Originally ran in GeekMom on Aug. 5, 2016
Originally ran in GeekMom on June 21, 2016
The Artist: Sandra Boynton
Sandra Boynton is more than just an illustrator of children’s books. She is a humorist, songwriter, director, music producer, and writer.
She was born in New Jersey in 1953. As a Quaker, she attended the German Town Friends school her entire elementary and secondary school life, and fit in well with the “upbeat offbeat” arts-centric curriculum.
Boynton’s experience and knowledge is extremely varied. She spent part of her sophomore year at a school in England, she studied Latin for five years (to avoid science classes), and studied at Yale and in Paris. She even joined the Yale Glee Club when more singers were needed to perform “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony” at Carnegie Hall.
When she graduated in 1974, she received special (and fictional) “Master’s Magna” designation by the master of residential college. Her college master did this for her because, although her grade point average didn’t add up to an honors degree, she told her professor her parents were in the audience, and would “really appreciate it if you could just mumble some Latin after my name.” He did.
She has created more than 50 illustrated children’s board books, humor books, calendars and more. She has won several honors for her work, and her menagerie of books such as Hippos Go Berserk!, Barnyard Dance, Oh My Oh My Dinosaurs, and others have sold more than 60 million copies.
Boynton has also written and directed theater productions, created several songs and music albums of what she calls “renegade children’s music,” often accompanied by a companion book. She designs all her merchandise herself, and enjoys doing her work in a reconstructed century-old barn in New England.
Even though Boynton didn’t originally plan on becoming an illustrator and author, she did take advantage of her Latin studies with her book Grunt, which mixes Latin plainchant and Pig Latin.
She called this book in an autobiographical talk in 2002, “the culmination of a lifetime spent joyfully squandering an expensive education on producing works of no apparent significance.”
Significant or not, many of her readers are glad she did.
The Project: Very Bad Beasties
What is Sandra Boynton, an artist known for her cute, humorous beasties, went bad?
What if she decided barnyard and zoo animals weren’t for her anymore and she took a walk on the dark side of the world of fauna?
She never would, but truth is, if she did, everything would still be adorable.
For this project, let’s do some parodies of Boynton’s style were she to have created some of cinema and literature’s baddest beasties.
Start out by taking a look at what makes a Boynton so well loved and doodle a generic one in her style. Some basics might include:
- An oval or pear-shaped body
- Circular round eyes with just a simple black dot. These are never perfect circles, and are often slightly close together near the top part of the face.
- Very simple hands and feet (or paws and hooves)
- Color mostly around the edges of the beastie. The center is often left white. Using colored-pencil, crayon or watercolor will keep the colors soft and light.
Now, combine the two, and you’ve got the cutest, quirkiest little bad beastie around.
Even though Boynton would likely fall to the dark side, she is just the right kind of weird to bring some light to it if she did. One source of her own inspiration she uses to ward off any bad feelings is chocolate. She even wrote about it’s uplifting properties in her book Chocolate: The Consuming Passion.
“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and by Shakespeare. Neither knew chocolate,” she wrote. “The Swiss are known for nonviolence. They are also known for superb chocolate.”
The Artist: Shag
“Shag” is the name So-Cal artist Josh Agle, created by taking the last two letters of his first name and first two letters of his last name, and merging them together into one nifty moniker.
He was born in 1962 in Southern California, and lived in such varied places as Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Utah growing up. He studied both accounting and architecture at California State University in Long Beach, and eventually decided to be an “illustrator for hire.” However, his sleek, mid-century style began to receive more and more attention from art lovers and galleries. Since his first solo show in 1997, Shag’s work has made its way into solo and group exhibits worldwide, been featured on everything from pillows to purses, album covers to lanterns, and he has gained legions of loyal fans.
His subject matter ranges from adult-oriented stories in lounges and parties, to family-friendly images, including many commissions for Disneyland and other high-profile clients. There are often well-known commercial logos, famous bars and buildings, and tourist attractions, all in his simple, colorful, retro style.
