Today, Aretha Franklin passed...and it sucks. I'm sad. I'm a lifelong fan feeling what a lot of people are feeling today. Aretha was always there. We didn't think about it, she just was. We took it for granted because she was just so familiar.
We know all the music. We've seen the performances. We know the Kennedy Center You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman moment for Carole King. We know Amazing Grace before President Obama. We love her Precious Lord at Martin Luther King Jr's funeral. We love those grainy black and white performances that we Youtube now, where we strain our eyes to make out her face . . . but we watch the whole thing and are better music lovers for it. We ALL know the words to Respect. We know the hairstyles and the fur coats. We know the gowns and the strong elegance with which she wore them. We know the Gyvenchy purse on the piano.
By the way, I'd never heard the reason for the purse on the piano (which she did even recently). Back when she started in the business, black singers in the south would often get stiffed on their payment for a performance. So she started demanding the cash up front, stuffed it in her purse, and kept it in her eyeline throughout the whole show. It was her money, she was gonna leave with it. For the rest of her career, if you look carefully, you can see that purse on stage...on the piano, under the piano. It's there.
In 1986, I might have been the only high school freshman on my bus listening to Sam Cooke and The Supremes and SUPER obscure Ike & Tina Turner music. Sidenote: it was my parents that turned me on to Ike & Tina. And my Dad handed me my first Supremes collection . . . the bluest blue cover with three records and collectible portraits of each of the ladies.). Thank you, guys! Hopefully, I wasn't the only one listening to Aretha. She showed up on my radar with a new, contemporary song "Freeway of Love", which was part of a resurgence of her radio-play career. It didn't take long for me to make the connection, "ooohhh, she's the Respect lady". And that was it, I went in head first in to the deep, deep archives . . . starting with the "30 Greatest Hits" album. That was all I needed for a good long time. Baby, I Love You. I Never Loved a Man. I Say a Little Prayer. I loved it all. I was certainly into her new, current, pop album. But, the "old stuff" was IT.
It wasn't until my adult years that I realized that she wasn't just a singer that made me feel things. And I felt a lot of things (chief among these was that I didn't care what was popular then, "THIS is GOOOOOOLDEN"). But I realized that she wasn't just a singer, she was a figure . . . a notable figure . . . an important figure. She was a part of some of the most important events of the civil rights movement. She was paying underpaid musicians their worth when no one else was. She created music that no one knew we needed until she gave it to us. She was respected across the globe more than I could have ever imagined. That's when I realized that one of my favorite singers was one of the greatest performers in history. One of the coolest, most elegant, most talented, most badass women that we'll ever know. I never took her for granted after that.
She’s gone today, but she's not . . . really.
One of the most fun parts of my A.D. role at Cantata Learning is conceiving the cover image before handing off the briefing to the artists. The process is simple. I devour the manuscript and try to "see" images from the book, that also WON'T appear in the book already. (For few seasons, we using interior art to fashion a cover. Onc ewe expanded the scope of work for the artists to include the cover, we had a real opportunity to create something special for every book.) I share my sketches with myths Editor and we discuss if this image is the right "face of the book". sometimes, I'll go back and resketch a couple times to get it just right. From there, I hand it off tot he artist along with the manuscript handsome production guidelines. We work with such amazing artists that I always encourage them to take me concept and play with it. "My sketch is just a road map."
Here are some examples of the Fall 2018 cover concept sketches with their final covers!
After 9 seasons making books for Cantata Learning, I STILL get super excited for the day the samples arrive. The Fall 2018 books showed up last week! Art directing (working with insanely talented illustrators) and designing* the books as well is such a labor of love. So cool to have these books in hand!
*This season, Shawn Biner joined in on the fun. While I directed the art and design for the new Cantata bilingual series (illustrated this season by Suzie Mason), Shawn was in the trenches designing these books. Thanks, Shawn!
Check out this season's titles!
When you're on a family vacation and your brother tells you that his dog is obsessed with the pelican in their backyard...you HAVE to draw it. #ArtFromTheRoad
We just wrapped production on this labor of love! Written by Alexs Pate and illustrated by Soud, Being You (published by Capstone Publishing) is a beautiful moment of a book that empowers young people to define themselves. These pages deliver a message of hope and self-discovery in a time of uncertainty in our world. With an authentic voice, Being You’s poetic message of love and optimism for the future speaks directly to today’s children. Being You helps us to see the wonder and light within each of us.
