bed book peek: Ghana (part 4)

This is Part 4 in a series of posts about making the bas-relief scene set in the West African country of Ghana. A photograph of the piece will be reproduced in my upcoming picture book, MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World. An accompanying US tour of the original artwork used to illustrate the book will begin in the fall of 2020. Information about the exhibition is on this page.

Part 1 shows the process of making the smaller house and background figure.
Part 2 is about making the child and his house in the foreground.
Part 3 shows how I made the shade tree and the bird.

Update: My Bed can now be pre-ordered in my shop here. The book’s release date is in Sept. 2020 and people have asked if they can pre-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!

The book is 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 Sept. 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth America, ScandinaviaHolland and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

This post shows how I made the leaves, plants and woven fence. It completes the 4 part series about stitching and constructing the many parts in the Ghanaian illustration. Since the shade tree is a prominent feature of the scene (and the text), I wanted to make it as 3-dimensional as possible. Sometimes I embroider leaves to a background fabric, but this tree would stand alone as a separate object. That meant that each individual leaf had to be cut of felt, stitched around the outside and edged with wire. At the time, I didn’t pay attention to how many, but out of curiosity, I just counted 89 leaves.

I grouped them in branches of 3, 4 and 5 leaves and added fly stitches to look like veins.

The clusters accumulated on my work table over the course of a few days.

Then I joined the small branches to the larger branches of the tree (which I described in Part 3) and wrapped embroidery floss around the thick and thin wire.

The trick is to get a seamless transition between the felt and wire branches. Wire provides the flexibility to bend and arrange the branches this way and that, to evenly fill the gaps and overlap the leaves.

i also made felt plants with long thin leaves. For extra stability, I stitched wire both around the outside edge and down the center vein.

For the hanging plant, I made wire stems and attached glass bead leaves.

The planter is an acorn cap. I sewed the plant and 3 pieces of wire to a circle of brown felt. I rarely use glue, but figured it was the best choice for holding the felt/wire/plant inside the acorn cap.

I found a plant hook of the right size in my hook & eye collection, which has really come in handy for this book project.

I cut a piece of felt for the fence and stitched 2 rows of wire to the top edge to keep it from being too floppy. I found some small flat pieces of wood in my stash of misc. parts and sewed them to the felt. Then, I stitched silk ribbon in a diagonal square pattern to make it look like it was woven with plant fibers.

I hope that you enjoyed this series about making the Ghanaian scene. Over the past year or so, I’ve written about most of the illustrations in the book, but there are a few more to go. My Bed’s release date of Sept. 8th, 2020 is just around the corner! If you’d like to pre-order autographed copies, please go to my shop. To see a complete list of the “bed book peek” blog entries, please go here.

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 – Ghana (part 3)

This is Part 3 in a series of posts about how I made the stitched bas-relief scene set in the West African country of Ghana. A photograph of the piece will be reproduced in my upcoming picture book, MY BED: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep around the World. An accompanying US tour of the original artwork used to illustrate the book will begin in the fall of 2020. Information about the exhibition is on this page.

Part 1 shows the process of making the smaller house and figure in the background and Part 2 is about making the child and his house in the foreground.

The book is 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 Sept. 2020. Here are links to posts showing other finished illustrations for the book: South America, JapanIndiaAfghanistanRussiaNorth America, ScandinaviaHolland and Iran. To see a list of all my books, click here.

Update: My Bed can now be pre-ordered in my shop here. It’s release date is in Sept. 2020 and people have asked if they can pre-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!

In this part, I’ll show how I made the shade tree and the bird. Please bear with me while I try to explain ways of working that don’t easily fit into a logical sequence. These are techniques I’ve figured out intuitively over many decades of manipulating materials in my hands and I will do my best to translate into words what my hands have taught me.

In the beginning, I made thumbnail sketches of all of the pages in the book and enlarged them to full size. I used the drawing of the Ghanaian scene to trace and cut out a template of the tree.

Using the template, I traced and cut the trunk shape out of acid-free mat board. Over the years, I’ve gotten more diligent about using archival materials that won’t deteriorate or stain over time. You can read how I learned my lesson in this post about repairing an older piece.

To give the mat board a stitch-friendly surface, I glued layers of thin quilt batting to the front and back of the mat board. That way, there was something to catch the needle onto. I built up the thickness of the trunk by sewing tapered layers of felt to the top.

To make thinner branches, I sewed insulated electrical wire to the top where the trunk divides into 3 sections. I covered the tree trunk and thicker branches with brown felt, using a gazillion stitches on the back to pull it tight around the front.

