Schrodinger’s Card

December 20th, 2016

In Which the Christmas Greeting Is Simultaneously Merry, & Not, Until Observed By the Recipient   OR  (to put another way)

The Cat Was Dead, and Not, To Begin With…..

xmas-2016-cover

And Yes. This is what Bob calls one of my “weird” cards (i prefer “high concept”).

xmas-2016-title
I am a Dog Person. There is no doubt whatever about that. I am also somewhat obsessed by Time and Space and Physics – when the Universe is faced with “choices” it decides between them at random, in accordance with the laws of probability (quantum theory) and that the choice is not made until somebody looks to see what is going on. The mention of this choice, coupled with the point I started with, must be distinctly understood, or no sense can come of the background story I am going to relate. (NOTE: preamble paraphrase inspired by Charles Dickens).

Again, i love dogs. I understand dogs. Over the course of umpteen years i have had the delightful pleasure of sharing different periods of my life with 4 corgis and a wonderful mixed-breed stray, but i have also included the occasional rabbit, hermit crab, fish and hamster to the menagerie (we even took care of a baby bird for a hot second until his mom came and reclaimed him). However, i have never ever wanted, considered or entertained the thought of having a cat. As i often explained to Jess when she was growing up and expressed interest in a kitten, we had the pets I didn’t mind taking care of, so cats simply never made the cut or factored into our lives.

Until 4 years ago that is, when Jess, now an adult with a job and apartment, decided to adopt an airport stray and then, 6 months later, promptly moved to Hawaii and dumped the beast in my lap (because Hawaii has strict rules about non-indigenous carnivores devouring their endangered Nene Geese. And no one else would take him). Even when she moved back to the main land she never quite got around to collecting him, so three years later he’s still here.

His name is Piper, by the way, but he has also been called: Cat, Booger, Crazy and Monster (not to mention other names inappropriate for a Christmas card story). I should note i knew nothing about cats before i inherited him and 3 years later i am still pretty much in the dark about what makes them tick. Or why people actually like them (particularly given the apparent truth of all the negative Cat Memes on Facebook). They all basically seem to like scratching people (Bob almost had to go to the ER), staring blankly, curling up in boxes, and – particularly annoying for me – inconveniently taking full-body naps on original artwork.
Needless to say, since living with Piper my favorite cat jokes involve Schrodinger in some way, which brings us to the Christmas card back story.

Basically – i simply couldn’t think of anything that excited me enough to draw (i blame 2016 as a whole for my ambivalence). And then Piper came to mind and i realized he had not yet been on a family Christmas card so i figured this was really the perfect year to feature him (he did almost kill Bob after all). I immediately pictured him sprawled on top of Christmas wrapping because he always lays on my illustrations when he slips past the barricade to my art room (so much so that i once put a piece of paper on the living room floor and wrote “Original Art: Do Not Lay On This” and the minute he saw it he curled up on it and went to sleep).

Of course then Schrodinger’s Cat came to mind (bringing the Quantum Physics Lesson above into the mix). Specifically: the thought experiment dreamed up by Erwin Schrodinger involving a CAT, locked in a box with radioactive material, giving it a 50-50 chance of survival. The cat is conceivably both Alive and Dead, the answer unknown, until the observer opens the box (and yes, this is a simplistic, Physics For Dummies interpretation, the true explanation is massively more complex – which is why we have Google).

scrodingers-catpiper
For me, NOT being a Cat Person, it was just an easy abstract hop, philosophic skip and theoretic jump to this year’s Merry/Not Merry “Schrodinger’s Cat Card”. So with apologizes to Schrodinger (for garbling his theory and for the missing umlaut over the O) and Cat Lovers everywhere. Whatever your reality, may you find your Christmas Merry and your cat very much alive. Or, as Piper’s holiday greeting would be (upon opening the card, and i suspect what all cats think when confronted by human expectation),

“What?”

