What I’ve been up to lately

Papercutting © by John Lechner

This year seems to be flying by, with hardly time to update this website. Over the past few months I’ve been doing a lot of writing, revising a middle-grade manuscript and pushing along some other new projects. I participated in an Open Studio event, attended an SCBWI conference, and did some more cut paper art.

Above is a cut paper design I made last fall, with a few adjustments this spring. It’s one of my larger and more detailed ones, meant to represent the changing of the seasons. It was cut from a single sheet of paper using an x-acto knife, and I painted the background separately with watercolors. The whole thing is about 11 x 14 inches, and below are some close-ups so you can see the detail. Maybe someday I’ll illustrate a book with this style, once I get more practice.

That’s all the news for now, have a great summer!

Papercutting © by John Lechner

Papercutting © by John Lechner

Papercutting © by John Lechner

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Insect drawings from this year

Artwork © by John Lechner

The year has flown by, and I haven’t posted on this website much. So I wanted to share some of my ink drawings from October (#inktober), when I did a new drawing every day of a different insect. I used the list of daily prompts by artist Jake Parker, which included words like swift, poison, crooked, graceful, all words that can be applied to insects in some way (though often it was a stretch.) 

Some of the drawings were faithful reproductions, some were turned into cartoons or stories. I tried to highlight the main characteristics of each insect, and I learned a lot in the process. Below are just a few of the drawings, which I also posted to my Twitter account

In other news for 2017, I didn’t publish any new books this year, but I’ve been doing a lot of writing. Hopefully I’ll have more news to share soon. I’ve also been posting a lot of nature photos over on my Instagram page, which you can see here

That’s all for now, hope you all have a wonderful and creative new year!

Artwork © by John Lechner

The cinnabar moth caterpillar eats ragwort, absorbing its toxins which make it poisonous to predators. 

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Artwork © by John Lechner

My #inktober drawing for the word underwater, featuring the predaceous diving beetle.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

The rhinoceros beetles fight using their horns like swords.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

My #inktober drawing for the word shy, featuring a couple of roly poly bugs.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

A screech owl is looking for a snack, moths beware! 

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Artwork © by John Lechner

Not only is the Atlas Moth gigantic, its wing designs look like snakes to fool predators (or unsuspecting crickets!) 

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Artwork © by John Lechner

The Australian tiger beetle can run faster than any other insect, including the speedy American cockroach.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

A praying mantis can be fierce and mysterious as it prowls around the garden. 

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Artwork © by John Lechner

For day 18 of #inktober here are a couple dung beetles having a blast.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

Insects who live deep inside caves are nearly blind, like this tiny Troglocladius hajdi

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Artwork © by John Lechner

Wasps and hornets get furious when a bear attacks their nest, but the bear doesn’t seem to mind!

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Drawn From Nature – New Solo Exhibit

Exhibit Poster

I’m having a solo exhibition of my artwork all during the month of July, at the Gorse Mill Gallery in Needham, MA, with an opening reception on Friday July 7th from 6:00-8:00 PM. Entitled “Drawn From Nature,” the exhibit will feature drawings, paintings, illustrations, cut paper designs, and shadow puppets.

At the opening reception on Friday July 7th, I will also perform an original story with my scrolling “crankie” theater. Entitled The Brave Fiddler, it is a short story about a girl who sets off to seek her fortune, taking only her violin. I will be playing the violin myself as I tell the story. The performances will take place at approximately 6:30 and 7:15 PM at the reception, and all ages are welcome. The crankie stage will also be on display as part of the exhibit.

Gorse Mill is a former textile factory that was renovated to create art studios and the Gorse Mill Gallery. Among the building’s artists are potters, ceramicists, glass blowers, painters, sculptors, mosaic artists, jewelers, photographers, authors, illustrators, stained-glass artists, graphic designers, mixed-media artists, a silk painter, textile artist, and a storyteller. Several artists offer a variety of classes as well.

The gallery is located at 31 Thorpe Road, Needham, MA, and is open to the public Monday – Thursday 11-5 and Friday 10-4. Though if anyone wants to visit the gallery at another time, just send me and email and I’ll be glad to show you the exhibit.

