Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What the Dormouse Said

Lessons for Grown-Ups from Children's Books
For Christmas, I got a book called What the Dormouse Said. It's a collection of quotes from various children's books on different topics like Faith & Courage, Imagination & Adventure, Animals, Character, Hidden Truths, etc. It captures what I love most about children's books: profound simplicity.

Children's book authors know how to see the big picture and whittle it down to a practical musing.
I love how the symbolism of fantasy can entertain and educate, teaching us to see the world in a whole new way. That is very appealing to me, how stories can strip away the pretentiousness of language and ideas, turning them instead into humble observations. The innocence of it all is so refreshing!

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

"When your head's full of pictures, they have to come out."
- Incredible Ned, Bil Maynard, 1997

"Music is very nice for a party because it gives you time to eat your fill
without having to make conversation."
- The Cricket in Times Square, George Selden, 1960

"Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; and those that wish to be
foul, foul they will be. Remember."
- The Water-Babies, Charles Kingsley, 1863

"Cruelty cannot stop the earth's heart from beating"
- To Be a Drum, Evelyn Coleman, 1998

"It is such a secret place, the land of tears."
- The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling, 1997

A girl can't spoil herself, you know. Who spoiled her, then? Ah, who indeed?
- Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl, 1964

"The Princess looked at her more closely. 'Tell me,' she resumed,
'are you of royal blood?'
'Better than that, ma'am', said Dorothy. 'I came from Kansas.'"
- Ozma of Oz, L. Frank Baum, 1907

"Half the fun of nearly everything, you know, is thinking about it
beforehand or afterward."
- Uncle Wiggly's Story Book, Howard R. Garis, 1921

"The whole world is full of things, and somebody has to look for them."
- Pippy Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren, 1950

"Nothing cures homesickness quicker than an unexplored tower."
- Beauty & the Beast, Nancy Willard, 1992

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sometimes you can hear the lions roar...

Inspiration has been showing up in unexpected places lately, like a sound traveling through the air. It requires being in the right place at the right time (which can never be planned) and a tuned ear, ready to listen.

I was walking my dog through the Celery Fields, a beautiful bird sanctuary, when I came upon an old lady looking through a pair of binoculars. I proceeded to pass by her when suddenly she lowered her binoculars and looked up at the sky with awe in her eyes. I paused, expecting to see something. But instead (without ever looking at me) she simply stated, "Sometimes you can hear the lions roar".

I immediately assumed she was a little crazy. That's nice, I thought, and journeyed on processing her bizarre comment. But as I rounded the trail and headed to the top of the hill, I heard something that stopped me in my tracks. At first it sounded like a cow mooing, but it was deeper and had a bit of a growl. It was being carried through the air from some place not too far away, and to be honest it freaked me out a bit. It sounded like a lion roaring.

Ok. Close your eyes and imagine hearing this.

My curiosity and that bit of adrenaline rush led me to discover that right next door to the Celery Fields is the Big Cat Habitat. This place is amazing. They had a free training demo on Saturday so I went to check it out and see firsthand the beast that I heard roaring. Greeting me at the entrance was this fellow:

What's so cool about the Big Cat Habitat is that you can get up close to the cats. I've only seen tigers 50 feet away at the San Diego zoo, but here, I was 5 feet away! (the lady below is a volunteer...they are allowed to get really, really close). 

This Liger was HUGE. His head was the biggest out of them all. It's fascinating to watch the cats move, they almost look fake because they are so massive.
It was interesting to observe big cat behavior - they act like oversize domestic cats. They paw and pounce, rub up on things, roll over, etc.
The trainers use kabob meat on a stick for a reward. I can barely train my dog. It amazes me how these people train lions and tigers.

 Big cats sleep 18-20 hours a day!!!

 Look at the size of the paws...

Pretty kitty....

