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.

 

Come With Me To Inclement….And Pack A Bag!

Today, I’m taking Inclement on the road.  Not in a big way, but still, I’m going to be out there talking to kids about my town, reading a book to them, and doing a couple illustrations.

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This isn’t one of our Creative Collaborations that I do with BETWIXT–gosh, I REALLY have to do a blog post on those guys.

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No, this is just a simple half hour at a Family Fun Night at a school nearby.  But although I will be there just half-an-hour, it is an important night.  You see, not only is Inclement just about my favorite place in the world to spend my time, and a place that provides so many ideas I don’t have time to write about them, it is also business for me.  And an important rule in business is that you have to get the word out that you ARE in business.  You have to let people KNOW what you do.  In half an hour, over the course of maybe two books, I hope to say something or do something or read something that sticks in those parents’ and childrens’ and teachers’ minds.  Perhaps they will buy some books.  Perhaps they will hire BETWIXT and me to do a Creative Collaboration at the school.  Perhaps a Mom or a Dad somewhere will sit down and draw something with their child instead of telling them to go play video games.  Whatever happens, whatever the outcome of half an hour, it can’t be bad.

Half an hour is a very short time.  In the scheme of the universe, it is like a baby-biscuit nano-second.  But the process for preparing for that half an hour is huge.

Here is my list today:

1. Pack computer equipment.  When I read to large groups, I do so with a laptop and a digital projector.  Makes it MUCH easier for everyone to see the illustrations in the books.

2. Pack the cords for computer equipment.  This is a biggie.  If I forget the cords, what is the point of having the computer?

3. Pack my illustration supplies–easel, BIG PAPER (sheets of 3 feet x 4 feet), chalk pastels.

4. Trim 150 bookmarks to hand out.  I printed them yesterday, and today, I have to trim them.  I hate trimming.  Oh, and I have to pack these, so I don’t forget them.

5. Money.  I have to get change and pack the cash box.  People may want to purchase books.  Can’t forget this.

Wonder how it will work for MY fiscal crisis...

Wonder how it will work for MY fiscal crisis…

6.  BOOKS.  I can’t forget books.  This is probably the biggest pain as far as packing goes.  I have 7 book titles now, and I’m going to take some of each.  Which leads to 7 different boxes of books, and I never know how many to take of each, so I always bring more than I need….

7. I forgot this in the first part of the list–check to make sure all the book presentations WORK on my computer BEFORE I pack it up.  If the book doesn’t run on the computer, there is NO POINT in bringing the computer.

8. Babywipes.  No, I don’t have a baby.  But, they are very handy in cleaning my hands after I use chalk pastels for 10 minutes or so.

9. Water.  I always get thirsty.

10. Carry everything out to the truck.  This is where my 14 year old son comes in, AND his father, after he gets home from work.

11. Get ready myself.  See, I have to tell myself to do this, because I get out of the house so infrequently.  I planned my wardrobe last night, fortunately.

12.  Oh, another thing I forgot–my camera.  I have to pack the camera so I can get pictures of me doing what I do, so I can BLOG about it tomorrow to whomever might be reading this.

13.  Eat.  When I get busy like this, I forget to eat.  Then I get really hungry during my presentation, and sometimes I feel like I’m going to “lose my cookies”, and that isn’t fun when I’m reading to families.  So, I must eat before I leave.

Tastes just like chicken...

Tastes just like chicken…

I think that is it.  Lucky 13.  All of this, to get Inclement out there, in front of families, to hopefully enchant them a little bit, to make people see what I see when I visit that little place in Southwest Iowa, from which all magic and wonder flows–at least for me.

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So, tomorrow, I may have a tale to tell about my brief half hour.  Perhaps I’ll have a booking for a Creative Collaboration for next fall.  Perhaps I’ll have a new idea for a book.  I will definitely be working on Soda’s Valentine.  Finishing layout, so I can turn the file into a pdf and upload it!  Yay, getting closer.  But for today, my focus has to be on this half hour that occurs around suppertime tonight.  Think happy thoughts for me!  And pray I don’t forget anything.

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.

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.

