Wednesday, September 29, 2010

KidBook Nook

Hi guys,

I wanted to let you all know that I've started a new blog exclusively for my reviews of children's books. "KidBook Nook" will highlight a broad range of the best books for children with brief but thorough breakdowns of each book's story, writing, illustrations, and value not only to children, but to the adults who read them, too.

Up until now I've been posting my reviews periodically on this blog, but it's been decided that I will relocate my previously posted "I Love KidLit" reviews and no longer post them on this (my art) blog. My husband Adam and I will be running the new book blog together, sharing our thoughts on the books we admire. I'm looking forward to producing content more frequently and treating blogging as a more serious endeavor.

As an illustrator, I'm generally very selective of the books I purchase for my library, but I am also highly critical of the writing and overall presentation of the books. So I like to think that I have relatively high standards and that the books I own are those worth sharing. Whether you love books as much as I do, or want to provide yourself (or your children) with high quality book experiences, I hope you'll join me in the conversation!

Courtney & Adam's KidBook Nook Blog:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eric Carle Museum

This weekend was my "golden" birthday as I turned 26 years old on the 26th of September. My husband and I kicked off the celebration with a trip to Amherst MA for our second Eric Carle Museum visit.

We were able to FINALLY see the stellar Lisbeth Zwerger exhibit which ended on Sunday. I have always admired her work and own several of her books, but I was more than impressed with how absolutely precious her work is in person. And after seeing them I feel that none of her books have adequately captured the subtleties in color and tone of her work. It was a treasure to see them in real life, in all their wonderful whimsy.

These were a few of my favorites in person:

After we took our time in the exhibit, we made our way into the gift shop, chock full of everybook you could want. We knew we were going to go a little crazy with our purchases, but it's not everyday you see so many high caliber children's books in one place. And, as it was my birthday after all, we shopped til we dropped and have no buyer's remorse whatsoever. We see our book collection as an investment not only in a library that inspires us to create and pursue our dreams, but one that will eventually and inevitably influence our children as well. And that we can not put a price on.

And the icing on the cake was that at 1pm there was a brief lecture given by Maria Tatar, professor of folklore and mythology at Harvard. I'm still in the middle of reading her fascinating book, Enchanted Hunters, so her talk "Little Red Riding Hood from Fireside to Kindle" couldn't have been more perfectly timed. It was an interesting examination of the iterations and permutations of the fairy tale and it's place in our culture. After the talk ended, we made our way back to the book shop to buy her other books and were also able to get them signed.

Trunk full of literary loot, we left the museum grinning ear to ear. Books sure do make us happy.

Family Pet

This piece was created for the prompt "Family Pet," intended to be a simple vignette featuring a cat-hugging girl. The cat shown here is actually my cat Griffin, a lovable little muffin I rescued from the humane society last November. He's brought a lot of happiness to my husband and I, so I thought him to be the perfect character for this piece.

This illustration has inspired a full story to go along with it, which is just in the begining stages at this point. But writing it should keep me busy for a while. I'm excited. It's the first story idea I've had in a long time, and I think it may have potential. :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Love Kidlit: Flotsam

I recently took a couple of days to archive all of the books my husband and I have accumulated over the past 5 years. Having a library that is growing exponentially is great, but it can be problematic now that we've reached the point of not actually knowing what books we already own. I'm using (our user name is MartinPeckBooks) and so far I love it. It's very easy to sort, search, browse, categorize, add wishlist books, share our library, and I can even export the whole library as a spreadsheet. It was quite an undertaking to record all 1175+ books but it really needed to happen. Having all of our books cataloged is a tremendous asset---I'm thrilled to have finally done it!
Ok. So back to the matter at hand. Today's installment of I Love Kidlit. I've selected Flotsam, the Caldecott winning instant classic from David Wiesner. A genius of the wordless narrative, Wiesner's picturebooks capture and indulge in the pure fantastic capabilities of illustration. His proclivity for telling rich stories within stories comes from a superior level of the creative mind I myself can only dream of.

Not to mention this book is full of so many things that I love. Old cameras, vintage photographs, traveling back in time. A story that starts in reality and quickly transforms into a journey through whimsical tableaus of the impossible, only to come back right where we started and full of potential for countless more untold stories. It's everything you could hope for out of a purely pictorial voyage. I know that it's definitely a book I would have embraced as a child, likely spinning my own drawings and imaginings from where his left off. That is a magical quality that I wish more books had. To feel as if the book goes on even after the cover is closed.

As always, Wiesner's images are beautifully executed, and fish and animals landscapes and artifacts are clearly his strength. As I love his work, I do think his people and faces fall a bit short of perfection. His child faces tend to be a bit wonky, his bodies and expressions a bit stiff. To me, it seems as if he's much more interested in drawing everything else.

But overall, I think that we could all aspire to be as imaginative and well crafted as Mr. Wiesner. Although I've never done much in the way of sequential wordless imagery, this book makes me want to try it. There's so much to learn and this book is a great piece of inspiration.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Enchanted Reading Part 1.

