Hello 6

Ava: 6 years-old
Ava turned six Wednesday. Six years old. I can't believe my little girl is growing so fast right before my very eyes. Andrea had an incredible post yesterday about Ava offering her sympathy for "poor five." Since I can't compete with Andrea's words and photos, I wanted to offer Ava something that I can do best: draw a picture of her. So here's my girl at six years-old. When I started to draw her here, I suddenly realized just how much she's changed. She now has these long, knobby legs that weren't there a year ago. It's like she's one of those Growing Up Skipper dolls where you turn her arm and she grows about two inches. This is the first time I've drawn Ava like this—before, I drew her more like a little girl. Now she's a real GIRL. Not little anymore. Can't believe it.

Ava: 6 years-old sketch
Here's my original Moleskine sketch. You can see all the little toys and knick knacks that Ava loves to play with surrounding her feet. In the final version, I decided to just focus on the girl. Oh, and I just had to keep that sketchbook and pencil in her hands, of course.


As you might've guessed, the lack of posts means busy times on the personal and work fronts. By cleaning the attic, Andrea and I have created our own proverbial Sisyphean task. We work hard hours at night only to see more boxes return the next day. But we're getting there. And to look for a house to live in at the same time? Pure torture. Oh, and did I mention that we're going to the beach for a week? Gotta pack for that, too! Good times, I tell ya. Good times. Sigh.

So yes, in times like these some things get neglected, and unfortunately, The Ward-O-Matic is the victim here. Very sorry about that. I do want to say that there are some wonderful things I've found while sifting and packing things away in the attic that I completely forgot I had. I can't wait to crank up the scanner once we're settled and post them here. Some great books with wonderful artwork to share. It'll be well worth the wait.


Ava and Graffiti

Ava and graffiti girl
Couldn't find that butterfly drawing of Ava's, but there's a slight chance it might be at my Mom's. Search party is still on.... In the meantime, check out these photos of a pudgy little Ava-girl prancing around some graffiti by dear ol' Dad. I painted this in 2002 at the Civic Yard, a completely legal wall that spanned several hundred feet. Well, this part you see here was the half-wall, over to the left when you pulled into the parking lot. The real wall (you don't see it in these pics) was about 15 to 20 feet high and featured some incredible burners during it's heyday. Some of the best writers would come to the Civic and do their thang. Most of the work you see in my graffiti photoset was painted there. The Civic was a great place to work on your steeds and can control. And with the parking lot set right up against the wall, it was a great place to chill with some fellow writers. Now that the Civic Yard is illegal, nothing. Nothing but an ugly, dull grey wall. It's sad, really. Here's some more shots of my half-wall piece and 2 year-old Ava:

Ava and graffiti head
CANON on the half wall at Civic
There was more to the piece on the right there, but I couldn't find the other photo. I planned on Photoshopping them together one day. This piece ran for about 2 years until they buffed over the entire place in 2004.

On the home hunting front: Andrea and I might've found a place, but we don't want to jinx it. More on that later, when it's a done deal. However, we do want to give a big THANK YOU to all of you who offered your help and sent us some suggestions. Very generous, guys. We really appreciate the fact that good people are out there and are willing to help a stressed out family in a time of need. Mucho gracias, peeps!


In search of...Ava Thursday

At the Butterfly Festival (see photoset here), Ava grabbed Mommy's notepad and a pen and plopped down in front of this wooden butterfly and began to draw it. (It was some sort of decoration as you walked through the garden they had there.) She looked like a true artist on-site: drawing for reference, sketching objects that looked interesting to her, a girl on a mission. Well, I can't find the drawing (or drawings)! I've been trying to locate them but as you may well know, we're kinda in the middle of a moving situation. Kinda busy.

Remember that show In Search Of... from the 70's? It was narrated by the incomparable Leonard Nimoy. I remember watching that show with wide eyes, soaking up as much of the conjectured hooey on UFO's, Bigfoot, Atlantis, and The Bermuda Triangle as I possibly could. I recall as a child going with my entire family to see the feature film In Search of Noah's Ark, although I'm pretty sure that this 1976 film was not cut from the same cloth as the TV show. Also, Leonard didn't narrate the film—Brad Crandall did—which would've been a big letdown for me. The "In Search Of..." TV show lasted until '82 but was resurrected in 2002 on the SciFi Channel, lasting only eight episodes. I guess they didn't realize that people could just go online and search for whatever mystery that baffled them.

