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1. Equipment for a Free Range Artist – Part 2

I’m back from my free range field test: a weekend trip to Fruita, Colorado for some plein air mountain biking fun. (If you missed the first post about all of my new plein-air equipment, you can read all about it here.)

First stop were the Kokopelli trails, which take you along the edge of the Colorado river. There are gorgeous vistas at every turn, and I hiked a few meters off trail and painted one of my favorite views of the canyon. If I’d been walking, it would have probably taken about four hours to get to this spot (and another four to hike back!) but with the bike I could get there in no time.

Plein air painting along Steve's Loop

Most bikers on the path below didn't even see me.

The equipment really improved the experience. Not only was I more comfortable, but I had a much easier time judging color and value with the help of my shade umbrella.

Watercolor painting of a sandstone canyon

The final painting

One benefit of combining mountain biking and painting was that my husband could do extra laps while waiting for me. Sometimes he had a good view of my painting spot:

cliff-painting-setup

See the white dot of my umbrella?

Watercolor painting of a sandstone cliff in Fruita, CO

I was painting this interesting rock formation. So many holes!

So, you ask, how was all the equipment?

The Umbrella (Bestbrella white)
Pros: Provided a neutral, even light. I found it easy to set up and relatively stable. It even protected my painting against the odd sprinkle of raindrops.
Cons: I’m not sure I’d use it in a downpour or high winds, but that’s not really what it’s for. When the sun was at certain angles (like right behind my head) it was difficult to properly position the umbrella because the easel got in the way of the tripod pole. I think this is actually a problem with the tripod, not the umbrella: if I had a taller tripod I could have clamped the umbrella lower on the leg in order to miss the easel.

The Easel (En Plein Air Pro Traveler Series)
Pros: Easy to set up, lightweight, simple.
Cons: The easel is fitted with holes to hold your brushes, but a lot of my brushes are either too big or too small to fit in these. Some slide all the way down to the ferrule, while others stick out quite a bit. On more than one occasion I’d absentmindedly put down a brush only to have it slip right through.

The Stool (Walkstool Comfort)
Pros: Durable, easy to set up, pretty comfortable.
Cons: You can only use it with the legs fully extended when it’s on level ground.

The Backpack (Camelbak Motherlode)
Pros: Spacious, durable, well-balanced, lots of convenient pockets.
Cons: It’s not designed with women in mind, and was wide and bulky on me, particularly around the shoulder area. But the width makes it perfect for holding the easel, so I’m not complaining.
Other notes: It can also throw off your center of gravity while biking, which makes technical terrain very difficult. I wouldn’t recommend this for beginners. In fact, I made my husband carry it most of the time so that I wouldn’t mess up and fall off the cliff.

I'm just posing. I gave it back to my husband right after this photo.

I'm just posing. I gave it back to him right after this photo.

The tripod (an old mini travel tripod–I have no idea what brand or model.)
Pros: Very small, compact and lightweight.
Cons: My mini tripod is clearly not meant to hold a bulky plein air easel and umbrella. It’s unstable, and is so small that there’s no way you could use it while standing. The short legs make it difficult to level on steep slopes. It’ll do for now, but I’m going to start saving up for something a little more versatile for the future.

Watercolor painting of two utah junipers and a high desert view beyond

We also visited 18 Road, on the other side of the valley.

Conclusion:

All in all, I’d call it a success! If you’re thinking of doing more “free-range” painting and are hesitating about investing in equipment, I recommend that you go for it. No matter where you go to paint–be it far off the beaten path or as close as your back yard–it’s a fun challenge and a great way to improve your painting skills.

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2. Draw Tip Tuesday: How To Make Your Drawings Count

Welcome to draw Tip Tuesday!

Here’s today’s tip: always carry a sketchbook with you, and use it. You will create a treasure of memories for yourself, capturing things photos or videos could never do.

Want more videos? Subscribe to my Youtube Channel!

So – use your journal and make awesome art.

The post Draw Tip Tuesday: How To Make Your Drawings Count appeared first on Make Awesome Art.

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3. Paris Bookstore Favorites

A trip abroad =  the perfect opportunity to go book shopping!  While in Paris I spent an afternoon at a bookstore called “Chantelivre,” perusing their delightful collection of picture books and comics/graphic novels. (The latter category, “Bande Dessinée,” are hugely popular in France, for all ages.)

Picture Books on display at Chantelivre

Picture Books on display at Chantelivre

The same titles and names seem to dominate the shelves at my book stores at home, but in France I found lots of new treasures to discover. (There were a couple familiar faces: Mike Curato’s Little Elliot and Oliver Jeffers’ crayon books, and some classics like Max et les Maximonstres, a.k.a. Where the Wild Things Are. )

I was dazzled by this pop-up book by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud, Dans la Foret du Paresseaux (In the Forest of the Sloth.)

Animated images of the book being opened to show a jungle scene

There's something magical about opening a pop-up book.

The complexity of the pop-up engineering was nicely balanced by the simple geometry of the illustrations. With just a few words, the text made me anxious for the plight of the sloth, who we watch napping as danger nears. The book shows the ravages of deforestation, but it is not without hope.

The saleswoman asked me the age of the child I was shopping for. I explained (slightly sheepishly) that I was just buying books for my own collection. She introduced me to a few French classics, including Gabrielle Vincent’s Ernest et Célestine series:

In this volume, Ernest and Celestine lose Simeon (the stuffed penguin) in the snow.

In this volume, Ernest and Célestine lose Siméon (the stuffed penguin) in the snow.

…And she also pointed out Benjamin Chaud’s Poupoupiadours, which combined whimsical and detailed illustrations with creative use of die cutting. Children could read this book again and again and see new things every time. There are several books in this series and they’re all pretty delightful.

Holy detail, Batman!

Holy detail, Batman!

I couldn’t resist Franz, Dora, La Petite Fille et sa Poupée by Didier Lévy and Tiziana Romanin for the charming story and elegant illustrations of Berlin in the 1920’s. Franz is none other than Franz Kafka, and the book tells the story of how a chance encounter in the park with a little girl who lost her doll brings a smile back to the girl’s face and helps the disillusioned writer rediscover the joy of creating.

Nice use of expressive line and just the right amount of detail

I enjoyed the expressive lines and restraint in the illustrations.

Then there was Le Merveilleux Dodu-Velu-Petit, by Beatrice Alemagna, which was like stepping directly into the weird and wacky imagination of our plucky little protagonist. What is a “Dodu-Velu-Petit,” you say? Why, it’s this pink creature (obviously!) It is described as, among other things, “hairy, inedible and extremely rare.” The creature’s many uses are shown on the page at right. (They translate as follows: pillow, scarf, decorative plant, personal masseur, incredible hat, treasure-collector, domestic help, living sculpture, and paintbrush.) I think this is actually an Italian book translated into French.

My favorite page, showing the many uses of the Dodu-Velu-Petit.

My favorite page, showing the many uses of the Dodu-Velu-Petit.

And let's not forget this page, where the butcher threatens the little girl with a bloody knife.

Then there's this fold-out page, where the butcher threatens the little girl with a bloody knife.

