24 April 2017

Dr. Neal's Garden

We had to wind through the coffee shop to find the entrance to Dr. Neal's Garden, and it was so worth hunting out.
There's not much to say about this, it was just lovely to wander about this garden at the edge of Duddingston Loch...(most of the images can be viewed larger with a right-click).

See the wood duck?

I do have to talk about the Physic Garden though. I fell in love with it. If I ever have a wee plot of land in my life again, I want to recreate this garden.
It's called a Physic Garden because the plants in it all have medicinal purposes.
But basically, they're all herbs, so it smells wonderful.
I pieced together the entire garden for you in Photomerge.
The nice thing is, there were seats everywhere to sit and enjoy this natural remedy for lowering blood pressure.
We sat and just stared and listened for quite a while. Check out a quick scan of our view on Youtube (click the image).
How nice to experience such lovely mini-adventures as a day in Duddingston!

23 April 2017

Duddingston Loch

From the Sheep Heid Inn we headed down to Duddingston Loch. It wasn't hard to find, we just followed the smiling people. This is a lake (Loch) at the base of Arthur's Seat.
Here's the history. Click the image to view it larger in a new window.
The closer we got, the more it became clear that something was different about this place...
Notice the swans? First thing to know is they are all the property of the Queen. It's illegal to hunt them, kill them or eat them. You'll have Elizabeth to answer to. Second thing to notice is that these magnificent birds are nearly tame.
As we walked closer, they came to us, curious to see what we'd brought them. Nothing, I'm afraid. But when they figured that out, they didn't leave! We were just visitors in their world. How magical to just hang out with them. And they are so very BIG!
I really wanted to pet one, but they kept picking at each other, revealing large beaks full of tiny, razor sharp teeth that I didn't want to experience. So, I just stood nearby. But it wasn't just swans. There were also Canadian Geese, Wood Ducks, Mallards, and again this wee funny duck with the chicken legs. I still don't know what it is.
Oh, and there were crows too! Although, they weren't tame and flew off before I could grab their pictures.
 From there, we headed up the road towards Duddingston Kirk, a church dating from the late 12th century.
It had a proper graveyard with this one tiny grave marker that simply broke my heart. It reads "Wee Jim" - a child.
Inside felt much more modern.
(That's Stan in front of the pulpit.)
But what we really came to see was Dr. Neal's Garden behind this tricky entrance.
More soon...

VIDEO: Climate Change Artists

Two artists who work with themes addressing Climate Change are featured in this PBS special. It's not long, but it's powerful. Click the image to go watch.
Thanks to Illustration Island for the heads up - this great interview show for creatives is back after a five-year hiatus!

22 April 2017

Duddingston Village

Yesterday I finished the last big project that will go into my graduate show - Woohoo! Yes, there are some other things yet to do, but my main projects will be well represented. I felt like celebrating! How to do it?
     Edinburgh is chock-full of charming hidden gardens like Dr. Neal's Garden. I've wanted to see it for ages. And with spring blooming wildly, this was the perfect time. But it's a bit far to walk to, so Stan figured out the way. We popped on the #44 bus at the top of our street.
In no time, we were off the bus on the far side of Arthur's Seat in Duddingston Village.
This is an extremely old part of town, dating back to the 12th century. The history is fascinating.
(Most of these images are larger - just click on them to view in a new window at a larger size.)
It's no wonder the first building we came across was the iron forger.
Alleyways really reflected the age (if you ignored the cars at the end).

Our first destination was lunch reservations at the oldest surviving pub in Edinburgh, the Sheep Heid Inn.
Everything inside was tartan, including the floors. (We see a lot of that in Scotland and I just love it.)
I ordered a pink drink in honor of my friend Kevan Atteberry's late wife, Teri.
And there were sheep everywhere. This is for you, Trish!
There was also a helpful map in the pub to give us our bearings after lunch.
Next stop...Duddingston Loch.

Happy Earth Day!

I have lots of free Earth Day coloring pages for you to share today - CLICK HERE or the image to see the entire collection! You can also purchase some of my Earth Day products in my Earth Day Zazzle Store. And learn more about Earth Day at http://www.earthday.org/.

