Please visit me at my new blog gracenotes(outergrace.blogspot.com), I no longer post here and will slowly be deleting this. Thanks and hope to see you!Add a Comment
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I'm a children's book author and illustrator which means my secret life is full of drama, intrigue, adventure...and fuzzy bunny slippers.
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It's been exactly one year since I began this blog "a solitary grace." At the time, it marked a new chapter in my life--a life without cancer, without a husband, without Robert. I began it with the idea of surviving loss, settling for peace over joy and a life alone.
But, recently, someone asked me, "Do you feel like Robert is still with you?"
And, surprisingly, my first thought was, "I hope not."
Because I hope he isn't, I hope he isn't caught up in the petty and small things that run my living life. I hope he isn't with me, because that would mean he was worrying about me. I hope if he is anywhere, he's sitting on a beautiful beach having a grand time--knowing I'll join him when I'm ready.
So things have changed this past year. Or perhaps, it would be more truthful to say I have realized things have not changed. The things that filled my life--my work, my friends, my family--are still with me and still bring me happiness. That life, even without Robert, is still full of richness.
And with that, I think it is time to close this particular blog. From now on, I will post at gracenotes(outergrace.blogspot.com) and no longer write here at "a solitary grace." Please visit me there. Because if this last year has taught me anything, it is that I am not solitary and grace is not found alone.
So I finished the artwork for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON right under the wire...okay, I bent the wire a bit, so I had to get the art there as soon as possible. So, I decided the fastest way was to jump in the car and bring it to New York, NY myself.
Handing the art in was strangely anti-climatic, perhaps because my brain was a bit numb from the two month intensive creative purging. But a pleasant stroll in Central Park with Alvina and chat with Hans Christian Anderson helped.
Well, it helped enough that I could be fairly coherent during a little audio interview Little, Brown will put on their website as a promotional for the book. At least I think it was coherent. I realize I am not the best judge.
But I do know, the thing that most cured my mental blahs was this:
YES! My elusive half-moon cookies, called in NYC-speak "black and whites." To me, they will always be half moons and they will always be my remedy for lethargy. For as soon as I ate one (or two) I felt ready to go again.
Which is good, because I am now doing a three-week marathon of school visits in Texas. Yes, three weeks. I had to bring my bunny slippers so I could make my hotel room feel like home.
It's done! I've finally finished the art for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON. I can't believe it. I almost feel like there is a part of my brain missing now, I had gotten used to the constant pressure of creation. It is very strange. I think I might be babbling incoherently...
I still have not finished the paintings for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, but I stopped for a school visit in Rome, Georgia.
The school put me up in this gorgeous B&B, The Claremont House, so with the break in painting and the beautiful room it was a nice change. I was a bit nervous, this would be my first school visit of what is scheduled to be a very hectic presentation year for me. I wondered if I'd be rusty and, since the school year had just begun, if the students would be ready for me.
But I shouldn't have worried. The Darlington School, under the direction of the lovely librarian Ann Glass (whom I mistakenly and repeatedly called Ann Darlington) prepared the students so well that I was amazed. The school had made the day before I came into an author appreciation day with activities based on my books. They wrote and drew season haikus, like in my book OUR SEASONS:
stretched their imagination with UGLY VEGETABLES
and shared their fears like OLVINA:
That's only a sampling of what they did. They also made origami, kites, soup...so by the time I arrived, the students were excited. And it showed--their enthusiasm washed away any rust I might have had and it was a wonderful visit. I think it was a great way to start of my school year!
Thank you, Darlington School!
I am beginning to suspect I might be a really boring person. I can eat the same thing, do the same exercise routine, listen to the same music over and over again and not get sick of it. As I get down to the last two painting of WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON (and I am really feeling the burn!), I realize I have listened to the same two Feist albums for a month straight. The neighbors must be so annoyed.
But that is why when Alvina showed me this I was extremely happy. Or maybe my days of isolated nonstop painting are causing me to develop euphoric lunacy...
After Robert's memorial service, his Aunt Vicky handed me a tin of...half-moon cookies!
