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


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.”


“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

Meet the Planets – Who’s Who & What’s What – The Inner Planets

September 20th, 2014

They’re solid. They’re rocky. They’re close to the sun. Here come the inner planets.”

So now the competition really gets underway, with the 4 planets closest to the Sun making their group debut.  This particular page probably has the least amount of Who & What background explanation, but that doesn’t mean i skimped on the thought or research process. Even as simple as it looks, i still managed to stick in a little subliminal information, specifically in terms of the Asteroid Belt.

The Inner Planets are the rock-based ones. Not only closest to the Sun (which, naturally takes up the bulk of the spread. I must confess, i am particularly fond of the sunglasses) but also located inside the Asteroid Belt so, of course, the asteroids needed to be featured. And since they were in the illustration and had to be colored, i decided i would render them based on their unique chemical/physical composition.

I should note – in reality (in Space) i doubt that you would actually see any color distinction, and even if you did it probably wouldn’t be as obvious as i made it, but it was important to convey that all asteroids are not the same. In fact, there are three different types and each are made up of different materials/substances so i attempted to communicate that information through color.

The 3 types of Asteroids are: M-Type, S-Type, and C-Type.

M-Type is made up of nickel and iron, so i colored those asteroids in silver and grey.

S-Type is made up of a rocky material, so those are colored in reddish brown.

C-Type is made up of carbon, so those are represented in black.

It’s a small thing – but it was the kind of artistic choice i found myself constantly aware of when doing the illustrations for this book.  My goal was to find fun and interesting ways of sharing all the cool and fascinating things i had learned through my research. Creating all the little touches that i hoped (hope) ignited some curiosity.

If only one child asked, “Why did the illustrator color those rocks like that?” this picture was a success!


Back to the Blog Again – Hopefully

September 20th, 2014

This is a test of the Emergency Blog-cast System. This is only a test (tho, if it works, i’ll probably just keep it on here as the first post of 2014).

Apparently my last blog post was the Behind-the-Art/explanatory notes describing my 2013 Christmas card and then – nothing.  Dead silence.  Only the sound of crickets for the last nine months.  Hey – i’ve been busy!  Well, busy, and also struggling with the ever increasing changes that occur whenever you update your computer.

I wasn’t all that tech-savvy to begin with, so when i learn a way to do something i stick to it. No deviations! I am not the sort to indiscriminately push random buttons. And that system worked just fine for me for a number of years.  Then, sometime in 2013, we got a new computer that, naturally, resulted in changes to the way i’d previously done things so this Old Dog had to learn some New Tricks – and i’m sure you can image how well THAT turned out.  But even more maddening (for my Limited Attention Span Theater personality) now – in 2014 – all the new, fancy-schmancy, high-falutin  technology harangues you into up-grading every other day – which would be fine if all the old formats and systems and ways of doing things stayed the same.  But they don’t!  Every up-grade comes with it’s attendant, brand new, shiny COMPLETELY DIFFERENT way of doing something. Anything. Everything.  And i’m just not very good when it comes to change.   As it is, i already have a Computer Tech Wizard on speed dial, but he can’t sit here every day, by my side, talking me thru every stupid (and, to me, mostly unnecessary) revision – much as i might wish that were possible – so, as a consequence, quite often i find myself in some Cosmic Computer Limbo and just throw up my hands in defeat. Thinking,

This doesn’t have to be done right now does it? Naw!  Hey look, it’s time for cocktails“!!

Which finally brings me to the point of this exercise – the explanation for the biggest casualty in all this beyond-my-mental-depth-with-hyper-techno-newness…  “The Blog”.  I mean, let’s face it – if something has to give, the blog is easily the most expendable. At best, this little literary addition to my web site is just a bit of a self-indulgence, sharing the convoluted back-stories about my various and sundry art and illustrations.  All stuff i can just type up and print out and stick in a notebook to reread at my leisure (which is indeed what i do with it).

Still, when new art, or books, or pictures get posted (like last year’s Christmas card) i get the urge to write a little something about it, and a bunch of new Stuff is about to hit the site (not to mention all those older series categories my OCD tendencies are nagging me to finish) so i thought i should make a stab at getting back into the blog. Or at least see what i’m still able to do on my own computer-wise (before calling in a battalion of technology help) so here goes. A little, preliminary Preface, as it were, to get my feet wet. Or my fingers limber.  Or… hmmm, ran out of appropriate analogies.

