Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sketch break

The deadline said: Work all weekend. The central nervous system (trembling, tired, and vibrating) said: Take a break. I broke. And how do illustrators take a break from drawing? Different drawing. Busman’s holiday’s are the only kind I know. So, I joined author/illustrator Tim Bush and others for some looking and sketching at the Met on Monday. My sketch of Germain Pilon’s bronze bust 0f the long-faced Jean de Morvillier is above. Now it’s back to drawing another long-faced certain someone.

More about her soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Majáková lod’

The other day I was looking through my copy of Richard Scarry’s European Word Book. (I bought the book while spending a few months in Prague years ago, so here “European words” means English, German, French, and Czech.) While flipping through the pages, this little drawing of a mouse manning (mousing?) a lightship jumped out at me. A lightship! And not just any lightship, but the Ambrose lightship! My God! Mon Dieu! Mein Gott! Ach můj bože! Scarry’s boat is a later generation lightship than the one I drew in Lightship, the one now docked at South Street Seaport Museum, but, still — how funny and strange to find that this illustrator whose work I enjoyed so much as a boy had touched this subject I would later discover (rediscover?) for myself. The more you read and write and draw, the more these things seem to loop back on you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Countdown: Apollo 10

Today, May 18, marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 10. Apollo 7 made the first manned flight of a Saturn launch vehicle and the first test in space of Command and Service Modules (the CSM). Apollo 8 flew to the Moon and entered its orbit. Apollo 9, in Earth orbit, tested the Lunar Module (LM) and docked it with the CSM, as astronauts returning from a lunar landing would have to do. On this day Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan set out to put all the pieces together.

First, the astronauts would first fly to the Moon and enter its orbit. From there Stafford and Cernan would fly their LM—designated Snoopy—to within 50,000 of the lunar surface, scout out the landing site for Apollo 11, then fly back up to dock with their CSM—designated Charlie Brown. (In his book The Last Man on the Moon, Cernan writes, “The image-conscious NASA public relations people who felt that Gumdrop and Spider weren’t really serious enough names for the historic value of Apollo 9 were even more underwhelmed when we obtained permission from Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz to christen the Apollo 10 command module Charlie Brown and call the lunar module Snoopy.” If California is in your range, you can see more about Peanuts and Apollo at the exhibit “To the Moon: Snoopy Soars with NASA,” currently running at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.) The plan for Apollo 10 was close enough to an actual landing that there were arguments within NASA for taking it that final step. And yet, there were so many complicated things being done, many still for the first time, all in extraordinary circumstances. The cumulative weight of the never-before-done aspects of the mission, plus the possibility of unknowns, kept Apollo 10 just above the face of the Moon.

Any flight to the Moon was by definition a nonstop string of extraordinary moments. Most were planned; two on Apollo 10 were not. The first occurred after Apollo 10 had left Earth orbit. As the last stage of the Saturn V rocket fired and pushed the astronauts toward the Moon—a maneuver known as Translunar Injection—a vibration began to run through the ship, “so strong that it threw us around in our straps,” Cernan writes. Andrew Chaikin writes in his book A Man on the Moon, “The vibrations worsened until Stafford could barely read the instruments.... Stafford held the abort button in his left hand; with a twist he could shut down the booster and end the mission. But he told himself, “No way. We’ve come this far—if she blows, then she blows.”” The vibrations continued for a full three minutes. When the engines stopped, so did the shaking, and the mission continued on course.

The second moment occurred as Stafford and Cernan were finishing their swift flight over the Moon. (They soared over the craters and plains at speeds close to 3,700 per hour.) As Stafford and Cernan were preparing to fly Snoopy back up to the orbiting CSM, the LM abruptly jerked out of control. Suddenly Stafford and Cernan were speeding, pitching, and spinning along, unable to rein in their ship. “Snoopy went nuts,” Cernan writes. “Things went topsy-turvy and I saw the surface corkscrew through my window, then the knife edge of a horizon, then blackness, then the Moon again, only this time coming from a different direction.” The mission was being broadcast live—which allowed Cernan’s choice words of reaction to be sent unfiltered to the listening audience on Earth. Stafford wrestled back control only seconds before the spinning would have led to a crash. He and Cernan ascended to the rendezvous with the CSM and, after a successful docking, the three astronauts headed home in Charlie Brown. Apollo 10 splashed down safely on May 26.

