Monday, October 24, 2011

On Vegetables and Soup

Dear readers, in my last post I mentioned a phrase that I heard at a panel at the Wordstock festival here in Portland, and the phrase was this:

"Take other people's vegetables, but make your own soup."

Now, ever since I posted that, the internet has been abuzz.* What does this phrase actually mean? (*note: this is a lie. The internet, as far as I can tell, is still abuzz about cute cat photos. In which case, may I present to you):

Anyway, the internet maybe did not care, but I sure cared about this new catchphrase of mine. Ask anyone in my current children's book illustration class at PNCA- I used this phrase A LOT in recent critiques. "Nice vegetables in this one." "Why not take some onions from this painting here and add it to your crockpot of ideas?" "Is anyone else hungry? It's 9 o'clock!" Since I'm so smitten with this analogy, I thought I'd break it down a bit to demonstrate what it means to me.

I am a veritable Peter Rabbit when it comes to stealing vegetables to use in my soup. One of my favorite gardens from which to harvest is, appropriately enough, THE CURIOUS GARDEN by Peter Brown (DO YOU SEE WHAT A WONDERFUL ANALOGY THIS IS?!?!)

If you haven't seen this book, I highly recommend checking it out at your local library, or- more likely- buying your own copy, because you may want to refer to it again. And again. And again.

I am absolutely in love with the color in this book, and I don't think I'm exaggerating when I call this book a masterpiece. Now, I myself would like to be a Master of Color, and when I was charged with painting a mural last summer at the Portland Children's Museum, I prepared by packing up my paints, an iPod, and a big ol' bunch of vegetables from the garden of Mr. Peter Brown.

In this color sketch I did for the mural, I took the greens and the red-oranges from Peter Brown to put in my soup. As in, when I was mixing my paints, I literally would put dabs of my paint in my copy of THE CURIOUS GARDEN to see that the colors matched.

I brought my copy of the book with me on-site (see it there in the bottom right-hand side?)

Add a pinch of salt and a sore back after two weeks of work, and...

Voila! My own soup. I honestly don't think anyone would EVER confuse our paintings, and I don't think Peter Brown would have a legal leg to stand on if he took me to court (go ahead, try me, Mr. Brown. My brother's a lawyer). I think there's a big difference between ripping someone off, and taking things you admire from another artist and incorporating those things into your work.

Similarly, I am currently harvesting the vegetables of another artist for my current book:

Edgar Degas, I'll see you in court, too, sir.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I met another celebrity!!!!!

... MORE exciting than Michelle Kwan? I think the answer is YES!

Yup, right there in the middle is Illustration Icon Marla Frazee! And she is flanked by Julie Paschkis and Nancy Tillman! (moderated by Portland illustrator Brie Spangler, sitting in the fancy chair).

This meeting took place at Wordstock, a fabulous literary festival held each fall in Portland. I LOVE this festival- last year David Shannon and David Wiesner spoke TOGETHER. ON STAGE. FOR AN HOUR. It was like the best hour of 2010 for me. Anyway, this was another hour high on the list- these 3 illustrators spoke about their work and answered questions. I asked Marla what her favorite assignment to give to her students is... soon to be an assignment in my class at PNCA! I also got this little bon mot out of the hour:

"Take other people's vegetables, but make your own soup".

This is a better way of saying what I often say in class: "Steal from other people. Just change it enough so they won't sue you". But I think the vegetable saying is closer to the truth- take elements you admire from others, but be sure to make the work your own.

I was so happy I got to hear Marla speak- I missed her first talk of the day, as I was leading a workshop at the same time. A workshop about writing children's books, dur.

I opened with this photograph and a simple 4-minute writing exercise called, simply, "I Remember". One of the most important steps for me in becoming a children's book author and illustrator has been to get back into the midset of being a kid.

Something that helps me with this is to really, honesty remember what it was like to be a kid. Not through the rose-colored glasses of "adulthood", but the real worries and frustrations I felt. A good way to tap into those memories is through old photographs. You can try this at home- find a photograph of yourself as a kid, and write down as many honest memories as you can of that moment.

For example, I remember precisely when the above photograph was taken. I was in my room, busy doing something important, when my mom came in & told me to put on my overalls and come outside for a picture. First of all, I was annoyed at being interrupted- I was DOING something. Second of all, these were Strawberry Shortcake overalls, which I was too old to be wearing. Third of all, I had outgrown these overalls, so I had to sort of hunch over so I could even fit my torso inside them. My overall feelings at the time of this picture were that I was being unfairly forced to do a bunch of things I didn't want to, because I was a kid and she was my mom (I know, what a cruel mother). (I love you, Mom!)

Anyway, my point is, childhood is not a carefree time for ANYbody, and it's important to remember your worries, concerns, and joys in order to relate to your kid readers.