Well, now I've got two things I'm currently "in search of": A new house to live in and Ava's butterfly drawing. I promise one of these will be posted later on today. Stay tuned...


Design Inspiration interview

Just to let you know, I've been interviewed over at Jeff Andrew's Design Inspiration blog. Design Inspiration is described as "a place to introduce talented illustrators and designers to other creative professionals in their industry. A forum for new talent, a venue to be seen and noted." There were some interesting questions posed to me and I tried my best to answer them in the best possible way. I understand that for someone who might be starting out in the animation, illustration, or design business, reading about how professionals got their start and how they approach their work is always fascinating and enlightening. I hope this interview fascinates and enlightens at least a few out there.

Read my interview HERE.


Fluttering activity

What a weekend! The Humidity is back in the ATL, so it made obvious sense for the family & I to be outside, sweating like dogs at Chattahoochee Nature Center's Butterfly Festival this past Saturday. For some fun pics, be sure to check out this photoset, courtesy of Wifey. Read more about our day HERE.

Well, if you had a chance to read my wife's blog, there's an earlier post (aptly titled, goodbye summer) that mentions that we'll have to move soon. It sucks to move in the first place, but it sucks even more when you're being told to leave because the owner wants to put the house on the market. Alas, the trials and tribulations of renting. Yes, we know—we would love to buy the house, but it's simply way out of our league. Another kicker is that the school that Ava goes to is one of the best elementary schools in the state (thus explaining the high home prices). So, we're deep in the looking stages now and it's not looking all that great. I'm optimistic, however, because we just started to look and we have at least until September to find something. Just don't want to uproot Ava from her school in the thick of it. Another kicker? The attic has to be cleaned out COMPLETELY so they can show the house. This will be no easy task, my friends. Not looking forward to it.

Cow Sneezed: coverOn a more positive note, got some great blog traffic this weekend thanks to the write-ups on Cartoon Brew, Drawn!, Boing Boing, as well as some other great blogs and sites for my previous post on Jim Flora's children's book The Day the Cow Sneezed. That post was a labor of love and it feels good to know that others are able to enjoy Flora's great artwork. When Irwin graciously sent me the scans to original mock-ups of the book, I knew I had something special here that desperately needed to get out to the public. Big thanks to all of you who linked the post, as well those of you who commented—I even got one from Flora's niece! Very cool.

Home Meal Planner - KidsAnother cool item to mention: remember those fun, unknown illustrations from that Home Meal Planner I posted earlier? Well, the incredibly talented Steve Lambe emailed me to let me know that they were done by Albert Aquino. Not much info is out there on Aquino, but I did find out that he illustrated some children's books—which makes complete sense, based on the look and style of the Home Meal Planner booklet. Thanks, Steve! (You can see a photoset of the booklet HERE.)

Hope your weekend was fine. Off to check out more leads on the home search now. Wish us luck.


The Day the Cow Sneezed

The Day the Cow Sneezed, written and illustrated by James Flora, 1957. Click to view larger.

Several years ago I was standing in my friendly neighborhood music/comic book store, Criminal Records, thumbing through one of those books on SHAG. Near the beginning there was an article written by SHAG himself that served as an introduction to the man, the myth, the legend. He talked about how he developed his style and listed some of his influences. One, of course, was Jim Flora. In the corner of one page was an image from a children's book in pink, blue and black with wild and crazy stylized characters. "Whoa!" I thought, "what the heck is that?" At the time, I was just starting to learn about this eclectic old-school illustrator. I looked closer at the image. The title "The Day the Cow Sneezed," appeared below and I made a strong mental note to remember this moment, this book.

As many of you know, I'm a big Jim Flora fan. I've mentioned him on The Ward-O-Matic (here and here) as well as on Drawn (here and here). To say that I've been influenced by Flora would be an understatement. Even though my style might not be exactly like his, there are many elements of his work from which I've taken cues. His linework, cut-out paper shapes, wacked-out characters, and brilliant use of color speak to me in so many ways that I end up speechless. He was a true artistic genius.

