First Creations

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Today I gave my 20 month old a paintbrush for the first time and invited him to paint at the easel. (That’s it above, hanging up to dry.) Previously I had only had him fingerpaint, but he’s getting pretty adept at using tools so I thought we’d try it. It was a success for sure. The look of joy and pride on his face was infectious as he dipped and so freely swiped the brush across the paper! Watching him reminded me of something the illustrator Elizabeth Orton Jones wrote in her acceptance speech for the 1945 Caldecott Medal about how all children are naturally artists:

It is not difficult to talk to children about drawing, for they are fellow-indulgers, all. To them, drawing is as natural a part of everyday life as eating or sleeping or washing your neck — far more natural, usually, than the latter. To them, drawing is not tied and bound to talent, nor to theory, nor to technique, nor even to subject matter. To them, the possibilities of drawing are by no means limited to things visible. To them, it is no more unusual to sit down and draw a picture of God than it is to sit down and draw a picture of a potato.

I love that. It’s exciting to see first-hand how uninhibited small children are when they create! Actually, it’s refreshing to witness their uninhibitedness in everything they do – singing, dancing, painting, etc. They don’t yet worry about correctness or how they appear to others like we tend to do!

You can read her full speech on Horn Book’s site here: Elizabeth Orton Jones’s Caldecott Acceptance Speech. It’s lovely.

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Where Is My Baby?

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All book links are Amazon affiliate links.*

One of Sven’s first favorite books was Where Is My Baby?, written by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Caldecott Award-winning artist Simms Taback. As an adult I find a lot of books geared toward babies to be boring, especially if they don’t tell a story. Based on that this isn’t a book I should find appealing, but for some reason I love it. It’s a lift the flap book which is fun for babies just discovering how to use their tiny fingers and thumbs, the text has lots of exciting mooing and quacking and baa-ing, but I think the best part is the bold illustrations.

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Simms Taback has a certain way of illustrating that communicates happiness. He does not shy away from mixing vivid colors and patterns, and overall his art reminds me of the kind of unashamedly colorful art kids make that you proudly display on the fridge. There are small details he’s put into this book which are fun to find too – like the mama’s expression changes from worried to relieved once she finds her baby, there is always an insect or worm or bird in the picture that has moved when you lift the flap, and the last page shows all the animal pairs walking in a line on a starry night and one of the stars is a shooting star. I love that shooting star.

To find out more about Simms Taback’s work you can visit his website simmstaback.com. It was fun to read his biography and to see that his illustrations graced the first ever McDonald’s Happy Meal box. His work is well worth checking out in general. We borrowed a “juvenile readalong” (you know, the hanging bags at the library with the picture book and audiobook inside) version of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat for which he was awarded the 2000 Caldecott Medal. It’s a really great book (you kind of have to check it out yourself to see how fun it is) and the audiobook is extra special because he narrated it himself.

I didn’t even talk about the author, Harriet Ziefert, but she wrote one of my absolute favorite Christmas picture books, A New Coat For Anna, so I’ll try to share more about her and that book in a few months.

PS: This article is fun to read too, written from the perspective of Taback’s longtime studio partner.

PPS: Taback’s Caldecott acceptance speech for Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is awesome, too! I still can’t believe that I stumbled upon that book (Joseph) by typing “Simms Taback”  into my library’s catalog search after having been so charmed by my son’s baby book!

 

* This simply means if you were to buy from the link I would receive a small percentage from Amazon. I personally am poor/cheap and have bought almost every children’s book we own from a local used bookseller, the library bookstore, the thrift store, or used through Amazon’s or Abebooks’s marketplace, but sometimes it is nice to have the (nearly) immediate gratification of getting a brand new one in two days!

Instagram Finds

It’s been two years since I’ve posted on this blog, and I have a feeling it will be another two years until the next post. Now that I have a 7 month old baby, I don’t seem to have loads of spare time…😆 I have things stored in the back of my mind that I want to share though, so I thought I’d just jump back into the blog with two illustrators I follow on Instagram: @marcmartinillo and @jean_jullien. I love Instagram because it’s such an easy way to learn about new-to-you artists from around the world.

Marc Martin is an illustrator from Melbourne, Australia. I love seeing his delightfully color-saturated, heavily patterned paintings in my ig feed. He also posts videos of his works in progress, which I always find fascinating with any artist.image
^ “Paradise”      image^ privately commissioned piece, “observatory”

Jean Jullien is a French illustrator based in London. I love the simple style of his often funny graphic art. He is perhaps best introduced through his own videos on Vimeo.  

