bed book peek : duck

Let’s start the new year with a duck. It’ll be a spot illustration in my new picture book,  My Bed: Celebrating Children’s Beds Around the World. Each double page spread will have a text panel with a corresponding animal. The duck will appear alongside the scene with a houseboat in Holland, which you can see here.

Update: My Bed can now be pre-ordered in my shop here. The book’s release date is isn’t until Sept. 2020, but people have asked if they can order autographed copies ahead. So, if you put your order in now, I’ll have a better idea of how many copies to get. The book will be shipped to you as soon as it arrives!

As with the other animals I’ve made so far (elephant and goldfish, parrot and sheep, rooster, cat, camel and bunny. I start with research photos. In this case, I searched for pictures of a classic rubber ducky, with webbed feet. I was so interested in figuring out how to make the feet, that I tackled them first. That turned out to be a mistake because they ended up being too small and out of proportion to the body that came later.

I want to use this duck as an example of how I really work, which is not in a straight line, but here, there and everywhere. My creative process is full of experiments that may or may not end up in the finished piece, but they are essential to getting there.

The second pair of feet (pictured below) are a little bit larger and more neatly defined. It’s not unusual for me to take several tries to get something the way I imagine it. There’s a lot of ripping out and starting over, which is one of the advantages of using thread. For the feet, I devised a kind of weaving stitch that created the webbing between the 3 toes.

The body and wing are made of 2 shades of yellow felt.

The beak was a bit tricky to get to look right and took several attempts. It started with a thread wrapped piece of wire that’s bent into two V shapes for the top and bottom of the beak.

I then stitch the thread wrapped wire onto the head. The round shape of the head is from a wooden bead that is covered with felt, which I forgot to document with a photo. I wasn’t happy with how this beak (below photo) was coming out, so I ripped it out and started over.

I’ve had practice making bird beaks for the Birds of Beebe Woods and the Twitter Bird in my animated film, Liberty and Justice, but it’s like a new experience every time. When faced with a new challenge, I let my hands guide me, trusting that a solution will appear. That’s what keeps it interesting and never boring!

This is the second try at forming the duck’s beak.

After stitching the top and bottom beak in place, I wrapped thread around the wire. I then added a seed bead eye and stitched on the wing.

It looks like I opened up the bottom of the duck’s body to make room for it’s legs. They were the last to stitch in place, with the first pair lingering in the sidelines.

After looking at the duck for a while, I decided that it need more personality. The plain rubber ducky look just wasn’t enough! So I added some details, like the embroidered feather texture and the distinguishing lines on the wings.

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Bed Book peek – Holland (part 3)

This is the third and final post about making a book illustration with a houseboat on a canal in Holland. To see other posts about this scene, go to Part 1 and Part 2.

Eventually, all of the sewn originals will be photographed and printed in My Bed, a book about where children sleep around the world. Each spread will depict a child in a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: 
AfghanistanRussiaNorth AfricaSouth AmericaIndia
Japan and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

For the stone dock, I sewed felt rectangles in place with blanket stitch, interspersed with flat polished stone beads. There needed to be something to tie the boat line to, so I looked through my collection of miscellaneous old metal objects and picked an appropriately weathered looking one with a hole. How was that attached, you may wonder? I glued a piece of felt on the back of the metal piece and then sewed it to the dock.

Since glue is permanent and I like flexibility, I glue felt to the back of the object, instead of directly to the background. That way, you can play around and adjust things until the last minute. The glued on felt provides something to catch the thread when you do sew it in place. And it’s always possible to rip it out and try a new position.

The architecture in Amsterdam is a colorful array of tall narrow buildings with interesting roof treatments.

I embroidered blanket stitch with flower thread around the outside of the felt windows and a door. DMC flower thread is no longer available, but Dutch Treat Designs  has some of the discontinued thread  in stock. 

From the images I found, the stepped roof style looked the most distinctively Dutch. I like the way its zigzagged shape stands out against the blue sky. The research photos made me want to visit Amsterdam!

For door hardware, I sifted through old hooks and eyes, until I found a matching pair of the tiniest eyes. A generous admirer recently gave me a box full of them – what a treasure! 

Tube beads worked as architectural details above the windows.

And how can you make a scene set in Holland without a bicycle? 

