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Archive for the ‘Illustration’ Category

“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass

I had this quote in a draft. This is all there was. I loved it then and I love it now, and it’s a good way to start anything.

While I am working on a few things to grow my life, my income, my everything, I am also looking at writing again. Here is my PiBoIdMo book (Picture Book Idea Month). It is now called Storystorm, and was created a number of years ago by Tara Lazar. Participants are challenged to write one picture book idea every day for a month. It’s more extensive than that, but that’s the idea.

Inside that notebook are 4 months worth of ideas (120!), some great, some not so much. But it’s a good hopping off point. Stuffed into the inside cover are more ideas that I ripped out of journals, jotted on notepaper, etc. All grist for the mill and all simmering on my back burner. (If you’re looking to get back into writing, I highly recommend this- very motivating!)

And I am reading. Some mythological creatures have recently gotten my attention. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a fascinating and excellent read, as it is both historical fiction and its main characters are … a golem and a jinni. It primarily takes place in New York City, mostly the Lower East Side and Little Syria, at the turn of the century.

This has inspired me to begin American Gods by Neil Gaiman, always an excellent writer. We have more unusual characters among the humans, a journey through, and a hard look at, “the soul of America”, according to one review.

And drawing … not much, but a start. And so goes my creative life … how’s yours doing?

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A number of months ago I found myself sketching an angel, but not just any angel. I had drawn a stone cemetery angel. Not too much later, I drew another, below.

I have always been fascinated by the amazing angels that one finds in cemeteries. To me, they’re just beautiful and are so expressive. Sometimes holding the child who’s buried below their feet, sometimes quietly sad, and sometimes they are weeping in unutterable grief.

These angels are found all over the world, but, in my research, I find the greater majority seem to be in western Europe. When I worked in publishing some time ago, we put out a magazine called Camera Arts. They did an extensive, full color photo essay on angels in graveyards and cemeteries, many in Italy, and the extent to which these statues were carved and detailed was mind blowing.

As my life has been undergoing many changes, I want to return to drawing. For me, the best way to do that is just draw something – anything – I’m interested in; if these magnificent stone angels are calling to me, then I should draw them. As I posted the drawings on Instagram, I found people with a similar interest who also provide a rich resource of subject material. There I even found a cemetery angel who did not have wings (above.)

As I looked further, I found that angels might even be animals, like this heartbroken lion in California. And so I draw, “keeping my hand in”, as they say, re-familiarizing myself with that part of me that didn’t have much reason to express itself. And now it does. I don’t know where any of this will take me; I’m simply grateful to be finding myself again.

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Would you like a chance to win a signed copy of my debut picture book, Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? It’s very easy, but the deadline is August 30th!

Longtime friend in children’s books and a very talented lady herself, Kathy Temean posted a fabulous review of my book on her blog, Writing and Illustrating. She’s also hosting my book giveaway, so all you have to do is comment on her blog, or otherwise help promote it on social media (and be sure to let her know!), and she will add your name to the giveaway basket. Check here for full details and to help my Butterflies take flight!

Thanks so much, and I hope it’s YOU!

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Sometimes it’s hard to know what to write when a month or two has passed. It’s not that I don’t have something to say – I am never at a loss for words – maybe how much to say? Or how to put it?

I’m moving into a new phase of my life. It began last November when I chose to leave the organization and work that I have done for over three decades. It was the right time and the right choice for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to have saved many thousands of lives and raised many millions of donation dollars for this organization. It was wonderful. But now, I have other things to do.

Almost all work in my life has involved healing others, whether humans or animals. I believe it’s why I’m here. I recently spent a period of time needing to take care of and healing myself after some medical procedures and the accompanying stress, but I feel myself pulling away from that period now and re-focusing on where I’m going.

In a sense, it’s a question of `what do I want to do/be when I grow up?’ from a whole new perspective. It’s challenging and occasionally a little frightening, but I feel myself, from someplace deep inside, starting to gather strength. And I am seeing myself unfolding in ways that would not have been possible those three decades ago. And it’s all good.

My first children’s book is now released, and I will be promoting that and hopefully, meeting lots of excited kids and more. I am soon starting some workshops in helping people self-publish, and plan on advancing other graphics skills I have to help people. How this will all come together is still unknown, but I trust it will be exactly as it should be.

One gift I have been given and which inspires me is, believe it or not, Instagram. I am an artist, but also a photographer, and have loved taking pictures all my life. Now I have the opportunity to be yet more inspired and post my images. All my life, I have also loved music, and over the last 7-8 months or so, this has been expanded immensely. And for a major portion of my life, I have loved going to museums, and recently I have been inspired to get out more, once again, and see art, which feeds my soul. And to do my own art, however that seems to be making itself known, and surprising me as much as anyone.

