Books and puppets on parade

This past spring I visited a wonderful elementary school to talk about my books and writing. Rowe Elementary is tucked into the hills of western Massachusetts, and filled with creative students who love to read. It was fun to visit and share my work.

I talked about my four picture books, which are based on social/emotional themes like empathy, communication, and self-awareness, and which are all set in nature. I drew pictures on an easel with suggestions from the students, and we also collaborated on a group story, which I drew as we came up with ideas.

I also performed a musical puppet show based on my character Sticky Burr and his friends. The puppets were all made of paper, with scrolling scenery, kind of like a book brought to life. Below are a few photos from my visit.

Before my visit, one of the classes did a project where they built little houses inspired by my book Sticky Burr. The houses were built with cardboard and things from nature, like twigs, bark, and grass.

Afterwards I received the nicest cards and letters from the students, here are just a few of them!

Many thanks to the students and staff at Rowe Elementary for being so great and making my visit so much fun! If anyone would like more information about my school programs, contact me at john (at)

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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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

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

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!


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!

New work, new happenings

Artwork by John Lechner

Lately I’ve been experimenting more with monochromatic paintings, particularly involving trees. This one was done with a brush and ink, then watercolor.

This weekend I’ll be going to the New England regional conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, in Springfield, MA. And on Sunday, I’ll be participating in a local Open Studios event, showing my work. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and say hi!

And if you haven’t seen my web comic lately, I’ve been adding a new panel each week, developing a new longer story. Below is a recent page, showing the original sketch first. You can read the new adventure starting here.

Sticky Burr comic process

That’s all for now, hopefully I’ll have more news to share soon!

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New Sticky Burr website, and other fun stuff

Sticky Burr and FriendsGreetings 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!

Newman School Visit

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!

Welcome 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.

Holiday Sale


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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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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