The bicycle frame is wire, the wheels are betel nut beads, the handlebars are an eye (from hook and eye) and the seat and gears are metal snap parts. In the photo below, you can see what it looks like in the back, with wire and thread holding everything in place.

I found a cord that looked like a well used dock line and fed it through the hole in the metal part on the canal wall.  Then the houseboat could be tied up safely.

I hope that you enjoyed this little peek behind the scenes at making the illustration with a houseboat on a canal in Holland. To see other posts about this scene, go to Part 1 and Part 2

I am happy to announce that the Cahoon Museum will be hosting the premiere exhibit of original illustrations for MY BED: Where Children Sleep Around the World. The exhibit will be coordinated with the book’s publication by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the fall of 2020. Like the traveling show for Pocketful of Posies, I hope to schedule other exhibits, so that more people can see the “real thing”. Interested museums and art centers are welcome to contact me for information about hosting an exhibit. It would be wonderful to have the illustrations make their way across the whole country!

To keep up with new posts, please subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram

Bed Book peek: Holland (part 2)

Back for another peek behind the scenes at making an illustration with a house boat set in Holland. To see Part 1, click here. It will be included in My Bed, a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by HoughtonMifflin in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussia, North Africa and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

In the research photos of house boats, it seemed that practically every example showed potted plants on deck. So, I constructed little “terracotta” containers  of felt and made flowering plants with beads, felt and wire.

Wrapping wire with a single strand of embroidery floss is tedious work, but a satisfying process for those of us who are detail obsessed. The leaves also have wire around the outside edge, which makes it easier to position and arrange the plant in the end.

These glass leaf beads have spent years packed away in bags and boxes, waiting for a chance to be useful.

They were the perfect size and color for a hanging plant resting on the house boat roof.

And what house boat doesn’t have a cat? I made a felt hood to put over its wooden bead head, kind of like a Halloween costume with ears. I added wire along the outside edges of the ears to make them extra pointy and firm. Sometime felt is too soft and floppy and needs a little cartilage to hold its shape.

The body frame is made with thread wrapped pipe cleaners, just like the legs and arms in the human dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

After adding a felt body, I sewed the cat to the deck at the bow of the house boat, where it keeps a lookout.

Please stay tuned, because there’s more to come in Part 3. To see Part 1, click here.

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Bed book peek: North Africa (part 2)

This is the second post about the North African illustration for my new children’s book. To see Part 1 in the series, click here. The scene will be included in My Bed: Celebrating Children’s Beds Around the World. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by HoughtonMifflin in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussia. and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

During the month-long process of working on a scene, I keep needed materials and supplies close at hand, with the actual work space increasingly limited to a little corner of my table. The surface in the foreground of the photo is an ironing board. The color scheme changes from page to page, so I select a new combination of felt and thread for each illustration. All of the stitching is done while holding the pieces in my hands, including this building and roof. There’s more about the roof tiles in Part 1.

This is what my work table looks like most of the time, with piles of cardboard bobbins of embroidery thread, spools of wire, a thimble, scissors, pliers, a wire cutter, a seam ripper, rulers, boxes of beads, etc.

After the houses were built, I started in on the landscaping.

These tiny glass leaf beads have been in my collection for years and I wanted to incorporate them in a vine that climbs up the side of a house. I formed the stems with wire, attaching the leaves as I went and then covered the the wire with embroidery floss.

To make a rooftop planter, I painted a miniature wooden pot to look like terracotta. The stems are thread wrapped wire, with seed beads sewn to the ends.

The pot needed something vertical sticking up in the middle, so I added a triplet of felt leaves.

There’s more to share, so please stay tuned for Part 3 in this series.

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Bed book peek: North Africa (part 1)

The book project is moving along, one stitch at a time. Or in this case, one roof tile at a time. When researching the architecture of North Africa, I was struck by the juxtaposition of white and tan buildings topped off with bright red or terracotta roof tiles. So that combination became the dominant color palette of this illustration.

The scene will be included in My Bed, which will be a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussia, North America, Scandinavia, Ghana and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

Update: My Bed can now be pre-ordered in my shop here. The book’s release date is isn’t until Sept. 2020, but people have asked if they can order autographed copies ahead. So, if you put your order in now, I’ll have a better idea of how many copies to get. The book will be shipped to you as soon as it arrives!

