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20 July 2017

Vita and Ethan Murrow's THE WHALE

We're thrilled to have Vita and Ethan Murrow visiting Hollins University for the opening of their show at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum featuring works from their new picture book, The Whale (Candlewick Press, 2016). To celebrate, they are here to talk about their process. Welcome Vita and Ethan!

e: What was your creative process on The Whale, can you walk us through it?
Vita and Ethan:
We approach each of our projects like a movie. We collaborate on a manuscript with our editor, then we sketch out a story board.
The story was an evolution of one we’d told in the past, about a whale hoax, that we thought could be improved upon and adapted.
      Once the pacing and plot are approved, we cast actors and try out the story as a performance. We stage our photo shoots with props, specific lighting cues and costumes. We really look to our actors to help get the story right and bring it to life.
With the photos as our guide we build composite images around them using photo shop, to fill in background information and take risks with perspective. We review the narrative and always have edits. In The Whale we made some large changes like moving the story from airplanes to boats. Then we produce a "pick up shoot" a chance to rephotograph the story with the necessary edits and revisions.
      Then we refine our compositions in photoshop and ready the images to be projected on the wall. The drawing process involves projecting the images in order to map them out with graphite sticks. Then a couple of weeks per drawing to render out all the details, improvisations and changes. the drawings are them photographed and it is these digital images that make up the illustrations in the book.
e: Is the entire book in graphite? What form of graphite (pencils?) do you use and how big do you work?
Vita and Ethan:
Yes the entire collection of drawings are rendered with hundreds of graphite sticks of different weights. Lots of kneadable and electric erasers are utilized as well.

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Vita and Ethan:
For us the magic of an image is how it transports the viewer/reader. We are drawn to strong and encompassing perspectives such as sweeping landscapes, aerials, or tense close ups.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of The Whale?
Vita and Ethan:
Each project we take on is so unique and is usually a combination of whim and impulse, paired with cajoling and support from our collaborators. Such was the case with The Whale. Our friend and Editor Rachel Williams really pushed us and drew us into the project. Her confidence in us and our trust in her really made The Whale possible. It is in every sense a story of friendship, trust and collaboration.

e: What was your path to publication?
Vita and Ethan:
Relationships! We really see our work as relational. Not just between the two of us, but with our larger network of peers and colleagues. It was this network that offered us conversations, forums, meeting points and events that exposed us to opportunities and people in publishing that we trusted and were eager to explore.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Vita and Ethan:
Being a team. We relish in the ensemble part of our work. As a duo and with the photographers, actors and publishers with which we work. The combination of people is enriching, challenging and we love sharing the fun and excitement with others. But all that collaborating is also our biggest challenge. From logistics, to time zones, personalities, and perspectives. And between the two of us, being sure we are both growing as artists and that we find potential and evolution in each project and role we take on.

e: Is there something in particular about The Whale you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Vita and Ethan:
We tried to hide a sweet parallel story in there about the generations that came before. And we also strove to weave the thread that some things, are just for kids.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project (or have you already done it!)?
Vita and Ethan:
Our forthcoming projects include another wordless picture book, followed by a more mature graphic novel adventure. Our dream is to see our work turned into film. We are always kicking around non narrative ideas, like collections and of course more adult oriented content too...

e: Good luck with all, we can't wait to see them!

Show and Tell at Hollins with Elise Schweitzer

Elise Schweitzer is one of the primary art instructors at Hollins University, working towards tenure as full Professor. As such, she's been working on a research show - a series of images themed around the equestrian program at the uni. We've been peeking at her works from a distance for a few years now. Wednesday, she treated us to a private showing and talk about her method. WOW.
First we just looked and absorbed. Then she shared the research she did to understand horses and the idiosyncrasies of hunt seat and equitation.
She mostly works from life, working with models and becoming a common presence in the barns. She even keeps a saddle in her studio for reference.Her talk on examining the differences in Degas' horses and Rubens' was fascinating - thins to rounds, energy to calm. These are Elise's charcoal studies.

She shared the frustrations of creating pastels - how hard they are to keep and frame. I wish they weren't so tricky, because this was gorgeous.
And then she walked us through her oil process. It began with handmade frames, linen canvas and rabbit skin glue.
She works with a glass palette, placing primaries in the corners, secondary colors between them and so on. She works with brushes and palette knives and various solvents/varnishes.Finally, she talked us through the challenges of creating her amazing oils.There were the pieces from last year that are just breathtaking.

It was fascinating to hear the similarities in considerations with her methods and our illustrator methods - and the differences. Movement was a big consideration - left to right and back, forward to back, as in inside the painting, up and down. Mixing up visual intention. How she layers the viscosity of paint to make it most flexible for humidity and aging was fascinating and something we rarely deal with when our work's final goal is to be in print. Similarly, though, she is fascinated by shapes - both positive and negative. Really look at them.

