I thought this was so pretty that I ought to share it wth the world. I'm biased but still.
The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid! A standalone middle grade novel, set in Marseille in 1961. By Colin with art by me. Coming to a fine independent bookstore near you October 24th. Stay tuned for more info regarding tour, etc.
It’s been quite a week. The good news is that I spent the past 5 days in LA with family and friends I love, some of whom are pregnant and one of whom is my beautiful baby nephew, Felix. The bad news is just too much to list here. But can I go back to a week ago today, when I found out Du Iz Tak had been awarded a Caldecott Honor? Will you humor me? Because I never really took the opportunity to say how much that meant to me or to thank the people that need thanking.
Suffice it to say, that disorienting 4 am phone call from a room full of librarians last Monday was one of the best moments of my life. I’ve been a lover, collector, and student of picture books since I was a teenager and I can’t overstate how much it means to me to be recognized this way. Thank you so much, Caldecott Committee!
Thanks also to Steve Malk for so many years of friendship, support, and impeccable guidance.
Thanks to my intrepid editor Liz Bicknell for understanding and embracing Du Iz Tak when it was a pretty inscrutable manuscript without a single sketch to accompany it.
Thanks to Candlewick for all your hard work! Especially Erika Denn, Kristen Nobles, and Gregg Hammerquist who ever-so-patiently pieced this book together while I looked uselessly over his shoulder.
Thanks to Mac Barnett, Maile Meloy, Jon Klassen, and Colin Meloy for so much good advice about how to best tell this story.
Thanks to Colin for too many things to mention here, but especially for supporting me as an artist for 20 years, through thick and thin and parenthood. It's probably never easy when two artists raise kids together and - don't worry - we do our fair share of fighting over who should do what. But I couldn’t have made this book if I wasn't married to a guy who shares that responsibility equally and takes my art as seriously as he does his own.
Thanks to my parents and to my mother-in-law.
Thanks to the KBK!
And thanks to the kids book universe: the librarians, the booksellers, the agents, the people who work in publishing, the people who write the books, the people who make the pictures. It’s a very big crew and such a good one to be a part of. I feel so lucky to have landed among you all.
Some of you might remember that I was originally illustrating this book and may be wondering why I’m not anymore. The truth is that I struggled mightily with it for the better part of a year. I couldn’t figure out the right direction for it or the way in. It wasn't for lack or love of Pete, who is one of my great heroes, or for Colin, who is my favorite person on Earth, or for the book’s manuscript which is totally beautiful. I just couldn’t figure out how to illustrate this book. If you know me well you probably know how much trouble I had because I lamented it to anyone who would listen, including Nikki who always has lots of good advice. But eventually I threw in the towel. It was a big deal! I cried! A lot! It wasn’t a decision I made lightly.
Anyway, Nikki took over. She promptly started making perfect illustrations for this book and I realized that I just hadn’t been the right person for the job. That happens, I guess. All’s well that ends well and now I can’t wait for you all to see this stunning, timely picture book.
Every year I design a holiday card for my family. Past cards have celebrated the joy and magic of the season but man, these are dark days and right now I’m just focused on fighting for a better future.
I made a screenprinted poster of this design to benefit The ACLU and you guys bought out the first run in a flash! I don’t have the numbers yet but I know we've raised upwards of a $5k donation so far. THANK YOU! As for these cards, the ones I didn’t use are for sale in my shop and I’ll donate all the proceeds from these to Planned Parenthood, an organization that I couldn’t have lived without in my younger, broker years and one that needs all of our support right now. If you order them, they probably won’t get to you in time for Christmas/Hanukkah but they will make good thank you cards and also good LET’S FIGHT FOR A BETTER FUTURE cards.
May at Nationale will be reprinting that poster too - sometime in January it sounds like - and the proceeds will continue the benefit the ACLU. To inquire about the poster, email Nationale. To buy cards, visit my webshop.
ONWARD, LADY KNIGHTS.
