Mischief Managed

Long time no blog! Realized I’ve been posting bloggish things lately on Instagram while forgetting that I could add similar things on my happy little blog here. I’d like to be better about giving both attention so I thought I’d add some highlights from my last few months to catch up a bit. That and I have about a million works-in-progress I’m excited about. I can’t keep up with my own ideas which is a good problem I guess. Here are some sneak peeks from one of my favorite pieces I’ve been working on.

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What I said about this project on Instagram is still true: sometimes overly well-behaved little kids grow up to write books full of all the mischief they never allowed themselves to partake in when they were busy being young painful perfectionists.

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Hope you’ve been up to happy mischief too!

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STORYSTORM 2019! Brainstorm, Play, and Ideas

Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm! Play, play, play! Ideas, ideas, ideas!

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These three core creative values pretty much sum up the heart of my creative process. They also sum up Picture Book Author Tara Lazar’s annual Storystorm Challenge, which I’ve participated in for many years.

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The Storystorm challenge (used to be called PIBOIDMO—picture book idea month) is a challenge on Tara’s blog where participants agree to come up with a new picture book idea every day for 30 days in a month. 30 ideas! In a month! Seems crazy at first. But no. It’s great. 

Because where do I get my best ideas? Out of a pile of terrible ideas. It’s true. Basically I get my best ideas by coming up with lots and lots of ideas, putting every idea into the pile, and then later worrying about whether they are any good or not. And that same basic concept has now extended into so many aspects of my creative process that I feel it somehow captures the entire spirit of writing and art for me.

My Bureau of Fearless Ideas shirt and my Field Guide To Fearless Ideas poster, both purchased at the  Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company  in Seattle, a storefront for the  Bureau of Fearless Ideas , a non-profit writing and tutoring center for kids.

My Bureau of Fearless Ideas shirt and my Field Guide To Fearless Ideas poster, both purchased at the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company in Seattle, a storefront for the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a non-profit writing and tutoring center for kids.

So in the spirit of fearless ideas, here I am this past week wearing my Bureau Of Fearless Ideas shirt next to my Field Guide To Fearless Ideas poster, (purchased here, more info in the caption). And why am I wearing my BFI* shirt? Because STORYSTORM = FEARLESS IDEAS! And it’s that time of year. I’ve just finished up 2019’s challenge and I’m celebrating all the ways ideas, brainstorming, and play make my art better.

This past year I signed a contract for my first PB after working at it a looooong time. And THE ELEPHANT HIDE-AND-SEEK HANDBOOK (scheduled for release from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in 2020) was definitely born from this process.

So cheers to fearless ideas and fearless brainstorming! And a big shout-out and thank you to Tara for all she’s done for the writing and illustrating community over many years!

THANK YOU TARA!

The bumper sticker on my car. Bought it at  Wild Play  zipline course on Vancouver Island, BC. Pertains to art and writing too.

The bumper sticker on my car. Bought it at Wild Play zipline course on Vancouver Island, BC. Pertains to art and writing too.

*BFI = Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a real place. It’s a tutoring center for kids. But they also have cool shirts and posters. And in Seattle they have a Space Travel Supply Company. So that’s awesome.

Grateful for the life of Mary Oliver

The first time I read a Mary Oliver Poem, I was visiting my mom at her college, while I was also in college. Even if I missed our house, the one mom had sold and left for her new career adventure in middle age, we’d moved so many times when I was young, I’d done this before, I could do it again. Home probably could be wherever there were people I loved. But. It was my last semester at school and it had been a difficult few months—I was struggling to let go of a very unhealthy relationship, perfectionism and anxiety raged. I didn’t know how to give myself permission to do the things I knew were calling my name. I didn’t know where I belonged. Still, visiting mom felt like soup on a sick day. I could breathe again. I felt a little more well. And there in the “kitchen” of my mom’s cramped student-housing apartment, I think under a magnet on the waist-high mini-fridge, was a poem. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.

As far as I was aware it was the first time in my then 23 years that I’d read anything by Mary Oliver. When mom wasn’t looking, I copied the poem to take with me. I love my mom to pieces but it’s hard to talk about hard things. I didn’t want to talk about how that poem made me feel—the same feeling of exhale I felt by visiting mom, actually. It was permission to not be perfect or have the answers and still love life anyway, all in a poem, and in a visit to my beloved mother.

My life is better because of the words Mary Oliver shared with the world and now has left behind—not just that one poem, but so many I’ve fallen in love with since.

