Many years ago I attended a conference in Findlay, Ohio at the Mazza Museum on the lovely Findlay University college campus. This museum has the largest collection of original children’s illustration in theworld.
I have seen the elephant!
It is a phenomenal treat to walk into a space and see the original paintings or collages that are from your favorite children’s books. The friends you grew up with. I saw an original Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, so so many treasures.
While there I listened with illustrators, librarians and educators from across the country for a week of stories and information from greats like Ed Emberley and the brilliant Pinkney family.
One night I joined a casual dinner at a local restaurant. There was one seat left. I knew not a soul at this event and to even attend alone was a stretch for me. As I sat down I looked around the table to find myself sitting next to Ed Emberly and across from one of the speakers. I was panicked. What was I doing here? I was a librarian from a small school in Florida who had painted for years. No credentials that made me a brilliant dinner companion.
All of my worries instantly dissolved. I had found “my tribe”! There was not an unkind word spoken. These creative gentlemen were just that.
Creative and kind.
A eureka moment!
It has taken years to wind through jobs and obligations to be full time at my drafting table and computer creating my own illustrations and books.
A month ago I sent an illustration to a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) competition. It was to illustrate a poem called The Sneeze by Tomie Depaola. He would judge the entries. I did not win, but I put my pen to paper and created this.
Another competition sponsored by SCBWI in our Southern Breeze region I did actually win. If you are a long time reader you have seen this one.
Last year I was part of a mentorship program overseen by the brilliant Mark Braught. The assignment was a self portrait using visuals from different times, places and adding some interesting animals.
This year as the Spring Mingle conference approaches I am participating in a mentorship with the wonderfully generous Loraine Joyner from Peachtree Publishers. I am learning so much from this experience. It has been filled with experiments, research for facts and images, and putting self in chair and pencil in hand and drawing scenes from a pre-Civil War era. It is a dark time in our history, as far from my dear Melvin Fine Mouse as is possible. A stretch and a challenge I am enjoying every day.
Thank you SCBWI and the wonderful world of children’s illustration for another transformative experience.
I have launched Melvin Fine Mouse: First Day of School. He is now available through Amazon for $7.95. Yes, a shameless commercial plug. (You can click here to see more information.)
I first drew and wrote Melvin in 2001 when I was a librarian at an elementary school in the Orlando area. Each week I taught every child from age 4 to fifth grade.
I knew the first day in my first class when the first grade entered the little library that I was in for the ride of a lifetime, and it might be a bumpy ride. My crowd control skills were nonexistent.
I was a young mom with an art degree. I loved books, was very good at organizing, and I had to drive 40 minutes to take my son to school each day. I may as well stay for the day. So I did.
Reading to the children was my favorite part of the day. Computers were just making their presence known in the library. This was becoming the media center and I was becoming the media specialist.
My incredible volunteers worked hard to get the reading programs on-line and each child registered. The powers that be thought I was an arty misguided soul, but the children LOVED library and it wasn’t because there were computers in the room. There were great books.
Books are what make a library a library. The students enjoyed shelves of shark and dinosaur books, American Girl books, dog books, cat books, Captain Underpants books, histories of inventions, and true stories of three little pigs. They were reading and loving it.
I could understand this. Children plus books equals a focused thinking young mind.
Melvin is out and about searching for young minds with his rhymes and bright colors.
People who didn’t know he existed are welcoming him into their homes. Thank you so much for giving him the opportunity. Like the opportunity that was given me so many years ago in that little library.
And thank you to Will’s fifth grade class who heard this story in that little library and cheered me on. I will never forget their smiles and encouragement.
And my family who cajoled and loved me into pushing Melvin out the studio door.
I never thought much about growing up in a pink house in New Orleans. My mom had a great sense of color and style so as a child I never questioned her choices. Everything always looked nice to me.
It still looks nice to me.
One day a friend rode up on his bicycle and said, “You live in a pink house.”
It was as if I had never noticed.
Since that day in 1975, when I was an impressionable teen-ager, I have noticed the color of houses. Now I am an artist so that should come with the territory, but Jimmy’s comment started the process.
I have been out of touch with the world for a few weeks. Leave it to say a loved one needed some special time. This was a time out of my studio, so I started, again, to work on my children’s book.
It begins with a sentence about the main character living in my pink house.
I am once again in the studio so hope to make some progress on this book. I have read it to children over the years and always had a positive response. It is time for me to be my character’s champion and get him out of the drawer and into the world.
My friend Robyn Hood Black posted the kindest things on her blog, Artsyletters, yesterday. She is a generous person in writing, in art and in person.
Last weekend the announcement was made that I had won a first prize in the SCBWI Southern Breeze 2012 illustration contest. (SCBWI is the abbreviation for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) Robyn very kindly wrote about the event and my process.
Please take a minute to check out her blog, this is after all the mutual admiration society, and let her know you dropped by.