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Really Happy, Baby!

9 Oct

With the help of a group of enthusiastic little readers, Parents Magazine has chosen TummyTime™: Happy Baby as #4 in their list of the 30 Best Books of 2019. How awesome is that?

duopress rolled out their new TummyTime™ concept to the world only a few weeks ago by way of two books: Animal Parade (illustrated by Jannie Ho) and Happy Baby (illustrated by Violet Lemay), and the books are already getting noticed. Hooray!

What’s not to love? TummyTime™ books fold out, accordian-style, into play mats. The fronts are covered with full color art; flip them over for high-contrast patterns, ideal for baby’s developing eyesight. Both sides have a reflective surface to make tummy time even more fun.

Thanks to Parents, the little readers (and their parents!), and author Karen Cicero for selecting us as #4 in their list of the 30 best children’s books of 2019.

Click here to see more samples from TummyTime™: Happy Baby on my website.

Click here to order your copy of TummyTime™: Happy Baby today!

The Story Behind “The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book”

9 Oct

obama cover w white dress

Finding the Format

The Essential Backstory

100 Pablo Picassos.

In 2014 I had the pleasure of illustrating 100 Pablo Picassos. Author Mauricio Velázquez de León cooked up the delicious idea for this interactive biography which invites kids to find one hundred instances of Picasso peppered throughout a fanciful 32-page book, resplendent with Picasso-inspired art.

cubism spread

Since then I have moved to New Zealand, voted for Hillary (from abroad! yes!), and have illustrated many other books, but One Hundred Pablo Picassos has always stayed with me. It helps that it’s been translated into several languages and was included in an exhibit at Korea’s Museum of Kids’ Books and Art.

The Lightning Bolt Moment

One quiet morning in April 2018, after listening to month after month of depressing political shenanigans from the US, I was remembering the hope and pride I used to feel when watching the news during the Obama years.

President Obama was a role model, admired and respected globally. The current holder of the office? Not so much. Nostalgia washed over me and I thought, we should make a book. We should make 100 Barack Obamas.

Mauricio loved the idea of an Obama book for kids, but didn’t think the “100” concept would work. We had included self-portraits in 100 Pablo Picassos‘ overall count, which was very clever and added spice to the “find this guy one hundred times” concept.

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The self-portraits were an essential ingredient that could only be included for a visual artist. Mauricio also pointed out that Picasso’s entire life was perhaps a bit more colorful than that that of anyone who gives speeches for a living.

Yep. Fair enough.

More importantly, we wanted to include Michelle as an equal partner, and the girls.

tiny ObamasWe considered the title 100 Obamas (instead of 100 Barack Obamas) but I was the only one who could visualize the resulting book. In my imagination it looked incredible, but sketching the whole thing in an attempt to sell the idea would have been such a giant time commitment that I wimped out immediately. Time to switch gears.

After researching popular kidlit biographies and the Obamas, I wrote three or four manuscripts (okay, six) of varying lengths, targeting different audiences with different types of books. Don’t be fooled: this took some quality time.

first Obama sketch

one of the first sketches made for The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book

Ultimately we settled on the most concise manuscript, which utilized the device of flaps to make the book interactive.

Finding the Look

The Technique

Next decision: How should the art look?

After getting a concept approved for The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book, I tried out several techniques and presented them to the publisher. Simple flat color? Or my usual use of textures and patterns with minimal rendering? Or… how about adding paint texture? Using, like, real paint?

paints

We liked all of the choices but—of course—settled on the paint option, which was by far the most challenging. And time-consuming.

In case you’re wondering, writing and illustrating a book about Barack and Michelle Obama was, for me, incredibly intimidating. My artistic desires for this book outweighed my abilities. Thankfully, art director Tyler Garrison was there. Tyler’s guidance was invaluable. Never underestimate the value of good art direction. Can I get an Amen?

The Design

Speaking of trying out options, I also submitted a buffet of flap designs for every single spread. So. Many. Sketches. I will be forever grateful to duopress for their patience with my monkey brain.

early Obamas sketch_HOPE

one of the unused layout options for “The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book”

Finding the Book!

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.The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book was released on Oct. 1, 2019 by duopress and is available everywhere books are sold, thanks to distribution by Workman Publishing.

Click here to see more samples from The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book on my website.

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Click here to order your copy today!

Artists and Their Pets

18 Aug

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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:

peace dove*

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)

[Brooklyn] Baby Landon

14 Jun

w baby Landon

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.

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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!

w Michele

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!

Go APE for Art!

23 Feb

APE

Recently I was honored to be included in a local small works show sponsored by Glens Falls NY’s  Art In The Public Eye (APE).

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Art In The Public Eye is a not-for-profit group whose mission “is to cultivate a partnership between the area arts community and local businesses, to promote established and emerging artists and local commerce, and to create greater access to the arts through cultural activities and public exhibitions.”