Oh well. Enough procrastinating. Let’s just go ahead and push a button.

Tali Who!

December 21st, 2013

Or,   “TARDIS: Talieson And Robot Dog Inspired [Doctor Who Christmas] Special”.


Okay.  WHO didn’t see this coming? Given that the annual Klein Christmas card has come to feature significant events or current obsessions of the year, one would have had to be living in a cave (of Androzani) or locked in a Pandorica not to anticipate the 50 year Anniversary of Doctor Who serving as 2013’s theme.  I mean, with the exception of last year’s JAWS/Flying card the Doctor has been featured, or at least alluded to, in every Christmas card since 2008.

All that being said, however, a Doctor Who card was not a forgone conclusion – a lot happened this past year.  More aviation adventures, Hawaii, a new roof (among other house renovations), Jesse’s cat moving in – there was a wealth of subject matter to choose from.  Not to mention, i had already promised Tali (Talieson, our Welsh Corgi, for those new to Klein history) that i would do a card about her.  Let’s face it, the poor dog has had quite the year what with the cat foisted upon her, and the house renovation disrupting her life all Summer.  She handled every intrusion with grace and good will so the least i could do was put her in the card.  In fact, i originally pictured her surfing off Waikiki, or working as a Delta Flight Attendant (beating up the cat was also a possibility) so the whole Doctor Who thing really didn’t come to me until after the November 23 anniversary special.  Then – suddenly – it seemed inevitable.  The only trick was – how to make a Christmas card out of a 6 year old Pembroke Welsh Corgi and a 50 year old British television show about a 900-plus year old Gallifreyan Time Lord.

Tali, sitting in the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) watching the 1st Doctor on an old TV set, came immediately to mind, followed by the obvious addition of the 4th Doctor’s robot dog, K-9.  The choice of black and white pencil was another given.  The last 4 Christmas cards have all been in color, and i am currently elbow-deep in color illustrations for a new book, so i was ready for a change.  Besides, i’ve really missed working in my true love – #2 pencil, and the medium seemed even more appropriate considering that when Doctor Who premiered in 1963 it was in black and white.

And now that the whole convoluted, behind-the-scenes, back story, thought process is out of the way let’s move on to the Explanatory Notes section describing the little pictorial elements that all have significance (at least to me).

*  Starting with the TV:  As noted above, on the screen is the 1st Doctor, played by William Hartnell (1963 – 1966).  I really didn’t know about the show back then, but all the timey-wimey madness started with him!  And – again – for those unfamiliar with the show, or who have recently had their memories erased by UNIT’s Black Archive mind-wipe technology, over the course of the series (and one made-for-TV movie) the Doctor has regenerated into a new/different version 11 times.  The photos on top of the television represent my 4 personal favorite Doctor incarnations.

* The photos – Left to Right:  First is Doctor #4, Tom Baker (1974 – 1981) the one known best for his iconic scarf.  He was my first Doctor, discovered in college when the show was aired on PBS.

Peeking behind him is Doctor #8, Paul McGann (1996 TV movie).  He’s tucked in the back because i really don’t know that much about him.  To be perfectly honest, i just like him because he looks like Oscar Wilde.

In the middle is Doctor #5, Peter Davison (1981 – 1984).  He was my second Doctor, following on the heels of Tom Baker.  I thought he was cute but i particularly liked him because i knew him as Tristan from All Creatures Great and Small.

And, finally, on the Right is Doctor #10, David Tennant (2005 – 2010).  My all time favorite Doctor because he is the one that re-energized my obsession with Time Lords (and was the gateway Doctor for my daughter).

*  Tali and K-9 are sitting inside the 10th Doctor’s TARDIS (his time machine).  It looks like a blue police box on the outside but the interior occasionally changes with each Doctor’s regeneration (tho despite any esthetic alteration, all versions are “bigger on the inside than on the outside”).

*  Hanging on the coat rack is the 4th Doctor’s hat and scarf, and underneath the television is one of the 10th Doctor’s shoes (because what dog, robotic or real, can resist chewing on an old sneaker).  Tali also holds the 10th Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver (which she is using as a televison remote. Question – What DID we do before those were invented???).

