Monday, November 29, 2010

Museum Surprises (or how to get your child to turn off his Nintendo)

7 Year Old Inspired by Durer

Thanksgiving weekend is often one big overload; too much driving, too much food. This year I decided to break up our annual upstate NY Food n’ Family fest with a day trip. As a child my parents often took me to Williamstown Massachusetts and I wanted to take my kids to see it. The drive, I remembered, was always beautiful, hilly, full of steep inclines. There were terrifying moments with Dad, in the driver’s seat, making hairpin turns at 75mph while pointing out the window to show me the sights.

We'd usually go to the Sterling Clark Institute. I told my sons about this huge museum packed with French Impressionists.  Mostly Renoirs. I didn’t like Renoir as a child and I’m still not a huge fan. But I was always enthralled by the huge painting of Nymphs and Satyr by Bougereau and a naive wood carving by Gauguin that hung over a doorway.
Neither of these pieces was there anymore. Even the Renoirs were on tour. And the museum itself, while impressive for a small collection, was pretty…well…small. But what they do they do well. And they currently are running a fantastic Albrecht Durer exhibit. His skill was amazing, his imagination mindboggling, his fantastical woodcuts and engravings were ground breaking at the time. But for a seven year old I wondered how a day in the museum would compare with a day full of TV and Wii games.

I’ll tell you how it compared. My boy fell in love with the artwork. There was a Durer Drawing Day underway when we arrived. He and I were handed pads of papers, portable drawing boards, some supplies, and the opportunity to sit for a lesson with a “real artists.” We concluded that WE were “real artists” and skipped the lessons. We headed in to see the drawings.  My son came face to face with some amazing pieces, some fantastic symbolism. Three-headed spewing dragons.  Angels battling demons. Odd looking roaming animals. What more could a kid want?

He didn’t want to copy Durer's artwork. He wanted to be inspired.  People sat all over the floor, drawing in corners, on benches, against the walls. I saw many children that were clearly gifted and spent hours on one piece. My boy’s drawings were quick and constant. He plowed through the drawing pad. He refused to leave. I dragged him to see other artwork but he was too moved by the Durers. He came back and drew his own demons. Angels. Gravestones. Skeletons floating into the sky. We went back to my mother’s house later and he dragged out the paints. He painted more.
I bought him a book of Durer’s woodcuts. “My first art book” he said proudly. It was a good Thanksgiving weekend. My boy is inspired and I’m truly thankful. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Children’s Book Bandwagon

Detail of illustration of book I've written

Pretty much everyone is writing children’s picture books nowadays. 
There are, of course, the celebrities: Madonna, John Lithgow, Julie Andrews, Kathie Lee Gifford, Tori Spelling…. Perhaps it’s their second career. I can’t fault them for that. I’m working on MY second career.

But my sneaky suspicion is that “how hard can it be?” popped up in their minds. Followed by “I bet this would make a great idea for a children’s book!” I'd like to think that my favorite children’s book authors never ever have that thought. They have a story to tell and the stories just happen to be for children.  They don’t moralize. They don’t talk down to kids. And I’d bet that they don’t ever think “what child wouldn’t love to hear my story about a (insert favorite barnyard animal here)?” 

This trend is not limited to celebs. I can say with great certainty that, myself included, almost everyone has thought of a “great idea for a children’s book.” How do I know? Because I’m an Illustrator. And practically not a week goes by that some friend or relative or friend-of-a -friend or friend-of-a-relative doesn’t ask me to illustrate their book. Maybe they’ve just been introduced to me. Maybe they’ve never seen my work.  For all they know I could produce evil evil artwork that would make Hieronymous Bosch blush.* Doesn’t matter. They have a great book about a little (turtle, girl, rabbit, gender-confused child) that they know I can help them with. 

I’ve only said Yes once. To a wonderful cousin who can write well and has good things to share with children.  I really wanted to work with her and it’s been a great experience. In my experience most publishing companies prefer to find their own illustrators for books by first time writers. So truthfully the writers shouldn’t bother hiring me anyway.  They should feel free, however, to recommend me to their publishers!

Right now I’m fine-tuning a few picture books that I’ve written. They have been pretty tough to fine-tune. Writing for children can be harder than it looks.  I guess we can’t all be Tori Spelling, Bette Midler, The Prince of Wales, John Travolta, and Jimmy Buffet.

*I’m hoping to sprinkle my blog posts with references to artists. I know you all have all “Googled” your second grade nemesis, that good looking physical therapist you once met, that date that stood you up. So I know you can “Google” a few artists. If you don’t know Hieronymous then please look him up. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010


This is supposed to be My Year. The Year I've Been Waiting For.

My children can officially dress themselves in weather-appropriate ensembles. They are now old enough that they cringe at the sight of me in a Halloween costume. Particularly when I wave at them maniacally from the curb. They can find their own snacks without setting the kitchen ablaze. These were my first clues that it had finally arrived. The Year of Paula.

Like Kafka's Gregor I plan to metamorphosize. Hopefully my resulting transformation will be more of a positive experience for me than it was for poor Gregor. For starters, I hope not to repel people. In fact, I hope the opposite to be true. Hopefully this year and this blog will be the start of a journey that will take me to new wonderful places and help me meet fantastic people. I hope to make it a positive experience for those around me and I want to pass my excitement on to the children I teach and those that I raise. And I hope to avoid setting off the smoke detector in my kitchen as much as possible.

I usually measure my year in school years. September to September. I don't think I'll ever stop measuring my years this way and since I intend to teach art in elementary schools, I suppose it's fitting. So from September 2010 to September 2011 I will attempt to do the following:

  • Update my illustration website. (Thank you to web designer Linda Bradler, designer to the stars. And me.)
  • Start substitute teaching.
  • Get certified to teach art.
  • Finish illustrating the children's books I've written.
  • Continue to keep my family fed in the half-hearted manner to which they've become accustomed.
  • Not get so distracted with all the above that, instead of art, I create roadkill.
  • Keep you updated on all of the above. Particularly the roadkill.