Taking to the Ice

In the summer my front yard is a huge body of water, a playground for boats, swimmers and fishermen.

In the winter that water gets a hard shell of ice and becomes an entirely different playground, a brand new piece of “land” where we can walk, skate, and even drive snowmobiles and pickup trucks. Fishermen set up their shanties, forming cozy little villages.

As children we skated here with our mom and dog Lumpy.

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When I illustrated my 1st book in 1983 I remembered times spent skating with my dog.

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Cardinals in February from A Year of Birds by Ashley Wolff

During this Christmas break we got some lovely light snow and my sister and I set out to make this our new front yard.

We walked across the lake, following coyote tracks, and noticing where a bird landed, leaving wing and tail marks in the snow.

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We made snow angels ,

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built a buxom snow maiden,

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did donuts,

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drank cocktails,

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and lost our balance!

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Happy New Year.

Keep the wine handy.

We’re going to need it!

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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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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.

On Illustration Notes, By Liz Garton Scanlon

Wow! No wonder I love her books!

Liz wrote this post for Eastern Pennsylvania’s SCBWI blog.

On Illustration Notes, By Liz Garton Scanlon.

It is about a subject close to my heart. As a writer as well as an illustrator, I hope I see this issue from both points of view. Every summer I teach picture book writing at Hollins University. My students are mostly “just” writers, and I feel their anxiety about trusting an illustrator with their words.

Will an illustrator understand what they see as they write?

Will the illustrator do the proper research and be accurate enough?

Will the illustrator make it into  HER/HIS book and leave the author behind?

These are all real worries and I am sympathetic, but listen to what Liz says:

“For me, one of the best parts of being an author is receiving the artwork for one of my books. And that thrill isn’t because it looks exactly like what I dreamed it would look like, but because it looks like something beyond my wildest dreams.”

I am honored to have illustrated a new book with Liz, In the Canyon, due out in August 2015.

I can report that we had a real give and take over the text and illustrations that resulted in what I think is the best book possible.

Here is a sneak peek at my favorite page16-17

Life with Dogs: Part 9 Lucy

Children and puppies both start out small.

RowanBaby:webChildren grow fairly slowly, year by year, and only reach their full size in a couple of decades.

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Puppies start out small too, but grow SO much faster.

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Here is Rowan at almost 7 years and Lucy at age 12 weeks. 

Puppies are pretty much full grown in a year. This transformation provided the inspiration for my book When Lucy Goes Out Walking.

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Starting in January, the pup in the book grows month by month.

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By March she is leggy and adolescent looking.

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By July, she’s a mostly grown companion on a grassy hill.

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and by rainy November she can carry groceries and trot along through puddles.

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The weather turns cold again and this time Lucy leaves “big dog prints” in first December snows.

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A year passes and here is Rowan at almost 8 years and Lucy at 12 months. What a difference a year made for one small pup!

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Life with Dogs (Short Side Trip to the southwest)


I am traveling in Colorado and Utah this week, hiking in some of the great western National Parks.

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Today I climbed down to the Cliff Palace, a cluster of dwellings of at least 150 rooms built below the rim of the mesa in a rock alcove. These structures were built of hand-shaped sandstone blocks, cemented together with mud. They were built between 1200 and 1270 AD in Mesa Verde, CO. The last time I was here was 24 years ago, in the spring of 1990. I was 5 months pregnant with my 2nd child.
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As usual,  Pumpkin acted as my alter ego, grinding corn with a stone on a Metate with her baby strapped to a cradleboard nearby.
The scenery and architecture of the south west bowled me over and when I got home I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I revised the setting for the book I was working on: A Garden Alphabet by Isabel Wilner. The gardener, who looks an awful lot like Pumpkin lives in an adobe house with a kitchen hung with strings of drying chilis called ristras.
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And after a hard day in their desert garden, the gardener and her friend the frog relax in the shade.

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Life with Dogs, and One Child- Part 4: dé·tente

Eventually  we all settled into detente.

Finding a photo from these years with both Pumpkin and Brennan in it is a challenge. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t images.

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I painted several that illustrated the tensions between toddler and dog.

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And just as Pumpkin finally began to adjust to one child around the house, I became pregnant with another.

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This new person was strong and liked to do his tumbling act whenever I needed a steady hand.

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By the summer of 1990, we were in the  last weeks and Pumpkin and I were feeling heavy and tired.

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Meanwhile, over in Bookland, I was illustrating Isabel Wilner’s A Garden Alphabet. Pumpkin is the gardener and her best buddy is a frog.

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That rude frog laughed right along with Brennan when I broke the rope hammock in my 9th month.

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Knowing what was coming, I made the hard decision to leave Pumpkin at “Camp Stoneledge,” aka my mom’s house, in Vermont. She was 13 now, and touchier around Brennan than ever.

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But with Border Collies Ben (left) and Flora (right) as housemates she thrived and lived another 2 years.