LAK 2016

A Little Peek Behind-the-Art of “Saving Kate’s Flowers”

September 19th, 2016

saving-kates-flowers-cover

Okay – the first thing to know is – when i got the manuscript, the story was about a little girl and her mom. In other words – Kate and her family and neighbors were human, so that was how i originally intended to portray them. Of course i still wanted to give the illustrations an interesting twist and i started thinking about what sort of family this could be, maybe an ethnic look or an unexpected locale. That segued into finding reference photos, because i have learned from experience, if you are going to draw a sustained human character throughout a series of illustrations it helps – A LOT – to have pictures of a real person, preferably showing different facial expressions and poses. Somewhere in this process i started imaging the characters as animals and, next thing you know, i saw Kate as a bunny.

kates-flowers-kate-proposal

I couldn’t just go off on a wild tangent like that without checking with the publisher, who in turn needed to check with the author, but after hearing my proposal everyone liked the idea and i began creating the world these characters would inhabit. Right from the start i pictured an up-dated homage to Beatrix Potter in that the animals, while being anthropomorphic, still retained a certain amount of natural look and behavior (where possible). They are still very much a part of regular, every day life with humans (like Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor or Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb in the little girl’s dollhouse) but you don’t physically see any humans, and although the animals look “realistic” they clearly behave a bit more like people than animals. I specifically tried to find a middle ground between Potter’s more naturalistic style and a Disney cartoon look because i didn’t want the characters to look too much like real rabbits but i didn’t want them to be too much like caricatures either.
Semi-realistic is what guided the color choices and other details.
[NOTE: And all of this happened long before “Zootopia” came out by the way. The art was well underway and off to the printer before i heard anything about the movie]

kates-flowers-garden-shedbunny-hutch

One of the first things i thought of was where the Rabbit family would live – a rabbit hutch attached to the human family’s garden shed. Though obviously the hutch would be more of a house – only with rabbit hutch touches (we once had a Dutch rabbit, named Barnaby, so i was drawing a lot on experience).
I also wanted a tiny hint of clothing on the animals – nothing too extreme however. I wanted whatever the animals wore or used to be something they could make or find either in nature, or borrowed and repurposed from humans. [And YES – i really do get this bogged down in back-story minutia. What do they need? How was it made? What human object could work?].
So Kate’s pinafore is based on an apron/garden garment worn by several characters from various books of the Victorian period but is a specific link to Mrs. Flopsy Bunny (from “The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies” by Beatrix Potter). Kate’s pinafore is made from flower petals and her broach is a seed.

kate-mom

Mom Bunny wears a scarf (because i love scarves) woven from the ribs and veins of dried leaves (not that you can really tell that in the illustrations, but it’s what was going through my mind). And her hat is woven from pine needles. Little side note: Originally i had Mom in the pinafore and Kate wearing the scarf, but realized the scarf looked older and more mature, while the pinafore looked younger – at least to me – so the switch was made early in the sketches.

flowers-dad-copy

Dad sports a vest made of leaves and woven grass.

Since we were looking at the world from a rabbit perspective – as in, close to the ground, in a garden setting – i knew i wanted to have all sorts of bugs and worms, etc. In the first round of sketches the little snail was just in a couple illustrations but then i realized he could be a character in his own right. I have often tried to tuck in a hidden or unexpected character in my other books when possible, so the snail was perfect (i imagine he is either some sort of pet, or a close friend). Other butterflies, bees, dragonflies, etc. were added for interest and fun, and are all based on real species.

skf-snail-detail
I didn’t want to go for obvious butterflies (like a Monarch) and wanted some color contrasts with the flowers but i also tried to pick butterflies that could be found across the country (and weren’t too insanely detailed to color). So in order of appearance:
1st Spread: Cabbage White (the whitish one) and Tiger Swallowtail
4th Spread: Laurel Swallowtail (aka: Palamedes)
5th Spread: Common Buckeye (also note the worm in a garden hat)
11th Spread: Clouded Sulphur (small greenish one) and Giant Swallowtail

The “rake” and “shovel” the bunnies use are both examples of repurposing human-sized garden tools (hand rake and trowel, or wooden spoon) for rabbit needs. My mother collected toy rabbits (i’m not entirely sure when that started) and one of the toys from her collection is a lovely, realistic-looking Steiff rabbit. It is pretty close to life size so it sat on my drawing table throughout the entire project and i referred to it whenever i needed to check proportions when i wanted to use a human tool.