Since I didn’t have any red beads to make the roof with, I stained some white and brown clay disk beads with red magic marker. Some came out bright red and others had a more earthy tone. I’ve had these beads for a long time and it felt good to finally use them. Don’t worry, the red on my fingertip isn’t blood, but magic marker ink!

The holes in the center of the beads make it easy to sew them in place. I used a range of subtle shades of beige and tan felt for the buildings.

For a decorative scalloped edge, I added thread-covered wire to this strip of rooftop.

Then sewed on the overlapping red bead tiles.

After the roof was sewn in place, I added a decorative bead under the top eaves and stitched a bead curtain in the doorway.

In this part of the world, roofs serve as open living spaces, surrounded by walls. For this one, I made a fence with thread wrapped wire that you can see through.

Clay tube beads stick out like the ends of structural beams.

I made a striped turquoise awning for shade…

and a shuttered window in blue, for color contrast with the red and white.

I’m always looking for opportunities to add patterns and this door needed a carved wood appearance.

This roof section is edged all around with wire, which gives it the necessary structure to stick out from the background fabric. Otherwise the felt would be floppy and not very roof-like.

I search through my stash of hooks and eyes to find the right hardware for the door and windows.

This house is made from a loosely woven, nubby fabric that I thought matched the texture of white washed masonry walls. To be continued… See Part 2 here.

I am happy to announce that the Cahoon Museum in Cotuit, Massachusetts will host the premiere exhibit of original illustrations for the book. The exhibit will be coordinated with the book’s publication in the fall of 2020. Like with Pocketful of Posies, I am scheduling a touring exhibit, so that more people can see the “real thing”, which is a totally different experience than seeing reproductions on the printed page. Interested museums and art centers are welcome to contact me for information about hosting an exhibit. It would be wonderful to have the original illustrations make their way across the whole country!

Please stay tuned for future posts, as I have lots more to show about making this illustration. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Bed book peek: Persian Cat

This Persian cat will be used as a spot illustration in the Iran spread in my upcoming picture book, My Bed. The story about children’s sleeping places in different cultures around the world is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. Children’s book publishers need at least a year to design, print and market a book, so I have to have everything finished by the winter of 2019. That means I’m practically working around the clock to get it done in time.

Update: My Bed can now be pre-ordered in my shop here. The book’s release date is isn’t until Sept. 2020, but people have asked if they can order autographed copies ahead. So, if you put your order in now, I’ll have a better idea of how many copies to get. The book will be shipped to you as soon as it arrives!

Just for fun, I’ve added a collection of cats from Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes at the end of this post.

In addition to creating full page illustrations, I’m making a series of animal icons that will appear on the adjacent text panels throughout the book. The miniature stuffed animals  relate to the geographic area of each corresponding scene.

Here are links to posts showing the other animal icons I’ve already made for the book: Goldfish and Elephant, Parrot and Sheep, Rooster, Duck, Camel and Bunny. To see process photos of the finished illustrations for the book, click these links: Iran, South America, Russia, Japan, Afghanistan, North America, India, Holland, North Africa.

The research on Persian cats led to photographs of fluffy dark grey felines whose faces are noticeably different from regular house cats. Their cartoon-like features remind me of those 1960’s paintings of wide-eyed waifs, with large eyes and stubby little noses.   First, I wrapped tapestry wool around its pipe cleaner legs. Then, I stitched features onto its felt face. With pinking shears, I cut a mane out of felt and stitched the face on top.

For the tail, I sewed a strip of felt around a pipe cleaner.

To help make the ears point up, I sewed wire along the top edges. For a finishing touch, I added some tapestry wool stitches to its coat.

As a basis of comparison, I’ve selected a group of cat details from illustrations in my 2010 children’s book Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. Autographed copies are available in my Etsy Shop.

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Costuming despots and innocents

If you’ve watched Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free, you’ve seen the history lesson near the end with morphing costumes of iconic authoritarian figures through time. Later in this post, I’ll show process photos of some of the costumes. But first, I want to say a little something about the Woods Hole Film Festival, where our film had its film festival premiere last week.

