Health & Happiness

24 Jul

draw wellIllustrating children’s books is a dream career, but drawing all day every day for months at a time can take a toll on the body.

In my twenty-plus years as an illustrator I’ve experienced an array of ailments, all of which were surprising, inconvenient and painful. Also: completely preventable. If only I had known, people. If only I had known.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Rather than wasting my mistakes, in the spirit of prevention, I thought I’d write a series of posts about illustration health hazards.

Protect Your Money-makers

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If you spend tons of time clicking away at a keyboard, mouse or track pad and your wrist is not at an ergonomically agreeable angle, you may have experienced the tingling and numbness of carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS). Try raising your chair, resting your feet on a box (necessary with higher seat), and buying a mouse pad with an attached wrist support. Not enough? Become ambidextrous! Training my non-dominant hand to perform simple tasks, including most of my non-artistic clicking, helped me out a lot.

Until.

A few years ago I abandoned traditional media and started working digitally. Millions of brushes and effects are now at my disposal, all created with my trusty Apple Pencil – and all created using the same motion. All day, every day.

For months.

Hello, Tendinitis

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Not to be confused with CTS, tendinitis is distinguished by pain. The under-side of the thumb and wrist can feel tender, achy, and over-worked. Bending the hand back sends lightning bolts through the forearm, forcing amateur yogis like me to attempt one-armed downward dogs—a practice fraught with perils of its own.

The symptoms of tendinitis are worse when the sun goes down.  In fact, it was in the middle of the night when I first realized that my hand and wrist—which had been sore for longer than I care to admit—were more than merely tired. I was jolted awake by an innocent mid-sleep stretch which caused not only pain, but also a horrible creaking in my forearm. It was as if the stretchy stuff in there had crumbled like an old rubber band.

Not a good feeling, people. Not good at all.

And you thought illustrating children’s books was all puppies and fairy dust. Ha!

Hello, Stretches

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Luckily, help abounds. Youtube is full of videos that teach many helpful stretches to ease and even cure tendinitis. I found a few stretches that worked so well for me, I made them part of my daily routine. Now, every hour I break for fifteen minutes to stretch my wrist and rest. Bonus: Leaving the desk at regular intervals benefits the demeanour as well as the wrist—and nurtures creativity, too!

Hello, Gloves

Tommie CopperWhen I started complaining about aches and pains in my hands several years ago, my amazing husband sprang into action and bought a pair of Tommie Copper compression gloves. Many experts dismiss the healing properties of copper and magnets and all of that; all I know is, the glove helped. A lot. Maybe it’s just the compression, or the simple fact that wearing a glove helped warm my perpetually ice-cold hand.

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After adopting the glove as my work uniform, I bought some Thinsulate fingerless gloves, and also a pair of frivolous furry ones, but both were failed experiments; warm, sure, but too puffy on the palm-side. The puff and fluff restricted my range of motion, making it impossible to draw. A shame, especially about the furry ones—which seem very “War and Peace” to me. I was really hoping those would have worked, but… nyet.

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When my sleek Tommie Copper gloves went missing for a few weeks last winter I snipped the fingers off a cheap black knit pair, which turned out to be a quality substitute. I still wear my “Oliver Twist” gloves when I’m at my desk during the chilly months. They work great!

Hello, Brace

braceWearing a brace designed to restrict range of motion (rather than designed for compression) has helped me quite a bit, too. Drawing while wearing the brace is impossible, but it’s the perfect way to keep my wrist properly aligned while sleeping.

Hello, Doctor

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In addition to stretching, my doc prescribed OTC anti-inflammatories and recommended using ice-packs before bed. All of this has helped not only my wrist, but also my street cred. Between the fingerless gloves and icepacks on my hands at night, I’m feeling a lot like a boxer. 🙂

If you’re suffering with work-related pain in your hands or wrists, get professional help.  Talk to your doctor, see a physical therapist, and do your prescribed stretches. You’re an artist and you want to keep creating as long as possible. Take good care of those beautiful hands!

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Violet Lemay is not a doctor. Rather, she illustrates and sometimes writes books for children. You can see her work by clicking here.

