Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Painting the Pavement Project in Calgary

My introduction to public art happened last summer at a Calgary intersection— and, no, I wasn’t hurt.

The South Calgary Community Association (the SCCA) put forth a proposal to the City of Calgary to conduct a series of Paint-the-Pavement projects, and the City accepted one at the corner of 45th Ave and 15th Street SW, in the neighbourhood of Altadore. I was brought on board by a member of the SCCA’s traffics committee to provide the imagery and direct the painting.

The first step was choosing an image or two—that wasn’t too hard. I knew we wanted to reflect the kid angle of the ‘hood, so a boy and girl image were basic. But what should the characters be doing?

The corner for the project is adjacent to a playground where peewee soccer matches are a regular occurrence, so that decision was easy-- a kid with a soccer ball.

The other could simply be exploring her environment. As it happens, the community of Altadore is built on a high water table, and years ago (so I’m told) the area was quite soggy. So, I decided she should be playing in a puddle.

Colours were limited by what could be acquired in road-paint ‘shades’(!), which meant just the primary colours and white. I would need to mix a flesh tone (white, yellow & red), and and brown for the kids’ hair colours… all colours, with a splash of black was my original thinking. However, the day of, a glitch in the paint delivery (no latex black paint, only oil-based) meant I couldn’t add black to the latex mix.

BUT, someone brought in a can of plain old exterior house paint in a dainty shade of dark brown – I suspect this will be the first to wear off next summer…

Accurate measurements were take at the site a week or two prior to the event, and I drew up a a scale drawing. Then, I gridded it – the more detailed, the easier the job would be on-site.

About a week before the event, flyers outlining the road closures, and inviting neighbours to participate were circulated homes close to the intersection.

Saturday morning dawned nice and bright—an early crew of pavement washers (neighbourhood dads) power-washed and swept the intersection clean.

The next step was laying the chalk lines that corresponded to my grid drawing, in 3.5 foot squares. This took Dean and me about an hour with a chalk line and tape measure, and then I began to sketch in the two images with a piece of kids’ sidewalk chalk. It was a bit like playing Battleship…

By this time, families were beginning to gather, keen to help out. I gave the adults and older kids skinny paintbrushes, and asked them to outline the characters in white paint -– then younger kids could follow behind with brushes and rollers to fill in the bodies.

By mid-afternoon of that day, we’d laid down about 3 or 4 coats of white, and while we could have started with the colours, we chose to wait. Many local families had planned to join the action on the Sunday, so we decided to leave some work for them.

Sunday was the big paint day – enormous buckets of latex road paints cans were hauled out to the site. We began with one colour— a vat of the most lurid looking yellow paint I’ve ever seen -- which I started by making cut-lines over the white paint.

Then, kids descended with rollers and brushes and immediately filled in all the white space. We laid down 3 – 4 coats, giving all kids a chance to use a brush or a roller. One of our smart volunteers bought a bunch of those 4-inch rollers that were great for kids to handle.

Road paint dries very quickly – within about 8 minutes – and we had revolving buckets of water ready at all times to submerse brushes and rollers. Having a water source – someone’s hose – was critical.

Each colour was brought out one at a time, and we followed the same routine.

When all the colour was laid down in many, many coats, I outlined everything with black lines. Because the black latex still hadn’t arrived, we had to use an oil-based black—it was awful to use and it was toxic to breathe in. Kids got shooed away while this activity was underway.

The very final step was the addition of the reflective beads, required by the city. They needed to be added to tacky paint, and because the paint dried so quickly, we designated this to be an adult-only job.

Six months later, the intersection still looks great (though at this very moment, it’s under about 3 feet of snow).

Drop me a note if you have any questions or comments about our Paint the Pavement project.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Calgary author, Simon Rose, and I have teamed up to do some work creative work on spec.

When Simon's not busy writing his next novel, and I'm not working on illustrations for my next children's picture book, we've been transforming Simon's manuscripts into book dummies -- or miniature picture books -- that we can then approach potential publishers with.

Our first foray was with a manuscript about a renaissance dragon -- a dragon who likes the finer things in life. We broke the copy up into pages, and I created draft images to accompany those pages. It's an interesting exercise, as you realize along the way what needs to be illustrated, what DOESN'T need to be illustrated and what copy is superfluous.

Here's the draft cover -- notice that everything's done in black & white, and very loosely rendered... the interior images are likewise. I scan all the images, and set the text in Photoshop.

