Monday, July 24, 2017

When is the Write Time?

May to July... Where did the time go? I have no self control about somethings, but am very disciplined about others. After all, I DID draw 366 mice (one for each day) in 2017. There have been years when I have done my Lenten Projects for 40 days and reached my goals. You can see the results of these productions at Pi-SunyerNaturally.com. So I don't feel incompetent or like a failure.

Since I last posted in May I did research and write the Centennial Journal for Camp Glen Gray. It turned out quite wonderfully, and I can't thank my friend Paul Holland enough for doing the production work on it. Everyone seems to love it, and I learned a lot working on the project. Our event in June, celebrating the 100th year of a former Boy Scout Camp my dad, uncles, brother and husband all attended, was a great success. That kept me busy too, setting up displays, writing press releases and such.

BUT this morning while doing my cardio exercise (fast walking with weights to tunes on my ipod nanno) I did a lot of thinking about how I can get myself to apply the same discipline to snacking, writing, drawing and clearing clutter. SIGH!! I guess it's a one day at a time scenario, just like drawing mice. The problem may be that with the previous projects I had something to show at the end of each day. NOT snacking, isn't visible. "Oh yes it is," says you. "You can track your weight." Well, I can tell you that there is no direct correlation there, as there are so many other factors that affect weight (meal size, saltiness of food, exercise duration and level, etc).

I just found a website that deals with "Staying on Track." There are six suggestions there and every one seems to have an application to my situation. #1 is to Focus on Fewer Things. The examples are - amusingly - starting a new business, writing a book, losing weight and redecorating the house. I"m trying to do three of those four things, and if you switch "barn" for "house" it's four for four! Wowsers!!! Someone is stealing my brain waves!  So I guess I need to prioritize and do #2, which is "Plan Ahead."

Looking at my calendar, I have nine days before there will be a chunk of days when I can't do anything on my lists due to other commitments. SO if I plan ahead and do #3 Set Milestones, I can accomplish a bit on several of my goals in that period and maybe even begin to do # 4: Build Good Habits.
 #1 - Focus on Fewer Goals: I have had this lovely window put in the barn to replace a broken window. The barn was painted last week and today the carpenter came to take out the windows for repair. I think the barn is off my list for the time being. Leaving my business, losing weight and writing.

Yesterday I drew one Mousekin picture for a set of birthday cards I want to have for sale on Mousekin Market.com later this year. If I do three more in the next 9 days I can feel good, but not stressed. For snacking/weight loss goal I just had  brilliant (I hope) idea. My usual dessert is two scoops of ice-cream. If I don't snack, I will allow my self this treat for the next 9 days. If I snack, it is fruit only for dessert. Starting right now!!  As for writing, I will find my dummy, clear my desk and spend at least one hour working at my desk for the next 9 days.

I now have some milestones and will, hopefully, be developing some good habits, by working toward these milestones.  Here is the chart that will go on my fridge. I'll be back to the blog next week to give you a report. I've already checked off two items for today. Now I'm going for another walk! Wish me luck AND try making a chart for yourself. In 9 days, or even 7, you can probably make a difference in you productive you are! Good Luck!!



Monday, May 1, 2017

Blogging When Life Gets In The Way of Your Plans

The fact that I had to spend half an hour to regain entry to this blog is proof that it's been WAY too long since I blogged. Last night while volunteering at the Montclair Film Festival I was discussing my book and art work with another volunteer and her husband. It was the frustration of feeling that I have a really good product, but can't seem to get the word out. She reminded me that I need to gather a blog following to have publishers take me seriously. So today when I checked into my blog, I was appalled to realize it has been 10 months since I made an entry.

Life tends to get in the way of plans...

