Friday, August 3, 2018

The Closet, the Banister, and Just Flip it Over Really Fast

"Who's watching me tonight?" Having three older brothers meant never having a babysitter, just one of them taking their turn. And whatever that evening might hold.

There was the time Paul was watching me and rain flooded the basement. I didn't think to tell him. Instead I just kept playing with my Barbies in several inches of water until my mom got home. When Michael was in charge, he rode his bike into an iron gate, and an ambulance driver that just happened to be in the neighborhood knocked on our door to inform the rest of us that he was taking our brother to the ER. When it was Jimmy's turn, he forgot he was filling the bathtub, went outside, and all of that water rained down on our kitchen. Then, there was the time I call "the closet, the banister, and just flip it over really fast".

My parents were at one of my cousin's weddings, and Michael was watching us. A bunch of neighborhood boys came in and played an all house hide and seek game. My sister Vicki and I were happy spectators down in the living room. Just as whoever was counting called, "Ready or not, here I come!" there was a slow motion rumble, and a huge grunt from upstairs in my mother's closet. The entire contents of the closet's top shelf and double pole of clothes collapsed onto our neighbor John Stewart. Laughing, I did tumblesaults back and forth in the living room while Vicki went up the stairs to slide down the banister, but her foot got tangled. She tumbled over the side and landed on her arm at the bottom of the stairs. Hide and seek was over.

As she lay there surrounded by Michael and Jimmy and all of the other boys, she told them that she couldn't move her arm. "Just flip it over really fast." John Stewart instructed her while he demonstrated, turning his arm over. "My cousin had that happen and he flipped it over really fast and it was fine."

Vicki protested that she couldn't flip it over, so they rang the doorbell of our next-door neighbor Pauline because she wore some kind of medical uniform. But she couldn't help. Then, they called our Aunt Julia who came with our cousin Jimmy who worked at the local hospital. I don't know what he did there but I had seen him in his scrubs. Jimmy and Aunt Julia engaged in a little argument, where he said there was nothing he could do at the hospital, and she insisted that if he went in and told them he worked there, they would motion him in with open arms. Somewhere in all of that, they left with Vicki. My brothers and the other boys switched to playing cards in the dining room.

Meanwhile, Pauline and her husband were having a party. She invited me because she felt sorry that I was sitting in a house full of boys. I was actually fine with all the boys but didn't want to waste an opportunity to hang out with my very young and hip neighbors. Her friends showered me with attention and at one point one of them said, "Look at this poor thing! She looks so tired!" I proceeded to purposely look more tired for the effect. Pauline took me up to her toddler daughter's beautiful girly bedroom and offered to let me sleep there. I had never been on a sleepover and this looked like fun, but I got nervous and said no. Back at my house, I laid on the living room couch and watched Oliver! even though I thought it was creepy. I woke up to the sight of my mother and Aunt Loretta in full length dresses finding out about the "just flip it over really fast" arm. The next morning Vicki had a brand new cast on her broken arm, and my mother had a closet to rebuild.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Train

There is a beautiful Andrew Wyeth painting called, "Chambered Nautilus" of a woman sitting up in bed staring out a window. For fun, I channeled that image for an illustration of a little girl looking out as the train passed by. That was my childhood bedroom. The Long Island Railroad Port Washington line was eye level with my window.

That sounds so quirky now. But it was so fun then.

I would hide as I changed in the morning, just in case the Manhattan commuters looked in. And although I barely heard the roaring engine, friends would bolt up when they slept over. My father told any little kids visiting that he had his own set of electric trains. He ushered them to the backyard. "I just turned on my train! Here it comes!"

Since it was up on a high wall, the train's guard railings were perfect height to attach a basketball hoop. It ensured many years of tournaments for my brothers and their friends. When I became of age, I would shoot out there for hours, until the basketball inevitably bounced up onto the tracks. The ladder reclaimed from our old picket fence was pretty scary, so I usually opted to wait until my brother Michael got home to get the ball. He knew how to scale the wall with a running start.

The sound of the train on Christmas morning was extremely special. It meant it was time to walk down the block and greet Grandma and Uncle Jimmy at the station for their visit.

Those trains were such a deep part of our neighborhood little gang of friends. We waved at them, called up to the passengers, and sang at the top of our lungs if one was approaching. One time we heard unusually loud honking and the train stopped abruptly right above us. The conductor got out and looked down on the tracks, so we had a good view of him from below. We giddily called up to him, but he had a pained expression on his face. He got back in, and slowly reversed the train. Someone had committed suicide.

As we got older, the train took on a whole other challenge: how late we could leave our house and still make it. Some of my siblings left with enough time to walk down the block for their various jobs, but Michael ran for it. We would leave the house at the same time. I made a left, running to the city bus for high school. Michael made a right, sprinting to the train in his suit. Years later it was my turn to do the train sprint when I went to college in Manhattan. I could do the long block, full art supplies in tow, but the the huge set of stairs up to the platform were a killer. I missed my train more times than I care to admit.