Hope to see you there!

John Lechner exhibit

John Lechner exhibit

John Lechner exhibit

And here is a video I made walking through the finished exhibit.

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Posted in Appearances, Art, Exhibits | 1 Comment

Cutting stories out of paper

Art © by John Lechner

It really is true that time moves faster as you get older. Not literal time, but our perception of time, which in many ways is far more important. So before any more time passes, I thought I’d share some recent projects.

Most recently, I finished a new paper cutting. I’ve been doing paper cuttings and shadow puppets for a few years now, and I really like the challenges and the effects you can achieve. I love how silhouettes force you to use your imagination, and this internal picture-creation can be far more powerful than any realistic image.

Here is a little bit about my process. I started with a pencil sketch, which I scanned and printed out bigger, and in reverse. This is because I would be drawing and cutting on the back side of the paper.

Art © by John Lechner

I then copied the design onto heavy black paper, and cut out the images with an x-acto knife. It was a slow process, and took several evenings.

Art © by John Lechner

Art © by John Lechner

And here is the final piece, which measures 11 x 14 inches.

Art © by John Lechner

This artwork will be on display at the Needham Library throughout the month of April, part of an exhibit for the Needham Open Studios, which I will also be participating in. You can visit the Open Studios website here.

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Also this past winter, I designed the set for a theatrical performance called I Spy Butterfly, by Faye Dupras, with music by Max Weigert (pictured below).

I Spy Butterfly, performed by Faye Dupras and Max Weigert

The show, which features puppetry, live actors and music, tells the sweet story of a young girl who loves insects and befriends a caterpillar. It weaves together themes of change, nature, and friendship, and is a magical performance for all ages.

The show was developed by Faye and Max over a period of months, where they worked out the action and the structure of the set. I came in to design the look of the scenery, which was then built by Larry Dersch and painted by Lauren White, so it was a team effort. Below is one of my paintings for the set, and also the final product. It was fun to work on such a creative project. The show will be performed again this May at Puppet Showplace Theater, in Brookline, MA.

Set design for I Spy Butterfly

Elsewhere in my life, I’ve been doing a lot of writing, revising old manuscripts and starting new ones. Hopefully that will all come to fruition at some point, and you’ll see another book from me. In the meantime, stay tuned for future developments!

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Illustrating Keats

Meg Merrilies illustrated by John Lechner

This spring I was inspired to do more ink drawing, so I decided to illustrate a poem by John Keats called Meg Merrilies. I also decided to turn it into a little book that I could print and take to festivals and events.

I began by researching the poem, its origins, and its setting. It was written by Keats in a letter home to his younger sister while he was hiking across the Scottish countryside. The imagery and textures reminded me of classic book engravings of the 19th Century, which I wanted to emulate. I experimented to find the right art style, settling on ink and brush with a watercolor wash.

Although not a long poem, I treated it as I would any other book project. I created a sketch dummy, followed by many revisions. To fill out the book and give it context, I also wrote an introduction, and added a glossary at the end (that was my sister Marie’s idea.) Finally came the finished artwork.

Meg Merrilies art by John Lechner

One of the most interesting parts of the project was designing the character of Meg herself. Keats based her on a character from a book by Sir Walter Scott called Guy Mannering, a book that Keats himself had never read, but which his friend Charles Brown described to him as they walked through the picturesque countryside where the book was set. As a result, the character in Keats’ poem is as much from his own imagination as it is from Sir Walter Scott.

The original Meg Merrilies, inspired by a real person, is the tough matriarch of a family of thieves and smugglers, whereas Keats’ creation is more of a gentle nature-lover, weaving branches and communing with rocks and trees. Since I was illustrating Keats and not Scott, I depicted my character as described in the poem, adding my own artistic vision. It’s interesting to think how a story or character can evolve when passed along from one artist to another, over many years.

Meg Merrilies art by John Lechner

The 12-page printed booklet came out nicely, and I still have some copies. If you are interested in purchasing one for $5, send me an email at john@johnlechner.com.

