Monday, January 18, 2010

Children's Books and Children's Book Press

One of my many passions is for children's picture books. I was lucky enough to be one of the earlier multicultural picture book artists working for Children's Book Press. They were the first publisher to show the beauty of all children, not just Anglo-Americans and to help challenge and change old racist ideas by presenting books by and about the many different cultural groups in America.

I illustrated Uncle Nacho's Hat, Baby Rattlesnake Where Fireflies Dance, and was honored to be in the anthologies Honoring Our Ancestors, and Just Like Me. I also got to art direct and design other books and through various CBP events got to know some of CBP's authors and artists such as the amazing Maya Christina Gonzales, Elizabeth Gomez, Enrique Chagoya, Carmen Lomas Garza, Elly Simmons, George Littlechild, Joe Sam, Felicia Hoshino, and Carl Angel who, among others, have all created ground breaking art for books that address important themes such as environment, lbgt, immigration, racism, war, feminism, special needs, spirituality, you name a social justice issue and it's in one of their books but in a gentle non-didactic, playful and whimsical way. Children's Book Press books have won just about every award except the Caldecott, which will hopefully happen soon. I have some annotated reading lists on my website for anyone interested in finding out more about multicultural picturebooks.

This year CBP is celebrating their 35th anniversary but like many small non-profits they have been hit hard by the recession in terms of donations and funding and the difficulties schools are having purchasing books. Other mainstream publishers have jumped on the bandwagon doing "vanilla" multiculturalism that imitate CBPs work but don't quite have the same heart, soul, and guts. While there is definitely a place for all kinds of books I really want to encourage anyone with any discretionary funding to head on over to Children's Book Presses website, check out their work, and donate. You'll feel really good afterwards.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Danny does blue-tongue

Here's my nephew Danny with the effects of a "pop ring." He wanted me to include the ring so that people could see cause and effect and know that he didn't naturally have a blue tongue. When I lived in Australia I loved the blue tongue lizards, so these images are particularly evocative. Fortunately, Danny is much friendlier than the lizards.

Teaching Danny to needle-felt

I am working on a book about needle-felting (more will be revealed later) and one aspect will be kids making totem animals. As my delightfully talented nephew Danny was visiting over the holidays we decided to do some needle felting together. He's an extremely focused and precocious seven year old and I doubt that most seven year olds could do this, especially in a classroom setting. I would recommend ages 9 and up if the kids are fairly focused. It's enormously fun. Danny loves penguins because of how they walk (waddle), how they look (cute) and their color. He recently received Club Penguin membership, which he was over the moon about. We didn't talk much about totem or power animals as he just wanted to make art and not think about it too much. Here are some of Danny's comments during the process and when I told him the pictures might end up in a book. Click on the image to enlarge for step-by-step directions.

This is worth doing. It gets you real excited.
How does the technology of this work?
Wings are easy.
Sometimes getting an idea is harder than making it.

On needle felting - Fast motion, slow motion, medium motion.
When I asked him what kind of penguin he'd be he said "Emperor penguin, because then I could do whatever I wanted but I'd rather be human. I'd really like to know what fish tastes like straight from the sea. I'd be a good penguin.

On being in a book. I want to be famous. No I don't want to be famous. I was just saying it.

So there you have it, a glimpse of my delightful nephew Danny. I love how smart, funny, and passionate about art he is. Quite a treat for this Auntie.

I will be teaching a class on felted totem animals Saturday Feb. 13, 1-4 at University Art 2610 Marconi Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95821. Kids over 10 welcome. Contact me through my website if you are interested in coming.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beauty at the old cemetery in Sacramento.

The cheerful side of cemeteries

Last weekend I was feeling a little blue with the winter greys so my husband Guy took me to a beautiful cemetery to cheer me up. It always works astoundingly well. I'm not sure if it's the beauty, or the reminder of mortality and how lucky I am to be alive, but I always find old cemeteries very uplifting. My favorites are Pere lachaise in Paris, an old cemetery in Brooklyn, there's a beautiful one in Palouse Washington, and of course Colma outside of San Francisco, a city of many cemeteries. Guy saw a bumper sticker there that said "Colma, a great place to live" - the irony was not lost on him.

This particular cemetery had tributes to the early pioneers of the area. It also featured a lot of beautiful statuary, mostly ethereal and solemn looking statues of women in portent poses. I thought I'd share some here. These are color pictures and it was a delightfully eerie and refreshing afternoon.

More picture from Esthers Place - goats, cheviot sheep and chickens

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It was getting late in the day and the animals had either come in or were coming in. I loved how curious and expressive the goats were. The sheep also looked happy and of course I was drawn to the graphic patterning of the chickens.

Missing Esthers Place Fibers, Needle Felting, Art Education

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When I lived in Northern Illinois, one of my favorite things was going to Donna and Natasha's fiber arts studio ( named after their first ewe Esther. This is where I learned to needle-felt, wet felt, nuno felt and so on. It was always incredibly warm and welcoming, most of the time they'd feed you or at least make you delicious teas in wonderful old thrift store china depending on how busy the store or classes were. People were always dropping in asking for advice or showing off what they'd just made in this beautiful old Victorian in the middle of farming country and I would walk around ooohing and aahing, touching all the different colored and textured wools, locks and rovings and feeling blissed.

Donna and Natasha came and visited my classes at NIU where we got to teach future art teachers and future elementary teachers about sustainability and the magic of making art from organic wool. We made future sustainable animals (I'll post some in the future) that were imaginative creations of how farm animals and farming might evolve in the future. Natasha and Donna also demonstrated how to make felted soap bar loofahs for younger kids and talked about the difficulties of farming for small farmers. Many of my students said that it was their favorite project. I got to visit their organic farm with some of my students and meet the sheep whose wool has sustained me creatively through many projects. It was quite a magical time and I was so happy to see farm animals living a good life. They were free range with a lovely big barn to come into. These are some of the pictures I took of the farm. I have been searching for something similar to the fiber arts studio in Northern California but have yet to find anywhere with the warmth and generosity and wonderful sense of community. I still get roving from Donna and Natasha by mail but I sure miss the place. If anyone knows of a place like this here - please let me know.

Monday, January 4, 2010

More pics from my day with Helene

Beautifully restored Old Town Sacramento (note the busker on right who played well and was doing quite nicely); shop window - Helene was struck by the boy doll on the tractor while I was taken with the strange baby in the carriage (pity about the reflections and yet they form a kind of commentary on time and context); bottom pic of the new Crocker extension (check out the fabulous trees on the right). Am looking forward to it opening and am hoping it will take risks and show a lot more contemporary and multicultural art and not just mainstream stuff.
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Sacramento with Helene

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We visited Old Town Sacramento and walked along the American River, had a yummy lunch on the Delta King, an old boat converted into a restaurant and hotel, and then went to the Crocker Art Museum before I took her back to the train station. It was wonderful being tourists and enjoying getting to point out the influence of the Gold Rush on Old Town and talk about the comodification and kitchiness of history while also enjoying the architecture and craftsmanship of the old timey typography. The Crocker's main exhibit consisted of artifacts from the early days "Treasures, Curiosities, and Secrets: The Crockers and the Gilded Age" but we were more interested in the contemporary art on the top floor. The Crocker is building an addition which I'll post a pic of in my next post along with more pics from our day in Sacramento.