As I'm sure you are, we were in awe. Elise's work is so incredibly beautiful. To stand in the middle of so much of it was a true meditation in calm, peaceful appreciation. What a treat indeed. See more of Elise's work on her website here.

18 July 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Nessie Love?

     True love comes in all shapes and sizes! CLICK HERE for more patriotic-themed coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

17 July 2017

Annual Cookout at Nancy Dahlstrom's

Nancy Dahlstrom is a Hollins University professor emerita - the former head of the art department. She was responsible for our lovely Visual Arts Center (the VAC) and helped initiate our Children's Literature program. She also continues to be a wonderfully inspirational and active artist. So it's a treat when our faculty heads to her country home each year for a cookout.
     The first thing we do is head to her studio to see what she's been up to over the past year. We meander through the forest of Japanese Maples...
to the studio - JD Donnelly, Ruth Sanderson's sister Gail, Nancy, Mark Braught, and Ashley Wolff (sitting). Ruth and I are behind cameras.
This year, Nancy has been working on relief printing birds.
Nancy loves process, so she walks us through all the fabulous iterations. Of course, she is a blur as she's always in motion. Even with a new hip, there's no slowing her down.
In fact, she so loves process, she created this one of a kind, handmade book to show the evolution of an etching. Here's the outside.
And the amazing inside.
She exemplifies what I said when I graduated with my MFA - that some things just need to be in the world - without thinking about the possible profit. We were in awe.
Of course, who wouldn't want to create in this inspiring space?
With this incredible hillside behind the studio. This image can be seen larger and wasn't touched up one bit other than piecing together several shots!
And views all around.
Ashley's new puppy, Rufus soaked up every drop of it.
Back to the main house, we cooked out kabobs and ate an entire passel of corn on the cob. Nancy's resident deer came to see what all the fuss was. This is a terrible photo for how close the deer was and how little she was bothered by us.
I relaxed and drew Nancy's back yard in the lovely handmade book J.D. Donnelly gave me.


All said, visiting Nancy's every summer is a relaxing and inspirational treat for all of us and I look forward to next year!

16 July 2017

Roanoke Farmer's Market

While teaching at Hollins University, each Saturday many of us trot to downtown Roanoke in search of relaxation and peaches. Here I am with Mark Braught and Karen Coats in the adorable city center.
Downtown Roanoke is an adorable oasis of shops, restaurants, and on Saturdays, the Farmer's Market.
The farmer's market is positively magical.
The veggies are gorgeous and picked by the very hands that sell them to us.

Of course, the main reason I go is for the peaches - they're the size of softballs and delicious!
We also shop... at my favorite dress shop on the planet - LaDeDa. The wine shop represents many local wineries. I loved this label with a cicada.
And my fave cajun restaurant, where I've been indulging this shrimp and grits obsession...
also has a bloody mary bar on Saturdays. Here I am with Mary Jane Begin and Mark.
Yup - downtown Roanoke is the perfect place for us to unwind and enjoy our treasure of summers at Hollins.

VIDEO: Pink Fuzzy Unicorns

Dancing on Rainbows. Because, we should never let this go...

15 July 2017

Friday Night in Floyd, Virginia

Floyd, Virginia is a unique community made up of farmers, hippies, and Bluegrass musicians in the heart of Appalachia that we Hollins folks try to get to at least once a summer for the Friday night jam sessions. It's such a special place, I carried my cowboy boots all the way from Scotland just for Floyd. This year, Karen Coats and I headed up for a laid back evening of good food, good wandering and good music.
My boots are Tony Lamas. Karen's are custom-made from Texas. They fit well in Floyd, because they're good for buck dancing.
I seem to be on a binge of eating shrimp and grits this summer, which I did happily at Oddf3llows. It may have been the best one yet!
After dinner, we wandered around listening to the bands that pop up all along main street. The "bathroom boys" set up outside the public restrooms every week and they are good. Click the image to go have a listen on Youtube. (Video by Karen.)
Another good group set up in the alley next to the Country Store.
Karen got a great video of a fan clogging to their music - you've got to check this out - it's great! (Click the image to watch on Youtube.
As the sun went down, Karen and I headed into the Floyd General Store to get some ice-cream.
The Floyd Country Store is the hub of all the activity. There's a stage with a band and a dance floor for square dancing, clogging, buck dancing and the slide. I've done a fair amount of stomping there in the past, but I was feeling more laid back this trip.So I took pictures of the things that make the store so special and unique.
The Music


The Candy featuring MoonPies, Goo-goo Clusters, and Mallow Bars.

The Apple Butter

and BBQ sauce.And oh, yes, you can't forget the cans of Creamed Possum. Yes, you read that right - creamed possum. (And you thought haggis was extreme!)
Sundae and keylime pie in hand, we went to sit outside and watch the sky fall into beautiful blues while the town glowed gold. Slowly wandering back to Karen's car, I was reminded once again why I love Floyd, why it's worth it to carry my boots all that way just for one night, and that I can't wait to return.

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