Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Don't Call Me Grandma

I illustrated two books in 2015 (I think... the schedules are all blurring together in my brain), one of which was Don't Call me Grandma, written by award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and published by Carolrhoda Books.

It is a children's picture book for ages 5 to 9, about a little girl who gets to know her prickly, pearl-wearing great-grandmother. Memories of Ms. Nelson's own grandmother Sinah inspired to the great-grandmother character of Nell in this book. The book was published on February 1, 2016.

What a fun story to illustrate! Instead of depicting the characters in oil paint and collage as I usually do, decided to use marker, colored pencil and pen (with collage and a bit of watercolor paint) to add a dynamic quality and a different sense of expressiveness.

I worked with a lot of reference photos, including those of myself pretending to be Great-Grandmother Nell from the story. I imagined that a pearl-wearing, glamorous lady such as her would be a former ballerina with a wardrobe full of eccentric and elegant scarves, hats, wigs, and would really dress in a unique way every day. I was very inspired by old advertisements and retro fashions.

See the reference poses from photos above?

The fancy perfume bottles and things from Great-Grandmother Nell's vanity have a real-world inspiration too...

To get a sense of what Nell's vanity might look like, I rearranged items on my own dresser! Thankfully, I come from a family of women who save beautiful perfume bottles and collect all sorts of costume jewelry: earrings, necklaces, brooches... Note the old photo of my mom and brother in the picture frame :)

Anything look familiar?

I cannot tell you how many pictures I took, at various angles, of the all of the items crowding my dresser. To turn my dresser into more of a vanity, I bought two cheap mirrors and placed them on each side of the center mirror I already had. I angled the two mirrors slightly to achieve some interesting reflections and more angles. Drawing things and their reflections took me a while to get the hang of!

Thankfully, I bought myself a handy tripod for my camera last year, which is a huge help. Certainly beats placing the camera on top of a precariously stacked pile of books on top of a chair or a box or an ottoman. Whew! I can safely lock the camera into the tripod, adjust its height, set the camera timer, run, dash, pose, and hope for the best! It still usually takes about four shots for me to find the perfect one I want to work from.


Just another day at the office! (a.k.a. my kitchen and hallway...)

 My work desk was covered with the trinkets and baubles that inspired those in the illustrations... with plenty of inspiration photos on my wall.


Illustrations in progress...

Nell's portrait is framed with little rosettes I cut from textured gold paper.

I feel like I know her!

Taking tons and tons of pictures of myself posing as Nell and amassing the collection of trinkets, jewelry and fashions I think she might have help me create a character that feels real to me. Every item that I used to create Nell's world in the book has a story attached to it, and now Nell is part of my story.

I just received the original illustrations back from the publisher today. I missed you, Nell!

Curious to read the book? You can check out Don't Call Me Grandma at your local library or bookstore!