Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Color All Around" Travel Exhibit

I've been preparing for the next leg of my travel show, Color All Around at the Miami-Dade Public Library System, January 15 - March 31, 2009. The show features 42 illustrations culled from the dozens of books I have illustrated over the years. I'll be also giving art workshops to children at many of the library branches. I've been working on creating a website for the show, where I can post the art and media reviews, plus updates on activities like the Writing Gallery Competition from Danville Museum.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Printing the Glued Plates

Middle school students in the More Than Words program inked up their cardboard and glue plates and printed on paper. It was fascinating to see the resulting prints. Many were surprised at the results, especially how you can get a variety of tones of ink, depending on how you roll the brayer over areas of the plate. Some students experimented with color, inking up a solid cardboard shape and then printing the glue plate on top.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Drawing With Glue

Yesterday, storyteller Ellouise Schoettler and I, led middle school students in a new printmaking project as part of our More Than Words program with Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Silver Spring. Using simply Elmers glue and cardboard, I demonstrated how we could draw lines and create imaginative imagery. Ellouise encouraged the students to experiment with lines on the back of a cardboard. They then turned it over and began to draw using the glue on the black board. We left the images to dry overnight and will print the plate onto paper on Thursday using a variety of papers.

FROM BRUSH TO PEN Writing Gallery Competition at Danville Museum

I traveled to the Danville Museum of Fine Art and History, in Danville, VA, on October 26 for an artist’s reception, and book signing for Color All Around, my exhibit featuring 42 works of art from children’s books I have illustrated over the years.

I also came for the award ceremony that day for the museum’s 5th annual Writing Gallery Competition. This year, the artwork in my national touring show was the impetus for the writing competition and the education staff’s school focus tours in which over 300 school age children participated. The writing competition drew 153 entries including 90 poems and 63 short stories.

That beautiful fall afternoon in Danville, I stood at the podium with the museum’s education coordinator Patsi Compton, as award after award was announced during the ceremony. Children came with their parents and relatives and many shyly walked up to the stage when their names were called. Monetary awards were given to first prizewinners from elementary school to adult competitors. Others winners received a bag of books and certificates. At the end, first prizewinners read their entries that ranged from an engaging short story from a high school student to whimsical poems read by young elementary school students.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Making Cards from Painted Papers

Being a collage artist, I never like to throw away any papers, no matter how small – and especially those that I have painted or decorated with salt or plastic wrap or marbelized. So this year I decided for the first time in many, many years to make holiday cards with papers I had left over. I had great fun. I cut out bulb shapes, and added foil to form the tops of the ornaments and then cut out strips of paper to hang them from. I used paper clips to suspend them from the lines. Of course I pasted everything down with glue. I didn't make as many card as I desired, but hopefully I can make more as the days progress.

I was inspired actually by my teen-aged daughter who had been decorating the house for the holidays and creating hand made gifts to give away this year. Every night she seems to have at least one project to work on. Gifts from the hands and heart are the best gifts of all.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Simply Printmaking

I love printmaking. There's nothing like the joy of creating an image on a plate and the wonder of peeling paper from plate and savoring the results. It takes me back to my years as a printmaking student at Howard University. I love the fact that you can create prints without a press and with everyday tools. It makes it very accessible.

I taught a very simple technique to 15 middle grade students in Silver Spring using a styrofoam plate recently as part of Pyramid Atlantic Art Center's More Than Words program. The only tool needed was a sharp pencil. We experimented with different colored inks. I brought in some handmade Japanese papers too. Printing on these delicate translucent sheets embedded with a variety of fibers was a special treat. Afterwards we talked about the prints made and the students shared what they learned about papers, inks and printing.

Much of the imagery the students created stemmed from a tale told by storyteller Ellouise Schoettler called Old Joe The Carpenter, a powerful story about bridging differences.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Building Books

November's turning out to be a pretty busy month. I'm pictured here with D.C.'s Seaton Elementary art teacher Terry Thomas (on left) looking over decorated papers her third grade students made with watercolor and plastic wrap, in my hands-on workshop in collaboration with the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Bridging Communities program. The students will use these papers in one-of-a-kind artist's books they create. Students learn from professional artists, writers and illustrators how to write, illustrate and develop unique book formats. At the conclusion of the program the student's book are exhibited at the woman's museum downtown in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hope's Harvest

My program Seasons of Hope concluded today with a show and tell of the female inmates accordion artist's books. Each woman read the story or poem that they wrote and proudly talked about their books. I was quite pleased with the dedication these women exhibited. Each book represented countless hours of cutting and pasting and imagining. I was quite impressed by one woman in particular, being denied scissors, used nail clippers to meticulously cut out tiny shape after tiny shape to form the image of luscious leaves on a tree in full bloom.

