23 May 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - YeeHaw!

     This is another of my Biro Pen creations, adapted for you as a cowboy on a pig! CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

22 May 2017

Culzean! Part 2... Smugglers' Caves

One of the things Rosie was excited to share with us at Culzean (p. Cul-ANE) was the smugglers' caves.
They're around a bend and over a rocky terrain, so most folks don't know they're there. Truly, the walking was tricky. They were unsteady and covered with barnacles and slippery seaweed, but beautfiul nonetheless.
It was a puzzle to get around to the base of the castle, but the tides were with us (literally) and soon, we had this view.
I had to give you the scope of this place. Click the image to watch a quick video on YouTube.
Rosie had been all through these caves years ago, so could describe the caverns to us, but they were locked off now.
But not all of them.
We decided to go in. The men led the way.
Inside, you could just fell the precense of pirates.
Back outside, I found this iron something-or-other attached to a rock. A story is beginning to form...
I so badly want to use this place as a setting in a book and indeed, one begins to simmer here!

21 May 2017

Culzean! Part 1... The Arrival

Our good friends Rosie and Dick (and their chocolate lab Hendrix) kidnapped us again. They do this from time to time to take us out of the city and introduce us to other wonders in Scotland. Our surprise destination this past Saturday was Culzean (pronounced Cul-ANE) on the west coast of Scotland, south-west of Glasgow and within site of the Isle of Arran.
     We got to Rosie and Dick's early as it was a two-hour drive through rolling hills covered in sheep. Rosie had made a picnic so the heavy clouds and rain had us all concerned, despite being game for the adventure. Somebody upstairs must have gotten our memo, because the closer we got to Culzean, the better the weather became. And then we were there!
See the castle on the far butte?
The clearing sky gave us a beautiful view of the Isle of Ayr.
As we walked around, Rosie shared why the place was so special to her. Starting when she was a teenager, she spent weeks at a time at Culzean on art residencies with friends. But this was before it was turned into a park and tourist destination. She and her friends had the run of the place with barbeques on the beach, caves to explores, and swans - all to themselves. I can't imagine such a magical thing!
What I can't share in photos is the intoxicating smell of the place. Every few feet it was something new and wondrous. It's wild garlic (ramps) season, so that was the most dominate pungent wonderfulness. But there were also fragrances of hawthorne, azaleas, saltwater and brine, and, and. It was a feast for the olfactory senses. Especially as we walked around.

Here's Dick with Hendrix.
Because the grounds went on and on with one surprise after another.
Even the trees were special.
One was just right for climbing.
Join us as we explore this magical place - it's going to take a few blog posts to share it all!

My Work In a Scottish Museum!

How exciting! Scottish museums are kicking off a promotional season this week.
Part of the promotion is an "A to Zed" exhibit at the City Centre Museum.
I was contacted a while back by one of the curators. Somehow she'd tracked me down. She wanted to use my Lady Liberty image in the "Zeitgeist" portion of the exhibit. The exhibit just opened, so Stan and I trekked down to the museum on Market Street just across from The Fruit Market Gallery.
There were lots of cool things in the exhibit. Like this stage set for Aladdin.
And this image of Princes Street by David Tomlins.
But, of course what we really went to see was my poster. And there it was, right in front!
There was a looping video of the protest march itself, and all my fellow signs together again. And a photo showed my poster at work, along with it's sister poster that is lost to the wilds somewhere.
I had goosebumps, I tell you! MY work in a national museum!!! Good lord!
I was still glowing, so Stan and I stopped by a pub afterwards. There, I ordered peppermint tea which was served with the funniest little tea dispenser—a little man hanging out on the side of my cup.
Well, it was cute until Stan pointed out the color of my tea, and um... HAHAHA! Oh well. Life has a way of keeping you humble, y'know?

Hey! Don't forget, you can purchase this image on t-shirts and such in my Zazzle Store!

18 May 2017

Creators Interview for STAND UP AND SING!

