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.

Monday, November 13, 2017

My best friend lived down the block. Her parents came here from Ireland, and besides the television show "Little House on the Prairie" and Nancy Drew books there was no pop culture in their home. They didn't own a single record album or CD. There was a radio station that played Irish music that was on every weekend. My friend even sang an Irish song on the air once. The home was sweet and quiet and the polar opposite of mine.

There was one quirky exception: her mom always picked up a National Enquirer at the supermarket. We would lay on our bellies in her living room pouring over this paper. We knew a lot of it was fake, but it was fun anyway.

One time we read this article about subliminal messages in advertising. It showed a baby doll ad, and described how the word f*%k was embedded in all of the shadows of the doll's dress. (You couldn't see these, you just had to take the National Enquirer's word for it.)

So, two years ago, when I entered the Tomie DePaola contest for a chance to win an all expense paid trip to the SCBWI NY conference, I decided to channel that National Enquirer article. Not in a bizarre sex way. I just thought it would be fun to see if I could manipulate the feeling of the viewer without them realizing it.

The assignment was to reinterpret Little Red Riding Hood. I stuck her in a hangout of my childhood: O'Connor Park in Bayside, Queens. I imagined the creepy squeaky sound of the swings on a day in late fall, and the rustling of the dry leaves in a barren park, with the exception of this wolf on a swing.

I wanted everything in this picture to subliminally tell the viewer she's in trouble. The leaves are shaped like teeth. There is a pitchfork shadow. The wolf has devil's ears, and only the viewer can see his tail. The poll from the swing set blocks her in, even though she doesn't realize it. The wolf leans forward in a friendly, trusting, way, while we scream, "Get out of there!"

Alas, I didn't win. Did my National Enquirer tricks work? Did they work too well, making it too creepy for a children's book? Was it off putting because it was done in good old fashioned pencil? I'll never know.  But here's the final image.  Please check out my website,
for the part two of this piece, when Little Red walks up to her grandmother's Woodside, Queens house, (actually my Grandma's Woodside, Queens house..:) )

Monday, November 6, 2017

I woke up this morning proud of myself for staying away from the Halloween candy yesterday. Because once again, I'm dieting to lose twenty pounds. And I laughed to myself. Because it never really ends.

My full name is Patricia, and everyone started off calling me Patti. But I had a super skinny sister, and one of my older brothers thought it was funny to call us Sticky Vicki and Fatty Patti. That spilled over to the neighborhood gang of boys, and every time I left the house I got to hear my nickname. So at age five I decided to change it to Patricia. But no one but me changed it.

On the first day of kindergarten, each child walked up with their mom to the teacher, Mrs. Winterbottom's desk to get a nametag. When it was my turn, I wanted to say my name as Patricia, but my mom spoke first and said Patti. Mrs. Winterbottom said, "Nice to meet you, Patti," as she wrote out the nametag. My heart sank. Here was my big chance and instead I was stuck with my Fatty Patti name.

First grade came and it finally became Patricia in school. And I started my lifetime of dieting. I would cut up a bowl of celery and eat it with a spoon. I would run around the block to burn calories. And I would never, ever tell anyone how much I weighed.

That year my sister broke her arm, and was trying to hide it. My father said, "How did you break it?" and she said, "Patti sat on it." For the life of me I couldn't remember sitting on her arm. But a neighbor told me the whole school was laughing about it and I believed her. I only found out a few years ago that she had broken it rough housing with that same brother. At the time I was yet again Fatty Patti.

My mom would book my sister and I in the annual physical appointment together. One year when I got off the scale my sister jumped down from the examining table to see what the doctor wrote. Afterward, at Jones Beach, she poked fun, "You wanna know what Patti weighs?' My mom said, "What?". My sister whispered in her ear and my mom looked at me and bit her lip.

And there was that horrible kids "Pay What They Weigh" promotion at a local restaurant. I cringed walking by it. My mom joked, "Well, that's okay for Vicki, but for Patti..."