Through bookmaking, collage and storytelling, Seasons of Hope invited women to take a critical look at the natural world around them through the changing seasons. By looking at nature with its abounding beauty and change, the woman identified elements in nature that paralleled changes in their own lives. Participants explored their selves as being a part of nature with all its inherent changes and glimmers of hope.

Through the art of collage, women explored how bits and pieces of paper can be cut, torn and assembled to form something new and unique. With these materials they are literally piecing together new personal expressions and ways of being. Using paste paper as a paper decorating technique, the participants painted expressively and uninhibitedly using bold bright colors and subsequently used these papers in their collages to form their unique one-of-a-kind artist’s books.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bibi, Tutu, Nana... Picturing Grandma at the Kennedy Center

What makes your Grandma special?
Is it her silver hair or yummy pies?
Her hefty hugs or sparkling eyes?

I led an interactive art workshop encouraging families to picture Grandma in cut-paper collage at the Kennedy Center's Annual Multicultural Children's Book Festival November 1 in Washington, DC.

The room was filled to capacity with over 100 mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and kids of all ages utilizing cut and torn papers and other assorted materials to create their lively mixed media portraits.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Love Myself When I'm Laughing...

Zora Neale Hurston - celebrated novelist, journalist and folklorist was the source of my inspiration when I visited Ron Brown Middle School in late October as part of a mini residency with the Kennedy Center.

The book edited by Alice Walker I Love Myself When I'm Laughing... But Then Again when I'm Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neal Hurston Reader title was used as a writing prompt.

I approached my workshop differently this time, by starting with the art and then using the art as a bridge to the writing. The 12 and 13 year-old boys and girls jumped head first into the art. Collage is such a great medium for children. It's so non-intimidating and accessible. I rarely allow my students to use pencils and encourage them to work big and bold, cutting out large shapes to make their expressions like American artist Romare Bearden.

The next day we used the cut paper collages to come up with words that described themselves. I read a passage from Angela Johnson's children's book Song of Faith about a girl Doreen and her brother Bobo growing up in the mid 70's. In the book Doreen had to come up ten words to describe herself in school. One of the words she used is square. I asked my middle schoolers to come up with their list. They were then encouraged to weave these words into their narratives using contrasts like in the title of the Hurston Reader .

I liked the attitude displayed in many of the collages. The children liked juxtaposing positive aspects of their character with other less favorable aspects. They left that second day feeling a sense of accomplishment and quiet satisfaction.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Seasons of Hope

I led bookmaking, cut paper collage and writing workshops for women at a correctional facility in Maryland yesterday through the non-profit Project Youth ArtReach in Silver Spring, MD. that places professional artists from around the world in correctional facilities for arts programming. We talked about our theme "Season of Hope". I read from several children’s books including my book Grandma’s Purple Flowers that takes readers through four seasons and explores the hope found in a blossoming flower after a difficult and icy winter. I also read books by Eric Carle and a rhyming book by Mem Fox. The women always seem to enjoy being read to and exploring the art found in picture books.

I asked the women to close their eyes and identify themselves with something in nature. They did some free writing and came up with key words to describe themselves and the object and wrote imaginative first drafts of poems and stories. We discussed how rhyme and rhythm works in a story and how some writers claim that children find comfort and predictability in rhyme. Using blank sheets of paper and oil pastel, they planned the sequence of their stories.

Later, using bright papers that they painted in an earlier session with paste and tempera paint, they began to dutifully illustrate their stories and poems, step by step, cutting out large shapes and gluing them down. Bright red, green and orange patterned and textured papers were used to illustrate tropical birds, flowers, gypsy moths and chipmunks that they identified with. These illustrations will be later matched up with words in an accordion book that they will construct in a later session.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Grandma Returns

My children's book Grandma's Purple Flowers is now out in paperback. I'll be signing books and reading on Saturday, Oct. 18 from 2 til 4 p.m. at Pyramid Atlantic's new store in Silver Spring, MD (821 Wayne Avenue) as part of downtown Silver Spring's Fall Festival.

Grandma's Purple Flowers celebrates the affection between a young African American girl and her favorite Grandma through the seasons, with simple lyrical text and lively cut paper collages. When Grandma dies one day something surprising comforts her during her time of mourning.

