Illustrated, Dedicated

pinkerton-tileEven though winter is almost here, I’d like harken back to the golden days of July and share a trip I made to Findlay, Ohio this summer. The purpose? To teach two creative workshops at The Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books’ summer conference.

The Mazza has an astounding collection of original picture book art. It also has mission to educate, endorse, and share the joy of art and the picture book with everyone. In addition to two annual conferences, they host a number of programs, workshops, and initiatives for adults and children alike. During a break between my workshops, I dashed over to the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion to check out the galleries.

mazza-gallery-1The main gallery is absolutely packed, almost from floor to ceiling, with children’s book illustrations.

mazza-gallery-2Notice the little black binders near the floor? That’s information about the different authors on display, along with reading copies of the book. Such a terrific idea.

mazza-gallery-3My favorite display, however, was a small side gallery containing displays of pop-up books.

pop-up-displayLike the main gallery, there were plenty of reading copies on hand. Here’s the Young Naturalists Pop-Up Handbook of Butterflies by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda (Hyperion, 2001). I also spotted some of Reinhart’s original My Little Pony sketches.

butterfly-pop-upBack in the main gallery, there are some terrific whimsical touches. Like this Mother Goose flying from the ceiling:

mother-goose-in-galleryAnd an Owl and the Pussycat sailboat docked on the gallery floor!

mazza-gallery-4Did you notice the natural light filtering down in the above image? The central gallery has a large skylight that is partially blocked by an extensive loft area. Inside that light-filled loft is the MOST AWESOME PLACE EVER…a children’s space!

puzzle-chairsHere, you’ll find plenty of comfy, kid-sized seating and a number of hands-on activities.

dragon-tableThere’s a building table, a wall of gears, word games, drawing activities, some felt boards…and do you recognize this iconic library with the lions?

library-lionsTo exit the loft, you could take the stairs back down. Or, you could nip into the rabbit hole…

rabbit-hole

And ride down the twisty slide!

mazza-gallery-slideElsewhere in the building is an art studio for kids, a teacher resource center, multiple display of children’s artwork, and a gift shop with a big central area that encourages extensive browsing.

mazza-gift-shopIn the gift shop, I found a book so ingenious, I swear we have to do this for the Cotsen Children’s Library. It’s a custom picture book called Mazza from A to Z by Jenny Hanf (University of Findlay, 2016).

mazza-from-a-to-z-coverA class of adorable animals visit the museum and makes their way through the ABCs of visiting. Guess what the letter S is?

mazza-from-a-to-z-interiorBut the very best Mazza treasure I saved for last. Deep within the staff offices is a conference room filled with original illustrations, sketches, and notes from children’s book authors and illustrators.

mazza-conference-roomEvery inch of the wall is covered. It’s amazing to think of the talent that has stood in this very room, Sharpie in hand, sketching on the wall.

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The love, admiration, and dedication to picture books, illustrations, and education is clearly evident at the Mazza. Their conferences are intimate and well-thought out, with a wonderful array of talent. The Fall 2016 conference, for example, featured Tony Abbott, Brian Biggs, Nikki McClure, Sergio Ruzzier, Dan Santat, and David Wiesner. Simply splendid.


Many thanks to the Mazza for inviting me to teach at their summer conference, and for graciously allowing me to photograph their galleries and offices. 

Aliisa the Artist

self portrait_artwork by aliisa leeFor the past four years, I have had the privilege of working with an extremely talented Princeton University student artist. Her name is Aliisa Lee, and she has loaned her tremendous abilities to a whole host of artistic endeavors at our library – project templates, event posters, logos, illustrations for children’s stories and poetry, and more.

summer announcement logo_artwork by aliisa lee

Summer announcement logo

hungry caterpillar food drive logo_artwork by aliisa lee

Very Hungry Caterpillar food drive logo. Food drive title and art inspired by the work of Eric Carle.

bad hair day_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Bad Hair Day”

the dragon princess_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Dragon Princess”

Below you can see some steampunk templates she designed for a Journey to the Centre of the Earth event (later, I used the templates for a Rube Goldberg-esque mechanism and a fanciful steampunk airship story time).

steampunk hat

And how about these delightful vanilla-scented French pastry ornaments? Mmmm.