I listen carefully now every time I go walking at the Celery Fields because sometimes, if you're lucky, you can hear the lions roar.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fall Break Update

Hello there ;)

November is almost over! I am grateful to have spent Thanksgiving celebrating with new friends here in Florida, and working tirelessly on my most recent illustration project, a middle-grade fiction book written by New York based author, Paul Maguire. Having a solid block of time like this to work has been so fulfilling!!! Thank goodness for Fall break, it always happens in the nick of time, saving students and faculty from mental meltdowns. Only 3 more class meetings this semester. I can't believe it! The months have flown by! I must be having fun ;)

The main character, Bobby, from my current book project

A line drawing from the book

A few things are coming up in December. The first is Miami Basel. I've wanted to go ever since learning about this show when I took Contemporary Theory at Cal State Fullerton, which covered info about the art market, the biggest names, shows, and postmodern art. I'm hoping I can make it down to Miami to check it out. If i do, it's going to be an intense, long day (8 hours of driving). Another event I'm looking forward to is the Winter formal cocktail party for Ringling faculty and staff. I finally have a legit excuse to go shopping and dress up all fancy. It's going to be fun!

December is going to be even more busy than November. Of course the semester is coming to a close, so there will be final projects to grade and meetings to attend, but I also have a few deadlines creeping up. I need to make a painting for the Eire & England show at Laguna College of Art & Design, finish a huge Christmas present painting for my Mom, and also finish the book illustration project. And somehow in the middle of it all I'll be coming home to California for 2 weeks (which I am really excited about - can't wait to see my family and friends, the cold waves of the Pacific ocean, and the glorious snowcapped mountains!!!) So, lots of things to look forward to and work towards which always keeps me going. :D

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mote Marine Laboratory

I recently had the amazing privilege of meeting up with my friend, Jodi Kendall, to go behind the scenes at Mote Marine Laboratory on Longboat Key, which is a little island off the coast of Sarasota. I met Jodi several years ago at the Society of Children's Books Writers & Illustrators conference in LA. She is a writer and has worked for many prestigious clients, including National Geographic.

I learned a lot of things on our excursion through the laboratory. We were escorted through a turtle rehabilitation center to see how injured turtles are cared for (we got to pet a turtle which is never allowed normally), learned about a tracking device called an accelerometer, which records movements similarly to how an iphone will rotate screen orientation when it's turned, and we also spoke with the dolphin trainers. They introduced us to Harley and Moonshine, two spinner dolphins that are really quite amazing:

And FINALLY I got to meet a Manatee!

I took a lot of pictures and decided to paint some of my sketches. Here's a look at the marine life I saw that day. The ocean is full of wonder!

God Bless America, My Home Sweet Home

I can't believe it's been 10 years since the September 11th attacks.
Right now as I write this, I'm watching live coverage of the memorial service. They are announcing all the names of each person that died that day. Each name being said was a life, a soul. It's hard to fathom.

I was living in California in 2001, so when the first plane crashed into the tower at 8:46am, I was asleep. My roommate at the time burst into the room and said, "Wake up! Come watch the news! We're under attack!" The images on screen were unbelievable. I'll never forget it. Today I was able to watch a small tribute parade on main street here in Sarasota, FL, and I wanted to take a further moment to remember that day.

In February 2006, I was in New York City and had the opportunity to pay my respects at Ground Zero. I know that my mind cannot grasp the magnitude of the tragedy, but seeing the site helped in trying to understand the historical and emotional impact that forever changed America.

Above is a snapshot of Ground Zero - the square acre-sized hole that remained after. I had to shoot this picture through a chain link fence, but now they have built a lovely waterfall fountain memorial. I love the design because the gaping crater is still there to remind us of what happened, but the water represents spirit, life, reflections, memories. See the Memorial here.

Below are a few other snapshots from my trip to NY in 2006. 

This is me in front of the Metropolitan Museum. New York, what an awesome place!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dreamworks' Steve Hickner at RCAD

This weekend at Ringling College was a big deal for senior computer animation students - they were having their final project short films critiqued. I was able to attend a few critiques yesterday, and it brought back fond memories of my time at Laguna College, watching all of my animation friends present their animatics.

The RCAD students had some great projects. Dreamworks director Steve Hickner came to critique their films and give a lecture on eye-tracking, combining shots to eliminate unnecessary cuts, and establishing the geography with the main character.

Steve Hickner is mostly know for directing the Bee Movie and the Prince of Egypt, but has also produced many other films, including television series. He's worked with Steven Spielberg on a number of projects, and gave us some insider advice on staging characters and film composition.
Here are a few tips:

- Steve reiterated several times that many student films have too many cuts and they begin to look choppy. He also emphasized that he does not like using dissolves between frames unless the story calls for it. Whereas having too many cuts make a film look choppy, too many dissolves causes the action to lose its snap.

