Tuesday, January 29, 2019

I AM FARMER: An Illustrator's Journey

Today, after not having written a blog post for about two years (sorry :/), I'm sharing a post I recently wrote for the Lerner Books Blog, where I share my illustration process for my upcoming book I AM FARMER: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon. Written by Miranda and Baptiste Paul, this picture book tells the true story of Tantoh Nforba, who works to bring clean water and bountiful gardens to the people of Cameroon. It's an inspiring story!

I AM FARMER  will be available at your favorite bookseller on February 5, 2019. It is published by Millbrook Press, a division of Lerner Books.

Check out the link to the Lerner Books Blog here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday Tablescape... The Legendary Miss Lena Horne!

Today is the day!
My ninth illustrated picture book, The Legendary Miss Lena Horne is out! Written by the award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford (whose book Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, just was just named a Caldecott Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book yesterday!), it is published by Atheneum Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Currently on my desk is the book itself, along with a print of the first illustration I completed for it- and the only one in black and white- a still from Lena's 1943 film "Stormy Weather", the two CDs I listened to non-stop while illustrating the book, and my CD player. Yes, I am old school and still buy CDs. Every book needs a soundtrack... every art project needs a soundtrack, and I fell in love with the sound of Lena's voice during this one. I wish I could have seen her perform live!

This 48 page picture book is geared towards children aged 4-8, but is an interesting read for all ages. Lena Horne was born into the freedom struggle to a family of teachers and activists in Bedford Stuyvesant, New York City on June 30, 1917....

The couch Lena's mother is sitting on in this illustration was created from a collaged photo of my own great-grandmother's couch! I made it a bit more pink :)

Lena's mother wanted her be an actress, but her grandmother believed that the entertainment business was "Not for respectable folks". She bounced back and forth between her mother's home, grandmother's home, boarding houses and other family members' homes. She auditioned to be a dancer at the Cotton Club during the Great Depression, where she met Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, and honed her singing, dancing and acting skills in the years to follow.

She was absolutely magnetic on the screen. Take a look at her performance of "Stormy Weather", which sort of became her anthem throughout her difficult life...

I'll be playing my Lena Horne CD's and singing and dancing around the house today!

I hope you'll enjoy the book! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Grandpa Cacao

More and more, over the past twelve years or so, I've wondered to myself every time I take a bite of a piece of chocolate: "What if the chocolate in this bar came from my own grandfather's cacao plantation?" I first had this thought during my sophomore year at RISD in one of my illustration class assignments. I interviewed my dad about his childhood in the Ivory Coast, and created an artist's book based on his memories. The page that stuck with me the most in my artist's book was the illustration of my father walking through a cacao tree plantation with his mother and brother.

My father shared more and more memories with me about his father's cacao and coffee plantation in the Ivory Coast. I became more and more obsessed with chocolate and cacao beans and the cacao fruit and the cacao-harvesting process, that cacao or chocolate became the centerpiece of many of my projects during my junior and senior years and RISD. (Sorry, professors!)

I lived in the Ivory Coast until I was twelve years old, but never visited the plantation (which my father had taken over) and never saw a cacao tree in real life. My family and I ate (and still eat) plenty of chocolate though! I never had a stronger desire to walk through a lush field of cacao trees and pluck a ripe, red cacao pod from a branch, until now that I've lived in the United States for almost twenty years! Mind you, the Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cacao and coffee, so it's in my blood!

We consume so much chocolate here, but I'm not sure that children know where chocolate actually comes from... so I decided the subject of chocolate would be a great picture book! The first version of my chocolate picture book was my senior year illustration project at RISD, and I'm very happy to say, ten years and many changes later, with the push from my fabulous agent Lori Nowicki at Painted Words, and the faith of editor Mary Kate Castellani, that my little chocolate story will be published by Bloomsbury Books!!!! Wohooo!!!!!!!! 
I'm an Author/Illustrator!!!!! 

I'm calling it Grandpa Cacao, and it is set to be released in May 2019!

...Grandpa Cacao will be illustrated with paint, collage and silk-screen...

