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!


  1. So glad you have revived your blog; it's nice to learn about your artistic process!

    1. Thank you! I need to get back into posting regularly :)