure on yourself if all you do is sit around and, say, blog about this stuff.

Still, it beats the salt mines, and I know it. And fortunately there is a cure to the condition, which is to have the next project in mind (or already lined up, if you are, again, lucky), and to jump right back in.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Crossed over the bar

Last night I had an e-mail from Jay McCarthy of the Lightship Sailors Association, letting me know that early last month Hal Washburn, one of the lightship sailors I interviewed for Lightship, had, as they say in these circles, “crossed over the bar.”

Hal served on Light Vessel 115 as a young man, in 1945 and 1946, helping to warn ships away from the dangerous Frying Pan Shoals off the coast of North Carolina. His old ship, known to many people these days simply as the Frying Pan, happens to be docked in the Hudson River here in New York. (The picture here is one that I snapped earlier this month, while out on a schooner on the Hudson. Unlike the staid Ambrose lightship at the South Street Seaport Museum, the Frying Pan lightship is now used basically as a bar.) When Lightship was still in the sketch stage I got Hal’s contact information from the folks who run the Frying Pan now, and he treated me like an old friend from word one. He happily sent photos of himself and his friends from his lightship days, shared stories, and reviewed drawings and text. He was pleased, I think, to see his obscure (to most people, anyway) old line of work get the picture book treatment. I am pleased that the book got to him in time for him to see it and share it with his grandson, and remain grateful for his help.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dead calm

Yes, friends and readers, if I had to choose just one nautical term to describe the signing this past weekend, I would choose “dead calm.” Which beats “mayday,” I suppose, but, still. Well, it happens to the best of'em. And on the bright side, between the long lulls, there were some real and rewarding moments of connection with readers and families, and also plenty of time for those of us at the signing table to try on pirate eye-patches, so that it was, in the end, a well-spent afternoon. (Accidentally wrote "singing table" on the first go-round there, which may have been a Freudian slip, but let's not dwell on that.) Thanks to the Museum for hosting and to those who stopped by!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I must down to the seas again... the lonely sea and sky. Actually, not so lonely, is my true hope. By these words I mean to infer that I’m doing Lightship readings on LV 87, the Ambrose lightship herself, this Sunday the 26th, at the South Street Seaport Museum here in New York, and it would be great if you came by. Yes, you. This is part of the Museum's Super Story Sunday program. Those are their words, not mine. Anyway, we've got readings set for 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30, which, come to think of it, are probably about three times as many readings as we'll need, but there we are. Books for sale, too, and the chance to ask me trick questions about the boat. Or regular questions. Up to you. Bring the extended family!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lost at Sea

Even as I type, the able crew at Spoken Arts is at work on a video presentation of Lightship, coming this fall to the school and library market. Not a fully animated video, but not just pan and scan, either. Think Ken Burns, with more moving parts. I mean that in a good way. Anyway, it’s all pretty much straight from the book, except that Spoken Arts is working in one piece of art that was cut when I re-rigged the book’s ending at the last possible minute, and they also requested one new drawing to go with a line in the text about the difficulties of drinking coffee as the waves lift and drop the ship. (One more reason to stay on land, that.) In the book the moment with the drink of drinks is not illustrated, but Spoken Arts thought that something would feel missing in the video if there wasn’t a visual there. The loss of a cup of coffee is an emotional and difficult subject to draw, but here it is. Note that although the image is not here animated, you can rock your monitor back and forth and you’ll get the gist.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

First Post

If I'm fooling around with something new on the internet, then I must be on deadline. With that I say, Welcome to the blog. I’ll start the posting rolling with some behind-the-scenes goods from the most recent book, Lightship. Today, a sketch. Truth be told, it usually feels as though a rain forest worth of paper is required to move any idea from Notion toward the hallowed destination of Book, and most early drawings well deserve the trash can to which they are consigned — but occasionally you get a drawing which has that pleasing roughness and sense of exploration that can make a sketch more interesting than a finished piece. Or interesting in a different but equal way, let’s say. Anyhow, such is how I felt about this very worked, pencil, marker, tracing paper, and Scotch tape study of the engine room on the Ambrose lightship: