Friday, December 31, 2010

and the end of the story

This is the end of my story and fittingly, the end of this wonderful year.
I ended the storybook with a full-spread illustration that repeated my opening scene of the Storyteller and the three children. I fear that some people thought I had just repeated my first spread but, it is a completely different illustration with different expressions to show the reactions at the end of the story.
Here is the last spread, I had to split it in half to scan it. I especially love the laughing appreciative expression on the children's faces. And the sly sideways look out of the picture on the girl on the far left.
This little girl is definitely thinking her own trickster ideas.


Tricking a huge Snake was easy, Anansi simply appealed to vanity. He challenged the Snake to prove that it was longer than the longest piece of bamboo in the forest. Snake complied and Anansi quickly tied him to the bamboo pole.
This art is all rendered with prismacolor pencils, layered and burnished. Lots and lots of pencils!


 In order to trick The Leopard and tie him up for delivery to the sky, Anansi first digs a deep hole and sets a trap. Just try, I ask you, to think about how to show a spider with his eight tiny arms holding a device with which to dig a huge hole. Suspension of disbelief is called for when telling and illustrating these stories.
Anansi does manage to distract and trap the Leopard, then convinces him that if his tail is tied to a tree, Anansi can get him out of the trap.

Hornet and Gourd

 Anansi has to trick and capture the hornet and deliver to the Sky god. He concocts a scheme involving a gourd filled with water.
For the gourd art I used a real decorated gourd that was brought from Ghana by friends. It is just a souvenir and a tourist item, but it was interesting as art itself.

The trickster

There are many Anansi the Spider stories. All have the common theme of Anansi trying to trick somone out of something and getting tricked himself in the end. In this story Anansi wants whatever the Sky god has in his bag, which is supposed to be all the stories in the world. The Sky god says he can have it if Anansi can capture and bring to the sky The Hornet, The Snake , and The Leopard.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Some things are difficult to illustrate and to inject with personality. Either they just are not cute or visually appealing (as with the South American Condor in my Girl from the Sky book) or they are very tiny, like the spider here and changing the normal dimensions of the creature can turn into a horror scene.
So Anansi who actually does not have features, like a pair of cute eyes to give expression or a mouth to talk with must indeed be animated. He is the main character and he is a trickster. I guess what I did to solve the problem was to use his "hands" all eight of them to tell the story. I really did study the actions of spiders to figure this out.

hands that tell the story

   Storytelling is best done with lots of hand movement. I focused on the hands on both the character of the Storyteller and of the Sky god.  I used the art of the hands to express the emotions and energy in the story.

The Sky god and the Storybag

I researched for the creation of the Sky god by visiting museums in my own area.The DuSable Museum of African American History, and The Art Institute of Chicago exhibit African masks and other artifacts. Here are some sketches from my observations.

The Storybag was an invention from my imagination made of Kente cloth designs, and more colorful images I collected at museums. I have not had an opportunity to visit Africa, I certainly hope to go someday. 


Details of the storyteller's face and each of the children from my illustrations for "How Anansi Obtained the Sky God's Stories" an African Folktale from the Ashanti, published by Childrens Press of Chicago.
Another element that was a major decision when I illustrated this book was how I would use media.
What type of media?  Watercolor,pastels, acrylic,pencils or oil? This is a question I have often wrestled with. At that time I didn't feel like I had a strong style. And I had training at The Art Center College in so many types of media and styles that I spent some time after school wondering what felt best for me. I have now realized that this question really doesn't suddenly answer itself, you pick something, work as hard as you can with it, eventually a personal style emerges after much time and many hours.
I spent a great deal of time researching images and information about Ghana and the Ashanti people for this book. I also looked at lots of award-winning children's illustration, the styles and media used.
I decided to work with Prismacolor pencils with a very heavy, blended application. I wanted to get the colors as dense and rich as possible. One reason for this is the color scheme that I imagined for the African folktale. And the other reason was that I had been looking, at the library and at bookstores, at too many children's books illustrated with very light pencil or ink lines and light pastel toned washes. I wanted my work to stand apart from that type of look.


