10 Years From Now

I have an interesting and sad story to tell. Recently I was approached by a woman who has a friend with a terminal illness. This lady who is sick–we will call her Helen, just because–is in her late 30’s, and has a pretty depressing diagnosis. I’m not going to spin it all out here with medical jargon and time frames, but every day is extremely precious to her. She has little kids. She is a very physically beautiful woman, as you can tell from her photograph. She uses visualization as part of her self-care and treatment, and she wants to be able to visualize herself as a woman 10 years older than she is now. 10 years would be quite a victory for her. But no matter what she does, she can’t see herself in the future, with the slight changes in her skin, new folds and creases, and, of course with happiness at being alive radiating from her face.

So, it was requested of me that I use my time and talents to create an age-progression painting or drawing of this lady, to be sent on to her so she could see herself 10 years from now. Unfortunately, she doesn’t live close enough to do a photography session with me so that I can capture her with my lighting and composition to aid me in the illustration process. But I was able to get a few headshots emailed to me, and I decided that traditional drawing and art techniques would be too time-consuming. It was impressed upon me from the beginning that time was of the essence.

Helen

I decided digital techniques, photo enhancement, and then, digital painting on top of the photo itself would be the least time intensive of my creative choices, so, I set out to age this attractive person.

I’m not going to go into each step of the process here.  Suffice it to say, I literally painted age on her face, using my Wacom pen and tablet.  Then I altered the background with various brushstrokes, and brush stroked her hair, skin and features so they felt painted more than photographed.  I changed her hair, and her garment.  I spent time considering the color tonalities of the nearly-finished piece.  I wanted her to glow, to look like she was elegant, mature, and living fully.

This morning, I emailed the final result to the woman who approached me.  It will be forwarded along to Helen, and I hope it helps her.  I hope she looks at her older self with love.  I hope she can feel the wind in her hair from that beach, and smell the ocean crashing on the sand.

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And, as I clicked “send”, I thought about how I am growing older too, and someday will be 10 years older than I am now.  If I am lucky.  I think about how many things can happen in 10 years–careers rise and fall, families are built, homes are moved into and sold….I thought of how I complain about how I look now, and the changes that are going on in my own face.  I feel small when I look at this woman who may not have the same luxury of aging that I (hopefully) will have.  All of us, who are focused on the little creases and folds and laugh lines to the exclusion of loving ourselves and the reality that we are alive—we are small and misguided and really ignoring the purpose of living, which is to experience life, not try to hold on to a moment in time, or a look we once had.

Here is to the next 10 years.

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

A Night At The Theatre

I went to The Theatre last night. Not a movie theater. Theatre. You know, people on-stage, throwing lines to one another, taking creative chances in front of a live audience. And no, it wasn’t Broadway. It wasn’t The Lion King at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater (the nearest place you can see “Broadway” caliber shows). It was in my little town of Sidney, Iowa. It wasn’t high-brow entertainment. It was a high school production of that classic tale of teenage angst during the mythical 1950’s–GREASE.

Presumably, you know the story. I hope so, because actually, the story is the WORST part of GREASE, either the stage production or the movie. The BEST part is the energy that play has. It’s fast paced, fun, catchy, colorful, humorous–a romantic slice of time that probably never really existed quite like that. And it is something that teenagers can play with some authenticity, simply because the characters are teens themselves. It isn’t Shakespeare, it isn’t Oedipus Rex (Thank God!), but it is entertainment. And for the kids performing this play last night, and tonight as well, it is art.

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I have nothing but praise for the cast and crew. Not that there weren’t imperfections–this is high school, after all, and Sidney is not known for its emphasis on Fine Arts but rather for hard-hitting football, squeaking sneakers on the basketball court, and, of course, RODEO (but perhaps that is changing just a bit).  We are the Sidney Cowboys, after all.  We are a typical small town.  Sport in one form or another drives the town spirit and the newspaper articles.  Because of that, it is no surprise that the stage is located in an old high school gym with dreadful acoustics.  Consequently, the actors have to wear microphone headsets throughout. We do not have a Drama department as such in our high school–no money, you know, the same tired story of public education in most small towns.  The director of our theatrical productions, Mrs. Nicole Zavadil, is also the band director AND the choir director for both the high school and middle school students. She is one of the best teachers I have ever met, and she has little help with the frighteningly huge workload beneath which she labors. She provides something to these children in our town–a basic appreciation of performing arts–that has been sorely missing for several years.