Some days feel a little shaky, occasionally outright scary, but others are just glowing with promise. All is well.

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Maybe this should be titled Finding the Unicorn Within. I’m not sure. I do know we all have that uniqueness inside us, that thing that makes us special and rare. Even while we know that at our most essential level, we are all the same.

Adapting to leaving an organization to whom one has devoted so much of her time, life, and energy after 35 years has proven a very different change than I expected. From the still-getting-used-to my not needing to be at my desk at 9 a.m. to the fact that my day is completely mine to structure, to the alarmingly slow realization that my creativity is completely mine to unearth and explore … it’s been a sea change.

I began sorting through years of accumulated work samples, tossing most, saving some, all in the interest of making my work space reflect where I am now and where I am going now. I rediscovered an Inspiration folder that I’d created for ideas, and inside it was a quote that I have always loved. So, as I continue to evolve daily into a newer and brighter self, I share the quote with you, from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

1495-1505 – “The Unicorn Is in Captivity”, one of the “Hunt for the Unicorn” tapestries, housed in The Cloisters, NYC

“It’s a rare man who is taken for what he truly is. There is much misjudgment in the world. Now I took you for a unicorn when I first saw you, and I know that I am your friend. Yet you took me for a clown, a clod, or a betrayer, and so I must be if you see me so. The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes.

“We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream. Still, I have read, or heard it sung, that unicorns when time was young, could tell the difference `twixt the two – the false shining and the true, the lips’ laugh and the heart’s rue.”

~ Schmendrick the Magician
The Last Unicorn

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I started taking classes in the writing and illustrating of children’s books many years ago. Actually it was about four years after I graduated from my alma mater, Pratt, where I had also taken advance coursework in art therapy. Not sure how it came to my attention, but suddenly I was at the New School in the evenings, studying with the very well-known author and illustrator, Uri Shulevitz.

I was greatly encouraged by him, and he even sent me to some publishers, my little picture book dummy in hand, (something that would never happen today). I was so young back then, and couldn’t really grasp what it would mean to be a published author and illustrator. As a result, my life took a different path, but it has looped back to where I am now and where I am supposed to be.

Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? is my debut picture book – you’ve seen the cover in the previous post. I have a young, growing, and progressive publisher in Ethicool Books who cares about the issues that matter in the world, and who cares about their authors. They recently did an author’s interview with me, and posted it on their website. I am both honored and deeply grateful that they wrote about me in such a beautiful light, and see in me the woman who also cares about these issues.

You can find the interview here. Thanks for reading and sharing my journey.

My publication date has now been moved forward to June 22, but Butterflies is available to pre-order on bookshop.org, Amazon and Barnes & Noble now.

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Pictured here is our final cover for Where Do Butterflies Go at Night?, published by Ethicool Books.

I am pleased to announce that our latest/updated release date is mid-June, 2022, and it is available for pre-order now on Bookshop which supports Indie bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

I’ll soon be meeting with one of the owners of a local bookshop to discuss my launch! Stay tuned ..

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Sometimes change is imposed from without, and outside our control. Our best bet can be to adapt our thoughts and feelings and make the most of it. Sometimes change is completely self-motivated and filled with all the fear and exhilaration that a major shift can bring. And oftentimes, it’s a combination of both.

Change can happen in a moment or evolve over time. Such has been the case in my life where I have recently decided to end a decades-long relationship with a client, who, in all reality, was more like an extended family in many ways. Numerous endeavors of my own have been waiting in the wings to grow and flower, but have always taken a back seat to the immediate demands of fundraising, design, writing, getting to press, and so on. Not to complain. Doing all this on behalf of animals has been an incredibly rich part of my life.

But then things change. New people, new thoughts. Out with the old, in with the new. And change doesn’t always seem the best, especially if we feel differently as to how it deals with a cause that has been near and dear to our hearts. And especially when all these other ideas and wishes and dreams of one’s own have been clamoring for expression, or at least, more of it.

And so change challenges us, heals us, pushes us to take the steps to grow. In my case, to write, to draw, to help new people to grow and change, too. It can all seem to be happening at once, but in the end, we are bright and new, even if a little shaky on our newfound legs.

It seems that the daily advice on my Wayne Dyer desk calendar has been speaking to me. On November 5th, he said, “Go beyond the ideas of succeeding and failing — these are the judgments. Stay in the process and allow the universe to handle the details.” I couldn’t have been given better advice.