Since I last blogged the following things have happened:
  • I've completed the remaining 162 (+) drawings of Moueskin
  • I took an 11,120 mile Great American Road around the U.S. with my husband 
  • We spent five days on the Navajo Reservation near Winslow, AZ delivering food and gifts to the Navajo elders with Adopt-A-Native-Elder
  • I've created a journal with drawings of our 52-day road trip
  • I've worked for about 2 weeks in the Admissions office at my old school earning extra money 
  • I've created three picture puzzles from Mousekin drawings
  • I've created three sets of notecards based on my Mousekin drawings (and sold quite a few sets)
  • I've  set up an on-line store (MousekinMarket.com) to sell my puzzles & notecards
  • I've made good progress in funding and producing a Centennial Journal for Camp Glen Gray and helping to plan the weekend-long event
  • I've gotten about 2,000 children's drawings of their favorite movies contributed from school children and posted around town for the Montclair Film Festival
  • I've had open-heart surgery and done 19 cardio-rehab sessions
  • I've made a poster and walked in The People's Climate March in Washington, D.C.
Not to mention the things we all need to do like cooking meals, organizing papers for taxes, weeding gardens, preparing for Christmas, volunteering at the library, doing laundry and reading WAY too many mysteries.

SO, my drawing skills have improved significantly, but my publishing skills have been rusting. My discussion at the Film Festival has reminded me of the need to focus. SO here I am back on line to share the continuing story of On The Laundry Lawn, my embryonic children's book.

Although I have a lot of commitments in the next two months, I will blog each week, and I will get back to an organized writing/drawing schedule and space. How?

  1. Watch Less TV
  2. Spend less time reading and more time writing
  3. Organize STUFF so I don't waste so much time looking for things
  4. Start some serious de-cluttering
If you want to encourage me, please post a comment. I will be looking for responses. I didn't meet all my goals for last year, but I DID draw my 366 mice and a few extra as well. If you want to see them  you can find the 366 at Pi-SunyerNaturlly.com under "The Mouse Project" and the 2017 mice at BackyardNaturally.net under "Mousekin and Friends". 

Have to run. Duty calls. See you next week! 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ten Things I Know I Need to do for a Successful Revision: Illustrating is More Fun Than Writing


The year is more than half gone and I have succeeded in producing a mouse illustration for each of the 204 days to date. I am encouraged that picture number 200 has garnered more  "Likes" in FaceBook than any picture so far.
"Mousekin Reunion - 200 Mice" took pretty much an entire day to complete, but it was fun. It is quite a different style than most of my drawings. I was amused when I finished to discover that I had included 206 mice, so I had to eliminate six of them. But I am very happy with how it turned out. SO happy that I have ordered a picture puzzle of it. If I like the puzzle, I will be selling it on my "MousekinMarket" on Zazzle.com

Maintaining the commitment to produce a mouse illustration every day has been difficult at times, but the joys of social networking provided constant feedback and encouragement, so I have been able to keep it up. Friends and family have "Liked", "Loved" and commented on every picture I've posted. Beaucoup thanks to all who watch for Mousekin every day. This really helps me to keep energized, though I admit that some days (or evenings) the inspiration is hard to gather to make it happen.  Discovering that a number of my drawings are now turning up on Google Searches for mice  or Mousekin, is encouraging too.

Perhaps that is why the writing seems more difficult. Distractions abound in everyone's lives, I am sure. But getting the energy so sit down and rewrite something that you've already written and rewritten dozens of times, something you've loved, is really the pits! I know the rewrites are needed to improve the book, but so many people loved it in the original form that it's hard to get motivated to revise.

Here are Ten Things I Know I Need to do for a Successful Revision:

1. Make time (Schedule it in writing on a calendar) to work regularly.
2. Work at my desk in my studio, not in the living room where distractions are legion.
3. Make a new storyboard with sketches and text on post-its for easy rearrangement.
4. Research wildlife species to find local species that can reasonably provide the numbers required for the counting book at the right time of year (late summer). [I included plants to count in the original version, but I think having it all animals to count will be more engaging.]
5. Get to know (more fully develop) Mama Mouse - now my main character. Have her guide the story where it needs to go.
6. Use Cheryl Klein's idea of writing a letter to a friend about the story, what it's about, what the story is, what I want the book to do, what I love about it and what I think needs work. Then actually share the letter with two or more sympathetic friends.
7. Map the backyard and mark where the action is happening. Accept that some things may need to be fudged, but try to make the story fit the scene.
8. Create a better hook for the first page.
9. Become more conscious of page turns and consider how Mousekin can improve them.
10. Keep reading about revising, but also keep writing revisions.