 

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The Art/Music Connection: Part 2

24 Dec

Part 1: In a Nutshell

Kandinsky writingKandinsky: 1920

Wassily Kandinsky opened the door to abstraction in art by painting music. That’s him in the image above, with his cat Vaske. Read the whole story in duopress’s new book Artists and Their Pets by Susie Hodge with illustrations by Violet Lemay.

Professor Violet: 1998

An art teacher uses music to help her students understand the expressive qualities of LINE.

Scroll to the previous post to read Part 1 in its entirety. 🙂

interlude

Part 2: Art Inspires Music Inspires Art

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Gray: 2017

My teenage son is a talented artist and musician whose taste is almost exclusively classical. Once, as a baby, he danced to The Beach Boys. Video proof is locked in the family vault where it must stay lest I be disowned as a parent.

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Excluding that singular event, Gray has always been an all-classics-all-the-time kind of guy. This year he’s gotten into classical Russian art and music.

In his research, my son stumbled across a cool story involving a collaboration between Russian artists and musicians, resulting in an amazing art prompt.

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Modest Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition

Composer Modest Mussorgsky and artist, architect, and designer Viktor Hartmann were friends who shared a love of Russian art.

After Hartmann died of aneurysm at the young age of 39, Mussorgsky and a group of mutual friends curated a memorial exhibition to celebrate their late comrade’s life.

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Mussorgsky experienced the resulting gallery show as any viewer would, walking from room to room, admiring the 400 or so framed works that adorned the walls. The experience inspired him to compose Pictures at an Exhibition in 1874.

Each of the ten movements of Pictures at an Exhibition expresses emotions experienced by Mussorgsky as he stood before an image created by his late friend Viktor. The interlude expresses his emotions as he walked from one work to the next.

Click here to read a more complete version of the story.

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Professor Gray’s Drawing Prompt

Gray sat me down to listen to Pictures at an Exhibition, at a table stocked with paper and a variety of drawing supplies.

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The prompt: make a drawing in response to the music. Draw whatever pops into your head. Anything at all.

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Gray paused the music between movements, to allow me to finish whatever I had been inspired to draw.

The exercise turned the Russian composer’s experience on it’s head. Mussorgsky composed music in response to visual art. We made visual art in response to his music.

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My professor/son couldn’t wait to compare my drawings to Viktor Hartmann’s. Were they similar? Indeed, it was uncanny how closely my sketches resembled Hartmann’s original works, not only at an emotional level, but also in terms of subject matter. This was particularly interesting since I had never heard of Victor Hartmann, and had no idea what the source images looked like.

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Gray stumbled across a YouTube video that pairs Mussorgsky’s score with the inspirational source images created by Hartmann. Click here to have a look and a listen. As for my drawings, they are sprinkled throughout this blog post.

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The Pictures at an Exhibition drawing prompt is extremely relaxing and fun. I recommend it for any artist who is looking for a break, or for general inspiration. And for the art teachers out there: this assignment would surely keep a class entertained for an entire period, and would be a springboard for a range of important topics. Enjoy! And if you give it a go, snap some photos and send them along… I’d love to see!

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 All best,

Professor Violet

The Art/Music Connection: Part I

16 Sep

gallery girl

I love stories about creative people. Learning the details behind a specific artistic inspiration or collaboration always makes my heart beat a little faster. Yes, I am an art nerd, but I’m not exclusive; tales involving serendipty are also a personal favorite. Lately a story including all of these juicy elements has been unfolding around me. The story is too long for a single blog post, so I’ve broken it in half. Welcome to Part 1.

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Klee, Kandinsky, and Music: 1920

While illustrating Susie Hodge’s new book Artists and Their Pets, I learned a lot of cool art history trivia. For example, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky were friends and colleagues who had a lot in common. Along with their wives—and cats!—they lived at the Bauhaus at the same time.

bauhaus catsKlee’s cat Bimbo and Kandinsky’s cat Vaske used to study each other from across the Bauhaus campus courtyard, looking through their apartment windows.

Paul Klee

Klee and Kandinsky had music in common, too. Klee (shown above) was a violinist. As for Kandinsky (below): he could see music!

Kandinsky

In Artists and Their Pets, Susie Hodge wrote:

Kandinsky had a condition called synesthesia. This meant that he saw colors in his mind when he heard music and other sounds.