This has always been a special book for me, since it was the first one that I both wrote and illustrated. It draws upon childhood memories that I had of my paternal grandma, Annie Kate, who traveled by Greyhound bus from Georgia to visit my siblings and I in Chicago. The words of the story however, grew out of my sense of loss from not having my mother around when my youngest son was born.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Rhythm and the Rhyme

Celebrated Australian children's book author Mem Fox spoke along with noted English illustrator Helen Oxenbury at the Washington Post on Monday, October 13 in honor of their newly released picture book, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Talking with energy and animation, Fox discussed the secrets of writing for children, to a group of about 200 book lovers.

Both presenters gave a captivating behind-the-scenes look at the book's origins and offered insightful answers to questions fielded by the audience. Fox has written 30 picture books for children, many having sold more than a million copies.

When talking about the secrets of writing successful books for children, Fox noted that kids want to be assured that they are loved. "They love rhyme, rhythm and repetition", she said "because it's predictable. It makes them feel safe," she added. When adults write for children, Fox claims, they must get the rhythm right. One way to get it is through reading aloud. Mem Fox is the author of Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever.

The reception was sponsored by several DC area non-profits including The Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC; Reach Out and Read; DC Learns, The Reading Connection and The Women's National Book Association, who among other things supports the role of women in the community of the book.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Much More Than Words

I started teaching "More Than Words" yesterday - Pyramid Atlantic Art Center's new after school program at Silver Spring International Middle School. 20 Art Club kids signed up, encouraged by art teacher Gabrielle Morcate. Over the next ten weeks, as lead teacher, I will collaborate with storyteller, Ellouise Schoettler with the assistance of master papermaker Gretchen Schermerhorn.

Using storytelling, printmaking and bookmaking "More Than Words" aims to help young people to develop their literary and visual arts skills and allows them to draw upon personal experiences. When asked to develop an outline for the program, I immediately thought of the upcoming election and how this is such an important and exciting time in history. And even though these children are too young to vote, I wanted to find a way to include them in this important political debate so that their voices could be heard through their art.

So I thought we could challenge young people to identify, examine, and dissect key words that emerge in the presidential campaign, and make visual and literary statements about what America is and should be. Through storytelling, the words become the vehicle for recovered memories and experiences. And through words and images, they can examine America through the eyes of women, the poor, immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities.

Each week we will take a key word or concept from the campaign for exploration. Last night our word was "change." We discussed the power of words and how initially Barack Obama positioned himself as the candidate of change with the slogan "Change We Can Believe In. It's interesting because when John McCain declared "Change Is Coming" in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, the debate made a shift. Now when Obama speaks, a podium sign reads "Change We Need."

We went on to discuss what changes the candidates were talking about. Many themes emerged including the war, the economy, race and women. They were then urged to create cut paper collages from pictures in magazines, newspapers and scrap paper about the word "change." The teens cut, and assembled and pasted with zeal. The resulting collages were awesome. I was impressed with their use of color and composition and how they really examined their feelings about the issues. I'm excited about next weeks class and how master storyteller Ellouise will weave story into the mix.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Me, Myself and I Transformed

I concluded my 12 week art program with teen girls at a detention facility this week, facilitated by the arts organization Class Acts Arts, in Silver Spring, Maryland, which places professional artists from all over the world in correctional facilities to teach. During the duration of the program we created several artists books, made origami, created pop up cards, experimented with tie dye, marbelized paper and wrote poetry and stories. Most of the projects were introspective in that I wanted them to exam their lives and choices. One entitled "My Natural Disaster" challenged them to look at the Tsunami in Indonesia and imagine what it would have been like, stranded on a make shift raft for 8 days.

I wanted our last project to be on a larger scale, so the last two weeks we created a painted mural on tyvek, which was originally titled, "Me, Myself and I". Later the girls changed the name to "We Are All in This Together." I projected their silhouettes on the tyvek and had them trace the outlines. I was struck by the fact that few of the figures had arms. One teen pointedly told me, "Arms... I don't have arms. I'm locked up".

Friday, July 18, 2008

Disaster Reflections

One thing I've been reminded of this year is that, given a chance, young people can and will create amazing works of art that reflect their inner triumphs and turmoil's. I came to this revelation once again while conducting a series of art workshops with at-risk teenage girls through Class Acts Arts, Inc., a non-profit arts outreach and presenting organization serving diverse populations in the DC metropolitan area. And even though at times the teens are reluctant to try new ways of expressing themselves, after the initial discomfort, they always manage to jump right in.