Inside cover. The image is repeated in the front and back.

Fast forward several years to 2005 when I did an eBay search for "cow sneezed." I wasn't expecting anything to come up because this had always been the case. The book was out-of-print and extremely rare. There was little information about it online. The book had become my "white whale" and I had accepted my fate—The Day the Cow Sneezed would never be in my possession. Whenever the book was up for bid, the price would always exceed what I was willing to pay. Until one day—it was listed as a former library book and there was no image provided, making this a bit suspicious (plus former library books are notorious for wear and tear). But by this point, I was willing to take anything that was remotely associated with this book. I ended up paying a mere $16! When the book arrived, I was surprised to find it was in decent condition. It had some unsightly library stickers on the cover, but the inside was tear- and scribble-free! I was ecstatic.

About the book: The Day the Cow Sneezed was first published in 1957, and was Flora's second children's book (his first being The Fabulous Firework Family in 1955). Working in the children's book format was a change for him. Most of his career had been devoted to illustrating album covers for RCA Victor and Columbia, as well as a burgeoning freelance business providing spot illos for magazines. Flora had children at this point, and had hand-painted some rudimentary kiddie books, but he had not seriously pursued publication. Margaret McElderry, one of the top editors of children's books at the time, liked what she saw in Flora's portfolio, and asked him if he could write a book for her. This proved to be a challenge for the mostly visual guy. In the "Something About the Author Autobiography Series," published by the Gale Group (some of which is featured in The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora), Jim reminisces:

"I found it very difficult at first to write a book because I had been trained to see an idea, not write about it. Facing a blank sheet of paper and writing a story was something I found I could not do. So I devised a new way to write my story. During the day I would think about the book. I would see it in pictures in my head. At night, as I lay waiting for sleep, I would run the story through my head like an animated cartoon one sees in theaters and on television. When finally the complete story was arranged in my head I drew a seres of pictures of what I saw there. In films they call this 'making a storyboard.' With this storyboard at hand all I had to do was describe what was taking place in the drawings. That's how I wrote my first book and all of the sixteen others that followed." -- James Flora, 1988.

After The Fabulous Firework Family was published it received great reviews, prompting Flora to think about the next one. "In my new role as author I thought it best to write another book just to prove that the first one was not an accident."

Back cover detail.

About the story: "I try not to overload my stories with moral lessons or messages but I did in [The Day the Cow Sneezed]. I wanted to show what could happen when you are careless in your work and do not attend to your duties as well as you should." The story concerns a boy, Fletcher, who leaves his cow, Floss, standing too long in the cold water while stopping for a drink. The cow sneezes in the barn, sparking a chain of events that disrupts the entire town. The moral, Flora says, is that "a teeny-weeny error can grow into a whopping big mistake almost before you can say KA-CHOW!" It is a light-hearted story, told in a straight-forward way, but illustrated in typical Flora fashion—with pizzazz, humor and spunk. The black & white spreads are just as appealing as the color spreads, in my opinion.

When I first considered this post, I contacted Flora's biographer, Irwin Chusid, to request assistance. What he sent far exceeded my expectations—scans of original mock-up spreads for The Day the Cow Sneezed! I was floored. I love works-in-progress, especially conceptual and early versions of books as well as animation penciltests, so you can imagine how excited I was. In fact, this is the first time these mock-ups have been publically shown.

The mock-ups shown before each accompanying two-page spread are test runs for the artist and printer to make sure that the pages and copy (text) are properly coordinated. Notice that there are a few notations written in (what I'm assuming is) Flora's handwriting. For this late stage of the process, it's important to work with the publisher and printer so that everyone is on the same page (no pun intended) and that there are no mistakes, mess-ups, or misunderstandings with the final printed product.

After comparing the mock-ups to the final versions, I noticed that most of the spreads remained the same, including brush strokes, color choices, and character shapes. However, there were a few alterations that are worth noting.

