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I was raised with saints, and songs, and lighting candles in the dark. Every Christmastime, before dinner, we would go around the house turning the lights out while my mother would light the advent wreath. We'd return to huddle around her guitar in the dark so we couldthis song. I will never forget the way the eerie tune shimmered with the flame in the black, transforming our living room with thrown shadows. Shoulder to shoulder with my siblings, it was ancient and anticipatory and made the hairs of our arms stand up.
Tonight, in many nordic countries, girls will wear crowns of lit candles, there will be saffron buns, and songs, and if you dig WAY back into history, you can find more solstice-based Celtic/Germanic/Nordic traditions that still remain part of Lucia's night. Here is a warm up sketch I did in the studio today. Though she does not wear candles, I still named her Lussinata. Perhaps she predates Lucia, and is on her way to a bright Yule festival (Jól).
This Sunday October 20th from 11-3, join picture book makers for a family event on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. There will be music, story hour, book signing, book making with Peter Reynolds and David McCauley, and I'll be drawing free stuffed animal portraits alongside Kelly Murphy, Barbara McClintock, Scott Magoon, Matt Tavares, and more! Donations will benefit the Boston Children's Hospital Emergency and Trauma Unit.
We Art Boston is a picture book-themed fundraising effort orchestrated by local illustrator Joe McKendry and his wife, Susan. Read Joe and Susan's touching mission statement HERE.
The We Art Boston picture book auction is on NOW through October 24th, with all proceeds funding the Boston Children's Hospital Emergency and Trauma unit. My limited edition Dotty giclée HERE and signed (and glittery) copy of Dotty HERE.
Many things happening here behind the scenes. Can't wait to share! Until then, I'm just grateful to say some hopeful seeds that were planted, are beginning to POP POP POP (simultaneously of course, because Life always seems to bloom at once, with your having very little say in the matter!)
You know those moments in career, interior life, childhood, where a definite movement, a shift, change, wings its way in and asks the question: "Ok. It's time. Are you ready?"... and it's usually when you aren't 100% sure you are, but you are finally willing to try? As September begins, I hear the question again, for the many changes ahead. It always makes me feel small and thrilled.
September is all about this question though, isn't it? Back-to-school, new starts, many people in our circle, dear friends, family are being asked that question too. Yum. There is nothing more delectable to me than crisp-edged transition! And a precipice should always be located between seasons, I think. The leaves have not yet changed, so you can have one foot in Fall and one foot in Summer.
But this is my favorite time of year, regardless! It's the edge between two seasons, really. I'll call it the Magic Season. When peaches overlap apples. Buses roar. Books are written and read and come to life. Jazz and cities play, but fiddles and shore are still alive. You pick up the search again for a perfect yellow sweater, maybe you'll find it this year...What do you like about this time of year?
Greetings, friends. Hope you are enjoying your summer! Yes, it's slowed down over here on the bloggy. Life is moving fast, summer is speeding by like a cloud in the sky. Yesterday, I visited my friend Amanda's art class at camp in Brookline. Dotty came along, and we made our own imaginary friends (including necessary yarn leash for keeping track of them!) The building was beautiful, full of light, paint, and clay everywhere...It practically shouted: LET'S MAKE MAKE MAKE!
Elmer's 'n' spots!
A sampling of some great imaginary friends:
"Force Field" and his twin.
A whole party, ringleader named "Cute." There was also a "Snorkel" in the crowd.
At long last: Part III! Sorry for the delay, I was with the Fairy Bells themselves (art for Book 3, the cover for Book 5 now finished.) I promised you a trip to Sheepskerry Island, so let's go!
I have been WAITING to tell you about this secret trip for almost a year!
What made it so secret?
Well, (1) the Fairy bells were not yet announced, and (2) Sheepskerry itselfwas based on a real and secret island (which shall not be revealed) on midcoast, Maine. It cannot be found on a GPS. It is only known by locals. There are no streets or cars on it, just worn paths for wheelbarrows and boardwalks for feet. The only way to get there is to drive up a winding mainland road clutching a detailed map written by Margaret McNamara herself, putting a lot of trust in her, your little city Civic, and a lobster boat...
