Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On Down the Road

The last couple of weeks, I've been getting into final art for a forthcoming picture book with Candlewick, written by Phyllis Root. All sketches have been OK'd for finishing except for the cover. Sketches are submitted. It's a crazy fun book to work on. Above's a sketch for one of the spreads (click on it to view it larger). Once approved for finals, my process goes a little like this: print out approved sketches on the laser printer; transfer all approved sketches with graphite onto watercolor paper; ink all drawings (then erase pencil marks underneath); and lastly watercolor. I've been photo-documenting the steps I take using one particular drawing from this particular book. Once's it's all done (2-3 weeks from now), I'll post the whole step-by-step story with pictures here on the blog. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 28, 2008

New Movies, New Inspiration

Finally got out there and saw Persepolis. It was everything I'd hoped for and then some. It'd been a while since I read the books, and some of the story was kinda thinned out in my memory. So it was refreshing to see this again and in a wholly different format. I'd have to say, and I may regret saying this, but the film was more powerful to me than the books. Maybe it was the sound put to the image or the visual depth and texture added to the film that wasn't there in the drawings on the pages of the books. I don't know. But I was really overwhelmed. It was very touching, upsetting, and funny at the same time.

Julie and I also saw another really cool one this weekend. ONCE. I added this to the Netflix queue when I read that one of the actor/musicians in this musical film, Glen Hansard, and his band The Frames, were the opening act on a recent tour with Bob Dylan (hand-picked, even, by Dylan himself). I know, enough with my Dylan dorkiness already, but whatever. The story of ONCE is a very simple and relatively quick one (clocks in around an hour and 20 minutes) but it doesn't feel it. It's really emotional. I'd seen clips of this online and on TV before and thought "eh" but it's incredibly moving in the full context of the film. Hansard and his counterpart Marketa Irglova are brilliant singers/songwriters. It makes your heart burst when you see these isolated and lonesome souls connect through their music and songwriting. Heart burst. I had a lump in my throat right from one of the opening scenes when Hansard's street busker's blasting out his "Say It To Me Now" on the cold, dark, lonesome streets of Dublin. Dang.

Maybe I'm just getting wimpy in my old age.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Doctor De Soto In Motion

I was just surfing the web. Making the rounds on ebay, blogs, amazon, etc. I went by youtube and for some reason typed "William Steig" into search. Came up with this awesome and very faithful 'toon of Steig's great Doctor De Soto. Who knew?!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Independent Bookstores Rule!

Julie, my lovely lady, had a reading of her YA novel, GET WELL SOON, this past Sunday at a newish bookstore called Under the Sycamore Tree. It's on the skirts of this brand new housing development they've built in Grayslake, Illinois. The building it's in is new as well. I love this store. I mean, in general, there's nothing like a great independently owned/operated bookstore. And this one specializes in books for children (loads of picture books and YA stuff) so it's extra cool. (They do have a selection of "grown up" stuff too.) And it's just like I like a good bookstore to be--well-stocked, cozy, warm, and staffed up with a friendly crew. In our experience with in-store readings, the small shops tend to be the best in terms of promo and basic awesomeness. And Sycamore did not disappoint. Jackie Harris, the owner, was there right away, setting Julie up, and she was super nice the whole time. She had a good crowd assembled and everything went really well. Julie had 'em rollin in the aisles.

If you're in the area and you haven't heard of this place, it's a must-see. Skip the chain book shops and high-tail over to Under the Sycamore Tree.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


This movie's supposedly been in limited release since December 25, but I've been pouring over the papers and internet movie listings since and it was not out there. Nowhere near here anyways. Well, it's finally come to a couple of the more artsy theaters somewhat nearby. One in Evanston and one in Chicago. I'm really dying to see it. I saw the first trailer months ago and the animation looks freakin cool. I read Marjane Satrapi's books several years back and thoroughly enjoyed. And last weekend, I happened to be flipping channels late at night and came upon an interview with Marjane Satrapi with Tavis Smiley. Too cool. That's when I realized, for the first time, her name's pronounced Mar-JOHN, but with a soft kind of J like the French say Jean (ZZJAHN). Unless TS was pronouncing wrong over and over again. That would've been weird.

Anyhow, critics all over are gushing about it, so we're gonna have to get to it this weekend.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Old Days

I just had lunch with one of my old co-workers and friends, Sam Wilder. I used to work with Sam at a big letterpress print shop in Chicago ("big" being relative in the letterpress world--when I left we had about 8 press operators). Sam's been printing letterpress his whole life and he taught me pretty much all I know. I worked as a pressman there for about 6 and a half years before I was able to quit and go full time with the illustration gig. That happened just a short 4 months ago.

Anyhow, hanging with Sam and hearing the news of the shop and reminiscing about days gone, it made me wanna post some pics of my final days at the shop.

Sam and me, in front of one of the larger format Heidelberg cylinder presses. This particular one can run a sheet size of up to around 26" x 30".

Reid, my pal and cylinder press trainee during my final few weeks. This one's the biggest in the shop. Sheet size about 26" x 32".

