Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I SPY...


... Wink The Ninja Who Wanted to Nap in the stacks of Barnes & Noble!

I was told that the local B&N had a nice display of my books on a table, so I wanted to go in and check it out. I think I missed it though. I didn't see Wink on any table. Still, I'm happy with the stacks. Maybe the Easter Bunny will buy some for the ninja-loving children of West Hartford.

I also spy... crocuses.


The front garden if filled with dead leaves that didn't get swept up in the fall, but the sun is out today and there are patches of yellow and purple all over.

Sidenote: Who named those flowers? A frog? That's a disgusting name for such petite, bright blossoms.

In other news:

We have a new garage door! Yeah! The other one was old, heavy, and ugly. Check one thing off the house lists. There are about two thousand and seven other things on that list, but at least the garage door is no longer one of them.

I have finished my new power point presentation for school visits. I'm psyched! I have two visits next week. For one of them, I'll do my standard Wink 1 presentation. But for the other I get to debut the Wink 2 - and I have to say, I'm pretty excited about it. My presentation for Wink 1 is about how an idea becomes a book through inspiration, writing, revising, art development, representation, sales, and publishing. The new presentation is about an average day in my life and what it's like to be an author/illustrator. I think the kids will enjoy peaking into my messy studio and learning that I like to wear my orange pajama bottoms all day long - little things like that. And I also talk about how long it takes to write a story and develop the art - so it's a little bit fun details about me, and a little bit of an in depth look at my process.

Hope you're all having a good, sunny Wednesday. What will you spy today?


Monday, March 28, 2011

Three Chickadees


If these little guys were sitting outside my window right now, I imagine they'd be bundled in ear muffs and scarves. It's cold!

But isn't that all the more reason to paint bright happy birds chirping next to fresh blossoms? I think so. Anyway - here's my latest - Three Chickadees - which was inspired by a photograph on Bing's homepage on day that a friend of mine brought my attention to. (Thanks Natalie!) I added a couple more chickadees and blossoms, but I really liked the calm blue sky in the background. And whenever you have blue and orange together - well, that's juts going to look good!

In other news:

I've seen some movies recently.

Mike and I went out to see PAUL last night. PAUL is a movie starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the duo behind Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz - both excellent comedies) so we wanted to give it a go. Simon and Nick play two comic-con geeks who are traveling the U.S. in an RV stopping off at famous alien sites who encounter a real alien, Paul, voiced by Seth Rogen, and help him escape from the government facility where he had been living/held captive. PAUL isn't as sharply witty as Shawn or Hot Fuzz, but it was cute. Not kiddie-cute, because there's a decent amount of language in it - but feel-good cute. I give it a B-.

I also rented LET ME IN - which is a remake of the Swedish movie, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Both focus on a 12-year-old boy who is bullied at school and the 12-year-old vampire girl who becomes his only friend. A lot of folks might call these horror films because the vampire doesn't, yanno, sparkle. She kills people and when she's not killing people she has a guy that does it for her. And there is a rather, um, horrifying pool scene at the end. I don't know - I didn't really think of them as horror films though because I wasn't all that horrified. (Except for that pool scene. Yikes!) I thought of them more as dramas because the real issues were about feeling alone and helpless, and trusting someone to help you. They're good movies - but I can say this - you only need to see one. I saw the Swedish one first and the American version about 2 months after. I'm annoyed that the American filmmaker didn't have his own voice, his own viewpoint in his retelling of the tale. They are almost identical movies except the cast is different and it's in English. Sure, the Swedish version fleshes out the background players a little more. In that way the American version in more stream-lined. But all the crucial-to-the-plot scenes are similar in pacing, tone, and visual aesthetics.

So, if you like intense vampire dramas that don't downplay what it is to be a vampire - then go ahead and see either Let Me In or Let The Right One In. And if you want to see some happy British guys help a pot-smoking alien phone home, go see PAUL.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's Not Easy Bein' Green Legwarmers!!!


I finished my legwarmers!

When I first started knitting in October, it was all about the finished product for me. I wanted to see what I was making - have things. I can sew a project much faster than I can knit one - so there was an urgency about completing things.

Now I know that I like to have something on my needles at all times - so I can sit and knit when I'm watching TV or chatting with Heather or on a long car ride. So it's not so much that I'm working on something that I can finish quickly, but rather, something I can enjoy knitting and is easy enough for me to knit socially.

These legwarmers were perfect for that. The pattern, here on Ravelry, was very easy to follow and very easy to see when I had made a mistake so I could correct it.

(Detail)

This was the first time I worked on double-pointed needles and I have to admit: NOT a love story. Ug - so pokey! It's like knitting with a porcupine in my hands! So I bought a small US5 9" circular needle for the second legwarmer. And - while working with such tiny needles is a challenge all on its own - I liked it a lot better.

