Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trick or Treat

Yeah, they work hard for the candy.

Of course, if mine bring home any dark chocolate Reese's, they'd better hide 'em.

Which treat do you love the best?

Sunday, October 25, 2009


It looks like the perfect day for a walk in the woods.

Try not to wander too far. How easy it is to get confused.

Wasn’t this the path you took before?

The colors don't seem quite right.

Limbs point in all directions – no help here.

Chalky fingers wave you on – Come along, this way.

Something rustles behind you. You turn around but nothing’s there.

You feel something tickle behind your ear – a stray strand of hair?

Close to your foot a spider darts out from under a leaf, reconsiders, and slips back into hiding.

The air smells of ashes and clay.

Try to remember. Were you heading east or west?

Overhead a woodpecker tests the bark of the tree– tap, tap, tap - and then hurries off. Maybe he knows the way?

At last, a tiny window.

You know this place!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Other Kind of Cell Project

Yes, we’re still working on the school projects. Last week it was the prison cell diorama; this week we’ve moved on to my son’s animal cell model. This post must have at least some useful information for creative types, moms, and even writers about children with dreaded school projects. In case you’re rushed for time, I’ll get right to a couple of points:

1. You can not glue two pieces of plastic together and expect them to be watertight.

2. Hand sanitizer is flammable.

The above mentioned model could be made of any material. That kind of artistic license can be trouble.

My son thought it would be cool if the model were squishy and lifelike. Our first thought was to glue two circles of plastic together and fill it with gel. I bought a giant bottle of hand sanitizer, and my son gathered up household items like marbles and crayons to make the parts of the cell (try to remember studying things like vacuoles and mitochondria).

He wanted to use modeling clay or silly putty for one part, so we tested how these would hold up in the gel. It turns out hand sanitizer turns both modeling clay and silly putty into a terrific representation of vomit.

Next we discovered we couldn’t glue the pieces of plastic together. I should know this already. I should. BUT (and here’s where it gets fun) you can melt them together with a hot iron.

One sticky detail - we realized we'd have to melt the last part of the circle after the cell was already filled with the hand sanitizer.

Alcohol based hand sanitizer + very hot iron = ?????????

Did you know hand sanitizer has a flash point of 69 degrees Fahrenheit? Don’t worry, we decided not to find out the hard way what would happen if we ran a 140 degree iron over an alcohol based squishy cell. After only a few minor mishaps that required scraping plastic goo off the iron, here’s the water-filled finished product:

Do you think he’ll get extra credit if we donate one giant bottle of unused hand sanitizer to the classroom?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Good Advice

At my last illustrator’s critique group meeting I had the pleasure of meeting comics artist and graphic novelist Eric Shanower. Eric’s work includes a number of books based on the Oz tales by L. Frank Baum. He wrote and illustrated Adventures in Oz, a collection of stories that take place after Dorothy’s first adventure in Oz. Last week the hardcover collection of Marvel Comics’ series The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by Eric and illustrated by Skottie Young, was #2 on The New York Times Bestseller list for Graphic Books.

Eric brought an impressive selection of intricate ink drawings for us to view (my hand cramps up a little just thinking about all that tight rendering). Just one issue of his latest project Age of Bronze, a retelling of the Trojan War in comic book format, has over 140 drawings (I know this because he gave us a copy and I counted them).

He knew from an early age he wanted to write and illustrate comic books, and his foot-in-the-door job after finishing school was doing the lettering for comics. He stressed that making contact with the right people can be the key to finding success, so his advice is to put yourself in a position to meet those people as much as you can.

After telling us a little about his career, Eric was nice enough to take a look at our current projects and offer some critique. Good thing I had my newly revised picture book dummy with me. He gave me some helpful tips to strengthen the composition in a few of the drawings, then gave me my favorite bit of advice so far – “Go sell it!”

No problem. When I go to Staples to get copies made, maybe I’ll pick up one of those ‘Easy’ buttons, too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Pit, the Pendulum, and the Folding Chair


My daughter’s hard at work on her diorama of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum. All the creepy elements are coming together nicely, with a decidedly high schoolish irreverence to the classics.