Those tense and dangerous moments notwithstanding, Apollo 10 was a success. All the necessary machines and maneuvers were now assembled and tested. Stafford, Young, Cernan and the teams at Mission Control had prepared the way for that last remarkable step, for landing on the Moon. Next stop: Mare Tranquillitatis — the Sea of Tranquillity.

Previous mission summaries are here. Coming next: Apollo 11.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reading and Signing at Book Culture

I’ll be traveling north this weekend — all the way to 112th Street — for a reading and signing of Moonshot at Book Culture bookstore. The signing is at 11:00 this Saturday, May 16. Book Culture is at 536 West 112th Street in New York. If that’s your neck of the woods I hope you’ll come by! Event details are here.

Friday, May 8, 2009


In January I wrote about how glad I was to have words of support for Moonshot from Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 11 mission. Since then I’ve been happy and honored to receive additional blurbs from these Apollo veterans:

Moonshot is a treat to look at and enjoy. The art is very accurate, in fact more accurate than I can remember seeing anywhere else. There is little that is not complex and confusing about space hardware, yet Moonshot gets it right. Very wonderful art in every way.”
— Alan Bean, Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 12

Moonshot is well done and should receive a warm welcome from many space age boys and girls.”
— James Lovell, Command Module Pilot, Apollo 8; Commander, Apollo 13

Moonshot is wonderful for keeping the dream alive for young people.”
— Edgar Mitchell, Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 14

“The most significant legacy of Apollo is the inspiration it instills in the hearts and minds of those young dreamers who follow in our footsteps. Moonshot furthers the romance of once again going where no man has gone before.”
— Gene Cernan, Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 10; Commander, Apollo 17

Those blurbs have been up on my web site, but I wanted quickly to say here how much I appreciate getting them and having the chance to communicate, even briefly, with such incredible individuals — individuals who have been to the Moon. Seeing those names in my e-mail inbox, or hearing them on my phone after wondering who might be calling from an area code I didn’t recognize (Houston, of course), has been a huge thrill. Just incredibly exciting.

I was particularly happy to receive Alan Bean’s note. This is indeed complicated stuff, and no matter how much of it you think you’ve figured out, it’s hard to know what you might still be missing or misunderstanding. So that note was a vindication and a relief. The other added thrill with hearing from Bean was that it was from artist to artist; since retiring from NASA in 1981, Bean has been painting full-time. You can see his art online at alanbean.com. You can also see it in the forthcoming Mission Control, This is Apollo, a big, beautiful, information-packed book for young readers, with text by Andrew Chaikin, author of the fantastic adult book (“adult book”) A Man on the Moon. Mission Control, This is Apollo is for ages 9 to 12, they say, but I’ve had a look at it and love it and I haven't been 12 in a long time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Impressions of Ereth

Joe Sutphin left a comment after the last post: “I got a good look at [Poppy and Ereth] and it appears that you have developed a new technique not used in the other Poppy books for hairs and whiskers. it looks as if you did some scraping to the paper surface before the rendering to create white ruts, is that correct?” Good eye, Joe, and you’re exactly right. After my last foray into porcupine research I gained a new appreciation for just how bristly the guys are. They’ve got not just the famous quills, but also lots of unruly hairs of various shades sticking out this way and that. I was trying to get a little more of that into my drawings of Ereth, and on a whim I impressed a few lines into a drawing-in-progress with the pointy end of a clay carving tool. (I chose a clay carving tool because one was nearby.) The impressed line stayed white when I shaded over it, and I ended up with the effect you see above. I was wary of changing the look of Ereth and the drawings too much in this the last book, but this seemed subtle enough not to be disruptive, and I liked the effect, and the new technique also gave me something a little new and interesting to think about, and I liked that, too. Thanks for noticing and for the question, Joe!