You can also see the entire illustrated poem online here.

Meg Merrilies book photo

This wasn’t the first project I’ve done involving Keats. Last year I created a moving panorama, or “crankie” inspired by his poem Endymion. I’ve also been inspired by his nature poems for my own nature blog The Untended Garden. I hope to continue exploring his work in future projects.

Also this summer I participated in a fun book reading at Legacy Place in Dedham, along with some other fine authors — Julia Denos, Peter H. Reynolds, Paul Reynolds, and Josh Funk. We each read from our work to an enthusiastic group of children, and it was a fun event.

Little Library Book Reading

Also this summer, my book Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest, was reviewed on a teacher’s blog called The Indigo Teacher, with feedback from a young reader. You can read the review here.

I’ve also continued working on some old manuscripts that have undergone many revisions over the years. Hopefully they will someday see the light of day. Ernest Hemingway reportedly changed the ending to A Farewell to Arms forty-seven times before he was satisfied. I haven’t quite reached that number, but I’m optimistic.

Meg Merrilies art by John Lechner

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Cut paper artwork, and other projects

John Lechner cut paper art

Every year, my workplace FableVision has an art show for us to exhibit some of our outside work. Last year, I was inspired to make a cut paper sculpture to fit into a deep shelf in the wall that seemed begging for some three dimensional art. This year I was equally inspired, especially since the theme was SPACE, and I decided to create a starry nighttime scene with cut paper. My idea was to have the stars cut out, so that light would shine through from the back.

After a few sketches, I drew the final design on stiff black paper, being careful to make each object sturdy enough to stand on its own, or have some attachment to other parts of the drawing. Then I cut out the images with an x-acto knife. The whole design was about 14 inches tall and 28 inches wide.

John Lechner cut paper art

John Lechner cut paper art

Behind the layer of black cardboard, there is a layer of watercolor paper, where I painted a light blue wash, then cut out stars so the light would shine through. The whole thing was assembled into the shelf, with small lantern lights behind.

John Lechner cut paper art

John Lechner cut paper art

John Lechner cut paper art

John Lechner cut paper art

I set it up two days before the show, then noticed that the smaller shelf nearby looked awfully empty. So I went home and made another cut-out design, using a shadow-box frame that I had. This one was only 8 x 10 inches, so it was easier to cut out.

John Lechner cut paper art

It was a fun project, and I hope to do more cut paper images and puppets.

So, what else have I been doing in the last few months? Working on several book manuscripts, and getting ready for the Maine Comics Arts Festival on June 5th, where I’ll be presenting some brand new mini books I’ve been working on.  Below is a sneak peek.

John Lechner ink drawing

I will post more later. That’s all for now!


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On the impermanence of snowflakes and art

Beetle Snowflake

The start of a new year brings new ideas, new hopes, new blog posts. One advantage of not being famous is that there’s less pressure to produce scintillating content on a regular basis, but I like to write something here every so often, if only to mark where I’ve been, and to aid my future unofficial biographer.

One thing that’s been on my mind a lot lately is the whole idea of content, meaning the stuff people create for other people to enjoy — stories, books, comics, movies, television programs, podcasts, webisodes, games, apps, articles, essays, drawings, blog posts, and everything else. The word content has always seemed very impersonal to me, reducing all such works to their most utilitarian function, something to be put into buckets for distribution. A YouTube video created in an afternoon is content. A hand-drawn illuminated manuscript created over twenty years is also content. Which one will be “liked” by more people? Which will make more money for its creator? Which will make a lasting contribution to society? And does any of that really matter?

Another thing on my mind in recent months is loss. Not just the loss of people, which is sad in itself, but also the loss of places, ideas, knowledge, hopes and dreams. The world has always been a constant sea of change, but it seems each year there’s more and more stuff in the world, and it’s getting harder to hang onto what’s important, what’s truly meaningful. It’s easy to let important things — and people — slip by our notice until it’s too late, and they slip away forever. Like Alice, we must run just to stay in place, and it’s hard to look around while you’re running.