- When telling a visual story, establish as much as you can in the opening shot. Give a good silhouette, reveal the geography of the environment and how the character fits into it.

- When showing a character reaching for something, open up the pose. In other words, use the arm farthest from the view so the audience's view is unobstructed by the arm.

- Steven Spielberg says, "Every third shot should re-establish the geography".

- Use shots, angles, point of view to establish scale. Make it obvious how big and small everything is compared to everything else, and then exaggerate it.

- Steven Spielberg says, "Having the camera at eye level is the LEAST interesting viewpoint. Shoot slightly above or below instead.

- Use Google images of skies to add in as backdrops to your animatic. Make the environment as real as you can - clean it up!

- Stack your storyboards to see where the eye-trace will line up. You don't want your audience having to move their head. The eye movement should be very minimal. Do a camera adjust so the subject will appear near the same spot in the previous frame.

These are the main points that Steve made, which he demonstrated through four student films that he reworked. As I was listening and watching, I kept thinking of how so much of this relates to narrative illustration and picture books. I'm really glad to have been able to attend this lecture and apply these tips to my own work!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hidden Gators

I decided to take my new dog, Siena, on an adventurous outing! I felt it was time to get outta town and explore the back country. I packed a lunch for myself and the pup, then hit the road...

First stop was Myakka River State Park. This park has a big lake with river inlets that wind through the jungle. I didn't get to explore that area because I had Siena with me, and dogs aren't allowed in canoes. We explored the trails, and our first stop was the canopy suspension bridge and tower. This bridge elevates you above the tree tops, revealing a panorama of....flatness. Pretty much flat jungle. Wasn't all that exciting. In fact, I didn't even snap a picture except for one of the bridge.

After hiking a few loop trails, we took off to our next destination - Highland's Hammock. Two hours northeast of Sarasota, this State Park was similar to Myakka only more compact (jungle-wise) and had distinct swamp areas that I could access by foot. I stopped to take a picture of this little country church on the side of the road. It symbolizes (to me) how life feels here. Simple. Like, you just have to listen to country music while driving around town, because everything here is so UNpretentious - it's quite refreshing.

While hiking through Highland's Hammock, I felt like I was on the set of Gilligan's Island.
Think tropical jungle....

Then think of everything that goes along with tropical jungle during the summer:

SNAKES (in trees)!!!

This place was definitely CREEPY! To intensify things, I was the only one on EVERY trail I went on. And there were plenty of people driving around the park. Maybe I was the only crazy person to actually go INTO the jungle. Who knows...except that every time I stopped to take a picture there were like 50 mosquitoes all over me. And every few feet there were HUGE spiders on their webs, spanning the trail to catch and devour who knows what. It was grossly fascinating - each time I paused to contemplate something, I got the heebie jeebies. I'm pretty sure I hiked those trails in record time.

The best part of all this, however, was walking through the swamp! SO CREEPY!!!! It was very quiet all around, the air heavy and thick, the waters still as could be. Then, there was a rustling in the bushes! And a pair of ibis took off, flapping their white wings like innocent doves praying to God that they wouldn't be eaten ALLIGATORS!!!! AGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

That's what my imagination sounded like as I cut through the swamp, eyes darting across the boardwalk to either side of the mysterious pools.

Yeah, I walked that trail pretty fast too. I'm glad I had the dog with me, or else I would have ran. And, to my great disappointment, I didn't see any alligators (thank God).

Equally as adventurous but way less scary was crossing the single-railing catwalk. Siena did a great job. I was hoping she wouldn't see a squirrel and jump off. To my amazement, she stayed very focused and led the way with a loose leash, taking her sweet time. Good girl!

Since I never encountered another human being on one of the trails, I decided to set up my camera on a stump and take a timed shot of myself and the dog, for memories sake.

(Ok, so in the photo above, I'm being swarmed by teeny tiny mosquitoes. As soon as the camera timer went off, I ran yelling and swatting the air. I think I'll go back in winter when there are less mosquitoes)

Where am I?

Wow, I'm overdue for a blog post. SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED! I'll try to keep this short...