I'm going to work on #4 right now and see if that gets me off my duff and into the mood.  I'd like to join Mousekin for a strawberry daiquiri, but I think I'd better stick to iced tea for a bit. The day will be more productive that way, I'm sure.




 

Friday, January 29, 2016

On Revising Picture Books, Second Sight, and Drawing Mice

I am almost a month into the 2016 revision process on my children's book. Although I have been called in to help out at my old school, I am still making time to work on the book. I am finding a great deal of very useful information in Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein. My copy of this treasure is now sprouting dozens of post-its, marking  important points to consider. I have made quite a few changes already, and am certain many more will follow.

Ms. Klein has pulled together a number of talks that she presented at conferences around the country and has added some of her blog posts, worksheets and other helpful tips and tools. If you are working on a book for children, I strongly recommend this book as an incredibly useful reference. I couldn't find it at my local independent bookstore, so had to order it on line, but you can find it at Amazon.com. It is well worth the price.

The Mouse Project is progressing well. I have drawn, painted or collaged a mouse every day. It appears that folks love the mice which I am posting on my personal Facebook page. You can see them on my website Pi-SunyerNaturally.com. Use the navigation bar and got to "Projects" and you can click on "The Mouse Project" to see images that have been posted so far. This week, each mouse is rendered in the style of a different famous artist, so you can see a Princess Mouse after the style of Velazquez, a VanGogh Mousekin and tonight I will add a mouse in the style of Gaudi.

Many of my Facebook friends are making suggestions. It has occurred to me that 366 mice (this is a leap year) is a LOT of mice. Any suggestions for topics are welcome. Please remember that all my mice drawings are copyrighted, but if you want to use one, please contact me for permission and fees, if appropriate. I am generous about sharing, but it would be nice to earn a bit, considering the hours I put in on each creation.

Working on this project is forcing me to push myself into new mediums and styles. I am enjoying branching out, as well as learning a bit of what I should have learned in Art History class about each of the artists whose styles I am borrowing. I can now really see the influences Picasso and Matisse had on one another. They were great friends and shared much during their most creative years.

 While I want my illustrations to be charming, I also want the intentionally realistic ones to be scientifically accurate. This point was brought home to me when I picked up a new
 children's book at Watchung Booksellers the other day. One of the staff recommended it. I will pass on naming it, because I am loath to criticize a fellow author. The drawings are charming and the story is kind of sweet, but it is BAD science. The premise of the book is scientifically impossible. Unfortunately, young readers and (possibly) their parents will not know this. I will take this lesson to heart and work to be sure that in my book things happen as nature decrees. While there will be tidbits of anthropomorphism, animals and plants will be doing things that real animals and plants do, and not behaving in unnatural ways.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy fun books like If You Give  Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff, or de Brunhoff's Babar stories and Beverly Cleary's Mouse and the Motorcycle. But unless your story is clearly make believe, it should be scientifically accurate. The mallards in Make Way for Ducklings and the dog in Because of Winn-Dixie act like real ducks and real dogs. This makes the books so much richer. You know that the authors and illustrators really studied these species to get it right. That is what I aspire to. If it's supposed to be real, it must follow the rules of nature. If the story is a fanciful fiction with fun as the desired outcome, than let the silliness, sweetness, exaggeration and exceptional behavior abound!


Witness, my "Cat-and-Mousekin" in the style of Picasso. Obviously created for fun, not as a science lesson! This is very different from my woodland mouse leaping among grapevines and over logs. 


So I'd better get to work on my next mouse and get back to Second Sight. Month number two and mouse number 31 are at hand. I'd love it if you would post a comment. I need to know I am not writing into a black hole. Thanks so much.




Monday, January 4, 2016

Setting Goals for 2016: Revising Text & Illustrations/The Mouse Project

The resolution to revise and get my book into the hands of an agent in 2016 is set. I'm committed to doing this. I have begun to revise the text in line with suggestions made at the SCBWI workshop I attended in October of 2014. I've done a lot of other thinking and have decided to include more animals and fewer plants in my story.

