Cover Reveal: Rosemary and Gabriel

cover of book jacket for Rosemary and Gabriel

Finally, the Wait is Over!

Today I’m excited to share the cover for a new book that I’ve been illustrating for my friend Janice Fuller. Janice is a poet and playwright, and her most recent book may be a departure from both of those genres, but for me it has a little of both: there’s plenty of poetic language to enjoy (Gabriel the cat is quite the wordsmith, especially as he becomes smitten with Rosemary), and the dialogue between the main characters (two witty housecats) propels the story forward as it delves into character much the way a solid stage play does. These are two things that immediately drew me into the story—and when Janice asked me to illustrate, I was delighted.

A Little About Process

With many illustration and writing projects, I tend to work in an order that is not chronological. After some initial sketches of Rosemary and Gabriel, I jumped into the book and started drawing based on the scenes that came to me first. Rosemary and Gabriel is broken into 8 parts that essentially function as chapters—and we quickly agreed that each section should have its own illustration that pointed to the heart of that section. The question for me was to think of what sort of image might capture that heart—and sometimes that’s a tricky thing to see.

With my own writing, it sometimes (ok, almost always) takes a while for the real themes to emerge. If I let ideas percolate for too long, I find myself crippled by the possibilities, so I often have to just jump in and start writing a character down, and get them into trouble. Then their strengths, desires, and weaknesses begin to reveal themselves, and then the conflicts emerge, and the themes reveal themselves, and the pieces begin to fall into place and finally I get some momentum. A similar thing happens when I illustrate a story: sometimes if I think too hard about what the most important themes are (how do I illustrate grief??), then I stonewall myself. Sometimes I just have to start drawing some characters and see what happens. And as I draw them and discover their personalities, then it’s easier to illustrate what the story is really about.

That’s what happened with Rosemary and Gabriel. When Janice first sent me a draft, I drew a cat that I envisioned as Gabriel. (It turns out he looked nothing like the real Gabriel, who belongs to Janice), but doodling with some new charcoals and pencils helped me think about what kind of style these illustrations might have. In the beginning, I tried out several kinds of materials, including gouache and charcoal, but ultimately created the illustrations digitally. (You can read more about the illustrations in my previous post.)

When I started drawing for real, I read through the book again and made notes of scenes that came to mind as I was reading. Certain sections had a solid image that leapt out at me—like Gabriel dreaming he was a jaguar (below). Other sections had more abstract ideas that were a little harder to draw an image for. (I saved those for last, after I’d nailed down some key personality traits of the kitties.) And last was the cover—with my own novels, the title is often the last piece that I write after an entire draft. And then I design the covers after all the writing is done. Things were very much the same with Rosemary and Gabriel: I had no idea what the cover would look like when we started, but once we came around to the end, both Janice and I had a feeling about something circular (and I liked the idea of the cats circling each other, chasing each other)—and that’s how we landed on the cover design.

Gabriel the cat dreams of being a jaguar

More About the Book

I won’t give away any spoilers, but here’s the book’s synopsis:

What can two cats teach us about being human?

In this modern epistolary story, two cats, Rosemary and Gabriel, begin an unusual friendship that begins with letter-writing and blossoms into love.

Gabriel, jealous of the way his owner toils over her laptop instead of scratching his ears, thinks such devices are silly. He can’t understand why his owner Janice spends all of her time typing. Who could she be writing so many emails to? When his curiosity takes hold, he makes a discovery that changes his world—Rosemary.

When Rosemary agrees to correspond with Gabriel, he immediately begins to court her: he sends her poems and valentines, and pledges to come and see her in Toronto. As Rosemary and Gabriel open up to each other, they share a commentary about life that’s both witty and poignant and, of course, filled with unabashed professions of love.

Written by Janice Moore Fuller and Janet Lewis, Rosemary and Gabriel is a heartfelt story about how we navigate friendship, romance, grief, and love—and everything in our hearts that makes us human.

 

Rosemary and Gabriel: Laptop Love goes on sale everywhere Sept. 21, 2020 and is available as ebook and paperback, on Amazon and at your local indie bookstore. 