 

Who do you appreciate following on Instagram?

 

 

hallowe’en

A purely pictorial post. The theme is costumes since October 31st is just around the corner. (Yay!)

First, some really adorable children’s story character costumes:

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Little Hansel and little Gretel.

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Three Madelines and a Miss Clavel.

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A post-potion Alice.

And some grown-up costumes (I like characters):

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Mary Poppins and Chimney Sweep Bert.

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Fantastic Mr. [and Mrs.] Fox. I love Roald Dahl AND Wes Anderson!

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An even simpler variation of the Foxes.

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Sometimes you just need a mask and it’s perfect.

The household cats would probably feel left out if they didn’t get to join in:

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Beat kitty.

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High society kitty.

Now I really want to dress up for Halloween! The sad thing is, this will be the fourth Halloween in our neighborhood and so far we’ve not had one trick or treater at our house! I’m crossing my fingers that this will be the year!

Photo credits from top to bottom: http://thewrightfampics.blogspot.com/2009/10/happy-halloween-from-our-gingerbread.html, http://www.ericaholland.com/2011/10/30/in-an-old-house-in-germany/, http://www.mishalulu.com/blog/?p=5981, http://leemclee.blogspot.com/2011/11/cutest-couple-halloween-costume.html, http://www.burdastyle.com/projects/fantastic-mr-mrs-fox?image=151198, http://www.abeautifulmess.com/2012/10/last-minute-costume-ideas-for-couples.html, vintage mask online source unknown: Photo by Inge Morath, Saul Steinberg Masks (c. 1960), cat photos: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CatAtelier.

the happiest place on earth

The other day when I was reading CS Lewis’ essay On Stories, I remarked to Paul that Lewis would have loved Disneyland and hated Great America. He might have actually hated both, but in the essay he talks about how he dislikes the book The Three Musketeers because it’s all action with no setting: “The total lack of atmosphere repels me.” He contrasts this with the action set within the highly detailed setting of Toad Hall or Hrothgar’s court. It made me think of the difference between riding the tilt-a-whirl at the county fair and riding the Mad Hatter’s teacups at Disneyland; both will make you dizzy, but one is so much more memorable as it is set within the story of Alice in Wonderland, with “A very merry unbirthday, to you! To you!” playing in the background while you ride around and around in pretty pastel teacups embellished with hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. (Read Alice in Wonderland Ch. 7, The Mad Tea Party, and you will see the chapter it is loosely based on is more dizzying than the ride. “Up above the world you fly, Like a tea-tray in the sky…”) In the Disneyland version (vs the fair tilt-a-whirl), the actual action of the ride is almost secondary. I could be reading Lewis incorrectly, but it seems like that is what he is describing.

I love Disneyland for that reason and always find my visits there to be inspiring. Everything is well-designed and meticulously well-kept. It even seems as though people are more well-behaved in a setting that is held to such a hdate night ticketsigh standard of quality. The only thing that would make it better would be to experience first-hand the Disneyland of the 50’s and 60’s. One time I came across someone’s pin on Pinterest for “Date Nite” at the park and I felt like I had been born in the wrong era. How fun would it be to go to Disneyland for the evening instead of the old dinner-and-a-movie? Also, I understand inflation has to be considered, but look at the price of the tickets for two!

I have a DVD called Walt Disney Treasures – Disneyland USA and one of the features on it is an episode of “The Wonderful World of Disney” from 1962 called “Disneyland After Dark.” It’s what I imagine Date Nite at Disneyland must have been like. I’m sure it wasn’t as spectacular on a regular basis, but it gives a glimpse of a theme park when the culture appeared a little classier (I’ve never worn heels and a dress to the park like the fine looking folks in the photo below). Actually, I think the photo is from a prom night so it’s probably not indicative of what people actually wore, though I still think people dressed up more. (As an aside, who knew Disneyland had a prom? Check out 2 Miss Mouses for more Disneyland prom photos that look to have been originally published in Life Magazine. Hint: they are cute.)

date nite at Disneyland

The “Disneyland After Dark” feature on the DVD is one of my favorite things to watch. The jokes are corny, but it has an all-star musical lineup with original Mouseketeers Annette Funicello and Bobby Rydell, the Osmond family, and, best of all, Monette Moore and Louis Armstrong. I found it on YouTube and have tried to embed it in this post. Hopefully it will work, but if it doesn’t you can view it here: Disneyland After Dark Episode. It is 45 minutes long, so if you don’t have the time, Annette and Bobby are at about 8:00, Monette Moore and Louis Armstrong at 22:00, and the Osmond Brothers at 36:00. I think it’s worth watching the whole episode though.

a delightful defense of fairy tales

I love CS Lewis and I love The Wind in the Willows and I love children’s books. This delightful excerpt from Lewis’ essay On Stories combines all three of these loves.