Not everyone believes that synesthesia is a thing—but really, does it matter? Kandinsky interpreted sounds on canvas as he saw them in his mind, and his work looks like music. The world owes him a debt of gratitude for opening the door to abstract art. I personally am also grateful to Susie Hodge and duopress, publisher of Artists and Their Pets, for teaching me about Klee, Kandinsky, and the eighteen other artists featured in the book.

Note: this story about Kandinsky’s synesthesia was brand new to me. I just learned it. Seriously.

Professor Violet: 1998

Way back in 1998, I was about to teach my first-ever university art course: 2D Design, a required foundational class. In a nutshell, 2D Design teaches artists how to use color, value, pattern, shape, placement, line, etc. to move the viewer’s eye around a two-dimensional composition, hopefully moving emotions in the process.

Twenty seats were filled with incoming art students who had recently arrived from all over the world. EPSON scanner imageSoon they’d begin dying their hair and piercing body parts, but in those first weeks of the fall term, they looked clean cut and bashful—except for a one or two young goths, who were ahead of the game. 😉

nervousTheir interests ranged from sound design to historic preservation of architecture. Of course, the more typical art majors were also represented: painters, illustrators, fashion and graphic designers, etc. A broad range, some of whom had no interest at all in drawing. Or 2D design. They were there to fulfil a schedule requirement, not because they  were interested in the subject. In fact, some were openly annoyed to be there. And I was completely new to teaching. It was terrifying.

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Imagine a World Without Pinterest

If the internet existed in 1998, I hadn’t found it. Google wasn’t available as a teaching resource. My colleagues were very generous with their lesson plans, but like any creative person, I had some ideas of my own that I wanted to try out. I concocted tons of homework and in-class assignments that term, but I only remember one. And it involved music.

Professor Violet’s Introduction to LINE

LINE

On LINE Day I arrived on campus armed with my husband’s boom box, a stack of CDs, and a giant box of art supplies. The students trickled in to find me organizing an array of line-making tools on the big teaching desk at the front of the classroom. Markers, every imaginable type of charcoal, brushes with pots of ink and tubes of paint, colored pencils, graphite, pastels, etc. were arranged in tidy rows.line-making toolsHanding out sheets of paper, I explained:

We will be listening to music today. Every song will make you feel a certain way. Get a sense of the mood, and then grab a tool and make a line that match the mood. Let the music inspire the line.

For the next several hours the classroom was filled in turns with classical piano, discordant jazz, opera and elevator muzak. Mimi’s aria from La Bohemme raised the industrial ceiling tiles. We listened to Phillip Glass, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ella Fitzgerald, The Talking Heads, Patsy Cline… and interpreted every song by making lines on paper.measure

michaelI was nervous. At first they all just sat there. I paced. But then, little by little, they started drawing. A gentle young sound designer from somewhere in the south—or maybe he was from California—met my eyes with a smile. His name was Michael. He had crazy long curly hair, and antique glasses. “I never knew something as simple as a line could be so expressive,” he said. And my heart melted, and I stopped pacing. Mission accomplished.

Using music as an inspiration for art is a fairly obvious prompt. Probably millions of art teachers have employed a similar technique! I don’t mean to suggest personal greatness in teaching. No way, never. It’s just that this story, which is one of my fondest professorial memories, came to mind when I learned about the bond between Klee, Kandinsky, and music… and as mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is more to this story! When you read the rest, it will all come together.

Stay tuned for Part 2 (spoiler: it involves composer Modest Mussorgsky, my son, and another drawing prompt). In the mean time: Happy reading, happy learning, happy drawing!

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To order a copy of Artists and Their Pets, click here!

Artists and Their Pets was written by Susie Hodge and illustrated by Violet Lemay for duopress in 2017, and is distributed by Workman Publishing.

All illustration in this post was created by me, Violet Lemay. Please do not use without permission. 🙂

 

Artists and Their Pets

18 Aug

Artists-and-Their-Pets

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I’m excited to announce the imminent release of a wonderful new book, Artists and Their Pets—written by Susie Hodge, with illustrations by Yours Truly, Violet Lemay. The book is full of fascinating stories. In light of recent world events, I thought I’d share one in particular.