Cats and Love Letters

This week I’m finalizing illustrations for a project that I’m really excited about. When a friend of mine contacted me about working together to illustrate her new book, I was thrilled. I won’t share too much about the story behind the book here, because that’s hers to tell: but I will say that as I read the manuscript, I was flooded with ideas about ways to draw the characters, and filled with an energy I hadn’t felt in a while. Rosemary and Gabriel: Laptop Love, was co-written by Janice Moore Fuller and Janet Lewis, two friends who shared a love of rescue cats, James Joyce, and proper letter-writing.

Hint: this book is about cats—but not just cats. It’s an a modern epistolary tale: a love story told in emails between two cats who happen to belong to English professors (but according to the cats, it’s the other way around). Rosemary insists on always capitalizing the letter R, because that’s the way it is in her name; Gabriel plays the role of paramour, determined to meet the new love he’s found through letters. It’s witty, and charming, and took me by surprise with its huge heart: in the end, it’s a moving story about love, grief, and friendship—it was just the kind of story I needed right now. As I read, it reminded me of the beloved Griffin and Sabine, and Charlie Mackesy’s beautifully written The Boy, the Horse, the Fox, and the Mole. 

The most fun part of working on these drawings was the challenge of capturing the cats’ personalities. Gabriel’s sweet, perhaps a little naive, and has a wide-eyed wonder about everything—including how he imagines his journey from North Carolina to Toronto, where Rosemary lives. Rosemary is older—she’s witty and practical, and has a self-described “earthy” sense of humor. (I can appreciate that: I’ve been described that way more than once.) That also made me think of my grandma, which made my heart swell. Grandma would have loved Rosemary, and might have seen a little of her wit in that tiny furry body, too. 

drawing of Gabriel, a white and buff rescue cat

Janice is a tremendously talented poet and playwright, and this book is strikes that delicate balance between poetic prose and dialogue that strikes you right in the heart. One email from Gabriel contains a poem of Janice’s called “My Cat Steals a Baby Aubergine.” Gabriel’s delight at discovering he’s the center of a poem and his eagerness to share it with Rosemary was both funny and touching—it reminded me of the one time a poem was written about me, and it felt like the whole world tilted on its axis for a minute. It reminds us how good it feels to be loved and valued, and regarded as special. (Feeling like a muse, even for a minute, isn’t so bad, either.) 

I so badly wanted to draw Gabriel stealing that tiny eggplant—perhaps that sketch could go in the end notes.  

Rosemary and Gabriel will be available in the coming weeks, wherever books are sold. I’ll post an update here (with the cover reveal, yay!), and if you want to be sure to be the first to hear about it, sign up for my author newsletter, here

 

I owe a special thank you to Janice Fuller, for inviting me into her world of rescue cats and love letters, and letting me create illustrations of Rosie and Gabe. Thank you, Janice. 🙂 

Slowing Down to Really See

It’s been a while, but I finally started a new series—and it feels really good to be making prints again. These last several weeks have been really hard, for a lot of reasons. I’ve spent a lot of time being angry, and devastated, and heartbroken. For a lot of those days (and weeks, really), I didn’t feel like making art at all. I felt like I should be doing something better with my time–something more beneficial.

The truth is, I’m still thinking about what I can do that’s helpful right now. I’ve been thinking about what I can change in my life to support people who need to be supported, and amplify the voices that need to be heard right now. Thinking about all of that can be paralyzing really, but it helps—as it so often does—to find balance. For me, that balance means giving myself time to make things. Sometimes “make things” means sewing masks to send to hospitals and clinics (yes, help is STILL needed for that—if you’re feeling crafty and want to help, you can check out the group that I sew for, the Carolina Mask Project. There are lots of other similar organizations out there—I’m partial to CMP, but you might find another in your region.) Sometimes, “make things” means art.

I’d been thinking about a new series for a while, and was finding it hard to make time to just get cracking on it. I carved a block that was a complete failure, and then started a big 12 x 12 woodcut that I imagined being three layers of color—and three separate blocks. I carved the three blocks, and did some text prints, and they came out okay. And then I started printing for real, on the nice Japanese paper, and hit a road block. The first layer of ink went on nicely, but the second wasn’t behaving the way it should. Rather than push through and try to force it (like the old Lauren would have done), I stepped away and gave myself time to think about it and troubleshoot. (That first block that was a failure? I just pushed through and didn’t pay enough attention. I tried to learn from that.)

I didn’t want to stop completely, so I started carving smaller linoleum blocks to keep myself going. I decided to do these in black and white, and then add a little pop of color with a separate block. Sometimes, scaling back and doing something simpler, in black and white, helps me concentrate on the shapes, and the light and shadow.