You guys! A thing I did! Here's the trailer I created for the book I'm also Art Directing and Designing. "Being You" (written by Alexs Pate, Illustrated by Soud and pub'ing in August by Capstone) encourages children to be seen for who they really are—not just who they’re told to be—and challenges adults to respond with clear eyes. It's been a labour of love for everyone involved. We can't wait to share it with you!
Last weekend was incredible!!! The Bharat Babies team and I had a very special story time and book signing at one of my most favorite places in the world...the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art! Book signings are fun, but this was especially moving for me. The Carle is such an inspiring place with so many of my illustration heroes on the gallery walls and the bookshelves. I was a lucky guys this weekend to be part of it.
The Reading Library! Author extraordinaire, Amy Maranville read our first Bharat Babies book, Hanuman and the Orange Sun. As BB's flagship book and my first illustration project with the indie publisher, this book is INCREDIBLY special. I couldn't have been more proud to see the kids' excited faces as the pages turned!
As an added little surprise (to the kids and to me), I did a little drawing demo. Luckily, I'd brought some drawing sheets for the kids to follow along! I'll confess, I was little nervous. But I think it went well. More than well, actually. It was a really special moment to watch the kids drawing along. Nothing is more sweet than kids making art. There's video...but it 's not gonna happen on this post. ;-)
After we were all drawn out, it was book signing time!
Another surprise that still has me a little emotional was "The Caterpillar Book". Our amazing hosts at the Carle asked us to sign "the book". The Caterpillar Book has been signed by all the authors and illustrators that have been to the Carle. This book (Volume 6, so far) has been signed and drawn in by some of my personal heroes. It was incredibly humbling and exciting and wonderful. With a shaking hand, I left a mark of my name and Hanuman Dada's handsome mug!. (Even typing this part of the post is getting me a little misty. Seriously, an incredible moment!
The day was magic...and not just for the fun of book signing and being a part of something so sweet. To be with the Bharat Babies team, my husband, my Dad and friends who totally surprised me when they walked in the door (The Carle is a pretty good drive from home) made it all the better. So much love and inspiration on one little ol' Saturday afternoon.
The day was not without a few extra special moments, too!
But, wait! It gets better!
What better way to celebrate this than with a little fun with Kathie Lee and Hoda!? Our book was featured this morning on the Today Show as one of this week's "Kathie Lee and Hoda's Favorite Things"! CHECK IT OUT HERE!
One last WONDERFUL thing!
Our brilliant author stopped in for some satellite radio fun with Hoda today. Thanks to Raakhee and Hoda for the photo!!! Hooray!
This was some super fun news! Completely delighted to see that the Midwest Book Review Children's Book watch recommends my learn-to-draw book I illustrated and created with Blake Hoena for Cantata Learning!!!!! I love this series and this book was one of my favorites!
Today was a fun one. The Bharat Babies gang and I were at Annies Book Stop in Worcester, MA for a reading and quick book signing. It's always really sweet to share the stories and pictures with little ones. Fun day, Thanks to Sailaja Joshi for setting this up!
I'm BEYOND excited that my next book is an Aesop fable. Really?! For Cantata Learning, I'm illustrating an upcoming edition of The Crow and the Pitcher.
For this book, the fist step I took was to create the crow character. A strong series of poses from the beginning will help ensure character consistency later. References are always good. But they're best when you create your own!!! The evolution of the crow himself has actually come together easily. I fell in love with him immediately. It's almost like he's drawing himself.
Now, it's time for the work! First step here is to start sketching on the blank layout with text in place.
Sshhh. Don't tell the Editor, but I one to color before we even reviewed the sketches together. What can I say? I just couldn't wait!
So, what I know about myself as an illustrator is that I can easily overwork something. So, my first color test (above) was an attempt to lay down some style and let it sit for a day or two...or three to see how I thought things were shaping up. Don't overwork it. Don't look to closely. Day 1, "Cool!" Day two, "Meh, alright, but I'll give it another day." Day three, "We are NOT there yet." I took down' some line weight, loosened up on shapes, and played with more color. Most importantly, I went back to what feels good and natural for me. I admittedly struggle with this idea that illustration should come so easily that I can do it blindfolded. Not the case. The is work, a craft. There's a balance between "what feels right naturally" and "what is successful after focused effort". I feel like I got there. I'm happy...happy to move on with this crazy, determined bird. Now, with this out of the way, I can be as focused as this crafty little corvus!
The studio is full of music today! I love music discovery...especially something like this.