Some of the projects I led this summer with these teens included a paper mural that challenged them to imagine what it would be like to experience certain natural disasters like a Tsunami. I shared a newspaper article with them about a teenager in Thailand who was one of the few survivors in his family. He managed to survive while clinging to a make-shift raft for eight days. Another project, encouraged them to create a simple artists book using collage. They wrote about difficult life experiences and invited the reader to talk a walk in their shoes. In the course of the summer we have explored several paper decorating techniques using salt and plastic wrap; have created marbleized paper; origami; pop up cards and have made several artists books including a modified accordion book incorporating oil pastel and watercolor, examining the notion of "The Me Nobody Knows".

At the end of several sessions, many of the girls were anxious to share what they created in the workshops with a special person in their lives. I think the workshops have been valuable because they not only allow these teens to express themselves through language art and visual art, but also increase their self esteem and awareness.

To make arts experiences possible for those who normally don't have access is vital. For me personally, the smiles generated from the girls after completing a challenging project make it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lucille Clifton's Everett Anderson

The other day I searched online for Lucille Clifton’s poem “Blessing the Boats.” The sparse words and vivid imagery it evokes somehow lifts me when I’m a little bit blue. While online I discovered that Clifton wrote more than 16 children’s books, including a series of eight books about a character named Everett Anderson.

Like her poetry, the words of her children’s book resonate with honesty and brevity.

After my journey on the web, I felt compelled to visit my local library to find some of her children’s books. I checked out One of the Problems of Everett Anderson; Everett Anderson’s Nine Month Long; Everett Anderson’s Friend; Everett Anderson’s Year; and Everett Anderson’s 1, 2 3.

In One of the Problems of Everett Anderson, the main character is faced with a difficult dilemma. When Everett’s friend Greg comes to school with bruises, he agonizes about what to do. The story sensitively deals with the confusing issue of abuse for a young child.

Artist Ann Grifalconi, who has illustrated six other books in the Everett Anderson series, renders warm colorful images in what appears to be pastel. Expressive eyes and gestures support the pensive story.

Grifalconi’s illustration skills radiate in other books in the series also including her use of simple line drawings in Everett Anderson’s Friend, that challenges a young boy’s conception of having a girl as a buddy, and the richly detailed pencil drawings in Everett Anderson’s Nine Month Long, a story that draws upon a child’s anxiety about a new addition in the family.

Lucille Clifton is a distinguished poet, writer and educator and served as poet Laureate of Maryland. She is currently Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Posted in June, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Telling Evening with Alice McGill

One summer afternoon I visited with professional storyteller, Alice McGill in her home in Maryland. We sat down and ate a hearty dinner with her husband, and she talked about many things including growing up in a small farming community in Scotland Neck, North Carolina with her seven siblings. She reminisced about how storytelling and reading were some of her favorite activities as a young girl and how she was often asked to tell stories by family members. McGill, who is also an award winning author, has traveled extensively throughout the United States, Canada, South Africa and the West Indies to collect and tell stories.

After dinner Alice invited me upstairs and shared some photos of her family with me. I was struck by a beautiful photo of her on the wall taken decades ago by a professional photographer. Very artfully composed, the photo accentuated Alice’s flawless skin, large striking eyes and high cheekbones. She told me about her career as a print model and actress. She shared her portfolio of black and white images with me. I was fascinated.

It’s been many years since Alice and I met at a Washington Children’s Book Guild meeting in Washington, D.C. and have since participating in several book events in the metropolitan area together. I was excited to include the cover of one of her books Here We Go Round, in the painted mural I created at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial library in dontown Washington in the children’s division.

Towards night fall, Alice showed me her children’s book Way Up and Over Everything, a long-ago story passed on through many generations in her family, and told to her as a child by her great grandmother. The picture book recently received the Junior Library Guild’s Spring 2008 Premier Selection Award. Additionally she told me, the Horn Book just gave Way Up and Over Everything a starred review.

I left Alice’s home that evening feeling so lucky to have shared an evening with such a gifted and spirited friend.

Posted in June, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Determined Fifth Graders Get Published

While browsing my local bookstore one day, a bookseller called my attention to a book published by some fifth graders in Virginia called The Adventures of Danny and Spike Underground written by Sean Pickering and Scott Morrill, and illustrated by Dylan Peacock, all classmates in a school in Aldie, Virginia.

"Perfect", I thought. This would be great to send to my nephew in Chicago who's been writing like crazy these days and very anxious to get published. To actually hold a book in his hands written, illustrated and published by kids his age would surely give him a boost, I thought.