“Does anyone believe that Kenneth Grahame made an arbitrary choice when he gave his principal character the form of a toad, or that a stag, a pigeon, a lion, would have done as well? The choice is based on the fact that the real toad’s face has a grotesque resemblance to a certain kind of human face — a rather apoplectic face with a fatuous grin on it. This is, no doubt, an accident in the sense that all the lines which suggest the resemblance are really there for quite different biological reasons. The ludicrous quasi-human expression is therefore changeless: the toad cannot stop grinning because its ‘grin’ is not really a grin at all. Looking at the creature we thus see, isolated and fixed, an aspect of human vanity in its funniest and most pardonable form; following that hint Grahame creates Mr Toad — an ultra-Johnsonian ‘humour’. And we bring back the wealth of the Indies; we have henceforward more amusement in, and kindness towards, a certain kind of vanity in real life.

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But why should the characters be disguised as animals at all? The disguise is very thin, so thin that Grahame makes Mr Toad on one occasion ‘comb the dry leaves out of his hair‘. Yet it is quite indispensable. If you try to rewrite the book with all the characters humanised you are faced at the outset with a dilemma. Are they to be adults or children? You will find that they can be neither. They are like children in so far as they have no responsibilities, no struggle for existence, no domestic cares. Meals turn up; one does not even ask who cooked them. In Mr Badger’s kitchen ‘plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf’. Who kept them clean? Where were they bought? How were they delivered in the Wild Wood? Mole is very snug in his subterranean home, but what was he living on? If he is a rentier where is the bank, what are his investments? The tables in his forecourt were ‘marked with rings that hinted at beer mugs’. But where did he get the beer? In that way the life of all the characters is that of children for whom everything is provided and who take everything for granted. But in other ways it is the life of adults. They go where they like and do what they please, they arrange their own lives.

To that extent the book is a specimen of the most scandalous escapism: it paints a happiness under incompatible conditions — the sort of freedom we can only have in childhood and the sort we can have only in maturity — and conceals the contradiction by the further pretence that the characters are not human beings at all. The one absurdity helps to hide the other. It might be expected that such a book would unfit us for the harshness of reality and send us back to our daily lives unsettled and discontented. I do not find that it does so. The happiness which it presents to us is in fact full of the simplest and most attainable things — food, sleep, exercise, friendship, the face of nature, even (in a sense) religion. That ‘simple but sustaining meal’ of ‘bacon and broad beans and a macaroni pudding’ which Rat gave to his friends has, I doubt not, helped down many a real nursery dinner. And in the same way the whole story, paradoxically enough, strengthens our relish for real life. This excursion into the preposterous sends us back with renewed pleasure to the actual.

It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one’s adult enjoyment of what are called ‘children’s books’. I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty — except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all. A mature palate will probably not much care for creme de menthe: but it ought still to enjoy bread and butter and honey.”

Someday I’ll write a blog post listing all my favorite books – many of which are “children’s” literature – most of which I purchased and read as an adult… But for now I feel the need to revisit the world of Ratty and Mole and Toad. Don’t you?

color palette play

When we bought our first house a few years ago it was painted a worn-out looking light blue with dark maroon trim. It was probably lovely to the woman who lived here, but it wasn’t what I had in mind and it was the first major change I wanted to make. I had long dreamed of living in a charcoal gray house surrounded by mossy rocks and evergreen trees, perhaps with a lake view (clearly a few vacations on the north shore of Lake Tahoe had a profound impact on my dream home), but our first house happens to be in Texas, not the mountains of northern California. I knew the image in my mind wouldn’t work as well in a setting filled with an intensely bright, almost white, sunlight and oak trees, and I felt stuck in paint chip limbo. (Although I must tangentially say that we very intentionally chose to buy a house in an older neighborhood full of tall shade trees that’s just down the block from a dammed creek populated by ducks and turtles, so we are not too far off from my Tahoe-esque dream in a way, but my point is that I had to create a new picture in my head for this different environment and I couldn’t for the life of me come up with an alternate color palette.) Then one morning I was doing laundry and noticed the lining on the waistband of one of my pairs of shorts had an abstract print made up of medium gray, white, and pale, dusty yellow. I immediately knew I had found my house colors. And like the freak that I am, I took my shorts in hand and went to Home Depot to match a waistband to paint colors. This all seems like a poor segue, but I was reminded of it when I saw that Diana from the blog Miss Moss partnered with ModCloth to do a similar (but way, way cooler) thing by coming up with outfits inspired by the color palettes of select pieces of art.

