Friday, November 30, 2007

Last Day for Auction Two

Today is the last day for Auction Two of the Robert's Snow fund raiser. (Anyone who might be reading now that hasn't read my post a couple days back, this is the one my snowflake's in. See initial sketch above-click it makes it bigger.) The auction is said to end at 5pm, but I don't know what time zone they're talking. If you haven't checked out this round of flakes, do so now, right here. And if you're feeling charitable, please do throw down a nice bid on your fave or faves.

In other news, it's that reliably nutty time of year again. The making of and sending of holiday cards time of year. Up until the end of this year, I worked as a pressman at a letterpress shop, so I could print up and produce my own cards and envelopes essentially free. But since I bailed in October, that deal is done. So I put the same blood, sweat, and tears into this year's card but printed up "homemade" instead. Not quite as luxe as our letterpress babies, but it definitely still brings it. All week, I've been printing, cutting, folding, reassembling addresses, handwriting addresses, handwriting return addresses, stamping, and licking envelopes (sick). Soon there'll be close to 200 of these pups floating around via US Postal. So if you get one, please look past the laser print quality and see the love, love, love that went in to getting this done.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tangled Up In You

The first time I remember hearing any Bob Dylan music was when my stepdad loaned me BLONDE ON BLONDE when I was a junior in high school. I was blown away. But soon after, I put it back down and got back to listening to more of what I was already listening to then: punk rock. But now I'm back. I've been completely absorbed in the music and mystique of Bob Dylan for what seems like about two years now, nonstop. I can't quite put my finger on the obsession. I know I love his songwriting. His words are pretty difficult to interpret (if at all) but he paints great pictures throughout. And I know I love his sound. Or his sounds, really, cause he's done so much, so different. So that's a big part. I chew through one album at a time (there's so much) and there's so many different approaches, so many different sounds that it hasn't gotten old. Then there's the whole thing how he doesn't let any of us in. Which I can understand. So nobody knows for sure what he's really thinking. Yet, I don't want to know cause it'd just ruin it for me. I have a policy about not meeting my heroes (and I use the term "hero" loosely--I'm not convinced he's a great guy or nice or anything like that. But I'm fascinated by his creativity and approach and he's a hero cause he's so amazing, to me, at what he does). The second I get too close to a hero, I'm instantly let down and I have to cut out. So I like to keep the heroes at arm's length. I love music and I go through it in phases. I usually listen to something for a couple of months, get tired of it, and find something else. But I haven't gotten tired of Dylan yet. Cause when I get tired of one album, I dig up another I haven't heard and I'm usually not disappointed (sometimes am) and have a whole new sound to enjoy.

Monday I went and saw the new Todd Haynes movie, I'M NOT THERE with my mom-in-law Janice (always good company). It was good. I wasn't in love with it, cause it definitely got a bit too pretentious at times for my tastes, but it really exceeded my expectations. I got chills when "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" played over the opening credits. And several scenes were pretty bone-chilling too. When the little kid version of Dylan is playing "Tombstone Blues" with these two old guys on a down south porch. The kids reaction when a southern woman tells him to "live his own time" and the look on the kid's face (when he was living in his Woody Guthrie inspired, folky, dust bow-ly, depression era of music that didn't live in the times of racial tension and politics of the day). And I was pleasantly surprised at how believable the Cate Blanchett version was. I thought it'd be too distracting/gimmicky but it wasn't. I liked the Blanchett version's reaction to the onslaught of questioning of those times. That time in his musical history is really fascinating to me. The first big shift for him-that "going electric" time. He wanted to do what he liked and took such abuse for it and yet he soldiered on. That had to be tough, especially at his level of popularity/unpopularity. So I liked to see Blanchett's exhausted "I'm just not what you want me to be" answering which played, far as I can tell, pretty true to life. I have to say, I really liked Haynes casting of different actors to play the different Dylans. It was a great idea. The Richard Gere sequences got me kinda lost, but otherwise it worked really well. So, I guess, it's the shape-shifting of Dylan that is also alluring. Because, it humanizes him. Nobody wants to do the same thing their entire life, do they? I don't anyway.

