Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Frog Pond

 So my dad started a youtube account.

What's that?

Why yes, it is a funny time to have parents, isn't it?


He’s an architect, this dad of mine, and so that’s what his videos are about. It’s a series of short stories and tidbits from the history and practice of architecture. Here’s one that I like a lot—it’s about various methods used to adjust the movement in very tall buildings:



Here’s another one about the legend of how the Corinthian column developed and how that eventually lead to one of the most famous drawings in history:



I love these videos. I love them because some of them surprise me and also because some of them—the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini, for instance—are stories I’ve heard many times before (though, being a dad myself, I realize now that part of the job is telling the same story a thousand times but always with the same invincible innocence, like it’s brand new). 


I also love these videos because I love my dad, and these are very much him.*


It was my dad, of course, who first taught me that drawing is not just fun, but a very fundamental and powerful way to communicate. When I’d ask a question he more often than not he’d grab a notecard and a pen from his front shirt pocket and draw the idea out (he always wears button-down shirts, often pink, and always with pens and notecards in the pocket).


So if you enjoy these, feel free to like and subscribe.


*Okay, I also love that you can see the full series DVD collection of Thundercats in the background, but you didn’t hear that from me. 


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Promise is the Work II

 

Two years. 


Sometimes you carry on with the work, and it’s a struggle, and then sometimes you realize the work is carrying you. 


The image above is from one of the notebooks I started filling after Ida’s death. There’s a lot in those books. A lot of words and a lot of pictures and most of it is stuff no one will ever see (at least not while I’m still kicking around). 


Or is it?


It’s not lost on me that the book I’m currently working on is an underworld journey. It’s the story of boy with a candle going deeper and deeper into the into the dark, and of what he finds there. It’s a story of ghosts and shadows. It’s about lost things and moving on. 


It’s not the story from my grief journal, not even close, but there are certainly pieces of shared imagery.


Here’s the secret: my published work, my shared work—it’s really only the tip of the iceberg. Most of what I scribble down is just for me. Just because. Because it’s a habit. Because it’s my way of thinking. Because I have pens and pencils and blank pages to fill.


And it brings me peace. Not complete peace, never that. 


But maybe as much as anyone has any right to hope for. 




Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Promise is the Work

There’s this touching little documentary/long form interview with Maurice Sendak called “Tell Them Anything You Want” that I find myself coming back to periodically. It was filmed by Spike Jonze and his crew, a few years before Sendak’s death, while they were working on Where the Wild Things Are.

There’s a moment late in the documentary where Sendak is walking into his studio and he says:

“The whole promise is to do the work.

I’m sitting down at the drawing table, turning on the radio, and I think what a transcendent life this is.

In that moment I feel like a lucky man.”

It knocks me flat every time.

Monday, September 6, 2021

THE LURKER

Part of my weekly routine, now that things are opening up a bit, includes a run up to Winchester to drop off my daughters for a ballet class. This usually leaves me with one odd hour to spend in whatever way I like.

A whole hour to spend however I like! Sometimes I can hardly believe it.

Most weeks, unless the day is just too glorious to pass indoors,* I visit my favorite used book store: Blue Plate Books. It’s only about a mile from the ballet studio. They know me now. I always get a cheerful hello and a smile when I walk in.

The shop is not much to look at from the outside (it’s next-door to a barber shop and the front window looks out onto a Wendy’s drive-through), but inside you find a very beautifully curated space. It’s like the interior of a treasure chest except all the gold and gemstones have been replaced by books and comfortable chairs. It’s a hidden gem, is what I’m saying.

There’s a lot of talk about books being portals to adventure—little rectangular hatches that let you escape from the mundane world into something more exciting. But what I relish from a good bookshop is a feeling of safety. Soft music plays as you sag into an armchair in a cocoon of outward-facing spines adorned with all the familiar names: Woolfe and Wilde; Dumas and Montaigne; Byatt, Doyle, King, and Gaiman—these never-met friends whose voices are so familiar. Shelves are arranged to create hidden nooks. Spinner racks playfully display the lurid, strange, and sensual covers of vintage mysteries, tales of terror, and strange new worlds. And the atmosphere is all be-cloaked in the fragrance old old paper.

