What goes around…

For a number of years in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s I created small figurative sculptures that I sold at craft shows and via craft galleries throughout the United States. I guess I would have called them dolls had they not been imbued with a dark and questionable humor. I have a few surviving examples of this work, all but one of which I keep in a box on a shelf. I rarely think of them. The only one I display has lived under a glass dome as part of the background of my studio low these many years. I christened it “Monster Baby”. More on him later.

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In mid-November of 2016 I attended the SCBWI Western Washington/Oregon Illustrator retreat at Dumas Bay in Federal Way, Washington. Our fabulous teaching staff was comprised of Christian Robinson and Catia Chien. They were inspiring in an unabashed and unrehearsed way that put us all at ease. I’ve always had a bit of a block about “performing”, which includes creating in front of observers. The delightful thing about this group of several dozen children’s book illustrators is that we all fell under the spell of Catia and Christian, eagerly taking direction and just getting down to the joyous work of their assignments. The group divided into halves and split each day between one or the other, Catia or Christian.

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Christian Robinson, whose preferred medium is construction paper, handed out sheets of black construction paper and had us each choose one colored sheet. We were to divide the colored sheet into quarters and then, with these pieces as background, use our xacto knives to create 4 illustrations. Our assigned subject was the cat and we had 30 minutes or so to complete our pages.

Mine, below, and then a window wall of fabulous cats:

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Next, Christian handed out a sheet of white and a sheet of black construction paper to each of us,   and had us choose one colored sheet of paper. We were challenged to create a book cover illustration depicting an animal chase scene. Again, we had about a half an hour to complete the exercise.

Mine:

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For both of these exercises I was surprised to find that the limitations placed upon me were a relief. No time to over think or fuss about details, just keep moving and quickly execute while working with the materials at hand. The construction paper, being such a pedestrian material, as well as familiar and comforting, gave me permission to just play.

Thank you to Christian for reminding me of the value of simplicity and limitations.

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So, back to the “Monster Baby”. Catia Chien had asked attendees to bring along a story prompt from myth, legend or folklore as well as inspiring character designs by admired artists (in my case, Edward Gory, Maurice Sendak, Gustav Klimt) to spark development of our own monsters or fantastical characters.

The scariest monster I could conjure was a monstrous and demanding baby! A Google search led me to a 18th century Scottish tale about an “unchristened wean” who dies at birth and is buried without a name. The baby haunts the village, demanding to be named.

Catia led us through a series of exercises in character development, again with time restrictions, resulting in the following sketches (and the “unhappy little spirit” at bottom):

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catia-assignment-03Upon returning to my home studio I noticed the connection with my three-dimensional Monster Baby. Same stance, same impenetrable stare, even the same blue of the attire. I guess I hadn’t been paying enough attention to Monster Baby. I’d better come up with a proper name, and fast.

Many thanks to Catia for helping me make this unsettling discovery!