Thursday, November 21, 2013

Throwback Thursday: The Jumblies

"Far and few, far and few are the lands where the Jumblies live.
Their heads are green and their hands are blue and they went to sea in a sieve."

I think I could recite this whole book. Edward Lear's The Jumblies was one of the books I forced my father to read ad nauseum. If I had to pick a book that was the seed that germinated in me the desire to become both a writer and an illustrator, it would have to be this one. I was utterly enthralled with this edition. Lear's poem tumbles off the tongue deliciously. The a rhythm of it like gently rocking ship, much like the sieve that the harlequin-like imps, the Jumblies, take on a voyage to an enchanting far off land. Rand's watercolor illustrations in charming, gentle pastels draw you into a surreal realm of possibility.

The Jumblies has been published as a children's book several times illustrated by different artists, including another of my favorites, Edward Gorey. But I have to say, this edition by Ted Rand captures the dreaminess of the poem, and cements it as an anthem for dreamers everywhere. I think there are plenty of creative souls out there who have at one point or another been totally aware that they are embarking on a dangerous journey in a metaphorical leaky sieve. And yet they sing on "O Timbaloo! How happy we are!" The phrase was my seven year old version of "I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul".

These are probably the most whimsical and stylized illustrations in Rand's portfolio. I almost didn't recognize him as the same artist who illustrated the elementary school must-reads Knots on a Counting Rope and The Tree that Would Not Die. Rand excels at bringing to life stories generally based on historical events or in real life cultural settings. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

If Disney Princesses discovered Cheeseburgers

I'm tired of Disney Princesses.

Let me rephrase: I'm tired of watching the Pyrrhic struggle of Disney artists who attempt to come up with a new female protagonist for each new feature film, yet never step outside their narrow Disney box. I don't give a dang about seeing Frozen because based on the previews, I've already seen it because I saw Tangled. Why are Disney animators so afraid to vary heroine body types when they aren't afraid to do it with villains or side kicks?

There's this thing called "casting against type". This refers to depicting a character with a physical attribute that contradicts or belies their character. For example, a big tough beefy guy might actually have a very dainty and sensitive personality or habits. The short guy might have a very over-the-top or pugilistic personality. These things are usually played for comedy, but it makes the character so much more interesting! I appreciate being surprised. It shows me that the animators don't think I'm stupid. I don't want the same old side kick or the same old hero. Why are animators willing to surprise me with a villain or a side kick but not take a risk on the main protagonist?

We must ask ourselves what makes us attracted to a hero in the first place: Do we like them because they are handsome and also good, so when we see a beautiful person, we automatically assume that they are good? Did we start doing this before Hans Christian Anderson began describing his heroines as beautiful and virtuous or because of it? I think we've done our society a great disservice as a result. We are conditioned to think well of beautiful people, and to scorn those who do not measure up. Any extra poundage is associated with cardinal sins of sloth or gluttony and the supposed physical manifestations of character go downhill from there.

The more of real life I experience, the less charitable I feel towards the plight of a beautiful, privileged teenager with no apparent body image issues. You're the most beautiful female in the land, you are royal, have wealth and more power than any other female in your society is likely to have, yet the first thing you feel the need to sing about is that you want something.

 Give me a break.

I'd be much more likely to be sympathetic and root for a flawed or imperfect girl. How you look physically influences how people treat you, which shapes the person you become. This is the very essence of character design: back story. A girl who weighs 185 lbs is going to have a different outlook and therefore likely different attitudes than a girl who weighs a dainty 105. Even if they are both princesses. We KNOW the handsome prince pairs with the beautiful princess. Like salt and pepper shakers. This is expected. We know the story before it even starts.

But what happens to the one who's over-weight? Or wears glasses? Or has a scar, or is gay, or isn't a princess at all? You have a gazillion stories right in front of you here because we don't know what will happen to this girl! She isn't perfect and therefore is not a shoe-in for the perfectly tailored happily-ever-after. Take us on an unexpected journey to the happy ending we didn't know was coming!

But in the end, if you, Disney, are still afraid that nobody will root for someone who isn't pretty, I think you're still looking at it wrong and selling yourselves short as animators. Big CAN be beautiful! And see what potential for your character's story you have just by adding a few pounds:

What if Ariel realized that getting married at sixteen to a guy she'd known for four days was a TERRIBLE idea, ditched the dude, when back to school (fish, school, get it? nyuk nyuk) and gained the freshman fifteen? Boom, goes from a 90's Jennifer Aniston size 2 to a 50's Bettie Page size 8. Still lovely.