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Matisse, Picasso, and The Dove of Peace

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Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, two of the twenty artists featured in Artists and Their Pets, had a lot in common. Friends and rivals, they both loved animals and kept pigeons and doves. Toward the end of his life when Matisse was ill, he entrusted Picasso to look after his fancy pet pigeons. Here is a snippet of the story from Artists and Their Pets:

Matisse-sample

There wasn’t room in Artists and Their Pets for this part of the story:

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Picasso’s lithograph “La Colombe” (The Dove)—which was actually a rendering of a pigeon—was used on a poster commemorating the Peace Conference in Paris in 1949. The poster was plastered everywhere, making Picasso’s dove famous, and linking his art with the cause of peace.

Picasso continued drawing doves, stylizing and simplifying the form of the bird as he went.

 

I originally had the pleasure of illustrating Picasso and his doves for Mauricio Velázquez de León’s 2014 picture book 100 Pablo Picassos—a lovely and creative biography of Picasso for small children. Here is a sketch…hands y dove… and a peek at how the whole thing came together.

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In response to the recent terror attack in Barcelona, duopress—publisher of Artists and Their Pets and 100 Pablo Picassos—posted a snapshot of these pages on Instagram today, along with these words: Picasso’s simple drawing of a dove became a symbol of peace in 1945. #picasso would be shocked by the attacks in #barcelona, a city he loved. This image from our book #100pablopicassos is our message of #peace to all the victims of yesterday coward attack and all the citizens of #spain  #love  #noviolence #stopterrorism #nomoreviolence

Well said.

Wishing you all peace, joy, love… and art. ❤

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Click here to pre-order Artists and Their Pets (available everywhere September 15, 2017)

Click here to order 100 Pablo Picassos (available everywhere books are sold)

behind the scenes of “BABIES AROUND THE WORLD”

28 May

Recently, duopress released Babies Around the World — a 20-page board book written by Puck, designed by Beatriz Juarez, and illustrated by moi, Violet Lemay.

We opted for a collage look for the book, which was a fun departure from my watercolor paintbox. A new iPad Pro gave me my first-ever access to digital brushes. Babies Around the World was my pioneer attempt at creating images without using any traditional media… with a few special exceptions!

Working Digitally

After adding an iPad Pro and Apple pencil to my studio, setting up my new digital workspace was easy. All I had to do was purchase and download two genius, easy-to-use tech products:

  1.  Astropad, an app that converts the iPad Pro into a tablet by reflecting your computer monitor
  2. digital brushes from Kyle T. Webster

Setting everything up was easy. I’ve used Photoshop to adjust and manipulate scans of my paintings for eons, so the only new skill I had to acquire was loading brushes. It took me a little while to get used to Astropad and to decide which of Kyle’s plethora of cool brushes to use, but that is to be expected. Both suppliers—Team Astropad and Kyle T. Webster—were super nice and offered great support. (By the way, besides designing brushes for Photoshop, Kyle is also a terrific illustrator. Check out his portfolio here.)

The Few Special Exceptions to My New Digital Process

My son Graham and I have always used his school breaks as opportunities for mother-son artistic collaborations. His work has made its way into several books I’ve illustrated, including NY Dogs, a gift book that I wrote and illustrated for punchline shortly before acquiring the iPad. Graham contributed a hand-drawn map to NY Dogs, for which he is credited in a splashy way at the end of the book (see previous post).

Here is his drawing, and how I incorporated it into NY Dogs.

Last summer, because of his special interest in architecture, I gave Graham the assignment of drawing various structures from the cities featured in Babies Around the World.

Some are quite famous, like the San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid, but others are more obscure… because Graham appreciates buildings that most of us have never heard of. That’s my boy.

Here are some of the drawings that Graham contributed to Babies Around the World, along with the final images so you can see the end result.

Graham is a traditionalist—his drawings are made with Micron pens on printer paper, which I scanned and collaged into my illustrations.

Because Babies Around the World is a board book with very few pages, all of the fine print—including Graham’s credit—is on the back cover.

The Re-Cap

1) Astropad and Kyle T. Webster’s brushes have revolutionized my illustration process, and are aiding my effort to save the planet. Previously I went through at least a ream of paper every time I illustrated a book—as shown in this photo of my file from NY Dogs. #recommend! Click their names above to be redirected to their websites.