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Inspired by Gauguin’s The Boss’s Daughter

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Inspired by Modigliani’s Woman with a Red Necklace

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Inspired by Schiele’s Setting Sun

Isn’t that neat? You can find more like it at http://www.missmoss.co.za/tag/colour-comparisons/.

anthropologie catalogs

Full confession: I’ve never bought a single item of clothing at Anthropologie. It always seems a little too bohemian for me to be able to pull off. However, I get really excited when I peer inside my mailbox and see an Anthropologie catalog amongst the junk mail. They seriously have the best-looking catalog shoots in the history of catalog shoots. (Although Madewell’s catalogs win for the best paper – a thick, matte variety that smells kind of like a library.) One such catalog arrived a couple weeks ago and the setting for the lookbook was Amsterdam. It was so pretty I carefully tore out my favorite pages and pasted them into a scrapbook (which I got at Goodwill for 49 cents!). No joke. It was like old school Pinterest. Below are a couple images of the beauty that is Amsterdam as well as some others from previous shoots. I couldn’t find all my favorites from the latest catalog on the internet, but these will suffice. Enjoy!

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Anthropologie posted a brief video of their Amsterdam catalog on their blog, too: http://blog.anthropologie.com/post/92852612962. Thanks to http://effortlessanthropologie.blogspot.com for the treasure trove of photos! (WordPress won’t let me cleanly link these right now.)

halsman

When Paul worked at a used bookstore in college he bought two Philippe Halsman coffee table books: Philippe Halsman: A Retrospective and Halsman at Work. I love those books and we have enjoyed spending evenings side by side on the couch slowly paging through the photographs. If you don’t already know of him, Halsman is a portrait photographer who is perhaps best known for his 101 covers for Life Magazine, a record held by no other photographer. In his brief autobiography, which can be read at philippehalsman.com (and is well-worth reading), he says that his “great interest in life has been people,” and his challenge when photographing a face is to capture “the image which reveals most completely both the exterior and the interior of the subject…[which] should, today and a hundred years from today, be the testimony of how this person looked and what kind of human being he was.”

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The Halsman family’s self-portrait. Yvonne was a photographer as well who was Philippe’s apprentice before they were married. He liked to joke that the way to get rid of your competitor is to marry her.

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Halsman is famous for his portraits taken mid-jump. My favorite is this one of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, first published in Life magazine’s November 9, 1959 issue.

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Paul’s favorite is this surrealist collaboration with Salvador Dali. It’s amazing to think this was created pre-Photoshop.

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My favorite Halsman portrait of all time though is this one of writer/professor/lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov. “I have hunted butterflies in various climes and disguises: as a pretty boy in knickerboxers and sailor cap; as a lanky cosmopolitan expatriate in flannel bags and beret; as a fat hatless old man in shorts.” – Nabokov, Speak Memory

One of my least favorite things in the world are obnoxious billboards, the worst of which are those advertising injury or divorce attorneys and “gentlemen’s clubs.” When Paul and I went on our Midwest summer road trip this year we joked that we could tour the United States by following the signs for “adult entertainment.” Who frequents those places in the middle of nowhere? I don’t even really want to contemplate it, but they are ubiquitous and the billboards are trashy and just plain ugly. But can you imagine if billboards showcased paintings instead of advertisements? French artist Etienne Lavie did and the results are breathtaking.

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Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People

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Fragonard’s Rinaldo in the Garden of the Palace of Armida

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Boldini’s Mathe de Florian

See the full project at http://etiennelavie.fr

Update: I just discovered that London actually has replaced advertising space with a project called Art Everywhere. Check it out at http://arteverywhere.org.uk. How is London SO cool?

PS – WordPress tells me that some viewers may see an ad beneath this post. A post about replacing ads with fine art… The irony is not lost on me. But to be fair, I don’t dislike all advertising. I don’t necessarily like constantly being told what to buy, but I do think that marketing and branding that is well designed can be beautiful.

replacing billboards with art