kates-flowers-flip-phone

Speaking of Human Tools. A word about technology. Specifically, what kind of phone would a rabbit use?
I have to tell you – this was quite the dilemma for me. My first thought was an old, black (stereotype) dial & chord phone from my childhood, but i feared modern children today wouldn’t know what it was (and an old fashion crank kind was way too archaic). The problem with using the type of Smartphones everyone uses now is that they really don’t “look” like anything. They’re just thin, rectangular boxes.
In the end i went with the type of phone i use (the flip phone) because i am that old and nerdy and do not have a Smartphone. Technically, i actually had a phone older than Mom Rabbit’s flip-phone (a 2nd generation Nokia) but thought the flip-phone would be funnier. Ironically, my beloved Nokia stopped working during the course of these illustrations (well, it actually still worked just fine – but the service providers started phasing out the older generation technology and no longer supported my Nokia.) so i had to get a new phone and – naturally – i picked the flip-phone. And it is actually the very phone Mom Rabbit is using.

The Rabbit Family Kitchen – Ah, i had great fun imaging how this would look. And how a rabbit family would decorate. I went to a local pet store to see what kinds of things they used for rabbit hutches (as well as went back through all the Rabbit Care books i had from our Barnaby days) for inspiration.
I struggled with the kitchen table for awhile before deciding on a slice of tree trunk for the top and a base made from a bucket or barrel. The chairs are made from twisty roots and vines.
The tile floor hints at the wire grating one might use on the floor of a rabbit cage, and the window is screened with similar rabbit hutch/cage wire.

kates-flowers-kitchen-window
The throw rug in the kitchen is woven from weeds and grasses and the living room rug is woven from the hay generally used for small animal bedding.
The cabinets are basic plywood. The back-splash is made from stones and pebbles. And rough, weathered wood is used for the window sill and molding.
NOTE: The two glass containers on the kitchen counter hold rabbit food pellets and grasses – for easy snacking.

kates-flowers-kitchencabinet

Inside the kitchen cabinet – we find my china, inherited from my grandmother and my great aunt (who both liked the Franciscan Ware Apple pattern). The lesser-known Carrot pattern serving tray was a fabricated after-thought. Another spur-of-the-moment addition was the blue and white cup – thus linking it to the cover (that cup, by the way, was inspired by the take-out, Greek-looking cups found in New York).
The white ironware container is also a family piece (my mom had a whole set of them), the Revere Ware sauce pan is mine. The two-handled children’s mug is based on one my daughter had as a baby. And the rustic two-toned ceramic pitcher is based on the one i got in college (made by a fellow art major) that currently props up books on a shelf in my living room.

Kate’s Bedroom – another space i had wonderful fun designing! From Left to Right:

kates-flowers-bedrooml
Kate’s bed is based on a woven rabbit bed i saw at the pet store. I struggled with what material the blanket should be and in the end decided it was woven from leaves, or maybe burlap. The toy rabbit on the bed is from my Mom’s collection. And the toy snail was inspired by my daughter’s vast Beanie Baby collection (tho in different colors).
Dressers are made from crates. The stool at the foot of the bed is a tree stump. And bottom center of the page you can see the tops of the flowers that are on the cover of the book.

kates-flowers-bedroom
Per my research i learned that there are Rabbit Shows (like Dog and Cat shows) so the ribbons on the bulletin board are ones Kate has won.
Out in the hall is a family photo of Mom, Dad and Kate. There is also a picture of the entire Rabbit clan, and self-portrait by Kate.
And in the book case you will find several Beatrix Potter books, “Rabbit Hill” and “The Velveteen Rabbit”, as well as copies of ALL the books i have illustrated for Arbordale Publishing.

The Neighbors! Again – when i thought of changing the characters from humans to animals i had a wonderful time figuring out who the neighbors would be. Mrs. Chin immediately conjured up an image of a Siamese cat (who is wearing the same shawl as seen on Jemima Puddleduck, a nod to another Beatrix Potter character) and the “Dog Lady” (as she was described in the original manuscript” struck me as a pug. (NOTE: she has chewed the corner of her book).

kates-flowers-neighbors1
I wanted to show a variety of animals that would be found in a typical suburban neighborhood and the Martin family easily became Purple Martin birds. Originally the Hoppy family was called the Rowes and i decided to make them toads because it was another nod to Beatrix Potter and because i knew Kate was going to be stopping by their house so it gave me a great opportunity to show a Toad House (the author later changed their name from Rowe to Hoppy to better accommodate their new look).