Now I just get to go out and relive the 80's in my rockin' legwarmers!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Woody Woodpecker


One morning as Magoo, Curly, Mo, and were walking to school, we heard a woodpecker in a tree. We watched it for awhile and then went off toward school, while I wished I had brought my camera.

Well, on the way home the next day, I went by the same tree and - sure enough - a woodpecker was in it again. The tree isn't that far from my house so I raced home and grabbed my camera with the ZOOM lens. I got lucky. The woodpecker was still there. I haven't mastered the art of finding something very small in a large tree with a zoom lens, quickly. But I did manage to get at least one good shot.

From Woody and me, "Have a great weekend!"


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Art Class: Drawing Bunnies

I wanted to get the boys back to learning some drawing techniques, so I thought I;d try a couple things I've learned/taught in the past. Grids and upside down drawing.

The grids were too complicated. There were too many blocks to keep track of and the drawing of the bunny was too detailed. I'll try this exercise again with a 9-block grid and a simpler subject.

So then we jumped to upside down drawing.


The whole point of upside down drawing is that is scrambles your mind a little - so you really see the lines and shapes you are drawing and not just say "I'm drawing a bunny ear" and then whip an oval down because you think you are supposed to.


All the boys started off very strong with this - but again - the bunny subject was too complicated. They all did fine jobs on the face but then got lost/lost focus on the body.

I plan to do this again, but simplify the drawing or even have them do something completely abstract for a warm-up. The whole idea is to train the eye to see what is really there.

Magoo got frustrated, so I started him on an abstract that then became something completely different. He started drawing eyes. Heather said it looked like an Eye Garden and I guess Magoo agreed.


These art classes are just as much of a learning process for me as they are for the boys sometimes. Even though I try to simplify the exercises - sometimes they're just not simple enough. That's always been one of my flaws when teaching art to kids. I'm not always super aware of what the skill level is. But they try and I try and we all get through it together.

I don't ask for anything more.

Monday, March 21, 2011

April Fools - Early

You may or may not know that Amazon has tools available for authors to monitor their sales of their books. It's called Author Central. Every so often - usually when I'm procrastinating from doing work - I'll go on over there and see how my books are doing. I'm especially curious to see how Wink 2 is doing in relation to Wink 1.

Today I noticed that I could add industry reviews to my book pages. I didn't know I could do that! I remembered a fun review that Kirkus gave to Wink 2 so I chopped it up and pulled a blurb from it. (You can only have 250 characters. EDIT!) Then I decided to look around and see if I could find anything else to add to it.

I got a little more than I bargained for!

From the School Library Journal:

Gr 1-3–This sequel to Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed (Viking, 2009) is just that: a sequel. There is little development of the narrative to help readers understand just who Wink is and what he does in the Lucky Dragon Circus, and why he needs a “break,” which, by the way, is very different from a nap. The confusion starts at the get-go when his fans won’t leave him alone and continues throughout this cliché-ridden, but flashy picture book. Yes, the illustrations are bold, sometimes garish and sometimes beautiful, but the story lacks cohesiveness and logic and the characters lack expression. This book is a clear case of the glamour of the art overshadowing the story. Don’t be fooled.–Sara Lissa Paulson, American Sign Language and English Lower School PS 347, New York City

I think it's safe to say that Sara Lissa Paulson is NOT a fan.

This is my first official pan and I have to say, I'm not too upset about it. Lord knows, I'm used to criticism and rejection. I get it all the time. Anyone in the arts does. You get either get used to it or you get out of that business. But my favorite part is the end, Don't be fooled! It's as is I'm sitting here in my studio, twirling my long, black sinister mustache', brainwashing America's youth with brightly colored construction paper to accept intentionally crappy writing. (Insert maniacal laugh here.) I could write a better story but I want you to ingest my drivel!!!

So, if anybody's thinking that, let me just shrug and say, I thought it was a funny story and I apologize if I fooled anyone in any way. :)

Fortunately, the reviewer at Kirkus seems to be a little more on my wavelength. Here's that review:

Ah, the price of fame.

Repeatedly stymied in his efforts to take a nap by a trio of giggling groupies, the overcaffeinated ninja-turned-circus acrobat who achieved his dream in Wink, the Ninja Who Wanted To Be Noticed (2009) at last enlists similarly black-swathed classmates from the Summer Moon School for Young Ninjas to lead his stalkers off in merry chases for an hour or two. Also returning for this sequel are Wink's wise grandma and frazzled-but-savvy sensei ("One zebra alone is easily seen. A herd creates confusion," he intones. "Why can't Master Zutsu say anything normal? Wink thought. Then he got an idea"). Bright patterns and heavy textures give the paper-collage illustrations a 3D look; borders contain inset illustrations, while full-bleed spreads allow readers to pull back for more expansive views. Phillipps cranks up the visual energy by strewing her brightly lit street scenes with laughing figures, arms and legs flung out joyfully.