Wow. Sometimes I forget I have a blog. It's easy to do. I haven't written anything about anything here in a long time. But if you've been following me anywhere online the past month you probably know that I helped create a tabletop game called Illimat with The Decemberists, game designer, Keith Baker, and Twogether Studios. The game was originally designed by photographer Autumn de Wilde and I as a photo shoot prop for the band's 2009 release, The Hazards of Love. We built the actual board out of wood and ink and black paper and tape, working on it into the wee hours in a room at the Ace Hotel in Portland. After Autumn used it for a photo shoot set-up she put it in her storage space where it moldered away until about a year ago when we handed it over to Keith and asked him to turn it in to a real game.
He did! It's called Illimat and it's sort of a card game, sort of a board game. It has some of its origins in the card game Casino, if you know that one, but also incorporates other mechanisms that change and complicate the way the game is played and make it feel more like a board game. It's true: I'm biased. But I love this game. Keith Baker did an incredible job of turning a weird, witchy-looking prop into a very playable game that references The Hazards of Love just enough to be fun for fans yet not distracting for people who don't know anything about The Decemberists. Colin is a great lover of complicated board games. Me, not so much. I like to play cards. And somehow without even knowing this Keith created the one game that we both love to play. He bridged our family's gaming divide. Thank you, Keith!
Anyway, we're kickstarting this game and are down to the last day of our campaign so I thought it would be a good time to remember I have a blog and to tell you a little bit about the making of it. Maybe you'll check out illimat.com and back us to receive the game plus unique kickstarter perks and to help unlock some remaining stretch goals (kickstarter speak, folks).
But let me tell you a little about the art of Illimat.
The original photo shoot prop featured a small wooden box atop a much larger one, as in the above photo, and a few small playing cards. The smaller box remains virtually unchanged in the playable version with the exception of some descriptive text. (It's called the illimat and has an important function in the game in addition to being the box that houses it.)
The larger wooden board is now cloth, so it folds up and fits inside of the illimat, along with all the other game components. Here is the demo board we've been playing with:
We're still experimenting with the size of the cloth and fine-tuning the art a little and, of course, the final version will have nicely hemmed edges.
In addition to the box and board, the game uses two different decks of cards: playing cards and luminary cards. The playing cards are a lot like a typical deck of cards: 4 suits with 13 cards in each, including 4 face cards (knight, queen, king, and fool) plus a 5th suit to be used in games with four players. Each of the four suits represents a season: winter, spring, summer, and autumn. The fifth suit is "stars" and represents a kind of celestial plane. All the art for these was drawn in pen and ink. All the design work for the game was done by wonderful geniuses, Glen Nakasako and Jeri Heiden of SMOG design.
The face cards of each suit are connected through a series of symbols that reference both that suit's season and motifs from The Hazards of Love. For example, all winter face cards feature a snowflake, a bare bramble, a thistle, a corncrake crowing, and a spoon, because in winter we eat the food we've grown.
All spring face cards feature a sprout, a bramble with buds, columbine, a fawn, and a bag of seeds because in spring we sow.
All summer cards feature a sun, a bramble with leaves on it, foxglove, fire, and a spade because in summer we tend our plants.
All autumn face cards feature an oak leaf, a bramble with berries on it, a clover, a mistlethrush, and a scythe because in autumn we harvest.
And all stars face cards feature, a star, a starry bramble, a third eye, comets, weirdness, and a scepter for ruling the heavens because WHAT. The Knight of Stars also features boobs because she is a lady and you can totally let loose when you rule the heavens.
The face cards are also connected by various patterns and motifs in their clothing and all the cards are color coded for easy scoring at the end of a hand: red is good (fools and summer cards are worth points) and blue is bad (too many winter cards equal negative points).
I spent a ton of time thinking about the card backs. Oh how I have wanted to design a deck a cards. My whole life, I have. And I had so many ideas; it was hard to choose a direction. Below are lots of directions I explored. (The gray and black cards are only gray and black because my printer wasn't working at the time.)
I vacillated between wanting to do something really bold a graphic and wanting to do something that felt traditional and eventually settled on the designs below. The black and white one is the card back for the playing card deck; the red and yellow design is the card back for the luminaries.
The luminary cards are roughly the dimensions of tarot cards and look like them too. Each one effects the play of the game in a different way. The art alludes to bot their function and an element from Hazards of Love (a narrative concept record inspired by British folk music tropes) for which they're named. For example, if you know that record you probably know The Rake's Song, about a father who murders his three burdensome children (that was - yes - written by the father of my own children).
When this card is turned over, or revealed, we put three cards face down beneath it. Then, when a player claims the card, they get to keep those three cards along with it. The three dead children are each holding a card as a reminder of the card's function. The luminary art was all done in gouache and ink. I used three distinctly different colors of gouache so that I could easily separate them digitally and experiment with a variety of color schemes. Below is what The Children looks like now, along with The Maiden, whose function is to negate the effects of winter (which will totally make sense to you once you play the game). All in all the game comes with 8 luminaries (including a Rake card) and we're currently working on the first expansion set, based on The Crane Wife (another Decemberists album that was just rereleased on its 10th anniversary) and available as a kickstarter add-on.
We all thought a lot about whether or not to include more information about the luminaries and their function on the actual card. In the end, we opted not to because this looks better and we know you would rather look up and eventually memorize the luminary information than have to look at lesser graphic design. Right?
Man, I could go on and on about all of this. I worked so hard on this art and have spent so much time playing this game. But I have to pick my kids up at school and the clock is ticking down on our Kickstarter so I'm signing off. Please excuse any typos and please back our game! Also, I'll be taking part in an Illimat tournament tonight with Decemberists and some other folks. It is called THE RUMBLE and you can watch it live at illimat.com (which is also our kickstarter page) at 6:00. So tune in and ROOT FOR ME PLEASE.
A couple of years ago my family and I moved to a small farm in the suburbs. It wasn’t a move we were totally happy about. We had been living in a little house on a hill in deep Northwest Portland. It was right at the edge of the woods and looked out over the Willamette River and St. Johns. We loved our neighbors. It was hard to leave.
The first week we lived here, at the farm, a guy who was replacing some old beams in our garage told my husband, Colin, that he’d seen a baby owl by the barn and that it had looked sick. Colin summoned me because I’m the animal wrangler in my family. I shoo possums out of chicken coops and free birds that manage to fly in through open doors. I will happily catch a snake or a mouse or crawl under a barn in search of a sick baby owl, which is what I did.
The barn owl was a juvenile, though still big - like the size of a cat - and was definitely unwell. It laid on its back with its wings hugged tightly to its sides and looked up at me from its moony face, barely moving as I got close enough to touch it. I bundled it in a towel, carried it inside like a baby, put it into a cat carrier, and raced to the wildlife care center at the Portland Audubon Society.
The Audubon Society is in Forest Park, near our old neighborhood, and it felt sad to go back there. I missed being in the woods. I had a lot of conflicting feelings about the suburbs. My house didn’t feel like home. But it occurred to me as I drove towards Portland that maybe living on a farm would mean lots of opportunities to rescue animals and the ten year old girl in me was tentatively satisfied. I thought about the owl. I imagined it recovering. I imagined feeding it and caring for it and releasing it into the wild. I imagined it would know me and we’d be friends and it would have a special call that I’d recognize when it flew around at night hunting mice. I got to the wildlife care center and thrust the cat carrier into the arms of a veterinarian, who disappeared into the clinic with it.
Alas, this story doesn’t have a happy ending: the owl died. I had pinned my hopes on it so acutely and burst into tears when they told me, like a crazy person.
But the good news is that a whole family of barn owls lives in the cupola of our barn. They’ve been there for years; long before we moved here. We’ve watched them have babies and we’ve seen the babies fledge and learn to hunt. As for us, we inevitably began to settle into our new home. We turned a little room into a library. We used old wood in our barn to build a bunch of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and I designed wallpaper for it; a first for me. I included barn owls in the design, along with our initials, and hollyhocks because I love them. I found a local company - Juju Papers - to screenprint the paper for me. Colin wanted a dark and cozy room to read in so we printed it in metallic silver ink on navy.