His work can be seen in shows and collections worldwide, or at his own stores in West Hollywood and Palm Springs.
Many fans of the mid-century style recognize Shag’s laid-back swingers, barflies, tikis, and retro families, but Shag himself has said these people and places are secondary to the tale they tell, as quoted in a bio the book Tiki Art Now! curated by Otto von Stroheim:
“Most of my paintings are set in the middle of a story or situation,” he said. “[The] characters are interacting or reacting to each other in the outside elements.”
The Project: Groovy Tales of Make Believe Away Places
Painting a Shag-style picture isn’t just about style, it is about storytelling. Shag has said he is more interested in the “narrative” of the story than just the scenery, so this is a perfect chance to tell a swingin’ story from outer space, after a zombie invasion, or in any other alternate world.
With this project, think about telling a Shag-like narrative in an out-of-this-world scene. What’s happening at the party on Mos Eisley? Who is hanging out on the U.S.S. Enterprise holodeck? What’s happening at the harvest fest in Hobbiton? Throw a party anywhere you want, and tell its story in a Shag-like environment.
From looking at Shag’s imagery, there are three things that seem to stand out.
• His people are very simple. The eyes are often variations on black dots, their bodies are often lanky and lean, and their clothes are never too complicated. If you look closely at his subjects’ hands, he often uses the cartoonist’s trick of drawing only four fingers (including the thumb). The trick is, don’t just let them stand there, give them something to do. Put them out there, and let them mingle a bit.
• He doesn’t use outlines. Draw your picture in a thin pencil first, but color it in with marker, colored pencil, crayon or paint avoiding any black lines around the edges. This can include both patterned or solid colors, but no black cartoon or illustration style outlines.
• Make the background fun and colorful, adding some details that help tell the story. Is the sun setting, or rising? Are they in a person’s home or a public place? Is there a band playing in the back, or surfer in the foreground? Shag loves hanging fixtures, random pets and animals, wall art, pools, plants, and countless other patterns and details that help set the scene without over-complicating things.
Make it lively. Make it colorful. Make it deceivingly simple.
Most of all, make it fun! Shag’s art loves a good party, so blast off, have a ball, and draw your favorite subjects. Shag said in an interview with the site Art Beat Street, there is a little of himself in all he does.
“I relate to all the characters in my paintings,” he said. “I think they all contain a little bit of my personality.”
Originally ran in GeekMom July 6, 2016.
Post originally ran in GeekMom on Dec. 9, 2016.
I’ve been a mom for 14 years now.
I’ve comforted nightmares, patched bruises, and wiped noses. I’ve held hands during first steps, calmed fears of darkness and scary movies, and celebrated victories like riding a bike or swimming across a pool. There have been road trips, school pageants, and baptisms. We’ve faced funerals, playground politics, and family crises. I’ve even spent two horrifying sleepless nights in the hospital watching one child conquer pneumonia and bronchitis.
In the process, I’ve watched my oldest daughter, Molly, turn into a young, independent teen, and my youngest, Erin, become an active second grader.
One would think that, by this point, I would be pretty well versed in this whole “parenting” thing. I did too–until it was time to let one of them babysit the other.
The idea of leaving my “babies” home alone was a completely new concept to me. I grew up in a house with a live-in grandparent who watched us on the rare occasion my parents went out. My brother was seven years older than me—the same age difference between my own two children—but I don’t remember him being “in charge” without other adults around.
I had friends and classmates whose parents both worked long jobs, were divorced, or, in one case, were neglectfully absent due to substance abuse problems. To me being “home alone” without adult supervision seemed unfathomable.
As for my own kids, my parents watched my oldest until my mother passed away. My oldest was six then, and our youngest wasn’t born until a year later. Then, when we went out, one of my husband’s former students, whom we knew well, would watch then, as well as my father from time to time.
However, my husband reminded me when Molly turned 14 it was time to let her watch her little sister… on her own. Gulp!
