Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Up with Figs

Up with Figs is back after a hiatus!

Once upon a time, Lisa and Adrienne worked for the same alternative newsweekly. Now, both spend their respective lives mining their creative souls and leading hermit-like lives. And so an idea was hatched. Every week, one would send the other a sketch—either in illustration or word form—and the other would make a companion to the sketch. The result would be posted on both their blogs every week, just for grins. Even if the result isn't award-worthy, the exercise makes both minds more nimble. Hopefully.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Why it's good to have cats and dogs.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Put Your Records On

So the 78 rpm record collection is coming along nicely, thanks to a recent trip to Nashville and digging around in Knoxville. I love jazz and blues from the 1920s and 1930s, but I'm also having fun finding old cowboy music records. I'm not really particular about what shape they're in as long as they're playable and not terribly expensive. I've not reached the obsessive collector phase of hunting for rare, pristine records. Yet. I have plenty of this music on CD, but there's something about hearing it on these old shellac records that I love. It's like being in a time capsule.

It's a joy to find the records I love—I found a couple of Billie Holidays, not in great shape, but listenable—and it's a joy to make discoveries. And since these records don't have printed sleeves, I decided it would be fun AND A JOYOUS WASTE OF TIME to research who these artists were, create a portrait of them, and make a simple record sleeve, of sorts, with their bios. That way each time I pull out a record I'll have something to read while I listen.

The first one I've made is for one of my favorites, Henry "Red" Allen. Have a read.

I wanted to create a sleeve that slips around the generic 10" record sleeve so you can still read the beautiful old record labels with, more importantly, the artist and song information. There's still an area on the upper right side for collector's details about the record (some chipboard-style sleeves have printed boxes located there). The clear plastic sleeve encases all of it. So I came up with something like this:

With the bio information on the flip side:

I need to mess with the design a bit more, but Lucy seems to approve. She likes licking plastic. It's creepy.

So I suppose now and then I will post new sleeves as I create them.

Up next, a new discovery for me: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys! Get ready to cowboy swing!

For the uninitiated, here's a beautiful bit recorded by Red Allen with Coleman Hawkins back in 1933.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mabel P. Beefensqueeter at your service

Mabel P. Beefensqueeter, surly imaginary FAQ line assistant, returns.

While Miz Lisa goes off to celebrate her upcoming birthday, I, Mabel P., have been left to deal with a sudden onslaught of imaginary FAQs and a kind invitation from friend and fellow illustrator John Lechner to take part in a game of blog tag with other creative types.

John is a talented art director, animator, children's book author/illustrator, and comics illustrator based in Boston. His weekly webcomic, Sticky Burr, is a really fun and wonderfully drawn adventure. He also is an art director at FableVision in Boston.

John tagged Lisa to write about her creative process after writing a post about his own.

Since Lisa is probably in the South of France somewhere, eating bonbons, I, Mabel P., have researched her archives and, armed with information about her artsy fartsy days, will do my level best to write about her work in her absence by answering four questions. I will be expecting a bonus after this.

What am I working on currently?

Madam has just finished writing and illustrating a children's book about the mishaps of a flying squirrel, titled Sabrina: A Great Smoky Mountains Story. From what I hear it will be published early Spring 2015. 

The next project is a graphic novel for an older audience (YA and adults) about a 15-year-old boy during The Great Depression. It is based on stories Lisa's dad and others have told about what it was like back then, but the characters themselves will be fictional.

The book is still in its early stages, and since Lisa has not published a graphic novel before, she plans to create the whole book before even attempting to send it to publishers. Who knows, she may even publish it herself, either as an online project or as an eBook. It will be filled with music, strange characters, a planned shotgun wedding, and a game of cat-and-mouse.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Lisa builds puppets for her books. When I say "puppets," I mean animation-style puppets, the kinds similar to the ones used in stop-motion animation films such as "Coraline," "The Nightmare Before Christmas," and the upcoming "The Boxtrolls." These kinds of puppets are created with a kind of posable skeleton frame called an armature. After the armature is made, it can be covered up with silicone, foam, fabric, or wool. The armatures' simplicity is based on how much it will need to be posed. If it's going to go through a lot of torture (more poses, causing wires to become fragile), a more durable armature is built.

For "Sabrina" Lisa made a wire armature and covered it with felted wool. It held up reasonably well, considering. She has built soldered brass ball-and-socket armatures for other projects. 

Her editor sent her a frozen flying squirrel for reference. The goal was not to make a super-realistic flying squirrel, but since Lisa had never seen a real flying squirrel up close and personal, the specimen was good to have. 

" 'Allo, daffy English kniggets and Monsieur Arthur-King, who has the brain of a duck, you know! I wave my private parts at your aunties, you cheesy lot of second hand electric donkey bottom biters."

