Going to School

I’m honored to be a 2016 Picture Book Month Ambassador…

along with this amazing company: Kwame Alexander, Kevan Atteberry, Phil Bildner, Elizabeth Bluemle, Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Laura Gehl, Matthew Cordell, Pat Cummings, Doug Cushman, Erzsi Deak, Josh Funk, Marita Gentry, Paul Hankins, Verla Kay, Lester Laminack, Minh Le, Adam Lehrhaupt, Sylvia Liu, Ralph Masiello, Laura Lowman Murray, Carmen Oliver, Todd Parr, John Parra, Jan Peck, Alexandra Penfold, Jeanie Ransome, Isabel Roxas, Jodell Sadler, and Andrea Pinkney.

In company with these friends and fellow creators, I’ve been invited to speak my mind about the importance of Picture Books.

On my day the theme is School! My  PiBoMo essay isn’t about school-it’s about risk taking.

But I have plenty of thoughts about school too, since I’m probably best known for illustrating books by Joseph Slate about a talented kindergarten teacher named Miss Bindergarten, based on my 1st border collie Pumpkin.

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Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten

It’s always been easy to be enthusiastic about the kindergarten year of school.

I believe it is where a child learns to love school-a good year can set the stage for a great school career– a bad one can make a child wary.

While illustrating these books I studied the traditions and common elements of modern kindergarten very closely, which led me to wonder how long kindergarten, as we know it, has been an institution.

It was created by the German born Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) Kindergarten in Froebel’s vision meant both ‘a garden for children’, where children meet with environment and also ‘a garden of children’, where they play together and express themselves in a smaller garden world by means of play with their age group.

He believed that “children are like tiny flowers; they are varied and need care, but each is beautiful alone and glorious when seen in the community of peers.”

My dad, born in Germany in 1916, carried a leather “rucksack” on his 1st day of school.

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His class of 19 appears to have all the same kids you remember: the Class Clown, little Miss Goody-Two-Shoes, Mister Hyperactive, the Inseparable Buddies and the Teacher’s Pet.

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Kindergarten had been well established in Germany for close to 100 years when my dad attended in 1921. He is 2nd from the right.

Kindergarten was a great idea and spread around the world, including to the US in the 1850s.

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Me, as a Vermont kindergartner, circa 1961

I went to Mary Hogan Elementary School  about 100+ years later. My teacher’s name was Miss Vondle. Kindergarten is so important in a child’s life that I bet most people can remember the name of their teacher.

My sons went in the 1990s.

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My son Brennan as a California kindergartner, circa 1992. He carries a vinyl backpack. His teacher’s name was Miss Beck.

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My son Rowan as a California kindergartner, circa 1995. He is 3rd from the right, top row–clearly angling for class clown status! His teachers’ names were Ms Ramet and Ms Vaughn.

My, how many things have changed, and how many stay the same!

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What is Handed Down?

My grandfather Dr. Paul Wolff was a well known German photographer.

His son Klaus drew and painted watercolors, Klaus’ daughter draws, paints, illustrates and takes pictures, my sister and sons draw too, though they don’t enjoy it enough to practice much.

A propensity towards written and visual creativity seems to run in our family.

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The cover of a 4 page brochure about photographing children created by my paternal grandfather Dr. Paul Wolff.

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Paul Wolff using a huge view camera, before he was introduced to the new, hand held Leica.

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My grandparent’s wedding in 1914. Helene is 2nd and Paul is 4th from left.

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Paul Wolff published at least 6 books of his photographs. They are mostly written in German, so I have not read all his commentary.

Paul Wolff took fascinating photos of a huge range of subjects. Thorsten Overgaard wrote an essay about one of his photos that is great reading. My favorite quote from this article makes my grandfather come alive for me.

“In his book “My Life with The Leica” Walther Benser recalls the period where he would assist Dr. Paul Wolff. Benser was a Leica employee who had gone through the full technical training in Wetzlar and later spent many years traveling with the Leica Slide Show. He recalls:

“Dr. Paul Wolff had skills which I found myself envying. Without any optical aid from the Leica viewfinder in the new (Telyt) reflex housing, he could dissect the surroundings with his naked eye in the search for a suitable subject and position. He invariably picked out the perfect spot for taking the picture with the focal length he had already selected”.

“He was a master at keeping his photographic intentions undetected for as long as possible. He never carried the camera in front of his body in the usual manner but kept it, suspended on its strap, hidden behind his back with his right hand. This had become second nature to such an extent that he kept his right hand behind his back even when he was not holding a camera”.

I’ve chosen just a few of my favorite images of his to share, focusing on ones that remind me most of the way I, too, see the world.

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I can see where I’ve acquired the habit of framing a view with foreground objects, and my fascination with close ups of nature.

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I love the shallow focal field in this photo of my Dad at play as a child.

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This one-lit by car headlights-is my all time favorite. Oh, to have snows like this again!

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I never knew my grandfather. He and my grandmother divorced and he and my father became estranged. I did learn that he went on to marry a fellow photographer Annette Beiger and they had another son in 1943. If anyone reads this and can put me in touch with my half uncle Stephen Wolff and his family I’d be grateful.

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In the Canyon

In honor of the National Park Services” 100th Birthday, I celebrate one of the jewels in the crown.

Read this and then like Page Through the Parks on Facebook to be entered in the Rafflecopter giveaway.

