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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

We are surrounded by a lot of noise – endless advertising and marketing, “news” that is really a recount of the violence and misfortunes suffered by our neighbors, and so on.

It’s why it’s so very important that we provide the positivity of books and reading to our children to help them find their way and to tune out the noise. There is so much beauty and love in the world, and what better way to “grow” a child than with the wonder that is found in books, and starting early, in picture books?

One book that is sure to bring love and a message of hope and self-confidence to kids is Myrtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes and illustrated by Jo Robinson. Myrtle wasn’t always a book, but it was a story. It was written quite some time ago to help a child – Cynthia’s own child, Lauren – overcome the heartbreak of being rejected as she began school. When Lauren brought her Cabbage Patch doll to school, she was shunned because her doll wasn’t “the right color”. To help her daughter understand how being different is not only OK, but a good thing, Cynthia wrote this story and read it to Lauren at bedtime.

Myrtle is a purple turtle and comes from a family of purple turtles. When made fun of and told she couldn’t possibly even be a turtle in that color, Myrtle first stands up for herself, but then becomes crushed by the ridicule. Her Mom tries to bolster her up, but Myrtle can see that no other turtles at the pond are purple. She tries making herself green to fit in, but encounters yet another problem. With the help of her friends, Myrtle comes to realize that being different is the way things are in the world. And that is something to be happy about.

What a great message for kids. You cannot help but love Myrtle and her sweet personality, and admire the confidence that she really does have inside as she feels safe enough in the world to fall asleep when she gets stuck upside down.

But Cynthia wasn’t done yet, and neither was Myrtle. In late 2018 Cynthia brought Myrtle’s sequel into the world, again accompanied by Jo Robinson, but this time, also joined by her daughter, Lauren Reyes-Grange. In Myrtle’s Game, Myrtle and her friends, skilled at playing a game that looks just like soccer in the water, ask the woodland animals if they can play soccer with them. Told that turtles can’t play soccer (everyone knows that!), squirrel tells them to come back when they can move faster. Daunted at first, the turtles hatch a plan where Myrtle finds a way to use her talent to succeed on land. How does she do it? You’ll have to read the book!

Read more about Myrtle the Purple Turtle and Myrtle’s Game, including where you can order, at Cynthia’s blog. You just might know a child (or two) who could be inspired and heartened by Myrtle’s growing belief in herself, and her knowledge that being different is something special indeed.

 

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Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.

~ Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Lately it’s been a bit of a challenge to settle down to write a post. Whether due to lack of time or lack of brain, I have been remiss. But yesterday, I couldn’t help but be inspired.

When I went out to get my mail, my friend across the street was coming out as well. We stopped and chatted for a while in the road, both amazed at the sunny, balmy 56˚ weather. But alas, there was work on my desk and I needed to go back in, balmy or not. At my computer, I looked out the window at the sun streaming onto my back porch. Certainly going a mere 15′ from my Mac wouldn’t really be absconding from work, would it?

I looked down, over the porch railing, and saw an array of amazing textures and light. Just last week, it had been -1˚ in the morning, and these warm temps were resulting in a momentary thaw and so many abstract visions. I grabbed my camera and took some photos because … well, I needed to.

Melting ice was beginning to stream into the yard, and there were a few bright berries left on the bushes.

The twisted base of one of the hydrangeas defied a sense of scale; I could be looking down into a canyon …

or watching a snowy river rush by.

The intricate patterns of nature are stunning even in their most dormant stages. Sometimes even more so.

And then I really needed to get back to work.

 

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A new year is on the horizon.

For this new year, may we all find our dreams, our peace,
our perfect right place in the world.

May our world also grow in peace, in love. and in acceptance of all,
both human and creature.

And may we always remember that peace begins with us.

Here’s to you and your dreams fulfilled.

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People often ask me if I put up a Christmas tree. I used to put up a beautiful live tree each year, but haven’t in a while. Time being one of the reasons, but over the years, pets became another reason. Have pets influenced your decisions about a tree?

A friend and neighbor, in the face of my treeless status, offered me a small one she had and no longer used. Of course, I have a bazillion ways to trim it collected over the years, but I also had easy access to a few things. There it is, on my oak bench where I can enjoy it when I journal, read, or soon … write rather late Christmas cards.

