Greetings all, here’s a quick update on what I’ve been doing lately. The biggest news is that I’ve redesigned the Sticky Burr website and started up the webcomic again, which had been on hiatus for a while. There will be a new comic posted each week (usually Sunday night).
The older pages of the comic have been divided up into 3 different adventures. You can read the entire archive from start to finish, or you can jump to one section or the other. In the first adventure, Sticky Burr is captured by the locust king. In the second adventure, Nettle Burr gets lost in the fern forest and encounters some nasty beetles. In the third adventure, snow covers the forest and Sticky Burr meets an unusual visitor from far away. What will the next adventure hold? You’ll just have to read and find out!
Last month I also have a great time visiting the Newman Elementary School in Needham, MA. I drew some pictures, read one of my books, and talked about my work. I also presented a miniature puppet show about Sticky Burr and his friends. Thanks to all the students for giving me such a great welcome, especially the ones who made this beautiful sign!
I will be doing one more appearance this month, I’ll be at the Gorse Mill Holiday Sale the weekend of Dec. 7 & 8, along with many other fine artists. I’ll be selling books and artwork, with lots of free stuff too. Come on down and say hi! I’ll be there all day Saturday (though I have to leave at 4) and Sunday from noon to 5 PM.
I haven’t posted here in a while, so I’ve got a few projects to talk about.
This summer, I wrote a short comic for an anthology of monster comics for kids, curated by Bob Flynn and Dan Moynihan, published by Roho of River Bird Comics, in partnership with the Boston Comics Roundtable. The comic features stories by eleven artists, on the theme of creatures and monsters, and is called “Gulp!”
My story is called “The Garden Monster” and is about a boy who goes out in the garden to trim some vines, but the vines turn out to be more than he bargained for. The story is six pages long, and somewhat inspired by my own gardening adventures.
I drew the comic on paper, first with pencil then ink and brush. Then I scanned and colored the art in Photoshop. The book was printed in two colors, and I had to do the color separations myself, choosing which pieces of art to render in which colors. Below is more process art with the final product.
Below is the cover, illustrated by Bob Flynn:
You can learn more about the official comic here and see more photos here. It is currently being sold in some Boston area comic stores.
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Also this year I’ve been experimenting with various kinds of storytelling, and one of these is the scrolling story. This is often called a “crankie” because there is usually a crank to turn the scroll, and you unveil the story as you tell it to a live audience. It’s a very simple, old-fashioned way of storytelling, but it has a unique charm about it, especially in this digital age where everything is electronic.
My first scrolling stage was made out of paper in about an hour. I wanted to create something quick and spontaneous to experiment with the form, and the result can be seen below.
After that, I made a larger crankie out of a shoebox, then a larger one out of foam core. Last month, my sister Nancy and I built one out of wood, for larger audiences. I used it to perform an original story in our local Puppet Slam, an evening of short puppetry-related works. The theme of the slam was Fairy Tales, and I decided to write a new story in the style of a traditional folk tale.
The story is called The Brave Fiddler, about a young girl who sets off on a journey to seek her fortune, carrying only her violin, and who overcomes many dangers before the happy ending. Below is one of the final images, which were painted on 18″ x 24″ paper and taped together into one giant scroll.
I’m going to write a separate post about this show in more detail, talking about how it was made. For now, I will say that it was an inspiring experience to create a story in this format, and to perform it for a live audience. A scrolling story is a unique combination of art, storytelling and theater, and it really makes you think about your story in a different way.
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I have one more bit of news, I am currently redesigning the Sticky Burr website, and I plan to start writing new comics for the web this fall. Watch for an announcement soon!
Ever since my book The Clever Stick was published a few years ago, I have received wonderful feedback from children, parents, and teachers.
Just this week I received a note from a fan who said, “I love your book. It is such a great message about finding your voice that I have been giving it as High School graduation presents since I discovered it a few years ago.”
I certainly never thought of my book as a future graduation gift when I wrote it, it was simply a story I had to tell, but I’m happy that it seems to resonate with readers of all ages. It is a tale about a stick who is frustrated because he cannot speak, and so cannot share his thoughts with the world. Only when he drags himself home one day, and notices the trail behind him, does he stumble upon the key to finding his voice.
It is a story of self-discovery, among other things. One teacher told me she uses the book to show how everyone has their own unique talents. Another teacher told me she uses the book as part of a nature unit, but also for children “to connect to the many ways that people communicate.” The website Teen Librarian Toolbox called it “a great tool for helping tweens and teens develop some empathy for those who are different.”
It is wonderful to hear about The Clever Stick being read and discussed in so many ways, and to know it is finding a receptive audience. So thank you to everyone who has appreciated and shared this book, no matter how old you are. And congratulations to all graduates this year, I hope you all succeed in finding your voice!
Today is Earth Day, a time to celebrate and honor this great planet we live on. As you’ve probably noticed, nature is a big influence on my writing and art. My book Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest is filled with animals and insects, and features selections from Sticky Burr’s journal about his forest life.