Why do I write what I do?

Hell, I don't know why Lisa writes what she does. Why are you asking me? Oh, wait—you didn't ask me. Uh, okay, I'll try to answer for her since she's in the south of France eating bonbons and cavorting about naked in the countryside.

Why does anyone write what they write? Probably because there's something eating away at you that you just have to get down on paper. Maybe the world is pissing you off and you want to give it a good talking to. Maybe you just have a burning desire to tell a good story and have people in your clutches for a few minutes, hours, or days. Maybe you're good at writing and you write to pay the bills. Maybe you know how good it feels to escape into a story. Maybe you just can't do anything else.

Based on what Lisa pays me, Mabel P. Beefensqueeter, I can tell you she ain't doing it for the money, pal. 

What is my writing/creative process?

Become obsessed with a character you've created in your head. Build a world around it. Scratch out ideas of what this character looks like.

Take naps.

Drink caffeinated beverages. Take walks, or better yet, walk your dog.

Start writing things down. Write more stuff down. Think yourself immensely clever and laugh at your own dumb jokes.

Move the cat.

Make sketches of some of the different scenarios in the book. If it's a picture book, Lisa writes the manuscript first but will draw character sketches as she writes.

Figure out how to pace the story. Where should it slow down? Where should it speed up? Do quick little thumbnail sketches.

Small and scratchy scratchy thumbnail sketches for Sabrina.

Proceed to full-sized sketches. Put together a mock-up of the book, send to editor. Wait to hear back for comments. Argue over requested changes. Make agreed-upon changes. Send a revised PDF to editor, who gives the okay to proceed to final art.

Photograph the puppets.

Digitally paint the backgrounds and merge with puppet photos.

Rescue puppet head mauled by cat. Re-felt.

Send PDF of completed book with art in place to editor. Wait for comments. Argue over comments. Make agreed upon changes.

Collapse into puddle of exhaustion. Wait for book to be officially published.

* * *

Next up in our game of writer/illustrator tag-a-go-go is Linda Davick

Lisa's friend Linda is a wonderful author/illustrator based in San Francisco. Years ago they both worked at the same publishing house in Tennessee. Her children's books include her most recent, I Love You Nose! I Love You, Toes! and she illustrated the wonderful counting book series by Janet Schulman: 10 Easter Egg Hunters, 10 Trick-or-Treaters, 10 Trim-the-Tree'ers, and 10 Valentine Friends.

And so, without further ado, here's Linda's blog. Keep your eyes peeled for her creative process blog in the next few days.

Tag! You're it!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Look out, below!

Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last.
The book art is done…for now.

For those of you following along at home or wherever you are in the ionosphere, exosphere, or whatever sphere you happen to inhibit, you will notice something a little different about my beloved Dudley the flying squirrel—the protagonist in my latest soon-to-be-published picture book. HE'S NOW A SHE!

My editor and I went around and around over what to call this book, and we're still grappling. But for now, the working title (and working cover art) for the book is "Sabrina." It may or may not change. Such is the world of publishing.

How, oh how was Dudley wrested from my grasping clutches? Well, my editor had an idea, and after some angst I had to admit it was a good idea. The scientific name for Northern flying squirrels, which is what then-Dudley-now-Sabrina is, is Glaucomys sabrinus. And so the name Sabrina seemed like a natural fit. I like the idea of having the protagonist be female, even though it doesn't matter all that much in this story. We need more girl heroes in our culture anyway.

So that's that. I still think of her as Dudley, though. Old habits are hard to break.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Put a hat on it

I seem to delight in creating pissed-off animals wearing hats. This particular squirrel does not like wearing an acorn helmet.

Seriously. This hat thing is getting out of hand.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What really matters

I came across this email from a friend, sent a few months ago:

I gave Squawking Matilda  to a new grandmother, and her thank you note included:

"In fact, I must confess that I've read it to Mother [who has Alzheimer's], who enjoyed the story and lit up when she saw the illustrations." 

Didn't know if you realized how many different kinds of people you make happy with your work. Congrats on the new flying squirrel book!

While I slog through finishing the artwork for the new book, finding this meant the world to me right now. (Thanks, Cindy!)

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Warming up for today's work load.

I like skaters.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


When life gives you puppets, you make Frankensquirrels.

All work on the squirrel book and no play makes Lisa a dull girl. It seemed that mix-and-match heads were in order. All of the sculpted heads were used for other various projects. Logic told me they should be popped onto the felted squirrel bodies.

The one that kind of has a John Waters head appears to be bursting into song, maybe "If I'd Known You Were Coming I'd Have Baked A Cake."

Why, yes, working on this book IS making me slightly daffy. Why do you ask?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Today's burnt offering

Sometimes a guy just can't get any sleep.

(Detail from one of the book illustrations.)

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