Resident Die-Cut specialist, Don. Here he holds one of his many custom made dies.

Don and Reid standing at one of the several smaller format presses, the Heidelberg Windmill. These can run sheets of up to 11" x 15" in size.

A sideways shot of my favorite Ecuadorian pressman, Milton. Here, Milton is mixing a custom Pantone color on a very filthy mixing table.

A giant shelf (salvaged, actually, from another building tenant's trash) that holds pre-mixed Pantone colors, saved for future print jobs.

A cross-section of the shop. You can see some windmills, a light table, some furniture (way back), and Milton cleaning up.

Lastly, my pal Doug. We used to kill time, or liven things up, by pitching wadded up balls of shrink wrap at each other. Here's Doug at his windmill, head poppin out of said ball. Doug, too, has since left the shop. Thanks to Doug for all these pics (and many more!). Taken with his fancy digital cam.

It may not look it, but those were crazy times. I miss those fellers.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chip off the ol' Block

I just ordered up some more watercolor paper to get started on final art for my next book, TOOT! TOOT! ZOOM! (written by Phyllis Root, Candlewick). My last job, MIGHTY CASEY, zapped out the last sheets of block paper I'd had. I found this brand many years ago and it's been good to me. Lanaquarelle, it's called. It's sold in blocks (short stacks of pretrimmed sheets, glued together around all four sides--to get apart, insert a palette knife or some such between sheets and peel away. It's fun!). Or you can buy it in big loose sheets. Mostly, I use sheets right off the blocks (come in a few sizes, as big as 10" x 14"--maybe even a bit bigger?) since a lot of illustrations I do are within those sizes. Unless it's a drawing that covers the spread, in which case I cut pieces off the oversize sheets.

As do all watercolor papers, the Lana comes in a variety of finishes. I prefer the Hot Press stuff since I don't care for the bumpy surface of Cold Press or "Rough" when I'm drawing. Plus I don't want any paper textures to show up in the end scans.

What I ordered ought to set me up for quite some time now. I've found the best price to come outta (as much as I wish it so, no I ain't gettin a kickback here). Deep discounts all around. Go Blick!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


One of the freebies I scored at ALA last weekend is this awesome Nicholas pin from over at the Phaidon booth. Nicholas is a series of children's books drawn by the great French cartoonist, Jean-Jacques Sempé. I first came onto Sempé by way of the many covers he illustrates for the New Yorker. Then, a year or so ago, I discovered Phaidon was reprinting many of his books in English translation. So, when I can, I've been scooping them up and thoroughly enjoying along the way.

Over the holidays, my Mom gave me a collection called EVERYTHING IS COMPLICATED. Here's one of the single panel cartoons from this one that I found particularly funny (it's full of single panel as well as strips). And it was one of the easier ones to scan. Some run pretty close to the gutter. His linework is amazing. It can be very fluid, very loose at times, but then at other times, extremely tight and anally detailed. Vive le France!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Founding Fathers, Loving Brothers

Back from Philadelphia and ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter conference. A lot of action. Some sight-seeing. Some business. Some relaxing. We got to see our good friends from Feiwel and Friends again and we got to meet our new literary agent, Rosemary Stimola, for the first time in the flesh. Very cool.

Upon arrival, we rushed over to the Rosenbach Museum and Library in the city's well-to-do Rittenhouse Square district. Neither of us knew much about the place, other than the fact they boast a Maurice Sendak gallery and they are currently hosting a showcase of "Really Rosie" drawings. It's a nice place. The Rosie stuff was cool, but apparently they also hold thousands of Sendak originals of all kinds (drawings, notes, sketches, dummies, etc.) that are to be displayed in a whole floor of Sendak. But not til this spring does it open. Shucks. The rest of the museum, pertains to it's namesake, the collections of the brothers Rosenbach. Eccentric turn-of-the-century (20th) collectors of many European antiquities. The museum is, actually, the former elaborate and high-dollar home of these brothers. One of the bros, A.S.W. Rosenbach, was a big book collector. A prized piece is an original manuscript of James Joyce's ULYSSES. The give a very cool and personal tour of the place. Julie and I picked up a few awesome prints/posters from the gift shop afterwards. A signed Sendak lithograph from "Go Tell Aunt Rhody", a poster for the Rosie exhibit and an older poster (with an awesome image) for a Sendak event that took place in Philadelphia in '95.