I have no idea what I weighed. I was never out of the healthy range. As a matter of fact you would see a childhood photo and think this was entirely preposterous. And I know my mom was deeply self conscious about her own weight, and probably just worried that I would have some weight problem later. But I was in a constant private state of cringe for not being lighter.

As a junior in high school, after the various starvation, bulimia, and diet pills phases, I found a book called, "Eat to Win, the Sports Nutrition Bible" at a library book sale. I read it from cover to cover and tried all the recipes. I used my job money to buy whole grains and vegetables to steam and taught myself healthy eating habits that I have kept to this day. And I no longer care about the scale number... Okay, I totally care about the scale number. But the obsession is far lighter.

And my family still calls me Patti.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Because I'm writing and illustrating a children's book, I'm deep into my own childhood memories. They're often really fun. Here's one called "A Little Night Music".

I grew up in an attached house in Flushing, Queens. There was one air conditioner in my parent's room, but the rest of the house was HOT in the summer.  That meant evenings outside on the stoop. My mom and dad sat on ours while mom drank her cup of tea, Pauline and Phil next door sat on their half while Phil watered his little patch of front yard grass, and people from other houses stopped by and socialized on the sidewalk. 

Sometimes, it was just kids on the stoop. We watched the real life soap opera unfold in the garden apartments across the street. Each window had its own story. The guy on the first floor had an affair with the woman on the second floor two apartments down. Motorcycle guy would come visit his kids but also had an affair with the woman who lived on our side six houses down. There was the time the whole bunch of crazy people on the second floor dropped an air conditioner out the window. It smashed. Stuff like that.

And then there was the summer of the opera singer. He had a piano right up against the window, and we sat and listened to him rehearse. We applauded in between songs. He stood up and bowed for us. Here we are enjoying a little night music:

(There are others in this little series. I'm working out the story.)

What's your summer night memory? We all have tons of them, and I'd love to hear yours.

Monday, October 23, 2017

 I wrote a recap for the SCBWI LA Summer Conference. Here is the link.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I sent out this promotional postcard this week.  I am open for business!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I did it! I did it! 30 ideas in 30 days from Tara Lazar's #Storystorm Challenge. Now to publish them....

Friday, January 13, 2017

I receive The Daily Heller Newsletter email daily. It is free. Here is today's issue:

Friday, January 6, 2017

I found myself really sad when Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died. Not because of Carrie Fisher even though I love Star Wars and When Harry Met Sally and her writing and all of her other incarnations. And not because of Debbie Reynolds even though I love Singing in the Rain, etc.

I was sad because I miss my Mom. My Mom and I shared old Hollywood. And I remember the first time that she told me Carrie Fisher was Debbie Reynold's daughter. I loved watching old movies with her and her telling me a little back story here and there. We would have shared the horror of the two dying a day apart.

My father took us to a lot of movies as kids. The last official one I saw with my parents happened to be Star Wars at the RKO Keiths in Flushing, Queens. But he stopped going for many years after, and therefore so did my Mom. She didn't drive and wouldn't have gone on her own. So one day, when I was in college, I asked my Mom on a whim if she'd like to go see a movie and she immediately said yes. She didn't even ask what movie or name something she'd like to see.

So I took her over to Bay Terrace and we saw Metropolitan, a movie of pretentious rich Manhattan nineteen year olds sitting in a lot of apartments talking. The theater next door was showing Postcards from the Edge, featuring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in a thinly veiled old Hollywood story of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. I kept thinking, the one movie my Mom sees in all these years, and I chose Metropolitan? Instead of Postcards from the Edge?

She sat and watched quietly, and was lovely about it, the way she was always lovely.

Monday, January 2, 2017

I'm shredding , clearing, recycling and deleting.  My art studio is CLEAN and I love it! So while I'm at it, I'm making a nice and tidy email box.  I came across this link for a Kite Tales.  A sweet moment in a crazy year.