Bed Book peek – Afghanistan (part 1)

As soon as we finished filming scenes for our animated film, Liberty and Justice and handed it over to the musicians, I resumed work on my children’s book. It feels strange and wonderful to be engaged with only one project and a non-political one at that! But, it’s also like snuggling into bed and pulling up the covers, knowing that they’ll be yanked off come summer, when the movie is out.

I’m illustrating a story written by Rebecca Bond, which is a tour around the world that focuses on where children sleep. It will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. Here are links to posts about other illustrations I’ve finished for the book: South America, Japan and India.

This scene, set in Afghanistan, has a pair of children sleeping on a family made rug, which features prominently in the verse. While researching carpets from the region, a photo of one with birds and trees caught my eye, so I adapted it to fit on the page. I don’t usually use color in my layouts, but in this case, I filled in the sketch with red and blue pencils to see what it looked like. Luckily, My son Ian had given me a gift of yarn he dyed for a class project – blue indigo and red rose madder

Along with the indigo and rose madder dyed yarn, I added other colors of tapestry wool. I chose a piece of dark upholstery fabric for the background, figuring that little bits of fabric would be visible around the stitches and a dark color would show off the colors better than a light fabric. The black and dark red pattern would add a richness and I could draw the rug’s patterns with white chalk, which would fade away with handling. 

I honestly don’t know what one would call this kind of embroidery. It’s just a lot of seed stitches crammed together, making a stipple effect. I wanted to give the impression of a woven rug, without actually using a grid format. Perfectly straight lines would look odd when everything else in the book is a bit wobbly.

This was the perfect project to work on in winter, staying warm in front of the wood stove.

As you can see, I don’t use an embroidery hoop. I usually work with fabric pieces that are too small or thick (like felt) to fit in a hoop, so I don’t even think about using one. I also prefer working with a pliable piece instead of a taught drum. That way you can make the needle go in and out in one stitch, instead of separate down and up moves.

It’s hard to estimate how long it took to stitch the rug, because I worked on it off and on for a month or so, between filming sessions, in waiting rooms and sitting in the passenger seat while traveling. It was closest to filling in a coloring book that I’ve experienced since childhood, but there were times when I couldn’t just follow the pattern and had to adjust the design to fit into the page dimensions.

I love how the unevenly dyed yarn gives a variegated appearance, like you see in authentic rugs.

The best part is the texture of the closely stitched surface, which feels like a real woven carpet. The process of making it was soothing and calming, for sure.

It’s important to keep in mind that this rug is part of an illustration that will have characters and bedding on top of it. Yes, it can be valued alone, as a textile, but that’s not sufficient enough for me. My hunger for a narrative compels me to add other elements. I liken it to the difference between a garment draped on a hanger and that same piece of clothing worn on a person who is alive in the world.

Here, you can see the 3/4 page layout inside the frame. The vertical green wire indicates where the gutter, or page fold will be located. And the two blank areas are sleeping spots for the children, who will be the subject of Part 2.

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All that glitters

We’re forging ahead with our stop-motion animation project and can see the end in sight! In our movie, Liberty and Justice, the protagonists (aka Hansel and Gretel) have many encounters as they wander through today’s political landscape in search of a leader. The arch of the story is loosely structured around the fairy tale, with references to the 2016 presidential election. Previous posts about the project include America First Lady, Liberty and Justice in Progress and Stop-motion in action.

This post focuses on glittery stage sets and props that we used in a variety of scenes. There’s nothing like a shiny object to get one’s attention. That and sugary sweet stuff, which I recently showed in this post.

My husband Rob and I have spent the past 10 months working on the movie in our basement studio, where the stage, lighting and photo equipment are set up. Yes, it’s taken us that long to make a short (under 15 minutes) animated film. Stop-motion animation requires a lot of time and patience, but it is worth it in the end, when you see the characters and scenes come to life. We hope to have our part finished soon, so that it can be passed on to the musicians, who will compose and record the sound track. So, you may ask, when and where can I see the completed film? Honestly, we’ve been so busy filming scenes that we haven’t had time to plan its launch into the world. I’ll be sure to announce the release — maybe in the spring or early summer.

Building the house was especially fun because I could break into my supply of shiny, glitzy bits and pieces that have been standing by, waiting for a project like this. And I also discovered the joys and challenges of glitter glue.