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I am not a theater “person”.  I didn’t major in theater in college, nor did I do a single production after high school.  I did have amazing experiences during my high school years under  a Drama instructor by the name of Ken Balster, who, magically, is still doing his thing in Clarinda, Iowa, just 36 miles away.  I had the unbelievable privilege of going to school in a community that was a little larger and richer than Sidney, and had a true proscenium theater facility.  We had more money in our Theater Department.  We did two productions a year, plus had acting classes, set design and construction classes–all sorts of wonderful tidbits in the curriculum.  I was very lucky to have that background.  But, that was as far as it went.  I did no more in theater for the rest of my life, and I put that part of my background away, forever, it seemed.  Forever, until I had children.  And then, all that came rushing back into my mind.

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I remembered the teamwork, the collaboration, the trust that you have to have with the other actors, with the director, with the audience, in order to produce a play worth seeing.  I remember the culture of acting as an art form, of singing and playing instruments as art forms.  I remembered the friendships and the camraderie that results from getting up in front of an audience and performing something for them the best way you knew how, of throwing and catching lines and cues with fellow actors, of the laughter together, and the fear of screwing up, and the hope that you wouldn’t.  I remember how bad it was when people had an “off” day, and how like poetry it was when everything was clicking on the stage.  I remember how democratic acting in a play is–you don’t need to have extraordinary physical prowess to act a part (in most cases).  You can be an “average” person, and still participate. You simply have to show up and dedicate yourself to a practice.  You don’t need to be able to throw a ball, or run really fast, or wrestle someone to a pin.  In fact, you have to let go of all you know about yourself and become someone else.  And to do that with a group of other actors–well, THAT is the point of theater.  It is the ultimate team.  You become one of many colors on a canvas, mixing together to create something wonderful.  It is ART.

I wanted that experience for my children.

And last night, at the Sidney High School’s production of GREASE, I saw that.

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Regardless of gymnasium stage, of limited budget, of a small school that doesn’t have the cash flow for a lot of artistic endeavors, I saw these kids had it.  They were experiencing it together, transcending reality for just a bit.  Those young women and young men were “getting it”.  They were having a shared experience, and had entered into that sacred contract between actors and audience.  They fed us the performance, and we fed them our attention and applause.  It happened.  Hopefully tonight (and the second night is always tougher), it will happen again–that flow of energy between actor and audience.

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So, I want to thank Mr. Balster, for allowing me that wonderful, privileged experience during my high school years.  Even though I never pursued it, it enriched me in untold ways.

And I want to thank Mrs. Zavadil, for bringing this experience to my children.  She has changed the fortunes of our choir and band programs here in Sidney in dramatic, beautiful ways.  And she has taken on the role of director of our plays and musicals, providing an experience in performance-based art that our kids simply would not have were it not for her.  She can never be compensated for what she is doing in our town.

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Last night, after the play, I was able to walk down the hallway and see each of the actors.  There they stood, flushed faces, hearts beating young and wild with the memory of the past 2 hours.  I remembered my own moments, after a performance, when the audience would file by and clasp my hand, telling me “Good Job”–part of the ritual bond between actor and audience.  I remembered how much that meant to me, that appreciation.  And so, I got to be on the other end. Life is a wheel, isn’t it?   I passed through them, these children of Sidney, and clasped their hands and looked into their eyes, and gave them the only gift I had–praise.  It was profound.

Good Job.

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Photographs graciously provided by Sidney Photographer Scott Lowthorp (c) 2013.  You may find more of his excellent photography at http://www.viewbug.com/slowthorp.

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

A Mish-Mash

Some days are a mish-mash of activities and projects.  Today is no exception.  First off, I have to tell you about my visit to Northeast Elementary School, which occurred day before yesterday.  We had a GREAT time!  The kids and parents listened to me read two books–Bug Summer-Raining Ladybugs, and Sylvia McBye Learns To Fly.

Bug Summer--Raining Ladybugs

Bug Summer–Raining Ladybugs

 

Yes, THIS was the "lucky" book...

Yes, THIS was the “lucky” book…

In between, I did a quick Flash illustration, which made everyone very happy.

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After all the packing and preparation, it was a worthwhile way to spend the evening.  And afterwards, the hubster and I got to go out for a sandwich together, which rarely happens.

I have also spent more time on Soda’s Valentine, getting pages ready so I can eventually publish!  Yay!  Here are a few more photos that are all tricked out and ready for page design.

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Then I spent some time on the photography portion of my business—I do run a photography studio called Images By Tracy Lovett, and I had to design a customer book of images that we did of her daughter–here are a couple of the pages from THAT project.

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And you may learn more about my photography studio by checking out my Facebook page here.