Thanks for your words and life Mary. I’m so grateful you were here among us sharing them for so long.

A wonderfully messy thing to do

My friend stopped by to pick something up and caught a picture of me in my studio in messy collage focus mode this morning. Working on some art revisions for a WIP. I love stepping back and noticing the clutter and chaos around both me and my tunnel vision. Maybe lots of creative play looks like clutter and chaos. That’s my happy thought for the morning.

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Campground Famous

My Aunt Jackie and Uncle Gary asked if they could put my art on their camper. If you happen to be camping in the upper mid-west look out for Auntie and Uncle Moose. I'm totally going to be campground famous.

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More art with kids: Class Collaboration Collages

It’s been a happy discovery of the last few years to learn that I have a quiet super power in helping kids love and make art. What a happy super power! For this today I am grateful.

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These two collages are class collaborative projects I made with kids. The first collage is made from radial designs created by the 1st-3rd graders who I regularly taught art to this past fall (I went back last month to make this piece with them for their school’s auction). The second collage is made from geometric designs created by 4th-6th graders at the same school (I team taught with their regular art teacher for this project).

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I love how each kid’s personality comes out a bit in their individual contribution and how all the pieces come together into a colorful and lively finished whole. I love how pulling the pieces together felt a little like pulling the kids together into creative play. But most of all I just love making art with kids.

Storystorm!

Sometimes I go to the bookstore having already spent my book budget for the month. I do this because I cannot resist bookstores. Whenever this happens I find myself wondering, why oh why am I doing this to myself? I know I'm going to buy a book—probably more than one. And perhaps even one of those books will NOT even be a picture book. And then not only am I being bad with my budget I'm also going to want to read that long non-picture-book book RIGHT NOW! Only inevitably I will already have a stack as big as my leg (or possibly larger) of non-picture-book books I want to read RIGHT NOW. Also, didn't I just do this, like last week? Yes, I have a problem. I can't help it. I LOVE BOOKS!

So what, you may be asking, does this have to do with the title of this post—Storystorm? Storystorm is this thing in picture book land where picture book writers gather (virtually) over on Tara Lazar's blog and support one another as we each come up with a picture book idea for every day during an entire month. I have no idea how many years I've participated in Storystorm (used to be called PIBOIDMO). I will not go back and look because that will make me feel like I am getting old too fast. Let's just say it's many. And the practice has not only helped me come up with many fun ideas during the month it takes place, it also has taught me to cultivate ideas all year long. And it has to do with my enormously large pile of to-read books because just like books, I have WAY TOO MANY IDEAS!

But joking aside, I actually like having too many books and too many ideas. The abundance of these things matters. I've heard it said that you only need one good idea. Sure. And I suppose I'm supposed to feel satisfied with one book too?

I make my best work when I throw my perfectionism out the window and aim for quantity over quality. Yes, I want quality—but I find that it comes only from vigorous practice. And that vigorous practice only comes from a spirit of quantity. Quantity helps me achieve quality.

This is true especially with ideas. The more ideas I come up with, the more I find the ideas to be interesting. It never fails.

So here's my annual cheers to another month of brainstorming ideas with Storystorm! And while I'm at it I'll raise my glass to brainstorming of all kinds—where quantity cultivates quality. And also I'll raise my glass to the giant mountains of books that are waiting to be read, in my house, in my library, and in my local bookstore. Is there anything better?

Cheers to abundant possibility!

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What can I do and how can I best love?

God it's been a hard week in the U.S. What happened in Charlottesville last weekend is so wrong on so many levels it hurts. It's not okay.

Maybe it's too personal but I can't help but keep thinking of my grandfathers who fought in WWII and what they fought for. I especially think of my Grandpa Archie who left behind a journal/photo album with his war experiences. My own dad died when I was three and Grandpa Archie was in many ways the closest thing I had to a dad for most of my childhood.

He was an amateur photographer and carried a camera during the war and his photos from the war are haunting. The stories he left behind are haunting too, although sometimes it's telling how little he says (he was not one to be really emotive). He landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-day. He helped liberate a concentration camp (the photos of that are...the worst).

He was a farmer so he knew how to drive without headlights. He often got pulled from his tank to drive around "brass" in the dark. At one point in the war when he was off driving around brass, his tank was bombed and all his buddies died. His parents back home both died while he was gone.