Among the Bande Dessinée, I particularly enjoyed Les Carnets de Cerise By Joris Chamblain and Aurélie Neyret for the way that the story alternated between standard comic book cells showing action and scrapbook-like pages showing the protagonist’s journal and sketches. The series follows the eponymous 11-year old, a curious aspiring novelist, on her various adventures. Digital illustrations can sometimes feel a little cold, but in this case the artist did a great job of adding detail and texture to bring the art to life.

cerise

I think these books would be a lot of fun for kids in the 8-12 range.

The only problem was finding enough space in the luggage to bring them all home.

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4. #AtoZChallenge, L is for Let's Go!


One of my most beloved toys as a child was actually a greeting card. Sent to me when I was five years old and cooped up in bed with the chicken pox, it arrived in the form of a multi-page booklet telling the story of a paper doll named Ginger. Ginger and her wardrobe had perforated edges that allowed me to easily extract the whole kit and kaboodle as quickly as possible while I sat up in bed supported by a mountain of pillows.

The cover of the card was pink and decorated with iconic landmarks from various countries: the Eiffel Tower for France, a windmill for Holland, the leaning tower of Pisa for Italy. Ginger was a twenty-something flight attendant, or as we said back then, a stewardess. She had beautiful long red hair, a perky figure, and a sense of style straight out of Mad Men. I remember being particularly entranced with her white fencing outfit complete with netted helmet and mask. There were also evening gowns, a trench coat, and best of all, her suitcase. Brown cardboard "leather," it was covered in travel stickers from all around the world, stickers that matched many of the icons on the front of the card. As far as I was concerned, Ginger was the It Girl, putting all my other dolls and toys far back into a lowly second- and third-place.

Looking back, it's amazing how much pleasure I received from a flimsy little card, but from that moment on I was determined to travel. To me, Ginger signified much more than a toy; she was the real, adult world I couldn't wait to be a part of. As I waltzed her across my bedspread and blankets, I imagined myself traveling just like she did, wearing, of course, her white fencing outfit I was certain was de rigeur for foreign travel. Ginger became my childhood role model, and every time I pack my bag or board an airplane, I still think of her.

Today's journal page celebrates the spirit of adventure. Where do you want to go for your next holiday? What steps do you need to take to get there? Dream big. En garde!

Tip of the Day: Write it down, make it happen. Your art journal makes an excellent vision board or treasure map for creating your next vacation. Find images in travel magazines or travel agency brochures (that's where I found the printed stamps to cut out for today's page). Paste everything in place along with some positive affirmations, a list of wardrobe items to take and sights to see, and off you go. Send a postcard!

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5. From the Sketchbook: France

When I travel I love to write and sketch during the trip. It takes a bit of effort (and the co-operation of any fellow travelers, who are stuck for 20 minutes while I work) but the sketches capture details that the photographs miss, and the process forces me to take the time to genuinely observe the environment instead of rushing off to the next attraction.

Marée au Mont Saint Michel

Marée au Mont Saint Michel

Sketching Mont St Michel

Sketching the above scene of the tide coming in at Mont Saint Michel (just before it started to rain.)

These images are from a recent trip to France. Drawing outdoors poses exciting challenges, including distracting crowds of gawking tourists, unpredictable weather conditions, and constantly changing light. It started to rain part way through the above sketch of Mont Saint Michel, and I was forced to quit and finish it later. (I was also afraid I’d drop something off the cliff. It’s hard to tell from the photo  but that ledge is actually convex, so things kept wanting to roll off toward the ocean.)

One easy place to sketch is from your hotel window. Here’s my morning view of rooftops in the medieval heart of Blois, France:

Sketch of rooftops in Blois, France

Some artists have portable supplies like folding stools or lightweight easels so they can easily and comfortably paint anywhere. Maybe someday I’ll get my own fancy plein air equipment. For now, it looks like this:  (Notice how I am precariously balancing the palette on my knee. It’s a delicate setup.)

Sketching the Chateau de Chambord

Sketching the Chateau de Chambord. Photo by my patient husband, Jonathan.

Watercolor of the chateau de Chambord, Loire et Cher, France

My sketch of Chambord. I'm not sure that roof line could get any more complicated.

I’m consistently amazed at the difference in color between my sketches and photographs of the same subject. The photographs tend toward gray, with all color completely lost in the shadowy areas.

Les Faux de Verzy

Les Faux de Verzy: weird, genetic mutant trees in Champagne.

Incredibly, this is the same tree as above.

Incredibly, this is the same tree as above. Maybe I just have an overly colorful imagination?

I noticed so many details while I sketched: birds singing, bumblebees crawling into holes, clouds drifting by, the murmurings of conversations around me. Sometimes I was greeted by a stray cat or had a chat with a local or tourist who also had an interest in art. The sketches don’t always turn out as perfectly as paintings made in a studio, but they’re so much more interesting.

Do you sketch and paint while you travel? Share any tips you have in the comments!

Saint-Malo

St Malo. The tide changed drastically while I painted this.

Painting the walled city of St Malo

Painting the walled city of St Malo.

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6. Paris Hop!, by Margie Blumberg | Dedicated Review

Paris Hop!, by Margie Blumberg, is a wonderful journey into the sights, sounds, scents, and linguistic adventures of the City of Light.

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7. My Writing and Reading Life: Carole Estby Dagg, Author of Sweet Home Alaska

Sweet Home Alaska, by Carole Estby Dagg, is an exciting pioneering story, based on actual events, and introduces readers to a fascinating chapter in American history, when FDR set up a New Deal colony in Alaska to give loans and land to families struggling during the Great Depression.

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8. Make Every Day a Vacation


2015 was so travel-filled for me that I'm actually looking forward to staying home as much as possible this year. There are dozens of fun things to do in here in Albuquerque and never enough hours in the day (or night) to fit them all in. But as much as I love seeking out new museum displays, creative groups, or shops and restaurants, it can also be too easy to to become complacent and take them for granted. This year I want to change that.

One of the things I was most aware of while I was traveling was how different everything felt to me--from the air I breathed to the way the light struck a windowpane, and how quickly I stopped noticing those little nuances once I was back home. Around Christmas-time I was desperate to know why that was. 

Beyond the obvious answers such as, "Well, you don't have to wash the windows when you're on vacation," or, "Each day abroad is a chance to re-invent yourself," I realized that when I travel I put a lot more effort into what I can only call mindfulness, probably because I know it might be my only chance to experience that particular travel destination ever again.

So my major question for the year is: How can I cultivate that same travel mindset here at home and not just when I'm riding a tour bus? How can I make every day a vacation day? To get the ball rolling, I made a list while I was writing out some morning pages and here's what I came up with.

Have afternoon tea. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to have afternoon tea either in a tea shop or right in my hotel room. I especially like trying out different flavors and brands that are foreign to me. Lesson learned: relax, savor, and enjoy some new tea brands (yay, oolong . . .).

Get up early, even when I don't have to. When I travel, I can't wait to get up and get out the door. All those places to see! Here at home, struggling to wake up before it's entirely necessary can be torture, especially in the winter. Then I remembered how much I love those fancy little shampoos and body washes the hotels provide. Stocking my bathroom shelves with spa toiletries has made my mornings a lot easier to face and far more luxurious--just like when I'm on vacation.