Photo-Illustrations–The Beginning, With Flowers…

So, the cover has been designed. And the next step is the illustrations. As I have mentioned, I decided to use photography for the bulk of the story simply because it is a little faster for my production schedule. Don’t get me wrong….I LOVE doing actual art illustrations, but, for this book, and because it is about a REAL cat, I think the photography will add to the story rather than detract from it. So, the first thing I must do is make an illustration list.

I do this with every book, no matter if I use photography or art for the visuals. I read through the text and decide which parts of the text should be illustrated in some form. Not everything that happens in a story needs a picture, but for children’s books, I always feel the visuals are an extremely strong and necessary element to actually tell parts of the story. I need fewer words because the images are effective.

So, my illustration list, or my “shot” list, as I will refer to it from now on ( in photographic terms) goes something like this for this story.

Flowers (2 shots)
Stew (2 shots)
Shoes (1 shot)
Candy (2 shots)
Bathroom (2 shots)
Hearts (1-2 shots)
Cupid (2-3 shots)

Now, I know, from experience, that I will actually take many more photos than those during my shooting time with Soda Pop.  I also know that my text may change slightly while I am shooting–the cat may do something unexpected and interesting that can be incorporated into the book, and I will photograph it, and then write it in.  So, even though I have 14 or so shots listed there, I will probably end up with at least 20, and maybe more for the book.  And that is EDITED shots.  I will actually take maybe 500 pictures in order to get exactly the ones I want for my book.  There will also be a few pages of illustrations as well, but I will execute those after the photography, because then I will know exactly what I need to complete the story.

If I were doing art illustrations for my book, I would make a similar list, and then start sketching ideas for each item on the list.

So, the first item is “Flowers”.  I decided to go with daisies, so, I sent my dearly beloved to the florist for a few stems.  Then, it was time to set up the shot and retrieve Soda Pop from wherever he might be having his nap-attack and take the pictures.  He is pretty cooperative, although he isn’t extremely intuitive when it comes to understanding what I want him to do.  So, here are a couple of flower pictures…..

I shot around 50 images to get these.  I’m not sure that these will be the ones I use, and I won’t know for certain until I have all images and illustrations in front of me.  But these are “possible-maybes”.  I still have to work with the flower images some more, in another image set….but a few things have to be secret about the book, right?

Overall, Soda Pop was relaxed during these shots.  His attention was captured pretty well by the flowers, and he sniffed and posed for me just fine.

Next post….the bathroom pix.  These were more challenging.

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.  You may learn more about her here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

A NEW BIG Project….

I’ve been away from official blogging for a few months now. What can I say…life happened. Some of the changes are good, but one, at least, was quite sad for me. My 95 year old Grandmother passed right before Christmas.

So, that changed a few things for me, and made me rethink priorities. I’ve now got the weighty responsibility of archiving all of her photographs—there must be at least 500–and transferring them to digital format. Some of them are as old, or older than she was, so they are very precious to my family. I am amazed at how much looking at all this ancient history makes me simultaneously miss her, and also makes me feel close to her. I am lucky.

In addition, I’ve renewed my connection with BETWIXT, and we are hard at work on what we envision will be an animated pilot for a children’s television show based upon Inclement. The first episode is a retelling of Sylvia McBye Learns To Fly, with some added characters.  It has been written, and we’ve done basic recording for scoring purposes.  Now we are searching for the right animator to bring it to life.  In addition, I’m storyboarding the script.  So, lots of work ahead.

 

And I’ve started serious work again on my next novel, The Western Radio Hub, which is the sequel to Buck’s Rodeo.

Lots of exciting things happening there, and currently, our heroes are caught in a mysterious fog settling upon some version of the Loess Hills and an unknown person in pursuit behind them.  How I get them out is brewing in my head for tonight’s writing.

Finally, I have a BIG project I’m working on, one which I wish to share with anyone who may be interested.  Soda Pop has a new book!