After THAT, I was back onto Inclement stuff.  My friends Jared and TJ–the founding members of the band BETWIXT that I work with quite a bit, are coming down this Sunday to work on a collaborative project with me.  We have taken Sylvia McBye Learns To Fly and turned it into a script for what will hopefully become an animated children’s television pilot.  My 11 year old son, one of his friends, and my 8 year old daughter are going to read the parts for us, and we will record their voices so we can produce a finished audio portion of the show for future animation.  I am hard at work doing storyboards of the script as well.  Eventually, we hope to meet with people at PBS, maybe Nickelodeon, or other children’s tv networks to see if they are interested in what we are doing.

I was supposed to have a photo session this afternoon in my Studio, but one of the little ones wasn’t feeling his best, so we have postponed that until Saturday.  And that gives me  a bit of time to write my blog today.  After I am done here, I’m going to return to photography stuff for a few hours, editing some customer photos, and printing an order or two for Senior Portraits.

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Oh, and I played a game of chess with my son–partial game.  Chess and I do not get along, and I always lose interest about half-way through.  I also need to stretch two canvas portraits for customers today.

So, that is what my plans are for the rest of the day.  My sons (who are homeschooled) have had an art day today, working on “macro” projects–they have to design a macroscopic world, either real or imaginary–and do a drawing of it.  One of them is working on rendering a corner of his room, up close, complete with a tiny city and buildings that, at least in his imagination, exist in that space.  The other one is doing an outdoor scene, where the stems of plants are enormous and there are critters of all sorts living and breathing and fighting and dying, all on a tiny scale.  I wish I had time for this project as well….it sounds so fun and full of possibilities.  But alas, I have a full plate already.

See, that’s the thing about creativity, and creative jobs.  Sometimes, they require laser-sharp focus, and many times, you are running hither and nigh, accomplishing many unrelated or semi-related tasks just to get through the day.  But, that’s my life.

So, back to it!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

 

What Should I Write About?

As I am busily designing pages for Soda’s Valentine (and you can learn about that process here) I reflect upon the most difficult question posed to me by both children and adults–“What should I write about?”.  I have 4 kids myself, and they are often-times stumped by what to write about.  Factual reports and papers are actually pretty easy, because they are assignments, and usually, the topic is assigned as well, so that takes away all the work of coming up with a subject.  But for writing a children’s book, or an adult’s book, or a poem, or even a blog, figuring out what to write about is sometimes the hardest part. Ultimately, this question is best rephrased as “How can I come up with ideas?”

For me, it is usually about what I see in the world. Visual things flip the switch in my brain, and make me generate ideas.  I am a visual-spatial learner, and I need visual input to activate the writing parts of my brain.  Which, in many ways is a bit contradictory.  Speech is a left-brained activity, and image processing is a right-brained activity.  So, creative writing is an interesting mix of right and left-brained activities that don’t always mesh well.  I am a compulsive doodler, for instance, and when I went to school, back in the dark ages, I doodled through every lecture, at least on the corner of my page.  My children tell me now, that this is often frowned upon severely.  But for me, when I doodle, it makes my brain much more able to handle the verbal concepts that are being presented to me.  So, that’s what I did, and I did pretty well in school.  It makes me wonder if we should be teaching a doodling class in school, for children who are visual learners instead of auditory learners–kids who learn by visualizing instead of by listening.  Anyway…

Some people process information–and come up with ideas for their writing in other ways.  Listening to music will spur some folks to come up with ideas, and other people need to take a walk or a run, do yoga, have a shower–these are all reflective of the way your brain learns and processes information.  Everyone’s brain is different.  Use what works for you.

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If a bike ride with the dog works, go for it.

 

Today, I’m talking about what works for me.  However, the list at the end of the blog is good for anyone, regardless of HOW they get their brain to turn on.

Sometimes I have a very striking, visual dream.  Now, usually, the dream doesn’t TELL me a story (although that HAS happened, and I scribbled down the high points in my notebook for later use) but rather, there is an IMAGE in the dream that really gets me going.  For Sylvia McBye Learns To Fly, I had a dream about….you guessed it….flying.  And when I woke up, I knew I wanted to write about a little girl who wanted to fly.  Then, we went for a drive on a windy day in April.  You know the kind of day–you can smell the springtime in the air, and the wind rolls across the treetops, bouncing all the new, baby-green leaves.  My brain lept to flying kites, a memory I carried from my childhood.  I put those concepts together—the dream of flying, and the memory of kite-flying, and the story began to percolate.  I needed a name for my character, and I briefly thought of naming it after my daughter Sailor, who was kind of the inspiration for the character, but, I rejected that.  I just don’t like to borrow THAT freely from my real life.  So, my brain offered up the name Sylvia, and coincidentally, I have a photography client named Sylvia, who, coincidentally again, I photographed in my Studio wearing wings as a very small infant.  The pieces began to fall together.  During this ride in the car, I wrote about 80% of the book in my brain–I made some notes on paper, but no real sense of anything.  Then, we got home, I sat down, and two hours later I had the completed story written–it almost wrote itself.  It took me an additional 6 weeks to do the 24 illustrations inside.

