Friday, December 20, 2013

Snowy Days

It's Christmastime here in the Northeast already, and this kale plant in the community garden behind my house has got me thinking of palm trees in snow. Ironically, I find myself working on another book which takes place in hot, sunny Africa. Three years ago around this time, I was illustrating Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby by Patricia MacLachlan, a lullaby story that takes place in Tanzania, eastern Africa.

Now the book I'm working on takes place in the Gambia, western Africa, and I can't help but see the paradox in the situation! Growing up in the Ivory Coast in the 1980's-90's, two of my favorite books were Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr and The Snowy Day written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats- odd, for a kid living in a tropical paradise!

I marveled at the illustrations of white stuff covering the ground. I had several of books on tape, including Owl Moon. I LOVED it! Jane Yolen's voice is so calm and firm, and the music is awesome too- very atmospheric.

Maybe it was the search of something that seemed so ethereal as an owl sighting which captivated me.

Or maybe it was the color palette of blues and whites and blacks of the illustrations, the solitude of being out in the quiet woods the starkness of winter white, or the alien-ness of it: being bundled up in a puffy coat, hat, scarf, mittens or snowsuit to go outside.

I recently re-bought a copy of Owl Moon for my home office, and it's perfect to read on a winter day like today.

I loved The Snowy Day for the bright, happy cut paper illustrations, a totally different feel from Owl Moon but a quintessential winter story nonetheless. 

This cut paper style of illustration has been an inspiration to me in my own work. I love color, texture, pattern, and having these play with each other on the page in various shapes:

(a painting of mine from 2007 incorporating collage)

("Paper Leaves" 2006)

I love, love love collecting pattered papers, fabrics and photos! One of these days I'll actually find a way to keep them organized.

I crave bright, fun color as soon as snow hits the ground. And as soon as I've taken in the beauty of a sparkly white first snow (or as soon as dirty boots and car tires dirty it up), I start planning bright, happy spring projects with colorful botanicals and tropical flowers.

For now, I'm hoping for a white Christmas.

P.S. Incidentally, both Owl Moon and The Snowy Day mention making footsteps in the crisp white snow, which I love!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Geraldine & Co.

I've been working on a new line of mini zipper pouches inspired by one of my original illustrated characters: Geraldine. She is a new character I created this year while playing around with markers and gel pens in the hopes of creating a looser, more dynamic style, different from my usual oil paint and collage style I use in my children's book illustrations.

Meet Geraldine!

She is inquisitive, sassy, loves to dance and get into trouble!

The line of pouches is called Geraldine & Co., which I realized this weekend are perfect to carry crayons, colored pencils or or mini markers.... 


But then I thought- hey, wouldn't it be cool if Geraldine had her own crayons? So I stripped the crayons I had of their paper wrappers...


and added my own!

Hmmm... I should make a Geraldine & Co. coloring book to go with it... and paper dolls! Maybe in the next few months!

Next, meet Ellie:

She is a character inspired by this old photo of my mom I keep on my desk:

She's peeking through the curtains in the parlor where the Christmas tree was placed at her grandmother's old house. (

She's got a mischievous streak too, I bet! Don't you wish you could go back in time and see how your parents acted when they were children? If I had a time machine, that's what I'd do. Being the middle sister I bet little Ellie got into loads of trouble.. but you'd never guess it; seeing the responsible and accomplished mother and wife that she grew up to be! 

Well along with the Ellie zipper pouch, I created a mini collection of another of my characters: Aminata...

Aminata is the name of the girl's little doll, and she is inspired by a book my mom read as a child  called "Hitty, Her First 100 years" by Rachel Field, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop, in which the little doll has loads of adventures and travels the world.

I love the stark black and white illustrations!

I also created pouches of  my characters Elephant, Gazelle and Peacok. They arose as illustrations for a re-interpretation of the story "The Gift of the Magi". In my version, Peacock and Gazelle are best friends and they each shed something from their bodies to buy a gift for the other.

This style is inspired by the "mudcloth" paintings of northern Ivory Coast, West Africa. There, they are called "Toile de Korhogo" (Korhogo cloth), after the northern town where they are created. I grew up in the capital city, Abidjan, in the south of the country, and always really admired this style of art and the artists who create it:

and all I want to do is sit on the floor next to my boom box and paint... ahh....

Hopefully, making these zipper pouches with various characters will help me come up with some story lines to write about them. I've only published children's books that have been written by other (very talented) authors and would love to some day write and illustrate my own stories from start to finish. For now, my characters and I are just playing! 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"Restless Soul"

Well another Saturday has come and I've managed to create a whole new line of crafty projects I cannot get out of my head! I keep looking for ways to combine my love of color, pattern, texture, beads, paper, fabric, paint, photography and eye-catching things into one... It's hard! Wait-no.
It's fun! It only gets difficult when I allow myself to stop having fun and turn it into a chore I need to get done to quiet my chatty inner self... It's a never-ending search- one I'm sure I'll be on for the rest of my life. I'm told I have a "restless soul". I agree. I just can't stop making things!

This was a corner of my craft table this morning... new zipper pouches, beaded necklaces, gift box and ribbons and things after I had made some new necklaces and sewn little bag collections for my Etsy shop ( yesterday. 

So many things to do!