Hello everyone, and welcome to something new – for me anyway. Now I have a new website and this is my first blog. It is also about (in part) my first book. After a sad year, I hope this is also a new beginning. Imagine that at my age! In fact, I have re-established my mission: in this the autumn of my life, to use my talents and capabilities to share my knowledge and concerns in the hope that I can make life on earth a better place.
If you have seen my bio, my mission goes way back to pathways I set for myself even in my twenties. It has seen me through the years in some way or another, and was behind my decision in 1999 to shift from academia to children’s book writing and illustrating. Agreed – it has been a slow process with many ups and downs, and time moves on and it seems like not a lot gets done. I don’t push out books like some famous authors. But I am beginning to feel the depth of joy when I can see my first book coming to fruition – and to feel how my mission enters my heart.
My first book Did Tiger Take the Rain? will be launched October 14 in Brattleboro, VT. That is where the publisher Green Writers Press is located. It is also the Brattleboro Book Festival, and, I might add, not far from where Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book many years ago.
Here is a little more context. While living in the town of Westford, VT (in a wonderful log house), I realized how great it could be to take the best experiences from my growing up in the woods, link them to a fantasy adventure, and write and illustrate a book that takes place for a child on the west flank of nearby Mt. Mansfield. That book has been in process since 2009! Now, it consist of numerous thoughts, vignettes, poems, diary entries, and sketches done while visiting the mountain as well as other forests, streams, or fields. It is a wonderful thing to be doing even if as a publication it may never happen. But it has helped me to do two things. One it has helped me to appreciate the intricacies of the Nature and Human interface. Secondly, it has been an inspiration to learn to form words (and images) around deep thoughts – thoughts that not only reflect the beauty of everything natural, but also come from deep in our hearts. There are several spin offs from this theme, of course. Let’s see what happens. I have included an illustration pen and ink sketch from it here.
The Tiger theme seems to be far away from this. As you can see in my bio, my background is anthropology and that might explain a lot. But there are important commonalities – and they make up the real challenge. How can we take an experience from a culture far away and formulate a story that can not only appeal to children everywhere, but also help them learn and appreciate in a common way? It is a story that is not meant to display another culture, or try to get American children, for example, to understand the lives of children in other places. Although it does this as an aside (can you find the water buffalo?), it is my hope that children everywhere can enter the bodies of Usha and Anjali as they set out on their adventures and learning experience.
This book is also part of a series of book ideas, one of which was provided for me by staff at the Wildlife Institute of India which I visited December 2015. It would also be about tigers but in a different way – still working this one out, but it is my hope to return to Nepal and India soon to follow up with it. And Mt. Mansfield? I will keep jotting down ideas and doing sketches – sort of like a reflection on what I see as important in my life growing up.
With this said, I would like to share some of the techniques I used to create the illustrations for Did Tiger Take the Rain? The relationship between feeling, thought, and idea written down in words and the image is an important one – whether jungle or mountain. It seems my approach to this is based on actually being there where these feelings burst into my heart.
The book Did Tiger Take the Rain? is based on two trips I made to western Nepal for the specific purpose of getting the material I needed for the book. I did not know beforehand what that material would be (other than knowing where I wanted to be and generally why). The book is also based on a number of studies of children in action and on watercolor techniques that have been part of my life here in the USA. With the help of several Nepali associates, I visited a number of old storytellers. From the stories I took the characters and the overall feeling – not the story. The story would be my own, but some of it was provided to me by the Tharu children. The images are all based on several thousand photos taken both of children, their homes, families, etc., in Nepal, and of child friends here who allowed me to take photos of them climbing trees, running, looking, talking, etc. The challenge was then to combine them into action figures in the book, which, in its turn was based on the usual story board sketch format. The final images were all done in watercolor. There is no “photoshopping “at all, other than in the final publication stages. First, a drawing was made at the same size as the finished watercolor (13 x 21). That was transferred to the watercolor paper (Arches 300 lb cold pressed), and painted in using mostly Winsor Newton and M Graham permanent paints. There is only one spot in the book which uses some white acrylic, otherwise the “white” is based on the challenging technique of transparent watercolors.
Here is a photo of a Tharu child plus a painting taken from that photo. Until next time – take care.