*  The nibbles are also Doctor themed: Jelly Babies were the 4th Doctor’s snack of choice.  The tray of celery represents the 5th Doctor, because he wore a sprig of celery on his lapel.  And everything is washed down with Jackie Tyler’s tea (because a good cup of tea, super-heated infusion of free-radicals and tannin, is just the thing for healing the synapses.  It’s a 10th Doctor thing).  I should note that there is no special Doctor Who link to popcorn, it just seemed like an appropriate snack to eat while watching a TV marathon, but the popcorn “bowl” is the top of a Dalek, which is a Doctor nemesis originally introduced in 1963 (popularly known for their catchphrase, “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!”).

As for the Christmas part of this Christmas card, it is the subject itself.  For the past few years, the TV series has done an annual Doctor Who Christmas Special, so in keeping with that tradition this card is its own Doctor/Holiday celebration (think of it as a mini, hand-held, mobile device – like an iPad or smart phone.  Only in paper).

So, whether you are being menaced by remote control Christmas trees, harangued by the best temp in Chiswick, leading the passengers of a doomed galactic cruise liner to safety, dodging Cybermen, or simply enjoying a classic sci fi holiday special ~  have a Brilliant Christmas.  And, to paraphrase the Daleks, “CEL-E-BRATE!”

Oh yeah…  and RUN!                                                                                                   LAK  2013

Meet the Planets – Who’s Who & What’s What – Introduction

August 4th, 2013

As i always say, to anyone who will listen, there is always more going on in an illustration than you might realize, but Meet the Planets takes that concept to a whole new level of multi-layered obsessive/compulsive craziness.  Bottom line – i had so much fun researching the book, and found such a wealth of unexpected information and fascinating links and connections, i had to find a way to squish it all into the book.  The down side to that compulsion, however, is – i’m the only one who knows why all this stuff is here. In fact i recently discovered that even close friends, who know me and know the story, were unaware of all the miscellaneous identifications and meanings (and they all got autographed copies of the book, with the link to the section on my web site that explains everything).  Clearly something needed to be done.  Besides – i couldn’t resist an opportunity to go back and explore it all – again. So grab a cold beverage, get comfy, and let’s meet everyone, and everything, in Meet the Planets.  Starting with the very first spread – the Introduction.

Being the Favorite Planet Competition there obviously needs to be an audience.  Originally i planned to just do the crowd in shadow and silhouette, then i thought perhaps i’d tuck in a few faces of people i knew, but after i started finding all this wonderful information ad all these amazing people (and things) from history and science i realized i had the perfect audience.

NOTE: In terms of the illustration design, i decided i would represent everyone in the technique or medium in which i found them in my research – whether it be a sculpture or a fresco or a lithograph or an old photograph – so that explains the wide range of styles (not to mention made it a blast to draw!!!!)..

Starting at the top and working left to right:

JELLYFISH: one of the 1st primitive animals to appear on Earth 600 million years ago (originally i had a dinosaur here, but wound up using him later on.  Besides, i wanted to go back even farther into the primordial stew for this first page).

PTOLEMY: (100 – 178) Alexandrian Greek philosopher & astronomer. He thought the Earth was the center of the universe (and i suspect some folks still do).

HYPATIA: (415) Alexandria female astronomer, astrologer & mathematician. Her portrait is based on a fresco (to my shame i initially forgot her, even tho she was mentioned often in my research. Then i remembered how much Carl Sagan admired her – and i LOVE Carl Sagan – so quickly put her in her rightful place).

BENJAMIN BANNEKER: (1731 – 1806) 1st African American astronomer, mathematician & scientist. He calculated the astronomical tables and predicted an eclipse.

THE MAYANS: Represented here because they built an observatory in 1000 (not to mention created that cool calendar).

BACKGROUND CROWD: Crowds are always something of a pain to do but this one was easier because it was inspired by a fun reference – a 1490 engraving of the Ptolemaic Universe (and yes, for those of sharp eye, that is a certain Jedi Master sitting there as well).

ABD AL-RAHMAN AL-SUFI: (964) Persian astronomer, he compiled “The Book of Fixed Stars“. Also, according to some historians, Persian astronomers invented the astrolabe in 4001.

RAMESES THE GREAT: (1,200 BC) The earliest known almanac was created during the reign of this Egyptian pharaoh.