The Neighbors Homes:
Mrs. Chin’s house is an example of the animals interacting with real humans. Mrs. Chin’s “door” is the cat flap in the back door of the human’s house (featuring her own oriental/Asian touches).
The Hoppys live in a simple toad shelter made from a broken clay pot.
The Martin’s bird house is based on a real Purple Martin bird house.
And Mrs. Pug, naturally, lives in a dog house (she is drinking tea from her water bowl, and she has “dog-eared” the the page in the book she is reading).

kates-flowers-neighbors

For the other neighbors i purposely chose animals that most people would be likely to see in their yard or neighborhood, and i tried to illustrate the kinds of homes they would realistically live in. The Bat Box, squirrel nest, and tortoise and mole holes came to mind immediately but i’ll admit i took a little creative license with the o’possum log because that just fit the space best (but i figured it probably wasn’t too far pff from what a wild o’possum would use for shelter).
And yes, it is something of a visual joke that the “blind” mole is painting a picture of his flower.

And that – i think – covers all the little hidden, and not so hidden, decorative touches found in the pictures. But if you see anything i missed or have any other questions about the illustrations – please let me know. because i LOVE talking about the process!!

Star Whale

December 22nd, 2015

To be honest – i really didn’t know what to draw this year.  2015 was kind of odd in terms of illustration inspiration. Many things happened… just nothing i could really wrap my mind creatively around. That’s when i decided to just keep it simple and celebrate some very special people. Specifically those wonderful, talented, brilliant, caring, generous, dedicated, professionals i have the pleasure to call Friends, and the honor and privilege to call Colleagues. My SeaWorld Family.  My SeaWorld Home.

My SeaWorld ‘Ohana.

It is a place that has been a thread running through my life since i was in high school (i STILL have the pearl i got at the original Pearl Diving pavilion). It was the first theme park we took Jesse to when she was 4 (where she preferred the dolphin stroller to the shows) and in 1995 she went to her first Summer Camp there.  Interestingly enough 1995 was the same year Bob and i decided to upheave our lives and started the process of moving to Florida (kind of a fitting, tho unintentional, mirror of life changes that occurred this past year). In 1997 i showed my portfolio to the Education Dept. and was given the opportunity to paint an amazing mural (the first one i had ever attempted). And  in 1998 i was invited to join this beautiful, magical, inspiring world.

A killer whale was the obvious image choice for this card and i reached back to the 1995 Jesse Camp/Christmas card for inspiration.  Celebrating Jesse’s camp experience, it was the first time i featured a killer whale, and ironically i only just now realized, as i type, that it was exactly 20 years ago when i drew that first whale, never imagining all the ones to follow. Yet another instance of surprising associations finding their way into my illustrations. I start drawing and next thing you know, i’ve discovered all these unexpected links and connections. All these Threads.

Children of the Sea & Sky 1995

For example, i still felt i needed another element to bring this whale idea to Christmas life.  And then i remembered the beautiful song, “Believe”, written for the 2008 killer whale show of the same name. A song, and show, that Jess and i love, and still makes us cry (we have the DVD).

 

Reach for your dreams,

Always be true and

You’ll be amazed

What they can do.

 

Just follow your heart,

Let it inspire.

Hope lifts you up;

Dreams take you higher.

 

Just open your heart,

Shine like the Sun now,

Reach out your hands,

Worlds become one now.

 

Think what a world this world would be

 

Follow your heart;

Let it inspire;

Hope lifts you up,

Dreams take you higher.

Think what a world this world would be… when you BELIEVE!

 

So to ALL our Friends & Family ~ Believe ~ my favorite word to share at Christmas.     LAK 2015


 

A New Post for a New Book – “They Just Know” Is Here

September 2nd, 2015

I can’t believe we are already over half way thru the year and i am only now writing my first post of 2015.  Then again, maybe not so surprising… i’ve been a pretty lax blogger over the years. Considering how much i love writing (and talking) about the whole drawing/illustrating process it’s odd that i’m so pokey about posting new thoughts and stories.  I guess part of the problem is – i always feel i should be doing something else more work-related.  But promoting a new book IS work related isn’t it? So, to that end, allow me to introduce “They Just Know – Animal Instincts” (written by Robin Yardi, Illustrated by – ME)!