Be sure to click on each image to view it larger:

Pages 10-11

Notice the overall layout of the barn with the house off in the distance. Flora had a knack for showing action and here, we see nice key poses for the cow, cat, and mouse in the barn. The only major change Flora made here was the pose for the cat. In the mock-up, we see the cat's profile, but in the final version we see the cat's entire face.

Pages 14-15

The Day the Cow Sneezed is printed with four color overlays: black, blue, pink, and a rusty red. In the mock-up for pages 14-15, I noticed that a 5th color—purple—was included in the layout. By the time Flora created the final version, all the purple had been changed to blue. Makes me wonder if purple was originally intended for the entire book, but had to be simplified because of printing and/or money reasons.

Pages 16-17

Throughout the book there are several black & white spreads. This was a practice that was typical of the time, mostly to cut back on printing costs. I've always wondered if the originals for these pages were done in color but photographed in black & white for the final print version, but seeing the mock-up for this spead answers that question: they were painted in black & white. And in this particular one, we see the most drastic changes made from mock-up to final. On the left page (page 16), the policeman dominates the page, dwarfing the mayor and the few buildings in the background. Page 17 remains intact. So, why the changes? A pencilled-in note at the bottom of page 17 tells us why: "Make policeman smaller + less fearsome." By reducing his size, along with adding a crying child that he attends to, Flora gives the police officer a more likable presence. It's also worth noting that by shrinking the policeman, Flora was able to add buildings in the background, allowing for a cohesion to the town square that was not present in the mock-up. Our eyes now flow easily from the left to right, as we follow the path of destruction caused by the rampant steamroller. (My favorite Flora touch: the two children in the schoolhouse have big grins on their faces, obviously delighted by all the commotion going on.)

Pages 24-25

Another obvious change from mock-up to final version is here on pages 24-25. We see in the mock-up that this spread was originally meant to be in color, but was changed to black & white. There's no mention why, just a simple "No color overlays," written in pencil on the mock-up. It's a shame, really. Some wonderful things going on with the color here. I particularly love the way that the alligator was originally rendered in pure black with a simple white line for his scales.

Page 26

I don't have a mock-up for this page, but I wanted to show it anyway because I can't get enough of all the twisted and contorted animals. Love the octopus.

Pages 34-35

As the story continues, the steamroller crashes into a Ferris wheel and carries with it a large assortment of animals along with Fletcher, the boy. Fireworks erupt from a truck that gets caught in the melee and suddenly the scene comes alive with explosions and color. It's a great Flora moment as he reverses the sky color to black, allowing the brilliance of the pink, red and blue to explode off each other and the page. Almost all of this scene remains intact from the early version (notice that Flora even kept the same brush strokes and shapes for all the fireworks), but two interesting things to note: 1) the first chicken on the left is missing its color; 2) there are some black pencil details missing from the cow and pig. I think that the chicken mistake was indeed that—a mistake, or an oversight. At one point I thought that maybe Flora intentionally cut back on the cow and pig details, but now, I think that that was also a mistake.

Pages 38-39

As the rolling Ferris wheel of fireworks and animals continues on its trek, the layout for pages 38-39 remain virtually unchanged, with the exception of a few minor changes like ornamental tree details, a missing rooster, and some added color. This is another brilliant scene—the rolling hill (with text underneath) on the left is neatly juxtaposed by the rolling Ferris wheel on the right, creating a wacky ying/yang of sorts.

The Day the Cow Sneezed is a wonderful children's book, gleefully playing with visuals and imagery that only Jim Flora could imagine. The storyline is simple and linear—everything moves from left to right—which makes it perfect for reading to kids. I've only posted a portion of the book, but it's worth checking out in its entirety. But is it readily available? Not to worry. When asked about the possibility of reprinting Cow Sneezed, Irwin Chusid tells me that he, along with Flora's family, are "looking into it." Thus, exposing the genius of Jim Flora to brand new audiences.

To view these images all together in a photoset, click HERE.

Another photoset featuring some of Flora's commercial work can be found HERE.

Join the Jim Flora Flickr Group and see the collections of fellow Flora Fans.

For more about Jim Flora, be sure to visit JimFlora.com.

The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora, the second book featuring the art of Jim Flora, will be published early 2007, by Fantagraphics.