(That smell. It’s the smell of being four—toddling among the shadowy shelves in the old Wells Library in Lafayette, when quotes from J.M. Barrie could still be seen cut into the stone hearth in the children’s room, while my mom filled her old canvas bag with a new week’s reading. It’s the smell of being seven, sitting on the worn carpet of the tiny Saint Mary’s library and listening to Sister Rose Maureen read Charlottes Web. It’s the smell of being eleven and riding my bike to Blue Moon Books to hunt through the stacks of old comics for missing issues of Elfquest. It’s the smell of Story.)

It’s no surprise, given my chosen life and work, that haunting bookstores is one of my favorite things. Not all bookstores are the same, of course. Finding a good one is like finding a friend. You don’t let go.
















*On those fine days I wander Winchester’s gorgeous old cemetery, dreaming up the stories of the dead, or stroll down the Old Town walking mall, catching snatches of the stories of the living.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Boxing

About a year and a half ago I got a P.O. box for reader mail. It’s been really rewarding and fun and I’m sometimes shocked by the number of people (children and adults) who still take the time to write letters to a stranger who wrote a book they liked.

My drive to our little local post office and checking my box has become a little jump into the unexpected. Writing books is like putting messages in a bottle and letting them drift away on the waves into the unknown. Expectations aren’t always high. Sometimes, though, when a voice of appreciation floats back on the current it’s just the best thing. More than you’d hoped for even.

So this is me saying thank you, to everyone, for your letters—and especially to those of you who I haven’t written back to. I can’t promise an answer to every letter. In fact, I have a pretty poor track record for correspondence. But I am getting better about it, and I can promise you that every note I’ve received has been read and treasured.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Last Song

Remembering my sweet daughter today. I used to whisper in her ear while she slept that I was *so proud* to be her dad. I miss taking walks and how she would squeal when I scooped her up onto my shoulders. I miss the little drives we took when I was trying to get her to fall asleep.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Cold Spring Days and Picture Book Ways

It is mid-May, and far more blustery and cold than is normal. But then, this year is far from the usual isn’t it?

I have a picture book on my desk right now. It’s the third (and I think final) Julia book. Who makes a trilogy of picture books? When I made the first Julia book I never would have thought I’d find myself writing a third. But I like Julia and and the very odd world she lives in. Here’s a picture of my desk:

Every project is different. I want to stress that. But, I have found that a good working method for picture books, because of their compressed and very confined parameters, is to print all the page spreads (nineteen spreads for two signatures with pasted-down ends) and lay them out on my desk in such a way that I can see the entire book at a glance. I can switch things out, move things around. I can, in the better moments, hold the whole book in my mind in the space of a moment.

Picture books are deceptive. Like a good magic trick you want your book to come off looking effortless and breezy and simple. But at the same time you want to pack as much story as you possibly can into a scant 36 pages. It’s infuriating. And wonderful.

In other news—here is one more illustration of the Fox and the Minstrel:

This one was a commission. I can’t seem to get enough of these two. I think about Renyard so much these days.

Finally, here’s a tiny comic about football. I got a lot of good out of sports (particularly wresting, gymnastics, and pole vaulting) but in those very early days of football I mostly remember not having much of an idea of what was going on.





Monday, April 6, 2020

Wine, Love, and Lyrics in a time of Quarantine.

Good heavens. it has been so long since I last updated this poor blog. The longer I left it, the harder it was to return. And then so much life happened—love and death and art and tragedy that has left me a different person, and anyway is far too much to sum up here even if most of it wasn't too personal.

But I like blogging and I like having a little hub for my work. So even though Instagram has wormed its way into being the main place that I toss my most current art and updates, I'm going to try to give this old space some more attention, from time to time, whether anyone is really reading or not.

And in that spirit, here is a short series of illustrations I did to go along with a special curbside wine sale organized by The Locke Store in Millwood, Virginia. The idea being that the first ten people to order a case of wine would also get a piece of original art. The illustrations quickly developed a little theme (Wine and love and music and separation) and a feeling of a very loose story. I find myself wanting to do more with these two romantic vagabonds. Time will tell. For now, enjoy:

This last picture isn't really of a piece with the series above, but I like it and it was part of the wine sale.

And that's all for today! Stay safe my friends.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Not-So-Great Pumpkin: Broken Bat

Happy Halloween, my friends!