Cover of "They Just Know"

As always there are all sorts of fun Behind-the-Art background stories to tell, and the author Robin Yardi asked me all kinds of questions about the illustrations for her blog, The Nonfiction Nook, which i will share, but that will have to come later (but by later i really mean sooner rather than literally a long time from now), this entry is just to introduce the book with a few news-y items and announce some up-coming Book Signings.

By way of a quick little introductory synopsis let me quote from the Kirkus Review (because it’s a really nice review!!!):

Drawing a line between human and animal behaviors, this debut from Yardi teaches children about instinctual behaviors.

Alternating double-page spreads first show anthropomorphized animals “learning” how to do something and then the reality: “spring peepers tadpoles don’t get lessons on leaping at school, and no one has to teach them their iconic song”. A turn of the page reveals: “Mother peepers lay a lot of lovely eggs and hop away. Little tad poles just know what to do, all on their own”.

Klein’s artwork is the real draw though. The anthropomorphized scenes will certainly elicit chuckles from both adult and child readers…

(Sigh) I just love that last part.

Anyway, as for the Book Signings (and the main reason i finally got back on the blog) the first one is going to be held this Friday, September 4, 2015, at Simple Gestures (4 White Street, St. Augustine, FL) from 5 to 9.  It is the First Friday Art Walk and always a lot of fun but this weekend is also the start of St. Augustine’s 450th Anniversary celebration, with all sorts of events and music and revelry going on downtown, and the Bridge of Lions is going to be closed, so this could either make for a very busy First Friday on “our” side of the bridge, or a real quiet one.  Either way – the invitation is extended for you to stop by and hang out with some delightfully crazy folks, look at a some amazing art (and crafts and jewelry and toys and books), not to mention enjoy some wonderful nibblees.  There are a couple shops and galleries all right therein the area so it will certainly be worth a visit.

But if you miss that signing, not to worry – i already have a few more lined up.  So mark your calendars:

* Saturday, October 3 – I will be at San Marco Books (1971 San Marco, Blvd. Jacksonville, FL) from 10 to 2 (or longer if you want to stay and schmooze).

* Saturday, October 24 – I’ll be at on the other side of the St. Augustine bridge at Anastasia Books (81-C King Street) from 11 to 1 (ditto on the schmoozing part).

* And then, the Friday right after Thanksgiving – November 27 – i will be at The Starving Artist (28 Cuna Street, St. Augustine, FL)  from 11 to 4.  Santa Claus is also expected to make an appearance so i JUST KNOW you’ll want to stop by then (children’s books and Santa – what could be better)!!

Of course if i pop up anywhere else i will be sure add the dates, but this is a good start.  And a nice reason to finally get back to the blog (now if i can only just keep up the momentum).

I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

Citrus ~ Flight 1

December 21st, 2014

Seventeen years ago (February 1997 to be precise) a corporate pilot and a freelance artist sold their stuff (Bob called it “throwing it in the river”),  packed up their little girl and their dog, stuck a pin in a map, and headed to Florida. No official jobs to speak of, most people thought it was a crazy idea, but the thinking was – i could draw anywhere, and as long as there was an airport near-by Bob could find a job flying planes.

November of that same year, like a literal Phoenix, AirTran Airways emerged from the ashes of a previous incarnation with a new name, a new logo, a new slogan, and a new business model.  And on May 4, 1998 former Corporate Pilot Bob began Airline Pilot training at AirTran, learning to fly the DC-9 – the jet his father had originally captained at Delta.

December 1999 i created the first flying-themed Christmas card, depicting a cheery, martini drinking, cigar smoking Santa Claus Slipping the Surly Bonds in an open cockpit bi-plane.  Other Santa-as-Pilot illustrations have followed since but it seemed particularly fitting to revisit that theme this year because on December 28, 2014, AirTran Airways will become the thing of legend and old pilot stories, the name and airline officially leaving the skies and becoming a chapter in the books of aviation history.

The scrappy little “Airline That Could” was always something of enigma. It began life with the unfortunate “Formerly Known As…” postscript attached to it’s name, and years after that affiliation faded from memory it still wasn’t very well known among the general flying public. Despite growing into one of the country’s strongest low-cost carriers, and consistently ranking in the top 10 in airline performance and customer satisfaction, only it’s most loyal passengers ever seemed to know what it was. When Bob would say he was a pilot for AirTran, the inevitable response would be, “Air TRAIN? Is that some sort of freight company?”.