I stitched a zigzag bark texture to the front with variegated pima cotton (Watercolours by Caron). To make the knot in the tree, I cut out a donut shaped piece of felt and blanket stitched it to the trunk.

To make leaves, I cut out pieces of felt and edged them with blanket stitches. Then, I stitched jewelry wire around the outside edges and formed stems by twisting wire.

I attached clumps of 3 or 4 leaves to the tree branches by winding the thin jewelry wire around the thicker insulated electrical wire.

Then, I wrapped the thick and thin wire with embroidery floss, covering the bumps and lumps until it looked smooth.

The original sketch didn’t include a bird, but after watching the scene come together, I decided to add a third blue focal point to catch the eye. The other 2 are the boy’s blue shorts and the blue skirt worn by the woman in the doorway. They stand out in contrast with the overall orange, brown and green color palette. I researched birds in West Africa and found a spectacular bird called the splendid glossy-starling.

For the bird’s head, I painted a wooden bead blue and formed a beak out of jewelry wire, which I wrapped with embroidery floss. Then I stuck the wire through the bead hole and used the extra length of wire to make the bird’s feet.

I made the bird’s body out of felt and added a wire tail. This starling is really glossy, so I stitched some bling with purple metallic thread on its tail and underbelly.

After sewing the bird’s wire feet to a thick branch on the tree, I could almost hear it sing!

Please stay tuned for Part 4, which will cover how I made the plants and woven fence.

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bed book peek – back cover

Today, I’d like to share how I made the embellished border strips that will go on the back cover of MY BED. While the cover of the book introduces the children in their beds, the back is purely decorative. I wanted it to be a cross-cultural celebration of color, pattern and texture that hopefully will make the person looking at it to want to open the book. There were a couple of practical requirements, too, like a place for the bar code and an open area for the publisher to print promotional copy and add book reviews in future printings. The above photo is a print-out of an early proof that shows what it will look like.

UPDATE: My Bed can now be pre-ordered in my shop here. It’s release date is isn’t until Oct. 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!

The design includes multiple narrow (about 1/2″ wide) lengths of felt that I embroidered and pieced together in the style of a log cabin quilt. I edged each strip of felt with blanket stitch and then sewed on wire, to make the long sides firm and straight, like bones on a corset. Otherwise, the strips would be too limp and wobbly to work with. You can’t see the wire because it’s wrapped with thread.

After stitching the strips together, I embellished different motifs on each one with beads, silk ribbon and embroidery stitches.

I combed through my vast collection of beads, which all seemed to be waving their hands wildly, calling out “pick me!”. The hardest part was selecting which ones to use and coming up with a combination that was interesting, but not cluttered looking.

I love embroidering simple stitches with silk ribbon.

I wanted each strip to be distinctive, but also work in harmony with the others.

The border looked like a window when it was finished

The last part involved sewing the border in place on top of a solid felt center piece. Since the book is a perfect square, everything had to line up just right.

At this stage of the process, all of the art is finished and photographed. The book is in production and scheduled to be released in October 2020. Autographed copies can be pre-ordered in my shop here. Please keep in mind that while this book is technically a children’s book, it’s really for all ages! Over the past 2 years, I’ve published posts about making several of the different scenes, with more on the way before the book comes out. Here’s a list of the posts I’ve written so far:

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a virus-free wee world

Fairy_Family-1767-2

Are you wondering what to do while you’re hunkered down at home, staying away from crowds?  I must admit that the concept of “social distancing” isn’t very different from my normal life, so it’s not much of an adjustment. But, I realize that closed schools and work places, as well as travel and event cancellations, is a hardship for many of you. So, to help keep your mind off the worrisome situation, how about immersing yourself in the virus-free fairy and wee folk world? In this post you will find a source list of materials to make projects from my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk. There are also lots of photos and videos that I hope will inspire you to make your own wee world!

When I posted this idea on Instagram, several people, including a self-described introvert, commented that they were already in making mode:

  • “‘I adore your wee felt folk book and actually hunkered down yesterday and made a little jester. I’ve decided to make more to give to friends during this crazy time💕
  • ‘What a lovely idea! I admit, I’m more worried about craft supplies than toilet paper.”
  • “Introvert here reporting from a cozy studio! I secretly love a good excuse to stay in. I’ve got your book and will be making some fairies while we bunker down!!” 