There were a childhood full of train rides: to Grandma’s house, parades, the circus, first dates in high school, concerts, late late night dancing, and finally to become one of those Manhattan commuters. My first apartment after I got married was on that same LIRR line, just one more stop east. My father knew which train I took in the morning, and he would sometimes sit out in the backyard holding up a homemade sign for me. "Hello, Patti!"

 That Wyeth inspired illustration captures one moment and a lifetime.

Andrew Wyeth "Chambered Nautilus" 1956

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Cartwheel

In grammar school, I had a sweet and quirky friend named Margaret who told me she was only able to do a cartwheel if she heard the song, "My Sharona."

If only I was so lucky. My Sharona didn't help my cartwheel. But it didn't stop me from constantly doing a terrible one.

On the first day of the fifth grade cheerleading team the coach had us sit down around the mats.

"Who can do a cartwheel?", she called out. Lots of girls got in line. When everyone was finished, I whispered to my friend Meg, "Maybe I should try." She encouraged me, and I raised my hand as a late entry.

I walked over to the now very quiet front of the mat. I lunged forward and landed on my knees with a loud grunt. When I sheepishly walked back to my spot, Meg said kindly, "I've seen you do better." I wasn't chosen as captain.

My friend Carol got to go to a gymnastics class. She would come back each week executing splits, back bends, and front walkovers, all perfect.

Carol and I made up a game we called Olympics. We'd each take a turn doing our routine, two cartwheels one way, and two back.  Then we'd walk back to our imaginary coach who'd yell at us in fake Russian, Chinese, German, whatever we were that day. We'd switch and play the role of the upset gymnast, out of breath and nodding their head while being reprimanded for poor performance.

Of course, Carol would do perfect one handed cartwheels, and I'd attempt awful regular ones. The pretend coaches yelled at us equally.

And here I am, many decades later. If there's someplace pretty, my husband and daughter know the drill. I'll do my sorry cartwheel, and they will take enough shots so I can find the one that kind of looks right. I even still do the grunt.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of my Mom's passing. I wrote this little book not too long after that. I never finished it or knew what to do with it. You should be able to scroll down to see all the pages, or click on the upper right corner icon to view it as a Google Doc.

Monday, December 4, 2017

I love the PBS series Finding Your Roots. Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the historian and Harvard University professor, invites a celebrity to sit across from him as he reveals their family history as a page by page scrapbook. The stories are fascinating. Guests sit there thinking they're from one culture and end up finding out they're from something entirely different. And the details he finds!

I meet friends for some sunrise walking and running, and lately they have been telling me their equally incredible immigrant stories. There is not enough time on this planet to learn from the people in my own life, what they experienced and how it formed their place in this world.

I fantasize I will be a guest on Finding Your Roots. Dr. Gates will have me turn the pages of my family tree scrapbook and tell me the details of my grandparents and great grandparents. But I didn't always feel this way.

In 1976, there was a school parade in Queens celebrating the bicentennial. Each grade marched under a different theme. My sister's fourth grade class dressed as pioneers, wearing Little House on the Prairie bonnets and long dresses. My husband's third grade class dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers. One grade built giant Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria boats, pulled by a car.

My second grade was assigned to dress like our country of origin. My mother's family was Irish, but a few generations in. There were plenty of kids in my grammar school whose parents emigrated from Ireland, far more qualified to represent that country than me. My father's parents came here from Greece.  My Aunt Julia had a Greek costume that fit me, but I cringed. I was in a Catholic school, and no one else was really Greek.

My Greek grandparents died before I was born, but there were plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins. They were all nice to me, but it didn't in any way feel like my culture. They spoke Greek at family events and served Greek food. I didn't speak Greek or go near the food. (I watched my Irish mother politely avoid all the food.) My father told me stories of his Greek childhood, taking the bus with his mom and a live chicken purchased from the meat market, or coming home one day to find his pet rabbit missing only to discover it was dinner that night. He talked of how my grandmother raised five children in a Manhattan tenement without ever learning English, or how to read or write in any language. I love these stories now. I can't get enough of them. But in second grade they were too odd.

So, I made some excuse to get out of wearing the Greek costume and dressed like Switzerland. I channeled the pretty Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa girl and wore two braids and a jumper dress and an apron. I colored all that red on a homemade Switzerland flag. It was nice and neutral. Nobody questioned whether I was really Swiss or not.

I look back at that now and know it is all too common. The human need to fit in rather than stand out, only to grow up and realize all the odd parts are the best parts.

So, Dr. Gates, apparently my father had this pet rabbit...

Monday, November 27, 2017

It's that time of year again - time to come up with this year's Christmas card. I always wait until it's close, because I want it to be about what's happening in our lives in the moment.

Christmas cards have always been fun. My mom would let me open them as they came in. Then she would hang them on a red ribbon draped along the sides of the living room ceiling. (I hang my cards on a similar ribbon in her honor.)

Most of the cards were religious. Some looked expensive with gilded gold or velvet. I loved them all, but my favorite was from old friends of my parents, Carl and Nancy. I looked forward to finding that one in the mail every year. Nancy homemade their card. She would create a stencil, usually of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, spray paint it on a long sheet of paper, then tri-fold it, so it was both envelope and card.

