Over the years, I’ve accumulated quite a backlog of stories in my notebooks, most of them too short for a real book. So I’m going to share some of them online, so at least people can read them. Today I’m pleased to present a tiny tale called The Ladybug Who Wasn’t Ready (Yet). This is a story I wrote a few years ago, and it’s been itching to get out into the world, much like the protagonist. It’s a story for late bloomers and quiet thinkers everywhere, about persevering and following your own path.
I tried out some new tools for the illustrations, using a a pen that I carved from a hollow stick, dipped in ink. In the past I’ve used a brush, but sometimes that can be constraining, because it requires such slow and careful drawing. The stick has its limitations, it’s difficult to vary line thickness, but it also has its strengths, you can draw in any direction and get some interesting textures. I’ll continue experimenting with this tool to see where it leads.
As my fascination with insects has grown over the years, I’ve been inspired to create more stories about them. I’ve decided to start a series of nature webcomics featuring a cast of insect characters as they go about their uncertain lives.
I’ll be posting these about once a week on my Twitter and Instagram. They are generally self-contained, but may contain a thread of stories that tie them all together. The characters are all inspired by various creatures I’ve observed in my backyard over the years.
The primary character (so far) is a hoverfly named Phini, who can’t seem to make up his mind. Hoverflies are some of my favorite insects, gentle creatures who seem to hover magically over flowers before they land.
Here are the first six comics I’ve posted so far, and be sure to follow me on either Twitter and Instagram to see new ones as they are produced!
Last month I created a short film for the 48 Hour Puppet Film Project. It was a fun and frantic experience to create a film in a weekend, as I’ve only made a few puppet films before. The final result, called Waiting For Spring, is about a little mouse who anxiously waits for spring, and is happy when it finally arrives. Here is the film, and below I’ll talk about how I made it.
The rules of the 48 Hour Puppet Film Project are that you can’t start until Friday evening, when you receive a list of three elements that the film must include. This year, the films had to include a specific theme – hope, a specific object – cardboard, and a specific action – jump. Upon receiving these at 9 PM on a Friday, I started thinking of ideas.
The inspiration came from the weather forecast for that weekend. We were getting a snowstorm on Saturday morning, and then a warm sunny day on Sunday when everything would melt. I came up with the idea for a mouse who is sadly watching the snow fall, and then later is happy when spring arrives. And I could take advantage of my backyard, which had many spring flowers already blooming.
I built the puppet Friday night, using materials I had on hand. I didn’t even have time to sew, it was held together with pins and tape. I also rigged up a flower pot with an opening in the back, to manipulate the puppet.
Saturday morning, I went out into the wet snow with my video camera and puppet, and experimented with different locations and camera angles to finally get my opening shots. I had to hurry because the snow was already starting to melt by 11:00.
That evening I edited the footage, and worked on the puppet to make it more sturdy. Usually when creating a new puppet, the puppeteer needs time to experiment with the movement, to figure out what the puppet can do, and how to manipulate it. I had almost no time for this, I had to experiment while actually filming. So many of the shots turned out poorly and couldn’t be used.
Most of the filming was done with me holding the video camera in one hand and holding the puppet in the other. I had intended the mouse to be a finger puppet, but I found it was nearly impossible to work the puppet this way without my hand being visible too. So I ended up using a stiff metal wire attached to the back of the puppet (which you can see in a few shots.) In a few instances, I put the camera down to move the puppet, or I put the puppet down to move the camera.
The filming on Sunday, after the snow melted, was a mad rush to get as many sunny shots as I could. Looking back, I wish I had more time to experiment with different locations, camera angles, and movements. I finished filming around 4:00, and rushed to edit the second half of the film, and also finish the music and sound.
The music was created with GarageBand, using the instruments that come with the program. I used the computer keyboard (“Musical Typing”) to type in the notes, and then adjusted them manually, since I made a lot of mistakes. After adding the music, I adjusted the shots again, to better fit the pacing of the score.
As the deadline of 9 PM on Sunday approached, I kept noticing small things that needed to be fixed, and each render took more time. So I missed the actual deadline, but I kept working all evening and finished very late that night.
This project was a great experience for me, because I’m usually a slow and methodical worker, and often start projects that I never finish. So this really got me to focus and get something done.
Hopefully it will inspire more film projects in the future!
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) johnlechner.com.
Just a quick update here, to let you know about some events I’ll be participating in this spring.
On Saturday April 27th, I’ll be participating in the Boston Kids Comics Festival, in Newton, MA. I’ll have a table with my books and other fun stuff, and I’ll be leading a workshop for kids in drawing animal comics at 3:30 PM. If you’re in the area, stop by and say hi! Details at www.bostonkidscomicsfest.org.