Like its predecessor, definitely not a snoozer. (Picture book. 5-7)

And there you have it. To quote a wise theme song:

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have...The Facts of Life

:)

And now, in an official beg, IF you have the new book and you IF you legitimately liked it, why not write a teeny review on the Wink the Ninja Who Wanted to Nap Amazon page? It would help me sell some book and make it possible for me to write some more. I can promise Ms. Paulson that I will try really hard to write a quality story that doesn't deceive anyone. And I would really, really appreciate it.

No foolin'! :)






Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow


Here's my hair (as seen in a dirty mirror.) Pretty long, huh? Usually I wear my hair long. I have for years. But every so often you just have to chop it all off.

My goal was to have enough to donate to Locks of Love.

I started getting the long hair twitches about a week ago, so I went online to research hairdo's. I HIGHLY recommend In Style's Virtual Makeover. You can upload a picture of your face and try on lots o' celebrity hairdo's. (You'd be surprised what looks good on your face sometimes.)

When I found what I wanted, I measured my hair and I had enough to donate. Yahoo! So I made my appointment.

Here I am at Anna's Hair Perfection.


And here's Ann's chopping it off.

Post chop!

In case you were wondering - I did not cry. I am not a hair-cut crier. It is hair. It grows. And mine grows fast. So if I find I don't like it short (like Mike doesn't) I will just grow it out.

But I DO LIKE it!


I'm very happy with my kicky little bob. It's good to shake things up a bit, cut some weight off, and feel fresh and new for Spring. So thank you Anna - now I have to send my hair off to Locks of Love.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Duck Season


This happy little duck is my most recent watercolor.

I like it, but I'm still searching for "the way I paint birds." I haven't quite found it yet.

In other news:
It's raining. Dark, rainy days are lazy days for me. It's so difficult to be motivated. But I think I will tackle the growing mess that is Magoo's room. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Art Class: Stained Glass Windows


Spring is upon us!

We took down the paper snowflakes and it was time to put something colorful in the windows. I am a huge fan of stained glass windows and I thought the boys might like making ones of their own.

This week, in addition to showing you what we did, I'm going to include a little tutorial in case you want to try it too.

You'll need:
tissue paper
mod podge
brushes
scissors
clear plastic (I get mine from cutting up packaging; toy boxes, plastic food containers, etc.)
black squeezy paint

The first thing I did was show the boys some pictures of modern stained glass windows like this. I wanted them to focus more on shape and color and not on it creating a representational image.

Then I had them cut pieces of tissue paper and do a layout on the plastic. (There's wax paper underneath to keep their work spaces clean.)

Once they had a design they liked, I had them carefully slide their tissue paper designs off to the side and apply a thin coat of mod podge to the plastic. (The goal is for them to keep the design in order.)


Then the put their tissue shapes back on the plastic. Press them down. Then apply another light coat of mod podge on top. The trick here is to be delicate and to work the brush from the middle of each shape out to the edge. That way you don't rip the paper.


As the mod podge was drying, I went in with the squeeze paint (a small 1 oz. bottle of black fabric paint, available at craft stores) and outlined the shapes. It's fine to let you kids to this part - but I was low on black paint and I knew I'd be able to stretch it a little further than the boys would.

Here are the three "window panes" at different stages of drying.


When they are dry - go around and clip off edges with the scissors to make a clean, crisp rectangle. Then you can either tape it up in your window or punch a couple holes in the top and hang it with a string.

I think these came out great and the boys did a fantastic job!

Friday, March 11, 2011

TAXMAN!



I have spent the week getting all the paperwork together to visit our accountant tomorrow. It took me pretty much the entire day to organize the receipts from my personal business as an artist.

I'm not great with the day-to-day organization of buying what products for which projects, or is this an art supply for resale or not, and then recording what I sold to whom.

That's probably because I'm an artist.

But I try. I put things in order, typed them up neat, and bought a nice blue folder to hold everything in.

Wish me luck! And if it doesn't go well I'll just hurl a bill ball of dough at the wall. :)

PS - The clip above is from the movie Stranger Than Fiction - which I LOVE!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Baltimore!


On Saturday, Sara drove the crew into Baltimore.


It's bigger than Hartford - for sure. We started off with a visit to Port Discovery, which is a children's museum. The kids got to meet Poe, the mascot for the Ravens. (In case you don't know, Edgar Allen Poe lived in Baltimore. Thus, the name of the mascot. Sara drove us by his house in a not-so-great neighborhood. Once again, please picture a scene from The Wire.)

