Wise words from Leo Lionni


"Of all the questions I have been asked as an author of children's books, the most frequent one, without doubt, has been 'How do you get your ideas?' Most people seem to think that getting an idea is both mysterious and simple. Mysterious, because inspiration must come from a particular state of grace with which only the most gifted souls are blessed. Simple, because ideas are expected to drop into one's mind in words and pictures, ready to be transcribed and copied in the form of a book, complete with endpapers and cover. The word get expresses these expectations well. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

"It is true that, from time to time, from the endless flow of our mental imagery, there emerges unexpectedly something that, vague though it may be, seems to carry the promise of a form, a meaning, and, more important, an irresistible poetic charge. The sense of instant recognition with which we pull this image into the full light of our consciousness is the initial impulse of all creative acts. But, though it is important, it produces no more than the germ of an idea. Each book, at the birth of its creative history, has such a moment. Some are fortunate enough to have, from the outset, a strongly identified hero, one with an inescapable destiny. Others are blessed with a promising beginning, or perhaps with the vision of an ending (which means working backwards to a surprise opening). Others stem from a clearly articulated conflict situation. Sometimes, I must admit, the motivations of a book may be found in a sudden, unreasonable urge to draw a certain kind of crocodile. And it may even happen that in the dark of our minds there appears, out of nowhere, a constellation of words that has the bright, arrogant solidity of a title. Only last night I was jolted out of a near-slumber by the words the mouse that didn't exist. I am sure that, temporarily tucked away in my memory, they will eventually become the title of a story for which as yet I have no idea.

"To shape and sharpen the logic of a story, to tighten the flow of events, ultimately to define the idea in its totality, is much like a game of chess. In the light of overall strategy, each move is the result of doubts, proposals, and rejections, which inevitably bring to mind the successes or failures of previous experiences.

"Inspirational raptures may happen, but most books are shaped through hard, disciplined work. Creative work, to be sure, because its ingredients come from the sphere of the imaginary. But the manipulation of these ingredients requires much more than mere inclination or talent. It is an intricate process in which the idea slowly takes form, by trial and error, through detours and side roads, which, were it not for the guidance of professional rigor, would lead the author into an inextricable labyrinth of alternatives.

"And so, to the question 'How do you get your ideas?' I am tempted to answer, unromantic though it may sound, 'Hard work.' "


-Leo Lionni (found through his Amazon bio)

On my desk

Recently I joined a book club, thinking it would be good motivation to start reading books for an adult audience again. Sadly, I haven't finished one. My reading time is so limited now that I'm a mother, there is only room for books at the top of my list. That is, children's books.

Here are a few I've had on my desk lately. Since I've been writing in a new genre (chapter books), I've been trying to read up on some new ones, as well as review old classics. Most recently Winnie-the-Pooh has been on my nightstand. I had forgotten how utterly hilarious those books are, what genius. I can't wait to read them to Tilly when she's older!

Advice

I recently read this article for aspiring photographers by Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai. It struck me as very true for any creative professional. Some favorite excerpts:

"Don't look outward for your style; look inward."

"Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a concensus."

"Accept critique, but don't apply it blindly. Just because someone said it does not make it so. Critiques are opinions, nothing more. Consider the advice, consider the perspective of the advice giver, consider your style and what you want to convey in your work. Implement only what makes sense to implement. That doesn't make you ungrateful, it makes you independent."

"Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself. Never let your technique upstage your subject."

"Never compare your journey with someone else's. It's a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has his own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition. You will never "arrive". No one ever does."

And aren't her photographs lovely?



Dream job

Our neighborhood here in San Francisco is teeming with families and the accompanying stores full of kid stuff, especially clothes and toys. I spend a lot of time taking baby on long walks and window shopping. Last week I wandered into a lovely store called Speesees a few blocks from our apartment. Everything is organic and fair trade and I just love the design. I can't wait til Tilda is old enough to wear this:


Or these:




They had some stuffed toys too:



I got to chatting with the owner and designer who is also a painter. When she found our I illustrated children's books she exclaimed that was her dream job. Its funny how the grass is always greener. I love my job but designing kids clothes sounds like a dream job to me!

Labor of love

I recently discovered the work of Sharon Montrose, who photographs animals of all kinds. I love this little movie about her work! She balances personal and commercial work so seamlessly, I find this very inspiring. And what a dream job, making art and working with animals all day (two of my big passions).

You can buy limited editions of her prints at her web site, and open editions at her etsy shop. Make sure you check out the "tail" series and some of the more exotic animals... so modern and elegant and beautiful! I am dying to put one of these prints up on my wall.