A couple of years ago, I sort of half-participated in Inktober by throwing together a slapdash illustrated story about the Not-So-Great Pumpkin. You can read it here. This year I revisited the NSGP with a short story comprised of 13 ink and watercolor panels. It's not really a proper Inktober project, what with the ink taking a back seat to the watercolors, but it was fun, and I enjoyed visiting my sad little pumpkin friend again.

One of my rules for storytelling is to have a pretty solid idea of the ending before I start. I broke that rule this time, changing the ending two or three times as I went along. This is what it looks like when I tell a story on the fly.

Oh! one more thing: I'll have some project announcements coming up very soon. New books are on the horizon, and I'm anxious to start talking about them. You know, officially.

Okay, that's enough out of me. Enjoy!

Monday, September 18, 2017

OF MIGHTY CABBAGES AND GOBLIN KINGS

Hello friends!

As you may know, my most recent book, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, was released earlier this month. Once again I'm going on a short journey, crisscrossing North America to meet readers and sign books. This time, at most of the events, I will be "in conversation" with another author/artist. This will almost without a doubt make these evening bookstore events much, much more lively and interesting.

I've made a graphical poster image for the tour (posted below) with most of the pertinent information. Underneath that I will post links to the various venues.

I really would love to meet as many of you as possible. Tossing stories out into the wide world is great, but meeting readers in person is a particular and powerful magic.

And so, without further preamble, I give you:

Green Bean Books

University Bookstore

Once Upon a Time

The King's English

Red Balloon

The Eric Carle Museum

Toronto Public Library

McNally Robinson

Monday, August 7, 2017

More Mermaids and Dragons.

Just popping in with a note to say that I did a SECOND PRINT RUN of both Memory Mermaid and Memory Dragon. They are in my Etsy store right now!

BEN'S FUNNY ETSY SHOPPE

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer of Mermaids Art Sale

Hey friends!

For those of you who have a train to catch, here's a short version of this post: I’m having a summer art sale. There are things up in my Etsy shop. The link is right here:

BEN'S ETSY SHOP

And so we find ourselves in the middle of another Summer. Here’s a long-overdue, kind of rambling post.

As I type this it’s late afternoon and I’m in my Very Secret & Very Quiet Writing Hideaway. There is a Summer Thunderstorm brewing outside. It’s lovely.

Sitting next two me, here in my Very Secret & Very Quiet Writing Hideaway, is my new-used 10 speed bicycle. It has fenders! It has a rack on the back! It was a gift from my friend-and-mechnic, Justin! I'm planning to strap an old milk crate to the rack so that I can cart various sundries back and forth from my VS&VQWH. Here’s my new-used bike:


(thanks Justin!)

And here’s me in my VS&VQWH:

Clever readers will have guessed (correctly) that I put the timer on my iPod and staged a photo to makes me look like a Serious Writer. That’s part of my plan. You see, if everyone thinks I’m a Serious Writer then I will definitely get these projects I’m working on done. That’s how being a Serious Writer works. (I think.)

Anyway, I will have a lot more to say about my VS&VQWH in an upcoming post. There’s some exciting stuff on the horizon. But for now let’s move on to the mermaids. And for that, we’ll have to travel back to May…

In May I was traveling through Macedonia as part of the U.S. Speaker Abroad Program. I was talking about visual storytelling at schools and universities. I was visiting “American Corners” in different towns and being driven hither and yon by the American Embassy. And I was sneaking out at odd hours to explore the old Turkish Market in Skopje. Here are a few pictures from Macedonia:

All the while I was aware that mermaids were cropping up all across the internet as part of a cleverly-titled art challenge called “Mermay” The challenge, simply, is to draw a mermaid each day in May (I think these monthly challenges got their start with Jake Parker’s “Inktober”). I saw the mermaids and I thought “no way am I doing that.”

But then of course I drew a couple mermaids on a tablecloth and I was off to the races.

I wasn’t able to do a full month’s worth of Mers, but I ended up with a good fifteen. Here are a few of my favorites:

I had a blast drawing these, and posting them over on Instagram. It took me some time to figure out what to do with them, but I finally had them printed as a set of Memory Cards, like my Memory Dragon set from a few years ago.

Memory Mermaid is available over on my Etsy Shop as part of my wee Summer Art Sale. There are also a few prints and some original pages from Mighty Jack.

And now the rain has come and a cool breeze is blowing through the VS&VQWH and I have a story to write.

See you soon.