On May 4th and 5th, I’ll be participating in the Needham Open Studios, a town-wide event featuring artists in a variety of mediums. I’ll be at Gorse Mill Studios, 31 Thorpe Road. I’ll have a lot of my new papercuttings, and other fun stuff. Gorse Mill has lots of other artists you can visit while you’re there.
That’s all for now. Hope you’re all having a great spring!
I’m having an exhibit of my artwork this month at our local library. The Friends of the Needham Public Library Gallery features a new exhibit each month, and I was invited to show my work during February.
This is my largest solo exhibit in recent memory, with thirty works of art, plus some of my handmade puppets. There are a few illustrations from my published books, but the majority of works are unpublished drawings, paintings, and cut paper art (like those in the foreground above.)
It was a challenge looking back through my work to decide which images to show. I wanted to show a wide sampling of what I’ve been up to, and also works that best represent me as an artist. Most of my work is illustrative, evoking a story of some kind. I’m also drawn to nature, especially trees, and all of the works in this exhibit involve trees in some way.
The Needham Free Public Library is located at 1139 Highland Avenue, Needham, MA 02494. It is open Mon-Thurs 9AM-9PM, Fri 9AM-5:30PM, and Sun 1-7PM. The library website also features a slideshow of my work during the month of February. If you’re in the area, stop by to take a look!
The end of the year is always a good time to look back and reflect on recent projects. I don’t post on this blog nearly as often as I used to, because it’s faster and easier to share on social media. The drawback to social media is that it’s always focused on the moment, and once that moment has passed, we move on. Ideas get lost, and it’s hard to take the long view, to put things in context, to see the larger picture. This blog has become a catalog of highlights, to help me look back and see where I’ve come, and where I might be going.
So, here are some of the things I’ve been working on over the last half of this year.
I did more experiments in cut paper art. Here is my latest, cut from black paper with an x-acto knife, placed over a watercolor background. It measures 12 x 18 inches. I’m still developing my style and technique with this medium, but so far I love it.
I also did a series of nature drawings for #inktober. My personal challenge was to draw from life, using only ink and a brush (no pencil allowed.) This was very different for me, because I always do lots of sketching and erasing before I put ink to paper. I wanted to develop a more confident ink line, and explore ink as its own medium.
As usual this year, I took a lot of nature photos during my wanderings outdoors. I often try to capture the world from the vantage point of another animal or insect. Since I have a waterproof camera, I can venture outside on wet and snowy days without fear. You can see more nature photos at my Instagram page.
This year I also built a suitcase puppet theater. This particular suitcase belonged to my great-grandmother, and I rigged up a vertical crankie inside the lid. It all comes apart and fits inside the suitcase, so I can carry it around. The photo below is still a work in progress. I often bring puppets to my school visits, and hopefully this will soon be added to my repertoire of storytelling.
I’ve also been doing a lot of writing this year, revising old stories and starting new ones. Query letters have been sent out, some have even had replies, and hopefully this will all lead to good things in the coming year. It’s just a myth that once you’ve been published, all your subsequent books will be published as well. Even if you have the best idea in the world. In fact, I’m realizing that a great idea, or even a great manuscript, isn’t the most important factor in getting published. There are dozens of other forces at work, most of them beyond your control. This can lead to discouragement, but also a magical optimism, because you never know when circumstances will line up in your favor, and your great idea will make it through and find an audience.
Looking forward to the new year, I will be having a solo art exhibit at the Needham Public Library during the month of February, featuring all of my recent papercuttings and some book illustrations as well. There won’t be an opening reception (they have no room) but you can see the exhibit anytime during the month.
I’ve been posting less and less on this blog, but you can follow my creative journey on Twitter and Instagram. Hope everyone has a healthy and creative 2019!
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.
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!
The cinnabar moth caterpillar eats ragwort, absorbing its toxins which make it poisonous to predators.
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My #inktober drawing for the word underwater, featuring the predaceous diving beetle.
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The rhinoceros beetles fight using their horns like swords.
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My #inktober drawing for the word shy, featuring a couple of roly poly bugs.
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A screech owl is looking for a snack, moths beware!
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Not only is the Atlas Moth gigantic, its wing designs look like snakes to fool predators (or unsuspecting crickets!)
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The Australian tiger beetle can run faster than any other insect, including the speedy American cockroach.
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A praying mantis can be fierce and mysterious as it prowls around the garden.
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For day 18 of #inktober here are a couple dung beetles having a blast.
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Insects who live deep inside caves are nearly blind, like this tiny Troglocladius hajdi.
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Wasps and hornets get furious when a bear attacks their nest, but the bear doesn’t seem to mind!
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!
And here is a video I made walking through the finished exhibit.