My Grandpa took me to France and Germany when I was 10 to see where he fought. I won't ever forget the feeling of standing on the beach with him, listening to his stories, feeling full of wonder that such a beautiful place had once been full of so much bloodshed. Anyway the trip and the stories made quite an impression on 10-year-old me. My grandpa went through Hell. So did the world.

And this past weekend when I saw the photos and videos of men imitating the visuals of lynch mobs, carrying nazi flags, and chanting Nazi slogans—I was horrified. I couldn't help but think of my grandfather and how he fought against Nazis and everything they stood for.

God help us all.

Even though I've posted it before, I thought I'd post this illustration again.

I've been thinking about the best ways I can live into the words in this art.

"Yes we can!" — What can I do?

"Love thy neighbor." — How can I best love?

These are questions that don't go away and that I don't have perfect answers for. But I feel like they are questions I need to keep living into, with everything I do right now.

How can I promote diversity more? How can I help foster understanding? How can I stand up to hate more? How can I stand up to racism more? How can I own my own room for growth more? Where can I be a better listener, learner, teacher? Where in my life, every day, can I ensure that my grandfather would be proud?

So these are the questions I ask myself this week and going forward.

You do not have to wear a uniform to fight for what's right.

Kid's Art Walk

I've been hard at work on a few projects I'm very excited about. There are so many things I could post about! But for now here's a picture from the Kid's Art Walk here in Bellingham which took place during the month of May.

I helped the students from this class make the Chinese Dragons you see in the window. The kids were studying China and I'd learned a lot about Chinese Dragons when I lived in Asia so I taught them some about what I'd learned and we made these puppets. It was such a fun project!

The Story Of My Grandfather Who Immigrated to America with a Mangled Hand

One of my favorite family stories involves one of my great grandfathers who immigrated from Sweden with a mangled hand and landed on Ellis island in the early 1900s. People with deformities had a hard time passing inspection at Ellis Island. They were usually detained for extra scrutiny when they arrived but often they were also sent back to their countries of origin.

Although my great-grandfather had lost most of his fingers on his dominant hand in a farming accident in Sweden, he still had most of his thumb and a large pinky stump that consisted of what remained of his other fingers sewn together. He got by fairly well because he could still grab and hold on to things on account of still having his thumb and another finger (of sorts) to make a clasping motion.

And that is how he also managed to hold his hat the day he went through inspection on Ellis Island. So no one noticed his deformity—his hat covered it. He passed inspection without a hitch. After he was through and outside waiting for the boat that would help him travel onward into America where he'd become a hard-working farmer, he sat next to another Swede and they got to talking. The other Swede was surprised my grandfather had made it through with his hand (by this time his hat was back on his head since he was outside). My grandfather hadn't understood about the inspections.

And he was mortified. He could not accept that he might have tricked his way into America. So can you guess what he did?

The Great Hall on Ellis Island as it looks now.

The Great Hall on Ellis Island as it looks now.

He went back into inspection. He wanted to be legit. He was honest to a fault. At least that's how the story goes.

The officials who'd already processed him waved him away like a pesky fly. And so he became an American.

I thought of this story as I read all the history and walked the great hall of Ellis Island last month when I was in NYC for an SCBWI conference. And also as I walked under Lady Liberty and her torch the same day I visited Ellis Island. Mine isn't the only family with immigrant tales of honesty and a will to do hard work for a better life.

I also thought of modern-day immigrants and how they likely share similar stories to my own with different details from a newer time. I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of common threads at heart.

NOTE: I originally posted this story on facebook, this is mostly a repeat of that post. Also I've since learned from my aunt that my Grandfather did end up having to pay a fine. I wonder if I'm missing any more of the story?

Making art with kids

I've said it before on my blog: sometimes when you are busy with the very things that are interesting to blog about, you are too busy to bother blogging. So I've had a full last few months! I have a few posts I'd like to put up soon but how about I start with sharing this collage I made with kids because it's close to my heart.

The last couple years I've been teaching art to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders at a local Montessori school here in Bellingham, once a week for a few months a year. A few days ago I finished glueing together this paper quilt made from collage squares all the kids made. I've been a bit of an accidental art teacher but honestly it's become one of my favorite and most rewarding things that I do. I'm so grateful that I get to make art regularly with kids (at least during the months I'm teaching). This piece is for the school's fund-raising auction. I'm pretty psyched at how it turned out. But mostly I like that each square makes me think of each kid who made it and that makes me smile.