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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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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bed book in progress – Japan

Today, I’d like to give a little behind-the-scenes peek at a recently completed scene for my “bed book”. Over the next year, I will continue to work on illustrations for the book, which will feature sleeping places in different cultures around the world.

This double page spread has children sleeping on futons in a traditional Japanese interior. To represent a spare and ordered Japanese aesthetic, I deviated from my usual style, which tends to be busy and curvy. I can’t remember the last time I made so many straight lines and right angles!

The tatami (floor mat) is made with some 75 yr. old linen fabric from my grandmother. The texture and age stains make the floor covering look woven and worn. I loved figuring out what items to display in the tokonoma (alcove).

Here’s a video of stitching French knot blossoms on the ikebana (floral arrangement).


I researched Japanese buildings for this roof section…

and made a fence out of real bamboo shoots.

Outside, the cherry tree provided a welcome opportunity for curves and repetitious little stitches.

To make a bed covering, I found some blue cotton in my stash…

and embellished it with chain stitching.

Her pajamas also got some extra yellow thread accents.

The book, My Bed Rocks on the Water is written by Rebecca Bond and will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2020. To see a peek at an illustration set in South America click here.

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New book underway

Sometimes it’s unclear how much to share of one’s project while it’s in the works.  In this age of social media, I feel a pull to share images and post updates about what’s going on because it’s fun and exciting and it’s happening right now! It was simpler in the past, when I would work for years on a children’s book, knowing that the illustrations wouldn’t be seen until they were released in a printed book. My books are listed here.

There has got be an approach that lands somewhere between instantaneous sharing and holding back for years. The book is scheduled to come out in 2020, so I’d rather not wait until then. After some thought, I’ve decided to zero in on the details and show closeups. I figure it’s like not seeing the forest for the trees. Hopefully the publisher will agree that showing peeks behind the scenes is OK, too. I’ve tried to document different stages along the way, to give you an idea of my process, while retaining a bit of mystery about the finished project. So, be warned that this is a teaser.

The “new book” is an exploration of varied cultures from around the world. This South American scene shows children sleeping in hammocks.

I devised the hammocks from a basic wire structure, with blanket stitching that looks like weaving. There were several prototypes before I figured out how to make it look right.

The background has embroidered bushes, with thread covered wire branches.

The scene features a lush environment with lots of opportunity to make felt and wire leaves and flowers.

Over the next year, I will share details from other illustrations, documenting the process with photos. These were all taken with my cell phone camera. I hope that you enjoy the upcoming round the world tour!

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