Every month I set aside some time to write about my
profession as a children's book illustrator and author because when I was an
aspiring illustrator I appreciated any knowledge a professional could offer
about how it was done and what it was like doing it.
I like being by myself, so illustrating is a good fit for me. I'm a slow thinker
and I like to work on a project over a period of time, doing research, changing
things around and observing the results and fine tuning and polishing. This
would be as opposed to creating an artwork in a manic surge of energy with a
burning focus. My books take about a year, but often the idea behind them has
been in the back of my mind for a while. I think about the idea when I get one
of those random inspirational connections. Maybe this could be called my style,
but I enjoy the longer time period associated with making a 32 page picture
I am way behind on this year's title, The Nutcracker. It will be one of those
very lush books that will encompass a lot of detail. Even though I have
completed a dummy showing the borders and the decorative treatment I have in
mind for the pages I still leave some decisions for the final pages. I will have
more room in the next step after the dummy, and the scenes will be more
completely rendered, which changes the art's focus as well. My trip to Russia
five years ago for CINDERS and THE TURNIP has proven fruitful for E.T.A.
Hoffmann's short story. The short story was made into a ballet score by
Tchaikovsky, and the ballet score was intensified and shortened into what is
known as THE NUTCRACKER SUITE. I have always loved seeing the different versions
of the ballet and I am eager to create my version of the music from the Suite.
Ideally the music could be played while reading my picture book. The ballet's
music is over an hour long so it would be too long to accompany a picture book.
I have been attending Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts since I was a girl,
with my mother and grandmother. In my junior high, we also had the opportunity
to go to nearby Boston to listen to youth concerts to listen to the BSO. I
remember distinctly Bartok's Concerto for orchestra which I found amazing. All
the music wasn’t as approachable as The Concerto for Orchestra, but at some
point I realized how exhilarating listening to music could be. My imagination
was fired up and I felt familiar feelings that I couldn't name. I guess you
could say by creating my version of The Nutcracker I am trying to relive those
During this period of staying at home, and in my case
having to cancel my trip to Alaska to see my daughter and her family, it is
always nice to try and find a silver lining. I am kind of a homebody, and my
favorite activities outside of listening to Boston Symphony concerts are taking
care of my exhibition poultry (Polish chickens) and running. I was exploring the
margin of woods at the end of our garden where the Foxgloves were in full bloom.
In one area, hidden from view stood an amazing one. It was slight pink spire,
and the bell like blooms were spotted on their inner surface. What was
remarkable was the top flower, which was much larger, huge really, and in the
form of a gently cupped saucer. I took a picture and sent it to my cousin,
Leslie Van Berkum who has a successful and exquisite perennial and native
nursery in Deerfield NH. She informed me that it was an unusual genetic mutation
called Digitalis Peloria (Peloria being a variation of Greek, meaning monster,
or maybe hopeful monster) I was given a link to Kew Gardens in England. I
immediately joined their organization! It has a page called "Weird and Wonderful
Foxgloves" that was a big incentive. Apparently Foxglove aficionados never go by
a garden of Foxgloves without looking for this exotic, rare mutation. The weird
thing for me, is that it looks very much like the flowers I invented for my book
HEDGIE BLASTS OFF. They are on the tiny made-up planet of Mikkop. That is one of
my silver linings.
I hope you too are taken on interesting paths, and
especially creative ones.