Sketch, sketch, sketch. Take photos. Of anything and everything. Sketching and photographing my surroundings lets me to see the world with new eyes--even the places I already know. Having a sketch plan or goal before I leave the house each day reminds me to take the time to look.

It's okay to draw like a little kid. When I sketch in my travel journal, I don't care how it turns out. I'm just going for first impressions and ways to capture the memories. The same applies to my daily journal entries. It's a viewpoint that cuts out the angst and makes creativity a joy to pursue and express.

Love the day without expectations. It's impossible to know in advance what you'll encounter in another country outside your own, yet, somehow, that never seems to matter. As far as I'm concerned, if it's a vacation, it's all good--exactly how I want to experience my day wherever I am.

Trust I am being taken care of. Goal: Give up daily worry, anxiety, everything negative that keeps me fretting and wastes my energy. The bus driver knows where we're going--so let him drive. My one and only job is to enjoy the view.

Eat well, eat small. Thanks to my vegetarian lifestyle, it isn't as easy as it should be to find a wide array of food choices when I'm on the road. And that is probably a good thing--less chance of stomach upsets, less chance of over-eating, and less chance to spend/waste money on not-so-great meals. This year I want to stay more conscious of only eating when I truly need to, rather than because "it's so yummy I can't resist and I don't care about stupid old calories." 

Walk more. Walking in Albuquerque (at least for me) isn't always a great idea: lots of traffic (and drivers who run red lights), broken and uneven sidewalks and streets with potholes, and the neighborhood shops aren't close enough to home to bring back groceries, etc. on foot. What we do have to counter that, though, are beautiful parks, open-air shopping malls, and a number of museums worth visiting throughout the year. It's no problem to drive to these places and then go for a good long walk once I'm there--with my sketchbook in hand. A wonderful way to stay in a holiday mood.

Travel light. I've always been a big fan of down-sizing, minimizing, and de-cluttering, but even when I think I've done my best, sure enough I find something more to give away, toss out altogether, or purchase yet another storage bin for. This year I am going to put a lot of thought into what I buy, asking myself: will it fit into my suitcase (i.e., my house/life) and how heavy will it be? And do I really need it? The answer, just like when I dithered over purchasing an entire set of Portuguese tiles last year, will probably be "no." And that's fine with me.

Tip of the Day: Whenever I travel I like to immerse myself in learning about the history, the food, the art, the entertainment, and of course, the people of each new place. One way to make every day a vacation is to do the same in my own backyard. A concentrated "course of study" about subjects as diverse as New Mexico's santos or native plants will go a long way to make being at home more interesting to me. I'm sure you'll find just as many fascinating topics in your own home town!

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9. Travel Journal Pages #5

It’s so great to go through all my travel sketchbook pages again. They contain so many memories!
So these are the last pages of my recent Thailand trip:

Flying back to amsterdam, waiting for a delayed flight in the China Airlines Lounge, and capturing some fun memories from our vacation.
20160109_travels

Whenever you take a trip, I can highly recommend doing a page like the one below: drawing from memory and document the highlights of each day. So fun to remember those things you already almost forgot about – especially when you’re with a travel buddy, it’s a lot of fun to go through all the adventures together and capture them once more!

20160109_vacation

The post Travel Journal Pages #5 appeared first on Make Awesome Art.

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10. If You Were Me and Lived In … Italy: A Child’s Introduction to Culture Around the World | Dedicated Review

Do you have your passaporto (passport) handy? It’s time to merriggiare (rest at noon in a shady spot) with a copy of If You Were Me and Lived In .. Italy and introduce your kids to the wealth of culture that abounds in the Republic of Italy—the famous country shaped like a boot.

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11. Travel Journal pages #4

Sometimes you just don’t know where to start when you are somewhere and you want to capture the scene or the vibe, or all the colours that you see… Well I learned a fantastic trick from Miguel Herranz: capture parts of the scene in frames, and fill your page like that. 20160106_ChiangDao

If you draw a scene, but don’t have time to fill the whole page with all the things you see in the background, add lettering instead. A great way to document things and make notes so you won’t forget.20160106_lunch

Or if a scene overwhelms you, you could just use a tiny sketchbook, and make a quick, tiny drawing. When it’s small, you can’t add too much detail, so the size helps you to filter them out:

20160107_minisketchbook

Here’s another way: to capture different moments all on one page:

20160107_onemoreday

What I also really like doing, is to use a grey brush marker to add quick background shapes – it adds a certain sense of depth to a line drawing.

20160108_lunch


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12. Travel Journal Pages #3

On my recent trip to Thailand, I brought a Moleskine, a tiny sketchbook for quick small sketches, and a Strathmore Grey toned peper sketchbook, which I dedicated a while ago to draw ‘places’ in. These can be interiors, or interesting places I visit – well anything really. For the drawings I use black pen and I hatch the colour in with colour pencils.

So I drew my view sitting in front of our hotel room in Chiang Mai City:

20151230_Karinthip

And I drew the most spectacular tree house in Rabaeng Pasak Treehouse Resort:20160102_Treehouse

And the view from the bed right after waking up in Lhongkao Resort:

20160105_LhognKhao

And one at the last day before flying back to Amsterdam – the view from the hotel in Chiang Mai City: I did this drawing kind of rushed and I like it the least of this series, because it has no particular focus point and it looks a bit disorganized. But still – it contains great memories, and when I look at it i feel the heat again, hear the city sounds and the chattering of the people below the balcony. And capturing the moment and the memory is what it’s all about.
20160108_ChiangMai

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13. Travel Journal Pages #2

Yesterday I showed the travel journal pages I filled before the new year started. Here’s more!

Food, of course… I just have to document it, when it’s good. Can’t help myself.

20151231_what-we-ate

We rented a motorcycle and left Chiang Mai City. Travelling light has a lot of advantages. You don’t need to schlepp around all kinds of unnecessary things (that you won’t use anyway) all the time, and you can travel with 2 people on one motorcycle. One bag in front, one at the back and you’re good to go!
So we went up north and found a gorgeous place – a treehouse resort of which I will share a drawing later, in a different post. 20160102_Rabaeng-Pasal-Resort

20160103_RabaengPasak

Oh and.. more food…20160104_Lhongkhao

A page in my mini-sketchbook on a sleepy morning in Mae Ha Pra. Doing art during breakfast.20160104_minisketchbook

And one of those typical drawings where the hand goes and starts drawing lines and the mind goes: “What are you doing? are you really going to draw all these leaves? This is way too complex!”. Because I really loved the feeling of the black ink lines flowing onto the watercolour background I prepared the night before, it was easy to ignore that voice in my head and just go along with it, bit by bit. I am very happy how it turned out and it reminds me of the fact what a difference it can make to work on a watercolour background – the sunny yellow adds so much to this line drawing!

20160105_Mae-Ha-Pra



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14. Travel Journal Pages #1

Now that I’m catching my breath after the very exciting pre-launch week of the new term in Sketchbook Skool (you didn’t sign up for “Expressing” yet? Seriously? You still can; there are a few seats left! Click here to sign up right now before enrollment closes!), I would like to share my travel journal pages I filled during the trip to Thailand I came back from last weekend.