Yum! They were delicious, even though they were not like the ones I had in my childhood. As soon as I finish my book (2 more paintings to go!) I'll reciprocate the half-moon cookie gift. But in the meantime (at her request), this is recipe of the cookies from my youth:
HALF-MOON COOKIES (HEMSTROUGHT'S BAKERY)
Source: Saveur Magazine, March 1999
MAKES ABOUT 30
Hemstrought’s Bakery generously shared its recipe with us, but we had to adapt the quantities: The original makes 2,400 cookies!
FOR THE COOKIES:
3 3/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
2 1/4 cup sugar
16 tbsp. margarine, cut into pieces
3/4 cup cocoa, sifted
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups milk
FOR THE FUDGE ICING:
3 1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 1/2 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 tbsp. butter
4 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM ICING:
7 cups confectioners’ sugar
16 tbsp. room temperature butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
7 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
FOR THE COOKIES:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside. Put sugar, margarine, cocoa, and salt in bowl of standing mixer and beat on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and continue to beat. Add half the milk, then half the flour mixture, beating after each addition until smooth; repeat with remaining milk and flour mixture. Spoon or pipe batter onto parchment-lined baking sheets, making 3-inch rounds 2-inches apart.
Bake until cookies are set, about 12 minutes. Allow to cool, then remove from parchment.
FOR THE FUDGE ICING:
Melt bittersweet and semisweet chocolates and butter in the top of a double boiler over simmering water over medium heat. Add confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt, and 6 tbsp. boiling water and mix to a smooth, stiff paste with a rubber spatula. Thin icing with up to 8 tbsp. more boiling water. Icing should fall from a spoon in thick ribbons. Keep icing warm in a double boiler over low heat.
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM ICING:
Put sugar, butter, shortening, milk, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat on low speed to mix, then increase to medium and beat until light and fluffy.
TO FROST THE COOKIES:
Using a metal spatula, spread about 1 tbsp. of warm fudge icing on half of the flat side of each cookie. Spread the other half of each cookie with 1 heaping tbsp. buttercream icing.
why should today be any different from yesterday?
the days i circled the sun
instead of you
was a revolution
without a victory
As the WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON deadline closes in, I seem unable to escape my bad habits. I've tried to get on the bike every couple of days and I've eaten so many blueberries (instead of candied ginger) that my blood must be blue hued. But the other day, maybe because I have been painting so many moon scenes I began to crave half-moon cookies:
These are the cookies that I ate in my childhood, bought at the local bakery. Every time my sisters and I return to our childhood home we always indulge in these baked treats, much to the chagrin of our significant others. Full of Crisco and corn syrup, they don't rank high on a gourmet's palate--however mixed with nostalgia, they are delectable.
And they are especially mouth-watering in contemplation. Throughout my entire painting of this picture, I kept thinking about them. You can have one after you finish this, I told myself.
But it was not meant to be. Half-moon cookies are surprisingly difficult to find in my adult locale. Instead, I satisfied myself with a cannoli (which was very good) and the mental promise that once I finish all the paintings I would bake my own half moon cookies. Hey, once I'm finished, you can all have one!
I'm working like crazy on WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON illustrations. I always have about 20 references for one painting--my desk is full of reference and the actual painting just takes a fraction of the desk! For this painting I looked at Chinese roof tiles for designing the circle motifs of the painting border.
Here is the first color painting I've done for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON. Upon looking at the manuscript, we decided it would be ideal if there were 10 color illustrations...but I need to do them by the end of the month. Yikes! Wish me luck!
I want them all to have this level of detail, though I do think I overworked this one a little. If I have time, I'm going to go back and decrease the contrast of the gate, take the yellow/orange light away from it, make it a bit more monochromatic so it isn't so fussy looking.
At the start of the summer I had three goals:
1. finish WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON to the highest quality possible
2. write THE YEAR OF THE TIGER
3. be/get healthy
As the summer and deadlines have progressed, I'm forced to concede that that accomplishing all three goals are impossible for me. One goal had to be sacrificed.