I am very very grateful and proud to have illustrated nine books in the past eight years or so, all written by a very talented, generous and diverse group of children's book authors. I look forward to continuing to bring to life others' stories, as well as embarking on the journey of bringing to life my own. My Grandpa Cacao, who passed on way before I was born, and whom I've imagined, whom I respect and hope to be like one day, is my first story.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tuesday Tablescape... Words "en Francais"

This week, I finally broke in my newest sketchbook.

When I visited France in July, I realized that I had forgotten some French... actually a bunch of French words and expressions. I decided to illustrate them in my sketchbook!
So here's a little French lesson (and forgive me for omitting the accents in my typed versions, I can't figure them out in this blog format):

"pasteque" = "watermelon"
- Found in summer salads, ice cream flavors, and of course, at the markets.

"menthe a l'eau" = "mint (syrup) with water"
- A popular drink that I forgot I loved! It's literally mint flavored syrup, mixed with water. The perfect treat on a blazing hot day in the south of France! I ordered it at every chance I got.

"fard a paupieres" = "eyeshadow"
- It was too hot to wear eyeshadow... would've melted off. I brought home some nice soaps, though! Which I've already used up :)

"ras-le-bol!" = "up to here!"
- Literally "up to the edge of the bowl" - like, my bowl is filled up, I've had enough! Very expressive. I love when emotions are verbally expressed with imagery. I guess that's just the Visual Learner in me.

"pecheur" = "fisherman" but also "sinner"!
- I wonder what's up with that one... does it have Biblical origins? How can fishing be the equivalent of sinning?

Shout out to the nice lady at Dubois art supply store in Paris for giving me two of the lovely purple markers I used in this illustration for free! I always love buying random art supplies in new places.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pineapples are a Global Trend

At the beginning of summer, I thought: "Oh, I should create a pineapple silkscreen and print it on bags, T-shirts, and everything else!". Since my mind turns to tropical things when the weather gets warm, the pineapple is just this year's iteration of my tropical obsession- last year, it was the palm tree.

I didn't end up designing or printing a pineapple print (yet!), but it feels like I've seen pineapples on everything this summer! I'm going to attempt to write about my summer through my pineapple pictures :)

Exhibit A: Tablescape.
It all started with my preparation for Art on Lark, my local craft fair in Albany. I look forward to it every year (even though I also say every year:"I'm never doing this again!"), and try to have a new crop of items for sale, or a new theme for my table decoration each year. This year I thought bright, tropical fruits would be an eye-catching addition to my colorful purses and jewelry, so as usual, in early June, I got out all my items to sell, brought a fold-up table into the living room, and played around with how I would display everything.

I'd bought a few cake stands in the winter that I thought would look nice with earrings hanging off of them, and the pineapple was just fun! I also got some clementines (and limes, which you don't see in the picture.)

Well, it turns out that Art on Lark got rained out and moved to a different day.. a day that I would be in France at a friend's wedding! So needless to say, I did not participate in Art on Lark this year. But don't worry, the pineapple did not go to waste. My boyfriend Kevin cut it up and grilled it (delicious!) and I spruced up some cocktails with pineapple chunks and drink umbrellas to kick off the summer!

Exhibit B: Art.
My friend's wedding was in Toulouse, in the south of France. The last time I was in Toulouse was in 1995!

Traveling with my parents, we were able to see some good friends in Paris and family in Poitiers, including cousins I had never met before!

I thought the pineapple trend was a thing Stateside, but nope, there are pineapples on products and artwork in France too! (Who knew? There are a lot of American brands in France too, which I was a bit surprised by, but that's a whole other post)

Here's a canvas with a pineapple design in a storefront in Toulouse. So bright and happy!

The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality: warmth, friendship and welcome, says the internet. But to me, it's also a reminder of hot, tropical days and warm summer nights, of a time when a fruit salad was made up of pineapples, mangoes and papayas.... ahh, the good old days.

Exhibit C: Golden Pineapple.
My parents and I visited a museum in Toulouse called Fondation Bemberg, where we saw tons of European paintings, furniture and decorative items dating from the Renaissance (one of my favorite art periods) to the 19th century.

This is either a trophy or some kind of chalice from 16th century Germany I saw in one of the display cases. I think it's made of gold-plated silver. Pineapples were even cool way back then! I wonder who brought the first pineapple to Germany... and where it came from... Asia? Africa? The Pacific Islands? Did Europeans like it at first? Your guess is as good as mine.