A very dear friend of mine has a saying which I have now incorporated into my vernacular – “Something is better than nothing.” And indeed, I find it true. It’s small, but it’s something. I find myself fairly mesmerized by this little stranger which reminds me of many Christmases gone by. I like just sitting near it. Funny how deeply ingrained our memories can be.

The good thing is that Jazzy, unlike previous pets, has not decided to pull it over or de-trim it. The first of my beloved pets to have me reconsider the wisdom of having a tree was Mewsette. As is true with many felines, she did her best work at night, and every morning I would come down to find at least the bottom tier of ornaments missing, some broken. OK, let’s just put unbreakable ones on the lower branches. It minimized breakage but didn’t affect one iota my having an ornament scavenger hunt each morning. The final result? Nothing detachable at the bottom of the tree. Not very pretty.

Then we had Chloe, one of my pair of sweet pittie girls. Chloe was determined to see if she could possibly squeeze in the corner behind it. I would come into the room with her shmushed behind the tree, tail wagging off ornaments. Nothing I could do would discourage her efforts. Yet another strike against the concept of having a tree, especially on the occasion when she knocked it over.

Shut the animals out of the room, you say? Who wants to be in the living room, tree all aglow, without your fuzzy ones to keep you company? Or chase them in and out? Eventually, I just gave up. There have always been little spots of Christmas all over the house which, on the whole, none of them ever paid any mind. But this little tree? Perhaps it is my toe into the waters of real trees.

Or maybe this is just perfect for me.

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Please welcome not only an adorable little Frenchie baby, but a touch of nostalgia for times gone by, when a child might be excited to find a real Steiff pull toy underneath the tree. The lights were much bigger, the ornaments glass, and the smell of balsam pine wafted through the house.

Our little pied girl will soon find there’s nothing to worry about with her new stuffed friend, but still she wonders … could she come home with you, then visit your friends and family? You can find her plus more holiday cards, gift ideas, and my new journal in my shop on Etsy. Please stop by!

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If anything is ever true, it’s that everything always takes longer than you think it will. It’s been beyond a month’s journey just to get my new Frenchie journal ready to greet the world on Etsy and, I hope, to find some appreciative buyers. I created the journal, put together all the artwork, front and back, over 2 months ago, but all that’s entailed in actually getting it printed and ready to market is quite another story. But at last … here it is!

I had a small business with French bulldog notecards and holiday/Christmas cards a number of years ago. For a variety of reasons, it made sense to put it to the side at the time, but the inspiration to start it up again with some new and fresh ideas has been twinkling inside me for a while now. As a result, I am re-launching it with this journal which features my own artwork, front and back. On the back is a pencil sketch of a French Bulldog puppy that I included on Pinterest and which became, much to my surprise, wildly popular between views and saves. I am going to hand sign the drawing on each journal, so anyone inspired to frame it will have a bona-fide signed print of my artwork!

I am so pleased to have my shop on Etsy (where you will also find my Christmas and holiday cards) – it’s a great venue for creative people to sell their art, high quality crafts, and more. There’s also a lot to know, so I am starting with sales to North America first and as I get the hang of how everything works, I will expand to Europe next. (I know there are a lot of Frenchie lovers in Europe, so please be patient – I am a work in progress myself.) If you’d like to check out my new journal and holiday cards, please stop by my shop.

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As a graphic designer, I work on a wide variety of projects – ads, booklet, flyers, magazines, fund-raising pieces, websites, etc – which I love, because it keeps me interested and challenged. I have been expanding my involvement in children’s books, helping authors get self-published through my design work. Up to this point, I have focused exclusively on picture books … until now.

Approached by a children’s writer I know to do a chapter book, I hesitated. I do love working on picture books, and wondered if maybe I should stay with what I know best. Well, I took the challenge and the result is the first chapter book I designed, The Last Rhino, by Deb Stevenson. Deb, illustrator Morgan Spicer, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

If interested in reading more on my initial journey with chapter books, please visit my graphics blog. To learn more about The Last Rhino, just click on the image above, or watch Deb’s outstanding trailer.