In honor of Earth Day 2013, I created a new printable page of nature activities featuring Sticky Burr and his friends. Feel free to download and print for your home or classroom.
I had the honor of visiting the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA) Annual Conference in Sturbridge, MA earlier this month. I participated in a program where authors share their work with librarians in small groups, called Author Speed Dating. There were five authors participating, and each sat with a table of librarians for ten minutes, then moved to a different table.
It was fun, and I met a lot of great people. We talked about the books I’ve written and illustrated, what projects I’m working on, and the nature of books and reading today.
The other authors participating in this event were Carolyn DeCristofano, Laura Harrington, Lesléa Newman, and Melissa Stewart. They are all wonderful writers, and I encourage you to read their work. Thanks to Sharon Shaloo, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Center for the Book, for inviting me to participate. Here are a few pictures from the event.
All photos by Richard Curran.
Left to right: Carolyn DeCristofano, John Lechner, Laura Harrington, Melissa Stewart, and Lesléa Newman.
When I’m not writing or drawing, I’ve been known to dabble in music. In my book Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest, the main character plays the ukulele and sings. I wrote a little song for the book and included the sheet music on the last page, hoping to encourage young musicians.
Over the years, readers have asked me if there was a recording of the song that they could hear, and I’m happy to share an animated video of Sticky Burr and his friends singing “Stuck On A Tree.” This animation was originally created as part of my acceptance video for the Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award in Oregon a few years ago. You can see that full video here, and now you can also enjoy the song by itself, see below.
My brother Tony Lechner provided the voice of Sticky Burr and engineered the audio, with additional voices by Jill Connolly and John Melley. I did all the animation, and played the ukulele. Hope you enjoy it!
I’m not one to celebrate the New Year much, as I don’t like to see time passing. I tend to look backwards as much as forwards, and see all the unfinished projects, the missed opportunities, the things that didn’t turn out as I had hoped.
Yet despite all that, I really am an optimist, it’s the only way I can survive. That’s why I love winter trees. Even though a tree without leaves can seem barren, lifeless, dead, that’s not how I see it. I see a tree in the winter as strong, resilient, quietly gathering strength. Let it snow, let it freeze – a hearty tree will patiently cling to life, drawing hidden nourishment from the earth below. It does not die when the world freezes, it knows that spring will come again.
The challenge of an artist is to keep being creative over many years, through all seasons. Each year I set new goals, and each year I fall short. I know I’m disorganized, my mind wanders from one project to another, the list goes on. But one of my goals this year is to be more positive, to look forward, to get things done. So, that’s what I’ll do.
Over the next twelve months I will continue to draw, write stories, do more animation, and hopefully read a book now and then. I will set some big goals and some small ones, and we’ll see how it all turns out.
I’ve been working on all sorts of things lately, with not much time for blogging. I’ve got a novel in the works, and a few other projects brewing. Not much to show, but here are a few watercolors I did earlier this year, part of a series of monochromatic paintings I showed in the spring. They are all very small, close to the size you see here, experiments in light and shadow using different kinds of paper.
This weekend (Dec. 1 & 2) I’m participating in a Holiday Open Studio at the Gorse Mill Studios in Needham, MA. Stop by and say hello!
This spring I had the pleasure of visiting the first grade classes at the Newman Elementary School in Needham, MA, to talk about my books. I started my presentation by drawing a big picture of a frog, then asking the children what other animals and objects we could add to the picture. They had a lot of great ideas (fish, tadpole, lily pad, bird, caterpillar, snail) and I drew as many as I could fit. I told them one of the fun parts about drawing is that there are so many ways you can draw a picture, it’s up to your imagination.
Then I read my book A Froggy Fable, which is always fun to read aloud. I talked about how I wrote the story in my notebook, then revised it many times before it was accepted by a publisher. I showed them some of the rough drawings and the final paintings, and some of the paintings that I had to do twice, because I didn’t like how they turned out. Illustrating a book takes a long time.
After that, I did a story activity where I divide the paper into four squares and the children help me create a story on the spot. First we think of an animal to be the main character (animal stories work well with this activity.) Then we decide where that animal lives and what could happen to them in the story. I draw the pictures as we go, and in the last square we try to resolve the story into a satisfying ending.
This story in the photograph below was about a lion, a monkey and an elephant, and the students came up with lots of creative ideas, too many to count. I told them at the end that this story could have turned out a hundred different ways, that each one of them could have written it differently. That’s one of the great things about storytelling, that everyone’s story is unique.
A few weeks later I received some lovely thank you cards from the school, all tied together with yarn. There are a lot of creative kids there! I hope they found the experience inspiring and fun. Many thanks to the teachers and volunteers who helped arrange my visit.
I am the author and illustrator of four books for children, including A Froggy Fable, The Clever Stick, and the Sticky Burr series. I'm also an animator, musician, puppeteer, and interactive designer. (Read more.)