20151228_plane

The excitement of a holiday starts in the plane! So great to kill time during a long flight. I didn’t even watch any movies; drawing this was very satisfying. After finishing, I put an eye mask over my eyes, an audiobook in my ears and managed to get a little bit of sleep.

You may have noticed I have visited Thailand more than once – I and my husband just really love the country. There are so many beautiful places to discover, the people are so lovely, the pace is so much slower than here in the Netherlands, the temperatures are so lovely in winter, and of course… the food is delicious!

20151229_journal

20151230_journal

We stayed in Chiang Mai City for the first days, to acclimatize a little and to shake off business and busy-ness.
20151229_urbansketches

And to spend new year’s eve.

20151231_Beerrepublic

20151231_Johns

The tradition of letting up paper lanterns for good luck is (although quite polluting) very magical.

 

I wanted to draw that! So I decorated the first page of my sketchbook – there was a LOT of hatching, I kept coming back to it to fill the dark sky.
20160101_Lanterns

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15. 2015: It Was a Very Good Year


No doubt about it, 2015 has been one of the best years of my life. And as I usually do around this time of year, I like to look back and see what events or turning points made the previous twelve months so special. Not that it's always been easy to do so. Some years the best I could say was, "Well, I survived!" Other years have been so filled with goodness it was difficult to keep my list down to a manageable number. 

2015 definitely falls into this last category, with the top twelve being (and in no particular order):

1. My trip to Taiwan. I can't say enough about how much fun this trip was, or what it meant to me: Life-changing, to say the least. I wrote several blog posts about my trip, starting here with my Taiwan Travel Diary, Days 1 and 2. For the holidays I recently was sent a link to this lovely little video about a group of young people traveling to many of the same Taiwanese sites I visited and I can't stop watching it. I hope you enjoy it too!

2. My trip to Portugal. I never really expected to travel to two countries in one year, but somehow I got there! Portugal couldn't have been more different from Taiwan, but in retrospect I find myself remembering the trip with an equal amount of fondness. In case you haven't seen them, my Portuguese blog posts start here.

3. Finding a new direction in my artwork. Until Taiwan, I pretty much was what you could call a major "dabbler." In other words, I rarely found an art supply I didn't want or a technique I didn't want to explore and experiment with. I had enough materials and sketchbooks and papers and brushes to open a small store. My only goal seemed to be "do it all!" Now, eight months later, I have donated 90% of my "stuff" to the library and an art center for the disabled. I've been left with what really speaks to my heart: a small set of watercolors and my favorite pencils in graphite and pastel, as well as limited sets of colored and water-soluble pencils. Pencils and drawing seem to be "it" for me and where I want to stay. I also discovered that I resonate the strongest to an Asian-Expressionist style, something I never would have know had I not gone to Taiwan and "found my art-self."

4. Keeping a daily sketchbook habit. Another great benefit of traveling. I took sketchbooks with me to both destinations and now I can't go anywhere without one in my purse. A day without a sketch of something is a day lost to me, and I've come to love daily sketching as much as daily writing.

5. Blogging. I wasn't as frequent a blogger as I had hoped to be this year, with long gaps in between posts, and many of my posts being about travel rather than writing (which is really meant to be the focus of this blog . . .) but, hey, I hung in there! I did have fun writing my posts when I had the time to sit down and write them, and it has been a pleasure sharing my adventures with you all. Thank you everyone so very much for reading and being there for me. Next year I'll try to get back on track with more posts on writing and creativity (although I must say it's gone through my mind how much I'd enjoy being a dedicated travel blogger, too! Maybe sometime in the future??)

6. My wonderful groups: writers, artists, sketchers . . . I don't know what I would do without my inspiring and helpful groups. I have a schedule of five to six meetings a month with all of these talented people and I couldn't be more grateful. 

7. Reading Paul Scott's entire Jewel in the Crown series, including the sequel: Staying On. For some reason in January, I became obsessed with this series and had to read every single word--sometimes twice. It dominated every minute of my limited reading time to the exclusion of not reading very much else this year. The particular volume I bought had ALL of the books in one gigantic paperback that just about broke my wrists holding it upright, but I was glad I stuck with it. 

8. Beading at last, with lots of new beads from Taiwan and Portugal. Last Christmas I was gifted some professional-quality beading tools and this year I made good use of them, resulting in some new and original jewelry for myself and others. I've still got a lot to learn, but it sure helps to have the right tools and supplies.

9. Finishing my novel, The Abyssal Plain 101% to my satisfaction and submitting it. In many ways this was probably my most important achievement. I had hoped to have had the manuscript finished last year, but then kept seeing changes I wanted and/or needed to make every time I thought I was through with editing. Well, now I am finished and I've even sent it out to some agents. Let's see what happens!

10. Our first year in the new house we spent all of 2014 renovating. Can't believe I lived through this episode, but here we are with nothing left to paint, repair, or replace. The back yard is still a bit of a work-in-progress, but we're regarding that as a "hobby for fun and entertainment" rather than "We can't move in until (fill in the blank) is fixed/finished." It feels good to now only have routine housework on the to-d0 list, as opposed to things like "buy new doors."

11. Cleared out my bookshelves to an absolute minimum. In the same manner I de-cluttered my art supplies, I emptied my bookshelves down to the bone. They're now very bare, very lean, and hold only some pottery and the books I refer to again and again. Anything else I want to read comes from the library. 

12. Discovering that I want to concentrate on writing short stories. This has been a very new discovery, like only about a month ago. And it's also been a "homecoming." When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, many years ago, I wanted to write short stories. Then I learned two things: a) I tended to write very long pieces. In fact, they were so long they weren't short stories at all. They were novels.  And, b) print magazines were disappearing at a rapid rate with very little openings to publish short stories. 

A lot has changed since then. Not only has the Internet provided hundreds if not thousands of new opportunities for publishing short pieces, but I have reached a point in my life where I'm ready to be more succinct. It may have something to do with the fact that I have four more novels in first-draft mode ready for editing and rewriting and I'm in no mood to write a fifth.  Yet I don't want to stop writing altogether just because I have manuscripts to edit. Short stories feel like the perfect answer: a good way to keep my creativity flowing, and a good way to stay in touch with publishing while I continue to revise one novel at a time.

So that was my year in review. How about you? Any special highlights you'd like to share? Leave a comment! In the meantime, Merry Christmas and I'll see you next year. Stay warm!

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16. Silly Sunday "Christmas Air Travel"

Welcome to Silly Sunday! Silly Sunday was created by Sandee of Comedy Plus, and it's one of my favorite meme's because all you have to do is tell a joke, link up, and the best part? Have fun!!!

I hope you enjoy my contribution.  Have a blast today!


There were five people aboard an airplane having engine trouble getting ready to crash, however, there were only four parachutes. Everyone wondered what should be done to determine who should get the parachutes. One person said that he was the smartest thing that hit the face of the Earth and that he was too smart to die. So, he took one of the parachutes and jumped out of the aircraft. The second person said that she was too important to die, she had children and a family to take care of, and they depended on her to care for them. So, she took one of the parachutes and jumped out of the aircraft. 