 

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This morning when I went out to the mailbox to retrieve my mail, I spied something at my front door. It was sitting quite nicely in front of my little children’s bench which holds a flower box filled with overflowing pink and white Impatiens. What could that be? I thought. I didn’t order anything. And because I was feeling a tad under the weather, I immediately wondered if it was a misdelivery, something from a company I didn’t order, etc. Whatever it was, it did get my curiosity going.

I brought it inside and looked at the label. Sure enough, it was addressed to me, and from a company I’d never heard of. More and more curious. I opened it up to find no note or identifying information, but when I brought out the one item inside, it brought tears to my eyes.

Someone had sent me one of the most meaningful and thoughtful gifts I could receive at this moment in time. Something that affirms my strength as a woman and as a writer, from someone who obviously knows the challenges I’ve faced over the last 5 or so years.

We all have our challenges; there is no doubt about that. I was joyfully on my journey of writing and illustrating children’s books, and had been for a while. It was a long-awaited return after I had studied under the renowned children’s book author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz at the New School in NY so many years ago. And then things happened. It doesn’t really matter what they were, but they had the effect of disrupting many aspects of my life, among them my children’s book journey. This was my dream. And although it had to sit on the sidelines for a while, it never sat alone. I did everything I could, however tiny, to keep it alive even though it could hardly take my full attention.

As time passed and I worked to regain my balance in all aspects of my life, I have – little by little – returned to my writing for children, to my dream of being published. I don’t have the luxury of writing full time, as most writers do not, but more and more, it is in my thoughts and in my daily plans. I know I’m back on track – maybe not sprinting yet, but I am out there and picking up speed.

And whoever sent me this mug knows that, and I thank you deeply for acknowledging it. I will find you and I will thank you.

For the rest of you women writers out there, especially those who face challenges and proceed in spite of them, tomorrow morning I am going to toast you all with my first cup of coffee in this mug. Cheers to you and your writing dreams.

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Friday night marked the end of an extremely hectic and  stressful work week. How do you know it was stressful?

I just kept throwing the mail in a pile, unopened. I checked for bills and anything of a personal nature – other than that, it would have to wait.

The two small bags of goodies I’d purchased at the annual Tinicum Arts Festival were still sitting in the exact same place they were when I brought them home last Sunday afternoon.

But perhaps most amazing – and a sure sign of excessive busyness – I had ice cream in the freezer from last week’s shopping and forgot all about it! Now that’s really just kind of sad. I mean, how does that even happen?

But let’s go back to Tinicum. The Tinicum Arts Festival is an annual event in PA just on the other side of the river and south about 10 miles or so. The 2 day fair hosts many crafters, artisans, and artists all of whose work is excellent quality. I try and go every year, if not to buy, then just to browse and chat with fellow artists.

This very talented potter has been coming for several years now and I remember her from last year. Above is a sample of her horsehair work, a vase. All her work is just lovely, and truly are pieces of art.

I went to the festival with a few things in mind that I hoped I might find. One, a pair of pierced earrings with silver and black. I have plenty of earrings that I am very fond of and wear often, but when I am wearing black, I really have nothing to go along. This vendor had a great selection of beautifully crafted jewelry using crystals plus a good assortment of earrings at very reasonable prices. I chose this sweet pair of mermaids sitting on a black sphere. And checked off one of the things I was looking for.

I also wanted to find something relatively inexpensive as a surprise for my brother and sister-in-law’s anniversary. I don’t traditionally buy them anything for this occasion, but I felt like sending along something small and unexpected – something that would put a smile on their face.

This petite earthenware plaque was one of many available, all of which had short phrases and quotes on them. Some I might have liked for myself, but didn’t think they would be too crazy about. But how cute is this one? Not to mention perfect for an anniversary. Check!

Now we come to possibly the biggest challenge. One of the first vendors we came upon was a maker of hand-crafted soaps and other toiletries. One of the things I’d had in mind for the anniversary couple was a nice handmade soap. She had so many scents! As with all handcrafted soaps at events such as these, they’re made with high quality oils and other pure ingredients, and are so much more wonderful than the usual array of soaps we come across.