Apparently, the book all started with Sean, the main writer, and a sentence written when he was in second grade. "I'm Danny and I'm a regular boy", he wrote. This simple sentence grew into a fantasy story about kids, talking dogs and a magic subway ride that captures the imagination of kids. The colorful cover illustrated by classmate Dylan is imaginative. The illustration within the circular design in the center, surrounded by bold black patterning, brings readers in.

Driven to get their book published, the classmates put their money together to get five initial copies printed. Later their parents pitched in and paid for more copies.

The 78-page book has sold more than 500 copies since it came out in October. One day it sold more than even Harry Potter, a local bookseller told me. Since then the boys have had newspaper interviews and have done numerous book signings throughout the region. Not bad for three young boys determined to get their book idea, developed in the back of a school bus, to print.

Posted in May, 2008

A Walk In Your Shoes

I was lucky to work recently with at-risk high school students in a unique program at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center called Telling Your Own Story. In this after-school program Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity youth volunteers and students learned how to use their own personal experience in combination with visual art to produce autobiographical art works. The program was developed by the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, in collaboration with several non-profit organizations.

The students created artists books made from their own shoes, as an invitation to viewers to walk a mile in their shoes. Students were prompted to bring in shoes that had an interesting story behind them and painted, glued, stenciled and collaged images on them. They also created small accordion books with images from their stories.

I watched the students faces light up as storyteller and artist Ellouise Schoettler told her story of her visit to Egypt many years ago and held up the sandal that she wore. She later taught the students how to tell their own autobiographical stories. I brought in my Salsa shoes and talked about ways that I could decorate them with hot peppers and sequin and shared my stories about dancing.

At first the students seemed puzzled about exactly what we wanted them to achieve. Many of them hadn’t had much experience with art. Some of them struggled with words, since many spoke English as a second language. But after a few sessions we broke down many of the barriers and shyness and they freely shared aspects of their lives.

Posted in May, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tips To Encourage Your Child to Write

Recently I did a workshop for parents at my son’s elementary school in their Parent Center. Some mom’s came with their toddlers. Other mom’s had older children that were in class. I talked about ways parents can encourage their children to write. It’s never too early to begin. Here are some easy, practical tips.

  1. Don’t be too critical. Nothing discourages a child more than correcting misspelled words too soon. In the early stages of the writing process called brainstorming, it is more important to get the idea down on paper. The time for editing comes later.
  2. Create a good environment at home. Make sure your child is comfortable when writing. The lighting should be good to reduce eye strain. Try to reduce distractions, like a loud TV or music. Make sure your child has the tools they need available.
  3. Take note of writing around them. Read signs as you drive together, and at the supermarket. Call attention to writing that is done by professionals you encounter such as doctors that write prescriptions and waiters that take your food order.
  4. Make handmade books together. Make a simple book by folding white paper together and stapling the fold. Start with a simple ABC or number book for younger children. Decorate it using cut paper.
  5. Write letters to family. Writing letters is a great way to keep in touch with family members in other states or countries. Teach your child how to address an envelope and prepare them in advance. Add pictures or cartoons to your letter and create your own stationary.
  6. Start a holiday newsletter. At the end of the year each child can write about events that happened to them that year and publish it in a one page newsletter that can be mailed to other family members. Be sure to add art.
  7. Create a make believe journal. Use your imagination. Let your child pretend to be someone else, like a famous actor, music star or politician and write from their perspective in this fun journal.
  8. Set up a writing event. Plan a family reading night at home, where each person can read their stories or poems. Make it special by making simple invitations and serving refreshments.
  9. Show and tell. Young writers are often proud of their work. Show it off on the refrigerator with magnets or make envelopes with their names on it to keep work inside.
  10. Praise your child. Respond to you child’s writing with enthusiasm. It lets them know that you think writing is an important and worthwhile activity.

Posted in April, 2008

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Nephew, The Writer

A big manila envelope arrived in the mail one day from my 11 year-old nephew in Chicago. Inside was a letter that read,

"Dear Auntee, I have two stories. Can you correct the spelling and also type it out on the computer. Add a picture on the cover, then can we try to get it published! Love your nephew.

P.S. When you finish, please send it back with copies. Thanks!"

Delighted, I then pulled out the two stories that were hand written on lined paper. One had eleven chapters. He even gave himself a pen name. I was impressed. This is cause for celebration. I got on the phone and called him right away.

What just happened here, I said to myself. My nephew was never a real fan of books or reading, I remembered. Something apparently clicked for him one day. When questioned he said that when he reached 9 years old, things changed for him. "I finally found some books I liked," he said. "I really got excited," he added. And those books were mysteries, thrillers and comedies, he told me.