I recently began reading Maria Tatar's "Enchanted Hunters" a facinating examination of the power of stories in childhood. I'm only about 1/3 of the way through but already feel my understanding of children's literature getting sharper.

So much of what Tatar covers in this book would seem obvious and yet it boggles my mind that no one has yet put it in such well crafted, straightforward, and comprehensive way as she does here. She discuss the evolution from familial hearth-oriented storytelling to bedtime reading to children, which on its own is an interesting topic. She makes many interesting points that in modern times, bedtime reading is essentially a conflict zone between parent and child (parent wanting child to go to sleep, child roused by the stories being told), rather than the sweet, nostalgic and idealized vision we have of story time being a period of quality bonding between parent and child. Beyond that, she also examines the irony between the origin of bedtime stories (many intended to frighten the child into obedience, i.e. The Sandman) and the modern genre of bedtime picture books aimed at lulling a child to sleep (in a word, BORING!).

She goes on to stress that many children will passively endure stories that end with "and now it's time for bed," but that what children really crave are stories of adventure, beauty, intrigue, and peril. It's so obvious to me now. Bedtime books exist because parents WILL buy them, NOT because children actually want to read them. This is the case for many genres of children's books. Up until now I had been feeling overwhelmed at the vastness of the field of kidlit, but now it's more apparent to me that within kidlit is an entire sub section of "adult kidlit", books supposedly aimed at children but actually created out of a nostaligia of an adult perspective on childhood, rather than one sincerely intended for childhood appeal.

This is the key to everything to me. I do NOT want to be a poser of a children's illustrator. I want to aspire to connect directly with children rather than some IDEA of what children should like. Think about it: as children, we are captivated by stories that give us that perfect balance of both beauty AND horror (traditional fairy tales, Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, etc). I for one can absolutely remember the types of books I couldn't get enough of: ANYTHING by R.L. Stine!

I plowed through the Goosebump Series all through elementary school. I could not satiate my desire to live in a world where children were constantly at the mercy of their own courage to face dark and terrible things without the aid of adults. To little Courtney, that was as far from reality as it got! I was so close to my family and knew they'd always be there to save me, that the very thought of being alone drew me to those types of stories. I could escape into the pages of R.L. Stine and live in a world that horrified and mesmerized me, all from the comfort and safety of the living room couch.

Even as a child I remember being so THANKFUL that Mr. Stine was AWESOME enough to write those books for us kids---it was like he was saying to us. "Hey, you might be kids, but I know you can handle it." I respected him for respecting us. I didn't want boring, dumbed-down, cutesy and condescending stories---I wanted risk, and the promise that there was no promise of a happy ending. Because even at a young age, I knew that was the harshness of life.

Those early reading experiences were fundamental to me. They really allowed me to escape and become part of worlds unlike my own. And now as an adult, I must NEVER forget that. As an illustrator (and maybe even author someday) I will not let myself forget WHO I am really making my work for. If I go too far in the way of nostalgia I am almost guaranteed to fail in the ways I care most about.

Imagine a world where the authors of our beloved stories didn't give children enough credit. A world where Red Riding Hood faces a fluffy bunny and Voldemort is as threatening as a ladybug. The potency of childhood stories hinges on the tension of radiant good challenged by ultimate evil. To have one, you must have the other. Children feel that truth deep down and connect to stories that allow them to explore that theme time and time again.

Reading is a magical experience for us as adults because it allows us to escape into a life and world somehow different from our own. Imagine then, how doubly powerful that same escape can be for a child who is inherently powerless in their own world on a daily basis. It is thus that much MORE of a necessity for a young mind to experience strong stories that engage their imagination and indulge their fantasy and fascination with the dark and light.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Caring For Turtles

Call me crazy but all this creative freedom lately has been scaring me to the point of unproductivity. That is to say approaching illustration saying "what do I want to draw?" has made me stop drawing altogether. I can't stay focused on one thing because I don't know if it's what I SHOULD be doing or if it's just a temporary whim.

So what I decided to do instead was tackle the deep fears haunting me everyday. Fear of having to draw something I actually DON'T want to draw.

I have always avoided illustrating typical children's book subject matters like kids and school. Real life topics like that just don't get my heart pumping. So that's exactly what I made myself work on these past two days. Originally prompted with a "Back to School" theme from my agent, what began as a couple kids on a bus became this.

I discovered a lot about myself in this process:

1. No subject is scary as long as you can find an angle that provides personal enjoyment. Whether it's the actual subject or just the color palette I choose to work with, there can always be some element that can be fun.

2. Working with a chalk brush in photoshop is helpful for me to crisp edges, simplify shapes and colors, and hone in on my emerging style. Don't neglect this brush again, Courtney!

3. I don't have to feel stupid for not knowing how a piece is going to turn out at the begining. My art is an evolving process and as long as I get to the finish at some point, I should just enjoy the magical ride of creativity along the way.

4. When creating work on my own initiative, I inevitably create some small sliver of a story in my mind to go along with the image. I am a storyteller somewhere deep down, I just haven't unlocked it yet. Writing my story ideas could lead me to good things. I need to stop being afraid to be a writer, because singular images alone will never satisfy me...