Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Another Letter from Father Christmas

In time for Christmas Eve here is another letter from J.R.R. Tolkien's book Letters from Father Christmas.  This is one of my favorites so I had to share.  That Great North Polar Bear is at it again....poor Father Christmas.  Enjoy and pass along for others to enjoy on this Christmas Eve:)

Cliff House, Top of the World, Near the North Pole
Monday December 20th 1926

My dear boys, 
I am more shaky than usual this year.  The North Polar Bear's fault!  It was the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there ever has been.  It turned the North Pole BLACK and shook all the stars out of place, broke the moon into four - and the Man in it fell into my back garden.  He ate quite a lot of my Christmas chocolates before he said he felt better and climbed back to mend it and get the stars tidy.

Then I found out that the reindeer had broken loose.  They were running all over the country, breaking reins and ropes and tossing presents up in the air.  They were all packed up to start, you see - yes it only happened this morning: it was a sleigh load of chocolate things, which I always send to England early.  I hope yours are not badly damaged.

But isn't the North Polar Bear silly?  And he is't a bit sorry!  Of course he did it - you remember I had to move last year because of him?  The tap for tuning on the Rory Bory Aylis fireworks is still in the cellar of my old house.  The North Polar Bear knew he must never, never touch it.  I only let it off on special days like Christmas.  He says he thought it was cut off since we moved.

Anyway, he was nosing around the ruins this morning soon after breakfast (he hides things to eat there) and turned on all the Northern Lights for two years in one go.  You have never heard or seen anything like it.  I have tried to draw a picture of it; but I am too shaky to do it properly and you can't paint fizzing light can you?

I think the Polar Bear has spoilt the picture rather - of course he can't draw with those great fat paws 

Rude!  I can - and write without shaking.

by going and putting a bit of his own about me chasing the reindeer and him laughing.  He did laugh too.  So did I when I saw him trying to draw reindeer and inking his nice white paws. 

Father Christmas had to hurry away and leave me to finish.  He is old and gets worried when funny things happen.  You would have laughed too! I think it is good of me laughing.  It was a lovely firework.  The reindeer will run quick to England this year.  They are still frightened!...
I must go and help pack.  I don't know what Father Christmas would do without me.  He always forgets what a lot of packing I do for him...

The Snow Man is addressing our envelopes this year.  He is Father Christmas's gardner - but we don't get much but snowdrops and frost-ferns to grow here.  He always writes in white, just with his finger...

A merry Christmas to you from North Polar Bear

And love from Father Christmas to you all.


Merry Christmas from me too!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Letters from Father Christmas

Today I want to share with you a treasure that my sister introduced me to.  It's a book called Letters From Father Christmas and it's written by J.R.R.Tolkien. Yes, the same Tolkien who wrote The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion.  But what you need to know about this book is that is was never written for the general public.  These are letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his own children, John, Michael, Christopher and Priscilla, from Father Christmas for them to find on Christmas morning!  They start in 1920 and go through to 1943 and they contain the stories, tales and hilarious antics that happen at the North Pole in preparation for Christmas.  The letters are written by Tolkien in a shaky handwriting and are accompanied by the most endearing illustrations.  They are all done in ink, and I am assuming given the time in history that these were written, it is fountain pen ink.  He has them so beautifully detailed and they compliment his letters perfectly.  He truly was a storyteller, both in writing and in picture.

Here is Father Christmas and his house.  Can you imagine receiving a letter from Father Christmas when you are 3 years old and he includes a hand drawn picture of him and his house?  It must have been so magical for his children.

He also hand lettered each envelope and created his own stamps for them.  Here is a sample of some of the stamps.

I wanted to share one of the stories with you to give you a taste of how wonderful this book is.  This letter was written to John, Michael, and Christopher in 1925.  

Cliff House, Top of the World, Near the North Pole
Christmas 1925

My dear boys,

I am dreadfully busy this year - it makes my hand more shaky than ever when I think of it - and not very rich; in fact awful things have been happening and some of the presents got spoilt, and I haven't got the North Polar bear to help me, and I have had to move houses just before Christmas, so you can imagine what a state everything is in, and you will see why I have a new address, and why I can only write one letter between you both. 

It all happened like this:  one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on top of the North Pole.  I told him not to, but the North Polar Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down - and he did.  The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the North Polar Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars, where I was collecting this year's presents, and the North Polar Bear's leg got broken.

He is well again now, but I was so cross with him that he says he won't try to help me again - I expect his temper is hurt, and will be mended by next Christmas.