The majority of the Philadelphia visit was devoted to Julie's work on the year's best audiobooks for teens YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Assosiation) Selection Committee. She was in lots of long meetings, so I was often left to fend for myself for entertainment. We did a tad bit of sight-seeing together at times, but not a bunch. Alone, I wandered to and around the Independence National Park area. That's where the Liberty Bell and Old City Hall and what not is. Lots of cool "founding fathers" type history in this area (and throughout the city as well). I came upon this weird Benjamin Franklin spot where his old stompin' ground used to be. His home, his print shop, etc. "Franklin Court" it's called. This spot was lodged in the middle of a city block, so you have to detour down an alleyway to find it. I got lost once. There was an underground museum at this place where you walked down, down, down this ramp to get to this gloomy and dark and quiet and neglected collection of Franklin belongings, dioramas, anecdotes and a dismal movie theater with a gut-wrenchingly dated 20 minute film on the man. He deserves better. I mean, he was a fascinating person and the museum really needs a facelift. Needless to say, the place was so weird (I was one of about 5 people--including the two staff workers down there) I had to drag Julie back down there when she had time off. There's also this giant room with these phones on posts where you can "call" historic figures from all times and hear Franklin stuff. I think it was Franklin stuff. Julie and I are such germ-o-phobes that neither of us would pick up any of those phones, touch them, or breath in mouth germs or absorb ear germs from God knows who, from God knows when, from God knows where. (See picture at beginning of blog. Look hard and you can see Julie in the phones, at the back.) I was happy to stumble upon one of the city's many awesome public art pieces. Claes Oldenburg's big ol' rusty clothespin by city hall.

So, I did a good bit of walking. Enough to kill my feet and calves and shins. My feeling, afterwards, is Philadelphia's a cool place with lots of that old-time Americana history. But, the sad part, I felt, is that it's either strikingly wealthy, or depressingly poverty-stricken. Hurts to say that. Hurts to see it.

Anybody ever hear the Neil Young song, "Philadelphia" from the movie of the same name? So good. Here's a beautiful performance of the song.

Trip ended yesterday when we left town around noon. The big awards were announced. The Caldecott, the Printz, Newberry, Geisel, all those. Congrats to the winners.

Good to be home.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The City of Brotherly Love

This weekend, Julie and I are traveling to Philadelphia for the midwinter ALA conference. Feels like we just got back from our whirlwind holiday gig down south, so it's a little rough getting back into travel mode so soon. But still looking forward to it. This is Julie's last stop on her tour with the YALSA selection commmittee for best audiobooks of the year. For the last two years, we've been hitting every single ALA conference around the country. It's been a lot of fun, and we've had much mingling with familiar friendly faces and contacts with various publishing houses at these gatherings.

Julie found out about this Philadelphia must see a while back--this weekend, we plan to visit the Rosenbach Museum to see the Maurice Sendak show that's up now about Really Rosie. It looks like a lot of fun.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Christmas Music

Some new music I got from relatives over the holiday. Specifically, things I asked for on the wishlist. First off is the Kinks "Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneyground". I'm easily influenced sometimes. Julie, and Julie's ma Janice, and I saw the latest Wes Anderson movie, "The Darjeeling Limited" several months back when it was out. Anderson is known to pepper his movie soundtracks with stylish, late 60's/early 70's rock. A la Rolling Stones, the Who, Bowie, the Kinks. I wasn't too in on the Kinks music, but the tunes in the movie fit nicely. Sounded really great. So I checked at the library and they didn't have this album, so I promptly added to the xmas wishlist.

"Another Side" has a few really great tunes on it that I'd discovered by way of "The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Live 1964", which the library DID have. "All I Really Want To Do", "To Ramona", "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)", and "Chimes of Freedom" (not on the Live '64 tho). Found out they were on this disc and the library did not have, so added to the wishlist.

"Planet Waves" has one of my very favorite mid-period Dylan songs, "Forever Young." Chokes me up a bit every single time I hear it. Lib didn't have it. Wishlist did.

To round out this old fashioned Dylan Christmas, I asked for a copy of his autobiography, CHRONICLES. It was a great read. Expectedly vague in points, but enlightening to the history and the bitter pill that is idolatry. I really enjoyed this.

I just got a surprise first email from an author, James Preller, who's picture book MIGHTY CASEY I just illustrated (Feiwel and Friends, spring '08). (We illustrators and authors can sometimes never even correspond or meet, so it's always refreshing when it happens.) A right nice fella and CASEY was a terribly fun book to illustrate. Turns out, by coincidence, Preller's been a Dylanite for the last year too. He too, just got a copy of the old Glaser/Dylan poster! Good taste, that Preller.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Back in Action

Even though I was back last week from the holiday trip down south, the tentative plan was to take it easy January 2-4 (Wednesday thru Friday). I did a bit of work here and there, but tried to take it easy. Well, taking it easy drives me crazy. I think too much about what's not getting done and how blobby and lazy and unproductive I'm being. Then I get all bummed outish. Wish I could just relax. Anyway, it feels good to be back in the routine. I need that. Today, I'm working on a story revise and some sketch revisions for a book I'm illustrating with Candlewick. Above is a sketch for that one. It's coming along well and just a stone's throw now from diggin into finals. Looking forward to it!

Another discovery of late is the Neti Pot. Saw it being touted on the Today Show over the holidays. And I heard Oprah had a big plug for it on her show too. I get these jacked-up bad sinus headaches from time to time. Supposedly, daily tipping this warm water/saline combo solution into your nozz and flushing out the bad juju is supposed to help out with that. Julie used it first when she got sick last week. She gets sinus infections and it's supposed to help with those too. Today was day two of the Neti Pot trial. Hope it works. Definitely weird.