The Storyteller is essential to this traditional type of tale, telling the story that has been passed on for generations. I used a photo reference of the professional storyteller who recorded on a tape that came with the published book. I picture her with children I imagined listening by firelight in a far-away African village. 
I actually used my own children as models for this pose. They are not of african descent, but happily understood that Momma just needs them as general models. This is a part of their unique childhood memory, Momma drawing them!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Anansi the Spider stories

I posted a picture of a spider back around Halloween time. This is Anansi, a character with as much or more literary history than Charlotte of "the Web' and Brer Rabbit to whom he is related. Stories about Anansi, the trickster, come from West Africa. Clever Anansi who usually appears as a spider often has his trick backfire in some comical way.
I illustrated one of the Anansi stories for Childrens Press as part of the Adventures in Storytelling series. The cover art shown above has all the characters who appear in the story, the Sky God, a snake, a hornet, a leopard, and the spider.

where stories are told

The opening spread from my children's book "How Anansi Obtained the Sky God's Stories" published by Childrens Press, Chicago.
This is one of my favorite spreads. I took great delight in drawing that tree, it has a personality all by itself.
I imagined a village nestled under a huge baobob tree, in my research I had come across some fascinating images. These trees provide shelter, wood, shade,medicine, and fruit. They are deciduous which explains why I kept finding images with no leaves in what I thought was a tropical country.

And I imagined the storyteller with an audience around a village fire in the early evening, the sun  just down and a full moon is above.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas and those letters that everyone sends

Yes, we do one of these, most years, especially when we have big events, like the wedding in September. I don't write them, my husband does. This year I have put together a little banner for the top of his letter. I just collected some spots that I have done for past projects, and made up a fun thing with photoshop.
I know people make fun of those annual letters, but I mean this sincerely, Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

and fun

What's wrong with this picture?  A funny illustration sample from one of my Sunday School magazine publishing clients.

still celebrating

Family, family, family, and wonderful friends, food, and much love.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Celebrate the Day

The Greatest Story ever told!
Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
 16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
 17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
 18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
 19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them."
Luke 2:15-20 King James Version
This is an illustration of mine created for Moody Monthly Magazine. I must post about this sometime soon, I worked on a monthly children's story series for over two years, and I still enjoy looking at the work produced at that time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

back again

Life drawing from the back

I have been visiting a Life drawing class whenever possible. The time spent drawing and interacting with fellow artists is priceless.
I am exploring a series of studies which requires a live model to draw. I have a friend, a nurse/midwife, who has opened a medical clinic serving only women. She mentioned to me that she would like to decorate with some life drawings of women's bodies shown only from the back. That sounds to me like a lovely idea so I have worked on just the back views in class.

Monday, December 13, 2010

the big city and what I saw

I understand why many artists, writers, musicians, poets, and actors all want to live in New York City. Noisy, crowded, and nerve-wracking; yet exciting and stimulating to all the senses. I recently enjoyed several days there, walking and looking, absorbing the richness of visual images. 
I wanted to visit as many museums as possible. One visit that stands out was to the Frick Collection. It isn't too big to enjoy in one day yet there are amazing works there.  My best "Wow, I can't believe I am really standing in front of this Art" moment was a portrait of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein, the Younger. This portrait is so intensely suffused with meaning and emotion, it goes far beyond the technical beauty of mere painting. I spent most of my time standing near it and sketching in my moleskin. I was aware of the museum guard giving me a suspicious eye, maybe worried about my pen or my intentions?
When I visit a museum, I like to sketch from the artwork for as long as I can, I find this is the best way to  SEE what I am there to see. My eyes, brain and hand work together to make the images mean more.
I also enjoyed a gallery with pen and ink drawings by Fransisco Goya. Here is my sketch from a drawing titled "Poor and Bare Goes Philosphy".  This piece is more humorous and significant for me because my husband is a college philosophy professor.
The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya
October 5, 2010, through January 9, 2011 The Frick Collection

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 12 Third Advent Sunday

Isaiah 7:14...He will be called Immanuel which means God is with us.

This little line drawing was originally a birth announcement for a baby boy born on this day.