Lobster boat? Yes, lobster boat. You must leave your car here, at the tippity top of the hill, and get on one, if you want to cross the water. While you wait, you will be stunned by the view that suddenly opens up ahead: a sparkling bay dotted with islands. Sheepskerry is SO secret and small that someone (a kind, older woman, also waiting for the lobster boat on your bench) might lean over and ask: "Who do YOU know on the island?" Because everyone knows everyone on the island!
(In the books, there is a fairy ferry...and it is a harbor seal named Merryweather, see Book 3.)
So that is how to get to Margaret McNamara's favorite place, home to the Fairy Bell sisters. Before I continue, I'll tell you the third and final secret: Margaret's real name is Brenda (she writes as Margaret and represents artists and writers as rep Brenda Bowen). She graciously invited me up last August, so I could see Sheepskerry myself, take pictures, and learn how to build a proper fairy house. It was a pleasure getting to meet her, and her family, and childhood friends. Most of them have summered on this island for generations.
When the lobster boat reached Sheepskerry, I could see Brenda arriving at the dock, accompanied by her family (right away I spotted her and daughter's red hair and freckles–thought of Rosy!) It was a treat to finally meet her after the long journey, emailing, and reading her stories. And, just like the Summer People do in Book 2, we loaded my bags into a big wheelbarrow and headed up the footpath to her cottage, passing friends and fields of wild flowers on the way.
Author, Margaret McNamara
I wasn't prepared for the meadows! They stole the breath right out of me. The Fairy Bells' world expanded into wildflower blooms and sun. My lungs were filled with the kind of air you can't breathe in the city. It was a old-fashioned, unplugged place, surrounded by blue, magical even just for those reasons, if not for the fact a whole village of fairies were living here, and I'd get to meet them soon...
We passed Brenda's friends on the way to her house. We set the wheelbarrow down so I could meet them: Betsy, and her daughter, Isadora (who served as the inspiration for one very crafty, creative and stylish fairy–guess who?) She even let me peek into her attic craft room full of scraps of cloth and strings of beads and yarn, dolls and dresses in the works. Goldie would have loved it up there...
We reached Brenda's cottage and she showed me my room so I could set my bags and supplies down...there I spied a wildflower bouquet (what would become Rosy's wildflower bouquet in Book 2!)
Lunch was on the porch (which included, yes, Fairy Cake, recipe in Book 1) with the wind whipping and the sound of surf. We finally had a good chat. We talked about Clara, Rosy, Sylva, Goldie and Squeak, J. M. Barrie. It was fascinating to hear about her many hats in the publishing industry.
We laughed when we found out we were both from a big family, full of sisters. And I could tell she liked pretending. It's always interesting, being an adult who makes a living at pretending. And it's especially fun to meet another who does, too. You can relax, you can be kindreds. Brenda was full of ideas and always had a glint in her eye. I could tell she had some adventures planned. Sure enough she announced it was time for our first appointment on Sheepskerry: Building Fairy Houses!
Is it terrible I had never made a fairy house until that day? Have you? I was a little nervous. Brenda, Betsy, Isadora, and Avery (a "Summer Child" who came through the woods to join us) knew just how to do it. Isadora patiently explained that you use only found and natural things in a fairy house (but more on How To Build A Fairy House later, I'll be making a post for that).
Here are some highlights from the woods...
Look at the tiny furniture Isadora made with bits of bark!
(For al fresco fairy dining.)
The boardwalk runs right by Fairy Village, just as it does in Book 2, when the fairies hide in their homes from the loud summer children (and dogs)...
I topped mine off with a found crab's head chimney.
Betsy's looked like a sacred fairy place, a good place for a wedding?
Then we toured Sheepskerry, with Brenda leading me to all the places she wrote about...
Avery joined us too!
(Where I imagined the mermaids from Book 2.)
Evidence of troll-life?
It wasn't long before I could really SEE the Fairy Bells living under the ferns and tall pines, playing cards in their mossy little house. When sunset came, we all paraded down the boardwalk toward "White Rose Cottage" for dinner on their back porch facing the bay. It was a sweet bunch of people, a night of old island tales, twinkling light. I was so grateful to be a part of it and invited to Sheepskerry.
