Acorns, Bees, and Cheddar Cheese

Such is the name of my rhyming book of ABCs. As a professional nanny, I read a shit ton of alphabet books. Lots of them rhymed, and most of them used the same words to represent each letter. A is for apple, B is for ball, and so on, got so monotonous, I started making up my own. As an artist who will automatically draw whatever I’m talking about with a child, I simply taught kids more words to alleviate my own boredom. “B is for balloon…banana…boat…anything but ball!” Drawing was a huge asset to being the caregiver and teacher to dozens of preschoolers over my career. Actually, when I was the supervisor for a bunch of grumpy, old insurance agents, they seemed to like my dry erase board art, too…despite themselves.

So, during those baby naptimes, I took it upon myself to draw up my own ABC book. I did make a point to choose more unusual words to represent each letter, but I didn’t realize really how unusual until I read it aloud to my now-wife for the first time.

“Yes, that giraffe has a girdle on.”

I loved the individual illustrations, but am not a fan of the formatting I did on for the book itself. I created my own font with my handwriting, and – while it was a good idea – the end result wasn’t satisfying for me. I won’t be re-doing this one, but it was great practice, and I sold all 100 copies I ordered, so it wasn’t a loss.

The Golden Pinecone

The Golden Pinecone is a story about a little girl, named Poppet (my own childhood nickname), who finds a pinecone on a walk in the woods, and loves it until magic turns it into gold – just in time for Christmas. I created the illustrations to echo certain simplistic styles of the ’50s and ’60s, with black lines and basic colors lain just outside the lines. I had visions of screenprinting the copies myself, using gold paint for all of the yellow parts (I actually still want to do this, someday), but I went in for CreateSpace – a site that provided a free ISBN and distribution on Kindle and Amazon, in exchange for holding your book file hostage. Here is the cover art:

Poppet learned that love can create a special kind of magic. This book exemplifies a typical, feel-good children’s story, with a dash of fantasy. I was working as a nanny for four children under 4 at the time, and wrote and illustrated the solid black line drawings while the babies napped. I found a beautiful font, and did the layout with Photoshop. The whole project came together like a twinkling waterfall of moments, falling into place perfectly.

I had moderate DIY success with this book, locally, selling over 200 copies at various events, shops, and just word-of-mouth networking. I got great feedback, and even had a woman who owns a dance studio in Topsham design her winter recital around the book’s story – complete with 4 year-olds dressed like dancing autumn leaves and squirrels. It was an honor, and totally adorable. I have an unfinished script for a children’s play based on the book, as well.

My plans are to completely recreate the illustrations, and publish a second edition. I would love to have this completed in time for the 2020 holiday season, but time is squeezy, and we shall see. I’ve had that goal for a few years now. I definitely don’t want to let the story die, having so much potential. It is only available for sale through Kindle right now, as CreateSpace was sold to Amazon/Kindle, and the edition they have for printing on file is flawed.

“Resume”

In eighth grade, I was at Lake Region Middle School, right on the border of Naples & Bridgton, Maine. My art was definitely taking on an identifiable look, when it came to the cartoon-y characters I would draw – specifically, lopsided googly eyes were a “thing”. I explored in all kinds of other art forms, but sketching cute, quirky anthropomorphic or imaginary creatures was my specialty.

The class was given a project in English class, to write and illustrate a book. I’m sure there was a page minimum, but I think we were given freedom to choose the content. It was supposed to be a group project, but I was the odd person out, and worked alone. I think that was one situation in which I was totally cool with that, since it meant I had complete creative control. Typical.

Chester the Cow was born. Never mind that this animal was clearly gender fluid, being a cow named Chester sans udder. This cow was on a diet. (No influence from my environment there, no…) So, I created a silly cow who decided “he” was too fat, and had to eat salad and exercise. I still have this masterpiece, and it was officially the first complete book I had written and illustrated. If I find it in my things, I’ll update this post with a sample page.

There were some other experiences throughout school of being asked to draw things for people, including an unfinished set of illustrations for a book my Western Civ teacher wrote, in high school. As an adult, I chose debauchery and rebellion as my art form, and my creativity was intensely sporadic. I tried wrangling myself into responsibility here and there, but really just flopped around like a sad, whacked-out hippie fish until the new millenium. There are a bunch of wooden boxes and pieces of furniture with my paint on them, still floating around out there, I’m sure.

I got my first paying gig as a illustrator when a friend’s mother, who had self-published several books already, hired me to draw a lighthouse book for kids. Heddy the Lighthouse was not only my first opportunity to draw every page, it was also my first experience in working for a client. My ADHD package has a nice bow on top called “Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria”, which adds a little spice to any criticism – regardless of how constructive it is. I ended up rushing to finish, and I was unhappy with the end product. But, I got paid, and got a case of copies to distribute as a I wished. I still have some, almost 20 years later.

That experience taught me many things, but most importantly – I could do this all on my own. Within the next few years, I started really forming whole stories. It wasn’t until 2010 that I completed an entire book, with illustrations, and decided to self-publish it. Life happens, and I didn’t get it made until late 2011. It does deserve its own post, so…to be continued….