George Bemberg was a German art-lover who was raised in France and studied at Harvard. He started collecting art and art objects first in New York, then in Paris after World War II. Since he had no heirs, he decided to create a museum that would house his collection. Thanks George! I should start a museum for my jewelry collection...

Exhibit D: Mosaic.
This next pineapple, also from a street in Toulouse, France, is part of a decorative mosaic outside a restaurant. Can you make out the pineapple at the top of the design? It's kind of hard to see with the reflection of the buildings from across the street.

The day after the wedding, my parents and I walked around town, taking in the sights. Since is was Sunday, many shops were closed. That's one thing I'd forgotten about France... Sunday is regarded as a day you spend with your family, not out shopping. Maybe we should adopt this kind of idea! Also, shops and restaurants are closed for around two hours in the middle of the day on weekdays so the shopkeepers can go have lunch (possibly at home).

And many French people take the entire month of August off for summer vacation. Imagine that! Not going to work for an entire month! I'm certain that it makes the return to work that much more dreaded, but that you also return with more focus... or you just forget what working feels like and you're panicked and clueless... I don't know.

Exhibit E: Craft Fair.
The next pineapple is back in the States, the second one I bought for a craft fair!

This time, it was for the City of the Hills art & Music Festival in Oneonta, NY. I participated in it last summer, and had a lot of fun! (Even though it was windy and my poor tent finally broke. R.I.P. EZ-Up Pop-Up Shade Tent... you were not that EZ to put up, but you served me well. I finally had to replace you)

I was finally able to fulfill my dream of a tropical fruit-themed tablescape! I got bright orange oranges and clementines, a fresh new pineapple and little party umbrellas to spruce up my display. And I think the pineapple brought happiness to some passers-by! It was certainly a conversation-starter, and sometimes I need some help getting people's attention when I'm sitting at a table hoping to sell my items. I also gave away a few clementines to the most parched of craft-fair-goers.

If you're interested in my jewelry or bags, please check out my Etsy shop :)

Exhibit F: Art Doorbell.
I took a little field trip to Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, with my agent Lori and a few fellow Painted Words illustrators in August.

This pineapple doorbell was affixed to the wall at the entrance of one of the exhibits. I didn't even notice it until I had left the exhibit and re-entered it a second time. I was too afraid to actually ring it (I don't think it did anything anyways), but it caught all of our attention. I don't "get" a lot of Modern Art, but I thought this was a fun surprise in an exhibit that caused me to pause and think.

It was great to go to a museum with other people who do what I do for a living! And with the people who help get out work out there! Shadra Strickland, Huy Voun Lee's work and my own are different, but we all work in children's books and have many artistic interests.

I look forward to more field trips with artists! I think the Eric Carle Museum will be next!

Exhibit G: Bromeliads.
Kevin and I got back last week from our yearly New England vacation that involves a few different stops, including Block Island, Rhode Island. Because of Tropical Storm Hermine, (Why didn't they just name it Hermione, like the Harry Potter character? That's what we kept calling it.) all of the ferries to and from Block Island (the most remote island on the Eastern Seaboard: 13 miles of the coast of mainland United States) were canceled for two whole days.

So, we were stuck in Providence for two extra nights. Not that I'm complaining, though! I went to college in Providence and always come back during vacation!

Since we had time to kill and no plans, we decided to check out the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. This is a picture of some beautiful Bromeliad plants there. Now, I know these are not actual pineapples per-se, but they look like the tops of pineapples, and it's because they are related! I learned this while working at Magnolia Flowers in New York after college :) I spent a lot of time googling the plants we sold so I could have some knowledge to give to the customers.

Exhibit H: Googly eyes!
Here's another plant from the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. I don't know what it is, but the trunk looks like a freaky elongated pineapple body staring at me!

We spent hours in the botanical park, photographing almost everything. I think I'll revive my botanical printed purses sometime soon! I've got plenty of fancy patterned foliage photos now that would look great printed onto little bags.