Dinner on the island.
Yes it was a visit to a real place, but one woven with ribbons of fiction. Everywhere we walked, even during dinner, or in the middle of a story, Brenda would break into a whisper with a wink, a nudge and a Fairy Bell clue...that "this" or "that" was something from third book, or where Goldie collects sea glass. The best part of our jobs, as book makers I think, is to pretend, and I was honored to be able to do it alongside Margaret McNamara, in the place where the Fairy Bells lived...
Farewell, till next time, thanks for making the trip up to Sheepskerry!
Books 1, 2 are all available wherever books are sold:
If you'd like to read the rest of the Fairy Bell Blog Kickoff, Part I: Fairy Bell Release Day is HERE and Part II: Behind the Scenes With the Bells is HERE. This summer I'll be posting How to Build Your Own Fairy House, so I'll be seeing you again very soon...!
Good morning! Today is the second installment of the blog kickoff for the Fairy Bell Sisters! Books 1 and 2 are out on shelves now. For Part II: Behind the Scenes With the Bells, I'd love to show you some sketching from the studio...
Once again, I found myself drawing siblings, and sisters, no less! As the oldest of five kids, it's always fun to seek out that "family resemblance" and build from there. There were lots of conversations about the Bell sisters between Margaret, Donna, Amy and the sales team. We settled on the idea that every fairy would look related but be distinctly individual (in hair color, skin tone, facial features, clothing style). I knew from the manuscript that these fairies lived in a very natural world and loved to play and accessorize with mussel shells and pine cones, feather skirts and milkweed pods...
But first, I wanted to nail down my art style and decided what level of reality these fairies would exist in. It would help me to build the characters and world. Donna and Amy asked to see two styles: my graphic "crayon" style and a more realistic approach. So I experimented with Sylva (previously named "Silver")...
(Pardon the sushi!)
Style #1: Crayon (Interesting to imagine the series if it had gone this way, right?)
Style #2: Realism
The team decided on realism, so I set to work on the sisters. At this point, I only had the manuscript for the first book. My favorite job as an illustrator is to extract visual clues from the author's story, and balance that with how they behave in my imagination. Choosing wing colors and variations on each fairy was a SUPER girlhood dream come true...I was in second-grade again!
Sylva was always platinum blonde in my mind, a little translucent and wispy. She's brave too (as you will see in the troll battle) and quick-thinking. Sylva always seems wide-eyed to me and seeking adventure. I kept imagining her as if she'd JUST landed for a moment to say hello before flying off again...
From the text, I knew Clara had dark skin that shimmered against an aqua gown. She is the oldest, very strong-willed, and a confident leader for her sisters. I gave her a noble gaze.
Goldie's the stylish, slightly self-involved sister, but with a heart of gold and a love of creativity. I imagined her weaving leaves and flowers into her hair. Sadly, her pixie-bangs were asked to be deleted, but I added them to other fairy friends later in the series!
Rosy is brave, patient, loyal, and selfless. She has endless amounts of encouragement for her sisters, and an unguarded heart. I knew that the author imagined her as a redhead so I went that way...
Squeak is just plain awesome. She's a baby fairy and can speak her own language! Examples: "Bo-bo"= let's eat, and "No lo-lo" = don't be sad. I pictured her with a wild little top knot!
Then we started on the first two cover sketches. Sylva would be holding a mermaid's pearl or sea glass (from her exploits on the beach) and Rosy would have an armful of wild flowers (for a certain summer child...)
And as you might imagine, there were MYRIAD outfit changes in the course of sketching and revised sketching, painting, and Photoshopping! I think we got Sylva and Rosy to where they needed to be:
Thanks for stopping by! Come back for Part III: Visiting Sheepskerry Island, my trip to meet author Margaret McNamara and our real-life adventures on Sheepskerry Island!
Today is the day Clara, Rosy, Golden, Sylva and Baby Squeak (Hortensia) officially fly from the island to bookshelves everywhere! They would absolutely love to meet you, and I'd love to introduce them:
The sisters live here, on Sheepskerry Island:
Book #1 features brave & quick-thinking Sylva Bell:
There are water fights, troll attacks, balls, ....