THALES: (585 BC) Greek astronomer who also predicted the solar eclipse.

CHINESE ASTRONOMERS: Built observatories in 2,300BC and made the earliest known observation of a comet in 2,296 BC.

WIND CHERUB: A popular way of depicting wind in Western art and maps.

NEOLITHIC GRAVESTONE/BURIAL CHAMBER (the swirly rock):  Newgrange, Ireland (3,200 BC) is aligned so that on the day of the Winter Solstice sunlight illuminates the rear wall of the chamber making it one of the first solar observatories.

TALIESiN (in front of the Newgrange gravestone): was a Celtic poet (done here in the style of the Medieval “Book of Kells“) representing ancient Celtic mythology (and because Taliesin was mentioned in a poem about the cosmos and the “music of the spheres” and because he just fascinates me).

4-EYED ALIEN: Just for fun.

COMET: 65 million years ago a comet or asteroid struck the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula causing the end of the dinosaurs and paving the way for mammals to flourish (and eventually illustrate books about the planets).

LEO: A constellation, Zodiac icon, and solar/Sun sign.

NERDY, SCIENCE GEEK: A person obsessively enthusiastic about science.  And Time.

METEORITE FRAGMENT: No story really, i just needed to fill the space.

ROBOT/PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARD: Because where would we be without ’em?

PLUTO:  Our Master of Ceremonies (i love that John got him into the book).  I discovered all the planets have a symbol so that is what is on the paper in Pluto’s hand (his symbol is on his tie).  Each symbol is also hidden on the page of its respective planet throughout the book – if you want to go on a little hunt.

STONEHENGE: (2,900 – 1,600 BC)  Being a ceremony i figured we needed a stage set and instantly thought of Stonehenge.  There were other ancient observatories i could have used, but some were pretty obscure, and others – like the Pyramids – were more closely aligned with tombs than space.  Stonehenge is an ancient megalithic monument easily recognizable no matter what the age, and wonderfully mysterious and enigmatic. It’s placement suggests astronomical connections and was possibly used to predict solar and lunar eclipses, making it the 1st astronomical calculator. Not to mention – a great stage set.

SPIRAL GALAXY:  I should clarify  – OUR spiral galaxy.  Spiraling out from the center, left to right, we have the Centaurus Arm, the Sagittarius Arm, the Orion Arm, the Perseus Arm, and the Cygnus Arm.

And that dot within a circle, located in the Orion Arm, is the sign for the Sun – OUR SUN.

Now as the lights dim and the audience grows quiet,  the first notes of the Music of the Spheres  begins to play. First up – the Inner Planets.

Solar System Forecast – In Space No One Can Hear You Complain About The Weather

May 4th, 2013


Solar System Forecast was the book that immediately followed on the heels of  Meet the Planets (and yes, i know i’m bopping all around the continuity spectrum in terms of writing behind-the-scenes illustration accounts of my books, but i simply have to go where whim and muse take me and today it’s all about weather) and when i first received the manuscript i was a little disheartened (seems to be a theme here, if you read the blog about “Balloon Trees”).  For one thing – i had just finished illustrating the planet book and had poured my heart and soul and every pop culture sci fi nerdy geek reference fiber of my being into that project.  There simply didn’t seem to be anything left to say (or draw) on the subject of Space.

For another thing (or B) – i didn’t want the illustration style of  the solar book to look too similar to the planet book, but wasn’t exactly sure how to alter it (or even if i could).

But more importantly (#3, or C, if you’re keeping track) – it was a book about weather!  What do you do with that?  Granted, there are some amazing, dramatic, and beautiful visuals associated with storms, and cloud formations; and a couple illustrations like that could be pretty interesting.  But 13 pages of landscape variations – for  a children’s picture book – just sounded boring to me.    Somewhere around the 5th or 6th noctilucent cloud formation or occluded front picture i’m pretty sure the reader would have discarded the book in favor of a video game or fighting with a sibling. Plus – how do you even depict things like the seasons, or wind, or heat, on planets with no atmosphere and a surface of rock or gas?  No flowers to indicate Spring.  No colorful leaves to convey Fall. No thrashing tree branches or amber waves of grain to suggest wind.