ornaments

Aliisa’s also worked on completely random (and sometimes rather strange) projects. She didn’t, for example, bat an eye when asked to make 80s paint splatter background.

welcome to the 80s

Or create a police line up of book damage perpetrators

lineup of book baddies

Or depict Hiccup and Toothless at the movies…?

hiccup and tootheless at the movies_artwork by aliisa lee

Last month, Aliisa graduated from Princeton University with a major in English and a minor in Visual Arts. I caught up with her to chat about her experience at Cotsen, her process for illustration, and what she’s going to do next (including – and this is important – continuing to freelance for us).


Tell us a little about yourself!

I grew up in the sunny state of Hawaii, but have since moved abroad several times. I am the fourth of six crazy kids, and all of our names start with A. It makes for some fun confusion when we are all together! In my free time, I love reading, writing, and (you guessed it), drawing. I especially enjoy drawing digitally by using my computer, Photoshop, and a Wacom pen and tablet.

Name a few of your favorite artists / inspirations.

I really look up to the artists of my favorite childrens’ books, like Clement Hurd, Mary Blair, Bill Peet, and Henry J. Ford. I am also a huge fan of Pixar and Studio Ghibli, with all their inspiring storytelling and fantasy elements. I follow many digital artists on tumblr, but I also just I love getting ideas from literature, dreams, and of course, my family and friends!

What have been some of your favorite projects for the Cotsen Children’s Library?

Hmmmm, that’s such a hard question. I’m a bit of a podcast nerd these days, so I loved doing the album art for the BiblioFiles.

bibliofiles artwork by aliisa lee

I am also a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth, so the Alice thaumatropes and the Digitopolis posters and logo were a great way to pay tribute to some of my beloved texts.

thaumatrope demo

digitopolis by aliisa lee

My favorite type of project is probably illustrating for our time’s new generation of writers and poets. If I have to choose one assignment that I especially treasure, it would be the art for “The Sun Lifted Me Away.” The young author’s father wrote to us later that his daughter loved the drawing for her poem; hearing that the young author was so happy with what I drew makes that illustration one of my favorite projects!

the sun lifted me away_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Sun Lifted Me Away”

You’ve illustrated kids poems and stories. What’s your process for selecting and illustrating specific scenes or phrases?

It varies piece to piece! Sometimes Dr. Dana will have a fairly specific suggestion for a scene, which has trained my eye and always helps with the process. When the illustration is more up in the air, I often read for specific lines and imagery that stand out, and draw fairly literally from that. (For example, a line from “The Pit,” that says “He clasped the edge and began his ascent.” A very dramatic, specific scene gets a very dramatic drawing.)

the pit_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Pit”

Or, if the piece has more atmosphere than narrative, I brainstorm for scenes or visuals that reflect that feeling. (For example, the poem “Autumn is a Color, Not a Season” is all about the feel of autumn. The drawing and colors reflects this.)

autumn is a color, not a season_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Autumn is a Color, Not a Season”

What surprised you the most about the process of developing, editing, and finalizing a drawing for Cotsen?

Before working for Cotsen, most of my art was just kept to myself or my personal site. When you are doodling in your notebook or drawing just to show your family and friends, you “finish” an art piece when you are satisfied or just get tired of it. One of the greatest things about working with Cotsen and an art director (Dr. Dana!) is having another pair of eyes to help look critically at a piece, then develop it with the ultimate goal of publication. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how that process and push to make polished illustrations has just made me a better critical thinker and artist. Plus, it is a ton of fun to draw for Cotsen!

storm_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Storm”

In your opinion, what’s the most difficult thing about illustration?

This has probably happened to anyone who has tried to make art: you get a beautiful, inspiring image in your head and you just think, “I NEED to draw this.” But after you sit down and draw, you realize your art just doesn’t measure up to the image your mind conjured up.

This happens to me a lot, especially since the poems and stories I read have such beautiful and creative moments. But it makes we want to work hard to be a better illustrator, since I want to close that gap between what my mind can create and what my hand can draw.