When it was announced in May (the same month my daughter turned that fateful age) tickets were on sale to see two of the founders of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, John Cleese and Eric Idle, I immediately went online and purchased two of the best seats in the house. Then I crumbled slowly into a panic over the next seven months.
What had I done? How will my kids cope on their own? They argue constantly. The world is filled with creepy people in vans, rabid wolves, tornadoes, and earthquakes… and sharp corners.
One thing they never tell you when you become a mom is how violent your unnecessary premonitions become. What if she falls on scissors? What if they stand on the bathtub and fall? What if they see YouTube video on making Molotov cocktails… and try it in the kitchen near that gas stove?
My husband, Rick, who had “taken care of his little brother on his own” since he was ten, said I was being ridiculous. He had to “cook,” “clean,” “get him to bed,” “re-wire the house,” “build their own beds,” and blah, blah, blah.
Okay, okay, I get it. I’m over-reacting. I had to keep reminding myself that being able to see these two men is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me. The Pythons were like The Beatles to me. I’ve memorized their skits and movies and even made a Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to celebrate the anniversary of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
They are both in their 70s, and there likely would be no more “live” Monty Python tours after this–definitely not with the whole crew. Graham Chapman is long passed on, and it was recently announced fellow Python Terry Jones was diagnosed with a progressive form of dementia. There are very few “celebrities” I would fangirl for, but the Pythons are at the top of that weird list.
However, every loving parent knows that “first times” are always terrifying. Whether it’s sending them off to pre-K, dropping them off for an overnight visit with family, handing them over the keys to the family car, or (gasp) leaving home for college.
As a result, an event I would otherwise have been talking about enthusiastically I hardly
mentioned the entire summer and following autumn. I didn’t help that I kept seeing Cleese’s constant lamenting about sluggish ticket sales in El Paso on his Twitter feed. This couldn’t be a good sign. Was it an omen? Maybe I should cancel.
When the day arrived, my father (our only local relative) was out-of-town, and I felt a bubble of eerie isolation surrounding the home. We ordered the girls a pizza, and my husband gave Molly my cheap flip phone so she could text him in an emergency.
This meant I was left without a phone, or more specifically, without a lifeline to the kids. What if I needed to call them? He assured me it would be fine. He didn’t want me constantly checking my phone, but I needed some sort of “date night” security blanket. In a rush, I grabbed an old fob watch and carried it with me. My only logic to this move was I could check to see how long we’d been away–as if there some statute of limitations to them being good. If we were gone longer than two hours, then all hell would break loose.
My perpetual trepidation was constantly in the foreground of my mind. When the ushers opened the main theatre, Rick sent a quick text to say the show is going to start soon and he was putting the phone on quiet mode. Molly texted back that everything was fine.
“For now,” I thought.
I kept running a little prayer in my head over and over, “please let them be okay,” although who was I kidding? It should have been “please let me be okay.” I wondered if there was a way I could hijack Rick’s phone on the way to the bathroom and zip a quick note to the girls.
No dice. It was firmly in his pocket, but at least I had my watch, and I knew the show was about to start at 8 p.m. When the little stage lights went on, and Cleese and Idle wandered on stage, I got a moment of giddiness… then checked the time. It was 8:04 p.m. Somehow this was comforting. Throughout the first half, where they talked about their histories, showed film clips, and read hilarious skits, I kept checking the watch as if it was somehow going to give me a magical glimpse of home.
Seriously, what was my problem? I had wanted to see these guys (even if it was just two of them) in person for more than 30 years. I needed to let go of my worries and enjoy myself. Yet, my mind kept wandering from the show to how my girls were doing at home, and by intermission I made Rick send a text. Actually, he was already doing it when I asked.
All calm back at the ranch, apparently. My husband asked if I was enjoying the show.
Of course I was, except for that part of my brain releasing that little medley of disaster scenarios.
I glanced at the watch, which had made a nice indention in the palm of my hand. Nine o’clock and the second half was about to start.
“They could easily go another hour,” my husband said happily.