The third person said that he was too important to die because his family depended on him for survival. He was the head of household and the sole bread winner. So, he took one of the parachutes and jumped out of the aircraft. Finally, there were only two people left and one parachute. One person was a 12-year-old boy, and the other was a 65-year-old man. 

The old man said, "Well son, I have lived a good life, and you are too young to die, you have a long life ahead of you. So, you take the last parachute. The boy asked, "Why, Sir?" The old man said, "Well, there is only one parachute left." The little lad said, "Sir there are really two parachutes left." The old gentlemen asked, excitedly, "Yeah? How?" "Well," replied the boy, "you know that guy who thought he was the smartest and greatest thing that hit the face of the Earth? He grabbed my backpack."

"Today's joke: The Laugh Factory
Thank you for visiting A Nice Place In The Sun.
                                 











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17. My Portugal Adventure Continues: Part III

From my Portugal sketchbook:
Sardines Galore!
Hello, everyone! Here we are at the next stage of my Portugal journey. I had meant to post this entry much earlier, but the recent tragic events in Paris and the rest of the world drove me into retreat-mode. I have been sad.

Paris has always been special for me, as I believe it must be for a lot of people, and my heart and mind are very much with the people of France right now. Which also means I was initially reluctant to write a blog post about European travel. It felt frivolous. Then I was reminded of something a good friend said at our last writer's group meeting: keep traveling. Don't give in to fear. Support the small businesses and people of the world with our tourist dollars and by appreciating all the goodwill travel has to offer. It's a great attitude, and one that encourages me to keep dreaming, keep planning, and keep my suitcase handy. So in that spirit we'll keep going through the wonderful land of Portugal.

One quick aside before we go to the cork forests, though: before leaving home I was so busy with my day-job and all the rest of my life I didn't have the chance to get to an art supply store to buy a Stillman and Birn sketchbook, the brand I took to Taiwan. Instead, I had to dip into my trusty storage container of new, but unused, sketchbooks that I have either bought on impulse because they were on sale, or had been gifted over the years. (I promise this isn't hoarding, just "saving things for a rainy day." And this was the rainy day.)

The one I chose was a 5 1/4" x 8 1/4" Global Art Travelogue Handbook. I had been wanting to try out a horizontal format for awhile, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I used my now-favorite Faber-Castell watercolor pencils, but instead of a waterbrush, I took a travel watercolor brush--it's just like a regular paint brush, but part of the handle comes off so you can tuck the bristle end into it to keep everything a) dry, and b) compact. To be honest, I thought the brush was a little over-priced and I'm still not sure what I think of it. On the other hand, after reading several on-line negative reviews of the Handbook, I have to say I totally disagree with the nay-sayers--it's a nice little book! The paper is good quality, I liked the way it stayed open on a table or my lap even though it was stitch-bound rather than wire-bound, and once I closed it and secured it with the built-in elastic band, any pages that had "curled" while I was painting them returned to their original shape and stayed that way. So, I like Handbooks a lot and recommend them as good travel companions. They come in a variety of sizes, and the one I took was just right for keeping in my purse all day.

So with that covered . . . northwards we go and on to: Arraiolos! Stopping first for Portugal's famed cork trees:


Aren't they sketch-worthy? Too bad I was in a hurry at the time and could only snap a few pics. I was particularly surprised to see some of the trees stripped down to their bright red "naked" trunks (I don't seem to have any photos of them, sorry). Later on I learned that the cork bark must be harvested from the trees at regular intervals to keep them alive. Good excuse to drink more wine--every time you open a bottle you're saving a tree, LOL! I was also surprised to discover how many uses the Portuguese have for cork, from making shoes and handbags, to covers for journals and i-phones, to . . . well, you name it, you can find it made out of cork. (And new cork shoes might make you a much wiser steward of the planet than too many bottles of wine in the long run.)



After viewing various parts of the forest I then saw a sign saying that just up ahead would be an entire maze of prehistoric monoliths. I just HAD to see the monoliths. I mean, they were prehistoric! The only trouble was the signage didn't say exactly where, or how far, so after about ten miles of driving down endless dirt roads searching we gave up and headed back for the toll road and our planned destination of Arraiolos.

We chose Arraiolos for its famous carpets. I had my heart set on something small and pretty for my entryway back home, and as I read to my husband from the guidebook: "Everywhere you look there are people making or selling carpets in this charming town, even from their doorways." Okay. Doorways. Yes, I see them. But they are closed. Charming. Yep. Very pretty town. But the carpets . . . um, where did you say they were?

Unfortunately, and very much like hunting down the monoliths, we couldn't find a single thread or scrap or even a human being. The town was so quiet I couldn't even hear someone vacuuming a carpet! There were NO carpets. But there was a castle:




And a view:



And in that view there was a grocery store. Except when we got down there, it was closed. 


We peered through the windows and saw the owners eating their lunch. It looked delicious, but, they shook their heads: no, you can't come in. Okay. No carpets, no lunch. 

In search of some food, we then found a mega-mall that we were sure would have a restaurant. Hahahahaha. Lots of stereo equipment, garden furniture, and children's bedding, but no food to be had. Certain we would pass out around now, we managed to drive to another beautiful mountain town, Santarem (a city, actually) and there we found a little hole-in-the-wall of a bar where they made us a wonderful feast of Super Bock, boiled egg and salad sandwiches, coffee, and cake. Which meant we now had the strength get to the eastern coastal town of Nazaré and a beautiful modern hilltop hotel for the night. We could see both the swimming pool and the sea from our room:




The next day we explored the village (where everything was wonderfully open!) and I bought one of my few souvenirs: a lacy, embroidered tablecloth. It's not a carpet, but it's sweet and will forever remind me of a happy day. 






The morning ended with more sandwiches and more Super Bock on the beach and a view of the fishing boats:



And then we were off to the surf town of Ereceira, of which I will write much sooner than I have these other posts. In the meantime, may you be safe, may you be inspired to go far and wide, and Let There Be Peace on Earth. Thank you for visiting and to my US readers: Happy Thanksgiving!

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18. Adventures in Portugal, Part II

 
From my Portugal sketchbook: Roman Temple of Diana 
ruins in Évora!

Hello, everyone. Anybody signed up for National Novel Writing Month 2015? Me! (Much against my better judgment.) So far, so good--I'm actually enjoying myself, making me wonder what's wrong, LOL. The title of my WIP is The Calling, and I have no idea what it's about, which is fine--writing for the sheer pleasure of writing is really what #Nanowrimo is all about, don't you think?

But before I get back to today's word quota I wanted to take some time to continue sharing my Portugal journey, so here goes:

I ended my last post in the seaside town of Quarteira. From there we headed north and inland to our chosen destination of Évora, billed in our guidebook as a walled medieval World Heritage City and the home to an ancient university. Driving there we went through what our guidebook described as "the golden plains of the Alentejo" (very golden, very desolate, and very beautiful):



passing more castles on our way:


By the time we reached Évora, I couldn't wait to start exploring, the only problem being where to put the car. Spaces were practically non-existent, and nowhere near any hotels. At this point of the trip we didn't even know where the hotels were or where we would stay as we hadn't booked anything in advance. However, after creeping up and down the minuscule winding lanes (never designed for cars) we at last found an approximately 6-inch slot in which to park. Best of all it was right next to the vending machine where you put in lots of money and got a little slip of paper verifying your parking space. Wonderful! 