Interview between Susanna Reich (author)
and Adam Gustafson (illustrator)

Susanna: Hi, Adam. Stand Up and Sing! is the second nonfiction picture book we've done together. I knew from your work on Fab Four Friends that you do meticulous research and are very knowledgeable about musical instruments. Pete Seeger's story required not just accurate visual representation of banjo, guitar, piano and violin, but also a 1930s microphone, a 1940s car, a 1950s bus station waiting room, a 1960s TV camera, a log cabin, the sloop Clearwater under construction and under sail, period clothing for almost every decade of the 20th century, and a protagonist who ages from toddler to old man. Not all of these were in the text; some came out of your imagination. What goes through your head when you're first imagining images to go with the words, and at what point do you get into the historical research? Do you sketch out each spread first and then fill in the details?
Adam: Hi, Susanna! I do a lot of bouncing back and forth on the research and the drawing, but for a project like this I always start with the research.
      I spend a month or so just digging up as much as I can from any given time period, until I feel like I’m thinking in a foreign language. Different subjects have what I like to call different visual potential. Clothing from the '30s makes different shapes than clothing in the ‘60s, and different musical instruments and their silhouettes drive the direction of a picture in ways that aren’t all that flexible (if the banjo player is right handed, and we want to see his face, there’s only one direction the instrument neck can point in). The research includes period photos, fashion ads, art and illustration from the era, old movies, and lots of eBay searches. I try to remember that the past is a lot like the present in certain ways; if someone was making a book about me in 2017, almost nothing surrounding me would be from 2017. The couch might be 10 years old, the piano 50 years old, maybe there’s a new table lamp… a scene set in 1933 will follow a similar pattern.
      From that point, once I know what I want a picture to look and feel like, I go on a fact-checking mission, searching for details. What year does Pete’s banjo gain a few extra frets? Exactly when does he grow that beard? What stage of ship building has the best shapes, and where would Pete be visible working on it? At some point, every inch of a picture has to be a decision, and so if it needs detail, the detail might as well be obsessively accurate. As the drawings become more developed (and as the paintings get started), more questions just keep arising.
      My first question for you is also research oriented. Biographies and non-fiction, in general, can be tough to find a story arc in, because the plot has already actually happened, and coaxing it into a respectful narrative while establishing major themes that you, as an author, might want to communicate, must have its ups and downs. When you began this project, how familiar were you with Pete Seeger’s life, and to what degree, if any did your research change what you thought your story would be about?
Susanna: Great question. I actually find biography easier to write than fiction, because the plot is a given and all you have to do is find the narrative arc. Of course, that's easier said than done. Not everyone's life lends itself to a good story. When I'm considering a subject for a biography, I won't proceed with the project unless I can find that arc, with its touchstones and connecting threads.
      Stand Up and Sing is a "cradle to grave" biography, so the challenge was to find out what forces shaped Pete as a young person and how he responded to and expressed those influences in his art and life. I hadn't known anything about his family background and discovered that both his parents were musicians, and that his father and stepmother's politics and interest in folk music had a profound effect on him in his formative years, as did world events (the Depression, the union movement, the rise of fascism in Europe). After that, his personality, beliefs and behavior were quite consistent throughout his life. His dual commitment to music and activism never wavered, though of course, he had his struggles.
Speaking of struggles, I'm curious to know what aspects of illustrating this story were particularly challenging for you.
Adam: Well, the cradle to grave biography has a few of its own built-in challenges. Instead of a main character who goes on a day-long adventure, there’s a main character who ages (and thus has to change their clothes) from page to page. The handling of likeness over the course of 90+ years in this case—while maintaining consistency and recognizability in keeping with available photo reference—can be dicey. However, that wasn’t the most challenging part. Pete Seeger, as it turns out, looked at every phase of life like the kind of person I might draw anyway. It really came down to his decision to build a giant sailing boat, the sloop Clearwater, two thirds of the way through the story. That was a challenge.
      On a side note, though, I did get about halfway through the book illustrating it with 30 inch wide oil paintings, and decided that they felt too heavy, too full of some sort of abstract gravitas, for the subject. So I began the entire series of finals for the book over in gouache on paper (an opaque watercolor paint), and I think the directness of the medium was a much better fit for the tone of the story and our modest and plainspoken subject.
My last question may be a little bit along the lines of the last one. Our previous title together, Fab Four Friends, tells the story of the Beatles from their individual childhoods to their first British #1 hit. The lives and careers of the members of the Beatles are exceedingly well-documented, and they’re ubiquitous in our pop culture. Pete Seeger is by no means obscure, but just between belonging to an older generation and being a folk musician and activist, documentation, analysis, and photography of him are nowhere near as exhaustive. How would you compare writing about these two different types of subject? Are there benefits to one over the other, a subject where written and visual evidence is plentiful vs. one that requires more searching and perhaps even some gaps?
Susanna: It's true, the Beatles are so well-documented that you could spend years just reading books and articles about them, never mind the material in other media (music, film, photography, etc.). How do you decide which to use? You have to familiarize yourself with the resources, sift through them and evaluate which are the most important and reliable.
      I look for authors who are well-respected and well-reviewed, or those who have first-hand knowledge of the subject, like close family members. I can usually tell pretty quickly by the quality of the writing (and the bibliography and footnotes, if they exist) whether a book is worth my time. Fab Four Friends focuses only on the boys' childhoods and the early years of the band, so I didn't have to become an authority on the entire history of the Beatles. Ask me a question about the early years, and I'll probably know the answer, but I know no more than your average fan about what happened after 1963.
      With Pete, while there are far fewer books written about him than about the Beatles, there was no dearth of material. He recorded scores of albums and was a prolific writer, and there are several biographies and plenty of articles, letters, photographs and films (both biographical and performance documentaries). There are even biographies of his father, Charles Seeger, an important musicologist, and his stepmother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, a composer and folklorist.
If all this research sounds dry, it's not. It's like digging for treasure. And I never forget that I'm writing for kids. I'm always on the lookout for interesting details and fun quotes. And when I sit down to write, I try to use language that conveys the personality of the subject and the flavor of the times they lived in.
Adam: Hey! It’s been great chatting with you about all this behind the scenes stuff. Thanks for initiating the conversation; it’s always interesting to get a glimpse behind the curtain of someone else’s creative process.
Susanna: You're welcome. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
e: Thank you both for stopping by!