Images courtesy Jim Flora Art LLC; (c) Jim Flora Art LLC. Big BIG thanks to Irwin Chusid.


UPDATE: Good news! Enchanted Lion Books will reprint The Day The Cow Sneezed in Fall 2010. Details here. They'll also reprint other Flora titles if the interest is there. So, buy it when it's available!


I'll keep going if you don't stop me

I'll keep going if you don't stop me
Sorry it's been slow around here. I'm currently working on a post that I'm very excited about, so it's taking me longer to fine tune it. In the meantime, check out my boy Ezra scribbling away with his markers back in April. It was a hoot watching him work. He took to the paper like it was his sole purpose in life. His method consisted of: grabbing a marker, popping off the top, scribbling away for a second, putting the top back on the marker, and then grabbing the next color. All of his creative energy was concentrated on one particular spot on the page, and I swear he'd still be drawing to this day if I hadn't stopped him. (See more pics of the EZ drawing in my Flickr.)

Next post will be a good one. Something special. Hopefully it'll be ready later on today.


Odd Assortment of Sketches

Here are some unrelated sketches from a couple of months ago. You can click on each image to go to its respective Flickr page wherein you can click on "All Sizes" to view larger. Word.

"Pot heads." Also known as "stoners." Remember how goofy those terms were? The two on the left there are based on a couple I remember from my high school years. The dude had those reflective sunglasses with side covers (blinders?). He was pure heavy metal, man.

The title 'Sensitive Pony-Tail Man' came from SINGLES. Remember that movie? I just made up the guy.

Jus' playin' around.

Sketches from Flickr photos
Sometimes I like to draw from photos—and of course Flickr is the coolest place to draw from. The image of Jes C in the upper left can be found here. The one of my sweet daugher Ava on the right is here.

I was watching something on the 70's one night on TV and so the following day I drew this. Dig those wings, man. Dunno what I was trying to do with the 'Foxy' lettering. I gave up on it. (Mark, I'm pretty embarrassed by this attempt, so just look away.)


Ava Thursday: Ezra's Birthday Present

For Ezra's 2nd birthday, Ava drew Lightning McQueen on a big number "2" that Andrea cut out of posterboard. Ezra is NUTS for cars (and the Pixar movie too)—so, naturally Ava decided on drawing the main character on a highway for her brother.

Ava Thursday: Ezra's Birthday Present
Notice that there's new pavement behind him, just like in the movie, when McQueen was sentenced to fix the road. I love the little details here, from the eyes to the stickers on the hood, to the little lightning bolts on the side. She informed me that she drew him without looking at anything for reference. I would've never gotten him right if I tried. Also, if you take a closer look at the first photo, Ava tried to draw 'Bessie,' the asphalt-paver-machine-thingy that McQueen was chained to in the film, at the top of the 2, but decided that it was too hard to draw and proceeded to scribble it out. Worth a shot.

Mommy was recruited to help out in coloring the rest of the road when Ava figured out it was going to be quite an undertaking with those thin markers.

Click here to view a photoset of the birthday party.


Home or Bust

Home Meal Planner - BBQ
Well, I'm back. Hope everyone had a great 4th of July weekend. And for those outside the US of A, I hope you had a great Tuesday! We made it back home safe and sound Monday night, all thanks to a snazzy rental car that my Dad help secure for us during the week (thanks, Dad!). Boy, it's nice to drive a car that's from this decade. The car is a low-end Nissan, but even a low-end 2005 car is a whole heckuva lot better than our '97 Honda CR-V. Well, we did miss the space to put everything, but overall, the trip was a breeze.

Yesterday was pretty much a bust, but we were not going to let a closed waterpark due to full capacity, some nasty fire ants, and cancelled fireworks on account of a torrential downpour ruin our swell holiday. We did manage to have some moments of fun, plus, I was so happy to finally spend some time with my family.

For the occasion, I put up some fun illos from a "Home Meal Planner," dated 1957, in my Flickr. Click HERE for the entire set. Hope you enjoy!

Home Meal Planner - Sandwiches
Home Meal Planner - Dad
Home Meal Planner - Breakfast
Home Meal Planner - Mom