Next step was lugging our suitcases toward the local posada, a lovely old former convent now turned into a state-run luxury hotel with, naturally, luxury prices. Like, um, really, really expensive. We weren't sure we wanted to spend so much money, so suitcases still in tow, we headed down the cobbled lanes to where we thought there might be some place to stay, and found this adorable little family-run inn:



I loved the old-world charm (as well as the old-world pricing). After unpacking and freshening up (listening to our neighbors' rooster while they worked in the kitchen and watched a Portuguese soap opera--noisy. but homey and real) we went to see the sights and have a late lunch in the square:



(A shot of our outdoor restaurant under the umbrellas. As usual, I don't know who these people are in the foreground--I tend to just take photos without thinking too much about where I am,  and end up with all kinds of strangers tagging along.)

After traipsing down more hidden lanes and admiring the architecture, we thought it was time to go check on our car and possibly put more money in the machine. The parking was free at night, but we wanted to be sure we'd paid enough until the cut-off time. We got to our car, and lo and behold, a parking ticket! Bummer! We couldn't read what it said, but I was able to decipher something about the price being 300-500 Euros which made me want to faint on the spot. The police station was right around the corner so we went there with our paper showing we had paid, the time hadn't run out, so why? What? How could they do this to us?

The police officer we approached was very nice but he didn't speak English and couldn't explain anything other than saying we hadn't paid. But we did! Honestly, officer, we have the proof! He smiled, shrugged, and told us as best he could we'd have to go to the traffic department in the morning. Ugh. 

We then spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find where that building would be so we could be there nice and early. We walked, and walked, and walked . . .



No, this wasn't it . . . 



Nor these places either . . .





Nope. Couldn't find it. Eventually we decided to just go back to our hotel and collapse. But after about five minutes inside our room my husband got all antsy and said he wanted to move the car to outside the city walls. On his own. He then promptly disappeared, leaving me to fret and invent terrible scenarios of ending up in the Évora dungeons for non-payment of parking fines. Eventually I got so carried away imagining horrible outcomes I think we were being burned at the stake by the time my husband returned and said the car was safely in a public zone outside the city walls. He thought. 

Doing our best to put it all behind us, I concentrated on the beauty of the evening:


The cathedral view from our window:



Followed by one of our best meals at the luxury hotel for dinner. If we couldn't stay there, we could at least have a wonderful meal:



The chef prepared a special vegetarian leek, cheese, and potato dish for us, complete with a huge selection of breads and olives, Portuguese wine, and of course, a sampling of Port to finish the meal with dessert. Delish! We were the last people to leave, hence the empty tables.

Stepping outside, we came right to this amazing sight: the ruined temple floodlit against the dark sky.



The next day after chocolate croissants, fresh orange juice and lattes for breakfast, we set out to deal with THE TICKET. Within minutes we found the traffic department offices set within a gorgeous eighteenth-century building that could easily have doubled as a museum (probably why we had walked past it a dozen times without realizing what it was), and showed the receptionist our ticket. She didn't speak English, so she sent us to a colleague, and guess what: he laughed and said, "Oh, this is only a warning. You were in a government parking spot. It's okay. Just don't park there in the future. Have a nice day!" Whew. No wonder the police department had been so easy to find--we'd poached one of their own spaces. On that high note we decided to leave town while we could. My husband went to get the car, leaving me to wait with our suitcases and to people-watch outside the cathedral.



The horses were nice, but I was glad when my husband finally drove up and we loaded the car, ready to leave for the next stops: the towns of Santerem and Arraiolos--but I'll save those for my next post. In the meantime, Happy Nanowrimo-ing, and "Have a nice day!"

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19. Jo’s Journey 2015 and Welcome Back to the Fall Blog Schedule

“Traveling is never a matter of money, but of courage.”—Paulo Coelho Sometimes it’s financial security that holds us back, other times it’s emotional security, but it takes courage to step outside your front door and head out into the world. … Continue reading

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20. Adventures Outside Of The Comfort Zone

I did something crazy last week.
I spent a week in Thailand for a Muay Thai Training Camp: 6 days in a row, 2 trainings a day of each 2 hours. Crazy, right?

Why in heaven's name would I do this? Well... sometimes you just gotta step out of your comfort zone completely to learn new things, to grow, to face fears.
I have been doing some Muay Thai training here in Amsterdam for a while (a girl needs a hobby and a workout next to all the drawing after all!), but had NO idea what to expect of this Thai gym and its trainers. I was SO scared! But I decided to do it anyway. Just because I wanted to know what it would be like. Let me tell you, there were quite a lot of moments I caught myself thinking: ‘um, why did I want to do this again?’. That's what happens if you take a big leap out of the familiar, out of your comfort zone. 
Yes, it was exhausting and it was crazy, but each day after training I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. And it made me stronger - not just physically, but especially mentally. And I even got some drawing done between trainings as well; what a delight!







Curious to see what trainings look like? Watch this video of the Gym I went to:


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21. JetBlue’s Soar with Reading program

soar with readingYou’re in a bustling airport in a new city, weighted down with souvenirs and the dozen books you had to bring. (Or is that just me?) Amid the sea of strangers’ faces, two familiar travelers greet you from a display at your gate.

It’s Jack and Annie.

I saw plenty of the stars of Mary Pope Osborne’s super-popular Magic Tree House series (Random House) in my years as a children’s bookseller, and they frequently come through the Horn Book office. But when I spotted them in a JetBlue terminal, I was intrigued enough to take one of the Soar with Reading passports and investigate.

The passport acts like a regular passport, but without the jet lag; readers can color in the places they “visit” with Jack and Annie as they read the Magic Tree House books and their nonfiction Fact Tracker companions. But they also come equipped with that travel necessity: something to do. There’s a shark personality quiz, a shark word search, and other activities related to Jack and Annie’s adventures in the latest Magic Tree House book (#53, but who’s counting?), Shadow of the Shark. Even more enticingly, the Soar with Reading program runs events throughout the summer to encourage kids to keep reading when school’s out.

But what really warmed my children’s lit–loving heart was this: Soar with Reading has installed three  vending machines full of children’s books around Washington, DC. The books are totally free and children are encouraged to take as many as they’d like. According to the Soar with Reading website, $1,250,000 worth of books has been donated to children in need over the program’s five years. Most recently, a contest ran through the end of August to pick the city where another 100,000 books will be donated next summer; see the results here! (In July, author and educator Zetta Elliott wrote “An Open Letter to JetBlue,” praising the program but suggesting that the books offered should include more diverse authors and characters. Here’s hoping next year’s list takes her advice into account.)

If I was excited to see the Magic Tree House travelers in the airport, just think how exciting it must be for new readers. And for kids whose families can’t easily buy books, much less plane tickets, a free Magic Tree House book — or any good book — in their hands might mean even more.

The post JetBlue’s Soar with Reading program appeared first on The Horn Book.

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22. Got My Chop: Happy Little Cat!