In order to create the illusion of distance in some setups, we needed a smaller scale house. So, I made a replica out of a block of plywood and foam core.

And what would a cozy cottage be without a gold encrusted door mat? I picked some felt that looked like jute and wrote out the welcome message in chain stitched metallic thread.

This photo is taken from the animator’s view of the set and off to the side is a monitor that shows what the camera sees. It’s helpful to look at the screen while I’m animating and play back the character’s movements.

This part of the story required gold foliage. I almost went blind combing the isles of Michael’s, looking through all the gilded Christmas decorations!

I could have made real gingerbread men, but decided to paint pre-cut wooden ones instead.

Since I normally sew everything, it’s a refreshing to work with paper, wood and paint for a change. But, in the end, I always come back to my soul mates, needle and thread.

As usual, you’re left hanging, wondering what Liberty and Justice will find in the gold house…

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In the Heart

detail from page 16, “In the Heart”

In the Heart 2001

On this Valentines Day, I thought it would be fun to show some details from my 2001 picture book In the Heart. Even though it isn’t a valentine story, the poetry (written by Ann Turner) expresses what is in the heart of a child’s day from morning until bedtime.

I chose this project because the words offered an open-ended view into a world full of belonging and wholeness. And the heart theme was too much to resist! Every page is an I Spy game, with hearts hidden throughout, in the kitchen, the yard, the classroom and in the night’s sky.

from “In the Heart” 2001

I used wood and old lacy pieces to decorate the interior scenes. The background fabric is dyed with a spray bottle.

In the heart

detail from “In the Heart” 2001

from “In the Heart” 2001

In the Heart, 2001

The father’s sweater used to be one of my favorite socks. The little fox in this night scene is 1″ from nose to tail.

detail from the book, “In the Heart”, 2001

The book ends with these words:
“and comes back to me–
deep in the pillow,
deep in the bed,
deep in the heart of the house.”

In the Heart

Of course, this and my other books are not just for kids and can be enjoyed by all ages. Autographed copies of In the Heart are available from my Etsy Shop.

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In the Heart 2001

Bed book peek – India (part 3)

Welcome to the neighborhood, in this 3rd part of the series about making an illustration set in India for my new picture book My Bed Rocks on the Water. The story about children’s sleeping places in different cultures around the world was written by Rebecca Bond. It will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020.

In this scene, the boy’s house takes up 2/3 of the spread and the surrounding village is pictured in the left 1/3. I used a lighter colored background to separate it from the darker house in the foreground. And since the house is blue, I thought, why not offset the sky with green?

Making little dwellings is a favorite diversion, so working on this part of the illustration was a total indulgence!

Roof tiles emerge in rows of fly stitches…

and tube beads strung with wire stack up to make a front porch post.

There’s always seams to be an area that needs tree and leaf embellishment.

This story focuses on children, with adult figures off in the distance, so they have to be really tiny.

She may be one of the smallest wee people I’ve put in an illustration. I loved making her outfit and braiding her hair.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little peek behind the scenes. To see the whole piece, please go to Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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Bed book peek – India (part 2)

It’s all about the front stoop in this 2nd part of the series about making an illustration for my new picture book. My Bed Rocks on the Water, written by Rebecca Bond, is a story about children’s sleeping places in different cultures around the world. It will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020.

In this scene set in India, the front steps are just another opportunity to embellish and decorate. Some patterns are flat and others are sculptural. The railing is made of wire wrapped in embroidery floss.

Leaves for a potted plant are edged with wire for more flexibility when it comes time to position them.

I sculpted some of the foliage with wire, beads and floss…

and embroidered other plants to felt.

More will come in part 3. You can see part 1 here.

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Bed book peek- India (part 1)

In between animating scenes for Liberty and Justice, I’ve been working on a new picture book that explores varied cultures from around the world. The deadline for handing over the finishes is a year from now, so there isn’t a minute to spare! The story about where children sleep around the world is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. To see posts about other illustrations for the book, go here for South America and here for Japan.

Months ago, when I starting working on the book, I made a whole collection of children’s heads that would be used in different scenes. There’s something intimate about painting faces and stitching hair that helps connect with the characters. Getting to know the children is the first step in committing to a couple of years of work creating the environments they live in.

This illustration, set in India, uses the boy on the top right of the pile.