Gallery 99 is kind of a guerilla art exhibit, occupying a different vacant storefront in Glens Falls every year. The event was headed up by the super-team of Liz Wilcox and Jennifer Kraft, APE’s executive director and director of marketing. These dynamic women co-own Samantha’s Cafe and Catering. (By the way, for you foodies out there: In my experience, Samantha’s is Glens Falls’ most highly recommended restaurant, with good reason. Standard Glens Falls greeting = “Nice to meetcha! Been to Samantha’s yet?” <– well-deserved!

I met Liz and her adorable daughter Daphne at an Isabella’s Shoe Studio promo event at Sketch Design Lounge in Glens Falls a few months ago (click here to read more about that).

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Photo by PJN Photography

Soon after, Liz invited me to Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, 2013’s APE fund raising auction /costume party, whose theme this year was vintage circus—fun!

Later, Ms. Wilcox invited me to participate in Gallery 99. Despite an over-busy schedule I was able to take part, because I had painted a series of shoes for the event at Sketch, and they were just begging to be shown again—in a box, ready to go. All I had to do was to drop them off.

spectator

guitarThe Gallery 99 show included a broad variety of art—paintings, jewelry, hats, batik scarves… even a cigar box guitar and matching amp! Many of the artists rent space in Glens Falls’s Shirt Factory—definitely worth a day trip, if you’re in the area.

All participants helped out, volunteering a few hours manning the gallery. Our schedules overlapped, giving us all a chance to chat and get to know one another. Spectacular people, each and every one.

Glens Falls has got it going on, Class. I hope you all can come visit some day.

Meanwhile, *like* APE’s Facebook fan page.

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Like the shoe paintings? A few are available for sale as greting cards at my store on Zazzle.com. Click here to check it out.

SKETCH!

15 Nov

SKETCH sign

Recently I had the pleasure of co-hosting a party at SKETCH design lounge in Glens Falls, NY to promote Isabella’s Shoe Studio (duopress/2013), a Doodle Storybook™ which I wrote and illustrated.

bw groupShop owner Rianna Hogan-Cerro did most of the heavy lifting, advertising in the local paper, and ordering cupcakes, books and art supplies. Together we concocted the following fun activities for the party-goers:

Felt City Wall

city wall 2

Let’s face it—Isabella’s Shoe Studio is (unintentionally) a bit gender-biased toward the pink end of the spectrum. We certainly didn’t want to exclude boys from the fun! I suggested putting paper on the wall so that everyone could work together to draw a city mural, an idea that was no doubt influenced by the many Doodle books I have illustrated for duopress. Rhianna took that idea and made it a million times better by suggesting that everyone draw with washable markers on pre-cut pieces of felt. As the pictures clearly show, she is a genius.

Felt Shoe Wall

baby lily shoe wall

This was all Rhianna’s idea—a little something in felt, for our tiniest guests. Kind of like shoe colorforms, for the wall.

Isabella Paper Dolls

paper doll in colorI cut out free-standing paper dolls for all of the girls (bonus: they looked adorable standing on the craft table before the party started), and printed activity sheets featuring a variety of outfits for everyone to color and cut out for the dolls. The girls were instructed to design shoes to go with each outfit, and were given examples to get their creative juices flowing.

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Shoe-Design Worksheets

shoe pageRhianna and I each created activity sheets to get everyone designing shoes. On the advice of my friend Jodie Fitz, I added a written activity, asking participants to draw their favorite shoes and then explain their affinity for those particular shoes: Were they a gift? Hand-me-downs from someone you love? Have you worn them somewhere special? Or do you love them just because they are beautiful?

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Illustration Demonstration

As everyone was drawing and gluing glitter and eating cupcakes and generally having a fantastic time (the place was slam-packed!), I started chatting with some of the girls at the activity table. The teacher in me r-e-a-l-l-y wanted to help them with their shoe drawings, so,  I stood at my easel. With my Pentel pen-brush and soft vine charcoal, I began drawing the shoes that they were wearing, and then began drawing each of the girls, as if they were characters in Isabella’s Shoe Studio.

In between drawings we took book-signing breaks.

signing with Viv

In short, the party was an amazing success.

One of the moms sent me a note the next day:

I was at the party today at Sketch and wanted to thank you again for such a wonderful time! You were kind, gracious and attentive to each of the children. We will promptly be framing the drawings you did for us… She is very honored.

My very best regards,

Liz Wilcox

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Violet Lemay tailors events for schools, libraries, and bookstores. To check availability, send her a note.

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SKETCH is an amazing place! Rhianna teaches sewing and drawing classes, and also hosts parties and sells a variety of incredible inspirational books. If you’re ever in the Glens Falls area, you have to stop by! Meanwhile, click here to follow SKETCH on Facebook.

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Thanks to Rhianna, my husband Fred, and my friend Laura Conklin for all of the photos in this post.