Introducing: Happy Little Cat,
my new stone seal
all the way from Taiwan!
Finally getting a chance to catch up with my blog again after another long break. The reason for my absence this time has been, what else, editing. Each time I thought I was finished editing my WIP, oops, oh no, there was more work on my plate. However, I am now finished, as in one-hundred-percent finished. The final draft of  my new novel, The Abyssal Plain, is ready for submission to agents and editors alike. Which means that other than my daily freewriting (flash fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, whining), I'm planning to spend the rest of the year concentrating on establishing "Happy Little Cat," an online studio/shop that will include visual art, pottery, jewelry, and of course, books. I'm more than excited. And as you can see in the photo above, I even got a special seal carved to celebrate my debut, although . . .

. . . there's a certain irony to finally getting my seal made.

Backstory: Prior to leaving for my trip to Taiwan, my fellow travelers and I were emailed an itinerary of our day-to-day activities. One of the things listed for the first day was to visit an art supply store where we could order carved seals or "chops" as they are sometimes called. Back in March I was pretty sure I didn't need anything remotely like a carved seal, and when we did get to the art store, I was so fixated on buying a replacement for my broken water brush (you can read about that little misadventure here), that choosing a nice rock was the last thing on my mind. Other reasons for not wanting a seal included the fact that I didn't think "Valerie" sounded very Chinese, especially when I didn't paint in a Chinese or Asian style. Or at least I didn't then.

Fast forward to this summer and post-trip when I found myself still obsessed with everything Taiwanese. I bought a book on Chinese brush painting. I bought Chinese watercolors. I studied the books I bought in Taiwan on painting trees and tigers. Somewhere in the midst of all this enthusiasm for sumi ink and bamboo pens I had the profound realization that I loved Asian art and wanted to include as much of it as I could (given my limited and "beginner's mind" skills) in my own work. At the same time I very quickly learned something was vitally missing from all my pieces: my seal!

Immediately I started regretting my decision to forego buying a seal in Taipei when I had the chance. Things reached a crisis point when I attended a reception for the New Mexico Art League and saw a stunning floral watercolor painted by our Taiwan tour leader, Ming Franz, that naturally included her seal. My husband asked why I hadn't bought one. How could I be so remiss? Or so silly? I had to get that seal.

After some extensive online research, I found a great company, Asian Brush Art. They had the stones, the carver, great pricing and a nice feel to their website that encouraged me to go ahead and place my order. The big question now, though, was what was I going to have carved on the stone? I still didn't want to use my name. That's when I had the idea to describe not me personally, but how I feel about life and art in general: I feel like a Happy Little Cat. I asked the company if there was enough room on the stone for the characters; they said yes, and ta-dah, I have my own seal at last.

The best surprise of all was that the seal came not from the company's mailing address in North Carolina, but from Taiwan! What are the odds? And not just any place in Taiwan, but from one of my favorite stops on the tour: Kaohsiung. I was thrilled.

I'm still learning to use the seal properly, experimenting with how to tap and dip it into the special red ink paste which was included with my order (I tell you, this company was great). The hardness of the stone and the creaminess of the ink are both very different from my past experiences (and failures) with rubber stamping, so I'm still in "test" mode, but I'm getting there. My best impressions so far have resulted from placing a piece of folded felt under my paper before pressing down with the seal. The sample at the top here is in on rice paper. (Expanding the size of the photo made the edges go fuzzy. They don't look like that in real life.) After playing around with the rice paper, I moved on to stamping some artwork I had recently finished using various supplies (including my trusty bamboo pen) on Arches 140-lb cold press watercolor paper:

Splash Ink Goldfish.
Sumi ink, watercolor, and gouache
on Arches watercolor paper.

Lanyang Museum, Taiwan.
Watercolor, sumi ink, colored pencil
on Arches watercolor paper.

Kwan Yin.
Watercolor, sumi ink, colored pencil
on Arches watercolor paper.

Some of the best images I was able to achieve (and of course I don't have any photos just when I need one to show you) were from using the seal on kraft paper cardstock gift tags, the same tags I experimented with last year applying collage and stick-on "pearls," (examples shown here).

So where I am now is I need to stop playing with my seal and use it for real: getting down to work to fill the shelves of Happy Little Cat Studio. It's going to take me a while to build up my inventory and then incorporate everything into my website, but it's a project I'm looking forward to. I'm also planning on illustrating some of my books for the first time, a great combination of my two favorite disciplines: writing AND painting.

For more information on the history of carved seals and their use, here's a good Wikipedia link to start with, but there are many, many other sites to investigate. My Happy Little Cat seal is carved in what is called "yin style," meaning that the characters are carved into the stone, leaving a red impression around them, as opposed to "yang style" which leaves white space around red characters.

It's also very common to use more than one seal in a painting, e.g., a "mood seal," a bit of poetry, etc., etc., and that's where things get really scary. Because I have a strong suspicion I'm going to want more seals in the future, which also describes me to a T--going from not wanting a seal at all, to now wanting a dozen. Go figure, LOL! Whatever, I love this first seal, I thought it turned out beautifully, and being the first it will always be special. Very happy, indeed.

Tip of the Day: Getting my seal was another step toward creating my "personal brand," something I first blogged about over 5 years ago (!). You can read the post here: What's Your Brand? Although you might find the idea of "branding" somewhat restrictive, it can also be a great help in defining your work to both yourself and your audience. Just for fun, brainstorm a list of 12 things you could use or do that would identify your work as uniquely yours. You might just want a seal of your own.

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23. The Magic Turtle.

IMG_7363

Sometimes you just have to go for it. Maybe it’s not exactly how you have dreamed it up in your head, but if you jump – if you “begin anywhere” – you can go on from there.

For several years, Patrick, Tulsi and I have been *talking* about getting a dreamy VW pop-top, OR a fun-n-funky gypsy wagon, a vintage trailer OR even a school bus, and hitting the open road. Have you thought of, or done, the same?  When this little trailer came up for sale this Spring in Santa Fe, we jumped on it. (Plus, Tulsi had a very similar looking one glued to her “vision board” so it was bound to be.) We had been planning to return to the Redwoods in Northern CA to do fundraising events with Luna & Me, and when our plans expanded into a book tour, we decided to take the camper, aka the Magic Turtle. Tulsi and I decorated it to feel like home with flower-embroidered curtains, a felted mobile, dried marigold strands, and a photo collage/”Beloved board” of our family and friends. In July, we set off on our maiden voyage for 5 weeks and traveled over 4,500 miles across 10 gorgeous states: New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

roadtrip2015

What a magical country we live in!