17 May 2017


No pictures for this post - just a reflection. I just had my VIVA this morning. This is where MFA students give a presentation about their final projects. It's where you defend and describe your inspirations, methodology, and conclusions. My VIVA was with my three primary tutors, my allies here at the University of Edinburgh College of Art, Jonathan Gibbs, Mike Windle and Bev Hood. I've done a lot these last two years, so we had a lot to talk about. And I've learned to be proud of and defend what I do and how I do it. I've basically learned to deeply believe in myself and my creations.
     I probably won't get written feedback (the VIVA was my feedback), so I want to record some of what was said before I forget it.
     I was asked how my method has changed. So MUCH! I used to be an A to Z creator. As in, here's the brief, how do we get to the end product? I have become much more about the journey from A to Z, the exploration and processes, the search for how best to express the ideas I'm trying to get across, how to best say what I'm trying to say.
     I told Jonny I'll be quoting him for years. He often says, "How do you teach art?" Certainly, you can teach the technical aspects of drawing. But technical proficiency doesn't always lead to emotional results. The better path may be, how do you teach somebody to mine the deepest depths of the idea they are trying to relay, and then learn to share that in a professional manner? It really changes everything for me - how I work, how I teach, my philosophy behind being a creator.
     They commended me on the sheer volume of the work I've created. But I've always done that. It's hard to tell people on the front end, "You'll rarely see somebody produce like I produce." It's something you have to prove by doing. They have to see it. I try to live by the words of Ben Franklin, "Well done is better than well said." It drives me.
     But it's also because of what I said in my TEDx Talk. I don't know how much time I have here and I have SO MUCH I want to share. It is a creative compulsion to get it out of me. That doesn't mean it's always good or worth sharing. But it does mean it's worth doing. That is also a new thing for me.
     Like my Creative Leftovers book - there is only one in the world. And that's okay. From here on out I will make cards and zines and short stories and board books and picture books and poetry books and odd collections, simply because they bring me joy to make them. Not everything has to be about the marketplace. Not everything has to be sold. Some things can be just for me. That's new too.
     They talked about watching me change from the way I used to do things, to be open to experimentation. Which I was! I made a point of trying almost everything that was suggested to me - even the outlandish things. It broadened my mind and abilities and range of what I create.
     I think this is what I will miss the most about uni, actually. Feedback/critique is not the same thing as a tutor suggesting, "Have you thought about trying this in stained glass?" Seriously? Sorry, Mike, I will forever laugh about that one. And yet...and yet... why the heck not? Okay, if something is physically impossible to do, that's one thing. But if it is possible, then why not try it?
     It's why I did the Crow Not Crow title with woodblock letters. It's okay if it doesn't work. The point is, you can't know until you try it!
     I hope that wherever I end up, I can retain and recreate this experimental environment around myself again - people with outlandish ideas and the materials to try them. It's not that I was lazy before, I think I didn't know that experimentation is a path.
     That said, a lot of that experimentation has simply been inspired by watching the students around me work. I can't say enough how valuable that has been to me. Because no two creators will ever do something the same way, and that can be wildly inspiring!
     All said, what I've learned at uni sounds so simple, this sense of experimentation and how important the path of creation is, but it has made ALL the difference in how I work. I also think I've come to understand what "Heart Art" is. Perhaps that was the driving question behind all my studies. It's not necessarily about creating technically beautiful work, it's about creating work that speaks to people, hits buttons, reaches those deeply embedded secret places within the psyche. I'm not saying I will always create it. In fact, I'm certain that I will fail a lot! But I think I can better discern what is working on that emotional level and what is not. And while not all projects require our deepest wellsprings, I know that I will strive more often to go there, to see opportunities to go there, where perhaps, no one thought it necessary. And I now know what it feels like to go there, to tap that source, to create inspired work. Here's hoping this was just the beginning to a lifetime of more of it!
     Happy creating!

