It’s the season for wishes of hope, faith, joy and peace; all of which we need in abundance this year. Taking time to prepare for the holidays makes us think of and take time for others, our family, friends, colleagues, community. A small act of giving sends a clear message that the receiver of the gift is valued, his/her friendship, affection, and or efforts are recognized.
It’s also the time of year when we should think of our fellow humans as Marley warns in Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol. Marley enters Scrooge’s bedroom dragging a heavy chain made up of cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” He tells his one-time friend and partner.
What would the world be like if these sentiments were in all of our hearts the year ’round?
I wish I could see such a world. Right now I’ve only seen glimpses of it, but when I do it always gives me hope.
Recently, I saw one in my nephew’s initiative to emulate the “In America, How Could This Happen” display created by D.C. artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg. The display created by Ms. Firstenberg was that of over 200,000 white flags representing the lives lost to COVID-19 that were placed in the D.C. Armory Parade Ground Southeast.
My nephew Jack chose to use American flags to honor and recognize Nassau County NY residents who have died due to COVID-19. His grandfather, Tom Kaiser was among those memorialized in the Bayville display. Jack took up this idea to emulate Ms. Firstenberg’s display because in his words,”It was nice to see that someone could do something that great to make people feel better and show that there was support for them. I thought that would be a great idea to do up here.”
Thank you Jack and to all whose actions manifest hope, faith, joy and peace.
It’s the week before break and students in school, at home and remote, are counting down days while parents and teachers are adding up bills and carefully stacking the packages that were left on their porches.
Concentrating on work, no matter the kind, is hard this time of year as we’re all looking forward to holiday cheer. It happens like clockwork year after year, but this last month of 2020, considering all we’ve been through, the ante’s been upped. It’s in our own best interest to do all that we can do to sleigh ride into break while working toward achieving our children’s/students’ educational goals and objectives that still need to be met.
In school, I saw the transformation begin last week. Suddenly the activities that used to hold my students’ attention just couldn’t compete.
This week I’m going to haul out the holly, deck the halls, turn on the brightest strings of lights, hang some tinsel as Jerry Herman’s lyrics to the song We Need a Little Christmas, so aptly recommend. In other words, if I can’t beat ’em I’ll join ’em. It’ll be much more fun in the end.
So, if you’re homeschooling, or teaching whether remote or in person during this holiday season, I’d definitely suggest working in some holiday fun to whatever you’re trying to convey. I think you’ll be surprised how easy it is to fold it in once you give into it. The pay off in your children’s/students’ attention to task may be at least five if not ten-fold, of course nothing is fool proof. There will still be good days and not so good days. But by giving into the magic of the holidays you might just reduce some holiday stress while helping your child/student learn, and that’s what I’d consider a win-win.
Wishing you tidings of good cheer, happy holidays, and a way better new year,
Jennifer Ball and I are excited to announce our newest book about Cleopatra W. Darby, Cleo’s Big Ideas: Onward and Upwards! published by Eifrig Publishing. Jennifer and I would like to offer a signed copy to two lucky winners. All you have to do to enter our giveaway is to leave a comment at the end of this blog, reblog, tweet, or share on Facebook/Instagram with a link.
Each time you share on any or all of these platforms you gain an additional chance to win. Let us know how and where you share, so we place the right amount of tickets into Cleo’s hat for you. All entries must be submitted by 11:59 PM EST on Friday, September 25, 2020. The drawing will be held on Saturday, September 26th. Winners will be posted on Monday, September 28, 2020.
Sharing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and reblogging are great ways to help to spread the word for a new book. Jennifer and I appreciate all the help you can offer!
In Cleo’s Big Ideas: Onward and Upwards!, it’s back to school time for Cleo and her friends, Albert and Sara. Cleo is less than excited about it. She wanted Winston, her pet tortoise, to go to school with her, but without his E. E. W. (Eco-Enviro-Warmer) in working order he’ll have to stay home. And what’s worse, Cleo’s found out that Ms. Mason (who’s never liked any one of Cleo’s big ideas) is going to be her teacher for this term. The only thing good about being in Ms. Mason’s class is that Sara is in the same class.
When Ms. Mason announces a contest for school mascot, Cleo’s begins to feel things might get better. Winston is a shoe-in to win, so Cleo thinks, though he’s up against some tough competition: Kim’s Persian kitten, Tiffany and Emmies’ hamster, King Richard.