It's a little quirky in places, and a lot beautiful everywhere. I stumbled upon him when I heard "Nemesis" on TV and Shazam'd it! Hooked! Love him and his music...clearly influenced by another favorite of mine, Nina Simone. Give is a try, you won't be sorry. Beautiful and all the inspiration I need to get through a lot of design work today!
Since Bharat Babies' inception in 2014, I've had the pleasure of illustrating a number of books for them. Check out their iFundWomen campaign and far in love with them for yourself...they're doing great stuff to bring diversity to kidlit!
One of my favorite side hustles is working with my husband on the promotional materials for his students' Drama Club at Lynn English High School. Posters, programs, and stuff.
The newest latest is for a staged performance of two classic (and unnerving) short stories: The Necklace and The Monkey's Paw. Michael's first concept was a warm room with a wing chair by the fireplace and a window showing the snowy night outside. I saw something different. I tried to work up a concept of images of the objects central to the stories in a mash-up that was to be intriguing and engaging.
Aside from the age-old notion that the customer is always right, the more we worked on the concept, the more I saw the value in his original idea. I still loved my concept, but I suddenly had a breakthrough. I visualized a scene like he first wanted, but I flipped it a bit...in perspective and style. Together (he a very...involved client) we landed on a concept of the fire with haunting, outstretched shadows. Michael was looking for a little distortion and a few warped details. I was envisioning something in a color-blocked and cut paper style. In fact, it brought me back to my first explorations in the children's illustration space. Sharp lines, Photoshop masks, texture, lots of shading and color blocking. This was a perfect opportunity to revisit some of my early techniques. In fact, I think it's a great style for me to explore. It came together so smoothly once I had this image in mind.
Sometimes, for a project like this (one that marries illustration and design), I find it really helpful to place text and design elements right into the art temporarily to "see" how it's going. In the end, after a REALLY fast process, The poster came together really well. the poster is in production as I type this post!
Bharat Babies is a Boston-based publisher and consumer products company. Their mission is simple: design and produce developmentally appropriate books that tell children's stories about India's Heritage. (By the way, I TOTALLY lifted that from their site. I wanted to make sure I got he mission right since the work they do is SO important...and lovely)
When I was tapped by the wonderful folks at Bharat Babies, it was to illustrate their very first book Hanuman and the Orange Sun. This book featured the delightful character of a little girl named Harini. She just MAY have been modeled by the Publisher's daughter, Ojo...one of the cutest kids I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.
I'm happy to say that the character of Harini caught on and ushered readers through a series of other stories published in the years since. It was an insanely wonderful compliment to hear from the publisher, Sailaja, that I'd captured her daughter's spirit and character with my scribbles! Delighted to get the call to draw Harini in her next tale, Let's Celebrate Diwali! Here's the cover and a peep at few pages:
Drawing this book about how Harini and her friends at school share stories about how they and their families celebrate Diwali was a blast. Loved it! These kids are so sweet. And Ojo...sorry, Harini is quiet the little party host! When Sailaja and her family shared these portraits with me recently, I was over the moon! So amazing to see Ojo and Harini together!
(Click to enlarge)
Ack!!!!!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE these pictures!
And last week I found out that my Let's Celebrate Diwali days were NOT over! The book is already in reprints and the team wanted to celebrate THAT with a brand new cover! The Bharat Babies Design Extraordinaire asked me to bring some of Harini's classmates to the cover. I took this as an opportunity to introduce a new title treatment to fit the new art and the BB overarching branding. Ready? Here's the new cover! Hooray!
Be on the lookout for so much great Bharat Babies stuff! And check out their site.
As a kid, one of my most favorite things in the world were my learn-to-draw books. I mean, Ed Emberley! Right?!
As the Art Director for Cantata Learning, I seized and opportunity to illustrate their first series of drawing books. Not only were they Cantata's first learn-to-draw books, they were mine too. It was a little daunting, but an insanely fun project working with our Editor/Author for these books, Blake. This was not a typical book project where I could just await a manuscript with art notes. Nope. Since I was inventing the instructions that readers would use, I worked with Blake every "step" along the way. Get it? Step? Step-by-step? Forget it.
Also, since Cantata Learning books are set to music, we had to work together to make sure that the steps made for good text to make for good music. Super collaborative process...tons of fun.
A few weeks ago...samples arrived! This was such a great experience, they WON'T be my last drawing books!
Even more fun...this weekend I got to bust out a few sample for the kiddos as a party. Few things fill me with more hope and inspiration than watching future artists go for it!
TPC studio got a new wall this week.
It's sketching time for my next Cantata illustration gig! In fact, we're already moving to color. Time flies! Here are some sketches and the first color page (in progress):