Welcome to Grand Canyon, Arizona

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It is one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World”

It’s about 270 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep, Its walls contain rock layers that reveal a timeline of Earth’s history.

To make the illustrations for  In The Canyon as good they could be, I had to explore the Grand Canyon. I took my  intrepid sister, a wildlife veterinarian, for company and and in we went!

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Dr. Peregrine Wolff  and a friendly  Big Horn Sheep-commonly found In the Grand Canyon.

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Approaching Castle Crag on the South Kaibab Trail.

from RIM to RIVER…

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Joking around at Ooh Ah Point on the South Kaibab Trail.

and back!

The main character of In the Canyon, written by Liz Garton Scanlon, speaks in the 1st person voice. She begins her narration like this:

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“Here’s a map, some boots, a pack, a walking stick, a sandy track.”

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I always enjoy working with a model and I found a lovely girl in San Francisco named Willa.

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I spent a few hours with Willa taking pictures, and then used those to draw from while illustrating the book.

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She gazes at the reader from the jacket, inviting you to join her In the Canyon.

As soon as you dip below the rim of the canyon you enter a vast, deep bowl that has no direct route to the bottom. The trails are constantly zig zagging down the steep walls. Occasionally you can spy the river, way down deep.

My sister Peri, seen from a few switchbacks above, with many more to go. The Colorado river, bright green, is crossed by 2 bridges. One is visible here.

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If it is a cool spring morning on the rim, it is full, hot summer at river level. Along the way are blooming cacti and yucca, birds, lizards and curious squirrels.

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I can’t get enough shots of the blossoming Beavertails.

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a finished linoleum block and gouache illustration.

“Here’s a footstep, dusty red, another one and more ahead.”

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To do this rim to river to rim hike one must be very fit and prepared for a lot of heat and exertion.

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Some people choose to travel by mule. Mules are chosen from Tennessee and Missouri. They are used for pack supplies to Phantom Ranch and pack mail out of the canyon and later promoted to trail mules.

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I used a photo of a family, gathered under an overhang, as inspiration for this illustration.sliceofshadeGCweb
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“Now here’s a tiny slice of shade, a yummy lunch, some lemonade. And a lizard, still as sand, his head all speckled, body tan.”

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Finally, we’re at river level, where the deep shade around Phantom Ranch is most welcoming. Time to recharge and load up on water and salty snacks for the hike back out. Peri and I made it back to the rim by nightfall, a 16 mile roundtrip.

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But the child in In the Canyon is luckier. She gets to spend the night, camping by the river.

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“Here’s the dark and here’s the shine, and here’s the moon—it’s like it’s mine. To tuck inside me way down deep, Grand and wild, mine to keep.”

I’ll come back to the Canyon someday, no doubt with enough overconfidence to descend to the bottom and back in one day as I did with Peri.

After all, I have what it takes: “a map, some boots, a pack, a walking stick, a sandy track.”

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DIY Thanksgiving “Craft”

Consider the Blue Hubbard Squash.

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Do you see a Thanksgiving tradition?

Perhaps a savory side dish?

How about a centerpiece for the table?

How about the Mayflower?

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I scoured the web looking for another example of Blue Hubbard Squash turned Mayflower ship, but this was as close as I could come.

My dad had different ideas. He took a huge squash, hollowed it out and carved it into a ship. He made dowel masts and paper sails.

My mom filled it with tangerines and nuts and the Blue Hubbard Mayflower sailed out on Thanksgiving tables in the early 1960s.

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Thanksgiving in Ripton, VT 1962

And the next year, same sails, different squash!

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Thanksgiving 1963, Ripton, VT

You can see me, smiling, directly to the left of the Mayflower, on my dad’s lap.

Time passed, I grew up, and when I had children I wanted my own Blue Hubbard Mayflower centerpiece.

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San Francisco, 1997

 

Tutorial not included. This is truly DIY!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Sleep

It’s late November here in Vermont ~ the time of year for hibernation.

Who hibernates? Bats, Bears,skunks, bees, snakes, and groundhogs to name a few.

Since moving from a mild California climate to the stricter seasonal progression of northern New England, I’ve become much more sympathetic to the concept of hibernation!

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On the last day of Baby Bear Counts One, Mama and Baby Bear are ready to curl up and sleep the winter away.

Showing the process of sleeping is relatively easy, but showing dreaming was a challenge in Only The Cat Saw.  When I was a child I often dreamed of being near the ocean or swimming when I really needed to get up to urinate!

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Enter a caption

Holly Taylor modeled as the sleeping Amy, way back in 1984

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Amy, dreaming in Only The Cat Saw. Acrylic on paper

Of course, we sleep all year long, and humans enjoy it as much as animals. Mostly sleep happens when it is too dark to draw, but sometimes a nap overtakes us, and when it does I seize that moment of daylight stillness to draw.

Since the late 70s I’ve drawn people and creatures I love while they were sleeping.

Here is a selection.

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watercolor sketch of my sister Peregrine, asleep on the couch after wisdom tooth removal..

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watercolor sketch of my sister Peregrine.

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this drawing of Rowan reminds me of Amy’s pose. Colored pencil on brown paper

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Brennan, asleep. Colored pencil on brown paper

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Rowan, asleep. Colored pencil on brown paper.

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Sabin, asleep. Marker on brown paper.

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Tula napping. Watercolor on brown paper

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Nutkin, sleeping. Acrylic on paper.

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Wildridge kitten, sleeping. Gouache on brown paper.