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Bug Summer is a bit different.  For those of you unfamiliar, my Bug Summer series of books is all about the insects my main character Zack, and his dog, Flash, encounter during their wanderings in Inclement, Iowa.  The books are heavily illustrated with art and macro-photography of insects–extreme close-up work, for those of you unfamiliar with the “macro” prefix.

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A giant spider….

 

I actually started photographing bugs roughly 6 years before I had a story written to go along with the photos.  I didn’t know WHAT the story would be, but I knew there would be a story.  So, I collected images.  And I drew sketches of who I thought the main character could be.  But I didn’t really DO anything with all this stuff for many years–I just kept the ideas, the images, and the concepts.

Bug Summer--Raining Ladybugs

Bug Summer–Raining Ladybugs

So, what does all this mean?  Does it mean anything?  Personally, I believe that it tells us that creative writing is a process of following breadcrumbs through a forest, just like Hansel and Gretel.  And what is important here—following the trail even though it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.  I pick up the breadcrumbs that are there before me, and store them in my pocket (brain, or, preferably, I write them down in a notebook) and I don’t worry about how they all connect.  But those breadcrumbs that seem to lead in random directions, they accumulate.  And eventually, some of them make sense, some of them form stories, and, if I’m lucky, they form books!  So, maybe more than a writer and an artist, I am a collector of breadcrumbs (ideas). And I note them down–random stuff that appeals to me for whatever reason.  I do illustrations that way too.  In the same notebook, I have scritches and scratches of drawings (doodles!) that many times turn into pieces of real illustrations for books.

I also pick ideas that I know something about, that I really like, or that I want to learn about. I think most people do this naturally, but it is important to mention that you won’t be successful writing about a subject you just don’t care about.  I like childhood, art, science fiction, photography, insects, things that are a little bit mysterious, friendships, the environment, music, nature, magical things, wonder, Halloween, animals….the list really goes on and on.

Sometimes I am really brainstorming without knowing it, and a whole bunch of ideas will come to me at once.  This often happens early in the morning, when the sun is just peeping over the horizon and everyone else is asleep.  Writing things down is crucial–if you don’t get it down, it gets away.

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This is magic idea time for me…

Read a lot.  I read every day.  I read things I love.  I don’t read as many children’s books as I used to, because my kids all read themselves, but I do try to sample what’s out there.  It really doesn’t matter though.  Find an author or two or five that you love, that makes you want to be like them, and read their stuff.  Ideas will flow from what they have written, and HOW they have written it.

So, how do you figure out what to write about?

1. Keep a notebook of ideas and sketches and words that you like.  Add to it daily.

2. Be a lifelong collector.  Your notebooks should be a storage place for all the weird stuff that strikes you as interesting or funny or scary or inspirational.  It may take YEARS for a unifying idea to help you make sense of all the “junk” you have stored away in your notebooks.  Don’t throw them away, don’t think they are stupid, and don’t feel you have to share them.  Your notebooks are for mental hoarding…keep them well.

3. Write it down.  Write down ANYTHING.  If you don’t get it down, it gets away.

4. Make a habit of putting something down every day, maybe at the same time.  Pretty soon, your brain will associate that time with creative idea-building time, and it will get easier.

5. Write about things you know about, things you love, things you want to learn more about.  Keep a running list of what those things are, so you know when you are on track.

6. Read every day, things that you love.  Reading and writing are inseparable.

7.  Do things that activate your brain.  I doodle.  I scribble.  Some people run, or move, or dance or listen to music.  Do whatever works for you.  Then record your ideas somehow!

8.   When you feel inspired, when the lightbulb goes off in your head, write.  Write your story, your poem, your paper.  If you are in the middle of something else, at least make NOTES for you to write from later.  This is very important!  Do it when the moment strikes!

9.  This is also important—there will be ideas you have that you will never use.  Just like there are trails of breadcrumbs that you follow and they never take you anywhere.  This is okay.  Just keep moving forward with ideas, keep picking up the breadcrumbs.  Something will come together.