Ok. So, classes at Ringling started on August 22nd. All of my students have turned in their first project in Color/Composition, which involved creating a triptych that utilized principles of contrast & tension between geometric and organic abstract shapes. I must say, they are pretty exceptional, catch on quick and did a very nice job! Here is a picture of the room I teach in...

I really like the campus atmosphere. It's very supportive and my colleagues are passionate about what they do!! The students make the whole place come to life. I love working with them, talking through ideas, having creative discussions and being amongst people who love love love art.

In other news, I adopted a Siberian Husky from a rescue center in Clearwater called Husky Haven of Florida. She is the best doggie everrrr! I named her Siena (after the Italian city where the reddish color Sienna comes from...and to keep in theme with my former dog, Florence, who was named after the neighboring Italian city). Here's a picture of Siena dipping her feet into the Gulf of Mexico!

Everything is so green, the sky so blue, the air so clean! The clouds are killer! I blink and stutter almost everyday at how pristine and simple life is here.

I'm still freelancing and making paintings. I brought most of my studio with me (in fact, I had 5 boxes of books for every 1 box of clothes). I'm currently exploring a new series of character profiles for my Musicorn/Guardian of the Heart series. These works are for my own good fun, which is needed to keep inspiration flowing. I had to wait for my new oil painting materials to arrive, so I used acrylic wash and colored pencil to create these pieces:

It has been said, "Wherever you go, there you are", and that is true in my case! I'm still creating space for imagination, just from a new location on the globe. I'm looking forward to everything I'll be learning while I'm here. The change of scenery is already stirring new ideas within me. I'd like to incorporate the Floridian clouds and vegetation into new paintings. Here are a few pics of the new space where I go to create...

What they call a "lanai" down here in the south. It's a screened porch to keep out the nasty mosquitoes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I am moving to this amazing city called Sarasota in 3 weeks... teach art at this amazing school called Ringling College of Art & Design:

AWESOME. Unbelievable! I am SO excited and ready for a new chapter of life.
Ringling is a high profile private art college with a great reputation here on the West coast. They have an awesome computer animation program, and illustration is their most popular major. They have also been voted leaders in incorporating digital technology into the curriculum.  I'll be joining the Illustration department, which will be collaborating with Computer Animation and Game Art faculty to present a new intensive first-year curriculum for students.

I visited the RCAD campus over the weekend for an interview and was able to explore the city a bit. Florida looks like a tropical jungle. The vegetation and landscaping is so different from California, even though we both have palm trees. It reminded me of a combination of The Netherlands and Morocco, because it was ALL flat and the plants look like an oasis. The weather is especially different; In Florida, its rainy and humid ( I like to call it "balmy" :) When I arrived it was raining (apparently this is normal during the summer months), and I had to navigate my little rental car (which was this awesome Suzuki that zipped around) from Tampa airport down to Sarasota in pouring rain. I'm so used to "rain" being just sprinkles. These rain drops were like pellets hitting the windshield. My rapid-fire windshield wipers could barely wipe fast enough. Pure adventure!

I had some time to cruise around while in town, so I checked out Siesta Key (pictured above) and the Ringling Museum. Here are a few pics that I snapped during my visit:

View of the SRQ airport from my hotel window.

I grew quite fond of my rental car. It was fun to drive!

The Ringling Museum. John Ringling had an amazing collection of artwork!

John & Mable Ringling found these quirky little dwarves in Italy.

They had them shipped to Florida and created a "Dwarf Garden".

There were about 20 in total.
The Dwarf thrones. I want to create a story out of this...

The Peter Paul Rubens room inside the Ringling Museum!

The Ringling Museum courtyard.
Original carts from the Ringling Circus

They launched people out of this thing...

Reminds me of the Animal Cracker box...

Tiger carved out of wood.

Wish I could have seen a live circus performance back then...

Ca d'Zan or The House of John.

Inside the Ringling mansion.

John Ringling

Mable Ringling

Their backyard.

Cool statue, probably famous.

Ringling College of Art & Design!!!

I had my interview on the top (5th) floor of this new state-of-the-art building.

The scenery was so beautiful, I took random pictures from the side of the road.

Interstate 75.  No billboards!! No traffic!! Green jungles on both sides!!! I'm going to like it here. :)