My first impulse was to let #3 go. I think that is the impulse that many authors and illustrators have. Exercise, eating right, and living takes time--and some of it not the most enjoyable. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was the goal that should not be given up. Art is important, my work feeds my soul, but the body needs care as well. If there was anything I learned through Robert's illness is that, as trite as it sounds, if you don't have your health, you don't have anything.
So thus remained #1 and #2. To attempt both would make both works subpar in my eyes, I had to choose. But it was difficult. I loved what I had done so far with WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, I think it is my absolute best writing to date. I want it to be a book that I would be proud of. A book that, no matter the reviews or criticism, I would know that I did to the best of my ability.
But the YEAR OF THE TIGER called to me as well. For me to get The YEAR OF THE TIGER out in the actual namesake year, I had to have the draft finished by fall--or I could wait another 12 years. The Tiger is my year and the year of the Pacy character of the book. How could I not have a book for it?
Then the word came in that WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON would be printed in color(!), and the choice was made for me. The publisher's gamble of printing full color novel demands the respect of my full attention. THE YEAR OF THE TIGER will have to wait (Sorry, Janet!).
At least, if I keep #3 going, by the time I get to it I will be in good shape.
So last week I recieved notification of the deadline for the Society of Illustrator's Original Art Show. I glanced at in nonchalance and it was only recently I realized my reaction. It was the Original Art Show, where the elite children's illustrators are admired and it is an honor just to be accepted. And I did not care.
I should preface this with the fact that in the past I have cared, horribly. Of all the Blue Rose Girl illustrators I am the only one whose work has never been accepted. It has filled me with a mixture of doubt and longing. As much as I brushed off the rejection (the Society just thinks my work is too commercial, it's too niche for them, etc., etc.) it always came down to the inevitable truth. My work was simply just not considered good enough.
This would sting my soul so much that even recieving the deadline notification for the entry would unsettle me. Until now.
Strangely, now I am truly cheerfully indifferent. Suddenly it doesn't seem to matter too much if a society doesn't think I measure up. Maybe due to Robert's death, maybe due to my own growing confidence--regardless of why, I finally feel like I can start casting aside others' judgements and begin embracing my work for what it is. Mine.
So, the deadline for the art of my new novel has been pushed up to…as soon as possible. I’m still determined to do my best quality work; however I know how this song goes. As my illustration activity level escalates to full capacity, my physical activity level diminishes to nonexistence; and #3 of the ten things I’ve learned becomes an unwelcome reality. It is inevitable—the shorter the deadline, the more unhealthier (and chubbier) I become.
And even though I foresee my fatty future, I seem unable to change it. Because not only do I spend my waking hours sedentarily sitting, my eating habits become appalling. My creative brain cells demand candy and pizza, calling labor strikes if I resist. The truth is I am completely unable to create well for extended periods of time unless fueled by unhealthy, high fat food. My focus seems to be sugar driven-- if I remember correctly I was on about three bags of candied ginger a day while writing WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON. I shudder to think what is upcoming...
If anyone has any helpful tips (other than hitting the gym like a maniac when my deadline is over) I'd be thrilled to hear them!
For me, personally, I've found my speed of creation has altered drastically since Robert's passing. During the days of his illness, the desperate financial needs were incredible motivators. Necessity became a strange creative impetus, the muses constantly sang and when they could not they hummed until it became a song. And while the songs were perhaps not the inspirational hymn preferred, I got used to the background music.
But now, without the pressure, my muses have become tempermental. Sometimes the inspiration flashes, but, now as I attempt to write the YEAR OF THE TIGER more often than not I find myself simply pegging away. I have never been a writer whose characters speak to them (like my friend Justina Chen Headley ) but I have never before felt the true exhaustion of writing. During the final writing stages of WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON the focus I had taken for granted seemed to disperse into the wind and for the first time I found myself questioning my ability to continue. Will I be able to write this? Can I do it?
And, I realize that self-doubt is a luxury that I have not had in a long time. It is a strange relishment, this allowance of the idea of failure. It is oddly refreshing.
That is, as long as it remains an idea. I hope the actual realization of failure is unnecessary!
o I have been hard at work the interior illustrations of my new novel "Where the Mountain meets the Moon." It's a Chinese folktale-inspired fantasy, so I want the art to have an Asian traditional feel. But the novel is not a classic retelling or historical story, so I want the illustrations to traditionally inspired, but not reproductions.
