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Documenting a period in my development that could become pivotal

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What I learned from being commisioned to illustrate J.H. Sweet Foo and Friends books

My vision for illustrating Foo would have been somewhat better informed if I had actually seen this sculpture. This spirited ceramic garden sculpture was at the Classical Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon where I saw it for the first time yesterday. My own clay model didn't have cheeks, or the characteristic ceramic treatment of eyebrows and mane. Another problem with my Foo is that people in Albany, Oregon cannot tell my illustration is a dog let alone a ceramic one. To my knowledge Chinese brush paintings are of nature not of ceramic images of imaginary animals like their lion sculptures. And I agree that a traditional Chinese rendering is not suggestive of a modern neighborhood in America. A different medium like pastel would show the ceramic quality and be compatible with the location of the story.

When I started, I was elated at first. It was a thrill to have a chance to illustrate a children's book with the main character being the Lion-like dog guardian ceramic sculpture. I could make animated expression for a dog that comes to life at night when the people in the neighborhood are sleeping. The commission was also a great way to have a project with a cousin who I just met through the Internet. The books were free for downloading on the Internet with the promise that someday they would be published.

The first book was very exciting for me, but the second one was more complex and I was not as happy as JH Sweet seemed at first. Soon after the illustrated book appeared on her web site I was itching to rework it. JH Sweet didn't want me to work on it any more. furthermore and more importantly, I felt I was tweaking her story with my illustrations. The bronze gorilla character turned out to be more like a chain saw cedar carving. I began to be more and more bothered by problems with the targeted age for early chapter books. I was illustrating for a picture book level. It occurred to me that JH Sweet needed to own her own story by making the illustrations herself. She did to my delight. http://www.jhsweet.com/ Her WISHING WELL and GARAGE SALE are early reader chapter books with just enough visual imagery introduced at the right places in the chapters to spark the imagination of seven to ten year olds.

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