I inhaled deeply. A lot could happen in one hour.
By the time the second half of the show began, something very strange started happening. I slowly “forgot” to worry and begin really enjoying myself. I laughed more genuinely at these men’s re-enacting of favorite sketches and film clips of iconic scenes from The Holy Grail and Life of Brian.
“We dine well here in Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot!!!
Even through my worries were easing, the girls were still floating around in my head, although not so much near the front. I had remembered I wanted to show Molly Holy Grail but not Brian quite yet. Wait a few years on that one.
By now I was having such a good time, I had even neglected to grip the fob watch, and the mark on my hand had disappeared. The show ended with Idle leading an enthusiastic audience in “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” and we all stood up and sang along:
“You’ll see it’s all a show,
Keep ’em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!”
After the show, we waited a few moments for the crowd to thin out, then headed quickly out of the theatre. I couldn’t wait to get home to my children. Parked in front of the entrance was a large, white limo with a few hopeful fans lingering around it. We ignored it. Had to get home to the girls. Probably a “decoy,” anyway.
We were parked on the other side of the building, and I found myself speedily walking around the back to get to the car. As we passed the “backstage” door, we saw a small gathering of people.
Not massive but big enough to be suspect. Then I noticed Cleese’s head looming over the rest of the crowd. At that moment, I did something “awful.” I forgot who I was, for a bit… at least in terms of being a parent. I grabbed my nice little leaflet with the caricature of the two Pythons and made my way into the crowd. Idle was also hidden in the midst of them. I managed to meet him first and thanked him for being such a big part of my growing up (at least that’s what I hope I said; no telling what actually came out of my mouth). He signed my leaflet, and I managed to make my way to Cleese and tell him similarly as he added his signature to the paper. I had just met two of my comedy heroes, and I was practically skipping back to the car.
I was coming down from my middle-aged fangirling when a sudden wave of panic hit me: I had let my guard down and not thought of my children for a few moments. What kind of parent was I?
Then my husband sent one last text to Molly before driving home and got that familiar “bleep” back with a note saying all was well and “see you soon.” My nerves suddenly calmed. Yes, all was well.
It is right for parents to worry about their children’s well-being, but I had been clinging so desperately to the torturous visions of my own over-protective mind that I never realized part of their “well-being” was to learn self-reliance and independence.
Molly needed to take on the responsibility of caring for her little sister. As a result, she began looking at little sister as less of an “annoyance” and more as an actual person. This was, like her, a very special, precious thing to her parents. She was going to do the best job she could to keep her safe.
Erin also needed to realize, even when her parents were away, they still love her. She needed to know she could rely on her big sister and to not be afraid to have us out of her sight.
My lesson was the hardest.
I needed to know I could trust them. I had to trust my teen to do what’s best in the case of emergency and to know we now see her as a responsible, smart, and resourceful young woman. I had to trust my youngest to follow instructions, get herself ready for bed, and to take on more small chores of her own.
I had to trust they would be okay and that being away from Mom and Dad for an evening wasn’t going to cause any permanent trauma… to me.
When we got home, Erin was already in her pajamas, but she had waited up for us so she could hug us goodnight. The house was clean, the pets were alive, there were no signs of flooding, smoke damage, or any of the other Biblical-level plagues I had concocted happening in my mind.
They were happy. They were unhurt. They were… just fine.
“Mom, I missed you,” Erin announced, running up to hug us as we entered the house. “We had a fun time.”
At that point, my guilt for “abandoning” my kids had vanished, and it was replaced with relief we all made it through the night… but even more with pride in my children.
Then, before heading to bed, she asked, “When can Molly watch me again?”
The next day, we bought tickets to a show the following month.
The Artist: Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly is likely one of the best-known, and best loved, living glass artists today, with his bright-colored, architectural installations found world wide. He has been exhibiting his work continuously since 1967, and has been featured in museums around the globe.
He was born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, and first learned about working with glass when he was studying interior design at the University of Washington.