The seller offered a slight discount for three bars, so I bought three – almond, orange coconut, and black raspberry vanilla. Talk about fabulous. The challenge I mentioned? Will I actually be able to part with one or maybe be a little selfish and keep them all for myself? You didn’t hear it, but I just let out a huge sigh there. Of course, I’ll send them one – they’ll love it. But which one?

 

The black raspberry vanilla was just too heavenly and truly smells like its name. Just look at that delicious swirl!

The Arts Festival really seems to grow every year with more and different vendors and craftspeople than before. A new Bonsai fellow was there with his perfectly manicured living pieces of art and was a delight to chat with, plus many others – makers of pottery and homemade foods, painters,  photographers, stained glass artisans – it’s just always a wonderful event. And at the end of this very busy week, I can finally enjoy all “the little things” I was so lucky to find. Not just my purchases, but a beautiful day, time well-spent with a friend, and the enjoyment of having been around so much creativity.

We need little things – it’s good to be happy.

 

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The first thing to happen is your brain starts to slowly disintegrate on the way home. Once in the door, you need to tend to anything that needs tending to because your body is following close behind and is not going to be in an upright position too much longer. From stress? Nope – from the incredible rush of attending a two-day conference for writers and illustrators of children’s books. It’s exhausting alright, but in a good way.

Each June my New Jersey chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) holds its big event. There are workshops, round tables, one-on-one critiques, a juried art show, portfolio display, keynote speeches, and more. This year, in choosing my workshops I focused entirely on writing in picture books. Other years, I have mixed things up and taken workshops in middle grade and young adult writing, picture book illustration, marketing/social media, and more. There were some truly fabulous speakers this year who inspired me and will keep me thinking long after the conference.

A highlight of the NJ event for many attendees is the availability of having one-on-one critiques, something not offered at all SCBWI (or other writing) conferences, and I picked very well this year. The picture book I submitted seemed a very good fit for Charlesbridge Publishing, and my mentor was outstanding – knowledgeable, insightful, and beyond helpful. Did I mention thorough? Yes, very thorough. A good editor or agent really knows how to show you where you need improvement without destroying your soul, acknowledge all the things that are right with your manuscript, and point out directions that will help you make your story perfect. And that I got.

The big challenge after a conference like this, for me, anyway, is to keep the momentum and all that excitement going because Monday morning rolls around pretty quickly and I am back at my desk writing and designing for everyone else, i.e., my clients. However, one of the first things I did Monday was to hit the library. I was picking up an adult novel I’d requested on inter-library loan, Before We Were Yours, and also a number of picture books that had been recommended by my mentor and other workshop leaders along the way. I also requested a few more from our main library. (As I did not take any photos of the event, I have included a handful of those books here.) I plan to read them over the next couple days for both enjoyment and to understand what makes them really good picture books. There is always much to learn.

Over the next few days I will revisit the MS I submitted and all my mentor’s notes and look to see how I can make my story shine yet brighter. For all the praise she gave me for this picture book, and there was plenty, it wasn’t enough – at least not yet – to be the one Charlesbridge wants to publish. Not yet.

 

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Life sometimes pulls us in one direction … then another … then another. Grabs us by the collar and says, “You need to take care of this, but be sure you do this, oh! and this!” The end result is we writers look quite absent from our blogs from time to time. But be assured, this writer is still here, just pulled in all those directions.

There’s been a boatload of work, which, as a freelancer, I will never complain about; preparation for my being a guest speaker at an Animal Writers Workshop (you can check that out here); preparation for the annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) June Conference coming up in 2 weeks; the usual (un)expected running around for all manner of things, some pleasant, some less so; and, of course, reading! No matter what else is happening, I am always reading.

To this end, I’m going to catch you up on the wonderful books I’ve enjoyed.

After reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein it was clear that I wanted to read more from this great mind. I perused Goodreads and requested A Sudden Light from my library. What a magnificent book. I will officially now read anything this man writes. A Sudden Light is a story told in the first person by 14-year-old Trevor who travels with his father to the family’s Riddell House in Oregon. His parents’ marriage is in trouble, and this trip to meet his aunt and grandfather is to allegedly settle some financial issues, put the grandfather in a nursing home, and dispose of the house. The home’s exterior is constructed of huge trees, and was built by Elijah, Trevor’s timber baron great grandfather. Trevor soon finds they are not alone in the house; there is a ghost, who has remained to see that Elijah’s last wishes be carried out, that the property be returned to a natural state as amends for the desecration he caused to the land. Somehow Stein has managed to put together an historical novel, a compelling ghost story, a tale of multi-generational conflicts and family secrets against a backdrop of the Pacific Northwest. Read more here and scroll down and visit The North Estate. Be sure not to read any spoilers!