Thank you to all of you who came out to see Liberty and Justice! The sold out crowd sat through over an hour of serious, heavy and powerful short films, in sweltering conditions, before our movie came on. It was an endurance test, for sure! The sense of relief was palpable when the Wee Folk Studio animated logo appeared, with cheering loud enough to drown out the sound effects. Other than showing the movie to friends at our house, we had not yet experienced a live audience’s reaction in a theater setting. As the story unfolded, there were bursts of laughter, even at some of the more subtle jokes. Rob and I whispered to each other, “They got it!”. It was fun to hear giggles and gasps of recognition at the various characters as they played their parts. We came away feeling that the year we spent filming in the basement was worth it and that we are very honored to be a part of such a prestigious film festival right in our home town. My favorite comments were that it was “fun and deliciously weird” and “the darkest cute movie I’ve ever seen.” 

I am also excited to announce that our film received an Audience Award for best animated short at the festival awards party last night. Rob and I almost didn’t go because it was past my bedtime, the music would be too loud, etc. But, I’m glad we pushed past my old lady complaints and went anyway!

And now the costumes. Let’s start with the innocent protagonists, Liberty and Justice, who are modeled after Hansel and Gretel. With a few exceptions like their hands and feet, their bodies are made the same way as the dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

This is the title set, where I animated Liberty dropping bread crumbs (stone cut oatmeal) in the shape of letters. The dolls’ wire armatures help articulate movements with tiny bends and adjustments. Their heads are loose, so they can swivel back and forth on their pipe cleaner necks.

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It was very helpful to refer to the monitor during filming, so I could see the camera view. At 24 frames per second, I moved the figures about a 16th of an inch or less for every shot.

LibertyWM-29

And now for the despots.  After researching various kings and dictators, I picked ones with clearly identifiable uniforms, mannerisms and ruthless reputations. Researching and making their costumes was a liberating experience, as I confronted and engaged with these iconic strongmen. There’s something satisfying and even subversive about having bad guys cut down to size. We loom large over them, as they are exposed and held captive in miniature scale and for a moment, their power is diminished. I’m sure you can guess who some of these are. Please see the rolling credits at the end of the movie for a list of characters in order of appearance.

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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.

Bed book peek: Iran (part 3)

This is the third and final post about the Iranian illustration for my new children’s book. To see the previous posts in the series, click the links for Part 1 and Part 2. The scene will be included in My Bed, a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistan and Russia. To see a list of all my books, click here.

For this courtyard scene, I sorted through piles of fabric in my stash to find a combination of colors, patterns and textures that worked together and lent themselves to the environment. Then, following the layout drawing, I built structures and embroidered architectural details, using my preferred stitches; blanket and chain.

All variety of beads, charms, metal findings and small hardware can find their way into a piece. My propensity for including found objects has not waned since childhood, when I declared that “crayons are not enough” and that my artwork was not finished until “something real” was added!

For this over-the-top decorative style, it’s tempting to keep adding more doodads because they are so cool and need to be seen! Like with all artistic ventures, editing is key to forming a clear statement. It’s not that busyness and detail is bad, there has to be purpose to it, with some sense of order amid the chaos. I have learned to choose objects with care, constantly asking myself, “Will this enhance or detract from what I’m trying to convey?”. Most of my favorite treasures don’t make the cut and have to wait years, hidden in boxes and bags. Sometimes you have to see what doesn’t work first, to be able to recognize what does work.

Another favorite stitch is the single daisy chain, which I use a lot for leaves, like on this tree. The branches are formed with thread covered wire.

After years of being passed over, I was happy to finally use this herring bone wool for the roof.

Trees and branches are some of my favorite things to make. It’s like doodling with wire and thread.

An illustration this size usually takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete, but I am determined to get it down to 3 weeks, in order to meet the deadline. For the next 6 months, I’ll be working in the studio 7 days a week, including evenings. You see, Rob and I spent all last year doing our civic duty, making the animated film, Liberty and Justice: A Cautionary Tale in the Land of the Free, when I was supposed to be working on the bed book. Don’t feel sorry for me — this is what I want to do. And it’s a good excuse to get out of social obligations.

I made heads and arms for 2 sleeping boys. No legs were necessary, since they will be covered up. Except for the hands, they are similar to the dolls in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures.

It was a treat to embroider their quilts and pillows.