Book #2 features big-hearted Rosy Bell:
With summer children, secret letters, daring chases, fairy houses...
Book #1& #2 are available wherever books are sold. Book #3, featuring Goldie, comes in September. Big congratulations to enchanting Bell author Margaret McNamara (her new FB page is here) and who dreamed the world, the sisters and their adventures up! And to the B+B team: Amy Ryan, Donna Bray, Erin Fitzimmons for the gorgeous design, type, art direction, encouragement and unending energy.
(P.S. The paperbacks shimmer!)
I'll be posting Part II: Behind the Scenes With the Bells, and Part III: Visiting Sheepskerry Island. So stay tuned. Welcome to the adventure!
It's here! It's officially here! In New England, we are clinging tightly to the hope of Spring! It comes after the longest, meanest winter I can remember. It wasn't so much the ferocity of it, but the length and the relentless pace of its storms. No sunshine for weeks, white on white. I heard a meteorologist explain that this pummeling-by-snowstorm all the way to the bitter end is the atmosphere's way of balancing out. But! No more snow talk! You know what Spring is? Brave. And so is color. We can help speed the new season in with pops of it...
A color CAN save you. Green always will.
Dear-to-my-heart Annie Moore of Candlewick lore, color-comrade, and writing partner with some brave green growing right out of her pocket!
I am convinced tubes of paint are magic charms. This particular shade of new-shoot green is my current color affair. It is also conveniently bottled as "April Green" by Dr. Ph Martin. #colorfever
I'm turning 30 (oomph) on Sunday. I was born in the heart of winter. I will be honest and tell you 29 has been hard. (I hear the 30's are a piece of cake! ;) But this year, friendship is what has pulled me back when I reached for it. I am learning too, that it is OK to reach for it. Does it make us grown-up to realize we're small? That it's ok to be vulnerable? That we can't do everything ourselves? That sometimes we need to rely on hearts around us...that it's an honor to rely on, and to be relied upon.
Friendship is the thing I am most grateful for as I come to the end of this decade. It is a deep treasure! To have one and to be one. To need one and to search for one. To find one and to become one. It's what can bloom between us in the heart of Winter, when we are not afraid to let it Spring. ♥
An enormous Happy 30th to my best childhood friend, Kay, today! (She goes over the hill first!)
Hey, Tuesday! Interrupting fairy deadlines with a bit of news: I'm excited and honored to be included in this cheery collection of contemporary watercolorists. The book is beautifully designed and includes some of my esteemed favorites like Becca Statdlander, Sujean Rim, what company! Watercolor hits stores in April. Thanks to the fine folks at Chronicle, and author/curator Leslie Ann Dutcher.
Good morning! (Sidenote: I've just broken my own freelance-rule: walked into the studio in my jammies. Oops.) Oh well, such is January. Everything I've been working on in here is top secret, but since that's no fun, I'll share some warm-up sketches. Here goes:
In the fairy realm I am working in, the author has decided to treat wings as detachable accessories, which is very kind of her considering there is a lot of dressing up and going to balls (wings and gowns-eek). Swimming might be another perfect situation to take advantage...
After drawing her, I realized she might be my own version of Thumbelina(above).
Hope you have a lovely week! If you spot a fairy under your nearest toadstool, be sure to report.
It's crunchy out. The sun is in your eyes, ice is underfoot. City people hurry by, faces wound in scarves. We are on the freshest edge together, newly whet by winter.
Isn't it exciting? There is hope on this edge, that things can change, that we can shape our own little worlds. It's fresh and clean and everything is new...you've got new ideas, (new socks, maybe), new plans, new hopes. It's a time for travel, opening the eyes (I've been keeping my eyes on this important movement), learning a language, reading deeply, and dreaming long dreams, interior adventures, interior decorating, prayer, nesting, gathering friends and family to light up the corners. It flavors your back-to-work tasks with possibility, re-enlivens your livelihood.
My sister, Christa, aptly dubbed it, "home keeping/possible magical worlds season"...YES. (She always says it best.) I like the in-between-seasons, maybe even more than the main events. I think it's because of their quiet power. It's when all the secret work is being done before something is ready to bloom....
As far as seasonal nesting, my eyes always return from break fixed on pattern and color. I've been aiming to surround us in delft blue and Scandinavian pattern. I love how pattern can turn a corner into a "place" with a story of its own. Another domestic-cozy goal has been to create a homemade "hearth" for folks to sit around. We started to bring it to life this week (and escaped a fire emergency!) At least I can pretend it's the real thing. Isn't it neat what a little dancing flame can to a dark room (and cat)?
Right now is also a time of visual starkness. Color and imagination are VERY powerful because of that. The palette here in Quincy is gull-gray, white, and sharp sea blue. Stories are clearer and louder against those colors. Dream-life seems to mix with real-life too...a winter alchemy. I always dream vividly when the new year begins, too. Do you? The past few nights mine have been full of symbols, adventures, tunnels and good advice from strangers (is it weird to dream of strangers?) Every dream has been focusing around the prospect of "being ready"...(I hope this is a good thing!) I think it's all part of the humming work that has begun. Here's a doodled symbol from a dream: full of roses.
So Happy New Year, friends! And vivid dreaming too! I hope you are refreshed and ready for it. Can't wait to watch it bloom together, I think it's gonna be a good one. Display CommentsAdd a Comment
Ah! December? Where is the time going? How have you all been?
I've been writing my novel (thanks for the encouragement!), revising fairies, heading south for research interviews, and getting lost in journals of people that lived hundreds of years ago. Before the holidays totally consume us, I wanted to quick get this old post up. Because it's all about Almost-Winter in New England, which is one of my favorite times, and it's nearly done already.
During this particular time of year, the land here is enchanted:
(I tried to paint it last week, out the studio window.)
The palette across our land here in New England becomes rich and complex during this season. Out on an echoing walk through the hollow woods you can see mulberries, purples-bruised-to-blacks, plums, poisonous reds on neutrals, rumbling umbers, steely evergreen and that perfect hard-to-mix slate blue sky. It is soggy under your feet, the light is long and a little bit sad, the air is dense and sweet with the smell of leaves turning to earth. You think about the people who have felt home here too, over thousands of years, and everyone, for a moment feels connected and alive. The deciduous trees become ringed kings topped in copper crowns. Forests seem alive with old-fashioned ghosts...and Christmas will settle into the land if you cue a Coventry Carol or two!
At the very edge of night and day, was when we'd love to go out and play in it, wrapped up in old table cloths for "old-fashioned dresses", "stewing" our rotten Halloween pumpkin in the burgundy dark over a flashlight, pretending we were putting up onion grass for the long winter under the deck, being chilled to the bone so when our mom would call us in for soup, it would be an unimaginable luxury...
I actually wrote and re-wrote this post about a dozen times, because it's nearly impossible for me to talk about my landscape. So, I usually don't. My relationship to the land here is personal and bone-deep. I have entries saved about New England in the summer, the spirit in the land, the seagulls and the green. But I'm always stopped from posting by two things: (1) the belief that no one would want to read about things like seagulls and ocean! and (2) I am always at a loss for words, re: the land. Sometimes something is too beloved to explain.
(If you have read this far already, you should have a copper crown yourself!)
When I view hazy New England hills on a car drive, my reaction is always immediate. It's from the center of my chest. Peace settles through me while I scan the stacked golds and fire-tinged sphere against sphere. Is it having been born here? Having been lulled to sleep in the backseat watching them roll since I was born? Maybe. I will probably always always live here, I don't think I'd ever be able to part with them (the hills-or the ghosts).
Sometimes just doing a little painting unlocks the language of the land for me, keeping my imagination planted firmly in the cold wet dirt while I write.
Is there a place that bewitches you, where you live?
Can you imagine the mess a flock of fairy sisters (and each with a pair of wings) can make in your house? Well, imagine it, and you've got my studio for the next few weeks! The music is loud, inky bristol board is everywhere, and if you come to the door, I will greet you in all my sans-make-up-scary-haired-brow-furrowed glory, while whisking my collection of old tea mugs away to the sink, Kathleen Kelly style. I become slightly non-verbal in final art mode, too. It's a strange thing. For days, my eyes and hands do all the conversing by pushing and pulling line, shape, and value. In my head it sounds a little like this: "WIDE GREY THING, CHALKY EDGE, SPLATTER, BRINGS THE DARKS OUT, MUTE WITH OPAQUE, DEFINE LINE, MORE CAFFEINE." I become a render machine. Am I making sense? No? Here, have some toast...