The chapter headers are drawn in the style of chinese papercuts. There is still no word on whether interior will be color (cross your fingers!) but if it is these will be red on white:
And, if color does get approved (double-cross your fingers!) there will be 9 full page color interiors. I chose 9 because it is a Chinese lucky number symbolizing forever/everlasting---and I want this book to everlasting for the readers as well as in print forever! I have been looking at cloisonne and the art on Chinese vases and dinnerware as inspiration for these pieces:
Only about 20 more chapter headers and 1 more full page interior to go. Then I get to paint, hopefully (triple cross your fingers for the color interior!).
I meant to post this a while ago, but forgot. However, my fusion friend Paula Yoo just sent me the link again:
It is a very, very neat project--photographic recreations of children's drawings from Korea. I completely heart it...and I want to get some of the photos for my wall.
Alvina tagged me for this, so here i go...
The rules of the meme get posted at the beginning. Each person answers the questions about themselves. At the end of the post, the blogger then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.
What were you doing five years ago?
Getting these bookshelves built:
What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
1. goto to the gym
2. start painting the cover for my new novel
3. call dell to fix my computer (again)
4. write an outline/proposal for "Year Of The Tiger"
5. buy a sleeping beauty cake mold so I can make a princess cake for my niece's birthday
What are five snacks you enjoy?
1. candied ginger
4. fuji apples
5. snap pea crisps
What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
1. donate to cancer research
2. make a series of grants for aspiring artists, awarding the first to any of my talented friends who are struggling
3. get or build a nice house with a yard
4. open a cupcake bakery/children's bookstore/art gallery/theatre
5. take time off to learn how to cake decorate, taiko drum, and ride a vespa
What are five of your bad habits?
1. eating while reading and vice versa
2. internet shopping
3. speaking really fast
4. avoiding confrontation
5. getting lost and being late
What are five places where you have lived?
1. New Hartford, NY
2. Providence, RI
3. Somerville, MA
4. Westwood, CA
5. Montreal, Canada
What are five jobs you’ve had?
1. giftware designer (making t-shirts that said "World's Best Dad")
2. children's book specialist (which is to say, just a bookseller) at Curious George Goes to Wordsworth Bookstore
3. beer menu designer
4. worker at a fast food place called "China Gourmet"
5. b/w photography teaching assistant for RISD Continuing Ed.
Let's see, I tag, um...anyone else who reads this.
There are more times than I like to admit that I look at my past work with twinges of regret. While flaws due to talent, or rather lack of, are disheartening they are in a way more acceptable than the ones that cause me to shake my head. "If I had only been less distracted, had more time," I think to myself, "that book would've have been so much better."
And those are laments I refuse to have about my next book. At New Year's, one of my resolutions was to make my new novel the best work I've ever done.
So I am doing my best to sway the scale in my desired direction. I'm pulling out all the stops for this book, from the writing to the cover (which I am now working on, photo), I am taking pains as I have never been able to before. If time, focus, passion (and possibly production values--crossing my fingers for some really great features, including color illos on the inside) can do it, my book should be an object of person pride--something that epitomizes the best I could possibly do. Or at least something that doesn’t make me cringe.
So instead of working diligently on the illustrations for my new novel, I am in Upstate NY making pink princess cupcakes:
for my niece's birthday party:
I had slight twinges of guilt leaving my studio as I do NEED to get this book done but my niece only turns five once and, honestly, I couldn't take the bathroom renovation anymore. There is only so long I can stand stand the dust, loud noises, and looking at this:
But before I fled, I did do this:
The gold paint is not reproducing well in the photo, but I think the cover might be done. I'm not sure, I'm letting it sit and when I come back I'll decide if it's finished. If I'm lucky, when I get back the bathroom will decide it's finished as well.
It's been a long road, or least it has felt like it, of my bathroom looking like this:
But now, it looks like this!
Yippeee! I am especially happy with my new shower curtain (which is ironically the least expensive transforming item).
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