If you're wondering, when Tropical Storm Hermione finally subsided, Kevin and I were able to get on a ferry to Block Island for the beach leg of our trip. The waters were still choppy from the storm, and I did not take my Dramamine early enough before getting on the ferry: the most wretched hour ever.
I cannot fly or boat without the preemptive Dramamine.
It stinks having to learn that the hard way.

I took a lot of pictures of the beach on Block Island, but nothing with pineapples. Although I saw plenty of pineapple-themed items in the gift shops there.

Exhibit I: Graphic Design.
After a few days on Block Island, it was time for Boston and on to Providence again. I don't remember any pineapple things in Boston (plenty of lobster things, though), except for this pineapple sticker on a pole near the Museum of Science. I got lazy with the photograph-taking and this one is from Kevin's camera (thanks, Kevy!)

We spent hours in the museum exploring exhibits about lightoptical illusions, wind energy, human biology, geography, math, and a lightning show!

Exhibit J: Art School Project?
In Providence, Kevin and I spotted this painted pineapple on a piece of wood, attached to a street sign on Thayer Street. (This photo is also by Kevin)

What is it? Is it art? Is it welcoming us to Thayer Street? Who made it? Are there others like it around the city (we didn't find any others). Is it some subversive art school project? Public art? Who will ever know...

Incidentally, Thayer Street has changed a lot since the ten years that I graduated from RISD. I'm very happy that the Creperie on Fones Alley, right off of Thayer, is still there! It was a staple of my college days. Nutella and banana crepe, anyone? And maybe a Tropical Oasis smoothie? A crepe is always a highlight of the Thayer Street experience. I miss Beadworks, though.

Exhibit K: Snazzy Logo.
We spent an afternoon in Newport, exploring The Breakers: the summer home of the Vanderbilt family, built in the late 19th century. It's full of exquisitely ornate furniture, wallpaper, rugs, sculptures, chandeliers, and everything else you might imagine a mansion would have!

The Breakers is now owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County, who maintain it and offer tours of the Breakers and ten other estates. They have an awesome logo with a pineapple at the center! I think it's a pineapple... I hope it is.

If I found a t-shirt at The Breakers gift shop with this Newport Preservation Society logo on it, I would have snatched it up. But I settled for some awesome shark and lobster lollipops instead. Hope you had a great summer!

I'll get to creating a pineapple print sometime... It'll probably happen in the dead of winter when, naturally, one's yearning for the tropics is obviously strongest.

Cheers to Summer!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday Tablescape... Cacao Crazy!

I've been on a bit of a summer hiatus from posting- I'm going to blame it on travel and laziness- but there's a new project taking up space in my brain and on my desk this week/month/season: I've gone cacao crazy!

Sometimes, my kitchen doubles as a work space, and right now, it's a silk-screening studio! The wooden table is much bigger than my work desk and can accommodate bigger projects... plus, the afternoon light that comes into the kitchen makes it so nice to create in.

I often lose track of time when I'm barefoot, in the presence of bright sunlight, colorful paint, warm colors, and a nice breeze...

Anyhow, that cacao print from the last Tuesday Tablescape has now become a design that I painted onto a silk-screen and transferred onto a bunch T-shirts, pieces of fabric, and paper!
Right now, I'm obsessed with this cacao image I created, and silk-screening is highly addictive.

Once I have a good design painted on a screen, I want to add it to everything! (quick, how many T-shirts can I adorn with this design? Is it crazy for one person to have five shirts with the same image on them- in various color-combinations, of course!?)

I started with drawing the image onto a silk-screen in pencil, then painting in the negative areas with screen filler. After two coats of screen filler and one night of drying time, I'm ready to produce screen-prints! My first cacao screen-print was in white fabric ink on a black T-shirt. I place the screen on the shirt, exactly where I want the design to appear, I spoon a bit of ink directly onto the screen, across the top...

Painting the design...
With white ink on top and ready to print...

Then, I hold the screen in place with one hand, grab my plastic squeegee with the other hand and swipe the paint from the top of the screen, across the painted design, to the bottom of the screen, pick up the squeegee, and slowly pick up the screen...

Click image for video of the process!
And Voila! My design has transferred through the areas that were not painted on the screen onto my T-shirt! Like magic!