With this in mind, I am focusing on mice. Mice will be my page turners and will, hopefully, engage my young readers. So...I have set myself the goal of 365 mice this year: one drawing or painting or collage of a mouse every day.

Day one (January 1st) I drew a skeleton and also a mouse. Here is the skeleton from a photo on-line.  I think proportions were off, because the mouse I did from this skeleton looked really weird. I won't even post it it was so strange.


Day two, I think I did better. Here is my second fuzzy mousie.

He/she is much cuter than my mouse on steroids and the proportions are better. Front right leg is still probably too long. But a definite improvement.

Mouse #2 is followed by Mouse #3, which is kind of cute, but I think this one's right rear foot is too big. What do you think?


Now it's January 4th and Mouse # 4 (below) seems a good improvement. This exercise goes to show that if you keep drawing every day, your drawings will get better. I expect by February I can start doing some fun things with my little mice. I will have to train them to do my bidding, but I think they will help me with my book.

Tonight I began revision of the text and am now realizing I may have to scrap one of my favorite pieces of text and its accompanying illustration.

This whole revision thing is not fun, in that one needs to dump things one has struggled to create. Still, I hope that my pipevine trellis may be of use in another place, either in this book or in another.

Tomorrow I will continue work on the text, do another mouse and try to begin training the mice to follow directions.

I'll also go see the new Star Wars movie. Maybe I should try a robo-mouse sometime. So many possibilities.

I'd love to know what you think of my mice so far.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Jerry Pinkney: Inspiring Illustrator

Last night, Jerry Pinkney was the guest speaker at the 29th Babson Memorial Lecture at the Montclair Art Museum. I think I purchased my ticket the day I received the invitation! I first discovered Jerry Pinkney when I was doing a survey of Caldecott winning books, to try to find a "formula" for winners of this prestigeous award. Since that time, I have not only learned that there is no formula, since the judges change each year, but I've learned a lot about Mr. Pinkney as well.

A Philadelphia native, he began his artistic career at around the age of 13, giving away or selling (for 50 cents of so) sketches he made while selling newspapers on a street corner in Philly. Jerry considers his boss at the newsstand to be one of his early mentors. His mother was another mentor, inspiring him by reading Uncle Remus stories and Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales to him. As early editions of neither of these books included many illustrations, he seems to have begun to create images to fit the stories in his own head. I remember being read Uncle Remus stories as well, since Jerry and I are only five years apart in age. Joel Chandler Harris's characters came alive through his words. Before Disney homogenized them and colored them with an airbrush, Bre'r Rabbit and Bre'r fox lived a rough and tumble, briar-scratched, tar-stuck life in the imaginations of generations of children like Jerry and me.

While the books usually had colorful covers, I remember mostly black and white line drawings within. Through the magical pencils and watercolors of Pinkney, the marvelous adventures of the sly fox and the trickster rabbit and their friends have gained new life and new color for present and future generations.    

We are fortunate that he has provided this same service for so many classics including many of those my father read to me: The Jungle Book, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Ugly Duckling and The Grasshopper and the Mouse.  A visit to his studio website www.jerrypinkneystudio.com 
will provide you with a reading list for the next few years. Between classics, stories he has illustrated written by others, and stories he has collaborated on, you have over 100 books, fairy stories, Bible stories and novels to pick from. 

That day I was surveying Caldecott winners, I fell in love with The Lion and the Mouse. If you have a copy, or have read it, I wonder if you realized how totally unique this book is. Did you notice that neither the front nor the back cover have the title of the book or the author's name? The time has come that a Pinkney illustration speaks for it's creator, declaring his authorship loudly and clearly.  The lion on the front cover and the mouse on the back are sufficient to tell any literate human, no matter his or her native language, what treasure of a story lies between those covers.

Among the gems presented to the audience at the Babson Lecture were the following facts and quotes.

  • 1 out of every 3 cowboys in the American West were people of color.
  • His books are based on pure fun and he is less interested in the finished drawing than in the process, and what he learns DOING the drawing. 
  •  In his work, the environment has a voice. His reference collection on science and nature is probably more comprehensive than many public library's.
  • Chipmunks live a purposeful life. 
  • His studio includes different stations for drawing, painting, researching, doing thumbnail sketches.
  •  "Always ask the narrative what the story needs." The illustrator is the bridge between the reader and the narrative. He always asks himself "Why did they pick me to do this book?" This helps to inform him how to go to work on it.  
  • Pinkney always wants to learn from each book he illustrates.
    