But all thoughts of the contest are put on hold when, Albert, who has been tracking space junk on NASA TV, announces that he’s spotted incoming junk headed straight for Humble Elementary.
Even though a group of scientists from NASA have set up a space junk deflector base right in Humble Elementary, Cleo, Albert and Sara figure it’s a good idea to have a plan B, so they put their heads and inventions together and create Winston II, a rocketing robotic recycler. Will their plan B be needed? Will Winston II work?
“Zowie!” says Cleo. “Read the book to find out!”
Between chapters there’s fun DIY activities like making your own owl spectacles, creating a binary birthday bracelet and more . . .
When the day doesn’t just take over, when your mind can wander over things you need to consider but have pushed aside for one reason or another, do you know where you’re going?
Do you contemplate your future path? Your present? Your past?
In the movie Moonstruck, Rose Castorini asks her husband, “Where you been?” Cosmo answers. “I don’t know, Rose. I don’t know where I’ve been or where I’m going. All right?”
I can relate. I think we all can, especially this year.
In Finding Nemo Dory says, “Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming.” Because of a short-term memory loss Dory doesn’t know where she’s been, but she knows she has a place she’s working toward getting to; every day she works towards getting closer and closer until eventually she gets to where she’s meant to be.
Another great line from Moonstruck occurs when Loretta goes to confession and the priest tells her with great expression,”Reflect on your life Loretta.” This made me think of the popular poem by Robert Frost.
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Frost’s poem can seem to be about the need to choose a path that different, perhaps better, from another but that’s not the point of view of the poet as he writes, And both that morning equally lay, In leaves no step had trodden black. Frost, right there, tells us that one path was just as good as the other.
It’s all up to you; follow the path that best suits. As Frost says, way leads on to way, which to me echoes Dory. “Swimming, swimming, just keep swimming.”
Jennifer Ball is an illustrator based in New York. The first book she illustrated, Cleo’s Big Ideas: One Thing Leads to Another, was published by Eifrig Publishing https://www.eifrigpublishing.com/in 2016. She has gone on to publish her second book about Cleo with Eifrig this year.
You did a fantastic job creating the characters and art for Cleo’s Big Ideas. Would you share your process?
Whenever I’m creating a character, I think about the characters’ personality and how that type of person/animal/object would probably choose to wear his/her/it’s hair and what type of clothing they would choose to wear, etc. For Cleo, since she was named after Cleopatra, I definitely wanted to incorporate some form of the choppy bob of the Egyptian queen. I then researched famous female scientists, and found many had some form of curly, slightly unkempt hair, like they were focusing more of their energy on their work then their outward appearance, hence this is how Cleo’s messy bob was born. Since she came from a more urban environment, I decided to have a slightly more eclectic, fashion forward style with the thigh high chucks (I LOVE Converse sneakers!) and blue cat eye glasses. The denim vest was my version of a modern/hip lab coat. The tie was to offset the fedora and a more “stereotypically male” clothing item. Funny note: the plus and division signs in her glasses came from the King of the Nerds reality competition show. One of the contestants had them and I thought that would be amazing for a STEM character like Cleo. For Albert, his look was based on a good friend from elementary school who always wore sneakers that seemed too big for his body and a messy bowl/crop cut. Ms Mason was based off this bitter art teacher I had in elementary school that always scowled which was emphasized by her bright red lipstick. Her only redeeming quality was her awesome chunky dangling earrings, all which was incorporated into Ms. Mason’s image. Winston II is inspired by metal trash cans, you know the kind that Oscar the Grouch lived in. Everyone else are composites of people I’ve either seen on the street, in the doctor’s office, supermarket, etc…have a photographic memory for faces.
What inspired you to seek a degree in art?
I’ve had a love of art since a very young age, probably because my dad went to school for art as well and I used to love going into his office and going through his library of art books and comic books looking at all the pictures. First I wanted to be a creature creator for Jim Henson, then an animator for Disney and finally landed on Graphic Design because my practical high school self knew that if I wanted to peruse either fine art or illustration professionally that I needed stellar marketing materials and if I could do my own, I’d save on overhead costs.
Where did you go for your degree(s)?
I earned my BFA in Visual Communication Design from the Hartford Art School in Connecticut.
What type of work did you do after college?