My sister says that now, he sits in his room with the door closed and writes and writes, just like a real writer. He told me he was encouraged by his Dad who writes children's stories.

I am so proud of him because it takes discipline to write and a real commitment. There is so much competition for kid's time and attention, especially with all the latest computer games out on the market.

I'm still typing up the stories he sent me the other day. Every few days he calls and asks me if I'm finished. He just text messaged me a moment ago and wrote, "Auntee, are you done yet? Also I need some tips on how to publish." he added. Boy, I had better hurry up and finish the ones he sent. My sister called and said he just finished four more.

Posted in April, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Each One Reach One

I recently taught a Role Model Workshop, The Secrets of Illustration and Graphic Design at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in downtown Washington D.C., designed to introduce teens to art careers, the day to day work of an artist and give an opportunity for young people to create original art.

Because I wear a lot of hats as an artist – that of a children’s book illustrator and author, graphic designer and teaching artist, I started off with an introduction to each and what the requirements were to work in each arena. As a children’s book illustrator I showed some of my picture books and discussed step by step the collage method I use to create the illustrations.

As a graphic designer I showed examples from my portfolio of publications I have designed over the years. But nothing captured the participants more than when I pulled out a plush girl clown that I designed recently for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus. I showed preliminary sketches of the clown and the rounds and rounds of revisions I went through to get to the final approved design.

Equipped with paintbrushes, liquid watercolor, tempera paints and other art supplies, the teens then had a chance to dive into their art making. I demonstrated three paper decorating techniques that I often use in the art for my books. One, called paste paper, involves mixing tempera paint with wall paper paste and painting directly onto a sheet of paper. After that we used various tools like a comb, to work through the paint, making rhythmic marks.

Liquid watercolor paint was manipulated with plastic wrap and salt in two other techniques I demonstrated, to create organic textures. The students created very striking, colorful designs.

Finally, at the end of the afternoon the students were able to use the papers they decorated as well as other papers to create their amazing collages, using scissors and glue. The teens left that day with the papers and compositions they made and hopefully a lot of information and a detailed look at the work of one artist.

Posted in March, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

China Town Treasures

I remember taking my daughter and niece to Chinatown in New York one spring. We drove to New Jersey from Northern Virginia and then took a train to Chinatown. We spent hours walking city block after city block admiring the colorful purses, shirts, watches and other moderately priced wares displayed on packed stands on the sidewalks. The girls then only 12 and 13 years old, had their own money – saved for this very day. They couldn’t wait to spend every dime. At the conclusion of the day each had 4 to 5 large black plastic bags filled with their goodies. We had walked no less than 5 hours up and down the streets of Chinatown that day, til our feet ached. The girls were thoroughly satisfied as we rode the train back to Jersey that evening and fell asleep clutching their bags in their hands.

Though Yangsook Choi’s book Gai See: What You See in Chinatown setting is a marketplace in China, it reminded me of our trip that spring to New York. Gai See, a Cantonese word meaning “street market” recalls a young boys trip there each season with his family, and all the remarkable objects and treasures he finds. There are wonderful treats found that begin on a warm breezy springtime morning. Other pleasures are discovered including those to celebrate New Years. Gai See by award-winning author Roseanne Thong and celebrated illustrator Yangsook Choi offers a delightful tour of Chinatown and a peek at Chinese culture.

Adjoa Burrowes

Posted in March, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Teaming Up and Making Books

In early January about a dozen middle school girls from the Community Bridges-Dream Catchers mentoring program converged on Pyramid Atlantic—a respected print and paper arts institution in Silver Spring MD, to make handmade paper that would be used in their one-of-a kind, artists’ books.

I met the girls late last year during orientation for the month long program called YES (The Youth Empowerment and Skills program) which is a unique collaboration between Pyramid, Dream Catchers, Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. The program would include papermaking, collage, storytelling and job training skills workshops.

Pyramid’s Resident Papermaker, Gretchen Schermerhorn, and artist Beth Schaible introduced the art of papermaking and provided direction as the girls sloshed through water at their feet and sticky pulp in their hands. I assisted as they formed their sheets, mixed pulp paint, and made their color choices. Dream Catchers program coordinator, Jenna Fletcher, worked with a group of girls in another room on job skills.

In the papermaking studio were vats of pulp made from blue jeans mixed in a huge Hollander beater and other vats with pulp made from cotton fibers and another containing rich purple pulp.

To form a sheet of small paper, the girls had to grip the mold and deckle and pull it through the water, with the bottom end first. It then required them to lift both to the surface in one continuous motion.

