Friday, May 29, 2009

SIT! Chaos, HEEL!

Life does not always cooperate. Just when you are cruisin' along with the wind in your Nostradamus, (or as Bob Wylie says, "with the wind and the wind and the waves and everything...) and out of nowhere someone shoves a broom handle into the spokes of your bicycle wheel-GOINK!

When I was a boy I loved nothing more than to pedal my bike as fast as I could go, then slam on the foot brake and lay some rubber sk-sk-skidding sideways with a flourish. One time I planned to do just that on smooth cement in the pergola at Burbank Elementary School, my Alma Mater. Did you know that Alma Mater means "bounteous mother"? Anyhoo, the plan was to stop before I hit the chain link fence. I pedaled my ultra fastest and when I got to the slam-on-the foot-brake part, I missed the pedal altogether. So I hit the fence at sixty miles an hour. Give or take. You know how the mercury Terminator robot oozed through the bars at the mental hospital. That is what I did.

Sometimes the only way I can cope with chaos is to play with it in paint. Or words.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Up in the Air So Blue

Blame it on Robert Louis Stevenson. In first grade we had to memorize a poem. That night my mom showed me several. Edgar Allen Poe freaked me out, so I chose one that made me smile. Stevenson’s, The Swing.

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

Notice the swinging movement of the poem. Brilliant.

Apparently this was a “gateway” poem for me because I wanted bigger and better. Not only poems, but going up in the air so blue. So, I climbed trees. Every tree in our neighborhood no matter what kind or size. We even tried those Pasadena palm trees, albeit with little success. But the pine trees and deodars had handles. So up we went. Me and my pals.

I would not let my kids or grandkids do this. They could get killed. So could you, so don’t try this at home. That is my OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER. I’m serious. When people my age were growing up we had no bike helmets, no seat belts, I used to drive to the rifle range holding a .22 caliber rifle while riding my little banana seat Sting-Ray bike. On hot days if you turned on the fan, there was no safety screen. Stick your fingers in and chop ‘em off. Natural selection was how we rolled.

Man, the world was different. On non-school days, I inhaled breakfast, and blasted out the kitchen door to explore, often for the whole day or until I got hungry.
But those trees. Take a look at some tall trees. Imagine climbing them with no harness or helmet. To the tippy top. The key is to hold on for dear life. Literally. But the higher I went the stronger my grip. Terror is a motivator. But so is bliss and exhilaration. I could see for a hundred miles. I knew enough to never let go completely.

There are bugs up there. And floaty things. Birds fly by and say, “Good job, now try your wings”. I am still working on that.

By the way, my favorite climbing tree was the deodar. The word comes from Sanskrit. It means, “divine tree”.

Monday, May 18, 2009

SCBWI Conference

This weekend the northwest Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference happened. Susi and I love to attend for inspiration and catch up. Authors, illustrators, editors, agents, and art directors mix it up and pour Miracle Grow on each other.

We all want to hone our craft to become better writers, illustrators, and smarter cookies. There really were fine and brilliant people at this conflab, challenging each other to make great books. Jon Scieszka releshes his job of getting boys excited about books. He was crowned Ambassador of Young People's Literature by the U.S. Congress. To describe him, mix one part teacher with five parts fourth grade boy, sprinkle generously with genius, add big scoop of funny, then turn on a fire hose full blast and let it fly around the kitchen. Add salt.

It was so nice to see Stephen Mooser, who is like Heidi's grandfather to us all (if Heidi's grampa was clean shaven, lived in SoCal, had a tan, and worked out). After all Stephen started SCBWI. I met Steve at my first SCBWI in Santa Monica (1982) where I had a portfolio review with Tomie dePaola. This was the national conference and there were about eighty people there. Steve, you have given us so much, and contributed significantly to the development of good literature. Thank you.

Here are Kirby Larson, myself, and Stephanie Lyle at the conference. We recently collaborated on a project with Washington State History Museum. Kirby's story, Sayonara, brings me to tears every time I read it. To read it go to COLUMBIAkids e-mag.

I very much enjoyed Adam Rex. A genius with a capital X. All the speakers blew me away. What a conference.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Subterranean Elegance

It always makes me sad. Sigh and shrug. C'est la vie, n'est pas? It depends. In the cool of the morning when I open the back door to sniff the changing seasons, I have often nearly stepped on one of the gifts left me by my Mafia cat, delicately laid out for my approval and repast. I hear a gravelly voice, "Attention! Monsieur! C'est moi." Sure enough, it is the ghost of the mole from The Wind in the Willows. Apparently he has been living in France since I last met him.

It disturbs me when my cats do this even though I know that they are just being the playful velociraptors that they are. But still... Mr. Mole? Where did you put his vest? Now I will admit that though I am bummed for Mole, I am a tad glad about our hero's untimely demise because as an artist, this gives me an opportunity to study and sketch a fine specimen.

This mole had fur as elegant as any mink or ermine. A ditch digger dressed for the opera. I know he sang while he dug with his own hands. Powerful over sized hands and hardened claws with dirt under the nails. Doing his job with gusto! He was still chewing on a stick. Some root or herb from Provence.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Nestling into a book

There is really nothing quite like reading a good book. You find a comfy chair and you wriggle into a space-time nook away from stress and the tentacular crap that so invades our walk-a-day

Writing or illustrating a book, means an even deeper nestle. You burrow down and gather your wits and fluff. You grow moth antennae to gather idea molecules. You are searching, searching...for what? Your job is now to dream. It is now possible to zoom around the universe. Find the goodies that float like dust in a ray of light. As hunter/gatherers we tuck in the bits of treasure, or junk (which was once or will again become treasure).

There is no way that I know to get around being a space cadet when hunkered down in the brainstorming state. It can be treacherous. I have sometimes fallen off the planet. It's true, ask my wife. One time when I was in this condition, I was wandering around Egypt. Walking on some rickety railroad tracks. I was daydreaming, searching for reference and bits of ideas. I was getting in touch with my inner pharaoh, when a little hieroglyphic of a voice said, "Probably shouldn't walk on train tracks". So I stepped off, and out of nowhere this locomotive blasted past me like a mummy with a caffeine fix. I never heard it coming.

I love this process. You make new friends and keep the old, with the help of guardian angels.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Getting From Here to There

I have a friend who has lived in his car for the last twenty years. It is hard for him to put down roots, yet he's the best story teller I know. He has lived and died in his stories. One day he told me, " Throw your hat over the fence". I wrote this down and put it on my drawing table. The paint splats and flicks reveal about fifteen years of paint drip escapees; pigmentile fugitives marching to the beat of a different drummer.

I find the "hat-toss" idea simple, but nudge-ful. When I am tentative, or dilly-dallying, these words often swing into view like monkeys. "Richy, you ape," they bobble their heads, "if you want that 'thing' to happen, throw your silly hat over the fence, then you have to act." And they are right. I must now either walk away, or climb over the fence to get my hat, and though risking the bulls who might charge, I find a new pasture full of allure and possibility.