The beauty of creating a book dummy or a mock-up, is that you get an excellent feeling for the story's pacing and flow -- and most importantly, if the story is compelling enough to get readers to turn to the next page.

Another reason I like to make book dummies is that it makes a nice little package to hand over to a kid to critique-- whereas a sheet of thumbnails needs some explanation.

Our next project is about another fictional creature-- a little bigfoot -- who befriends a member of a different species. But more on that later...!

***Read more about Simon on his blog, or check out his site at www.simon-rose.com***

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Update on activities...

It's been quite a while since I've posted -- in fact, I had to figure out how to do it again.

In a nutshell, things have been very busy -- I just finished up my artist-in-residence at the Telus World of Science here in Calgary. The space they gave me was beautiful...

My "thing" was old-fashioned optical devices, so had a zoetrope, flip-books and thaumatropes for visitors to muck around with.

I really thought the zoetrope would get the most attention from kids (and I had nearly 600 of them in a 4 week period), but in fact, it was the thaumatropes that captured their attention.

In case you're wondering, a zoetrope looks like this pictured here ... this is the one from the Royal Saskatchewan Science Centre, but mine looked pretty similar (see right-hand pic). I had a local metal worker construct one for me. I think it was an unusual project for him. Here's what mine looked like in action...

Anyway, what was I saying...? Oh, yes-- it was the thaumatropes that the kids really dug. And do you know what they look like? Here's a pic for you... this is an example of a classic thaumatrope... empty bird cage on one side, bird on the other. Another classic example is the empty fish tank on one side, the fish on t'other.

Some of the ideas kids came in with were very inventive. Like a pile of logs on one side, and flames on the other, and when spun together, looked like a bonfire. A stick of dynamite on one side, a BOOM on the other. An uneaten chocolate bar on one side, a partially eaten one on the other. A blank TV set on one side, a character on the other... Some kids had trouble figuring out the upside down business, while others got it instantly.

Here's an example of a thaumatrope I did-- I call it the X-ray boy...
one side (right) is a boy, and on the other, very carefully lined up so that the eyes connect when the thaumatrope is spinning, is the skeleton (left). Especially appropriate at Hallowe'en, which is when I was there.

But back to the zoetrope (note, there should be an umlaut over the first 'e', but I don't know how to do that...)-- I'd had long sheets printed at Staples, that were separated into panels. The rule of thumb is that there should be the same number of panels are there are slits in the zoetrope.

Kids did growing trees and flowers, butterflies flitting over the page, people walking, happy faces turning sour... stuff like that. This was quite successful with the older set -- about 12 - 14 year olds, who had some time to spend.

One other option was creating flipbooks -- to avoid having to carefully bind papers together, I used old paperback novels and had kids draw their images in the lower right hand-corners of the pages. Flips beautifully, and the effect on the pre-existing type is really quite cool. I'll post examples of this one soon.

Many thanks to Linda Hawke for letting me use her great shots from the museum -- much appreciated, Linda!

Well, that's it fer now -- keep your eyes open for "Where Does Your Cat Nap?"

Ciao fer now!


Friday, February 13, 2009

Interview with Jacqueline Guest

My guest on today’s blog entry is Jacqueline Guest—at the time of this posting, Jacqueline has written 15 books for both kids and young adults. Jacqueline is a Metis writer who lives in a beautiful log cabin nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Many of Jacqueline's main characters come from different ethnic backgrounds including First Nations, Inuit or Metis.

Q. I see your book War Games, has just come out. What’s it about?

A. War Games is the story of Ryan Taber, a video-addicted teen who thinks fun times have arrived when his iron-fisted father is deployed to Afghanistan with the military. Ryan's life spirals out of control as his video-gaming takes possession of him, and when his father comes home, Ryan is forced to choose between his virtual world and the real one.

Q. You’ve written lots of sports books – like Rink Rivals, Triple Threat and Hat Trick. Is sports your favourite genre? And I see that Soccer Star, the story of a 13-year old Inuit girl, won a Canadian Children’s Book Center Our Choice Award.

A. I like sports, but history is truly a big draw for me -- Belle of Batoche and Secret Signs are examples of a title in the history genre. I also really like mystery! Some of my novels are mysteries, like Dream Racer, Racing Fear and Lightening Rider.

Q. Where do you get your ideas from?

A. Everywhere!

Q. What did you read growing up?

A. Alice in Wonderland and A Child’s Book of Bible Verse. They were the only books I had and we didn’t have a library in our school or our town.