His advice for young people wanting to become illustrators? "Get a sketch book and draw every day!" He says, it's hard work, but it's worth it!

Pinkney's love of nature come out clearly through his work. Although raised in the city, in his youth he periodically spent time in a fairly rural area of New Jersey where a family member had a home adjacent to the woods. That was where he discovered that nature was a safe place for him to go, and that it gave him an opportunity for for personal safety and space, away from a crowded home in very urban Philadelphia.

Through Pinkney's art, I have no doubt that many children are finding that connection with nature which so richly fills the pages of every book he illustrates.

It is refreshing for this hopeful author/illustrator to know that Jerry has recently begun exploring new mediums and combinations, as I have begun exploring illustration. He recently "discovered" pastels and is busy experimenting and looking forward to finding out where this may lead his art.

Perhaps we can look forward to a story about the three chestnuts, with illustrations in pastels to reflect the glossy,  ox-blood treasures that are currently dropping all around us in the autumn landscape, encased in prickly treasure chests. His art can make them last forever. It's time for me now to give the horse-chestnut a try in my sketch book.  Here it is. What do you think?


My art, too is informed by nature. I hope you will visit me at Pi-SunyerNaturally.com, to see my work as well. I am currently working on a book cover for Flowers of the Holy Land: 50 Blessed Plants in Jesus Life. 

If you visit the current exhibit, "Eric Carle: Animals and Friends" at the Montclair Art Museum, be sure to check out the student illustration exhibit in the hallway on the ground floor. You will see three of my illustrations and many other wonderful products of the Yard School of Art class"Writing and Illustrating Books for Children," taught by Kristine Lombardy.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief reprise of last night's lecture and will leave a comment and explore the links you find here.

Happy illustrating!


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Listen to the Pros - Going Back to Art School

Last week was back-to-school week for me. I was a bit nervous, but am now feeling pretty darn fine about making the decision. I was able to sign up for Beginning Illustration at Montclair State University. My classmates are all undergraduates and, I think, all are art majors. Following our first critique yesterday, I am feeling okay. The first assignment was a self portrait that told something about the artist. There was an abundance of anxiety attached to that assignment. I've never been great at drawing faces and was very nervous about doing this, not having a clue what anyone else was capable of.

My portrait illustrates me peeking into a new world of art and illustration. It includes books, drawing pencils and my slightly-off balance jackalope. The exercise was very useful in starting to get a handle on value. It helped me remember that composition is very important, and that I didn't pay enough attention to it the first time around, when I was an undergrad art major.

I am incredibly impressed by the technical skills of several of my classmates. Many of them have a firm grip on design which I hope to emulate. I am learning about value: light and darkness. It is amazing to me how changes in value can change a picture.

The next assignment was to draw an egg, from two different view points and on two different surfaces: one light, one dark. It's very challenging.  I've learned it's a good idea to take photos and turn them into black and white. I never realized before how different color is from value. I am learning a lot. Our professor, Scott Gordley, is giving us interesting assignments and providing useful feedback that helps us all to improve our work.

The egg project is very challenging, because we are responsible for making an interesting composition, as well as creating a technically precise likeness. Looking at eggs with strong lighting is interesting, as you end up with part of the egg being almost black.

I am learning many new ways of changing value. Spots and dots, lines and cross-hatching, shading and contrast. Still work to do on both pictures, but feeling pretty good about them.

While I am excited about what I am learning in my Illustration class, I'm spending a lot of time on other projects as well. Lots of family history things going on. Hopefully in the next month or two I can make time to get back to the writing part of my children's book.

I need to find an agent. If you know someone who works in the arena of children's picture books, please send me names. I'd prefer someone in the New York area if possible. Message me on LinkedIn or email me at npi-sunyer@verizon.net.

Looking forward to touching base with you again soon, but need to get back to my homework.