Last Saturday we went to a wedding. By way of self-promotion, I could mention that the young woman getting married was the sister of the young man who was my model for Johnny Appleseed while illustrating Seed by Seed, a picture book written by Esme Raji Codell, due out in mid-August of this year.
But that has absolutely nothing to do with this story.
So, I was planning to put some money into a card, as one does, when I thought that at the very least I could make a pretty little card. Mulling this over, my eyes fell on an object I had picked up the day before, at a rummage sale. It was a silly thing that I will probably never use, but for some reason, I couldn’t resist. Actually, it was two related objects. One was a scraper that scrapes crumbs from your table cloth into the second, which is a small dustpan-type device. They use them in fancy-schmancy restaurants sometimes, or in restaurants aspiring to be fancy schmancy.
Both parts were silvery and were embossed with images of birds and blossoms. Perfect! I thought. I will copy the picture from the dustpan part. Blossoms and birds. There was a branch with a funky striated pattern that looked like it would be fun to draw. I would make the whole thing my own as I went along, and it would be a little bit cheesy, but fun and sweet and romantic. Two birds in a tree. I would write, “Come live with me and be my love,” the first line of the famous poem, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, by Christopher Marlowe.
It was going to be such a lark (ha!) to just re-draw someone else’s picture. I wouldn’t need to think about composition or research accurate bird or blossom features, I could just play with the drawing. I thought of how musicians play each other’s songs all the time. They call it a “cover.”
Back in the 1980’s, the amazing jazz musician Miles Davis recorded a cover of the Cyndi Lauper song, Time after Time. An acquaintance of mine was appalled that this great innovator was stooping to play a pop song.
“Maybe he just wants to play a pretty song,” I said. “What’s wrong with that?”
So that’s what I was going to do: Play a pretty song, draw a pretty picture. “Ode to a Dust Pan.” Me and Miles.
Then I noticed the third bird. The two birds on the branch weren’t looking at each other, they were looking at a third bird who was flying toward them. Now the caption would have to be something like, “Quick! Hide in the closet!” or, “Don’t look now, but here comes Ethel.”
Not so auspicious for a wedding.
I thought for a few minutes, then I instructed the middle bird to say, “Oh, look here comes your sweetie. I’ll just be on my way then,” and fly away.
For a moment, there seemed to be a hole in the composition. But it was nothing a few extra blossoms couldn’t take care of.