Q. I first met you at Almadina Language Charter School when you were the writer-in-residence. What did you work on with your students?

A. How to write the perfect story-- one that will make any examiner will give you high marks.

Q. When a student tells you that he or she wants to be a writer when they grow up, do you have any special advice?

A. The best way to become a writer is to be a reader. There is no substitute for reading-- it’s a writer’s best training tool.

Thank you very much for this interview, Jacqueline, and all the best with your latest book!

For more information about Jacqueline and her books, please visit jacquelineguest.com

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Illustrating Words with your Students

Illustrating Words with Kids

A project I particularly love to bring into a classroom-- and which can take as little or as much time as you want-- is Illustrating Words. Adjectives are especially good for this exercise, but there’s no need to stop there.

I've found Grades 3 – 5 to be a good age for this exercise.

You’re familiar with Geronimo Stilton, right? Here’s an author/illustrator who pulls interesting, juicy words off of the page and launches them into the realm of illustration by way of interesting fonts.

What a great crossover—but of course, cartoonists like Will Eisner have been doing it for decades, using their art form to create totally unique fonts. In the world of comic books and graphic novels (and narrative art in general), words can be drawings and drawings can be words.

Whether you use this exercise in Language Arts or in Art, the effect is the same – kids get excited about words. If you decide to keep the exercise to adjectives only, you can reinforce what an adjective is and does-- students are describing a word that describes.

This exercise reminds of the famous real-life scene between Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, when Annie pulls Helen’s hand under an icy-cold, swiftly flowing water pump, while writing the word ‘water’ over and over in the palm of her hand.

Until this point in Helen’s life, she doesn’t understand what Annie’s so desperately trying to teach her, but this watershed moment (sorry, no pun intended) opens Helen’s eyes (again, no pun intended), and she gets it BIG time.

Where else can you take this exercise? How about getting kids to write paragraphs, or even stories, using this device? The juicier the word, the more fun they can have illustrating that word in the context of a story or paragraph. See some of my examples posted in this blog entry. (DIRTY was inspired by Pig Pen of Schulz' Peanuts cartoon.)

Here’s a sampling of words you might get your students to illustrate:

FAT, THIN, HEAVY, LEAFY, THICK, and on and on...

Until next time... keep your pencils sharp.

Monday, February 2, 2009

My interview with Simon Rose

My guest today is science fiction and fantasy author Simon Rose, author of The Heretic's Tomb, The Emerald Curse, The Clone Conspiracy, The Sorcerer's Letterbox and The Alchemist's Portrait.

Q. Simon, in addition to your five books, do you have a new one coming out in 2009?

A. Yes, The Doomsday Mask (pictured) will be published this spring. It's once again for 8-12 age group, and in the science fiction and fantasy genre-- it's a fast-paced adventure about ancient civilizations, mysterious artifacts and shadowy secret societies. You can read its synopsis at http://www.simon-rose.com/doomsday.htm.

I've also another completed novel on a paranormal theme, numerous projects for future novels and am working on several picture books with a local illustrator.

Q. Where do you get your ideas from?

A. To be honest, anywhere and everywhere really... out walking the dog, driving in the car, something overheard in a conversation, a newspaper story, a billboard, an item on the evening news, other books, historical events, other people's stories, movies, or even something out of the blue. Some may never be used, but I try to record as many as I can. I never know when they might fit in with a story I'm writing. Even ideas that don't seem to work right away may have a use in the future.

Q. Why science fiction and fantasy?

A. One of the best things about writing for kids is that I can write about the kinds of things that fascinated me when I was young. Stories can be very imaginative if they are for children, which makes writing them so much fun. And, of course, in science fiction or fantasy, more or less anything you can imagine is possible, as you craft stories involving ancient mysteries, the unexplained, the paranormal, science fiction, time travel, parallel universes, alternate realities, weird and wonderful characters and a multitude of what if scenarios.

Q. What did you read growing up?

A. Lots of science fiction, as well fantasy writers and ghost stories. I also read a tremendous number of comic books, in which the stories took me across the universe, into strange dimensions, into the land of the Norse gods or had me swinging from the New York rooftops. At high school, I studied a lot of history and have retained my interest in the subject up to the present day. I also read voraciously on ancient civilizations, mysteries, the supernatural, and the unexplained.