But for the folks that counted, Bob’s little “Step-child Airline” (as he affectionately calls it) was known and respected as an innovative air carrier whose ticket agents, gate agents, baggage handlers, rampers, mechanics, flight attendants, dispatchers, and pilots were (and are) some of the most highly trained and consummately professional in the industry.  AirTran developed a state-of-the-art reservation and boarding process, and created the cargo smoke detection and suppressant system, as well as the shielded cabin doors, used by all US airlines today. After 9/11 the AirTran pilots unanimously accepted the minimum pay guarantee (essentially taking a pay cut) so that no employees had to be laid off or furloughed. And in another example of Comrade-In-Arms spirit, AT was the first airline to grant pilots from any and all other (ie: competing) airlines the opportunity to fly non-rev, or ride the jump seat, on AirTran’s planes when they were attempting to commute to work or get home.

In 2004 the last DC-9 was retired and Bob began flying its replacement – the brand new, Boeing 717.  Sleek and fast, with a “glass cockpit” (no more needles and steam gauges, all computer screens), it became the sports car of the fleet. Every pilot’s dream plane.

But all that success and innovation doesn’t go unnoticed forever.  In 2010 another airline giant from the southwest announced acquisition of AirTran’s personnel and fleet of 737s (sadly the 717s were not needed and would be phased out). Of course major business transactions of this nature do not happen overnight, and it takes a lot of time to integrate different operating procedures, and bring everyone up to speed on the new culture, so while the transition details were finalized AirTran, and it’s “little jet”, continued to fly under it’s own name.  The Ghost Squadron (as it is unofficially called) of 717s grows increasingly smaller and at the end of December, the last of the planes will be retired.

But not forgotten, or abandoned.  In a fitting piece of coming full circle Bob’s 717s are going to Delta, the airline where Bob’s dad began his flying career and where Jesse currently cares for the traveling public.  The vertical stabilizer may be wearing a Widget rather than a lower-case “a”, but it’s still the same feisty little sports car of a jet and it has already won over its new flight crews.

On December 28 the last 717 Atlanta-to-Tampa, Florida trip has been designated AirTran Flight 1 and will retrace the route taken by its predecessor airline’s first flight in October 1993.  But this last flight also bears another fitting historic date and destiny because 100 years ago, on January 1, 1914, the first commercial flight took place when pilot Tony Jannus flew a passenger from St. Petersburg, Florida to Tampa. The first time a ticket was sold to the general public for point-to-point scheduled air travel.

So from Critter (the Valued predecessor Jet airline’s call sign, whose logo makes a special guest appearance on the card) to Citrus (AirTran’s call sign) to a brand new radio designation, “Little a” will never be forgotten. Forever dancing the skies on laughter-silvered wings and slipping those surly bonds.

To paraphrase AT’s first slogan – You were, and are, something else!!!       LaK 2014

 

Six Memories Of Christmas Past… and One Christmas Present

December 18th, 2014

2006 was the year Jess turned 17, she would be graduating from high school and heading off to college the next year, so naturally the 2006 Christmas card had to be all about her and i thought it would be fun to show all her past holiday incarnations. So the six “Memories of Christmas Past” also featured on this card were: The Great Granddaughter – 1989, BELIEVE… In the Dreams of a Child – 1992, Chanson Pour Les Petits Enfants… – 1993, Hold Your Breath… Make a Wish… – 1994, Children of the Sea & Sky – 1995, and Behind the Dolphin Smile – 2000.

The background story included with the card read ~

While i feel fairly certain this year’s card is pretty self-explanatory i can never seem to pass up the opportunity to tell a story. So with your indulgence….

For those new to this annual tradition, i have been designing personal greeting cards since 1977, when i was given the assignment in a college printing class. Since that auspicious beginning there have been two adaptations of “A Christmas Carol“, two renderings of a partridge in a pear tree (tho once it was a pelican), anthropomorphic animals of every shape and description (nothing says Christmas like dancing Renaissance ermines), an inspired Star Wars/Good King Wenceslas design (“Master Qui-Gon Jinn looked out, on the Eve of Boonta“) and, of course, Santa Claus: Troubadour Santa, Pelican Santa, Amish Santa, Wizard Santa, Surfing Santa, WWI Flying Ace Santa, Casablanca (ie: H. Bogart) Santa, Pirates of the Caribbean Santa, and a 4-part compilation Celtic god-Scandinavian legend-medieval saint-Victorian Obi-Wan Kenobi Father Christmas Santa(s).