Many of the supplies needed to make the dolls, such as embroidery floss, paint, brushes, unvarnished wood beads, pipe cleaners and faux flowers can be found at craft stores. Online sources for the book, wool felt, acorn caps, and other materials are listed below:

Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures, with bonus playing cards and flower skirts & wings

I’m keeping my Etsy shop stocked with wool fleece fairy hair and flower skirts & wings.

The dolls and their clothing are portable, so you can bring them where ever you want to settle in.

This is my work table on a random day, the way it really looks.

My Work Table on a random day

I made the Frost Family for a benefit raffle a few years ago. See more details here.

This is a little experimental video from a few years ago.

Of course, all of the dolls pictured in this post were made years ago and the raffles are long past. I just wanted to show you a variety of possibilities.

The Oakley Family was made for another benefit raffle. See the process of making them here.

And yet another fairy family raffle, which you see in more detail here.

I hope that the wee folk help keep your spirits up through this ordeal. Please stay safe!

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bed book peek – cow

Today, I’m happy to show how I made this cow, which will be used as a spot illustration in my upcoming picture book, MY BED. The story is about children’s sleeping places in different cultures around the world. It’s written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Sept. 2020. Autographed copies can be pre-ordered in my shop here. A touring exhibition of my original embroidered artwork for the book, Salley Mavor: Bedtime Stitches, will travel around the United States beginning in Nov. 2020. See the updated tour schedule here.

Each country or region represented in the book has an animal icon that appears on the text panel adjacent to the full illustration. The cow shows up next to the Scandinavian scene, which I’ve written about here.

To see the other animals from the book that I’ve written about so far, please click on the following links.
Animals (spot illustrations) – Rooster, Camel, Parrot, Elephant, Goldfish, Cat, Duck, Sheep, Rabbit

I’ve enjoyed making cows over the years, including the one below, which is from the 2005 board book, Hey, Diddle, Diddle! (Sorry, it’s out of print) Cows are fun to depict because they are so distinct from other animals.

Close Up from “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!” 2005 board book

To begin, I drew sketches that exaggerated the cow’s squarish head, outspread ears, big eyes and prominent nostrils.

As always, I wrapped the legs first, leaving enough extra pipe cleaner to shape the body.

It’s been a while since I made this, so I can’t remember how I attached the felt body. From the looks of it, I first added a thread wrapped wire tail and then stitched pieces of felt to the front and back of the pipe cleaner form.

Then, I made a little pink felt udder with seed bead teats.

For the cow’s face, I embroidered a nose and sewed on bead nostrils.

To make the eyes more prominent, I outlined them in white.

The ears are felt, edged with blanket stitch and wire.

After sewing the ears in place, I looped Silk/Merino wool thread on the top of her head.

The first cow collar I made was embroidered with pretty flowers, but I had to change it to a plainer version because decorations like that are a Swiss specialty and not Scandinavian.

Before (above) and After (below).

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scavenger hunt

The scavenger hunt at my retrospective exhibition of original picture book art at the Cape Cod Museum of Art has been a hit! Not just with kids, but with all ages. Searching for the details is a fun way to engage with the artwork and helps you see things you might not otherwise notice.

I got the idea from my friend Deb Coulombe, who 10 years ago, put together cards for school groups who came to see the touring exhibition of original art from Pocketful of Posies. With the hunt, the kids experienced my artwork in a playful way that enhanced their museum experience.

So, I took the scavenger hunt concept and brought it to “Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Stitch”, which will be on display for only one more week, until Sunday, Jan. 26th. People are coming from far and wide to see the show, driving and even flying in from out of state. If you’re thinking of making the trip, please note that the Cape Cod Museum of Art is open Thursday 10 am – 7 pm, Friday – Saturday 10 am – 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon – 4 pm. 

Rob and I spent last fall photographing closeup images of the artwork to use in the scavenger hunt. Because my pieces are sculptural, its a challenge to take pictures that bring out the detail and 3-dimensional quality of the real thing. We’ve tried different approaches, sometimes using a light box (above) to diffuse the light and soften the shadows. I’m constantly getting in the way, fussing and tweaking, which drives Rob crazy!

Rob printed the images on good quality paper on his super duper Epson printer and I cut them up. Even though they’re all square, it reminded me of playing with paper dolls.

Then I divided them up into groups of 4 that I knew would keep people moving around the gallery, like an aerobic activity.

Anyone can play the game and choose from about 20 different laminated cards in the gallery.

You can also do the scavenger hunt at home by searching for the following images in my books. Each group of 4 that you see below is labeled with a list of books where you can find the images. Have fun!