So, I am back to page design for today.  Hopefully, I will have a bunch more pages to share over the course of this week, as well as other projects I am working on!  For now, start generating ideas!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

Snow Day

So, this is Winter Storm Q.  I am assuming it is named for the character from Star Trek, The Next Generation.  Whatever. There is NO SCHOOL TODAY.  So, I get time to work on “stuff” around here.  But here’s the deal.  There is also NO SNOW today.  At least, not yet. I laughed out loud when I read it on the local radio station that there was no school today.  It seems just a few years ago that they had school come hell or high water, and parents were complaining that they had to get out and pick up their kids in less than favorable conditions.  Which may be why they didn’t have school.  Regardless of reasoning, here is a shot from my front yard from 9:20 am.

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And here are some of my FB posts from this morning–some of them more lyrical than others.

Wow, Sidney, no school? And not a flake in sight…Oh well, more blogging/writing/art/photography time for me today…or maybe not. 4 kids in the house instead of 2….

If this snow materializes, there is a very good chance the hubster will be sleeping in his office tonight. Must remember to pick up a bottle of wine or three before the snow flies…medicinal, you know…

I grew up the daughter of a teacher. I can remember snuggling in my bed, listening to the flakes tap-tapping against my window in the darkness of early morning. It’s true–if you listen hard enough, and if it’s quiet enough, you can hear the snow fall. And why was I up at 5am, listening so hard to the virtual nothingness in my house as the snow stacked up on the eaves outside? Teachers’ kids didn’t get the news of a snow day via the internet (there was none) or cell phone text (ditto) or radio or tv. Nope. I can remember the thrill in my heart when the phone would ring–a REAL ring, not some strange-assed ring TONE–before the sun came up, announcing the PERFECTION of a SNOW DAY! My mom would mumble into the phone, hang it up, and then move down the hall through the dimness to tap on the door and whisper through it what I already knew. And even though I had the whole of a glorious day ahead of me, the entire world and all the fun in it knitted up in a crystal-white blanket, I could NEVER go back to sleep again. I was up, elbows on the windowsill, my breath fogging up the glass, watching it all come down.

Talk about a “pregnant pause”…I don’t know if I felt this anxious waiting for the births of my kids! SNOW! There is NO school, so just DO IT! When I looked outside at 4am, nothing but the brown old world out there. Time to dress it up a bit, give it a little sparkle. And if it doesn’t? If that dry air just hangs tight? If we get a dusting and that is it ( and oh, there is a small, cynical part of me that does really think that might happen, just because of the weather-HYPE that is the forecast these days), there we will all be, bereft, with our brown winter-world, holding our collective breaths until Sunday-Sunday-SUNDAY…

And there are others.  Doesn’t really matter, except my day is noticeably freer to work on Soda’s Valentine and other creative projects I have going.  So, that’s what I’m doing–this SNOW DAY is now a CREATIVITY DAY!   Here is the list I made for my kids when they get bored–a THINGS TO DO list, that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen (which is, ironically, what I’m doing right now.)

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My kids hate me…

I think I will post a lot today.  Maybe 5 blog posts?  Is that possible?  Of everything I do today that is creative.  This “snowpocalypse” could be the end, you know….and I want to go out with a creative BANG.  Keep your eyes out!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

 

Page Design—Getting Closer Now!

Okay, I took a few days “off” from blogging, simply because my children had a few days off from school. Sometimes it is good to take a little break from creativity if you are feeling “stale”, just to let things percolate in your brain and feel fresh again. Today, we are going to design a couple pages for the book! That is the next step, now that all photography has been completed (unless I find I need something else in the middle of things, which has happened before). So, here we go, with two pages all about the flowers.

First thing is first—the easy page. I am seeing this as a two page spread in my mind, which means when you open the book, these pages face each other. The first one is simple. I simply set up a blank document in Photoshop for the size of the page I need to design. 8.75 inches high by 8.75 inches wide is the size I need, but the finished book will be 8.5 inches by 8.5 inches, due to the fact that in the manufacturing process, the outer edges are trimmed off. This needs to be accounted for in page design, so I must make sure no words, text, or important parts of the illustrations are not in that .25″ trim area. This guideline is for laying out illustrated children’s books, and it will vary depending upon the manufacturer of the book.

So, the first illustration I am using for this pair of pages is this photograph, and I drag it onto my square page.

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It is very simple, straightforward, and will have text either running across the top or the bottom of the page, but NOT in the trim area.

The second page is harder.  I am putting two photos on the page, because they both illustrate the words I am using, and I like them both.

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BUT, since the page is square, I must find a way to “layout” the images in a pleasing manner that leaves room for the text, AND doesn’t leave any empty space.  So, again, I set up a blank document 8.75″x8.75″ and open up the images I want to use.  I drag them onto the page, and, after a few minutes of playing around with them, I decide that I like this layout.