And on top of everything else, there wasn’t even an actual story here.  No continuous narrative, no  recurring characters; just a series of weather reports relating a “different state of the atmosphere at a given time and place, described by specification of variables such as temperature, moisture, wind velocity, and pressure”  (Definition of weather, as found in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).  SEE!  You try and draw a picture of that!

I was stumped. Stymied. Flummoxed. Perplexed.  Baffled. Confounded. Mystified.  Bewildered. I could not see a way to link the random reports into cohesive  visuals that would not only convey the abstract nature of the weather account described, but also be interesting and entertaining for children (and Me) to look at.  And then one morning – things suddenly fell into place.  I watched my husband get ready for work.

Inspiration really does come from the strangest and unexpected sources.  My husband is a pilot, and very often leaves for work at dark:thirty in the wee hours of the morning.  On this particular day i happened to wake up (usually i sleep thru his pre-dawn routine – particularly when it’s at some insane hour ) – the room was dark, everything was in shadow with the only light coming from the blue glow of the TV, and there illuminated in the glow was my husband, standing in his uniform, coffee mug in hand, watching The Weather Channel. [NOTE TO FLYING PUBLIC: Pilots obviously get their weather information from highly specialized and official sources, my husband was just getting a rough idea of what his day was going to be like and if he needed to pack his long-johns).  There it was – the  opening scene for the first page of Solar System Forecast!

Since the whole premise of the book is that we (as in Humans) are technologically advanced enough to travel to different planets and moons, and go there  frequently enough that we care about what the weather is doing on these other worlds, i opened the book with a picture of how one such typical space traveler would routinely begin his day.  Showered and dressed, with a morning cup of coffee and  breakfast Danish (part of the humor coming from the delicate little Franciscan wear plate in his thickly gloved hand), watching the weather report before heading off to the “office” (whether it be a rocket, or space lab, or an interstellar cosmic cubicle). And yes, the helmet visor is purposely closed because i thought it added another element of silly lunacy the audience would appreciate (i mean – how is the guy gonna have his breakfast, right??).

From that point on The Weather Channel, and all the different ways we can access weather reports (you know they have an App for that), became the unifying theme of the book.  Some pages came easy, some were a bit more complex. One i thought i’d have to completely redraw but managed to save. One i did have to redo, from scratch. And on the last page there is a fun little unexpected surprise, so there is certainly quite a bit to share and if i can keep from getting distracted by shiny objects i’ll attempt to describe all the little details.

Bottom line – there really is a way to illustrate weather in space!



Meet the Planets – Research and Development (And A Crazy Statue)

February 17th, 2013

So, when i first started the blog about doing the illustrations for “Meet the Planets” i fully intended to write small excerpts describing the step-by-step process of each phase as i was going through them. I wrote three.

Now here we are – two years and two new books later – and i am only now getting around to writing installment #4.  Ah, procrastination thy name is Laurie!  Needless to say, the whole step-by-step, real time, follow the process idea has gone by the wayside, but that does not mean i no longer have tales to tell.  Oh no, no, no.  “Meet the Planets” still has a number of background stories very near and dear to my heart  that i want to share and i am going to continue plugging away at them as time and inspiration and creative literary muse permits (all while also starting a new blog series about “Solar System Forecast”, the book that came out September 2012; and continuing additional installments of another new blog series about “Balloon Trees”, the book that comes out any day).  There are only so many hours in a day, and a good portion of those hours inexplicably disappear into some space-time Black Hole also know as my art room, but given that a meteorite just hit Russia the other day, i really need to stop putting this off.

So to get us back into the swing of Planet things i thought i’d describe the research materials that went into making the art.  Or at least just list the variety of books and magazines, flotsam and jetsam, gimcracks and gewgaws that inspired the illustrations – because there was a lot of stuff!

