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!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tuesday Tablescape!

I'm starting a new feature on the blog called Tuesday Tablescape (or, what's on my desk right now), where I'll show what projects I'm currently working on/ what mess of things is currently taking over my desk - or my kitchen table, because that is a common work surface too, for when the desk is too cluttered.

Yes, today is actually Wednesday, but heck, here it goes:
Every year, when Spring approaches, I start fantasizing about what colorful spring and summer-inspired crafts I can make to sell at my local street art fair, Art on Lark. I've been participating every summer, I think, for the past eight years or more. It's an opportunity to meet people face-to-face and sell the things I make when I'm not working on books - and it's only a block and a half from my apartment! So I can easily run home to pick up tape, scissors, or take a quick bathroom break :)

This week, my desk is covered with some new items I made for this year's Art on Lark.
First, the earrings. I mentioned my love of tassels on earrings in an earlier post, and I've made a bunch of new pairs with bright, colorful silky tassels, various beads, and African bronze "gold weight" beads. (incidentally, I bought the gold weight beads at the African Market in Harlem this Spring. They are a typical feature in the jewelry worn in the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Many necklaces my mom wore when I was a child back in the Ivory Coast had these beautiful, bright, gold-colored beads. Their designs come from weights made of bronze by the Akan people, used to measure gold dust and other goods.)


I love these bright colors! They are so happy. Oh, and every year I buy something new to display my items at the fair with, so this winter, I bought a few cake stands I thought I could hang the earrings off of. Hopefully the cake stands inspire me to bake more cakes too!

Next, the bags. See the tassels? When I began working on my next book, The Legendary Miss Lena Horne last year, I spotted a pale pink and gold brocade (I think it's a brocade) fabric at the craft store that screamed Lena Horne to me. It's a little bit retro and very glamorous and elegant so I bought a yard of it, thinking that I would use it in my illustrations for the book. I ended up not using it in the book after all, but I wanted to make something inspired by the glamour of Lena Horne. So I made two little purses with it, one for myself (a round-ish prototype with pleats I will perfect in the future) and one (flat and rectangular shaped) to sell. 

 I also experimented with turning some tan and turquoise woven bamboo place-mats into purses... They turned out well, are pretty rigid, but floppy when they're empty. 

One of the Lena Horne inspired purses, with pink tassel and gold weight bead.

Tassels for everyone!

 The other purses are made form African print fabrics I already had, and have used in the past to make my Wrap Wallets. I love combining fabrics with jewelry items to make these these purses!

Also on my desk is a can of white screen-printing ink for fabric. I'm working on some silk-screens you'll probably see in next week's post!

In case you're wondering about Art on Lark this summer, it was originally due to take place on June 5. Mother Nature decided to make it rain (and not in the good way) that day, so it has been postponed until Saturday, July 16th. I won't be able to make it then, so I've added (and am currently adding more) items I made for it to my online shop, Something IvoryCoasty. If you're in the Albany, NY area on July 16, come down to Lark Street and support some of our local artists and artisans!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

La Casa Azul

Last July, I participated in my first show in New York City, at La Casa Azul Bookstore!

Located in East Harlem, La Casa Azul is a beautiful bookstore named after the Blue House, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's home and studio (love her!). The bookstore has multicultural books for all ages, and hosts many workshops, music concerts, and book events.

A little gallery space (with pretty yellow walls and a Frida Kahlo mural) on the basement level of the bookstore held the summer exhibition. Entitled Suenos: How Imagination Can Save the World, the show featured work by Vanessa Brantley Newton, Katie Yamasaki and myself.

I displayed eleven original illustrations from my books My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden's Childhood Journey and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. (I sprung to get each of them professionally framed, and let me tell you; it ain't cheap)

The opening of the show on July 25th, 2015 consisted of book readings and a collage activity for the children and parents in attendance.

The bounty of papers, markers and crafty things!

Thank you to my buddies who came out to support! :)

Funky Frida mosaic in the bookstore
I snagged myself a cool reading T-shirt!

Check out a video recapping the event from BronxNet!

Note: La Casa Azul Bookstore is currently closed as they re-structure, but you can still visit their online shop here, and check updates on their Facebook page.