Each girl made many small sheets of paper that would be used to create collages as well as cut-out images for their books. I will demonstrate the collage technique in an upcoming workshop. The girls laughed and sometimes winched when they immersed their hands into the cold mushy solution to break up clumped fibers. Some experimented and added inclusions like yarn or leaves to their sheets.

Every girl created one deckled sheet over five feet long. The tedious process began by measuring the pulp taken from large vats and mixing it with a small amount of a slime-like substance. The solution was then stirred and carefully poured into a long wooden frame, while someone else shook the frame from side to side to avoid clumps from forming. After the water drained from the sheet, it was then flipped onto a couching table and then painted with colored pulp squeezed from plastic bottles. After drying for a day or so, the long sheet would then be folded into an accordion book. Other elements will be added to the book in future workshops.

The girls created beautiful paper that day and were anxious to see what it would finally look like after it was pressed and dried. I was thrilled that they had this amazing experience and excited about leading the next workshop where I will teach the girls a paper decorating technique called paste paper.

Posted in February, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Legacy of the Lock

I remember Lorenzo Pace when I was a high school student in Chicago. Lorenzo was teaching at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. I would sometimes see him at the Southside Community Art Center where Black artists would converge for National Conference of Artists (NCA) meetings. NCA had chapters in most major cities and was the oldest Black arts organization in the U.S. Lorenzo was always very encouraging of my art and served as a mentor to me as a young high school and college student.

Many years later when he told me he wrote a children’s book, I was delighted. In Julani and the Lock which he also illustrated, he masterfully takes the tough subject of slavery and makes it understandable to a young child. Using bold colors, simple language and child-like imagery, he based his book on his great, great grandfather, Steve Pace’s story of being captured in Africa, locked in a box and transported to America to be a slave. Amazingly, he managed to keep the lock from the box and pass it on to his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Lorenzo Pace was presented the lock after his father’s funeral. The same lock that shackled his great, great grandfather Steve Pace, was now his to pass on. I love the way that the legacy is passed on through art – both visual and literary.

An internationally accomplished artist, Lorenzo Pace was commissioned in 1993 to create a 60 foot high outdoor monument “Triumph of the Human Spirit” in New York City’s Foley Square, that paid tribute to the African slaves that were buried there. Lorenzo Pace duplicated the lock that Steve Pace passed down to his descendants and buried it in the base of the 300-ton granite sculpture.

Adjoa Burrowes

Posted in February, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Among a Million Readers

I joined over a million readers on Sunday February 3, at the Sherwood Regional Library in Alexandria, Virginia as part of the Nineteenth National African American Read-In sponsored by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and by NCTE. I read from two picture books that I illustrated—Grandma’s Purple Flowers and Destiny’s Gift, and shared some of my original illustrations to a mixed audience of parents and inquisitive school-age children. The Read-In was designed to inject literacy into the celebration of Black History Month. That day across the nation, Read Ins were hosted by churches, schools, libraries and various community groups.

A Quilt and a Quest

Kyra E. Hicks, a quilt historian and author of Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria also read that day at Sherwood library. Hicks first children’s book is the true story of Martha Ann Ricks, an ex-slave who had a dream to travel to England to deliver a gift to the Queen of England, in appreciation of the British Navy’s role in protecting the shores of Liberia from slave catchers. Despite skepticism from family and friends, Martha Ann was determined to meet her goal. After 50 years of collecting spare coins for her 3,500 mile voyage, and drawing upon what she learned about quilting from her mother, she finally was able to deliver the “Coffee Tree” quilt and meet the Queen of England. A year later the quilt was exhibited in the Liberian exhibit area at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

Kyra Hicks taught herself to quilt after a visit to a museum in 1991 exhibiting African American story quilts. Since then Hicks has exhibited her quilts throughout the U.S. and abroad. A historical researcher, Hicks is the author of Black Threads: An African American Quilting Sourcebook.

Adjoa Burrowes

Posted in February, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Getting Started as a Children's Book Writer

10 Tips for Getting Your Story Published

I often am approached by people after my art or writing workshop that have written a children’s book and are struggling to find next steps to get their story published. Many times I get e-mails requesting more information. Yesterday I visited an artist friend, who in a phone call, insisted I come by and see the story and art she created for her book. She confessed that she had never done this before and really needed some direction. When I arrived at her studio she excitedly read the story to me and showed me reproductions she made of the art, then pulled large sheets of paper from a portfolio to share the original illustrations created with expressive watercolor and bright pastel. The large playful artwork was laid on the floor in sequence so that I could see how they fit with the story. We walked from colorful illustration to illustration critiquing the art and evaluating how it fit with the words. I was impressed by the quality of the work and her determination to get to the next level and wanted to encourage her as best I could. I suggested a few possibilities that afternoon and left her studio feeling that I should provide more resources for her in this highly competitive market. Below are some basic tips I came up with and will share them with her and hope others will find this helpful as well.