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I’m excited to share with you the cover art for my forthcoming picture book, Where Do Butterflies Go at Night? This beautiful artwork by illustrator Stella Mongodi will certainly be the inspiration for readers of all ages to dive right into the rest of the book. As I begin to receive two page spreads as Stella moves along, I am not only in awe of how gorgeous this book will be (is becoming!), but also that my dream of being a published author is actually becoming a reality.

I am so grateful to my publisher, Ethicool Books, for bringing my story to light, and am so excited to promote it, learn new ways of doing so, and in working with people – Teigan at Ethicool and Stella – who genuinely care so much about a perfectly beautiful finished book.

To all my dear fellow bloggers that I usually visit, please be patient — I’ll get there. Life is calling me in many ways, but my blogging buddies are always in my heart!

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Drumroll please! I am so happy, excited, over the moon – you name it! to announce that my first children’s book has been accepted for publication!

Where Do Butterflies Go at Night, my only picture book story in rhyme, will be published by Ethicool Books, a young and growing publisher creating extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful books inspiring kids to create positive change in the world. This is a unique company that walks the walk of sustainability in making the world a better place for both young readers and the world at large.

Illustrating Butterflies is Stella Mongodi, an unbelievably talented artist who will bring the magical images of my text to life in ways I can’t yet even imagine. She has a unique and unforgettable style, and I can’t wait to see what she does.

And what you see here? The little butterfly that so piques the curiosity of a small child and inspires their rich fantasies.

More to come …

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There were many things that got stalled or pushed to the back in the last year. For many of us, reading was not one of them. In fact, a good book was often a saving grace.

I thought to share with you some of the best fiction I read, often historical, starting back from the end of 2019. These books came from several sources – the library; some I purchased online; books purchased at past annual county library book sales; and my own collection.

Here is the best of what I read from late 2019 to present:

Whistling Past the Graveyard – Susan Crandall. This is certainly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Told in first person by a sassy, red-headed nine year old, Starla Claudelle, it takes place in 1963 Mississippi at the height of segregation. Being raised by her overly strict grandmother while her father works out on the oil rigs, Starla wants nothing more than to find her mother in Nashville, whom she believes left to become famous and then reunite her family. Upset by a turn of events, Starla decides to run away to Nashville on her own. She is offered a ride by an older black woman, traveling with a white infant, unaware of the dangerous implications of this situation. Whistling Past the Graveyard is a story with deeply felt characters set against the backdrop of the Deep South at a time in history that Starla only begins to understand for what it is, as well as what family can really mean.

One page in, and I was totally hooked.

Shutter Island and Mystic River – Dennis Lehane. If you want two stories you can’t put down … Shutter Island was a book sale pick, and in it I discovered a writer with an excellent capacity for writing tense, fast moving prose with twists and turns at every corner. This story takes place in 1954 when a detective and his partner come to Shutter Island, home for the criminally insane, to investigate a patient’s disappearance, and where we soon discover nothing is as it seems. Later in the year, I read Mystic River, a psychological thriller about three boys growing up as friends, approached one day by a man in a car. One boy gets in; the others do not. And something – never fully articulated – terrible happens. Fast forward to adulthood, and this plays out in a harrowing series of events. (p.s. the movie is also excellent.)

Lehane is a terrific writer who keeps you on the edge of your seat, no matter the subject of the book. There is no doubt that I will pick up another of his novels in the future.

The Alice Network – Kate Quinn. Historical fiction taking place in the times of both World War I and World War II, The Alice Network is based on the true story of a group of women spies of the same name who, at tremendous risk, infiltrated the Germans to save lives in the most daring and heroic of ways. This is Goodreads’ initial description of the book, and as apt as I could write, “In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.” Please read the full review and you’ll know why this was a book I could not put down. It’s truly exceptional.

Had I not borrowed it from the library, it would be sitting in my bookcase of books that I would read again some day.

Forever – Pete Hamill. This is a masterful book — on the one hand, a magnificent love letter to New York City and all it’s history; on the other, the story of a young man in 1700’s Ireland, Cormac O’Connor, whose parents were killed by a wealthy lord. Added to the mix, we have some magic of the old religion, which allowed Cormac to live forever if he never left the island of Manhattan and successfully avenged his parents’ deaths. This is not a casual, lightly read book, but one that spans centuries as we follow Cormac’s life from childhood to an America at the moment of its birth. From the slaves in the ship’s hold that he saves and befriends through the politics, greed, and buried secrets of New York right through to 9/11, this is a story of great knowledge and depth. Pete Hamill has written Forever with such compassion. It was a long read, but I was sorry when it ended.

