Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Critter Thanksgiving Stroll

Day before Thanksgiving and out to Howell Nature Center for animal sketching and creative blockbusting. I wanted to get over to see the coyotes this frosty morn and thought the animals would be a little more active.

It was early and my nose alerted me to the fresh pine scent of a shipment of Christmas trees. It was quiet, too. A few birds and little activity. Entering the Wild Wonder Park I saw that the deer munching on a pile of pumpkins as the coyotes paced their pen. 
 
A young coyote I called Little Big Head, with an injured forepaw, ran the loop of his pen on three feet before stopping to nibble on a bone. The other bigger yote with her face and snout poking out from her thick winter coat seemed interested in the Christmas tree goings on and nibbled from a bucket every so often. Both were different and interesting characters to sketch. Each with their own personality.



Then off to see the rest of the animals. When we come out here to cage clean we seldom get a chance to see the rest of the animals so this was a fun and relaxing stroll with just me talking to the animals.
The beaver who had been active last week was nowhere to be seen this morn. The wild turkey pair dined quietly. The bobcat sat staying warm and its head would snap around at the crunch of a leaf. The motionless female fox stared out from her curled body wapped in its warm fluffy tail.



But the curious male cocked his head and following me about posed quite prettily. He seemed to be enjoying the crisp day and gave me plenty of photo opps. Gray squirrels rifled through leaves looking for acorns as I waited to see if the porcupine would come out. Today, even the beaver slept in and must have been in his hill condo and not his usual place.

Everybody was sleeping in or staying snug--which sounded good to me--an animal holiday, a critter day off. Then it's back to performing for visitors when they come to pick out their Christmas trees. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crossing Borders

November. Thanksgiving. What does this bring to mind? Falling leaves, frost, winter? Turkey, family, eating? Now add to the end of those pyschopompish words-school kids. Ah! Pilgrims and Indians (American or Native Americans or First Nations). Why is it that it seems at this time of year Native Americans are mentioned most? Does it have to do with that first Thanksgiving and stereotypes?

I attended the Crossing Borders 33rd Annual Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar on Nov. 5. (See last post) and was interested in what the guest speaker, Cynthia Leitich Smith, a tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, had to say and how that relates to my work as an artist, author and illustrator. The focus of the seminar was helping readers undstand, appreciate and relate to others--the crossing of borders--from racial ro cultural to economic and more.

The final speaker of the day, Debbie Reese, who is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico, gave us all valuable information regarding American Indians in children's lit. For more information see her site:  http://www.americanindiansinchildrensliterature.net/.

This talk not only interested me as an author/illustrator, but as a Michigander, long influenced and inspired by Michigan Native tales. As a child, I traveled to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park. The Odawa or Ojibwa legend, depending on who you talk to, sparked my 5 year old imagination as my brother and I posed in front of a gift shop next to a man in Plains regalia. (Notice that I said, "man", not warrior or brave, and "regalia" not costume.)



"Sleeping Bear:  The Legend" (detail) 2007, Lori Taylor
Since then, I have spent my life studying, reading, going to powwows, and talking and sharing with people about the Great Lakes Peoples and their stories. Heck, I grew up right here and spent my life running through the woods and waters of Michigan, how could I not try to understand the voices of the People and the land that I was raised on.

From artist, Frank Ettawageshick, to writer, Simon Otto, to a healing lodge in Ann Arbor and Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways, and more I have gleaned understanding from native teachings. Debbie gave us a great list of kid's books to read by Joseph Bruchac and Louise Erdrich and recommended the PBS, "We Shall Remain", for us all to understand their stories better.

I have studied the Sanilac Petroglyphs (I love the art there) and crawled across rock walls with Lake Superior at my back to see pictographs in Canada. These are images that speak with powerful emotion reaching out to touch others that witness them. As an artist, all art that speaks is art to be shared.