Q. Now that you're all grown-up, do you visit schools and spend time with kids?

A. Yes, I offer a wide range of presentations workshops and author in residence programs for schools and libraries. I cover such topics as where ideas come from, story structure, editing and revision, character development, time travel stories, history and research, which you can learn more about at http://www.simon-rose.com/school_programs.htm

Q. What about adults? Do you ever work with them?

A. Yes, I conduct workshops on writing and publishing your children novel on a regular basis. I also offer editing and critiquing services and a number of online writing workshops, exploring where ideas come from and how writers turn them into stories, basic story structure, plot development, creating characters, developing dialogue and so on, as well as looking at marketing and promotion for children's authors. I've got all that info listed on my website.

Q. Do you do any other type of writing?

A. In addition to novel writing, I offer copywriting services for business, such as editorial content for websites, as well book reviews and articles for magazines and online publications on a wide variety of topics.

Thanks very much, Simon, for this interview. Best of luck to you in all your writing endeavours!

You can learn more about Simon and his books at http://www.simon-rose.com or at his blog at http://simon-rose.blogspot.com/

Monday, January 12, 2009

Teaching the Teachers...

So, I find myself in a classroom with a bunch of adults looking back at me, and feel, well, a little self-conscious. I'm kinda used to looking at little faces, with kids asking kid-like questions, like "how old are you?", "what's your favourite colour?" and "what's your dog's name?" Instead, the questions were more mature, requiring more sophisticated answers from the instructor.

This was my first time planning a session for grown-ups -- a PD** session, to be specific . Since we only had half-a-day, I wanted to cram as many transferable techniques as possible into our short time frame. I decided I have them work with the grid method (they each had a nice picture of a tree, see red tree over there), which they'd transfer with graphite to a sheet of watercolour paper.

You know the grid method, I'm sure -- you draw a grid overtop of your original image -- in our case, the little red tree -- , and then a corresponding grid on a clean sheet. The corresponding grid can be either larger, smaller or the exact same size, depending on what you want -- do you want to enlarge your image? Smallen it (yes, that's a word)? OR, instead of drawing straight lines, make them all wobbly and uneven-- the end result can be pretty neat. You just want to make sure that each grid has the same number of squares. Then, start drawing, square by square, and watch your drawing come to life.

Once the tree was all drawn in pencil, we outlined the tree in ink -- I'd have preferred India Ink with a dip pen, but Sharpies did the trick. Then, after erasing all the graphite lines and smears, and letting the black ink dry, we moved into the watercolours. Lots of talk about the colour wheel, colour saturation, that sort of thing, et voila!, some fantastic looking pieces were the end result.

The teachers could then take what they'd learned that day and try it with their kids -- the grid method could be linked to the math curriculum, the other stuff to, well, the fine arts curriculum.
** Professional Development

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back to School...

I've started my artist-in-residency at Almadina Language Charter School in southeast Calgary, and have about 15 classes of grades 1 - 3. Our project over the next month is to illustrate stories the kids have written, either as a class or on an individual basis. My first visit was an introduction to the world of book illustration, about how I work, the process I follow, with lots of fun examples to show.

I've asked that the teachers have their stories written and ready to go -- no more than 150 words long -- and divided nicely into six pages. I devised a thumbnail sketch sheet for teachers to use with the kids prior to my return. Then, when I'm on the scene, I'll work one-on-one with the kids on their artwork.

A picture's worth a thousand words...
Once the copy is separated into pages and paired with the kids' drafty drawings, I want them to trade their thumbnails with a partner and have them read -- sort of a critiquing process. Does the story make sense? Are all those words really necessary? Do the pictures help move the story forward? Or are they just redundant (don't worry -- I'll find a better word than redundant...)?

More soon...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Another year...

and here I'm writing again. Ya, I know -- it's about time.

Anyway, my latest children's book has now arrived on the scene, and it's called "Where Does Your Dog Sleep?" (published by Your Nickel's Worth Press). It's not a difficult book to read -- the fog index is set at about ages 1 - 5 -- so you needn't be intimidated. You can either buy it online at www.lairdbooks.com, or ask your local bookstore to bring it in.

My author is Jean Freeman (interesting aside, this is the second Freeman I've teamed up with -- no relation to one another), who plays Fitzi's Grandma on the CTV comedy, Corner Gas.

What else am I doing? Well, this month I'm artist-in-residence at Calgary's Almadina Language Charter Academy -- should be fun!