Still, I know that even if I was the best illustrator in the world, I could never quite pin down exactly what my mind envisioned. That could seem frustrating, but it is also kind of beautiful! The imaginations we are given are actually the best artists we could ask for, you know?

the enchanted machine_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “The Enchanted Machine”

Tell us a little about your senior show!

I would love to! My show was entitled “to wake” and included 80+ digital drawings, printed out in various sizes and placed around the space of the gallery. As you walked around left to right, the images sequentially told the story of a mother and daughter, plus a little bit of the fantastic as they traveled in the subway.

to wake 1_artwork by aliisa leeto wake 2_artwork by aliisa leeto wake 3_artwork by aliisa leeto wake 4_artwork by aliisa leeIt was very, very cool to have my own show, and to use the gallery space for both art and storytelling (two things I love!)

What are you going to do next?

I’m hitting the real world and getting a job. As a Princeton Project 55 Fellow, I’ll be working in communications at the non-profit International Schools Services, not that far from Princeton’s campus, actually. I can’t stop making art, so I will also be illustrating for Dana (and maybe a few other clients if I’m successful in expanding my freelance network). You haven’t seen the last of me yet! :)

poets_artwork by aliisa lee

Illustration for “Poets”


If you’d like to see Aliisa’s amazing portfolio, it’s online here. If you’d like to read a little more about her artistic process, she wrote a great post for Princeton University’s admissions blog here.

Thank you for 4 tremendous, tremendous years Aliisa! And here’s to many more!

Why So Blue, Chicken?

blue chickenSeeing blue chickens? Do not adjust your monitor. Cerulean poultry are a perfectly normal story time occurrence.

We read Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman (Penguin, 2011). An illustration of a barnyard sits on a drawing board. It’s almost finished – until a white chicken gets loose from the page and tips over a pot of blue ink! Now, nothing looks right. The ducks are no longer yellow, the pansies are no longer purple, and the other farm animals are totally peeved. Luckily, a dash of water will set things right!

To celebrate that adventurous blue chicken, we made some box birds, cozy nests, and then headed outside for a multi-color egg hunt!

You’ll need:

  • A long strip of white poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 22″)
  • A sturdy, 7″ paper plate
  • 1 box ( mine was 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 6″ – a small tissue box works too!)
  • Blue, white, yellow, and brown construction paper
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • 9-12 small feathers, blue of course!
  • 4-6 plastic eggs
  • Stapler, scissors, tape and glue for construction
  • Hot glue

We’ll begin with the nest (which is a replica of the nest from this egg beauty contest). Circle a strip of white poster board around the outside of a paper plate and staple it securely (you’ll need to remove the circle from around the plate to staple it properly).

nest step 1Slide the paper plate back inside the circle, pushing it all the way to the bottom.

nest step 2Now flip the “nest” over and use tape to reinforce the connection between the plate and the circle. I used at least 4 pieces of tape:

nest step 3I also reinforced the inside connection with a ring of hot glue.

nest step 4Finally, decorate your nest with uneven and crinkled strips of brown construction paper. Attach the strips to the nest with tape and/or glue.

finished chicken nestSet the nest aside, it’s time for the chicken!

finished blue chickenWrap a box with blue construction paper. Glue a pair of yellow paper feet on the bottom, and blue paper wings on either side. Make a red paper cone beak, and hot glue it to the front of the box. Add a pair of wiggle eyes, or simply draw the eyes on with markers. Glue or tape feathers to the wings (add tail feathers to the rear if desired). Use red paper to make a comb for your chicken’s head. Then tab it and glue or tape it to the top of the box.

chicken comb attachedWhen the chickens were done, we headed outside to the library’s plaza, where we had hidden a bunch of plastic eggs. We told the kids they needed to find 5 eggs each, then shouted “1-2-3 Go!” To insure success, we tried to make the hiding places fairly obvious (and even held a few back to drop right in front of the kids while they were hunting):

egg hunt 1egg hunt 2egg hunt 3egg hunt 4egg hunt 5egg hunt 6You might recognize that ornate door from this post. It’s actually one of the side doors of the University Chapel, which shares the plaza with my library. If you’d like to take your eggs home in style, consider adding some blue paper crinkle to the nest. Awwww…so cute…now why does this make me think of marshmallow Peeps?

nest with crinkle