"Wisdom of the Elders: MAEOE Conference" 1993

Yesterday, I crossed the border--to Canada, to visit the Art Gallery of Windsor to see the Group of Seven exhibit of Canadian painters. Inserted in the exhibit was a piece from Canadian artist, Emily Carr. As I sketched her work, Yan Mortuary Poles, I realized that here was a Canadian artist, like me, with a strong desire to preserve the history or her home and the stories of its Peoples, as well as her love of the deep, dark coastal forests.


As a storyteller, I will continue to learn and tell these stories of my Michigan home in art and word. If these stories inspire and fire our imaginations for us to do great things for each other and care for our home--our land and waters--then is that not what those stories were preserved and intended for--to make a better place for all? I have learned alot in the past 30 years and I am thankful for the sharing of all Native stories of their home--which is my home and my grandchild's home.

November? Curling up at home--all of our homes, with good books and good stories!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kalamazoo Conference with Kids, Cows & Coyotes!

Is it any wonder that we illustrators and artists are the way we are? While attending a seminar in Kalamazoo's Western University last week for children's books, I saw the eight-year old school girl, Lori, come out. The topic of cultural diviersity was fascinating and helpful for us all--writers, illustrators and librarians, and gave us all much food for thought.

But as words rolled from the speakers, thoughts rumbled in my head. You know--that "Never-ending, Story Telling, I'm-Bored-Kid" voice that shouts--"Doodle!" As the librarians reviewed the books--alphabetically, I began sketching in my notebook margins--instead of listening and taking notes.  (Mind you, I was there to hear the key note speakers and gave them my full--OK, semi-full attention, of which I came away with much appreciated and valued thought.) And I did get some notes taken. Book titles, key meaningful phrases that jumped out at me and the like.
But it was my doodling that carried me away in a pen and paper canoe!
Kids, cows





and coyotes filled the pages.






Suddeny--a new story idea hit me! I began sketching that out and came up with the skeleton of that tale. It's amazing how creative you can be when it comes to the droning white noise of a speaker speaking. I'm not dissing the speakers, the others there got a lot out of the review, but I was thankful for the time spent letting my mind go. A rare treat these days.

The only problem I had, came at lunch. Having lunch with SCBWI - MI members: Ruth McNally Barshaw, Leslie Helakoski, and Jennifer Whistler and others was great fun. We laughed, we shared, we discussed the topic.

Then Jennifer, who puts together the SCBWI-MI "Mitten" newsletter asked me if I was sketching and taking notes. I answered YES! excitedly and rather proudly. Then she asked if I could put them in the Jan.'11 newletter.

Yipes! Double Yipes!

I was sketching things that had nothing to do with the seminar. Once again, eight-year old Lori got caught red-handed and red- faced! I could hear, "Would you like to share your notes with the class?"
Oh well, at least I got a story to work on--and January is a long time away!


*Notes I took:
Books are windows that take us into another world.
Illustration is a universal visual language that helps us understand other customs and people.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Autumn Zoo Sketches

Heading to the zoo for a pre-Halloween photo shoot and sketch. What better way to practice sketching than on moving animals! This puts your patience and hands to the test.


Elk pair resting.

Brown bear looking around.
 Gesture sketching is the only way to capture these scenes. I don't even have to tell you how valuable the sketches are later on. You can capture resting and not so resting animals. Your hand records the movement as it happens.


Fiesta fun--wolverine and pinata.
While watching the wolverines, Marie had to reload a camera card while I sketched the playful pair wrassling a pinata. She missed that shot--I sketched. Of course, later on, I was quite thankful for her photos for wolverine details. But there is no replacing that attitude and gesture when it comes to illustrating animals.
Needless to say, the wolverines were the highlight of my day.


Restless weasel--try sketchig a wolverine in motion.
All in all, it was a lucky day for me. For all the times I had been to the zoo, I'd never seen this duo so animated. This dynamic Gulo gulo duo were a pure delight to watch and LISTEN to. From grunts and groans, to snarls and happy snapping jaws as they ripped apart pumpkins.


Full of spunk, the beautiful wolverine.
So grab your sketchbook, drop everything and draw. Any season will do. The more diverse the better. Visit the zoo or local nature center, your subjects await!