I send you a picture of the accident and of my new house on the cliff above the North Pole (with beautiful cellars in the cliffs).  If John can't read my old shaking writing (one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five years old) he must get his father to.  When is Michael going to learn to read, and write his own letters to me?  Lots of love to you both and Christopher, whose name is rather like mine.

That's all:  Good Bye
Father Christmas

Father Christmas was in a great hurry - told me to put in one of his magic wishing crackers.  As you pull, wish and see if it doesn't come true.  Excuse thick writing I have a fat paw.  I help Father Christmas with his packing: I live with him.  I'm the


The Great Polar Bear slipped in a little note this year as well:)  Here is the picture that was included with the letter and the actual letter:

Isn't this wonderful?  That Polar Bear is always making some sort of mischief for Father Christmas, but his heart is in the right place:)  The sad thing about this book is that to the best of my knowledge it is no longer in print.  You need to find a used copy on the internet or in an old bookstore (where the best books are always found anyways, right?).  I was lucky enough to get my copy from my college.  They were reducing their children's book collection and this book was among them!  I immediately asked if I could buy it, so now I have my own copy.  I highly recommend that if you can find a copy - buy it - you will love it! 

I hope you enjoyed reading this post.  I'll try to share another story from the book with you tomorrow for Christmas Eve!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas FMSC Donation!

Well, as you probably remember, with the launch of The Swing I decided to donate 50% of the proceeds to Feed My Starving Children.  Feed My Starving Children is a Christian 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization.  A single meal costs only 22 cents to produce, and 92% of total donations goes directly toward the food program.

I wanted to make the donation before Christmas and now that I have fulfilled all my book orders I was able to make the donation yesterday.  Thanks to all of you and your support we were able to raise $507.60 to donate to FMSC!!!  That means we gave 2,076 meals to starving children around the world!  Thank you for your support of The Swing and FMSC!  If you are interested in getting involved with FMSC you can find our more at their website:

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving Book Signing Photo Post

What a great weekend I had at the 11th Annual Local Author and Illustrator book signing event held at the Buffalo History Museum.  I met so many great people and made so many wonderful contacts.  If you missed the event here are some photos for you to enjoy!

The History Museum Book Store brought in multiple copies of everyone's book so patrons could buy them and have the authors sign them.  First time I have seen my book on a store shelf!  So cool!

Authors and illustrators were placed on both the first and second floors of this beautiful historic building.  It was standing room only!

This morning driving into work I heard a segment on NPR about this event and they even interviewed the gentleman who was seated next to me at the event.  It really was a wonderful event with a large and positive impact on our community.  I was so glad to be a part of it!  Definitely doing it again next year:)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Book Signing Event

Just a reminder, if you are out and about this holiday weekend doing some shopping, stop by the Buffalo History Museum!  I will be participating in a local author/illustrator book signing there.  There will be over 50 local authors and illustrators represented and lots of books!  It sure to be a wonderful event.  If you missed the book launch and still wanted to see my new book "The Swing" then stop by!  Hope to see you there!  I have attached the details below.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Illustration Friday!

This week's word is  slow....

I haven't done Illustration Friday in a while now!  I have been so busy with the book launch that I just didn't have time, but now I am a little more free, so I'm back at it!  This is a collage I did a little while ago that was inspired by a picture book course I was taking at AAU.  It never went beyond this one illustration, but now that I pull it out and look at it again, I feel a little story developing....I wonder if there are any children's songs about turtles?  Since I am enjoying illustrating children's songs, maybe I can find one about turtles:)

Let me know in the comments if you can think of any turtle songs....Thanks!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Trina Schart-Hyman - Another Favorite Illustrator

Today I thought I'd write about another favorite illustrator of mine, Trina Schart-Hyman.  I was introduced to Trina and her work through my sister.  She gave me a copy of Saint George and the Dragon, the Caldecott winning book by Hyman, to read to my son Hunter.  Actually, now that I think about it, my sister has turned me onto lots of good books, and illustrators over the years....she has a big influence on me.

My sister loved all the characters and fairies that Hyman puts in her work and especially their facial expressions.  I started to look at her work and fell in love with her gestural line work and her character development.  She works in gouache and pen & ink so you really see the expressiveness to her illustrations.  One book that I particularly love is called "Tight Times".  This book is long out of print and is very hard to find.  My sister found a copy for me and it is one of my most cherished books.  It is a story of a family that is struggling with the stagflation of the 1970's.  I was about the age of the main character in the book in the 1970's so I really can relate to the story line.  Times are tight and both parents have to work to make ends meet.

Then one day the father comes home early because he lost his job.  My dad was a union carpenter so this was a regular occurrence in our house, the job would end and he would be out of work.