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It leaves space for the text in the bottom left corner.  It also leaves a big “hole” of nothingness in the upper right of the page. So, I must improvise.

I think I should fill any empty spaces on my pages with quick illustrations of Soda that follow along with what is going on in the page.  I love art, and I want this book to feel arty, even if it isn’t filled with hand-drawn illustrations.  I made the decision to illustrate in a fairly “loose” style, meaning I’m not trying to be too neat or clean with my drawing.  I want it to feel like a sketch, done quickly, simply because the photographs are so real–I want the drawings to contrast with the feeling you get with the photo-illustrations.  So, I opened up another program, Corel Painter 12, and did a quick drawing of Soda with a flower in his mouth.  You can see it here.

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It only took me maybe 20 minutes to do this drawing, and I think I really like the sketchy style.  Now that I’ve solved THAT problem–and remember, art and writing are an exercise of problem solving skills–I can proceed to putting my page together.  So, I have to drag the illustration onto the page I’ve already created and put it all together.  Here is what I’ve come up with so far.

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Please note I will add all text at the very end of the book design, simply because the hardest part of the book “assembly” is adding the illustrations. Typing in words is relatively easy.  Also note I will probably not use bright yellow all-capitalized text.  I simply did so here so it would show up for the blog.

Now, when I look at it, I like it.  But I don’t LOVE it.  I’m headed back to Photoshop…just a sec.

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Now THAT’S more like it!  The color scheme was bothering me a bit, and I think I figured it out.  This is much more harmonious than the red background you see above.  I still feel like there could be some more hearts and things in the background, but I will make that decision after I get more pages done.  Sometimes, you can spend too much time figuring out one or two pages, and then discover the “solutions” that work for those specific pages don’t work for the rest of the book.

So, here’s how I work with page design.

1. Know the size of your book, and thus, the size of your pages, before you start.  Everything will flow from that.

2. Keep all words and vital parts of pictures away from the edges of the pages.  They may get trimmed off during manufacturing.  Even if they don’t, the words can feel crowded if they BARELY fit.

3. I use Photoshop for my page set-up.  You can use whatever software works for you, OR, you could do all of this on real paper using real paints and colors.  But, the same rules apply–size is important, as is word and illustration placement.  I also use Corel Paint for illustration.  Use whatever you know.

4. I type in the actual words of the book last, right before I set up my book for final review and printing.  Typing in words that I’ve already written is easy.  Making sure everything looks good can take some time.

5. Fill each page.  If you have empty spaces, find another element to fill it.  Add pictures, drawings, or anything else that will make your page interesting.  Little kids like complex pictures–their eyes just FEAST on complexity, and they notice things adults don’t.  Have fun with the empty spaces.

6. SAVE IT.  This is something I haven’t mentioned yet, but it is crucial.  Save your pages OFTEN.  Save them when you don’t think you need to.  Save it in a couple different places, not just on your computer’s harddrive.  Put it on an external drive as well.  Burn your page designs to DVD.  Whatever.  Just make sure there is more than one copy of your work.  Designing your book takes a lot of effort.  Be smart.  Don’t make MORE work for yourself if your computer breaks.

Alright, that is just 2 pages out of 28 or 30.  So, I have a lot more to do.  I will keep you posted on my progress.  We are expecting a snowstorm day-after-tomorrow, so I am hoping to make significant progress towards finishing this simply because I can’t do anything else….except shovel snow.  Be good, and keep creating!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

Coloring Soda’s Valentine

In one of yesterday’s posts, I mentioned printing out black and white images and then adding color back into them using various colored pencils to create your own works of art. Last night, I did the printing part, and then asked my kids and a few of their friends to do the creative part.  Here are a few of their images, as well as some black and white images you may use for your own art!feb_1700

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Feb_1470c4So right-click the images above and save them.  Print them out and add color with colored pencils.  Have fun!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

 

 

Soda’s Valentine–More Visuals

Quick blog today, heavy on images, light on words–which is sometimes a blessing for both of us, Dear Readers.  Worked hard last night to complete pages for the upcoming book Soda’s Valentine, and digitally “altered” photos are my main style.  Here are some samples of what I have done thus far, before and after things.  Feel free to print the “before” pix and use them as the basis for your OWN altered photographs.  Colored pencils and pastels work really well for this–you can see the process on this Halloween blog post here.  Children and adults really find coloring on photographs a fun, freeing activity.  Art is involved in the project, but no one is looking at your actual drawing skills when you do this–it is about having FUN without feeling intimidated by a blank piece of paper.  Instead, you are decorating a photograph!

Okay, here we go with a few of the photos I’ve worked on for the book!

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Before…

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After…

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Before….

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Before….