Ok, maybe adding the nerd glasses was cheating, but she spends a lot of time in the library! Doing your dissertation for your Masters degree by candle light is bad for your eyes. Also it sometimes leads to stress eating, which has rounded Belle up to a size 10-12, but I think she's as lovely, kind, independent, and smart as ever.

I think it's a shame they made Rapunzel so skinny from the get go, because between her outfit and her personality, she's basically a cupcake personified. Now extra fluffy! But still sweet, warm, endearing, and adorable. Hey, it's hard not to pack on the pounds when you CAN'T LEAVE YOUR ROOM. (or studio in my case....hmmm)

I wanna jam with this Jasmine! I never met a real belly dancer that didn't have plenty of belly to go around, and since Disney dressed her as a belly dancer instead of how an actual Middle Eastern woman would likely be dressed, I think this is pretty valid. Maybe she and Aladdin had some kids (who would be GORGEOUS!) or she learned to cook. Or both. Either way, she still clearly hasn't slowed down and is as feisty and graceful as ever.

Which brings me to another point. Even if Disney is too scared to make a Princess that weights more than 90 pounds, why are all the few moms who don't succumb to Disney Death also just as skinny?! I mean, sure, generally they've only had one kid. Pop a kid out at 16-20 years, your body might bounce back. But they still seem only to have acquired a few grey hairs between giving birth and their daughter turning sixteen. No weight change, barely a wrinkle. I was so excited when we actually got to see the mom in Emperors New Groove pregnant. At least that was different. She was back to skinny in a way I doubt she would be after kid #3, but still at least we saw a fat, sassy Disney female for a little while. When do we get more of that?! Come on Disney! Surprise us! Or better yet, show us someone we can actually relate to.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Best review yet!

My favorite review of Frank the Gentle Viking from one of my favorite fans.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I'm a huge fan of Wicked. I can totally relate to the misunderstood introvert Elphaba. Especially during the scene when bubbly Glinda gives her a make over to make her Popular. I've never had anyone do that to me. I think I'd be simultaneously insulted and grateful for such help. Being deemed worthy of being someone else's project. Fortune favors the Glindas out there, for sure, and now where does that become more obvious than in the world of marketing. A world that I am decidedly not at home in.

One of the major reasons I've been drawn to art (ba-dum ching) my whole life is that it give me something to hide behind. People don't look at me when they look at my artwork. They don't criticize me, they criticize my work. Even though I put so much of myself into what I do, there's still a protective degree of transference that keeps me safe. Now I'm being told I not only have to market my work, I have to market myself as an artist. 

"Sell yourself!" the faceless advice blares. I have a small heart attack. Me? What's so great about me? Seriously, where is that invincible sense of entitlement that my generation is supposed to be so famous for? As far as I'm concerned, I'm just a person. I feel like I put all of my best into my work and what's left over is just that: leftovers. Just me, a normal human being. Pay no attention to the girl behind the curtain! You'll only be disappointed by her normalcy! Apparently drawing you a picture and then going home and reading my book is not an option if I want to get the next job, or then next one. Gotta boost those stats on TwitPinBlogFaceInterGoogle.

It's not that I have low-self esteem. It's more like I have totally neutral self esteem. While I think my art is good and worthy, I think personally I'm just totally average. I'm fine. I think this is what the world told me my whole life. I'm naturally shy and introverted, but if you talk to me, I'm relatively funny and more than averagely intelligent. My company is enjoyable if you can remember to invite me to the party in the first place. I've always been "that girl who sat behind you in AP English...maybe?" I was just pretty enough to avoid being bullied, was willing to do more than my share of the lab work, and just athletic enough not to piss off the team. But never anybody's first choice. People always seemed surprised to see me there once partners had been joined and teams picked. But I was nice. I was sweet and kind to people. And those seemed to be the only words anyone could remember when it came time to sign year books. 

My parents didn't help. My mother raised me to be a well-rounded sweet Southern Girl who was decently educated marriageable material. (Lol. How dare she, right?) A classy lady who doesn't talk about herself or brag like a tacky person. A lady doesn't grand stand. My sisters and I never enrolled in competitive sports or similar activities. I took ballet, an artful activity where one is supposed to blend gracefully into a group.

"Don't let anyone down and don't stand out". This was the core message that everything about my formative years molded me to believe. I think this is the first time I've been able to put it into words. But now I don't know what to do about it because I don't know how to be anything else? How do I make myself over into an in demand, professional, living-earning "Art-trepreneur"?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New Portfolio Banner

Stories found in the oddest places

Stories can be found in the oddest places.