Following this, I read The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, a novel (her first) with a most unusual premise. Four children, brothers and sisters edging into adolescence, hot and bored in the Lower East Side summer of 1969, decide to visit a gypsy fortune teller who is said to be able to give you the exact day you will die. The kids do it on a lark, just for something to do. The eldest brags about how far in the future her date is; she’ll live to a ripe old age. Another sibling shares, but the two others are clearly shaken and will not reveal their dates. It’s all just a joke anyway, right? The following chapters follow the life of each child, as the reader, in suspended animation, follows the sibling’s choices leading up to the possible fulfillment of their individual prophecies. Warm, engrossing, a fascinating premise, and very well-written.

I then read the next in the Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny. I never thought I’d be interested in reading a series by anyone (at least not after my beloved Nancy Drew mysteries from my childhood) but Louise Penny changed my mind. Inspired by a post by fellow blogger Cynthia Reyes, I picked up a couple of Penny’s books from my local library and was very impressed. So much so, in fact, that I decided to read the entire series from the beginning (not one right after the other, but interspersed among other reading.) What a great decision! Penny is an excellent writer who knows how to hook you from beginning to end. With a cast of characters that one becomes more attached to with each book, mysteries unfold to be solved by Chief Inspector Armand  Gamache of the Surété of Quebec, the premiere investigative arm of homicide in that province. The Brutal Telling is book #5 and calls upon Gamache to solve the murder of an unknown individual whose cabin is buried in the woods surrounding the quaint village of Three Pines. The evidence points to a seemingly unlikely character, which can only leave the reader quite puzzled. Are they  really capable of murder? The book ends with that individual’s arrest, and we are left wondering.

The next book in the series, Bury Your Dead, is considered a companion to this one, so I elected to read it right after, and it does pick up quite literally where The Brutal Telling ended. What is engaging about Penny’s writing is that she is not just writing simple mysteries, but increasingly complex novels which explore Canadian culture and history from Vancouver to Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain, to revered artists. Her characters grow realistically and empathically, and it’s very easy to become involved in their lives and the small town of Three Pines. If you like an absorbing mystery that will also give you a little more to sink your teeth into, look into this series. I suggest you start with the first in the series, A Still Life. There is a growing richness with each subsequent novel, and Penny will always keep you guessing until the end. Oh! And another small perk – whenever characters are eating, Penny always takes a moment to describe the deliciousness of their food. It’s a tantalizing little diversion each time.

I took a turn into another age group after this and read Crenshaw, a middle grade novel by Kathlerine Applegate, the author of a book I love (and own), The One and Only Ivan, an absolutely wonderful read. This story is about Jackson, a young teenage boy, and his family whose financial situation has changed from precarious to dire with them being forced to live in their minivan. Again. The story touches on an important subject, homelessness and the challenges faced by those who may be barely getting by. But there is another important character – Crenshaw himself, a very large cat. Crenshaw is Jackson’s imaginary friend from when he was a little boy, returned to be supportive of Jackson in his time of need … whether Jackson wants him there or not. Needless to say, this lends itself to moments of humor, but at its heart, this story is about resilience, friendship, and how we survive tough times. It was a good read, but for some reason, didn’t grab me the same way Ivan did. I’d still recommend it to the middle grade readers you know because we are all always facing some challenge or other, and this age group will appreciate Jackson and Crenshaw’s approach to a problem more common than most think.

I’m now reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, another terrific writer. I have read at least four of her other novels, The Poisonwood Bible being a permanent resident on a particular bookcase reserved for those books that I would definitely read again. Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you about Flight Behavior somewhere in the vague timeframe of when I finish it.

Whether you are inspired by the stories mentioned above or are on a book path of your own, I will always wish you … Happy Reading!

 

 

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