The little boy doesn't quite understand what is going on so mom sends him outside to play.  He discovers a kitten tucked behind the trash and a passing gypsy woman helps him rescue the kitten.  He takes it home to ask if he can keep it.

The mom and dad are reluctant at first to keep the cat but then emotion overwhelmed them and they realize a little cat just might be what they need now to lift the weight of the situation.  They make a hug sandwich and the kitten stays!

This is a wonderful story that also speaks to an experience that I was very familiar with.  Hyman's work seems to do that...get at the root of humanity and human emotions in a way that is touching and real.  You can see her gestural drawings in this book, which is done all in black and white.  Her character development is superb and the facial expressions that my sister loves are very evident here.  She also does a wonderful job of setting the environment with details in the kitchen and living room, and the streets of New York. 

Another work by Hyman that my sister turned me on to is "The Fortune Tellers".   This is a story of a young carpenter who is looking for something better in life.  He goes to see the fortune teller to find out if he has something better coming in life, like fame, fortune and love.  The fortune teller says all will come as soon as the carpenter becomes well known, makes lots of money and finds the right woman!  The carpenter is overjoyed!  As he leaves he realizes he forgot to ask one question so he returns to the fortune teller only to find him gone.  A women enters and mistakes the carpenter for the fortune teller so he goes with it and plays the fortune teller.  Through the charade all of his dreams do come true! 

Once again you can see her wonderful gestural drawings, this time with gouache color added.  She establishes the setting as somewhere in Africa and she develops a whole cast of characters and secondary actors who are unique, vibrant, and full of character and life. I love all the details she adds, like the little  monkey who becomes his side-kick.  These are exactly the type of things I enjoy pointing out to my children when we read stories together.  I also really admire the way she maximizes her use of the long horizontal format of the page.  I go back to her work time an again for inspiration and lessons on how to illustrate a wonderful story.  

In her own words  this is what Hyman felt made for a children's book.  “You just have to feel it. Certainly it has to relate to the human experience because children are human, too. It should have all of the things that a good adult story has only put in simpler terms so that children can grasp it.” 

For a complete interview with Trina Schart-Hyman click here.  Unfortunately, Trina died in 2004 so we can no longer look forward to new work from her, but the work that she left us will undoubtedly leave an impression for many generations to come.  I hope you enjoyed meeting Trina Schart-Hyman.  Let me know if you have a favorite book by Trina Schart-Hyman or what you think of her work in the comments section below.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Snow Day!

Well, in case you didn't know, I live in Buffalo, NY.  Actually south of Buffalo, NY in snow country.  He have had an epic storm this week, and yes, epic is the right word here, that has dropped 4 feet of snow on us in 36 hours.  So the last 3 days have been snow days!!!!  All the schools are closed, including my college, there are travel bans so no one can drive on the roads, and even if we wanted to drive we can't get out of our driveway!  So it felt appropriate that I post snow art and snow quotes today:)  The above painting is an oil I did a few years ago and the quotes below I found on the internet.  Since we can't beat the snow we might as well enjoy it!

This quote is a good one because we have spent the last three days at home with a fire in the fire place and something yummy cooking on the stove.  Movies, playing cards, and painting are the things we have been doing to pass the time.

I love this one because winter is really beautiful in a silent way and you need to be quiet and in the moment to appreciate it.  Snow actually has so many colors in it and snow covered forms can be turned into anything.  Let your imagination run wild.  Do you know how many creatures I see in my yard from the lumps of snow that have formed there...I could create a whole story from it.  Maybe that's what I'll do today:)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Launch a Success!

This past weekend was my book launch and I cannot believe the number of people who came out to support me...I am humbled, really, by the show of support from family and friends.  Many thanks to everyone who came out to support me and a big thanks to Marti Gorman, my publisher from Buffalo Heritage Unlimited, who made this all a reality for me:)  Above is me and my good friend and partner in art crime, Jennifer Seth-Cimini who was one of the first to buy the book.

I couldn't have done any of this without the assistance of my niece Amber Orlando who helped me to plan and organize the launch.  She was so helpful!  She is starting a party/event planning business called Effortless Occasions and I highly recommend you use her services for your next event.  She planned the food, drink, kids activities and display of my art influences that I used during the illustration process.  She also took care of all the day of events, food pick up and set up, decorations,
last minute details, etc.  I would have pulled my hair out if it were not for her:)  Look at how beautifully she set the event.

That's Amber in the middle with her daughter Emily and her cousins Becca and Abby on either side.