Not the least of which is a hole in the ground. Or maybe not so much a hole, as box under some leaves.

The story of our find starts this past Sunday afternoon. My husband, sister, some-day brother in-law Will, and I were walking in the park. My husband John is an avid Geo-Cacher. For the uninitiated, Geo Caching is an activity which uses the gps on a smartphone to locate small hidden troves of random items throughout a community. Usually the hidden container holds useless trinkets, cards, or just a list you can sign once you've found the cache.

Rachel and Will had never heard of the activity, but joined in enthusiastically. Will was actually the first to spot a Tupperware covered in camouflaged duct tape beneath some fallen branches. It contained some small toys, a disposable camera (unfortunately with all the film used up), and a list, but to our surprise, someone had added a paperback children's book to the stash, sealed against water damage in a plastic bag.

 Rachel and John examine their find as Will looks on

Now, I've used GeoCaches before as a guerrilla marketing technique. Mostly to leave cards that promoted a web comic about zombies I maintained as a goofy side project because I figured surely there would be a geeky intersection between people who like treasure hunting and zombies. But it never occurred to me to stuff in an entire book. I examined the book before we made John read it out loud to us there on the bike path.

The title of the book was Mrs. McNosh and the Great Big Squash. Now, you would think I'd be willing to lower my expectations a bit for a book that was found abandoned in the woods. If it were an independent or self published book, I was prepared to applaud the author's creative marketing endeavor. But as we read the book, it became clear to me that it was donated to the Geo Cache because the previous owner wouldn't be all that sad to part with it. It wasn't very good. The idea was sort of cute, but I've seen other artists execute it better. The rhyme scheme was amateurish and sounded like a fourth grader wrote it. Once that assessment was made, I was even more irritated to find that it was not a first book effort by some self-publisher but had been printed by Schoolastic!  

I guess it's not really fair to a book to put it in this sort of situation. But when you go on a treasure hunt, which is basically what a Geo Cache is, you expect to find treasure! Not pirate gold or jewels, but something precious. Something worth hunting for, something that would truly be a surprise. Otherwise, it's just junk. And not cool junk that appeals to your inner child or inner Smeagol as the case may be (I found it, it came to me! Precious!) I mean Real junk. 

Again, I'm probably being unreasonably harsh. If a parent with a child stumbled over a book in a park on a beautiful day, a story would probably be a welcome addition to the day while small feet rested after playing hard and walking quite a long trail. But my inner writer and artist thinks it could have been better! A reminder to make sure your work is Treasure. Will it enchant your reader? Will they count it as precious to them? Will they feel the thrill of ownership when they pick it up off the shelf? Will they think This is mine, I found it!

But hey, sometimes the true Treasure isn't the material thing you find, it's the ideas that fill your head as the box is being opened. The find inspired me to go home and work on a few ideas about treasure hunts and mystery boxes for PiBoIdMo. So, even though we followed the rules and returned the book to the place we found it, I went home with pockets jingling with ideas and determination. A day well spent.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Very Little Bookstore

Why are all the streets in Summerville named after trees? You know there's something not-user-friendly about your town layout when you pull into the Taco Bell of the Lost Souls and see four other cars pull into the parking lot, with the occupants scrolling madly on their smart phones trying to figure out where they're going. But it was my fault for taking the back roads I suppose.

Anyhow, the journey was worth it to find a little gem in historic downtown Summerville, SC: A Very Little Bookstore.

 I like businesses that tell you exactly what they are in the title. While the shop is indeed small, approximately 400 square feet, every inch is maximized to display the most marvelous selection of children's books. A Very Little Bookstore deals primarily in picture books, and books for young readers, but they stock classic YA novels like the Harry Potter series and a small number of graphic novels as well.

Having been in many an independent bookstore that was cluttered and claustrophobic, this shop's stock perfectly matches the space it has, creating a totally charming shopping experience. An experience warmed by the friendly and personal service of the shop proprietor, Natalie Sober, who is probably one of the most welcoming and pleasant people I've met recently.

It's worth a trip with the kids to this shop made especially for them. Especially on November 30th at 10:30, when I will be in A Very Little Bookstore doing a reading of Frank the Gentle Viking during downtown Summerville's Small Business Saturday. So come on down and enjoy a day of stories, friends, and all the charms autumn on South Main Street has to offer.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Self Portrait Day

Reminding all artists that Nov. 1st is Self Portrait Day. Unless you're on Facebook where every day is self portrait day.