To create characteristically Indian architectural detail, I used beads that have been in my stash for decades, waiting for the right opportunity to show their stuff.

I loved researching Indian houses, so full of luscious colors. It felt wonderful to indulge my love of patterns, after exercising restraint in the Japanese scene.

The boy slept on my work table until his bedroom was available.

I built a 3/4″ deep box that will be inset, so the viewer can look inside the window and see the boy sleeping.

The hanging decorations were made to scale.

There is so much to share from this scene, that I’ve divided it into 3 parts, with many more photos coming in the future. See part 2 here.

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“Liberty and Justice” in process

Screen shot from “Liberty and Justice” animation

In this new year, I thought it would be a good time to bring you up to date on the stop-motion animation my husband Rob and I have been working on for most of 2017. I introduced the project a while back in this blog post. Yes, we’re still inching ahead, spending every spare hour filming in the basement. We’ve recorded 8 minutes of a 10 to 12 minute video and hope to have the filming part finished later this winter. Then, there’s the soundtrack, which is especially important for a wordless story like ours. For that, we’re commissioning an original score and sound effects from musicians and sound artists.

The movie, Liberty and Justice, a political take-off of Hansel and Gretel, is a cautionary tale about what happens when a pair of lost citizens wander in search of a leader. So, when will it be finished? Honestly, we don’t know, but we’re estimating that it’ll be ready to show sometime in the summer of 2018. Don’t worry, I will announce any particulars about where it can be seen, once it’s completed.

To give an idea of our process, here’s a video made up of several filming sessions from last summer. Rob set up a separate camera to take time-lapse photos while we worked in the basement. It looks funny to see our actions sped up into hyper mode, when in reality our movements are painstakingly slow and deliberate. I’m animating figures, using wire rigs anchored to black blocks, which are visible to you behind the set. The monitor near where I’m sitting shows the camera view, so I can check how the scene looks on screen. You can barely see Rob with his magnifying headset behind the camera slider, as he turns on a flash light to see the measurement for each photo.

Keeping in mind that this post could be a spoiler, I’ve selected a group of still photos that don’t give away too much of the good parts. You will surely pick up on some of the themes, though. Most images show our animation stage during the last month or so. At this point in their journey, the characters (who’ve just been through a lot of challenges) enter a kind of candy land.

It was so much fun setting up the scenes, which had to be adjusted according to the camera angle and movements of each shot. How do you make water for animation stage? Shiny blue fabric, jumbo glitter and mini LED lights, of course. It looks so cool when the swans move along!

When starting the filming process all those months ago, we knew that stop-motion animation takes a long time. And we’ve since learned that it requires many forms of patience. Not only do we need the capacity to deal with all the fussy parts pertaining to animation, we have to be patient with each other. This is the first large joint artistic/technical venture we’ve undertaken in almost 40 years together. Even though we’re used to working solo most of the time, working side by side has been an overall positive experience. We’re both meticulous workers and neither of us has a problem  concentrating for long stretches of time. It’s not unusual to spend a 5 hr. stretch filming a 12 second scene. At 24 frames per sec., that’s 288 photographs, each taken separately, with camera motion and moving up to a dozen figures and props in between shots. Crazy? Yes, but it’s all worth it when you play back the movie and see the characters come to life!

I got carried away making props – searching for jelly beans, gum drops and small scale sugary treats to decorate with. As a rule, I don’t use hot glue because it’s messy and stringy, but in this case it was an effective solution. I like how actual candy with sparkling sugar crystals adds a realness to the fantasy world.

I lopped off the stems of mini sugar canes with a knife, saving the curved ends to build a border wall. Handling all of this sticky candy was so unappetizing that it felt toxic, like working in a sugar Super Fund site.

So far, no little critters have come out at night to nibble the edible set. This little campaign motorcade zooms along in the movie. I’m looking forward to hearing the sound effects!

It was a relief to get back to needle and thread for this sheep character.

He joined the brown and rainbow sheep for a cameo scene. I manipulated their heads, ears and tails during the filming process.

While doing the animation, I refer to a monitor (top, center) that projects the camera view. It’s tricky to move the bodies in small enough increments to make their movement look natural.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who take an interest in my work and read this blog, whether you’ve followed for years or just subscribed. Your support means a lot to me and it is an honor to connect with you and the world outside of my studio!

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.