I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the scenes. Documenting the process is a way to keep you up to date with what I’m making, without actually showing the finished illustrations, which will have to wait until the book is published in 2020.

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

Bed book peek: Iran (part 2)

Let’s get back to the illustration that I introduced last week in Bed book peek: Iran (part 1).  I had so much fun choosing fabrics that reflect the design and color palette in Persian Miniatures. Over the years, I’ve amassed enough bits and pieces of cloth that I can usually find something that works, without buying anything new. For storage, I use the ubiquitous plastic bins, as well as clear zipper bags that bedding and sheets are sold in. The bags are most handy, because you can glimpse what’s inside without sorting trough the whole lot.

For the rooftop wall, I used tube beads for posts, sewing matching large seed beads to one end.  As you can see, basting helps hold pieces in place until the final stitching. The tatting in the window was made by grandmother over 100 years ago. 

Even though the perspective is not realistic, I still had to convey a believable sense of space, with receding and advancing planes.

Every window, door and wall presented an opportunity to embellish and add another set of colors to the mix.

These bead heads are some of the tiniest I’ve painted.

This couple will be looking out the window. The woman’s dress is felt and her head scarf is silk from a collection of triangle shaped remnants I was given at a tie factory 40 years ago. The silk is cut on the bias and every once in a while a snippet is just the right thing to use. I keep thinking that one day I’ll make a silk quilt…

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My first impulse was to make the woman shorter than the man, clearly an unconscious nod to cultural norms.  I reconsidered and decided to make the woman taller. It’s funny how a silly thing like that can feel revolutionary.

For the courtyard tiles, I chain stitched outlines on a warn piece of upholstery fabric.

The courtyard will be surrounded by a wall in the foreground. As an accent, I added parts of an Art Deco necklace from a deceased relative. For me, inherited jewelry holds the most promise of being used and passed on through my artwork.

Please stay tuned for Part 3 in this series.

The scene will be included in My Bed , which will be a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistan and Russia.

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.

bed book peek – Russia (part 3)

In this third and last post about the Russian scene in my upcoming picture book, I will show the process of making a traditional cottage or dacha, as well as a felt and wire tree. Previous posts feature other elements of this illustration. Part 1 : the larger house, including the roof and stove bed and Part 2 : the inside furnishings.

My Bed will be a book about where children sleep around the world, with each spread depicting a different culture and living environment. The story is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020.
Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book:
South America, Japan , India, North Africa and Afghanistan. To see a list of all my books, click here.

To get a clearer vision of Russian house styles, I researched dachas, which brought to mind Russian Folk Tales. Their distinctive color combinations, ornate window fames and top-heavy overhanging roofs were fun to replicate.

I added chain stitched snow-cover to the bottom.

After finishing this inside window, I realized that it also also needed some snow. It was tricky working around the wire muntin bar in the center.

I formed the tree skeleton with wire of different gauges and covered the trunk and lower branches with felt. This shows the messy seams on the back.

On the front, I embroidered a bark texture with fly stitches.

Then, I wrapped embroidery floss around the smaller wire branches.

No matter how determined I am, it always seems to take about a month to complete an illustration of this size (9 in. x 14 in.). In this photo, you can see a mat board frame with a green wire stapled across the middle. I use it a a guide throughout the process, so that the size and proportions are correct. The wire marks where the gutter (or fold in the center) will be.

I painted a tiny wooden matryoshka doll that kind of matches a set I made and used as props in my animated film Liberty and Justice.

As with many components in my bas-relief illustrations, the doll and pots sitting on the shelf are made from purchased wooden parts, which I cut in half with a saw before painting them. Instead of gluing them directly onto the background, I glue a small piece of felt to the back of each item and then sew that to the back fabric. Glue is so permanent and I want to be flexible up to the end and able to reposition them, if necessary.

I had fun embellishing a piece of lace for the table cloth and arranging cups and plates made of beads…

and decorating the felt curtain with diagonal slashes of thread.

I hope that you enjoyed this tour behind the scenes. Previous posts feature other elements of this illustration. Part 1 : the larger house, including the roof and stove bed and Part 2 : the inside furnishings.

To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). Your contact info will not be sold or shared. If you’d like to see more frequent photos tracking the projects in my studio, please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram.