Christmas Pigs and Cozy Barns

Animals have to be my favorite things to draw and paint,  As for favorite times of the year, Christmas has to rate  near the top.  And finally, barns have always been places I’ve been drawn to for both their size and feeling of coziness in the stables.

That’s why illustrating Pippin the Christmas Pig for Jean Little & Scholastic was a special treat for me: all three came together in one story.

Pippin the Christmas Pig

Cover of Pippin the Christmas Pig

There were many drawings made for each of the paintings in the book, and although I’d love to share all of them, I’ve chosen to post the drawings of the barn.  The exact building doesn’t exist other than in my imagination, but it was drawn on from barns I’d known since my childhood.  Maybe one day I’ll own my own.

sketch of barn interior

A peek through the door

When I create a scene for a book, I like to create a space in which I could move around in and see from all angles.   This image never appears in the book. I drew it so that I would know what entering the barn would look with all the important elements like the manger and even the door in the ceiling in place.

view from above

Looking down from above

Barns often have trap doors in the upper floors to allow hay to be dropped down to feed the animals below.  I used this one to give the reader a peek from above onto what was happening below.

I like putting different viewpoints into my pictures. Perspective changes add drama and excitement. Perhaps it may be because I’m not too fond of heights and this lets me conquer that fear, but never the less I find it fun.

interior of stable

barn interior set up

I needed to set the stage for the scene where Pippin brings the woman and child into the warm stable from the cold outside.  I chose a wide view to allow the cold of the open door to contrast with the warmth at the other end.

I also wanted it cozy, so I chose to create the warmth in the middle surrounded but the walls on three sides and the barrels and tractor  creating a front wall.  The mice on the barrels are spectators to the scene just like the readers who find themselves watching from behind.  The stairs on the back left lead up to the upper barn and ultimately to the trap opening above.

Of course the empty stage is nothing without the actors, and here it’s Pippin bringing the woman and child in and confronting the surprised stable mates.

animals in the barn

Pippin bringing in the visitors.

After the pencil there are colour studies to help set the feeling for each scene. In this book I wanted to contrast warmth of the stable with cold whether outside or upstairs in the barn loft.

colour watercolour of the stable

Colour study of the stable

Painting in the book

Barns often have trap doors in the upper floors to allow hay to be dropped down to feed the animals below.  I used this one to give the reader a peek from above onto what was below.

Pippin the Christmas Pig is a book about the contrast of warm and cold hearts; hearts that eventually warm too.   Jean wrote a lovely story and I was pleased to have been given the chance to illustrate it.

Mr Christies Book awards 2004

Winning the Mr. Christie’s Award 2004

Rabbits at Royal Winter Fair Toronto: studies for characters.

It’s November, and in Toronto it means it’s time for the Royal Winter Fair.  Every year I go with my college students to draw the beautiful animals.  This year due to a very tight schedule, I won’t be going,  However, I thought it’s a nice time to post some drawings from past fairs.

From the books I’ve written and or illustrated in the past, you can easily see that I love drawing and painting animals .  I take every opportunity to study animals when I can. Whether pets or farm animals, or even at museums, it’s always best drawing live animals from life and not just from photos. That’s why the Royal is so special: so many animals together in one place, and all so close you could touch them.

For me, creating good characters for books means studying them, especially from life.  Photo reference is good, but being able to see an animal from many sides, especially if they move, makes for the greatest understanding.  I feel if you understand your subject, you are more able to be in control of your character regardless how you pose them or even change them in caricature.

Rabbits are some of favorites at the show.  Here are a few of my sketches.

Coming soon: Drawing pets

Spashing in green paint

I’ve been splashing a lot of green paint in the last few weeks for my new book.  It’s been fun drawing and painting frogs.  I haven’t done that since ‘In My Backyard.’

These are practice pictures.  Painting water lilies has been a challenge. I’ll be doing quite a few more to get it right.

pencil study of a frog

 

Studying paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario (with assistants)

Today, with a few spare hours to spend at the AGO, I took an ipad2 into the gallery to do a few sketches and studies of the paintings of the Group of 7.   That I love their colours is no secret, and copying something you love in order understand it is a good thing.

As long as you are learning and not just trying to make a copy, I am all for doing it.

I chose a lovely autumn painting by Tom Thomson.  While working on it two very bright fellows looked in over my shoulders. Naturally, I invited them to help.

This was my painting before I got help.

That’s when Zephyr and George stepped in to assist.

I’m not sure their ages, maybe 4 and 7, but when it came to handling an Apple pencil, they knew their thing.

Regrettably I messed up with saving the image with their additions.  What you see below is an attempt by myself to replicate their masterwork.  I hope, if they see this, they will accept my apology.

Next time we meet at the AGO,  I hope you two give me a hand again.

Sketch of Bear & Christmas sweater

Bear-in-sweater-sketch-_web

I’m about to start painting the new book for the fall.  Sketches are done and approved and now a new level of work starts: painting.  It’s a bit scary to start since I’m never really sure if it is going to work out, and if it doesn’t, I get to start all over again with the painting.  That’s why I do small sketched like this one to try out colours and make my mistakes early.

 

Winning Video and School Visit Draw at Guelph’s Bookshelf Cinema Sat.Dec.13 at 2 p.m.

Come join me this Saturday for a special event at the Bookshelf Cinema in Guelph.

We’ll be showing the winning video of a contest for the schools of Wellington County.  Entries for a visit to a class singing “Dashing Through the Snow” will be shown on the big screen with the winner to be announced.

Winner of the contest for me for a day in a local school will be drawn.

Lots of Prizes and a sing along to the big screen.
See you there!

Bookshelf Cinema, Quebec St. Guelph.Scholastic Christmas Card 2014

West Coast and beyond!

As I’m writing this at the Middle Beach Lodge in Tofino, waves  are breaking over rocks outside my window and  a receding tide is showing a beautiful beach below.  A crow sits in the branches  of a tree waiting for crumbs to be tossed on our balcony.  They’ve been amusing company for the last few days and remind us of  Edgar Alan Crow who used to visit us at 0ur home in Ontario.  We are here taking a few days between my week in Nanaimo and visits next week in Edmonton.

I was in Nanaimo for a week prior to the Nanaimo Chidren’s Book Festival last Saturday May 5th.  I visited great schools and beautiful libraries all week before a wonderful day at the festival.  Nanaimo has always had the best festival and it was wonderful to return for what I think was my 4th time since 1991.

All festivals are great, organized by dedicated volunteers and attended by enthusiastic audiences, but there is something about Nanaimo that sets it apart.  Perhaps it is the location: Nanaimo set beside Departure Bay and tucked in by Newcastle and Protection Island is a beautiful place for a festival.  Or perhaps it is the people like Thora Howell who was the inspiration and guiding force behind the festival 26 years ago.  Like Thora, there is a group of dedicated hard working volunteers who take on the task of bringing such an event to life, too many to mention, but to whom appreciation goes out to from authors and illustrators across Canada.  I’m just one of many lucky enough to have been invited to share our work with young and old, and someone fortunate enough to be invited back.

This week I am charging my batteries on the beautiful far west coast of Canada in Tofino and Uclulet.  Canada is stunningly beautiful from ocean to ocean to ocean.  I wish there were a way to bring children from different parts of Canada to see what we have and to grow up appreciating the enormity and beauty of this amazing land.

Next week, thanks to Canada Council for the Arts and to private donors such as Dr. Alan Murdoch and parent donors of schools I will be visiting, I will be sharing my work once again in Edmonton.  I’m excited to be returning to the library to share my work, meeting the Children’s Roundtable members and doing drawing workshops as well as an evening PJ presentation.  Along with sharing the creative process and my love of books, it will be a time of drawing dragons, wearing pots and any other silly stuff that might happen.  One just never knows.  I guess that’s what makes it so much fun.

(I’ll post pictures just as soon as I get back from sketching on the beach!)