This winter I tried my hand at cutting paper snowflakes, partly as a way to keep busy when my mind was too distracted to work on “real” projects. Snowflakes are the ultimate in impermanence, they vanish in an instant. And there are far too many in the world for us to notice them all, the vast majority are trampled upon or shoveled aside. Maybe that’s why I like them, I feel like I want to preserve them, to make their short lives count for something.

In any case, here are some of my own paper snowflakes, inspired by nature. All are drawn and cut out by hand, with scissors or x-acto knife.

Turtle Snowflake

Bird Snowflake

Butterfly Snowflake

Bunny Snowflake

Crab Snowflake

Lizard Snowflake

As far as other projects go, I’ve been updating the Sticky Burr webcomic all winter, and the latest episode is now winding down. If you haven’t been reading it, you might want to start at the beginning of the latest adventure, which involves an invasion of beetles and a mysterious hermit, who may or may not be able to save the day.

I also recently started an Instagram account, if you like photos of dragonflies and winter trees. You can find me here at @untendedgarden.

I’m working on some writing projects too, which may find their way to being published someday, if I ever have time to find a publisher. Then they will fly off into the world, a few more snowflakes in a whirling sea of content. Or maybe I won’t want to push them out just yet, perhaps they’ll still be too fragile, and likely to drown?

These are some of the thoughts that cross my mind when I’m trying to work, making it quite difficult to focus on the project at hand. Hopefully I’ll find some focus this year, and have more tangible things to share in the coming months. Thanks for reading, now I’m off to shovel snow!

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Poetry and art: bringing Keats to the stage

Endymion crankie scroll

I’ve long had an interest in puppetry, and lately I’ve been experimenting with a related form of theatrical storytelling – the moving panorama, or “crankie.” In this kind of performance, the storyteller turns a crank to reveal a scrolling image, accompanied by a story or song. It’s an old form of theater, and it’s making a quiet comeback in today’s high-tech world.

The appeal of the crankie is hard to pin down, it is deceptively simple on the surface. And yet when the scrolling images are revealed in front of an audience, there is a kind of breathless anticipation of what’s coming next. The forward motion of the images and the forward motion of the story or music create something very magical and unique.

There is a great small theater in the Boston area called Puppet Showplace Theater, and they often host evening cabaret shows for adults called puppet slams. Each puppet slam is a variety of short acts, sometimes experimental, often funny, always unpredictable. It’s a great place to push the boundaries of the art form, as artists have employed video, object theater, and animation at these events. For the past two years I have created and performed crankie stories at the fall “fairy tale” puppet slam. This year I wanted to try another. And rather than use an original story as in the past, I decided to adapt and illustrate a classic poem by Keats, the opening stanza to his epic Endymion.

Why this particular poem? I wanted something lyrical, short, in the public domain, with allusions to myth or fairy tale, from an author with whom I felt a connection. The opening stanza of Endymion, an epic poem inspired by a Greek legend, fit all the requirements. It was open-ended enough for me to experiment with, and short enough to complete in the three weeks before the event.


A scrolling panorama falls somewhere between a comic and an animated film — the images are still, but they move (sort of) as they scroll past the frame. The goal is to make the images flow easily from one scene to the next, and use the reveal of the scroll to increase the drama, much as you would use the page-turn in a picture book. The way images move across the opening is part of the magic. I started the project with small storyboards, to see if the basic concept would work.  Then I did two more sets of storyboards, refining each one.

Then I began sketching on a large scroll of paper, eighteen inches high and thirty feet long.  (I used almost the entire length.)  At each stage, I revised and revised, especially the final big scroll. After finishing the pencil drawing, I painted over the lines with waterproof ink and a brush.

Ink drawing

Then I painted over that with watercolors. Since watercolor paper is too heavy and stiff to roll up into a scroll, I used drawing paper (100 lb), and the painting was not always easy. Colors often dulled, and the paper often buckled, though rolling up the paper helped straighten things out. I had to simplify my art style, both for the physical medium and also to make the images clear for the audience.

