FFF – and a JPG Index

I’m hoping the more I draw these three beauties (I keep thinking about David Hockney pulling the car over to draw grasses and weeds, knowing he’d use those shapes and colors later in paintings), the more likely I am to be able to express their distinctness. (That’s a hope, not a surety.)

While recognizing a stalling mechanism (to be harsh) or more practice (to be kind), below are the first two thumbnail pages of some of the photos I’ve collected for reference. At least now I can easily find, by JPG number on my computer, the suggestion of a pose I need.

Long ago I read that the writer John Irving called tasks related to, but not the real work, “bookshelf building activities.” Pursuits allowing time to think without pressure and with pleasure, and providing what big tasks need – small intervening rewards of completion.

FFF Index p

FFF Index p 2


“Friends for Frances” – Studies II

Frances’s eyes often look exactly like cat eye glasses frames, tilted up and narrowed – as in suspicion. They make her look disapproving. Not only is she black to their orange, her personality differs dramatically from the orange man cats. Frances was abandoned in an apartment with a litter of kittens – perhaps that origin story explains her present personality.

But both Wolsey and Cromwell were equally abandoned in their pasts, and Wolsey has a nearly permanent air of innocence and trust. I’m not sure how he’s kept that demeanor (he survived two years outdoors, through Anchorage winters).

Cromwell has the roundest eyes, saucers in his flatter face, above his slightly protruding jaw. I don’t know Cromwell’s origin story, but before Downtown Abbey he was returned to the rescue people because he had “issues.” At Downtown Abbey he is often referred to (when out of earshot of the other critters) as The Best Guy in the World.

None of these personality thoughts and back-story speculations are part of “Friends for Frances,” but I find myself thinking a lot about these survivor cats. It’s a privilege and a joy to work with them.

Cromwell  - field notes II-1

Frances  - field notes II-1

Wolsey  - field notes II

“Friends for Frances” – Studies

On Julie Davidson’s wonderful blog “Seven Imps,” she asks Maira Kalman about her work methods. Kalman responds: “There is a lot of hope involved. And hoping for the best.”

And in the part I like best, she says simply: “You just do your work. I can’t emphasize that enough. Just sitting there and doing it – persevering. Being patient – and seeing the long view. To let the work happen and to find the unexpected. To allow mistakes to be part of it. To not get it right, but just to get it.”

“Just get it,” just start, begin.

Frances  - field notes I

Wolsey  - field notes I


Cromwell  - field notes I-1





“Friends for Frances” – Portraits

Early in this process, just when I needed it, I came upon a quote from the granddaughter of Leo Lionni (Lady Baby and I have read “Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse” many times), which became my guide:

“The most frequent question that children asked my grandfather Leo was, ‘How do you get your ideas?’ He would usually start with a simple idea. Sometimes the idea would be a beginning to a story, some times an ending, other times it might be the main character, or the situation. But however it would start, he would work hard to create the best story possible. And so, to the question ‘How do you get your ideas?’ he would give a simple answer – ‘Hard work.’”

The trick is to know what exactly is the work. I didn’t know. So as a place to begin I made portraits of the principles in “Friends for Frances,” knowing they’d be unlike the real illustrations, but wanting to get to know their fur and their faces, wanting their pictures tipped up by my worktable, keeping me company!

Portrait of Cromwell

Portrait of FrancesPortrait of Wolsey

May, and Maybe

Mrs. Hughes recently sent a video of Lady Baby (wearing boots), standing on a short footstool in her kitchen, pointing to a refrigerator magnet picture of a polar bear. Under the bear, the word Alaska is spelled out. Lady Baby points to the word and tells her mother: “It says: polar bear you have to wait for your baby.” She can’t read, but she knows the power of letters and understands she can assign language to the picture – she’s making up a story.

She likes to look for pictures in my journal. When she discovered drawings of cats – she studied each one, looking for familiar features. But she liked best a pretty awful drawing of This Baby with an inky face (a rough for the postcard I sent her). She returned to it repeatedly, recognizing somebody she knew in a drawing delighted her.

I’d love to make her a storybook. I have always wanted, like lots of readers who draw, to make a children’s book. If I don’t try, I will be truly disappointed in myself. (Writing that sentence makes me feel like one of my Workroom people, and I’d be the first to encourage – dragoon the timid, badger the reluctant – into giving something long desired a try.)

Ideas for a story have come – a picture in my mind to begin, and a critical addition by our younger son over dinner one night (he handed me the very simple overall theme: Cromwell and Wolsey teach Frances about friendship). Amongst the enjoyable house thinking of April, I strayed frequently to this story.

Writing “Her spirits rose…” is a routine and a pleasure. I can always let it get in the way of doing anything else, so I’d like to use the power of that routine to work on this project. I was recently told illustration is hard, and I know that, but for love you’ll try anything. Lady Baby is tolerant and accepting – she won’t be “judgy.”

It might seem I’m taking a break (and that’s a good thing – summer is nearly upon us!). Maybe I’ll post bits and pieces, studies, the outline of the story as I make myself tackle what seems a difficult task, confronting the myriad decisions and self-doubt in such an undertaking.

And maybe, maybe, I’ll figure out why the polar bear needed to be instructed to wait for its baby!

cats - c commons II

A Postcard Portrait of Lord Wolsey

Wolsey postcard

Wolsey, who lives at Downtown Abbey, is a magnificent cat – bold, large, and chronically good-natured.

I didn’t catch it, but in this drawing his mismatched eyes reveal that I have a lot to learn always (and also to be reminded of: don’t draw what you can’t see). Shadow obscured his left eye, and in drawing I failed to match the right. The postcard’s gone north, so I can’t try to correct, but both Wolsey himself and learning experiences in general are on my mind – more next week!

In the meantime – a most happy May Day to all you wonderful readers – I appreciate you!