The Giver of Stars – Jojo Moyes. More engrossing historical fiction set in the Depression era in Kentucky. A small group of women who, for different reasons, join together, following the exhortation of Eleanor Roosevelt and her traveling library campaign to bring books to people who had no access to them, but who wanted to read or learn to read. Alice Wright, disillusioned in her new marriage to a distant husband and dealing with a controlling father-in-law, joins with Margery, founder of the group. Margery is strong, outspoken, and independent, and is soon joined by three other women, forming The Pack Horse Library of Kentucky (the real name of the library). The women repeatedly faced danger traversing the rugged landscape by mule and horseback, sometimes from the people who lived there, as well as from men in their lives who would control them. Their loyalty and friendship, finding true love, and always following their mission of bringing books to people in remote areas makes for a rich and rewarding read. An unforgettable story.

Nemesis and the Swan – Lindsay Bandy. This is mature and sophisticated YA, taking place in the French Revolution. Helene d’Aubign, an aristocrat of 19 years old, writes from her cell in a Paris prison. Her diary alternates with her story of being influenced as a young girl by her governess to become a revolutionary and to seek true love at a time when girls were only allowed arranged marriages. Forced to flee Paris as violence breaks out, Helene searches to find the answers to an intricate family mystery involving love and murder, somehow tied together by two unique, painted pins of eyes surrounded by gilt and pearls. She longs to return to her home and the jeweler’s apprentice she’s fallen in love with. When, in disguise, she finally does return to Paris, she finds everything she knows is changed or destroyed. But to make matters far worse, she is being sought – and is soon arrested – by those who suspect her true identity, which will sentence her to the guillotine.

With a richly articulated backdrop of the French Revolution, and the characters enmeshed in a family mystery, you couldn’t help but hope for Helene’s survival and an ending that seemed impossible.

The Mermaid Chair – Sue Monk Kidd. If you have read The Secret Life of Bees, you know Kidd writes with a truly exquisite use of the English language. The Mermaid Chair brings to life the setting of Egret Island off South Carolina where Jessie Sullivan has gone to tend to her mother, now suspected of severe mental instability after severing her finger. But the story is Jessie’s – she is returning to her childhood home of marshes and sea salt, egrets and a monastery where resides the Mermaid Chair. It is a story of love and disillusionment in her marriage, love and awakening with a monk questioning his own commitment, but most importantly, the search for her own self, lost over the years. Interlaced with the loyalty of longtime friends, a mystery surrounding her beloved father’s death, and the idyllic quality of Egret Island, Jessie’s story is stirring and engrossing. This is my own book which I’ve read in the past, and couldn’t wait to return to each evening.

Other notable books – I can’t review them all, but I can mention some other books that stand out from the many I’ve read in the past year+.

The Long Way, A Great Reckoning, Glass Houses, – all by Louise Penny. This is the first series of novels I have ever read as an adult, and I love them. I began at the beginning, and am working my way through the series, always drawn in by Penny’s style, wonderful characters and mysteries, all set in her beloved Canada.

Twigs in My HairCynthia Reyes, friend and fellow blogger here on WordPress

Good Hope Road – Lisa Wingate

The Last Letter from Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

Flower Net and The Interior – Lisa See

With the hope that I’ve inspired a future selection or two, I wish you Happy Reading!

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When I haven’t written in over a month, it usually means at least one thing. In this case, it means I have been deluged with holiday fundraisers and projects from my clients. It has been non-stop, and while I think of things to write here – I even take photos – and I want to catch up with those I follow, my creative energy is directed towards these projects and the time to actually focus on my own writing has been non-existent. It’s frustrating.  But enough whining.

As a new and different Thanksgiving approaches, many, including myself, are already shopping extensively online for Christmas and holiday gifts. To that end, I am going to take a moment to shamelessly promote myself and the lovely French Bulldog items I have created for my Etsy shop.

If you are looking to send holiday cards, “Stranger in the Snow” is one among several you’ll find in my shop. You can also find a few neat gift ideas such as my “Frenchies Apres Monet” blank notecards which I’d like to think would be appreciated by fans of Monet as well as the French Bulldog. I also have a sweet, handsomely-made Frenchie journal, because we all are writing more these days what with all the stress in our lives. No? And if not you, perhaps you know someone who journals faithfully. (Or maybe just needs a notebook!)

All the original artwork is mine, and I can assure you, the cards are of a beautiful, heavy stock. If inspired, just toddle on over to Etsy at JBalsamFrenchieArt. 

As the intensity of my holiday workload is ever-so-slowly winding down, I am planning on writing again soon, and coming by to see you and what you’ve written, too. Should I not get to the post I have in mind before Thanksgiving, I wish you all a peaceful, happy, and safe holiday, however you may spend it. Take good care and let’s continue to look forward to less stressful days when we can meet with each other again as we have in the past. I am always happy to have you stop by!

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