W h a t I W a n t t o B e W h e n I G r o w U p - (click on images to enlarge)
I didn't always want to be an artist and a writer. The first thing I wanted to be was a boy. When I was growing up it was clear to me that boys got to do all the good stuff, like ride horses and climb trees and play baseball on real teams with uniforms. I had two brothers so I had first-hand experience. I had to wear dresses or skirts to school every day. It was very difficult to hang upside down from the monkey bars and not show the world your underwear. Thank goodness those days have gone. Today I play tennis and lift weights and wear jeans every day, and I only wear dresses if I want to. Usually I don't want to. But not always
The next thing I wanted to be was a Mohawk Indian of the Wolf clan. I wanted to learn how to track animals and light a fire without matches. I wanted to know the names for every plant, every bird, every animal. I wanted to learn to tan hides into leather and decorate moccasins with porcupine quills dyed with plant dyes. I wanted to live my life outdoors as much as possible and sleep in a bark lodge next to a warm cooking fire at night.
I never became a boy and I never became a Mohawk, but I did marry Chuck Wolf, so I guess you could say I became part of the Wolf Clan. And I read every book about Native Americans and Nature and Crafts that I could find.
For a long time I wanted to become a scientist. I loved the study of plants, animals, rocks, minerals. I made a collection of pressed ferns, scientifically labeled and preserved. I had a shell collection, a rock collection, a butterfly collection, a microscope and a chemistry set. I caught frogs and snakes and turtles in the woods and fields around our home and brought them home as pets. Once I chased my mom out of the house with a box turtle.
I thought about becoming a jockey because I loved to ride horses. But I kept growing bigger even though I was a really picky eater. I read all the Black Stallion books, (there were no girls in them that I remember), and every other horse book I could find.
Finally, I settled on three careers - to be a teacher, to work in publishing, and to write and illustrate children's books.
In college I studied Anthropology. That's the study of different people and the way they live. I got to read even more about Native Americans, especially the Mohawk. Then I taught Anthropology at a boarding high school. When I married Chuck Wolf, I moved to Chicago. I got a job typesetting books. I worked with book editors and book designers and the production department. I learned all about the publishing business.
When my first son, Lou, was born, I saw my opportunity to become a writer and illustrator. I wrote every day while Lou napped. Sometimes I wanted to nap too, but I told myself that after I wrote one page in my journal I could nap. Usually writing gave me energy. Once my imagination kicked in I was no longer tired.
Pete, my second son, did not like to nap much. It took me two whole years to fill one journal after Peter was born. B.P. - Before Pete - it only took me six months. Writing in my journal became more than just a habit. It was the way I explored my world, thought about problems, filed away future story ideas. My journals filled up with the routines of my day, insights I gained, plans for what I wanted to do with my life, stories of Lou and Pete growing up.
One great thing about having kids was that it got me looking at the world in a whole new way - or in a way I used to. I got back in touch with weather, with the changing seasons, with raking leaf piles to jump into, with making snowmen, with planting a garden. Even a trip to the grocery store with two small kids could become an adventure. There were so many things they were seeing for the first time. And I read and read to my boys every day. I loved reading old favorites, like Caps for Sale, that I remember my younger sister liking. And I discovered many new books as well, like No Bath Tonight.
My big break came when I met an editor at a conference on writing and illustrating children's books. "I'm looking for a truck book," the editor said. I started writing on the train ride home from the conference. About six weeks later I mailed out my first manuscript submission. Four years from when I first met that editor I had my first book, Peter's Trucks.
Truck Stuck, my second book was published by Charlesbridge Publishing in 2008. It is illustrated by Andrew Robert Davies, who lives in Great Britain. Both Truck Stuck and Peterís Trucks were inspired by actual incidents that happened to me in Oak Park. Even when I am writing fiction, I rely on my observations of life around me. As a children's book author I get to write my own stories. I get to work with editors of publishing companies. I get to go to schools and teach writing workshops. So you can see that this is almost the perfect job for me. It meets all three of my career goals.
But, you may be wondering, what happened to the illustration part? Let me tell you.
This is a picture of the house I lived in when I was in kindergarten. My father painted this picture. We only lived in half of it and my best friend and her family lived in the other half. There were trees to climb and lots of roads with almost no cars so we could ride our bikes and roller skate all around the campus where my dad taught. My father gave me real watercolor paints in tubes and a real sable-hair brush. He was trying to get me to hold still so he could paint me. I still have that brush, but I didn't like the picture he painted of me.
When I was older my dad would take me with him to the sail boat marina where he met with other artists to paint. I painted the boats, too, and the willow trees hanging low over the river. One artist was the teacher and he would talk to me about my painting just the way he talked to the grown ups. Afterwards we would go to the grill and eat the best hot dogs I've ever had.
When I was 16 I took art in summer school. I was reading Lord of the Rings for the first time and I was so in love with the characters that I drew them all the time in my school notebooks. For a final project for my art class I drew four illustrations for the books with ink and colored them with watercolor. Those illustrations are hanging in my house now.
When Lou was born I began to paint in watercolors again. I drew in my journals. I started buying unlined journals and they became journal-sketchbooks. Usually I painted scenes from photographs I took. My favorite photographs were from our vacations in New Hampshire, at the Red House. My father bought that house when I was seven, and ever since I have spent part of almost every summer there.
Once Lou and Peter were both in school full time I decided to go to Art School. I thought I would learn to draw so that I could illustrate my next story. But I got side-tracked. I fell in love with Art of all kinds. I love to paint and sketch in watercolor. I no longer work from photographs, but from small sketches that I do on the scene. I love collage - making pictures from torn paper and other junk. I love working on The Moon Project, which has branched out into all kinds of art - music and film and drawing and sculpture.
Sometimes I worked on my art and sometimes on my writing. It felt as if the art was competing with the writing for my time. My journal was the place where I could declare truce and fit both art and writing into my day.
The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birderís Journal was published by Charlesbridge in 2010. I wrote all the words and drew all the images. Micah Bornstein, whom I met at Starbucks, helped me design the pages in Photoshop. Modeled after my journals, it is a book of bird poetry and observations, illustrated with watercolor and pen and ink sketches that I scanned from my journals and sketchbooks. Both the poems and the illustrations are based on what I see when I watch the birds in my back yard. [add picture of Robin cover]
Working on The Robin Makes A Laughing Sound has changed my way of writing. For this project the artwork came first. My bird collage calendar inspired me to write about the birds I was seeing. More and more the art I make gives me ideas for what I want to write about. Right now I am working on a book based on my moon project.
I have met all three of my career goals. So does this mean Iím a grown-up?
Who knows what I'll want to be next? Body-builder, astronaut, and archaeologist are on my short list.
Moon sighting chart Virtual Installation page
Do it yourself moon sighting chart to print out (Click Here)
Have you seen the little horse? click here to read the continuing story of the little horse.
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