But guess what. It turns out designing your own screenprinted wallpaper and making only enough for a single small room is stupidly cost prohibitive. Shocker! So when Avery at Juju Papers suggested that we take the initials out of the design and sell it to the public, I liked the idea a lot. We've been working on Barn Owls and Hollyhocks for a long time and today it is finally available to you, in a variety of colorways in keeping with Avery's own wallpaper line. You can read about them on Design*Sponge today or the Juju blog. They came out beautifully, you guys. Handprinted wallpaper is where it's at.
As for us and our house, we like it here now. It just took time. I tend a massive garden and have actually ended up rescuing lots animals: a sheep, some goats, many chickens. A white dove even lived in our garage for a month. I scoop tadpole eggs out of the pond and watch them hatch and grow into frogs every spring. And we visit the owls in our hayloft. It’s pretty sweet.
A couple of weeks ago I made an illustration for this piece in the New York Times by Arthur C. Brooks about gratitude. It was in the paper the Sunday before last. Since then a lot of people have asked to buy a print of it and a few people have inquired about buying the original painting.
I'm very grateful this holiday season. For one, I feel profoundly lucky to be able to make a living as an artist. It's not a thing I ever expected to be able to swing and I don't take it lightly. So thanks very much to those of you interested in what I'm up to creatively. But even more acute is my gratitude for the health and happiness of my family. I think about this a lot. I try my best not to take it for granted. Which is why my heart aches so much for those who don't have what we have: food, shelter, safety.
Anyway, I am planning to make some prints of this painting. I'm pretty sure they'll be available in time for the holidays. Stay tuned. But! I'm also going to auction off the original painting and donate 100% of the proceeds to Mercy Corps, an organization that works to help people in need and to save lives every day. So, if you love this painting or if you want to help or ideally BOTH, you can bid on it HERE.
I'll be visiting a few bookstores in the Boston area next week. Come say hi if you're in the neighborhood.
Friday, December 4th at 4pm
An Unlikely Story Bookstore and Café
Saturday, December 5th at 4pm
Sunday, December 6th at 2pm
Wordstock, Portland's book festival, is back! This year it'll take place at the Portland Art Museum which is great news. Anyway, I'll be there on Saturday the 7th, reading Home and probably drawing and talking, etc. at noon. Then I'll be joining Maile and Colin Meloy, my talented sister-in-law and husband respectively, for something they're calling "The Meloy Family Hour", a conversation for OPB's State of Wonder, at 5:00. Then we'll be signing some books. Okay! See you there!
P.S. I found this photo on the internet. Thank you for taking it, somebody.
UPDATE: Here's a link to the interview we did for OPB.
Check out this book published by 826Michigan and featuring the work of top notch illustrators (Jon Klassen, Greg Pizzoli, Adam Rex, Dan Santat, Lisa Brown, so many more) providing art for short stories by student writers. Buy the book! Support 826 and writing programs for kids! Here's my illustration for "You're Fired, Alex!" by 14 year old Isaac Cochran.
Poa Cafe in Portland will be displaying original illustrations from Home through the month of August. I love this place: it's bright and pretty with good food and play areas for kids which include a reading nook and a little children's book library. I'll be signing copies of Home there on Saturday, August 1st from 3:00-6:00. I think they'll be for sale at the cafe? Pretty sure? Anyway, come by and say hi.
And on a related note, Nationale still has some very limited edition prints of selected illustrations from the book. Drop them a line for more info.
Thanks for the nice video, WeMake people.
Speaking of Yvonne and WeMake, I did a sketchXchange with them at Tillamook Station last month. I shared process work and sketchbooks with an audience, answered questions, and drank beer. It was a good time. Go here for a recap of the event and an interview I did with Britt Appleton from WeMake.