Safe to say, once I start, I can't stop. I printed a few white designs onto black T-shirts and a few patterned fabric squares, then yesterday, I decided :"Ooh, wouldn't it be cool for the cacao image to have multiple colors to it?" So I spent the afternoon playing around with orange, white and green fabric ink (the colors of the Ivorian flag, Home Sweet Home) and printing the cacao design onto more blank T-shirts, a tropical photograph printed on fabric, and some leftover paper from past collage projects.

Printed on fabric...
Printed on paper... (except for palm tree photo)


It was fun! Anyone want a cacao print T-shirt or greeting card?

All of this cacao print activity is leading up to some great news I will reveal soon... ;)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday Tablescape... Lena and Cacao

Happy Tuesday! For this week's Tuesday Tablescape, I've got Lena Horne and cacao prints on my desk (and on my mind). I'll start with Lena. 

Last week, I received the F&G (the Folded and Gathered) printout of my upcoming illustrated book, The Legendary Miss Lena Horne, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, from my editor at Atheneum Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)! It's always so exciting to get an F&G in the mail! It's the first time that I see my illustrations in an actual book format- until then, I've seen them as actual art pieces, then PDF book pages on my computer screen, then individual printed images on paper as color proofs. There's something very special in being physically able to turn paper pages of my artwork in a book format. It never gets old! 

It's been three months since I finished and sent off the illustrations for this book. They say "out of sight, out of mind", but somehow I have not been able to stop thinking about Lena Horne. I feel like with every book I illustrate, I become a little bit more attached to its characters. I also have a soundtrack of music I listen to for every book, and for this one, I listened mostly to Lena Horne herself... so  I had her voice in my ear (literally) every day that I was painting her. And her music keeps popping up around me when I go to restaurants... She recorded sooo many songs, and so many popular songs, that it feels like she's everywhere! And the sound of her voice and her delivery is so unique to me, I can't quite shake it! 

Here's an example of her popping up out of the blue: last September on my birthday, when I had just begun to create the pencil sketches for the basis of the color illustrations for the book and had just started listening to Lena Horne CD's, in the middle of my birthday dinner at a very nice restaurant, I noticed that the music playing was Lena Horne! Of course I thought to myself: "this can't be a coincidence! She's watching me!" (My parents, by the way, say they did not have any control of the music at the restaurant that day)

Another reason that I think Lena feels so real to me, is that she was born in 1917, two years minus three days before my maternal grandmother, Grace, who would have turned 97 years old yesterday. I was lucky enough to have my grandmother in my life as a child and as a teenager until she passed away when I was 20. I always think of my grandmother as very elegant and open-hearted, and I feel like she and Lena could have been friends if they knew each other! They lived during the same time, although must have had very different experiences from each other. It helps to look at Lena through the eyes of my grandmother. I wonder if Grandma ever listened to Lena Horne records.

Grandma and Grandpa in 1957

Grandma and me.. 1988?

 The other thing that's on my mind, and on my desk, has to do with chocolate.

Chocolate comes from the cacao fruit, which grows in tropical places like the Ivory Coast. My life in the Ivory Coast as a child was pretty urban/suburban (we lived in the biggest city, Abidjan). My paternal grandfather (who passed away many years before I was born) owned a cacao and coffee bean plantation up in the country that I never saw. Our family ate (and still eats) plenty of chocolate, but I've been obsessed with the shape of the actual fruit of the cacao pod since I was a sophomore in art school, and almost guilty about the fact that I love chocolate, and lived in the world's top cacao-producing country, yet have never held an actual living cacao fruit in my hand or stepped foot on a cacao plantation. (recently, I've been very happy to see cacao trees growing in various botanical gardens, though! And last summer, I brought a dried-up cacao pod at a chocolate factory in Massachusetts) 

The cacao/chocolate obsession has taken many forms over the past years, including carving a multitude of mini pods a decade ago in my ceramics class at RISD... can you see the little brown and beige thing in my desk photo, way up top? That's one of the pods! 

I've been working most recently on creating a silk-screen design of the cacao fruit growing on a tree (see the black and white printed image and black, orange, green and yellow images on my desk) Not sure what I will use these designs for yet, but silk-screening is super-addictive and I'm sure I'll find something to print my cacao designs on. 

More chocolate things coming soon!