16 May 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Baby Oogie

     Does it seem like there are babies everywhere? Maybe just because the weather is so nice. Hm. CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

15 May 2017

Scottish Parliamnet

I have so much to share from the last few days - I'll try to spread it out some! Recently, MA and MFA1 students from the University of Edinburgh participated in a WWII art project hosted by the Scottish Parliament to accompany a debate on the current state of affairs. This was a very big deal overseen by our capable colleague, Pilar García de Leániz.
     With the graduate show looming and another project under contract, I wasn't able to participate in this one, but I did go to the opening night to support my friends. Here's the gang in front of their pieces.
And one of Karin with hers as well.
The building itself is wild. You should look it up. We met in a smaller discussion room.
There, we listened to Sir Tom Divine talk about the history of Scottish referendums and Scotland's historic views towards immigration.
It was very interesting, made more so by the interesting faces of those in attendance. I had to draw them (something I'm trying to do more of these days).
Afterwards, we took a group shot in front of the impressive building with Arthur's Seat in the background.
Then we headed to a local restaurant for some celebration grub. Good job, guys!

14 May 2017

Creative Leftovers - One Last Project

You've seen my finished pieces, the TA-DAs! for my graduation show. However, I created lots of other images and marks on paper over the last two years that didn't really fit into any particular anything. I wanted to keep them, but I didn't want all that loose paper hanging about. What to do? What to do?
     Then I remembered a one-of-a-kind, handmade book that our ECA librarian Jane Furness shared with us in my first year. It was a unique mishmash of images, ideas, and substrates, bound with metal. I thought I might do something like that. Yeah!
     One of the challenges creating my version, though, is that all my images were various sizes. I used black duct tape as my unifying material. It gave me the width I needed and a means of attaching each separate image into the whole. It's also extremely strong, which this needed to be. For the cover, I did a linocut carving of hand-drawn text, which I printed on 3mil cardboard painted with my leftover textiles ink. Here's what it looked like.
Clamps held it together while it was a work-in-progress, but they weren't strong enough to become the permanent binding - this sucker is heavy. That's where the metal comes in.
     I purchased some aluminium stripping and nuts and bolts, then sought help from the university metal shop.
Such an inspiring space, even the ceiling is wonderful!
Ideas and possibilities are everywhere, even crows! (I'm all about crows these days!)
I would so love to do an MFA in sculpture someday, especially considering my history in bronze casting and welding years ago. For now, it was just this little bit of playing. Malcolm cut down my aluminium stripping and drilled holes through it. We both assembled the book with the nuts and bolts, then Malcolm sanded down the parts still sticking out.
Here's a close-up of the binding.
Inside, are prints, posters, figure drawings, ripped paper, linocuts, you name it.

Even the large blue cat that I had on my window first year makes an appearance!
All said, it's a visual treasure of my time here at the University of Edinburgh College of Art - a collection of the experiments that have guided this wonderful journey. It seems fitting that there should be only one of these in the world.


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