The old Lauren snuck in for a minute though, and printed these nuthatches without noticing that the location of the bird’s eye was off. After laying out one of the finished prints to photograph, I thought, why does this bird look weird? What’s wrong with this nuthatch?

And then I realized two things: I’d forgotten to add its characteristic cheek stripe, and the eye was off a little. The thing about linoleum is that once you carve something out of the block, you can’t go back in and fix it. But what you CAN do is pochoir. (That’s fancy French for “stencil.”) Sometimes, this technique can be a lifesaver. In this case, it saved this derpy looking bird from ruin.

>>Above: the nuthatch print and the special Pochoir patch. Just place it over the area, use a stipple brush to apply the same kind of ink used in the original print, and voila! Below is the finished print, complete with proper cheek stripe.

Pochoir’s not just meant as a way to correct errors, of course. There’s a long history of using it in other printmaking techniques, including letterpress printing, as a way to add a small bit of color that doesn’t require another printing plate or press run. It’s a way to add some spot color, or color that has a little texture in it from the brush. (Google it if you want to go down the rabbit hole and see the endless possibilities.) I’ve used it for spot color with small editions of letterpress pieces in the past—it’s a technique I learned while at The University of Alabama.

Below: The blackbird, which was actually the first bird I carved, was much more successful. I tried really hard to cut slowly and deliberately, paying attention to the marks I was making and the spaces I was leaving behind. I’ve been doing linocuts and woodcuts for twenty years, and there is a pattern I can quickly fall into: this is a laborious process, and sometimes I find myself just wanting to get finished so I can move on to the business of pulling prints. (That’s the reward stage.) But that’s how I make mistakes—I rush, thinking of the goal line, instead of taking my time and enjoying the carving process, too. So this series is my personal exercise in taking my time and paying closer attention.

First error made, first lesson learned.

Below is the finished block with the nuthatch (and his bare cheek that I so carelessly carved away). I’ve had these tools for years, and they are by far my favorites—Japanese imports from McClain’s print supply, for anyone who geeks out over tools, like I do. (Bonus: these are made from steel used in samurai swords, which in itself is pretty badass—when you keep them honed properly they last a lifetime. Honing and sharpening is something else I revisited recently, because taking the time to do that was something ELSE that I’d let fall by the wayside. But now I’ve seen the error of my ways, and I’m in the “let’s keep these tools in top notch condition” camp. If you have carving tools that need some proper love, check out this video for a quick and easy lesson from Draw Cut Ink Press. It’s one of the best demo videos I’ve come across, so show them some love!)

After a week of carving, doing test prints, and finally doing the first of the open edition, I’ve got prints I’m happy with and the first ones are up in my Etsy shop. These two pair nicely together, and there will be more to come. I’m enjoying slowing myself down to do these, and really think about how I want to use the space and create the image. It feels good to chip away at these in the evenings and on weekends, and give myself time to work a little, think about them, and go back and do some course-correction. It’s also helping to balance out my brain, and think about those other big things that we all need to be thinking about right now. Sometimes, carving and printing is like a kind of meditation for me: it’s a way to calm down and focus, and stop that cacophony of other thoughts that make my head feel like a pinball machine some days. And sometimes, when I’m working on prints in that quiet headspace, that’s when the most important realizations are able to appear.

I hope you’re able to find balance in these days, too, and find a way to have that quiet space to breathe and reflect, and feel more whole.

 

If you’d like to see more art, check out my Etsy shop for handmade prints, books, and new greeting cards. You can also join my Patreon team, where you’ll get more posts like this delivered to your inbox, along with special handmade goodies like prints, cards, and other items made especially for my Patreon team members. 

Doodling on TP for a Good Cause: or Why I Shouldn’t Drink While Drawing

Answering the Call: Art for a Good Cause

So last week, browsing the interwebs, I saw a call for artists to donate art for an upcoming auction to support Buncombe County Schools. (That’s the county that Asheville is in, for all my far-flung friends.) I donate art to several auctions each year, and when I clicked on this one, I saw “CALL TO DOODLE” and “TOILET PAPER ART” and thought, Okay, this is interesting. I read the description: draw on up to 3 squares of toilet paper, name your pieces, drop in the mail to donate. I thought: “Oh, cool. Doodle on toilet paper. I can doodle! I like to doodle. Done!”