2) Working with Graham is simply the best! As I write this post, my son is fifteen years old. We’ve been collaborating since he was six or seven, and I hope we never stop. All this time he’s been wild about buildings, and has been contributing tech drawings of his favorites at a cool website called skyscraperpage.com. He has posted over 4oo buildings to date—check out his drawings by clicking here! But please don’t tell him that I sent you. No inter-family tagging allowed. 🙂

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BATW 3D cover + globe

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Click here to order Babies Around the World, written by Puck and illustrated by Violet Lemay (with a little help from her son Graham… who drew the front cover globe!)

published by duopress / distributed by Workman Publishing / 2017

The Making of NY Dogs

4 Sep

NYDogs_cover w JorgeIn July 2015, I was hit by an idea for a book about dogs in New York City. As an illustrator (and occasional author) of books for little kids, I imagined a picture book for children.

Local Baby coversAfter having illustrated New York Baby, Brooklyn Baby, and a string of other Local Baby titles for duopress, I could see this new project following a similar format. Or, not! I could see it going in other directions, too. But the years I spent working on Local Baby books for duopress helped spark the dog book concept, so I couldn’t wait to share this new idea with them.

duopress loved my canine brainstorm—hooray! THANK YOU, duopress!

But after writing the manuscript, settling on the title BARK NYC or BARK New York, and trying some sample covers, a shocking question entered the conversation: Is this a book for children? Perhaps BARK should be a book for adults?

Behind the scenes duopress, a publisher of innovative books and games for curious children, was busy opening up a subsidiary line of books and games for adults under the name punchline.

punchline

BARK became a punchline project. To break from the original intended audience of kiddos—which had been the focus of my career in recent years (click here to see my portfolio)—we changed our book’s name and cover design. After trying a variety of options, we settled on the title NY Dogs. The final cover is at the top of this post. Below are two of the many options we created during the transition.

bark covers

Besides getting a new title and cover, the content of NY Dogs also had to be re-written, and had to cover 96 rather than 24 pages. Suddenly I was writing for adult New Yorkers, a notoriously tough crowd. Awesome, yes, but the challenge didn’t stop there. With a publisher named punchline, NY Dogs had to be funny. Clever and witty are closer to my wheelhouse. I needed help! Thankfully there are some very smart and extremely funny people in my life. A handful of them got snagged into contributing to NY Dogs. One of these funny folks had no choice, because he is my roommate. And because we’ve been married for 21 years.

Fred Fruisen

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My husband Fred’s funniness is sprinkled through NY Dogs. Finally, his poop jokes have found a broader audience. Congrats, Babe! And… thank you thank you thank you.

Fred Fruisen is a PGA teaching pro and a golf humorist. His first book, 50 Reasons to Hate Golf and Why You Should Never Stop Playing, will be released in May, 2017. Check out Fred’s blog, and like the 50 Reasons to Hate Golf facebook page to follow his progress. I am so pleased and happy for him.

:0)

Doreen Chila-Jones

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And of course: my friend Doreen! A former Broadway performer and current stay-at-home mom/freelance writer, Doreen Chila-Jones is one of the funniest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Because of her close ties to NYC and love of all creatures—at last count her menagerie included two dogs, a cat, and a pair of guinea pigs—she was the perfect co-conspirator for NY Dogs. 

Doreen is always busy with writing projects, and she keeps a blog about the joys and challenges of raising teens with some very special needs. Her family’s story is amazing. Follow her!

Julia Jones

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 9.01.09 AMDoreen is the wife of my college bestie Julia Jones, who is also hilarious. These two are the power couple of Funny, and they are both very talented writers.

Although the demands of Julia’s Broadway stage management career prevented her from becoming an official contributor to NY Dogs, and her humility prevented her from allowing us to credit her at the back of the book along with Fred and Doreen, Julia provided guidance along the way. Follow her wonderful blog five plus banana splits to find out “what happens when experience of the theater crosses with children.”

 

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I had some help with one of the visuals in NY Dogs as well, but my studio assistant would scowl at me over the rims of his glasses at dinner tonight if I wrote his name on the internet—so you’ll have to buy your own copy of NY Dogs and read the credits at the end to learn his identity.