Painting in progress

Crankie practiceAs I rehearsed the poem with the images, I decided that music would help tie everything together.  I recorded myself playing the ukulele, and tried out different ideas until I had something that matched the piece, and recorded it. Finally it was all finished, I fit the big scroll into the crankie stage (built by my sister Nancy) and was ready to go.

It was a challenging project in many ways — interpreting a classic text, using one continuous image, making the images bold and clear for an audience, getting it done in time. But it was all very rewarding. I performed the final work at Puppet Showplace Theater for their puppet slam in October, reciting the poem while turning the images, as the music played in the background.

Back of crankie scroll

Performing it for a live audience is perhaps the most magical part of the whole experience.  As an author, I’ve done many book readings where I’ve held up my book to show the pictures, but books aren’t really designed for this kind of experience. Even when a book is projected onto a screen, it’s not the same as holding it in your lap, and seeing the pictures close up. But a scrolling crankie is designed for a live audience, and the medium has great potential for dramatic effect.

Here are some photos of the final images. You can learn more about crankies over at The Crankie Factory website.

Crankie title page

Sample illustration

Sample illustration

Sample illustration

Sample illustration


Posted in Art, News, Theater | 3 Comments

Summer photos and inspiration from nature


I haven’t updated this website in many months, so I thought it was time to post something. I know there’s no minimum requirement on blog posting, but I find that posting a few times a year helps me keep track of what I’ve been up to, what I’ve been focusing on, and where I’m heading.

Lately I’ve been taking a lot of nature photos, below are a few favorites from this summer. (See more in my Flickr album.) I’ve been especially interested in pictures of small subjects, quiet moments, the things you might not notice if you walked past. Particularly the smallest creatures who hop or crawl or fly, and basically keep our ecosystem running.

Do they all realize they are each helping the earth in their own small way? Every cricket, every spider, every toad, as they go about their business, is also part of a giant interconnected web of living organisms, all delicately balanced, and if any one of them decided to stop doing their job, the entire system could come crashing down.

That’s a lot of responsibility for one small being. Does the ant realize this, or the cricket? I don’t think so, they only realize that they desperately need to survive, that their species needs to survive. Humans are part of this web too, and even as we go about our business, dealing with our own singular lives, we are still part of a larger world.

And sometimes when I feel like a task is too big, that my novel will never be finished, that my lofty ambitions will never be achieved, I think of the smallest insect as it climbs a daisy stalk or scampers across a field, every step a brave assault on the unknown, each moment fraught with peril and also with possibility. If this tiny, vulnerable creature can face the world with conviction each day, so can I.

And now, I’m off to write. Enjoy these last images of summer!




Rabbit in the field


Spider flower


Grassy sun

Posted in News, Photography | 4 Comments

Spring, and the great unknown

Ladybug in the grass

Spring is here. Just like that, after a seemingly endless and grueling winter, the grass is growing, flowers are blooming, and buds are sprouting from bare branches. It can’t be stopped, no matter how much snow and ice comes down each winter, spring will come. Everything returns to the way it was a year ago.

But it’s not the same. It’s never the same. This is the devious trick of nature, to give us a sense of comforting permanence when below the surface, everything is growing, shifting under our feet, until we look around one day and realize we are not at the place we thought we were. We are somewhere new, perhaps someplace wonderful, perhaps someplace terrifying.

But if nature wasn’t continually growing, changing, shedding one skin for another, it would stagnate and die. That’s another hidden irony of nature, things need to constantly move in order to stay as they are.

Such is the life of an artist, we have to keep moving forward, even if it means taking risks. This can be just as difficult in art as it is in life. Though in many ways it is easier to take chances in art, because you can always tear up the page and start over.

I’ll be embarking on some new projects this spring, and I’ll share what I can. In the meantime, I’ll be attending some events in the next few weeks — the NESCBWI conference, the Needham Open Studios May 2-3, and the Maine Comics Arts Festival May 17. I’ll also be celebrating with Puppet Showplace Theater at their annual fundraising gala.

It’s a season of new exploration, and hopefully new inspiration. I hope you all find yourselves in a good place this Spring, or at least heading in the right direction!

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