There is so much I love about traveling. Spontaneity, and how one experience can lead you to another completely unplanned moment. I especially crave the open road – through vast landscapes with enormous skies, along windy rivers that change color at every bend, and through old towns that whisper stories as you pass by. It nurtures my creative spirit. I love the feeling of freedom and calmness – no rushing – space to think and breathe. And even though we moved around a lot, being outside nearly all day every day grounded us. If it was hot and we passed by a river, we stopped, played with rocks, splashed, made tea, and dunked in frigid waters while screaming in pure delight, heart racing, laughing, and feeling 1000% alive.

driftwoodplaygrounds

We camped nearly every night in our Magic Turtle – on empty ocean beaches with driftwood playgrounds and sea stack Giants, down mysterious National Forest dirt roads, sweet state parks, high mountain meadows, even our friends’ backyard. Our camper was cozy (6’3″x6’3″x13′) and ideal for road travel since we could pull it with our little Suburu Outback, and we could stop anywhere – the base of a golden and crimson arch in Moab or a small town park/playground – cook a meal easily and run off to explore. Oh, it was really dreamy. I couldn’t stop smiling.

arches

IMG_7560 - Version 2

A few of the MANY highlights …

– On our first night out, we pulled into a meadow on a stunning high mountain pass in New Mexico when a wild rain + thunderstorm burst from the skies seconds after we got into the Turtle. We were dry, cozy, had a lovely, “home-cooked” meal by candlelight, and slept all night to sweet rain music (my favorite!).

– the postcard Tulsi mailed to Oso the 2nd day away

postcardforoso

– We spent 5 special days at the Mendocino Woodlands State Park at a Sufi camp. Patrick taught Ayurveda/chai classes and led a Hindu ceremony while Tulsi, Narayan and I played at the ‘kids’ camp’. Every morning, the entire camp gathered for dances of universal peace and then the kids ran through a circular tunnel made of their elders’ joined hands, and off we went to explore. We discovered a red-legged frog in a creek and “stumbled upon” a nest of featherless baby hummingbirds camouflaged under a spiderweb atop green furry moss, in the nook of a redwood tree!

– One of my favorite dances of universal peace was to this beautiful tune by Tom Chapin, which Blue now loves to fall asleep to. Such a pretty lullabye.

“This pretty planet spinning through space, You’re a garden, you’re a harbor, you’re a holy place,

Golden sun going down, Gentle blue giant spin us around,

All through the night, Safe til the morning light.”

Luna & Me came full circle when we returned to Humboldt County, CA where we journeyed 2 years earlier to visit Luna and research/camp in the redwood forest. This time, we did 3 wonderful and successful fundraising events with Sanctuary Forest, caretakers of The Luna Preserve. What a fun and dedicated group of people doing great work for the environment!

– I loved connecting with the kids at events and visiting amazing indie bookstores!

booktour

– reconnecting with old friends, meeting friends I had only known via blogs/fb before, and encountering a lot of really kind-hearted people

– reading A Wrinkle in Time aloud in the car, on the beach, by the light of the campfire… love, love, love!

– reading, reading, and more reading!

– camping on the Southern Oregon Coast! The beaches are public, and we had the most magical beach to ourselves. We rolled out of bed onto cool, soft sand and explored in our jammies with not a care in the world.

beachdance

– fairy-like Ferry rides from island to island in the Puget Sound and learning that Orca whales breathe in unison while traveling together!

– long hike with 2 kids to wild hot springs in Idaho

– witnessing a young bat swimming in a lake and flapping its way to shore where it rested and dried (and we admired)

– simply being together in nature

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redwoodswalk

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hotsprings

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Maybe we’re just lucky, but we have two of the best travelers, Ever. Tulsi is such a free-spirited, ‘wild child’, and she flourished on this trip. She made us laugh non-stop, and made new friends easily even though she says she’s shy. She met new, and sometimes scary/challenging opportunities, with courage and wonder, and from these, she grew stronger, wiser, more confident, and more compassionate. I love watching her grow. And Narayan Blue radiates so much love and light from his brilliant blue eyes and joyous smile. It was awesome to watch him investigate every rock, pine cone, beach, and salty, worn piece driftwood. His favorite word for the trip was “MAMA!” which melted my heart. He learned to crawl forward during our travels and was a social butterfly making everyone he met, smile. Isn’t it a joy watching our children bring joy to others (friends and strangers alike) just by being themselves?

We learned a few things from this “trial excursion” with our camper:  we could easily go for longer (we seem to have little needs but being in nature), no agenda would be fun, we appreciated the simplicity of having little ‘stuff” with us, the camper was grounding for the kids and made camping/road-tripping easy, and we couldn’t get enough of the ocean (lakes, creeks, rivers, too!). We are ready for more. With homeschooling again this year, we are already planning field-trips with the Turtle!

Here’s another favorite song (from the Shaker tradition) that seems to sum up the way our little family lives, whether on the road or on our homestead. Such a gift.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

family

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24. Illustrator Submission :: Lea Taloc

Post by Chloe

leataloc leataloc2 leataloc3 leataloc4

Lea Taloc has combined her passion for the kitchen and illustration to create beautiful works which often appear in food blogs and magazines. Through her art and graphic design techniques she is able to convey emotions and add visual embellishments to every day life. Lea Taloc’s work has a bright and airy feel to it which is refreshing and cheerful. 

If you would like to see more of Lea’s work, please visit her portfolio.

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25. Digital Illustration Up Close: Behind the Art of Amazing Places

christy haleReleased this month, Amazing Places is a collection of original poems hand-picked by acclaimed anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins that celebrates some of the amazingly diverse places in our nation. It has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, which calls it “a broadly appealing testament to the American landscape and people.”

The gorgeous illustrations in Amazing Places are a uniquecollaboration between artist Chris Soentpiet, who created the rough sketches, and Christy Hale, who brought those sketches to life by adding color and detail. We asked Christy to take us behind the scenes and show us her process for working with Chris Soentpiet’s illustrations to make Amazing Places come to life:Amazing Places

Christy: I have selected the longhouse piece to show the art process used for creating the art for Amazing Places:

1. Chris Soentpiet’s rough sketch
amazing places rough illustration

2. The editor and art director requested modifications. Below is Chris’s tight sketch reflecting those changes.

amazing places rough illustration 2

3. The printer scanned Chris’s sketches and then I received the digital files and my work on the art began. I made some additional changes to the original sketch based on editorial suggestions.

amazing places illustration rough

4. I changed the pencil line to sepia to give it some richness.
amazing places illustration sepia

5. To add color to the art I needed some reference for longhouses. I did some image research. Here are two of many pictures I found.

amazing places reference picture
ca. June 1997, Midland, Ontario, Canada — Animal furs and drying tobacco hang inside a building at the Huron Indian Village. — Image by © Robert Holmes/CORBIS

longhouse-reference2

6. I added colors in transparent layers in Photoshop. I wanted to simulate the beautiful watercolor effects Chris is known for. Each layer was a different color. Sometimes there were multiple layers of the same color in varying transparencies for more subtle effects.
Below you see the sepia line with one color added.
amazing places illustration sepia 2

7. Here is the sepia line with seven colors added.
amazing places illustration sepia 2

8. Here is a screen shot showing the many layers in the Photoshop file.

amazing places illustration photoshop

9. Here is the final image with all the colors. For each piece in the book I worked with a limited palette. In the long house piece there are many, many different neutral colors in varying values. I used color value, intensity, and hue to help direct the eye in each composition.

amazing places final

Christy Hale is the author and illustrator of The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan, a Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year selection, and Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building, winner of a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor. As an art educator, Hale has written about artists for Instructor magazine’s Masterpiece of the Month feature and workshops. Hale lives with her family in Palo Alto, California. Visit her online at christyhale.com.

Purchase a copy of Amazing Places here.

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