1. Research the market

Check out trade magazines like Publishers Weekly for trends in the children’s book market. Get a copy of the 2008 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market by Writers Digest, containing over 700 listings for book publishers, magazines, agents, art reps and much more.

2. Join an organization for writers

Check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), a great resource for new as well as seasoned writers. They have many informative publications for members and have regional and national groups, events and conferences.


3. Use community resources

Talk to teachers and librarians about your book idea. They may have good insight on what has been done before and whether some topics go ignored.

4. Know the rules of the game

Do your research. Every publisher has specific rules for submission. Most guidelines are accessible on the internet. Some publishers, for example, discourage multiple submissions and only accept work from agents.

5. What about artwork

Publishers discourage submitting artwork along with your story unless you are an artist. If you are, never submit originals. Get color copies of your artwork and create a mock up of the book matching the words with the art on the pages (this is called a dummy).

6. Cover the basics

Be sure your manuscript has been thoroughly proofed for grammatical or typographical errors before submission. Make sure you copyright your work. For copyright information www.copyright.gov/faq.html

7. Check for kid appeal

Read your stories to young people to get their reactions and comments. Revise if necessary.

8. Get organized

Keep track of where you submitted your story on index cards. If the manuscript is returned with a rejection, record the date and immediately send it to the next publisher on your list so you won’t lose momentum.

9. Search publishers for new talent awards

Lee and Low Books in New York for example have an annual New Voices Award for previously unpublished writers of color. You can go to their website for details www.leeandlow.com

10. Be patient

The submission process can be very long. Editors may get hundreds of submissions a year. It is not unusual to wait 2-3 months before getting a response. Personalized, hand written responses are rare.

Posted in January, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christmas Memories Growing Up in Chicago

Now that the holidays have come and gone, my memory of how things used to be when I was a kid still remain. I grew up in Chicago with my three brothers and sister. My parents were both from Georgia. I remember the live Christmas tree and how it filled the room with the strong scent of pine that I crave every Christmas. I remember decorating the tree with big multicolored bulbs and being careful to string the lights just right. One Christmas I got a small electric shock when I plugged in the lights and it made a small hole in my pajama shirt. It scared me, but Daddy reassured me with a hug that everything would be alright.

I remember how Daddy would take us down to 12th street in Chicago, to this outdoor market to buy fruit, nuts and sweets. We would buy different kinds of nuts in the shell like walnuts and pecans and those big dark, hard nuts, which I can’t remember the names of now—and how we struggled to crack them open to reveal the sweet meat inside when we got home. Sometimes my Aunt Ruby would send us pecans in shoe boxes from Georgia. When momma got them we would shell them and she would make the best pecan pie you ever tasted.

I remember Daddy buying peanut brittle and a special brittle made with coconut and those giant peppermint sticks that we would crack and eat greedily. Daddy would always buy lots of fruits like tangerines and sweet red apples. We would make a big platter on the table with the nuts and fruit. While driving home Daddy would take a detour and we would drive through neighborhood after neighborhood looking at the light decorations in front of peoples homes. Daddy always had a station wagon with a back seat that would face outside. My brothers and sisters and I would always fight to get the back seat to assure a perfect view of the twinkling lights. Daddy would always call back to me, “Are you still there”? he asked smiling, because I was always so quiet.

When we finally got home we would rush under the tree to shake whatever present had our names on it, and try to guess what was inside. As a joke sometimes we would wrap up something someone already owned, and present it to that person on Christmas day as if it were new. Momma and Daddy didn’t like us to do that, but we got such a kick out of it. I always seemed to get exactly what I asked for. Back then we got simply one gift each. One year all I wanted were white go go boots. Another year I longed for a new pair of ice skates so I could skate near the park off Lake Shore Drive.

I remember shopping for a gift for Mama and Daddy and going to Sears downtown off State Street. I loved taking the escalator up and down and the funny music that piped through the store. My big sister Cynthia always took us to Marshall Fields and Carson Pirie Scott to look at the elaborate Christmas decorations in the store fronts. There was always an animated Santa in the window and toy trains and gingerbread houses. It was all so enchanting.

Posted in January, 2008