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After….

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After…

Three out of….like 26 or so pages, I know…..LOTS MORE to be done!  But, it is happening.  Next blog will be about actual illustrations I am doing for any “empty” page space there is between and around the photo illustrations.  So, arty-art-art is coming atcha!

In the meantime, print out the BW images above and do some Soda art on them!  Have fun!  Back to work I go….

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

 

The Style Of It….

So, here we are, down to the nitty-gritty where Soda’s Valentine is concerned.  Thursday–day-after-tomorrow–is Valentine’s Day, and I doubt I’ll be finished.  AH, such is life.  But, as with most projects, I got new ideas when the illustrating began.

I know, I know, I was going to do it all with photos.  And I still am.  Well, mostly.  But, since it is a kid’s book, and since I love visually interesting things, and so do children, I decided to do it right the first time and fulfill my vision.  It might take a little extra time, but so what?

First, I had to determine what my vision for this book is.  I started by thinking of what kind of LOOK I wanted.  I didn’t want it to look boring.  And, when I viewed my photos all together, they felt a little, well, blah.  They were okay, mind you, just not eye-popping.  They were pictures of a cat in a house doing what he does.  Now, normally, I would throw some really fun, jazzy illustrations in there to pop the visual interest up a bit.  But I didn’t want to get involved with full-scale illustrating on this project.  We are talking 6 hours or so per page.  I wanted to spend no more than, say, an hour per page.  So, how about altering the photographs?

Good idea, I said to myself.  So, I had a couple choices.  I could print the pictures out and draw on top of them.  I could color them selectively, add all sorts of squiggles and shapes and just have a good time.  Here is a blog post that shows that very project, albeit a Halloween post.  I thought this was the way to go, initially.  But, as I thought it through more, I realized that then I would have to scan all the pictures back into my computer to prepare the files for the printer.  Okay, I know that doesn’t sound like too much work, but trust me, it is.  We would be looking at possibly doubling the time it takes to produce the book from this point on.  Now, don’t get me wrong–there is something beautiful and fun about a black and white photo with art applied on top of it.  But, fortunately, I have a computer set up that allows me to do much the same thing digitally, thus eliminating the printing, waiting for the prints to “set” for 24 hours, then applying the art and risk messing up the art (and then having to repeat the above process) and then scanning, putting the page together, etc.  So, wanna see what I use for digital illustration?

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There it is.  My Wacom pad and pen.  I have a couple of these, for different computers, and they are different models, but they all do the same thing.  They allow you to use the pen, or stylus, just like you would a colored pencil or an ink pen or a paintbrush.  At first, when you get one, it feels very awkward to use instead of a mouse, but after a few hours, you will never use a mouse again.  These tablets and pens are pressure sensitive, so they respond much like a real art tool would.  So, I decided to apply ART to my photographs using the pad and pen, inside my image editing program, which for photographs is good old Adobe Photoshop.  Note–you can use whatever editing program you want.  I just happen to have lots of experience with Photoshop.   Now, there are TONS of tutorials on Youtube for learning Photoshop, so this isn’t going to be that kind of how-to.

I opened up a shot I thought would be fun to start with—Soda contemplating the messed-up toilet paper roll.

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Now, what to DO with it?  First, I went black and white.

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BOOOORRRRRIIIIINNNNNGGGGG!

Then I cropped the image to the correct proportions for my book, which will be square, 8.75×8.75 inches all the way around.  Then, I went crazy, using my pen tool and all sorts of fun ideas for a bathroom.  And this is what I ended up with.

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Okay, I love it.  But then again, I don’t.  It seems too….random.  Too un-Valentine-y.  So, I went to bed.  Sometimes, going to bed is the best solution.  And when I woke up this morning, I did THIS, in about 20 minutes.

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And I LIKE it.  I feel like it is what the book needs—some whimsical, fun, altered photographs with a Valentine theme.

Teachers and parents—feel free to download the BW image above and print it out–encourage the children to apply art to it using colored pencils to achieve some really cool effects like those detailed in this blog, to which I already referred earlier in this post.  You can also have them write their OWN narrative or poem based upon the photo that they decorate.

So, here we are.  I have my STYLE for the book down.  At least, most of it.  As you noticed, the book is square. And not all the photos I took for the book will work in the square format.  So, that means there will be space….and I hate space that isn’t doing ANYTHING.  An upcoming post will be about all that empty space, and what I intend to do about it.  Now, I’m off to work up some more photo-illustrations.  I will do a couple more blog posts about them over the course of the next couple days, but without the long narrative, just so you can see progress.

