I love color and I love to paint – white walls are like primed canvases ready to take color. Just give me a good angled cut brush.
My second job ever was on a crew of house painters. We were two men, two women. We got the job done but the women of the household appreciated us girls taking the time to put down the drop cloth, wipe up any little splatters and take extra care in their homes. I became a pretty neat painter.
Today, as I painted the pink over aqua, I thought of my mom allowing us to paint our bedrooms any color we wanted. My sisters chose red, white and blue because that was just cool then. I chose avocado green for the walls and bright yellow furniture to match my pop art daisy comforter. “It’s just paint,” my mom said as we beamed with the freedom of our creativity. I also thought how this very room had once housed my oldest son, and then my daughter and even my youngest son at one point in the house’s life, and now it was being painted pink for my granddaughter. The doors are accents in lavender and sky blue. I’ve got the first coats on and can now see the wood trim painted in bright glossy white like icing on this candy colored room. Oh, the stories the bones of this house could tell through layers of colors!
And…check out the walls that I helped paint at our local Food Co-op !
When we hear words are we all seeing
the same picture?
I remember this Magritte
painting from the cover of John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”, a mandatory reading assignment
for art students. This painting from his Key of Dreams series displays simple
flash card type image word pairs. They appear to be accurate, yet they are all
wrong –except for the lower right corner. The displacement is the whole point.
“What one must paint is the
image of resemblance—if thought is to become visible in the world.“
The paintings represent
objects that are part of our common visual culture. He violates our earliest learning
of recognizable words and pictures; A is for apple, B is for bear. Which brings
the question. Do we all make the same universal associations?
What if we are from
As an illustrator I wonder how I can illustrate ideas and
associations from someone else’s culture? I need a key in my lower right corner
to guide me to the right answer.
Images symbolize concepts.
Usually the simplest stylized version is effective because we all can recognize
it. The symbol of a house as “home” has become an accepted symbol to guide you back
to your “home” page on a website. But does that make sense in every culture? Does
every culture have its own way of representing objects and ideas and images as
concepts? A simple picture of a house can symbolize home (where you live) but
does it say “navigation to the main page” or have we just become accustomed to
The word illustrate comes from
the Latin illustrare ‘to light up or
enlighten. To illustrate is to explain or make
something clear by using pictures. It is also to show the meaning or truth of
something more clearly by using pictures. My goal in
illustrating a story is to add or enhance it in some way. My task of illustrating an idea or concept starts with a visual image
that arises from words. The picture may be clear in my mind’s eye but in the
translation between thought and the action of drawing many surprising things can
happen. Sometimes I end up with nothing at all like I’d imagined and beautiful
directions were discovered along the way. When you bring words to life through
imagery it is a form of magic.
Some have the gift of words that are driven by
imagery – good writing is usually full of visual ques. But a word can mean
different things to different people. When you are translating someone else’s
words you might not conjure up the same image. Hopefully this is a good and
surprising thing – but sometimes not. A friend of mine, an author once had a
story interpreted by an illustrator with a different gender. The story works
both ways but it was not as imagined or visualized in the writer’s eye.
As an author I write with images. Because I am
also an illustrator it would be hard to turn over my words to someone else’s
pictures. It is this thought that drives me to succeed at the task set before
me – to take great care of the author’s words and to find ways of seeing with
another person’s eyes and thousands of years of a whole other culture riding
behind it. I have to get it right.
With the release of my latest book Treasure, I think back on the inspiration for this story. There was the little girl in Seattle who left food for a neighborhood crow and in return the crow left her tiny gifts. But the true inspiration began long ago with a small broken crystal, a tiny tear of glass that held so many rainbows. It was a thing of beauty, a small piece of magic that I squirreled away like buried treasure. It broke off of a chandelier that hung over the fancy dining room table where we only ate Thanksgiving and birthday dinners.
I keep that crystal and other treasures on the windowsill over the sink in a lumpy pottery bowl made with love by my son. I’ve never owned a dishwasher, but often pined for one as I washed the dishes. Gazing out the kitchen window, the suds caressing my hands, slowly the hot water transported me to another time and place. While hands do the work, the mind is free to play.
Looking at the crystal, I hear my mother say, don’t fiddle with the chandelier, and please put the dishes in the dishwasher. From inside the bowl are the the weary voices of Guatemalan dolls that keep your troubles. A piece of blue glass worn smooth by the sea calls me back to the waves, back to the place where we play in the water.
Why do we keep these things? They are reminders of how and where we got them, they are time travelers to embody a time and a place, and keep the memories for us.
Here are some of the items I
found as trinkets for treasure, but they didn’t make it into the book. Button
tins and sewing drawers are great sources of treasure as well as jewelry boxes.
Do you recognize any of these items?
HOW RAVEN GOT HIS CROOKED NOSE is an ALSC Notable!
year a committee of the Association for Library Service to Children
(ALSC) identifies the best of the best in children’s
books. According to the Notables Criteria, “notable” is defined as:
Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As
applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books
of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit
venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and
pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and
encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.
Jacqueline Woodson, novelist, poet,
and the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature quotes, “I definitely believe that reading can change us and shape us in so many ways, and through it we can be exposed to people and places and ideas that we might not otherwise come across or confront in real life. A platform about the importance of reading and having conversations across the lines of books is really important to me.”
“…the book’s creators have accomplished no easy task – a modern retelling of a traditional Dena’ina Athabascan tale that honors the story and makes it accessible to children both within and outside of the culture it comes from.
How Raven Got His Crooked Nose is a teaching tale, as well as a story-within-a-story. Scenes with a modern day Dena’ina Grandmother and Granddaughter working at typical subsistence activies (berry picking, harvesting salmon) alternate withe sudku, or story, of how Raven’s nose became crooked. Artistic style and color palette help clarify the two. Dwyer’s illustrations skillfully weave back and forth between the Raven tale and the contemporary storytelling setting.”