And I am going to journal about the making of this book, from the beginning ideas clear through the publication process.  I’m hoping it will encourage others to follow their own creativity wherever it may lead them.  However, during this process of documenting the making of a book, there will be other “side trips” of creativity.  I am also a professional photographer, running my own portrait studio.  I am also a Mom, running my own family.  Writing and illustrating is just a part of what I do.  So, my BIG PROJECT is more than documenting my journey with Soda’s Valentine.  It is also about the entire process of my life, and how the process is messy.  Seemingly disconnected things all come together to form projects in ways that cannot be predicted.  That is how creativity works.  Randomness of experience, of talent, and complete chance all mesh together at exactly the right time in exactly the right way to form….well, hopefully….magic.

Some of the “magic” I was able to capture this morning, on what I call my Super-Fog-Walk….just a random impulse to walk in the fog with my camera.

So, join me.  If you are a teacher, please feel free to follow my progress as I work to bring Inclement into our “real” world, whatever that may be.  I may post excerpts from my novel one day, photos another, and then illustrations after that.  I may post creative ideas I did with my kids, or coloring pages, or game ideas, or how-to articles.  Follow along and spread the word.  Creativity is like that—like the revelation Dorothy Gale had at the end of the Wizard of Oz–all she was ever looking for was right there, in her own backyard.  Creativity is there, right there, in our own backyards.

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.  You may learn more about her here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

Bug Summer–The Beginning

A new FREE book!

Okay, a quick thing here today, but a fun little project to do with your kids, or for your kids as little gifts—a children’s book!  It’s called Bug Summer–The Beginning, and it is available now by clicking here.  Please note, you can do it as a screen quality pdf OR as a printable that outputs on ONE 8.5×11 sheet of paper (cardstock preferred) to cut out and assemble.  There is also a video tutorial about building this book, which is fairly simply done, but hard to visualize with written directions.  Give it a try, have fun with your children, and have a great Bug Summer!

The music on the video was created by two mutual friends who have formed the band BETWIXT, to create amazing music for kids, that, incidentally, is very catchy for adults as well.  They are awesome.  They are in my book, Buck’s Rodeo.  They will have their own picture book soon, as well.

Tracy Lovett is a wife, mother, author/illustrator and photographer living in Southwest Iowa. She has written and illustrated 6 children’s books in the past 3 years, the last being a novel for ages 12 and up called Buck’s Rodeo, which is available in dead tree format as well as a Kindle book. She is working hard to get the picture books on the Kindle as well.   You may find her books on Amazon, and by clicking here.  You may follow her on Facebook and on Twitter, and even dig her up on Pinterest.

The Little Boogers Will Bite Your Head Off

So, the other day my son (we’ll call him Two, because of his birthorder) brought a stick into the house. This isn’t unusual. He’s thirteen, but he’s been bringing sticks into the house ever since he was able to walk and hold things at the same time. This time the stick he held had a hard, possibly gross little chunk of what appeared to be brown foam.

I had seen this before.  We all had.  A couple years a go, we purchased 3 praying mantis egg cases from a seed company for a nominal price.  The goal was to put ’em in jars, hatch ’em, and watch ’em do their thing.  And so we did.  After a couple months or so, the Bell canning jars that held them were full (and I mean full) of baby praying mantises.  We had 3 different “litters” on 3 different days just because, nature being what it is, they didn’t hatch at the same time.  But that was fine.  Spread out the fun, more or less.

Lots of 'em...

Well, THIS year, we didn’t go looking for the egg case, but my son found one anyway, in his rigorous search for the perfect stick I would imagine.  So, for fun (yes, we are limited, I know, I know) we put it in a trusty old canning jar, and began the wait.  Actually, I think we forgot all about it.  But whatever.  When he found it, I figured it would take about 2 months to hatch, based upon the seed catalog eggs.  But apparently, global warming or natural climate variation was in effect, because a few days later, I was staggering around the kitchen in my morning zombie state, looked up at the shelf in front of my nose, and, you guessed it, a swarm of baby mantises (manti?) greeted my eyes.

Now, I may be a little skewed, but I think they’re kinda cute.  They are perfect miniatures of the adults, tilting their heads, looking at you with their bulbous eyes.

Hot or Not? You be the judge.....