 I thought they were fabulous, and it inspired me to make our family's card. My mom loved the idea. I was in grammar school and took an art class at night. The teacher set me up with an illustration board and I created an image in ink. She planned to have it printed, but the class ended and my Mom and I didn't know how to go about it on our own. I still have that first illustrated Christmas card, dated 1982:

After I had kids, making my own card became an annual challenge. For years, my hand would shake while I was dropping them in the mailbox. Putting my work out there for an audience was always scary for me.  I could picture (and worry) that the cards might be the source of real ridicule or confusion. But I took the chance anyway, because those cards were coming from the heart and told our story. Here are some from years past:

Cassiel liked to read to Calvin. A mix of our house and Goodnight Moon.

A favorite uncle stopped by one December night and strummed his mandolin while Cassiel played violin. Calvin danced along. It inspired this sequence.

Pencil rendering is always fun. Mocking a photo booth.

An oil painted beach image the first year we moved to California. I printed it as a refrigerator magnet.

We went back home for a visit in early December, and enjoyed a rare, magical, empty rink at Rockefeller Center. I sketched tiny images of all the loved ones that have passed away on that upper tier looking down on the rink. I imagined them looking out for my kids. And the two other skaters are Cassiel's twin sister best friends...:)

I illustrated a children's book called Yenta for Santa, and this image shows Cassiel and Calvin enjoying it, in a style with a little homage to Norman Rockwell.

We were on a train in Chicago, and Cassiel started falling asleep. Calvin gently guided her head to his shoulder, and I had my moment. I made it a coloring book sheet, and enjoyed people sending me images of their finished coloring pages.

If you'd like to see more of these Christmas cards, I have a section on my website under Novelty Design titled "Christmas Peace".

And if you have some cards to share, please drop me a link! Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank this past weekend. Here is my recap.

The Creative Talent Network. or CTN, hosts model sketch sessions on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 7-10pm, as well as some Sunday afternoons at the Center Stage Gallery in Burbank. They cost $10.00, but if you can't get to the studio the sessions air live on Facebook. The models are in themed costumes and hold poses that encourage the best storytelling. I've sketched regularly from this fantastic resource for a few months now, and finally made it to a Sunday at the studio. It was even better in person.  It was there that I first decided to attend the CTN Expo.

I am an illustrator enamored by animation. There were several levels of pricing that allowed you to experience different parts of the Expo. Since I'm not entirely familiar with the industry, I opted for the simpler, Three Day Floor Plus pass for $95.00 as opposed to the more inclusive passes.

Although the official start was a ribbon cutting on Friday, there was a sneak preview Thursday evening. I drove down and took advantage of the Expo's first sketch session, and recognized a few of the models from the Center Stage Gallery. They were setup on four lit outdoor stages, and would alternate between areas. They did this all weekend, morning until night, taking very few breaks and creating fantastic gestures. Right there the conference was worth the price of admission.

There were several ongoing demonstrations in the Convention Hall. The traditional animators desk featured Disney industry titans drawing beloved characters. Another desk featured digital animation demos, another hands on character sculpting, another digital backgrounds and character designs.

I checked several of these out throughout the course of the weekend. My favorites included Eric Goldberg drawing a Mickey Mouse sequence, Molly Hahn drawing her Buddha Doodles, Geoffrey Ernault creating digital worlds, and the wonderful sculpture of Andrea Blasich. But that barely scratched the surface.

The CTN Live Stage featured incredible panels all weekend. Character Designers You Want to Know,  Ryan Lang's Storytelling in Images, Greg Manchess and Bryan Mark Taylor's Painting with the Masters, and Nicole Herr's Freelance Like a Pro were just a few of the many highlights. I missed many, many, more because there just were too many choices. These always concluded with more intimate Q and A's in the adjoining room.

The Winsor and Newton Studio hosted plein air workshops each day. These were excellent! And I connected with some local painters and sketchers!

Photographer Greg Preston created two beautiful books of portraits of various cartoonists, comic artists, animators, etc.. The second one, called The Artist Within: Book 2, included a book signing - featuring twenty of these amazing artists! It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet such vast talent assembled in one place!

At the Expo tent. I was just a kid in a candy store, checking out artist's displays, book signings, testing digital tablets, etc. I finally met Griz and Norm after following them on Instagram, and bought their fantastic "Tuesday Tips"! I tried several times to meet Pascal Campion, but he was always busy giving advice to someone. What an incredible opportunity for artists to get feedback from a master!

The more premiere presentations took place in the hotel theaters. I didn't have access to them but they broadcast them right on the plaza. I listened in to a few while I sketched.

By Sunday evening, the entire conference was closing up, and I was heading home. And who was still out there? Those models. Still posing, still creating stories.

Ribbon cutting by founder Tina Price and industrial designer Syd Mead.

Artist Molly Hahn creating a Buddha Doodle.
Winsor and Newton plein air demo by painter Angela Sung.

Veteran Disney artist Eric Goldberg creating a Mickey Mouse sequence.

The Artist Within: Book 2 signing.

Multiple demos to choose from at all times.