2017 Green Earth Book Awards!

I'm happy to spread the word about the winners of the 2017 Green Earth Book Awards hosted by The Nature Generation!
This prize is near and dear to my heart since A BIRD ON WATER STREET was awarded a Green Earth Book Award Honor in 2015.

20 April 2017


The Making of
Time Traveler Tours:

by Sarah Towle

I published a story this month. Not just any story. It's a true tale narrated by Michelangelo wrapped around a walking tour of Florence all packaged inside an app so it's always with you – on your phone or tablet. There's nothing else like it. Elizabeth, who acted as Art Designer on the project, asked me to share how it came to be…

The seed was planted in April 2014. My friend Mary Hoffman, an author with a love of Italy, pitched me an idea for an interactive storyapp following the format I'd pioneered in 2011 with Beware Madame La Guillotine, a mobile story and tour of the French Revolution brought to life by Charlotte Corday. It was a critical success, but a commercial flop. So while I was thrilled at the prospect of producing a second Time Traveler Tour, I was daunted by the mundane and unavoidable question of finance.
I'd done a Kickstarter to cover some of the cost of that debut StoryApp, but this time I was determined not to spend any more of my daughter's college-tuition fund. So I turned again to the crowd, thinking if they were willing to support the project, I would do it. On June 26, 2015, they came through.

Cash now in hand, the pressure was really on. While Mary got to work on her manuscript, I focused on how we were going to make this app. Beware Madame la Guillotine failed commercially because of a rookie error: I built one app to tell one story. I should have developed an app publishing engine to produce myriad stories. And while $41,500 was a major Kickstarter windfall, it was not even close to what I needed to create software.
Necessity being the mother of invention, I sought an app-publishing company willing to partner with me to build a BookApp creation tool on their technology. With both money and a development team now secured, the project put down roots. For the past two years, I nurtured them with the help of many talented collaborators. Along the way, we changed narrators, titles, and covers, while working farmers' hours. But we kept our eye on the prize: to make the drama and excitement of history come alive for youth… and the young at heart.

In the waning days of 2015, Mary delivered her story treatment, then called In the Footsteps of Giants. Now came the task of transforming her tale into a Time Traveler Tour: a story that transports you to another place and time, and makes both narrative as well as logistical sense. In February 2016, I landed in Florence to figure out how best to weave Mary’s treatment into the city as it was 486 years ago, in 1530.
Fortunately, Florence is Mary’s home-away-from-home, and her knowledge of Michelangelo’s era is encyclopedic. So she set me off on a good start. I wore out my hips and a pair of shoes walking those cobblestoned streets. I visited every museum and site Mary suggested, and then some. I befriended a Michelangelo scholar who helped me jump queues and get past gatekeepers to visit the off-the-beaten-track places little known to tourists. I drank a lot of espresso. I ate a lot of pasta. I gorged on Michelangelo's life and art.
In April, I was back in Florence, this time with Mary, to verify that both story and tour wove seamlessly together while we hunted for the artifacts that would comprise the app's treasure hunts and games.

That’s when we moved into production mode. We returned to the crowd to source our vocal talent. A reward for $100+ backers was the right to audition for the lead role. We got lucky: our Michelangelo is both voice actor and audio engineer. We added a photo editor to the team; drilled down on the user experience (UX) design; then brought Elizabeth in to wire everything together with the gorgeous user interface (UI, i.e. graphic design) that you can hold in your hand today.
To find our StoryApp and Tour, open the app store on your mobile device, search for Time Traveler Tours, locate Buried Alive, install, download, and let Michelangelo transport you to Renaissance Florence.

While there, if you have an idea for a Time Traveler Tour, we are actively seeking submissions. Click here to view our guidelines. I hope, too, you’ll give it an app store review.

Now, unless you have a full-time cook, nanny, and dog walker, can function on a few hours of sleep many nights on end, and don’t mind riding an emotional roller-coaster, I'd avoid crowd-sourcing your financing. But if you really want to try it, FYI, I run a crowd-funding consultancy that helps keep the lights turned on at my now independent app-publishing house: Time Traveler Tours. Feel free to reach out!