THANK YOU to the entire team, including our many fabulous Facebook fans who submitted photos of their furry best friends. We included every single one of their adorable faces in NY Dogs.

Like our Facebook page to follow along!

And click here to order your copy of NY Dogs (punchline/2016) today!

[Brooklyn] Baby Landon

14 Jun

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Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, NY is a book lover’s dream. The entire upper floor is devoted to children’s books, and the incredible staff is devoted to children and their parents. Events for kids—planned with excellence by the ever lovely and hospitable Rachel Person—are always happening at Northshire.

Because my family lives nearby, I am considered local artist. Northshire has been extremely gracious, inviting me to participate in some very cool kid-friendly events celebrating independent bookstores, and also events designed to promote specific books I have written and/or illustrated for duopress. One little guy and his amazing mom have tied all of these experiences together for me in a manner that can only be described as uncanny.

w Michele & LandonWhile signing copies of Isabella’s Shoe Studio at a Northshire event in January 2014, I was entranced by the little red-headed sweetie pie shown in the photo above—and by his beautiful mom! I made a mental note of her cool, arty look as she handed her baby across the table to me. I got to hold him for a few minutes. What a sweet, pensive little bundle. In my imagination I was reliving my now teen-age, still carrot-topped son’s precious babyhood. (For a glimpse of my son Gray’s road-cone orange locks, see the post just before this one.)

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At the time I was in the middle of a new illustration project, Brooklyn Baby. While drawing characters for the busy farmer’s market scene shown here, the little red-headed baby and his mom from Northshire came to mind. I put them at the pickle stand. Purple hair didn’t seem inappropriate for Mom, and I am Violet after all—so I painted her with purple hair. This image is one of my all-time faves, in large part because of these two characters. Written by Lisa McKeon for duopress, Brooklyn Baby was released in the fall of 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 7.58.34 AMFast forward to May 2, 2015. Northshire invited me to read from my favorite Dr. Seuss books at an in-store event celebrating independent bookstores. While reading aloud from Oh, The Places You’ll Go, I noticed a red-headed toddler in the crowd, sitting with his very stylish blonde grandmother. Later, these two were joined by the toddler’s mother—whose hair was a glorious shade of violet—and who was carrying a new baby. I recognized the family and approached them while frantically scrolling through Facebook photos on my phone, searching for the farmer’s market scene from Brooklyn Baby. The mom and I peered at the image together on the tiny screen, both of us amazed at the connection between us. In my mind, this was the penultimate Sisterhood Moment—two artistic women, strangers connected by motherhood, a love of children’s books, and hair color. As they disappeared into the stacks on the other side of the store, I instantly regretted not having exchanged contact information.

Yesterday (June 13, 2015) Northshire hosted an event for my latest duopress illustration project, 100 PABLO PICASSOS (written by Mauricio Velázquez de León). My family is moving to New Zealand at the end of June, so this event was especially poignant for me as I knew it would be my last one in Saratoga Springs.

Northsire TODAY

Families filtered in as we kicked off the event with a game of Picasso bingo. I was delighted when my eye caught glimpses of red and lavender hair in the small crowd. They had come! This time we had a change to chat for a few minutes, and I made sure to jot down names—and get permission to share this story!

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Class, meet Michele Sperber, the mystery-mom (whose violet hair is now a softer shade of lavender) and her little red-head Landon—who is now a big brother! This photo was taken by Marilyn, Michele’s beautiful, charming mother-in-law. My only regret at this point is that I didn’t get a photo with Marilyn!

Soon I’ll write a post about all of the events we’ve done to promote 100 PABLO PICASSOS. Several incredible local shops have hosted events for me, and the best part about that has been the people; in particular, the hostesses who made it all happen. But for today I wanted to share this odd little story, because stuff like this makes life interesting and beautiful. What a gift.

Hoping you all enjoy your serendipitous moments,

Professor V

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100PP outlined cover100 PABLO PICASSOS (written by Mauricio Velázquez de León/illustrated by Violet Lemay) is available Northshire Bookstore Saratoga, and at bookstores everywhere. Click here to order your copy today!