Which makes me wonder, then. How much longer will I be into Dylan?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Robert's Snow Auction 2 (Cordell included) Live This Week!

Above is my contribution, front and back, to this year's Robert's Snow fund raiser (click image to view larger). Auction 2 is now open this week (ends Friday) and you can find my snowflake along with many others to bid on right here.

For those who don't know, the Robert's Snow fund raiser was started in 2004 by author/illustrator Grace Lin (who has a children's book under the same name) when her husband, Robert Mercer, was diagnosed with sarcoma. Children's book illustrators from all over are personally invited annually to participate in the fund raiser by designing and illustrating her or his own handcrafted snowflake. Each snowflake is then auctioned off and the profits go toward cancer research. To date, the project has raised over $200,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for cancer research. Sadly, Mr. Mercer lost his fight against sarcoma and passed away in August of this year. But the Robert's Snow project and fundraiser lives on in his memory.

Many of us have also personally felt the sting of cancer. This is an excellent way to contribute to a great cause and take home a unique piece of original art this holiday season. Please take time to read more about Robert's Snow and browse through and bid on your favorite snowflake(s) here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Robert's Snow 2007 in Effect

The first Robert's Snow auction is in full swing. Read about this most excellent fund raiser here. Then view and bid on the first round of snowflakes in Auction 1 here. Please note that this auction ends Friday November 23 at 5 pm. Auction 2 (my snowflake's in this one) starts November 26 and ends November 30. And the last Auction, number 3, starts December 3 and ends December 7.

Be sure to look at them all and then drop some cash for a terrific cause!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Back from New Jack

Just got back from New York yesterday. It was crazy and a lot of fun. The whole point of the thing was for Julie to promote GET WELL SOON at the weekend's NCTE (National Conference for Teachers of English) event. I was really just tagging along for the ride and to support my lil lady. Though we worked in lots of extracurricular stuff and I squeezed in a signing of the THE MOON IS LA LUNA on Sunday too.

Kicked the visit off, Friday, with a dinner with one of my best buds from college, Will, at the world famous, very touristy (and tourist-priced menu) Carnegie Deli. Heard all about Will's tales of being a NYC dog walker, his arrest (and continued legal woes) for protesting the Republican National Convention, and his captain position on his neighborhood's pool league. I love ol' Will. He's got a huge beard and a shiny bald head.

Next day, Julie had her signing that went quite well. She had a nice-sized line when she sat down! Unloaded lots of books and custom made GET WELL SOON buttons. Later that day we visited the American Folk Art Museum which was awesome. I've been drawn more and more to folk art lately since seeing the kickin collection they have at nearby Milwaukee Art Museum. It's so pure, raw, and unpretentious. I love it. Wish I owned some. Someday.

Sunday, had my signing that morn which went much better than expected (didn't know what to think, small fish in big pond and all). I met, for the first time face-to-face, Karen Walsh and Lisa DiSarro of Houghton marketing and publicity team. Real nice people. Chatted it up, signed many copies of LUNA and TOBY AND THE SNOWFLAKES (with Julie on hand, who signed her name to those TOBY's too), then headed out to the much anticipated William Steig show at The Jewish Museum. We met new friends from Booklist there, Gillian and Stephanie. Man, were we all just blown away. I've been waiting a long time to view some Steig originals and I was not disappointed. Along with drawings from my personal faves, GORKY RISES and SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE, there were his actual dummies, doodles, and stream-of-conscious drawings on hand. Not to mention the several pics of him drawing and his studio and tools and vid of him speaking and drawing (I've always wondered what he drew with--lots of things actually). What a draftsman he was! There were also these beautifully designed galleries for kids and adult interaction painted with awesome Steig-inspired murals, panels, doors, pulleys and what not (see the pic above, ripped from last week's NEW YORKER). So cool.