18 April 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Love is in the air!

     Spring is blooming, so are the flowers, and love! I've spotted so many couples kissing this week - it must be spring! CLICK HERE for more 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.

Rowboat Watkins' PETE WITH NO PANTS

I can honestly say that PETE WITH NO PANTS is one of my favorite picture books in years! And I'm thrilled to have its creator, Rowboat Watkins, on today to talk about it...
e: The images and text in Pete With No Pants seem to heavily rely on each other - how did you approach creating this story as both the writer and the illustrator?
Pete started off as a doodle in a sketchbook. Of an elephant sitting in a tree with a dubious squirrel. Which became multiple dubious squirrels in a subsequent drawing. That the squirrels looked worried made vague sense. But why was the elephant in a tree?

Then for some reason, which undoubtedly says something wrong about me, I realized the elephant wasn't wearing any pants. The squirrels weren't wearing pants either, but for whatever reason their not wearing them didn't worry me. So then I wondered why would an elephant be sitting naked in a tree. It seemed like a reasonable question at the time. Anyway, that's how the book started. With a couple doodles and a random worry. The words came from there. And then the words led to different pictures as I drew thumbnails. And then those pictures changed the words. And so on. Because the words and pictures in a picture book shouldn't wear the same pants if they plan to walk anywhere. I don't dispute the fact that the pictures and words need to walk together in some way, but in doing so they shouldn't wear the same clothes at the same time. Because shared pants don't really move. At least in my limited experience they don't. Does that make sense?

e: What is your illustrative medium?
Just reading "illustrative medium" made me feel panicky because it sounds too official. I'm not official enough to have anything that official sounding. Am sure this is not what you meant when you asked the question, but I am pretty good at making anything feel needlessly difficult. Which grows old. I am trying not to grow old with myself by trying to remember to have fun with my work. At least sometimes. Sometimes the workiness of work is unavoidable. But with the goal of having fun in mind, I try to keep the following things lying around my desk: cups of pencils; cans of pens; graphite sticks; crappy watercolors and brushes; construction paper; nubby brown paper; tracing paper; sculpey; acorns; marshmallows; poodle fur; washi tape; rubber stamps; a scanner; and an iMac.
So that whenever my brain pants feel stuck I can get my tiny creative legs moving again by…making a small gorilla out of sculpey…or drawing on a marshmallow…or making a miniature book out of construction paper…for no good reason. Until whatever else I'm "really" working on doesn't feel like a wedgie.
e: You did a Sendak Fellowship in 2010. WOW. What were some of your key takeaways from that? (Please do go on, and on, and on - we won’t tire of hearing about this one!)
Rowboat :
When I went to the fellowship I was stuck in what felt like a terminal creative wedgie. The multi-year-maybe-lapsing-into-forever kind. Aside from being terrified of meeting Maurice, I was also afraid of meeting the other fellows. I had no idea why I was there or what I was supposed to do with a month of no excuses, in a room of my own, living next door to a childhood hero, and sharing a house with three talented author/illustrators. Who were each working on books under contract. Feeling hopelessly lost and stuck in the dummies and manuscripts I'd brought with me, I started drawing on the walls of my room. And covering it with construction paper, on which I drew whatever. Large gorilla hands. Masked bandits. Giant legs. Oak trees. Acorns. And when the month was over, and after most of my room was covered in this or that, I took it all down and painted the walls white. And went back home to my family. I no longer remember what I felt at the time, other than that I was grateful to have made some new friends, and that I was inspired (but even more daunted) by how committed and passionate the other fellows were about making their books. I wish I could say I immediately figured out what do next, but the truth is there were still a couple years of what felt like hapless flailing, where most moments of working on any idea felt like some herculean task that went nowhere (a condition that still rears its ugly head, but much less often). Somewhere along the way though I remembered something Maurice had told me on a walk we took by the woods near his house, which was, "You need to become a better spy."
"You need to become a better spy."
     - Maurice Sendak
At the time I thought it was intended as advice on how to cleverly write something subversive that might potentially sneak its way past the sanitizing censors of the marketplace, but in retrospect I think he was maybe telling me to be smarter about getting out of my own way. Which, in retrospect, is probably what that month of drawing on the walls of my room was about. About getting my brain legs moving. And not worrying about where I was going so much as just not remaining stuck in a pair of pants that weren't going anywhere. Which is why my computer is always surrounded by construction paper, and pencils, and sculpey, and marshmallows.