I was one of the lucky few to get work almost right out of college, worked at a department store for literally like 2 or 3 weeks before I got the call to design marketing materials for a fashion eyewear company. It was a good thing too, because I was horrible at the cash register – literally pretended every day was my first day because I was that bad! After the eyewear company, I worked for a food company for several years on all different things like logo design, menu design, event graphics, vehicle graphics, packaging, outdoor signage, food packaging…basically if it could be designed I did it lol. All this time I was working on my art every evening, every lunch break, basically any free time I had I was creating. I’ve since left that food company and have been freelancing and focusing even more intently on my art.
Did you take any children’s illustration courses?
I did take an intro to illustration course, but I kept getting really vague comments from the professor on my work like “cute” and “fun”. I was like “what does that even mean????!!!!” so after that I didn’t take another illustration course, but I did take a ton of painting courses on top of my design courses and most of my friends/roommates were illustration majors and I gleaned a ton of tips and tricks from them.
What would you say is your style?
That’s always tough, but I guess I’d say comic book quirk with a tinge of texture and sarcasm.
What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?
The first time I created a piece of art for money was in 8th grade. I painted rocks like animals and sold them to my friends and classmates for money. I think the first rock was either painted like a panda or a tortoise, can’t remember which.
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?
I had always wavered back and forth between wanting to create fine art or illustrating. It was finally one day in May of either 2009 or 2010 that I was at this crossroads trying to decide weather I should keep perusing selling my paintings or go in a different direction. So I went to an artist networking event at the Art League of Long Island and met my illustration mentor Deborah Cuneo who said I should “try children’s book illustration, you should come check out this professional group I’m a member of” and the rest is history…turned to illustration and never looked back.
What was the first book you illustrated?
The first book I illustrated professionally for an actual publisher was the first book in the Cleo’s Big Ideas series – “Cleo’s Big Ideas: One Thing Leads to Another”
How did that project come about?
Well, I’m not sure if you remember this, but you had done a reading of the first chapter in a Long Island Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators editor’s critique meeting and I fell in love with the character and I came over to you (I think I may have given you my card) and let you know that if the book ever went into publication that I’d love to be suggested by you to illustrate, the book got picked up by Eifrig, you suggested me as the illustrator and the rest is history.
How long have you been illustrating?
I’ve been illustrating for approximately 10 years
Do you have a special space where you work?
I have a desk in a corner of my basement that looks out through a huge egress window. It’s nice because since it’s the size of a normal window I get tons of natural light and a window out into the “wild kingdom’ of our backyard…I’ve seen cardinals take worms right out of the ground, moles trying to dig tunnels through the snow during a snowstorm and even a black cat stealing a pork chop right out of our garbage pail at night.
What is your favorite medium?
I love the digital media because of the freedom to move and edit things a little more than traditional media…sometimes I’d be working on a drawing and see that something was a little off and wished I could change it’s scale, angle etc. using my hands, with my iPad, I can do just that.
What materials or tools do you use to create your work?
I have a completely digital workspace. I’m constantly toggling back and forth between Procreate and Adobe draw on my iPad for my linework, texture and shading and then assembling and finishing the piece off in Adobe Photoshop and illustrator on my Mac. I’m constantly changing back and forth between the apple pencil and my Wacom tablet, so much so that I literally loose both every day.
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
I had a painting professor in college who said that you should “try to do a little creating each day and that if you stop for a day or two and don’t have an itch/longing to create then being a professional artist isn’t for you”. So I try to stick to that mantra. Being an artist and a mother of two, I have to stay disciplined in carving out time for myself to create. Right now, I’ve been planning my work schedule around when both girls are sleeping or at daycare. So I do an hour or two in the morning before they get up, an hour or two while the baby is sleeping if my daughter is at daycare/school and then several hours at night.
What are some of your career dreams that you want to fulfill?
I would love to write and illustrate my own children’s book. I’m currently working on several manuscripts that I’m hoping to start submitting soon. I’d also love to create my own stationary or fabric collections…been building a portfolio to sell art in those markets as well.
What are you working on now?
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic several of the projects I was slotted to work on were scrapped, so I’ve been using this down time to focus on honing my craft, updating my portfolio and polishing my manuscripts for submission.
Thank you Jen, for sharing your creative journey with us and for making Cleo and her cast of characters come to life via your artwork! I’m so glad we met that day!