That eve, we went to this blowout ALAN reception, where Julie and tons of other YA authors were guests of honor. It was a regular YA superstar freakfest. Julie chatted it up with many of her idols and faves and I tried hard to hear what people were saying (I think I may have lost some hearing during my 6+ year tenure as a pressman). Afterward, we were whisked off to a tasty and extravagant Italian dinner hosted by Feiwel and Friends. Three hard-hitting reviewers/committee members were present as well as a good sampling of Feiwel and Friends peeps--author Katherine Applegate was there (Yes, Animorphs! But she has a new book with F+F, HOME OF THE BRAVE), Liz Noland and Elizabeth Fithian of marketing/publicity, Julie's and my wonderful editor Liz Szabla, Julie, me and Jean Feiwel herself. I sat between Elizabeth (who graciously endured my ramblings about graphic novels and newfound interest in YA books) and Jean (who's so freakin hilarious! Who knew?). It was too cool, hanging out with Liz, Liz, Eliz, Jean, Katherine, and Julie all night. These girls know how to party! After the feast, went back to our cheerleader-infested hotel (it's true--fresh in for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade), crashed and flew out the next morning.

Dang, good times. Slap full though. Couldn't do that every weekend. Next up, ALA Philadelphia in January. Dios Mio!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Come See Me! And Julie! NCTE! NYC! This Wee(kend)!

A friendly reminder to the half a dozen people who may be reading this. I will be at NCTE (National Conference for Teachers of English) in New York this weekend. I'll be at the Houghton Mifflin booth, #228-234, on Sunday November 18, 11am-12, signing copies of my new book, THE MOON IS LA LUNA. Well, technically, it's Houghton's book. And technically I didn't write it. That was the job of Jay Harris. But I drew about 30+ swell pictures that are printed in full color in said book. Gimme some credit! So, I'll be signing these books. Come see what all the fuss is about. I promise, I won't bite. Well, I could if you wanted me to. Actually, I won't. I'm germophobic. I'll shake hands instead. See you there!

My lovely wife, author Julie Halpern, will be signing her brand new Feiwel and Friends published Young Adult book, GET WELL SOON at the Macmillan Academic Library Group (F and F's parent co.) booth, #307-309 on Saturday November 17, 10:30-11:30 am. Get there early, folks, and get a good spot in line! Big ups to Feiwel and Friends for sponsoring me (paying my way in to the con).

New Music on the Cheap

I used to buy cd's all the time. Not anymore. I don't follow music as feverishly as I used to for one (I used to be a big indie rock dork). And I don't spend money like I used to either. But I still really like music. Only not indie rock. I get about 95% or so of my music now from my local library. They have a pretty great selection of stuff and it's free. Provided I get it back in time before late fees kick in. Then I just rip it into my iTunes library and it's there for as long as I need. My latest finds were some Nina Simone stuff and this collection of Django Reinhardt. Both really great. I'd always heard of, and occasionally heard, Nina Simone's music but never committed to fully listening. That's where music-on-the-cheap comes in handy. And then the Django stuff. I'm blown away by it. I had heard the name once or twice and I saw that Woody Allen movie, Sweet and Lowdown, that talks up Django. But man, it's so great! What a time. Even Julie liked it. We danced a jig or two the other night, it's true.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dirty Old Nibs

Lately I've been experimenting with my line drawings. My usual reaction is, when a nib gets old and crusty and cloggy, to throw it out and replace it with a shiny new one. Then the ink flows better, lines crisper, cleaner, the way it ought to be. But one day, for fun, I put one of my old nibs back in the holder and started sketching with it. It flows like junk, but the line variation is amazing. It's almost like drawing with a stick. Only the flow is better than a stick. The texture and inconsistency of the dirty old nib is kickin butt! I draw with two different size nibs. I use a B-5 1/2 for most stuff and a B-6 for detail. Luckily, I had crusty old nibs in both sizes. Crust on, nibs! Crust on.

Monday, November 12, 2007

NCTE New York this weekend

Julie and I will be in New York this weekend for the National Conference for Teachers of English (NCTE). I have one book signing scheduled for Sunday morning 11-12 at the Houghton Mifflin booth for my new picture book, THE MOON IS LA LUNA. I'll also be signing copies of another Houghton title of mine, TOBY AND THE SNOWFLAKES. If you're heading out there, please come stop by and see me. I'm friendly.

Also looking forward to catching up with my old buddy, Will, who's living there now and seeing some top notch William Steig drawings, some folk art, and if there's time some pickles.

