What’s new around the studio

John's art table

It’s hard to believe that May is already here. I’ve been working on all kinds of things, doing some very small paintings, writing some new stories, and experimenting with hand-drawn notebook covers.

This weekend I will be participating in the Needham Open Studios, showing my work and selling my books, and giving away free stuff. Come on down and say hi!

Here are a few photos from my drawing table lately, in various stages of completion.

Boy on bike, watercolor

Gnarled Tree painting

Decorated notebooks


Girl behind tree

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Happy Earth Day from Sticky Burr and Friends

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.

Click here for a printable PDF

Celebrate Nature with Sticky Burr and Friends!

Here are some other great nature websites you might want to check out. Let me know if you have any other favorites to share.

Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens – all about planting healthy and sustainable gardens

The National Wildlife Federation –  a great educational site for all ages

Children and Nature Network – all about connecting children with nature

Tweets & Tree Frogs – great blog about encouraging kids to appreciate nature

Frogs Are Green – raising awareness about frogs and amphibians around the world

The Bug Chicks – all about the wonderful world of insects

The Right Blue – great website about ocean creatures

Nature Rocks – all about getting kids out into nature

Happy Earth Day everyone!

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My visit to MSLA in Sturbridge

John Lechner reads The Clever Stick

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.

John Lechner at the MSLA conference

John Lechner reading "Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest"

Authors appear at MSLA conference

Left to right: Carolyn DeCristofano, John Lechner, Laura Harrington, Melissa Stewart, and Lesléa Newman.

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Stuck On A Tree

Sticky Burr and friends sing Stuck On A Tree

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.

Stuck On A Tree musicOver 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!

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Looking ahead to the new year

Snowy Tree by John Lechner

Another year is upon us!

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 hope you all have a happy and creative 2013!

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New art, new projects

Froggy Garden - by John Lechner

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!

I also recently started playing with Pinterest, and set up a board especially for parents and teachers with activities from my books.

That’s all for now — time to get back to work!

Girl With the Box - by John Lechner


Raking Leaves - by John Lechner


Twisted Trees by John Lechner


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Where I visit a school and draw some pictures

Author John Lechner

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.

Author John Lechner

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.

Author John Lechner

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.

Author John Lechner

Author John Lechner

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.

Letters from first graders to John Lechner


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New paintings and new projects

The year is speeding by, and I’ve been busy with all sorts of things. But in between other projects, I started doing a series of small paintings using ink pen and sepia watercolor. All of these are just a few inches wide. Monochromatic painting is a unique challenge, because you can’t rely on color to delineate objects, you have to focus on composition and value. I’ve been learning a lot doing these, maybe someday I’ll do a whole story in this style.

Girl in a Tree, by John Lechner

Painting by John Lechner

Trouble at Sea, by John Lechner

You Shall Not Pass, by John Lechner

In other news, I had a great time at the NE-SCBWI conference this month, learning new things and meeting cool people. And on May 5th I’ll be participating in the Needham Open Studios, so if you’re in the area, come on down. (I will be there Saturday, not Sunday.)

Also, I may be announcing a new project in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!


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Page-A-Day Flip Book – finished!

Page-A-Day FlipbookAt the beginning of last year, I started my Page-A-Day Flip Book, and I’m happy to say it’s finally finished! The aim of the project was to draw one page every day, and see where it led. Although I missed a few weeks here and there, I managed to keep it going all year, and finally finished it up last month.

The project had its challenges. For one thing, if a flip book gets too long, it becomes hard to flip. This animation filled three tablets, so I could never see how the entire thing looked. I also made a rule that I could only draw one page at a time, so I didn’t do any keyframing or storyboarding. And I didn’t allow myself to go back and change drawings, other than minor cleanup. This made it difficult to control timing, but it was a great challenge.

I photographed each page with a digital camera and assembled the images in Flash before exporting as a Quicktime. I worked out music on the ukulele that would fit the piece, and put it all together. It was a fun project, and I hope you enjoy watching it!


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The Artist, a silent film for the ages

The Artist movie posterI don’t usually write about films here, but I wanted to comment on The Artist, which is like a breath of fresh air in today’s movie landscape. As you probably know, it’s a silent film based on the style of classic films from the early 20th Century. If you’ve seen the trailer or previews, you know that it’s about a silent film star who struggles to make the transition to talking pictures. It’s comedy, melodrama, and film history rolled into one visually stunning package.

Silent films have a unique visual language all their own. The director of The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, writes on the official website “As a director, a silent film makes you face your responsibilities. Everything is in the image, in the organization of the signals you’re sending to the audience. And it’s an emotional cinema, it’s sensational; the fact that there is no text brings you back to a basic way of telling a story that works only on the feelings you have created.”

In this way, silent films are a lot like picture books, where the images have to convey so much. And since the viewer has to interpret the images to understand the story, it’s a more internalized, intimate kind of storytelling than a film with audio.

But what makes this particular film appealing isn’t just the clever visual storytelling, it’s the story itself — about an artist, the fictional actor George Valentin, who falls down on his luck and must find his way back up again. The director states, “To me, it’s interesting to think of George’s story in terms of a human being in a transition period. The world is always moving, and you might be looking in another direction. One day, the world says to you, ‘you’re part of the past.’ It can happen in your own office, in your factory, in your relationship. It’s a feeling any person can understand.”

It’s rare for such a unique film as The Artist to receive such commercial success, and this in itself is worth cheering. It’s a great film if you’re a fan of classic cinema, silent films, or a good old-fashioned story. And if you happen to be an artist who feels a little bit discouraged with your life or career, well, it’s an inspiration.

Scene from The Artist

Scene from The Artist

Scene from The Artist

Scene from The Artist

Visit the official website for The Artist

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