I wasn’t sure how all of these squares of toilet paper would be auctioned, and part of me thought that maybe all of them would be sold in a bundle, the way some print portfolios are sold. I imagined someone making an enclosure for all of these little squares of art, and wondered: how would the buyer display them? In a quilt-like fashion on the wall? Would this end up in a special collections library? How long would these survive?

Because this auction would benefit local school art programs, this was a no-brainer. I had no idea what I would draw on toilet paper, but I figured I’d think of something as the deadline approached. A couple of nights later, I sat down with my pens and sharpies and three squares of toilet paper, and started doodling. I’ve been trying to keep up my practice of drawing every day, even if it’s just for an hour. Sometimes that drawing time is for a cartoon for a friend, or a freelance project, but sometimes it’s just to calm down and relax and do something that isn’t “work”— you know, with high stakes and a deadline.

I sat down that night to doodle and relax, and draw whatever popped into my mind first. I drew some cute-ish animals, like I generally do by default, and thought, “Done! That was fun. I’ve never drawn on TP before. Experimentation with new medium achieved.” I snapped some photos for the entry form, put my squares in a protective plastic sleeve, and dropped then in the mail to Asheville.

Sidebar: it’s kinda hard to draw on TP. I figured it would be, and chose my pens with the softest tips. Still, it wasn’t easy. But I thought: DOODLE. Low stakes. Have fun. The drawings were cute, and I had some lighthearted activity time, and just went with the flow of what my pens would do. I didn’t even think about paint, or charcoal, or any other media (WHY NOT, LAUREN??), and just thought “Doodle. They said doodle.”

Girl, Put Your Glasses On

They did not say “Doodle.”

The day the auction went live (May 15), I got an email from Laura Mitchell, the wonderful lady who organized this event, and there was a link to the live auction (you can bid online until May 23, so go check it out!). I clicked on the link to see everyone’s doodle drawings, and y’all there are some gorgeous pieces of TP on that page. There are legit painted squares, and mixed media pieces, and charcoal. There are tiny portraits, landscapes, and even some 3-D collage. As I scrolled through them, I thought, “Dang, these people doodle like rock stars.” Mine look like something I drew on a cocktail napkin while I was bored and somewhat hammered at a party.

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And then I saw the headline, in a bigger, bolder font. It did not say “Call to DOODLE.” The auction was titled “CALL TO DOODIE.” Which is really, so much funnier, because who doesn’t love a good art / TP / toilet humor pun. But somehow I missed that when I found the initial call. Maybe it was the font. Maybe it was because it was after 10 p.m. and I was drinking a big glass of shiraz. Maybe it was because I didn’t have my glasses on.

The point is, I felt a little crummy because I would have spent more time on these if I’d read a little closer. I wouldn’t have doodled goofy cats. I might have tried a little harder, and made something that didn’t feel so ephemeral. But then, how long will a square of TP last? (When you see some of these, believe me, you’ll want to devise a way to make them last, like sandwich them between sheets of plexiglas in an airtight frame, or preserve them in amber or glass.)

What Does Last

I know the point here is the AUCTION part of all this. It’s that there are over 120 little squares of art in this auction, and it’s that a whole bunch of artists came together to draw and paint and create for a good cause, and it’s that a whole passel of gracious people have already placed their bids and will be helping kids in Buncombe County. The point is not what you draw on these little squares, but why you draw on them, and why you bid on them, and why you dream up an idea like this auction anyway: because you want to do something kind and meaningful that benefits someone else. And heaven knows we need all of that we can get right now.

Still, I’m a little embarrassed. As I was writing this post, my fella peeked over my shoulder and glimpsed the photo of my cat on the TP square and emitted a very masculine squeal of joy and called it “adorable.” To which I said, “Wait, wait. There’s more. Let me tell you about this auction and why I shouldn’t be allowed to drink and draw.”

By the end of the story, he was crying with laughter. An hour later, he’s still chuckling, mumbling “Call to Doodie” to himself. So maybe someone else out there will get a little kick out of this kitty, too. More importantly, it’ll do a little good for the kids in Buncombe County.

Want to check out the auction? Of course you do! There really are some amazing pieces in there, and the wide variety is something to see. Place your bids online until May 23. And to everyone who organized this auction, drew on squares, catalogued our TP and placed their bids: y’all are all rock stars, and you’re going to make a bunch of kids really happy.