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?
For me the most magical quality in an illustration is generosity. Which I think has something to do with the appearance of thoughtful effortlessness (or effortless thoughtfulness?) on the part of the maker. But I'm undoubtedly wrong because I don't really have any idea how magic works. I'm forever jealous of any virtuoso illustrator who can draw a thousand Vikings ransacking Times Square by motorcycle at midnight during a hail storm, but Arnold Lobel and James Marshall create magic--even without Vikings or neon or hailstones. So does Victoria Chess. And Nicole Rubel. And Petra Mathers. And those tiny pix Maurice made for all those books he illustrated for Ruth Krauss. I don't know if there is a unifying principal to all of this magic. But I feel like it has something to do with an illustration allowing me (the viewer) to feel like I am participating in the completion of whatever is being shared. And that the illustrator isn't just wowing me with how skilled he or she is. But this is only what my answer is today. I'm sure the 5- or 6 -or 7-year-old me saw much more magic in virtuosity than the much older me is currently able to see.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
Well, you already know about the doodle in the tree. But what you maybe didn't know is that Pete's name was briefly Barnaby. Until I realized it was Nicholas. Only to learn sometime later that Nicholas' real name was Pete. And that the working title I'd had (Nicholas Is a Squirrel), was actually Pete Without Pants. Which Chronicle later changed to Pete with No Pants. These are the kinds of things that happen when your brain legs keep moving. It took me a long time to figure out what Pete's story was about. For the first however many months it centered on the bird in the book. And Pete's wanting to find a common language with a friend. Any friend. But as I kept rewriting and reworking the dummy (with my incredible editor) I realized the book was really about Pete and his mom. About his needing to know that, whoever or whatever he discovered he might be, his mom would be open to seeing him for himself. And about her needing to let go of vigilantly making Pete put his pants back on. Because sometimes pants get in the way of walking where you're trying to go.

e: What was your path to publication, and did the Fellowship feed into that?
It felt long and arduous, and took way more persistence than I'd ever imagined. Am pretty sure if I hadn't gotten to know Maurice and the other fellows, and hadn't had that month to draw in and on my room, I would have given up before I finally wrote Rude Cakes, which was the first book of mine that Chronicle published, and which was the first project of all the many manuscripts and dummies I'd sent my agent over the years that she was finally able to sell. All the stories folks tell about persistence in the face of rejection are so abundantly ever present and everywhere because they are so boringly true. Writing a picture book is hard. And rejection and failure have a wearisome way of wearing you down.
     When you asked about what makes an illustration magical, it reminded me of a question I always ask myself: What makes one picture-book idea publishable, and another not? I don't think anyone knows. All you can do is make something you truly care about. Boring bromide.
When you asked about what makes an illustration magical, it reminded me of a question I always ask myself: What makes one picture-book idea publishable, and another not?
And hope you find ONE person who believes in it. Equally boring bromide, but no less true. In my case, it was finding an agent who believed in my work enough to keep reading what I sent her year after year. And her eventually finding an editor who saw in my work what she saw. And having one very dear, very wise, super generous friend, Antoinette, who I met at the fellowship, who never stopped waving her pompoms whenever I felt lost, and who kindly loaned me her brain whenever mine got stuck. Because making a picture book is an inherently more collaborative process than all that sitting at your desk by yourself might lead you to believe.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Being able to tell myself I have to play more if I want to do my job well.
e: What are you working on next?
I just turned in the final art for a book called Big Bunny, which will come out next spring. Am currently working on a book about marshmallows, called Most Marshmallows. In which I get to draw on marshmallows, and make tiny books and buses and backpacks and tvs out of construction paper. Because I am a better spy, Maurice.

e: I can't wait to see it! Thanks so much for sharing, Rowboat!


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