At the dollar store we found cheapo plastic wrestling action figures. After a bit of convincing she conceded they were at least the right size. We managed to find one without a mask; she could fashion a robe for it to play the part of the unfortunate narrator. Mr. Wrestler even came with his own little plastic folding chair to throw at people. But more on that later.

Doesn't he look like he could take on a pit full of fuzzy pom pom rats?

The jewelry section of the craft store supplied the perfect pendulum. That part was too easy.

She thought there ought to be some bones strewn about for drama. How lucky were we that this assignment was given just before Halloween? The craft store did have the perfect package of realistic tiny skeletons - unfortunately, perfect tiny realistic skeletons cost a little more than I was willing to spend for something destined to gather dust in the garage. Instead we found a slightly less dramatic version...

We think he needs to lose the sign.

We found most of these skeletons already broken. You should have seen the suspicious look I got from the cashier when I asked if we could take home the already broken heads. Like I’d actually destroy the merchandise and then ask permission to take them home. Yes, that makes sense. Anyhoo.

With all the pieces falling into place, my daughter’s only remaining challenge was to figure out how to utilize that little plastic folding chair that came with Mr. Wrestler. She couldn’t bear to let it go to waste. Here, on top of the diorama, is her interpretation of what one of the evil guards outside the chamber was up to:

Everyone’s got to have a hobby, right? Is that one of the Dummies books I see off to the side? Could it be Knitting for Dummies? Poe for Dummies? Hmm…I’ll let you use your imagination. Try to think like a high schooler.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Little Faith

Maybe you’ve seen the TV show Medium. A psychic solves murder cases by having dreams in which she sees the crimes being committed. The most implausible thing about this show is that no matter how many cases she miraculously solves this way, her boss and family are still skeptical EACH and EVERY time she dreams up a psychic vision.

I feel her frustration. No matter how many challenging craft projects I triumph over, my kids still don’t believe I can pull it off. How easily they forget the amazing jellyfish costumes I whipped up out of hula hoops and shower curtains. And what about the dazzling dress I fashioned from a fake pumpkin and a Wheat Thins box? Or the giant flower vase constructed out of a traffic cone and an umbrella base? The Christmas trees made of inverted tomato cages? How ‘bout the thatched hut made out of a cocoa tin, or the teeny weeny charcoal barbeque grill we made out of a shaving cream cap, black aquarium gravel, and some red foil?

So with two Halloween costumes and two school projects (a model of an animal cell and a diorama inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”) to conquer, they still have no faith in my ability to ferret out the perfect materials for them to carry out their visions.

We started at my favorite store for inspiration…The Dollar Tree. A store full of curious and quirky finds - all for a buck. I met resistance:

“Mom, what are we doing here?” I endured eye rolling each time I paused at displays of things like blue metallic scouring pads and toxic looking action figures. Don’t they understand how it works? You have to sense these things.

“So, can we go now, Mom?”


We hit the big craft store next. I did redeem myself a little when I convinced the cashier to let us take some skulls that had snapped off their kitschy resin skeleton figurines – for free. Wouldn’t those little skeleton heads dress up the pit diorama nicely? Maybe Poe would be impressed, anyway.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Southwest Fall Color

Since I grew up on the east coast, I get all moony for fall foliage around this time of year. Once again I’ll settle for watching the autumnal spectacle unfold on the internet.

While driving around the other day, I noticed our own autumn palette really isn’t too shabby. There’s soft sage and rust, terracotta and steely blues. If the northeast corner is the big brass band of pigment performance, the southwest is a nice wind ensemble. We’ve got deciduous trees. Sure, the sycamores go right to an unremarkable brown, but the cottonwoods will at least have the decency to turn bright yellow.

These are some pictures I took around Old Mission Dam in Mission Trails Regional Park. It's still early. Stay tuned for more yellow:

What color is your world?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Little Poem...

...made up entirely of picture book titles I noticed while browsing at the library:


Picture This…
One Fine Day
Something from Nothing
The Most Precious Thing
One Potato
Skin Again
In the Leaves
Across the Alley
For Me?
How Kind!
Crunch, Munch
No Biting, Louise
Bad Cat
I’m Sorry
I Stink
Do You Still Love Me?
Are You For Real?
It’s Simple, Said Simon
Where’s My Hug?
Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!
You and Me Together
The Most Precious Thing