This coming Saturday, I'll have an excuse to put pants on and remember how to talk: I'll be speaking at Foundation For Children's Books "What's New In Children's Books" with authors I admire,Grace Lin and David Yoo. Details HERE. Come say hello!
SUMMERTIME! I've been out exploring the wilds of Massachusetts. In the studio, I've been drawing a lot of be-wing-ed little girls for an upcoming project (eee!) Have you ever touched the inside of a milkweed pod? I can't remember if I have, but it's one of my summer goals.
Happy August! How have you been? I've missed you so, blogger buds!
Work has really ramped up. The blog and house have grown quiet except for the sounds of tweeting and talking to my cat to keep sane (do you Tweet? let's Tweet...@JuliaDraw).
Matt is also art lead on his company's latest video game project so our little family is running an art marathon together! WOOSH. There are dreams of vacation in September (Virginia or Nantucket–any hotel recs. welcome!) but for now, summer exists in savored little visits: blueberry farms, escape-for-lunch dates, late night walks on Wollaston beach ("around town" Quincy pics to come). My work-away-from-home spot : Crema Cafe in Harvard, where the food is good, the tables have a charming wobble, and the people are tip top...
Speaking of little visits, I just had two virtual ones. One was at The Girls of Summer blog by two award-winning authors and women whom I greatly admire,Gigi Amateau and Meg Medina. The other was an interview with the very gracious Rosa St. Claire for Examiner.com. Monday, I real-life visited a beloved spot with my talented lady-friend Amanda Atkins,The Curious George store in Harvard Square. We met the lovely manager and buyer, Broche Fabian, and friendly staff and I signed some stock. As you know, this was my first place of employment in Boston, under the original owners. I'm so glad the space has reopened as a bright spot again in the heart of Harvard Square. It's beautiful!
The second president of the United States once lived down the street from our house:
View of the Adams' Peace Field, Quincy MA
This morning, one of his letters came to me by Twitterfeed (not messenger, horse, or carriage) thanks to the MHS. The letter is an antiquated thing dotted with agelessness. From his spot in the 18th century, from our spot in the 21st, especially this week, we are sharing something pretty fantastic: WONDER. He asks the same grand questions about our universe, ones we are still shouting out into space today. Considering his level of excitement over the view of the Milky Way via Sir William Hershell's new-fangled "glass" (telescope), let's imagine what he would have thought of the view from the Curiosity! (I'm taking historical liberties to imagine he'd probably yell "Great Animalcules!", drop his pen, have a merry fit and then sit down to feverishly pen some new correspondence...)
Last week my studio was turned into an all-hours kitty hospital of sorts. My steadfast and whiskered coworker got himself a life-threatening case of FLUTD. He came into the studio as I finished a book cover, hung his head and cried. Off to the hospital we went. A week of invasive cat hell ensued. But he is home now and recovering! Thank you, Hancock Animal!
The hardest part of Seri's ordeal was encountering my human frustration with the animals I love: not being able to speak to them, especially in times of need. It would be my SUPERHERO POWER of choice. Interspecies communication is mind-bending and heart-melting when you think about it: To converse, we slowly construct a common language together with eye contact, voice, and patterns of touch. But there are moments of fear and heartbreak, when you would give anything to SPEAK CAT or RABBIT or DOG, just so you might explain. Luckily, after all he went through, Seri was still wagging his taped-up little tail when I sung to him from across the room. He was still speaking our "language" and that's the most humbling thing.
Do you and your pet have a "language" together?
Editor in chief:
Ay! Get to work!
Hopefully he'll be back to his usual "wild foal" energy levels next week (thanks Boggy!) :
It's class picture day today in Room 23. Everyone is dressed in their best pose, plaid, and pencils. I have good back to school memories, do you? The morning air has a cool edge while you wait for the bus, the smell of new erasers overpowers your jitters over gym class. A shout-out to my sister, Anna, for whom the blonde was named! More children's fashion HERE.