Friday, November 9, 2007


Yesterday, Julie and I had a book reading and signing at one of my all time favorite book stores, The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL. We've had a few events there and it's always been real cool. The staff is so great (yesterday was Liz Moore's birthday!) and the store itself is all nice and cozy and classy-indie at the same time. Yesterday's event was part of a book fair put on by a Winnetka pre-school. A friend and fellow librarian to Julie, Katie Wright, invited us to be part of this happening (Katie's son is a student at the pre-school). Julie read from our book Toby and the Snowflakes, as well as the two picture books I have out this fall. I did some drawing, and we signed some books. It was a great success. I was surprised to see the kind of crowd that turned up. We sold lots of books and talked to lots of cool kids and parents. It's been a while since I've done one of these things, so I forget what it's like to be around lots of kids. My favorite moment of the night was when Julie was warming up the crowd and she asked the kids (they were tiny) if they knew what an illustrator does. A little girl raised up and answered, "RED!".

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cheers for RIGHTY AND LEFTY! Steig in NYC!

This just in. Great reviews for RIGHTY AND LEFTY:

from Publishers Weekly, 11/5/2007

In this funny, ingenious take on the meaning of friendship, Vail (Sometimes I’m Bombaloo) and Cordell (Toby and the Snowflakes) muse upon the way that two very different feet manage to get along—a good thing, since they belong to the same person (seen only from the waist down). Lefty likes lingering under the blankets and wearing only galoshes, while Righty, an early bird, revels in all the possible shoe choices and secretly wonders what it be like to take a beach vacation without Lefty. Vail’s deadpan prose evinces a sly comic mind and a wonderfully ticklish system of logic: “Outside, Righty and Lefty race. Sometimes, Righty wins. Sometimes, Lefty wins. It is always close.” Cordell’s watercolor and ink cartoons prove he’s up to the challenge of focusing on two characters who can express their emotions only through their toes—and the occasional thought balloon. For making kids laugh, this one’s a shoe-in. Ages 3-5. (Nov.)

And from School Library Journal, 11/1/2007

A slight story about two busy appendages. Though they have different likes and dislikes, Righty and Lefty (the latter has an ever-present, identifying bandage) recognize the need to cooperate. The feet belong to the same person (who is never shown in full), but are complete opposites. Righty likes to wear different types of shoes, but Lefty's first choice is always the green galoshes. At times, the odd couple cause one another grief—as when one or the other crosses the finish line first—and Righty dreams of being on vacation alone. Just like siblings, though, they rely on each other for fun, and for keeping warm at night. Large expanses of white space showcase the humorous pen-and-ink and pastel watercolors. While one foot is active and adventurous, and the other is satisfied with the status quo, the two really are best friends and incomplete without their mirror image. The third-person narrative lacks tension and a substantial plot, thereby limiting its child appeal.—Maryann H. Owen, Racine Public Library, WI

Ok, so the SLJ has a couple of barbs thrown in here and there. But not too shabby.

Also, recently discovered that there's a brand new William Steig show up at the Jewish Museum in New York. Luckily, Julie and I will be in town soon for NCTE. So this works out perfectly. I'm a huge fan and I've never seen any Steig originals so this is definitely going to be a real treat.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Harmony in the Workplace

A couple of months ago, I ran across a comic strip by one of my heroes, French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. It's a wordless strip about how he was trying to work in his sketchbook, but his cat kept wanting to be petted. He'd pet the cat a bit, then try to work again. But it never worked cause his cat kept pawing at him when he stopped. I feel your pain, Monsieur Trondheim. Ever since I started working from home, our cat Tobin goes ballistic at 3:30 everyday. We have an automatic feeder that dispenses his din at 4:15 and he can sense it. So he keeps assaulting me with his craziness and jumping into my lap while I'm trying to work, over and over and over... Then, exactly at 4:15 he hears the food drop and he tears through the house into the kitchen to feast up. Naturally, I had to draw my answer to the Trondheim strip in homage to Trondheim and in homage to the cat.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Philip Pullman and Hot Shredded Wheat