His smaller works include glass cylinders inspired by Native American textiles, “Seaforms” glass pieces, a Venetian series of Art Deco inspired vases, and one of latest series, Rotolo, creating complex forms from a simple coil of clear glass.
Chihuly’s work has inspired others for several years. In 1971, he co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School artist-in-residence program in a Washington tree farm, using primitive conditions and the minimal materials. The site still serves as an international center of art education. Other early projects include the Artpark in New York state, near Niagara Falls, which utilized colored sheets of glass in simple arrangements.
Chihuly is especially recognizable for his installations and commissioned work in hotels, theatres, parks, cruise ships and other high-profile venues world wide, including creating the set of an opera, Bluebeard’s Castle. His outdoor installations, are particularly popular, as they seem to give the surrounding area surreal or fantasy-like feeling with flowing ribbons and coils, floating orbs, spikes, glass blossom-like shapes and other brightly hued, blown-glass forms.
In addition to his glass works, he has worked on paper with graphite, charcoal, acrylic, and more. His permanent installations can be found everywhere, including the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio, the Glass Art Garden in Tayoma City. One of his exhibitions, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem, drew more than 1 million visitors to the Tower of David museum to see his works.
Chihuly is still releasing prints, hosting workshops and creating installations. He is often asked what his favorite project is, and answered that on his official website, saying he has worked in “many great projects” over the years including Chihuly Over Venice and Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000, and his work in Seattle at Chihluly Garden and Glass.
“Perhaps,” he said, “the next project will be my favorite.”
The Project: Flying Colors
Chihuly, although very different in style from fellow well-known present day artist Maya Lin, also takes advantage of the environment for which a piece is intended.
His use of color, form, shape and even lighting effect work with the surrounding atmosphere to both enhance and celebrate it, whether in a natural setting or building.
With this simple project, we’ll creative small-scale replica of what a Chihuly installation might light look if commissioned by a fictional school, headquarters, military base or other famous location.
This method is similar to those many elementary art teachers use as Chihuly projects, but the secret is in the color. The color scheme and design for an installation on the stark, floating environment of Empire Strikes Back’s Cloud City might be very different that the glowing natural world of Avatar’s Pandora. Would an exhibition at Hogwarts highlight the various House Colors? Would a one at Starfleet headquarters symbolize uniform colors? What if he did a piece for the TARDIS? Would it be the famous blue, or look more like the wardrobe of the Doctors?
Since blown glass isn’t a method that can be learned for a summer afternoon family crafts, here are two ways to create Chihuly-inspired looks using upcycled water bottles and plastic party ware:
Color the outside of clear (clean and dry) water bottles in the desired hues, and gently cut off the bottom. Adults might want to get it started for younger crafters. Next, cut around the bottle, in a coil fashion so it resembles a spring or curly hair.
You can leave the top of the bottle in place and lace a string or pipe cleaner through it for hanging, or cut off the top, and lace the coil through a hanging thin chain. These also can be mounted on wooden posts, long wrapping paper tubes, hanging wire baskets, or just from fishing line or floral wire.
Remember, think about where this is going to go, and think of a color scheme or design to best suit it.
Using permanent markers, paint clear plastic plates or clear plastic cups the desired hues. Thinner plastic items are easier. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil, and bake at about 350° for a few minutes, until the plastic warp it like blown glass. This can take from 1 to 2 to about five minutes, depending to on the plastic. Keep and eye on it, and don’t bake it too long.
This is also good way to utilize the bottom of the water bottles used for the coil method, instead of plates.
Once painted and melted, arrange these in the pattern you want, glue them on a flat piece of balsa wood or corrugated cardboard. If you use a glue gun, place the glue on the board, as it may continue to warp the plastic a little.
This work might not be as detailed as Chihuly’s blown glass pieces. His own advice for young artists is to remain inspired by others, yet follow one’s own visions:
“Surround yourself with artists and see as much art as possible,” he says. “Go with your gut and create something that nobody has ever seen before.”