Books: 15

Comet – Carl Sagan,  Cosmos – Carl Sagan,  DK Eyewitness Books: Astronomy, Universe,  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages – 6th Edition,  History of Renaissance Art – Creighton Gilbert,  The Illustrated  A Brief History of Time/The Universe In A Nutshell –  Stephen Hawking,  The Illustrated Timeline of the Universe – Richard H. Sanderson & Phillip S. Harrington,  My First Book of Space – Rosanna Hansen & Robert A. Bell,  Murmurs of Earth – Carl Sagan,  Stars & Planets – David H. Levy,  Stars & Planets – Exploring Our Galaxy and Beyond – Igloo Books LTD,  Star Wars Where Science Meets Imagination – National Geographic/Lucas Books/Museum of Science, Boston,  Time Life Student Library – The Universe,   The Usborne Illustrated Encyclopedia – Science & Technology

Magazines: 13

Astronomy (Collectors Edition) – Cosmos, Before There Was Light;  Discover – A Field Guide to the New Solar System;  Discover – Special Einstein Issue;  Discover Presents – The Whole Universe;  Kids Discover: Astronauts, Space Exploration, Galaxies, Solar System, Planets. Sun, Mars, Earth, Moon

CDs: 3

Holst – The Planets – Orchestre symphonique de Montreal, Charles Dutoit;  The Songs of Distant Earth – Mike Oldfield (inspired by the book of the same title written by Arthur C. Clarke);  Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (inspired by the book written by… oh you know who wrote it).

I literally used every book and magazine listed above, listened to the cds while i drew, and also made tons of random on-line searches looking up additional information, but one of the singular most important influences actually came about by accident.

When i first got the manuscript for “Meet the Planets” i had some trouble deciding how to physically portray each of the planet participants.  Should they be human- (or alien-) esque figures, clothed in some sort of costume that represented the planet (like Jane Jetson, when she entered the Miss Galaxy competition representing Earth)?  Or should they be bobble-head type beings – big planetary face on top of a smaller, costumed body?

I was still undecided when i went to visit my daughter who was in college, in New York.  She had to go to an architecture lecture at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine  (the talk was about gothic architecture, of which St. Johns is a lovely example) and i was allowed to tag along.  We had just gotten off the subway, and were walking across the street to the church when i saw the most amazing statue in the park beside the cathedral. The Fountain of Peace.

Talk about your divine inspiration.  A giant planet head (actually there are two, there’s another one on the other side) supporting battling giraffes, giant crabs and angels. It was so crazy and surreal, and had the added benefit of reminding me of something you’d see on Doctor Who ( i am a huge fan.  More Doctor Who influences will be discussed in future posts)  so that just made the decision all the easier.  The planets would be done as big round “heads”.  Essentially just as they are found in space – colorful spheres, only with facial features. And appendages (to hold whatever accessories they might need in the competition).

You just never know where inspiration will come from so you have to be open to anything.  This is why i love research!

Behind the Art: How I Stopped Whining and Illustrated “Balloon Trees”

February 10th, 2013

So –  the story behind illustrating Balloon Trees is actually a little different from all the other books, and art projects, i have had the delightful opportunity to work on (and post about) because, basically, in all honesty, when i first got the manuscript… i didn’t want to do it!

Okay, not the most noble or professional thing to admit.  But there it is.  When i first got the assignment – i cried.  Now bear in mind, i had just spent the better part of the previous year working on the illustrations for “Solar System Forecast”, a very detailed and complicated book that had taken me much longer than i expected to finish.  The book i was actually STILL working on.  Full of alien landscapes and scientific, techno-heavy elements it had followed right on the heels of “Meet the Planets” –  the previous, other heavily-detailed science book – so i was feeling pretty exhausted and not a little burned out.  [NOTE: Both books can be found in the Book section of this web site – go on over and check them out, they’ll enjoy the company.]

I longed for a soft, cute, fuzzy animal story i wouldn’t have to work so hard on (mentally and physically).  Something that didn’t need hours of research.  Something – to be brutally honest – that wouldn’t require a lot of thought or artistic challenge.  But instead i was given a book about factories and machinery and conveyor belts.  Hard, cold, unforgiving, technology.  And not even the interesting space kind, or the fun weird sci fi kind , or the go- fast- and- loose -with- reality, anachronistic steam punk kind. Nope, it was a modern warehouse variety full of complicated perspective and tons of annoying little wheels and gears and pipes and hardware.   I sincerely did get teary when i saw the subject.  I simply could not imagine how i was going to make that kind of book fun (sure, balloons themselves are fun, but if you’re drawing one it’s basically just a circle with a little thing on the end you tie a string on).