In addition her mother-in-law, Terri Orlando, made me the most beautiful cookies that looked just like the dog character Bean from the book! Aren't they adorable!

Several of my students from Villa Maria College came out early to help me with set up and stayed to help me sell books and welcome guests.  They are so awesome!  Thank you so much Teeanna and Sarah and Brandi!  You are the best!  And they made delicious desserts for my guests!

I also had my family there helping me with little errands, and many friends who came to support.  It was such a great event and we SOLD OUT of our launch quantity of books!  The publisher is busy getting more books delivered for my reading at Dog Ear Books this Thursday and my art show at Know Park this coming Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22, 2014.  I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's feedback on the book.  So far I know that several children were read to sleep by the book Sunday night and that is the biggest compliment of all!

Friday, November 14, 2014

First Copy of The Swing!


I met my publisher in the parking lot the other day to receive from her the very first copy of my picture book.  It was a little a hand off of something illegal...LOL!  We were trying to find a time in our mutually busy schedules to meet so she could give me the book to look at and approve.  Since we were like two ships passing in the night she finally suggested a strip mall parking lot that was half way for both of us.  There, under the light of the street lamps (cuz it's now dark by 5pm!) she handed me the first soft cover version of the book to come from the printer.  It was like being given gold!  It felt so special to me.  I was incredibly pleased with the quality of the reproduction of my artwork.  The hardcover version of the book is still being printed so I will have to wait till tomorrow or Saturday to see that, but if it's anything like the soft cover, I will be overjoyed:)

So here is a sneak peak for you all!  Hope to see you at the launch on Sunday!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

November is National Picture Book Month

Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November.  The found the following information about National Picture Book Month on their website.  The founders of this event are: 

        Dianne de Las Casas (author & storyteller)
        Katie Davis (author/illustrator)
        Elizabeth O. Dulemba (author/illustrator)
        Tara Lazar (author)
        Wendy Martin (author/illustrator)

These talented authors and illustrators put together their worldwide connections to make an event that celebrates the simplicity and beauty of the picture book.  Here is a calendar of events they have planned and you can go to the website link I provided above to find out more.

I love what they have started because I feel picture books are so important, especially in our media driven society.  We live in a highly visual world where we are constantly being bombarded with media messages, entertainment and immediacy.  While it's fun and exciting, it is also overwhelming and creates a feeling of temporariness.  Nothing seems to last, everything is constantly being updated and refreshed.  Think of the impact this must have on our children.  While I know children today are growing up in this media rich world, I also know that children need a sense of order, structure, and connectedness for healthy development.  This is where I think the picture book is so important.  A child can sit with a loved one and have that wonderful page turning experience of a beautifully crafted picture book and slow the world down.  The picture book puts the child in control and they can chose to linger over a picture or speed to turn the page to see what happens next.  Picture books offer numerous perspectives on the world, and can transport the reader to another time and place.  They can be a safe haven where children can retreat from the "noise" of the media they are surrounded by every day.  

So in our digital age, where people are predicting the coming death of print books, I feel picture books (the print kind) are needed more than ever.   Read a picture book today and enjoy the respite!  And if you are looking for a good one....I have a suggestion:)  The Swing is launching this month, during National Picture Book month on November 16th!   I can save you a copy if you e-mail me or comment on this blog post!
Read *Share*Celebrate!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Swing Cover Art

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  I'm so excited about getting the kids ready for trick-or-treating tonight!  I also thought it would be a great day to give you more good news about my book launch!  I received the initial proof of the book and it looks great!  I wish I could share it with you because it is so fun!  But because it hasn't launched yet I have to's so hard to wait.  I feel like a kid at Christmas.  But my publisher said I can share the cover with you so I attached it below!  Doesn't it look wonderful!  The book designer did such a great job with the font and treatment of the title and the author/illustrator.   She also did a fabulous job with the whole book especially the treatment of the text, which I why I can't wait for you to see it:)

I have also been busy pulling together promotional materials for the launch of the book.   I have created post card invites which went out to my database, plus additional post cards that I can hand out to people I work with and who I know from my art society.  I have also created new business cards and fun little stickers of my art for the kids to play with at the launch.  I used which I highly recommend!  Their quality is wonderful and the delivery was quick.  Here you can see some of the printed materials I have had made so far.  

So now we are just waiting for the final digital proof of the book and then it will be printed and ready for the launch on November 16th!  I hope you can make it out for the launch, but if you can't I will be putting the book on my website with a link to the publishers e-commerce site so you can order it if you like:)  

Let me know what you were for Halloween, (I'm going to be Jack Skeleton) and what you think of the book launch materials:)