Details from “Pocketful of Posies”
Details from “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!”, Pocketful of Posies and “In the Heart”
Details from Pocketful of Posies”, “The Way Home”, “Hey, Diddle, Diddle!” and “Wee Willie Winkie”
Details from “Pocketful of Posies, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, You and Me” and “Come to My Party”
Details from Pocketful of Posies” and You and Me”
Details from “Pocketful of Posies” and “Jack and Jill”

SALLEY MAVOR: Once Upon a Stitch
Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 26, 2020

Cape Cod Museum of Art, Dennis, MA
Winter hours: Thursday 10am – 7pm,
Friday – Saturday 10 – 4, Sunday 12 – 4

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Behind the Glass – part 2

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

In this second post in the series Behind the Glass, I’ll show close-up photos of a double page spread reproduced in Hey Diddle, Diddle! (2005) and 2 illustrations from You and Me: Poems of Friendship (1997). You can see part 1 in the series here. These loaned pieces were temporarily removed from their frames in preparation for my upcoming exhibition, making it possible to get up close and take photos from different angles. I’m enjoying seeing the characters again and remembering making them all those years ago.

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

The retrospective exhibition, Salley Mavor: Once Upon a Thread will be at the Cape Cod Museum of Art Dec. 12, 2019 – Jan. 16, 2020. It will include original illustrations from my picture books, from the first (The Way Home,1991) to the latest (Pocketful of Posies 2010).  Between the borrowed ones and others that I’ve kept, there will be lots of original pieces on display, with a dozen titles represented. This show will be an opportunity for visitors to see the detail and 3-dimensional quality of my artwork in person and also view pieces from private collections that are rarely shown in public.

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

Yes, that’s a real silver spoon, a tiny one meant to go with a salt seller. The plate was cut out of Fimo clay with a cookie cutter. After hardening it in the oven, I painted the face and dish pattern.

Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005
Hey Diddle, Diddle! 2005

The next set of images show closeups of 2 spreads from You and Me: Poems of Friendship (1997). One illustrates the poem Sidewalks, which describes different ways of showing oneself and interacting on a public sidewalk.

Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
Sidewalks, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997

The last piece in this post is from the poem Snow. I hadn’t seen it for over 20 years and was happy to take it out of its frame and get up close with a camera. The owner seemed reluctant to part with it for a few months, but the timing ended up being convenient for her, since she’s selling her house and moving into a new place. I told her that it would be returned in better shape with sparkling clean glass.

SNOW, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
SNOW, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997
SNOW, You and Me: Poems of Friendship 1997

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baby banner for Xavier

Since delivering the artwork for my upcoming book, My Bed to the publisher, I’ve had time to catch up on overdue gifts. Like this baby banner for Xavier, the newest member of a family of dear friends. He is now a toddler, and I hope the banner is something he won’t ever outgrow.

I make banners for friends and family that commemorate special events like weddings and births. You can see others I’ve made by scrolling through the archives here. They all feature 2 of my favorite things; embroidery and handwriting. When I form letters in wire, I think back to that day in 3rd grade in the Woods Hole School, when Mrs. Cleveland called each student up to her desk, one at a time, to show us how to write out our names in cursive handwriting. I was transfixed, watching her make a line of loops and bumps that magically spelled my name, without lifting her pencil off the paper.

I use floral wire to make the letters, because it’s covered with green thread that provides a non-slippery surface to wrap embroidery floss on top of.

I usually use variegated floss to wrap the wire, which can look like stripes on the 2nd pass. The wire ends are bent over and wrapped, so that no raw ends are hanging out. It’s similar to the technique I use to make doll limbs in my how-to book Felt Wee Folk.

Out of my stash, I selected bone beads to make a decorative separator between the names and birth date.

And what better than a bead to dot the i.

A little chain stitch never hurt, either.

Writing out the letters in wire sometimes follows a different path than actual handwriting, especially for b’s.

Over the years, I’ve adapted my handwriting on paper as well as wire to a personal style that’s part cursive and part block letters.

I went through my collection of driftwood, picked out a bumpy piece, and cut it to the right length with a saw.

Many years ago, I bought these beach stones with drilled holes. I use them sparingly on special projects.

This shows how I sew the wrapped lettering to the felt banner piece.

For a hanging cord, I braided pima cotton made by Caron.

I have lots of Wee Folk Studio labels left over from when I made felt purse kits, so I sewed one to the back of the banner.

I attached the cord to the wood bar with knots and stitched it to the banner at the top corners.

This banner will soon hang on Xavier’s bedroom door. Welcome to the world little Xavy and congratulations to his parents, Mark and Cal!