The kids ran around for a few hours, then we went down to the seaport to take in the sights. Lucky us - it didn't rain like it was supposed to!

These are dragon paddle boats that people can rent in the warmer weather. I can imagine how cool it would be to look out onto the water and see a bunch of sea dragons swimming by!

Then there was a spot with a captain's wheel, a large cannon, and an anchor for the boys to climb on and play with. There was a decent amount of seagull chasing, too.


Here's a shot of our gang. Sara and her boys and Magoo and I. After our trip to New York when he pretended to punch Mary Poppins in the gut in a photo - Magoo has LOVED to be hilarious in posed shots. So even though he had had a wonderful day - and even though he has a big smile on his face - it's thumbs down for Magoo. (Insert me rolling my eyes here.)

And finally I had to take this shot for my hubby. This cyclist travels in style, yo.


Thanks again to Sara and her family for having us down and taking such good care of us! We had a wonderful visit!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oak Hill Elementary School

Friday I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Oak Hill Elementary School in Severna Park, MD. It had been awhile since my last school visit, so I had to blow some dust off my professional clothes. But the kids were great and all went well.

After a couple large group presentations in the cafeteria, I visited the third grade classrooms to teach them how to make their own collage ninjas.


Here's one of Magoo's best buddies, N. N and his family used to live down the street from us and it was his wonderful mother, Sara, who organized my visit down.

Here's a few more awesome ninjas. Honestly, all the kids do such a great job and I always get soooo many photos of great ninjas. Maybe I should open a Flicker account and post them all there?


Big and small ninjas love purple!


After my large group presentation, I had a few minutes to cool out, so I went to the library. The media specialist there was great. She wanted to see how well the fifth graders had listened and sprung a pop quiz on them based on ANYTHING I said during my talk.

Some questions:

What kind of pet do I have? Answer: cat.

Where is the book set? Answer: Japan

How many copies of the book were made in the first print run? Answer: 8000. SOme kids answered 80,000. I wish!

I'm happy to report that most of the kids got 100%!!!

Thanks so much to everyone at Oak Hill! I had a wonderful time meeting you all!

Tomorrow: more highlights of our trip to Baltimore. (Cue theme to The Wire. When you walk through the garden .....)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wink the Ninja Who Wanted to Nap


Today is the day. Wink 2 is now available.

I'm just gonna sit back and wait for the money truck to stop by. HA! Totally kidding!

But I am excited! And I'm excited because in the next couple months I have several school visits and appearances scheduled and I LOVE doing appearances!

So THANK YO to all who have pre-ordered Wink 2, to all who have enjoyed Wink 1, and hopefully I'll sell enough books to make a Wink 3!!!

In other news:
Happy Birthday to my brother! And to my good friend Magda!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Chicken Soup for Sicky


Magoo is under the weather. Not BIG TIME. Not flu. Just a nasty little cold that makes his nose run and produces a cough. His mood is fine and his energy is good, but when the boy asked for chicken soup - well, his wish was my command.

But I'd never made chicken soup before, so I called my neighbor, Jackie, who is the QUEEN of Homemade Chicken Soup and got her recipe.

JACKIE'S CHICKEN SOUP

whole chicken (rotisserie will work)
carrots
onion
celery
noodles
spices (salt & pepper)

You start with the whole chicken. Now, by the time Mike got to the store in the evening, there were no rotisserie chickens left. So I had him buy me a whole chicken and I baked it through the previous night.

Tuesday morning, I peeled the meat off the bird and put the bones, skin, and carcass (mmmm, carcass) into a big ol' pot and filled it 3/4 with water. I cooked it for about 2 1/2 hours. Then I pulled out all the "pieces" and was left with a nice chicken broth.

Cut up the veg and plop it in the broth and let that cook another hour. Go ahead and add some seasonings at this point.

After the veg was good and cooked, I added the chicken meat back in (cutting up the large bits) and I basically let that simmer until dinner time.

About 30 minute prior to dinner time, I cooked the pasta in a separate pot and added it last minute. You can add it earlier, it depend on how soft you want your noodles. Since I work with Gluten-free noodles, I figured I'd add them last minute so they wouldn't deteriorate.

Magoo - who is not a soup guy - slurped it up. And the house smelled delicious all day long!

I'm keeping Magoo home today. He's no worse off than yesterday, but I want to give the boy a chance to rest and his 2nd grade teacher tells me that a ton of the kids in her class have something going on. So a day away from the germs might be good as well - and he can have more chicken soup for lunch.

Hope you're all feeling tip top!