Pleased as i am with all those cards, however, the ones closest to my heart are those six that featured Jesse. Since 1989 she has been my Muse and Inspiration. My guilty-pleasure-obsessive Star Wars/LOTR/Pirates of the Caribbean/Queer Eye/Diagnosis Murder/West Wing co-conspirator. My travel buddy. The light in the window and my very best friend. In 1991 she inspired the very first Christmas story i ever wrote and although she is about to take flight on adventures of her own design, charting her course by her own magical star, she will always be my little girl, and my own beautiful Christmas angel.

“You see? You see? It’s magic, Daddy!” Jesse squealed.  “You’re right, honey…” her father answered, “it’s Christmas.”  Christmas Story 1991

To Christmases Past, Present & Yet To Come    LAK 2006

As i wrote inside the card, and still believe today (and every day) ~ Treasure the moment. Celebrate the magic. Smile, it’s Christmas!

 

A ew Northern Dittye of the Lady Green-Sleeves (Richard Jones. Ed. 1580)

December 16th, 2014

So, this card was done in 2004.  It was third in what became an inadvertent, unplanned,  series of cards that wound up combining Christmas songs with current pop culture interests (the First: 2002 – Good King Wenceslas* with thematic variation suggested by Jesse Klein – a Good King Wenceslas /Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi/Star Wars mash-up.   The Second: 2003 – Drink Up Me, Hearties. Yo Ho – a Jimmy Buffett-Ho Ho Ho And a Bottle of Rhum (Santa’s run off to the Caribbean)/Jack Sparrow(as Santa)/Pirates of the Caribbean fusion. And Third: 2004 – this card – A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Green-Sleeves (Richard Jones, Ed. 1580) – Greensleeves meets Lord of the Rings/with – as i wave my hand in front of you – with a hint of Jedi influence in the tunic).

What can i say – 2002, 20o3 and 2004 were obsession-heavy years for my daughter and i (my beloved Partner In Crime – which is another pop culture reference, but that comes later) and the annual Christmas card has long become a sort of illustrative representation of the Year In Review (whatever the year may happen to be).  Whatever the current passion, interest, hi-light or activity winds up becoming the subject of the card and then i just twist myself into a pretzel finding a way to make it Christmas-y.

Thus, Page and Monarch became Padawan and Master (Jedi) and fit Good King Wenceslas perfectly (there’s more about that in an earlier blog by the way).  Santa running off to the Caribbean in Buffett’s song gave me the ideal springboard for a Pirate Santa (who just so happened to wind up looking like Jack Sparrow. What can i say – it was Young Santa, in his earlier, wild days). And in 2004 Lord of the Rings topped our Mother-Daughter list of obsessions and a favorite Medieval Christmas ballad automatically conjured up images of knights which, then, segued easily into Tolkien’s Fellowship.

Of course things didn’t stop there (they never do). Then came the research – because there is truly nothing i enjoy more than looking up obscure facts to enhance an illustration, or enliven the subsequent background story.  Greensleeves, has long been a favorite Christmas carol (along with good ol’ Wenceslas) and i have actually used it once before as the subject of a card (that year it was a Medieval ermine troubadour and his Lady, cos nothing says “Merrie Chrystmas” like dancing weasels) so i already had a bit of working knowledge about the song’s origins. Such as legend has it that Henry VIII wrote it for Anne Boleyn (never substantiated, and probably not true, but let’s not have the facts get in the way of a good story).

I wound up finding all sorts of fascinating information about the song. There is an entry in the Stationer’s Register in 1580 licensing Richard Jones to print A new Northern Dittye of the Lady Green-Sleeves, so that was the source of the card’s title.  And the earliest lyrics that survive are in A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584). The tune, i should note, first appears in 1652. More fun (at least for me) a reading of the lyrics shows that it is not a sweet, innocuous love song, but a plea from a 16th century gentleman to his bored mistress. And there are countless versions of the lyrics (including 14 Cavalier songs and John Gay’s lyrics to the tune for The Beggar’s Opera) before William Chatterson Dix wrote the Christmas carol, What Child Is This, to the tune shortly after the Civil war. What can is say – the bawdy history behind a, seemingly innocent, Christmas carol appeals to my devilish side.

