My Love of Illustration

This is a lengthy post. I want to share with you why I am so attracted to doing this kind of work….fitting in drawings of the natural world. My mother was a great reader, not a good housekeeper and certainly not a good cook. It seems that most of our meals were centered around “leftovers” but no one including her knew  what they were leftover from. And almost all of the meals were accompanied with a can or two of creamed corn. But she did instill in us a love of books and the natural world.

I only have a couple of those early books. When we moved to Florida from Michigan in 1955 my father told us that we had to only pack what was necessary. My new bike and dog had to stay behind, (“No one rides bikes or has dogs in Florida because it is just too hot.”) but I found room to tuck in two books. And by the way I hated Florida. It was no place for a young tomboy who spent every waking hour in the woods. As soon as I was able I returned to Michigan and hugged a tree. The trees are what make some of these books wonderful to look at.

Isn’t this one magic! I am quite certain that I gave my copy to our daughter….she is looking for it. But these tiny people, much like The Borrowers, live and take advantage of the most amazing things at their disposal. Living in a shoe, skating on banana peels, and a favorite picture that I could not download off the internet, them using the bathroom sink for a swimming pool. Some little bugger used his red crayon on this page but I am sure it was out of enthusiasm for the stories of the Teenie Weenies.

My most favorite of all is The Castle of Grumpy Grouch. Very few pen and ink drawings but a magical story of a little princess who lost her temper and embarks on adventures to find it. This one I still have.

I loved how she rested under a tree that covered her with leaves. Those trees are so capable of magical possibilities. Look at that tiny squirrel and rabbit! I would stare at these images for hours.

Later I would spend lots of time in the children’s books section of book stores. The ones I bought for my own kids were only ones that had great artworks of imaginative illustrations. And actually those were hard to come by in the 70s and 80s…..most of the good ones came from England, Italy….not the US, as here illustrators were more into things like cartoons or goofy collaged caterpillars.

Tasha Tudor knew how use her illustrating skills to draw you into every picture. This one was such a classic. I wrote her a letter once and she answered it. I gave our daughter the letter and the book that inspired me to write to her. Here is a tree from Tasha Tudor.

And more rabbits and a squirrel.

This book I bought for our son and then found one for myself for fifty cents. Look at all the details in these pictures. So many places for your eyes to wander.

And Philippe Fix’s tree.

These trees have that iconic Arthur Rackum look to them. I would have loved one of his books!

This one I bought for my daughter when it first came out.

Brian Froud was a great illustrator. The only problem is that it all became so commercial, so all over the place that the magic wore off.

And then there are the books that I just had to have for myself. This Russian tale is so beautifully done with all the Klimt like patterns everywhere.

And a name like I. Bilibin! How magic is that! Here is more from the inside pages.

And these illustrated letters. My mother would read all the classic children’s books to us especially those illustrated by N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle. Somewhere I learned that it was Howard Pyle’s wife who did the black pen illustrated letters that started each chapter.

Here is Bilibins;

And another one that reminded me of the Giant book illustrated and published in Italy. I just had to have it when I saw the fold out tortoise and hare fable.

Then the Brambly Hedge books came out by the inimitable Jill Barklem.

Talk about magic….just look at all that she packs in!

And this wonderful tree where some of them live. So much like Beatrix Potter.

But my most inspirational book with Nature drawings is this one by Janet Marsh. She simply studied a marsh land nearby and recorded it all. So very beautiful.

It was this love of Nature and wanting to know the names of wildflowers that inspired these two hand bound books of illustrations. I put them in a case together. One is two years in Davisburg, Michigan and the other two years when I first moved to Brasstown, North Carolina.

And Brasstown.

And that is the history of where I am now with drawing and painting illustrations of the natural world.

A few years ago I took a journaling class. It was such a disappointment. All the students (except me) had the same sized journal and all of them tried to do their best to draw and paint like the instructor. They all worked on their penmanship…more like calligraphy. It was sort of scientific illustration, but no individuality, no magic at all……just a picture that looked like everyone else’s picture.

I think the best way to learn to draw is to do it, over and over again. And you need to just love the doing, love the subject, love the feel of the pencil in hand, love that there is an eraser nearby, love the satisfaction that comes when this drawing is better than the last one.

That said, I am going back to my drawings in the Australian Eucalyptus leaves. Yesterday I added a blue tailed skink on the owl page….and now am working on a rabbit who fits into the brush by a chipmunk opposite a deer. It is magic!

Til later.


More Bush Sketches, More Drawings a Day and More Responsibility

I wanted to add a swallowtail butterfly to the second page. It was not easy to do and I was glad to get to the point of saying, “That’s enough.”

Now I have finished a screech owl (grey phase), little meadow mouse and a large squirrel hiding among the leaves. On the next page I will do the deer standing in the bush and a small chipmunk with maybe another bird to finish off those paired pages.  A Carolina wren was stuck on the porch today and I had to let him out. He would be a good subject. This is really fun.

And a catch up on the drawings a day with haiku.

I welcome winter

months with a goblet of wine

that has been heated.

( just now re-reading that, the syntax is off…the wine is heated, not the goblet. I will go back and fix it.)


A ridiculous

drinking mug because it soon

hits you in the nose!


We remove the stick

to roll down his back just to

hear him call in Spring.


The frog gets dizzy

as he’s swirled into circles

just to hear him croak.


It dips into pans

of boiling water to catch

the food cooked just right.


Whack on the corners

of lids that will not open.

Then just unscrew them.


I like looking around the kitchen for pieces to draw. We are spending lots of time there cooking up some soups for now and later. A neighbor has brought over some of the best soups and sauces I have ever had. Now I have some of her recipes. It is nice having someone be that thoughtful. It saves having to think of what to fix for dinner. No one else is doing that for us so it is doubly appreciated.

This past week a woman in the grocery store told me that I looked familiar and asked my name. Then she told me were neighbors and I remembered her. When I first came to Brasstown to teach at the Folk School in 1988 she took my class. She was talking about her grandchildren back then. I told her that she didn’t look old enough for grandchildren and that she looked more like her own children’s babysitter. She laughed at that. I then told her that most Southern women I met are very youthful looking and maybe when she got older, it would all go bad at once. I have to say that these women are charmed. She looks just as good thirty one years later. I don’t know whether it is their Baptist faith, their close families or the water….whatever it is works quite well for them.

Yesterday I had all new tires put on the car. One more thing that I don’t have to worry about if the roads get slippery with winter coming on. Also yesterday the steam mechanism in our sauna shower decided to just turn itself on whenever it wanted. I couldn’t get it to turn off without jamming a hard pair of scissors at what looked like the on/off button. I called the fixit man and he came over, just went to the breaker box and threw the switch over. We didn’t use the steam part of the shower except maybe once or twice. Why it would take it upon itself to just start on its own is beyond me.

Lee used to know how to handle these things. Now I don’t even bother to tell him. It is too confusing for him and he will have thankfully brief thoughts of taking care of the problem. Speaking of which I finished the fourth hand and have outlined another one.

He has trouble with seat belts, can no long figure out how to push the on button to make coffee, mixes up where the silverware goes, can’t work his jacket zipper, misses some buttons at times, needs help with the batteries to the leaf blower, and finally has stopped noticing that the toilet needs flushing. But other than that, things are fine. He loves going out to lunch at the brewery, can strip a rotisserie chicken pretty well, dry dishes if only to stack them on the counter, can take his shower and get dressed while I am at the gym but only if I have laid out his clothes, and is in good spirits most of the time….almost all of the time.

But as you can see I am ready for whatever comes next.

Til later.