I’m working on a picture book that has small furry animals and birds in it. With the exception of Nuts to You (which is about squirrels), it’s a little different than what I usually do. There’s a part where Thomas (a small furry animal) and Lucy (a bird) make a cake together. I’m thinking of including their recipe in the illustration. Which is where I ran into trouble.
I always run into trouble. I have a gift for taking something simple and transforming it into something complicated. It’s just what my mind does. Then I am forced to think it all through, back down into something simple again.
In this case, it was the recipe.
Because I had no problem giving Thomas a picturesque abode inside a tree trunk, with a green door and furniture and rugs and quilts and whatnot — I had no problem giving him a backpack — why not? I will admit I debated about lighting. I decided he does not have electricity. He does have a beautiful hurricane lamp.
But I stumbled, while looking at recipes, on the use of baking powder and baking soda.
Sugar was easy — they could use honey. Or maple syrup. They could make flour from wild oats or wild rice. They could use nut oil for the fat, because, butter?
But how would they have baking soda? I looked it up — it’s basically ground-up rock, either a rock called “nahcolite” or one called “trona. So if they lived where these rocks occur naturally, that’s a possibility. Same for salt — there are salt mines not far from where they live. Or maybe they could chip some away from one of those blocks hunters put in the woods to attract deer. Wash the deer spit off and smash it into bits. Tiny little bits.
And then there is the problem of eggs. It seems really creepy for a bird to make a cake that uses eggs. Plus they would have to be tiny eggs. Hummingbird eggs maybe. And who wants to think about that? Because either they steal them, or mother hummingbird offers them up.
So I looked up “vegan fruitcakes.” Which I found plenty of. They still use baking soda.
I looked up “pioneer fruitcakes,” thinking they might have had some resourceful (or resource-less) recipes. But it turns out that those pioneers used lots of butter (or lard), eggs, and sugar.
I remembered a cake-like kind of bread, “essene bread,” that natural foods stores sometimes sell, that is made according to an ancient Biblical recipe. Really tasty. I used to toast it and put a poached egg on top. But it involves sprouting wheat, which takes time. And is not something my readers or their busy parents are likely to do.
I consulted Lorinda Bryan Cauley’s The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, which I adore. Her country mouse makes a soup of barley and corn and a root stew for dinner, with a “rich nut cake” for dessert. She offers no recipe. There is also mint tea — fair enough. Her country mouse wears overalls and a checkered shirt, and has a bundt pan! There is a stick of butter on his table. His log (literally) home has overstuffed furniture, a woodstove, and is lit with candles. I think we can all agree that electricity would be going too far.
I revisited Wind in the Willows. It had been awhile, but I seemed to remember champagne. First page: brooms, dusters, ladders, chairs, and whitewash. Mole and Rat’s luncheon basket contains cold chicken, as well as: “coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinsaladfrenchrollscressandwidgespottedmeat-gingerbeerlemonadesodawater.”
Bright fires in the parlour. Dressing gowns and slippers. Off to the nearest village for milk and eggs and various necessaries. So. And of course, the very expensive motor car.
I think it’s interesting how we draw our lines.
All this to say, the eggs still creep me out too much. But I’m going to let them have baking soda. And even butter. I mean — he has a backpack.
Here is an amateurish little movie of the stages of a drawing I made this month:
The drawing is of a furry creature in a golden-brown late autumn meadow under a wooly gray sky, catching snowflakes on his tongue.
Sometimes in January and February, we forget how lovely those first snowflakes are.
I did my first drawing of the year while I was still in bed:
Hazel on my feet
how shall I get out of bed?
snow piled high on trees.
(non-haiku-format addition: it’s quarter past ten.)
Eventually, though, I did get out of bed, and went to my studio. Where I still am. This feels really good because over the holidays, I try to override my monkish part and be with people. That makes me happy, too, but once New Year’s hits, I am itchy to get back to it.
1. I have some china figurines that I have been wanting to draw. A nice thing about a figurine is, no one knows if you are doing it right. The figurine doesn’t care. It doesn’t say, “You didn’t get my nose right.” You just look at it and try to draw it, and that’s fun. This one is a shepherdess, with a lamb at her feet. It was in my mother’s house, but I don’t know how it got there, what it meant to her. A mystery. Now it’s in our house, along with a cavalier.