Of course i had to squish all that information into the little note i included with the card (this was years before i just started writing page-long explanatory notes in eensy-weensy font size) so many people who got the card that year were a bit flummoxed by the subject and the contents.  I still have people refer to it as “that weird card” (and think it kind of set the standard for the weirder cards to follow.

So on that note, i give you the actual story i included with the card back in 2004 ~

It appears i’ve gone and created another carol-related Christmas card… Okay, technically “Greensleeves” is not a Christmas carol but rather an Elizabethan ballad about a bored mistress of dubious repute. The tune however is wonderfully medieval and there is just something about the music of wandering minstrels and troubadours that can’t help but conjure up images of Christmas ~ at least to me. So whether you prefer William Chatterton Dix’s carol, “What Child Is This”, or John Gay’s lyrics written for “The Beggar’s Opera”, or any of the countless other versions of the tune (including 14 Cavalier songs) may we humbly share this “Handful of Pleasant Delights (where the earliest lyrics of this song can be found, Circa 1584). “Delighting in your company”.  LAK Christmas 2004

Good King Wenceslas* (*with thematic variation suggested by Jesse Klein)

December 14th, 2014

So, per tradition, there is something of a story behind this card (there’s always a story isn’t there?  I love a good back story), so allow me to share the explanation i wrote back in 2002, the year i drew, and shared, this Christmas card.

On one hand this is just a traditional rendering of one of my favorite Christmas carols (Good King Wenceslas, in case you missed the title) with the style and subject of the drawing inspired specifically by a wonderful ink illustration (of the same carol) done by A.J. Gaskin (1894). However, upon closer inspection you may notice something vaguely familiar (or Outer Rim-ish) about the Page and the Monarch… this is where the Jesse influence comes into play.

Or, to be more accurate, her obsession with all things Star Wars (mine too, i should add, but this particular card was Jesse’s idea). Only Jesse could read the lyrics to a 149 year-old carol and make a Padawan/(Jedi) Master connection! Of course this is the same girl who, upon seeing the Long Hall of Trinity College in Ireland remarked that it looked just like the Jedi Archive Library on Coruscant. What can i tell you… i noticed that too! (Always kind of fun when interests and obsessions collide.  Even better when you can share them with your daughter).

And so, as you hum the tune to John Mason Neale’s Boxing Day carol feel free to replace his opening lyric with,

Master Qui-Gon Jinn looked out, on the Eve of Bunta,”

NOTE: We’re still working on the rest of the lyrics.    LAK & JL  December 2002

Simple Gifts

December 10th, 2014

Several times since moving here i have had the great gift of seeing wild dolphins leap in the breakers and surf on the waves, free and playful and full of joy. Twice i have seen newly hatched baby sea turtles make their tiny determined way to the beach.

One day a bald eagle circled over town and recently a parade of jelly fish floated under the Bridge of Lions. Every morning the beach offers a new surprise. Like “beach glass”, it is not always easy to find, often you have to look very carefully and be very patient, but it’s there.

There is magic and wonder all around us if we only take the time to look. To see the simple gifts.

So look with child’s eyes. See the dolphins and sea turtles, enjoy the magic, hunt for beach glass, believe in Santa.

Cherish the simple gifts.

LAK ~ Christmas 1998

Taleweavers

December 3rd, 2014

 

“I’m afraid to go to bed,” whimpered the child, “I’ll hear the meand noises.”

“Don’t be afraid,” whispered her mother, “the Taleweavers will keep you safe.”

“Taleweavers?” asked the sleepy little girl.

“The crickets who chirp under your window, the hummingbirds who hover by the feeder on the porch, the frogs that croak from the pond, the bees who dance on the flowers, the birds who wake you up in the morning… they are all the Taleweavers. They make music and their music covers the world.”

“How?”

“It’s carried by the wind, the oldest Taleweaver of all. She takes that music and collects the songs of other stortellers. Like the wolves and coyotes who share their stories with the moon and stars. And the whales, who sing their haunting poems deep in the ocean. And all of these songs and dances and stories are woven together to wrap around the world… around you… like a magic blanket.”

“How do you know?” yawned the sleepy child.

“Because Little One, I’m a Taleweaver too.”

And she sang her daughter to sleep with a lullaby.

Laurie Allen Klein 1992