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

The Great Soda Motivator

So, finished shooting the book Soda’s Valentine!  Thought I would recap all the action in one post, so we can get on with the next step in illustrating, which I will come to in a moment.  But, first thing is first.  We need to talk about chicken.

Soda is ready to do another book.  All because of chicken.  He has found his reason for living.  And that is….chicken.  For those of you mailing him Valentines this week, make sure they are made of…you guessed it…chicken.

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I agree….not my idea of a great meal, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

There were 4 different shot “sets” I needed to get for the remainder of the book.  And chicken factored heavily in all of them.  First, Soda needed to “eat” a box of candy.  Now, I’m not going to feed my cat chocolate for 2 very big reasons.

1.  Chocolate can kill cats.  So, that one is out.  He’s not eating a heart-shaped box of candy.

2.  I love chocolate.  So, Soda is not eating a heart-shaped box of candy because I’m going to eat that candy.

Instead, to make it look like he ate the candy, me and my kids ate the candy (most of it) and put some tidbits of chicken in the holes where the chocolates were in the box.  Then, we scattered a couple chocolates around, and even bit into a couple so it looked like he HAD eaten them.  Of course, with chicken around, he completely ignored the chocolates.  And we got the pictures pretty quickly.

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He didn’t even GLANCE at the chocolates once.  Clearly, he and I are going to get along famously, because, as a vegetarian, I don’t eat chicken.  So, all chicken goes to the cat, all chocolate to me.  It works.

The next shot set was one with Soda and candy again, but this time, those little conversation hearts.  I just wanted a shot of the cat reclining on the hearts–a close-up.  This one didn’t even require chicken.  We simply spread the hearts out, and my husband petted Soda on his tummy while I shot the pics.  Easy peasy.

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Then we moved on to Soda and the high heels.  Chicken was again required.  I wanted pix of him messing around with the shoes in whatever way cats mess around with anything.  So, I pulled out a pair of red high heels, concealed some chicken in the toes, and let him have at it.  Now, Soda is adorable, but he isn’t a great ball of fire in the brains department.  He is pretty catered to in our house–he isn’t allowed to be outside, so he doesn’t exercise his hunting “problem-solving skills” very often, and his food appears in a bowl every morning.  We had to show him where we placed the chicken to get him going.  But after a few minutes, he got into the act in a big way, and pushed the shoes all over the floor, stuck his paws inside them, and generally used all his rusty brain synapses to figure out the puzzle of the chicken in the shoes.  We got some cute shots.

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By the time we got to the last set, Soda was actively demanding chicken by attempting to paw it out of our fingers.  I wanted a shot of him wearing a pair of cupid’s wings, sitting next to an arrow and a bow.  The wings are a prop I keep in the Studio for children’s portraiture.  The bow and arrow were easy–sticks from the yard, construction paper, string and hot glue.  So, we set Soda up on the pretty red loveseat, put the bow and arrow next to him, and promptly realized the feather wings were going to be too large.

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In the process of discussing this with my husband Mike, Soda Pop did a very cute thing….he sorta jumped on the wings.  And in my mind, I got the hilarious picture of a cat pouncing on Cupid.

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Now, I know I write children’s books, but I also have a fairly black sense of humor at times….So, I felt I had to put this little image collage together….simply because it made me laugh.

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But I don’t know if I will use these images in the book.  I will have to think about it, and make that decision probably the day before I submit the digital book file for printing.  So, I needed to make the images I intended to make, which is Soda with the wings ON.  In order for that to work, I had to take pictures of Soda in the correct position, AND pictures of the wings separately.

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Then, I could digitally combine the wings with Soda, and shrink the wings down so they fit the cat.

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Here is the result.  And sorry, but I still like the one of him jumping on the wings better.  Oh well, it will require a bit of rewriting too.  We will see.

So, today we learned a few things.

1. Chicken is important.  It makes all Soda Pop photo sessions just FLOW.

2. Building your own props is an easy solution–and they don’t have to be that fancy.  The bow and arrow took about 5 minutes.

3. Sometimes the props won’t work exactly as planned.  Our angel wings are too large for Soda.  So, I had the choice of getting smaller wings, or digitally altering the ones I had.  Digital alteration is easier and quicker, so that was the route I chose.

4. Sometimes, you get something unplanned that you like better than what you originally had in mind.  I am undecided about which Cupid shot to use, but I’m going to prepare them both so I can choose.  I am also facing the possibility of some rewrites.  But that is okay.  Projects grow and change during execution.  I am still on track for finishing, I am just not entirely sure what the finished project will be like.  That’s okay.  Be open to changes.  Good ideas strike at strange times!

So, we are pretty much done with the shooting.  Now, I am on to page design for the next step!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.