 

They have the disconcerting habit of eating each other if you don’t let them go, however.  Cannibalism at its finest.  Immediately, the boys (who are homeschooled) got excited because they knew I would be more interested in the mantises than in algebra, and they were right.  I grabbed the camera and we all headed outdoors to take some pictures and do a release.   I shot and shot, got lots of good pix, and the little critters climbed out of the nursery jar in twos and threes.

 

Many seemed to find my arms a nice place to land and possibly set up housekeeping, but they skittered away when I blew on them.  Soon, the immediate area all around us–the brick patio, the nearby plantings–was teeming with tiny predators.  We left the jar then, out on the warm cement, and allowed them to make their first steps into the wide world.

I considered keeping a couple.  I really did. But this time, I decided not to keep any, basically because I have been there, done that.

The store-bought mantises of a few years back yielded 10 lucky winners…we set them up in containers (each in its OWN container, to prevent friendly snacking) from their first day, named them, fed them (wet catfood to start—they seem to learn quickly to lap it off the tip of a straightened paperclip) and then we got bigtime and ordered wingless fruitflies.  (Yes, I am so crazy that I actually ORDERED flies, to live in our home, to feed our pet praying mantises.)  Let me tell you, these babies can hunt.  We would pop a couple flies in each container and the mantises would quickly and effectively assassinate them.  But as they grew, so did their demands for food. And wingless fruitflies are flies nonetheless, and I got tired of squashing them all around the kitchen. So, we slowly pared down the herd with calculated releases.  Until there was one.

We decided this one (and I can’t remember his name) would get Cadillac treatment, so I bought him a plastic critter keeper which we outfitted with sticks and rocks.  He grew.  He shed his exoskeleton several times.  And I use the term “he” very loosely.  Could have been a “she”.  Probably WAS a she, as fast as it was growing.  But whatever.  This one hunted and killed voraciously.  Got some pix of it dismembering a fly.

Tastes just like chicken...

DELICIOUS!

Imagine if it were big and we were small.  Me thinks the human race would be in serious trouble.  Heads would be rolling, as it were.  But, nature being what it is, the status quo is fiction.  One morning, about 5 am, I was wisely sleeping and I heard a terrific noise that scared the crap out of me coming from the kitchen.  I sat straight up in bed, my eyes crusty, my heart pounding, listening for ANOTHER noise that would indicate imminent death from a home invasion.  Silence.  Nothing.  And since the dog didn’t bark, I figured I’d take my chances and go back to sleep.  Which I did.

When I awoke, I found the critter keeper on the floor, all the rocks tumbled onto the sides and roof.  There was no mantis.  I sifted through the rocks for a crushed body.  Nothing.  I searched around the kitchen for a tiny, poised killer.  Nothing.  Hmmmmm.  The cat wound around my leg and nosed through the rocks.  He looked at me.  His eyes were wide and green and innocent.  My mind flashed to all the times he has lept 6 vertical feet to catch a moth.  All the times he has stalked spiders and houseflies, creeping up on them as if he were hunting antelope in the grasslands instead of bugs in my house.

“Ah, Soda Pop,” I said.  He slanted his eyes up to me, clearly pleased with the situation.  So, the tiny hunter had become the hunted.  And then, apparently, had become lunch.  Or early breakfast.  Or maybe cats don’t care what the meal is called, as long as it’s still wriggling.  And for what it’s worth, I know that if ole Soda weighed in at 200 lbs or so, I WOULD be the hunted.  It’s a circle of life…thing.  And Soda knows that, too.  He tolerates me because I provide him with catfood and an occasional well-aged praying mantis.  He pays me for my endeavors by rubbing my legs and clawing my furniture.  Oh, and I dress him up in costumes as well. There’s a free download of his children’s book I HATE HALLOWEEN somewhere on this website, so check it out.

Oh yes, he pays his dues.......

 

See, here he is, all dressed up.  He hates me, clearly.  He takes it out on praying mantises and such.  It all rolls downhill.  Probably a Karmic lesson there.

Oh, and I have two new pets.

Adorable, ain't it?

Jumping spiders.  Beautiful little killers they are, as well.  I’ll keep you posted.  Now I gotta go feed the cat.