2. A friend recently spent time in England. She brought me back a little gift — little in size — of a teeny-tiny paintbrush and a teeny-tiny cake of watercolor paint. I thought it was black paint, but this morning I discovered that it is actually hooker’s green. Surprise!
So here is my drawing of the shepherdess and the lamb, in hooker’s green, all painted with a tiny brush:
Thoughts while drawing/painting: What is that she’s holding in her hand?
How much difference the placement of the eye-dots makes. I have a friend who collects little Easter chicks, with glued-on eyes. She likes how the random placement of the eyes gives them different expressions. The eyes in my painting aren’t quite the same as the eyes on the actual figurine. But she is a little person. She can have different expressions from moment to moment, right?
Also, there isn’t a really good art supply store for hundreds of miles from where I live. I miss going into one and being surprised by some paper or tool, taking it home and trying it out. I have to order things online now, and I tend to order what I need. What I’m out of. This little brush and cake of paint reminds me of the joy of trying something new.
‘Tis the season to be jolly! So here is a little prezzie for you:Some time ago, years, we watched Jean Luc Godard’s 1964 film, Bande a Part (Band of Outsiders). To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about it, except for the scene where the three main characters are sitting in a cafe, and get up and do a spontaneous dance for about three minutes, then drift away, one by one. Right away, we wanted to learn the dance. But we forgot about it.
Then a few years ago, we watched the film, Le Weekend (2013), about a British middle-aged couple who go to Paris to revive their relationship, and of course, all sorts of other things happen. Including a reprise of the dance scene from Bande a Part, which they perform along with their friend, played in this movie by Jeff Goldblum. We wanted to learn the dance all over again.
It was one of my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions. I found a really helpful video on YouTube, How to do the Madison Dance from ‘Le Weekend’
And I have made a cheat sheet for practicing, which I share here with you:
According to a New Yorker article (by Richard Brody) about the scene, the actors learned the dance to John Lee Hooker’s Shake it Baby. The music of Michel Legrand was dubbed in later, which is why it doesn’t seem to quite match up in the movie. But you can do it to anything in 4. I practiced it in my studio to Bach once.
There is another reprise of the scene in the 2007 film, The Go-Getter, which I haven’t seen, but here is the dance:
We are still practicing. We can do it, but kind of slowly, compared to the actors in the movie. But then, they practiced every day for 31 days before filming it.
I’ve been working on a chapter book — maybe a very young novel — called Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea. It has lots of drawings. 64 of them, if they all stay in. I finished the art on Saturday, on Monday I packaged it up and shipped it off.
Two of the walls in my studio are bulletin boards. When I’m working on a book, the bulletin boards fill up, bit by bit, with the illustrations. As they do, I feel myself living in the world they create.
Here’s wall #1:
Now I am in the world of empty bulletin boards:
I miss the drawings. But I also love the world of, what’s next? The tabula rasa. The clean slate. I’ll tell you what’s next, says my inner drill sergeant. Speaking of “clean,” you could clean up this mess you call a studio.
I will, I answer. Bit by bit.
I think the book will be out next spring.
Several years ago, some friends and I came upon a kilt-maker at a street fair in Stratford, Ontario. He made his kilts on a solar-powered sewing machine. One of the models he offered was a kilt made of hemp. He said that he was almost certain that at that moment in time, he was the only person in the world making kilts out of hemp. He was probably right.
I remember thinking how very few things we could say that about — that we are the only person in the world doing that thing. But maybe it just depends on how specific we get. This morning, I finished this illustration of raccoons eating a bag of mints on the carpet of the clubhouse of an abandoned golf course, and I thought to myself, I bet I am the only person who has ever made a drawing of this particular subject.
The drawing is for a chapter book that will be out next year. It’s not about raccoons, it’s about sisters. I have about a zillion drawings (okay, maybe 2 dozen) to make in the next couple of weeks. Wish me luck.