I had serious doubts about my ability to handle the balloon story, and kind of felt Sylvan Dell had made a mistake asking me to illustrate it.  I thought – surely they have illustrators better versed in technological/mechanical drawing.  I’m the semi-cartoony, “anthropomorphic girl”.  I was sure i was out of my league and, truth be told, didn’t even want to try.  Guess what that really translated into was – i didn’t want to fail.

My journal at the time read:  “… my feelings have run the roller coaster gamut of getting that uncomfortable twitchy feeling when faced with a difficult, not very fun sounding, project coupled with the guilt of seeming like a quitter for not attempting it, combined with the fear that if i turn something down i’ll never be asked again. I just don’t see any way to make the story fun – for ME – to illustrate but the very nature of that difficulty kind of intrigues me.”

The last sentence is the key.  I was afraid to tackle the book, i didn’t think i could do a good job, but i also didn’t want to be the kind of person who threw up her hands and quit before even trying.  There is something pretty cool, and satisfying, about overcoming an obstacle.  And, of course, i didn’t want to let my publisher down.  I wanted to be that Go To Artist who wasn’t afraid of a challenge.  But the doubts still lingered and once the “Solar System Forecast” illustrations were finished and shipped out i gave myself the weekend to think about the balloon story and see if i could find a way in – visually – that would be true to the book but also be fun for me to do.  Because let’s face it – if you are going to sit at a drawing table 8, 10, 12 hours (or more) a day, for months on end, in a cluttered little room, with one window you can only watch a small sliver of the world go by from – you really have to enjoy the work.

And let me stress – i liked the story itself.  I loved the way it was written – the rhyme is simply delightful.  I was just afraid the subject matter would be too dry and industrial to engage young readers (me), so i began – as i always do – with research.  Naturally  i hunted up everything i could find on balloon production, but i also pulled out all my art history books – to see how other artists had handled industrial themes and subjects.  And i eventually decided on a simple, graphic style (as opposed to the usual, hyper-detailed way i generally illustrate) inspired by the work of Charley Harper.  My reference hunt also unearthed several intriguing images like a rain forest at dawn, the swirl of dye in the latex, and a collection of balloon forms, that further ignited my interest and imagination.

I could start to see the illustrations emerge, but i still felt there was something missing – some personal connection i needed to make with a young viewer.  No, that sounds too pretentious.  It wasn’t some abstract, anonymous Young Viewer i was concerned about engaging – it was me.  I’m the one who had to enjoy the illustrations and i’m the one who needed someone (or something) to go through the story with me. That’s when i thought of adding “The Guide” – a living creature that could experience the balloon making process along with the reader.  Something a child, and an adult, [Me again] could relate to, that could weave through every picture.

It had to be something small, because i imagined all the illustrations being very close up, and it had to be able to maneuver independently through every phase of production, and it had to have a personality (i, personally, also had to struggle with the dangers of introduced species and animal trafficking) but i eventually found the perfect escort in a little White Eye (a bird native to Thailand rain forests) who fit all my parameters.  [NOTE: He’s a bird, so presumedly made the trip on some migratory mission of his own].  Once i had him – things just started falling into place.

And, yes, in tried and true Made For TV Movie/After School Special  fashion – i wound up having a wonderful and satisfying time working on “Balloon Trees”.  I went from despair and doubt to being very pleased and proud of the finished work.  The book i didn’t want to do has become one of my favorites (i’m sure there’s a story, or a moral, in there somewhere).

Now i can’t wait to start doing school book talks because that is the Background Story i want to share.  I want to tell students that it’s okay to have doubts, and even okay to be afraid to try something, or not want to do it – at first!  But right after that stomach-knotting anxiety, and just before you throw up your hands and say “I can’t” or “I don’t want to” and walk away – you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.  Whether it’s an unusual food, a difficult project, a new skill – take a breath, count to three, don’t think of all the reasons you can’t do something, find one reason to stare the thing down and attempt it.

I know that is a tired and over-used cliché, said so often it loses all meaning, but i think what makes my take on it a little different is – i am speaking from experience, as an adult (and a parent) who should have known better!  You’d think i would have learned that lesson by now, having said it so many times to my daughter when she was growing up, but lessons can still be learned at any age (like admitting all my teachers were also correct when they said practice would improve whatever skill i was learning at the time.  I had to learn that one the hard way too). And, in the end, balloons really are fun (and interesting to draw).  Now i can’t wait to see what projects pops up next!