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Wedding Banner: Shawn & Max

Today is Shawn and Max’s wedding day. The bride is a family friend and I wanted to make a banner to commemorate the occasion. This kind of project is quick (about a week) in comparison to the other work I do, which takes months or years. In the weeks since delivering the artwork for my upcoming book, My Bed to the publisher, I feel like a free woman! Besides gardening and paying attention to my husband Rob, I have indulged in making fun gifts like this.

It’s been a long time since I made a banner – you can see others in the archives here. I’ve also made personalized wedding dolls, which match the look and style of real-life couples. They inspired the new chapter in the 2nd edition of my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk: New Adventures.

Personalized wedding dolls from the archives

The banner features 2 of my favorite things, cursive handwriting and embroidery. I start by forming the letters with paper covered florist wire.

Then, I wrap the wire with a double strand of variegated embroidery floss.

The letters flow from one to the next, with occasional breaks, like in Max’s name below. I made a separate piece to complete the “x”.

In a nod to the theme of love, I made a heart shaped vine of wire and glass beads.

After I sewed the wire heart to the background felt, I stitched more leaves with embroidery floss.

For much of my art, borders are an important element. I like to define the edges using blanket stitching with a thick variegated thread – Watercolours by Caron.

The wedding date is written in light letters and numbers on a separate dark piece of felt.

I added glass leaf beads and silk ribbon French knot roses.

I put 2 carved bone fish beads in the open areas around their names and sewed the felt sections to the long banner piece.

After chain stitching spirals to the scalloped bottom edged, I sewed shells to the points. These shells are from old souvenir necklaces from Hawaii.

I even remembered to sew a Wee Folk Studio label to the back.

I cut a piece of driftwood to hang the banner from, drilled holes in it and attached the banner with thread. I then made a braided cord with variegated thread – Watercolours by Caron.
Congratulations Shawn and Max. May you have a long and happy marriage!

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Horn Book Cover

This is an edited and republished version of a post that was first written in 2012.

The Jan/Feb 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine is out, with my illustration on the cover. This issue has many wonderful articles and book reviews, including the 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award speeches, which were delivered at the colloquium on Sept. 30th, 2011. As an award recipient for Pocketful of Posies, I had the honor of illustrating a cover for the magazine. You can find out more about my award here.

Read on to see the process of making the cover illustration, which I worked on for about 6 weeks this past summer. The original size of the scene is about 12″ wide and 18″ high. I first found a twisted vine to use as the central tree and made a sketch with the Horn Book logo and child characters. I then drilled holes on the vine where wire branches would go.  

To form the branches, I covered wire with felt and embroidered them to match the real vine/tree trunk. This coiled branch has thread-wrapped wire thorns attached.

The Horn Book logo was rendered in wire branches and found objects. For one of the O’s, I sawed the back of a walnut-shell, so that it would lay flat and not stick out too much.  The O in the word Horn is a nest-like acorn cap from an oak tree in Iowa and the B’s spiky acorn caps are from northern California.

For the background, a solid color looked too plain, so I stitched together scraps of naturally dyed wool felt to make a more interesting field for the action.

I made a little fairy to fit in the walnut-shell.

I didn’t want the characters to be animals, but children dressed in animal costumes. So, I made every effort to make them look like children by giving them bangs, ponytails, hands and shoes. These figures are made with similar techniques found in my how-to book, Felt Wee Folk.

During the process, I changed some of the characters in the original sketch and substituted a boy in a dinosaur costume pulling an acorn cap wheeled wagon full of books.

I printed out the words on acetate, so that I’d be sure to leave enough room at the bottom edge. I then embroidered plants and leaves to the felt background.

This little child/mouse is getting red shoes.

The Horn Book staff suggested I include a reading child, so I made a felt book for the face-painted mouse.

All of the parts piled up as I worked. It’s a miracle nothing got lost!

It was really fun thinking up costumes to make for these kids. I wanted to create a scene of children immersed in imaginary play and story.

I added a sun to the upper left corner and embroidered a wavy chain-stitched border. Then, I sewed the felt background to a sheet of foam core board, pulling it flat and straight.

Then, I stitched the tree, characters and other props in place, right through the foam core board. After everything was in place, I took it to the photographer, so he could take its picture. After that, I removed it from the foam core board and remounted the felt background and all of the parts on a cloth-covered stretcher. It is now framed behind glass and was recently bought by a collector. It was a joy to work on this project with Lolly Robinson at the Horn Book Magazine! Having my illustration on the cover will be a great opportunity for many people to discover my work for the first time.

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Here I am with Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book.