Being the hubby of a hard-hittin YA librarian and author, I often find myself accompanying Julie on various YA lit related wild rides of parties, conferences, and dinners of sorts. It's actually great, though, since some of our worlds collide–me being a children's lit illustrator and all. This weekend, Julie was invited to see Philip Pullman speak, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, at the Harold Washington Library downtown. Philip Pullman, case you don't know, is author of the wildly successful book series, HIS DARK MATERIALS (see that crazy movie coming out next month, THE GOLDEN COMPASS). The invitation came from Tim Ditlow, of Listening Library fame (Julie's also on a YALSA selection committee for best YA audiobooks of the year). There was a nice lunch arranged after with the whole group. This was really her deal, but she asked if I could tag along and Tim was gracious enough to accommodate.

I haven't been much of a YA reader up until recently. I mostly read graphic novels (which, actually... some are YA) and "grown-up" stuff. But I was looking for something to read, and saw laying around Sherman Alexie's new book THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN (admittedly curious cause of the Ellen Forney drawings–cartoonist and all). I really liked it, so ever since, Julie's been feeding me more and more YA stuff.

Knowing I was going to be seeing author of THE GOLDEN COMPASS speak, and after seeing that crazy movie trailer and wondering "what the heck is this?!", I knew I had to read at least one of the HIS DARK MATERIALS books before I saw the presentation. So I read THE GOLDEN COMPASS. And, honestly, I got lost at times, but I really liked this book! I know, positive reviews at this point are not breaking news, but it was new to me. Recommended! And so his presentation–actually more of a Q and A setup with this intellectualish dad/daughter team–was really great too. Pullman's funny, humble, and doesn't take himself too seriously (my impression anyways). For writing that style of book, I think that means a lot. So I'm sold on reading the rest of the series.

The lunch afterward was so great! There was a group of about 15 or so mostly Chicago area children's lit, YA audiobook types, librarians, and book review publication writers assembled at the Russian Tea Room (Julie and I had never been). The food, and the tea, was dang tasty! I really wouldn't have guessed it. I'm a vegetarian, so I wasn't sure what to expect. But there was much to choose from. And the company was so much fun. We met a couple of hilarious reviewers from Booklinks and Booklist who were so much fun to talk to and get to know. And the Booklist writer, Gillian, just happened to be the reviewer who just gave Julie's novel GET WELL SOON, that awesome review a couple weeks back! Good times, man. Good times. Thanks much to Tim Ditlow for putting that together and for letting me party it up with the team.

In other news, I saw a shredded wheat commercial yesterday talking about how good it would be to eat "hot." So, being a sucker for a commercial and for trying some new cereal gimmick, I heated up my milk this morning and poured it over the cereal. Don't do it. I mean, I don't recommend it. It was way nast.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Post What?

I never thought of myself as a post-it type of guy. When I used to work in an office, I'd sometimes see fellow designers with these sticky scraps of paper all over his/her computer, desk, workspace, etc. and the clutter grossed me out. But a few years ago for my birthday, Julie's aunt gave me a cube of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired post-it's and I use them a lot to jot notes, to do lists, or make quick sketches (a never ending cube at that). As I'm cleaning up, I assemble here a fine selection of actual scraps scattered about my desk–primarily useful notes, sketches, and unfortunate to-do lists.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cause I'm a Creature of Habit

Behold. My watercolor arsenal. Don't judge. I first started using these when I got out of school and was saving a buck and didn't want to buy the "good stuff." These student grade pans are definitely not the best, but I'm used to 'em. I've tried to take it up a notch, quality-wise, but the fact of the matter is, I like the junkers. Yesterday, to replenish my supply, I even traveled an hour out of my way to get the to same art store I bought them at when I was penny-saving. It took me a while to relocate the aisle where they were stocked (had to get out of the top dollar paints and mosey into the kiddie ones). When I found the place, my heart nearly sank when it looked like they didn't carry them anymore. But on closer inspection, there they were, waiting for me, sandwiched between two other brands that only looked identical. Maybe someday I'll brave some better pans, or heck, even some highfalutin tubes. But in the meantime, if it ain't broke don't fix it.